A successful filmmaker, Dan Sunley who’s very first short film Pieces (2016) is currently enjoying the festival circuit and screened at Exit 6 Film Festival last month, talks about his experience and what he has learned so far.
I was sat in the Vue cinema, nervously twiddling my Exit 6 lanyard: it was time for Pieces to be shown in front of an audience and on an actual cinema screen. This was a culmination of a lot of firsts for me, the first time I had written a short film, the first time I had directed anything, (and the first time I’d worked properly on a film set for 10 years) and possibly the first time I could tick something off my bucket list: to witness my name in the credits of a film at the cinema.
Prepare for one major disaster
One of the crucial props for Pieces was a jigsaw puzzle of a still from within the film. This meant we had to shoot a scene then have the image from that scene sent away to be printed onto the wooden jigsaw. The prop was severely delayed and therefore we had to get clever with a handful of shots so we would not lose continuity of the footage or hold back the production. The whole film hung on that one thing and it was so close to ruining it!
Looking back, there were definite points where I should’ve been more assertive and made a decision instead of asking a question. Luckily, the film had an exemplary crew, so I managed to get the story I wanted despite being a bit wishy-washy and not to-the-point during the shoot.
You don’t have to be technical
I was probably the least experienced on the set of Pieces, especially when it came to the technical process of filmmaking. I didn’t know what an ‘end-board’ was or even what kit we were using. The cinematographer was extremely patient and professional and was always happy to oblige when I said things like “how will this work?” or “could we point it over there instead?”. This made the creative process much easier for me, so that I could concentrate solely on directing and not worry about using the correct terms on set.
I never appreciated the importance of a storyboard until this project; it helped streamline the narrative during pre-production and when we used it to create an animatic of the film, it kept the ship on course during the shoot. It was crucial at moments when intricately planned and printed schedules started to look like something found in an asylum. The storyboard in book-form was always there to make sure we had captured everything we needed for the next stage, it was the one thing that remained constant right through to post-production.
If there is something you are not happy with, re-do it (wherever possible) because it will only bug you later. This is one piece of advice I took advantage of at the time from another filmmaker and I’ve been glad I did ever since.
It’s the story that matters
The story trumps all other aspects; as you move from pre to post, if that great looking shot or that whole day’s footage is missing a reason to be in the film then it has to go. Your audience will forgive a few continuity glitches; they won’t forgive a story that doesn’t make any sense.
Listen to your instincts
As a creative artist you should nurture that compulsion to get as close to perfection as you can, the amount of effort you dedicate to that principle will show in your film – whether you mean it to or not. If you’re lucky (like I was with this film) you will be surrounded with other talented individuals who make it easy to focus what they do into something of quality.
Goodwill goes a long way
At this level of filmmaking almost everyone worked for nothing other than food and lodgings. I would watch these people as they worked endless hours just for the experience and love of filmmaking, so be nice to them, help out when you can and always try to be the hardest worker in the room. Indie films simply wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Watch trailers and learn more about Pieces at the official website.
Keep up to date with Dan by following him on Twitter @dan_sunley and his forthcoming projects by following his film company Cappucino Studios @thebigorangecup