Filmmaking Tips From Someone Who’s Been There…

January 4, 2019
Hollywood stuntman turned filmmaker, Danial Donai, shares his tips for creating Hollywood-style films on a shoestring budget.

Having worked on some of the biggest Hollywood film sets over the last 40 years such as Men In Black, Mission Impossible II, Matrix Revolutions, Eraser, Batman & Robin and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Aussie stuntman turned filmmaker Danial Donai shares his tips for starting out as an independent filmmaker. His first film, Night Flyer, premiered in late 2017, and his latest film, Chiroptera, began shooting in mid-2018.


Preparation or pre-production is one of the most important elements of filmmaking, as this stage requires the most legwork. Too often, filmmakers are so focused on just getting out there and shooting that they forget to focus enough energy on pre-production. Without a well-planned pre-production process, no film can succeed – no matter how well it is shot, how great the script is, or how great the performers are. James Cameron’s game-changing Avatar, for instance, spent years in pre-production, but in the end, it was well worth it as it won nine Academy Award nominations and was the highest grossing film of its time. Before setting out to create a film, I would brainstorm an idea to get the creative juices flowing, do some in-depth research around characters, locations, and concepts to give the film authenticity, work out what our budget was (and stick to it!) and then start the storyboarding, scripting, casting and rehearsal process.


With an influx of cinema and digital technologies entering the market at a breakneck pace, it can be easy to forget the basics of creating a good story. The art of storytelling is even more important when you are creating a film on a shoestring budget. Great storytelling involves writing characters who engage the audience and make the audience care about what is happening in the story. It is about connecting with your audience and making their experience with your film more impactful or touching. While having quality gear and editing software is great, it should serve to support your storyline, not the other way around. Therefore, creating a story is more than just shooting and cutting scenes together in cool ways, but really understanding what the scenes are about and how they fit into the storyline, and how that advances the characters, and contributes to the plot.


This can be one of the most challenging and rewarding areas of filmmaking. From a shoestring budget to Hollywood feature film, every project will require a budget to some degree. Many of us started out making short films, music videos, and documentaries which sometimes required utilising filmmaking friends to help get the job done for a simple credit in the project or for work experience. In today’s world of filmmaking, we are lucky enough to be able to purchase our gear at a fraction of the cost that it once was, which now allows us to produce exceptional films and photography. As we progress in our filmmaking careers so will our projects, and once we advance to full-length feature films, budgeting and finance becomes super important. When starting out, it is best to utilise internet funding sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Gofundme.


When you are first starting out in filmmaking, less is more. These days, you can create Hollywood quality films for a fraction of the price. I am a big fan and supporter of Aussie film tech company, Blackmagic Design, and their creative efforts to build competitive film cameras at affordable prices. In 2012, I was one of the first people in Queensland to purchase the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K model, and then one the first to buy the next model, the 4K version of the same camera design. As I have moved along my filmmaking journey, I have grown to love Blackmagic Design’s URSA camera and URSA Mini Pro. For me, this camera performed everything I asked of it and when fully rigged it still felt like I was shooting with a DSLR. Blackmagic have really disrupted the filmmaking industry with their cinematic cameras and editing technology that are accessible to not just Hollywood film creators but the population at large.


It is so important to surround yourself with a creative cast and crew, especially people that believe in you and your vision. Whether you are creating a low budget project or a multi-million-dollar feature, their support will help you when times are tough and cheer you on when you need encouragement or are on the right track. More important than external support is the ability to back yourself. When you are starting out as a filmmaker, it can be daunting as you are so vulnerable to the art. You just need to remember to believe in yourself and your vision and never give up. After all, even the best directors and filmmakers all had to start somewhere and we only get better as we continue on our journey.

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