Filmmaking Lessons

Today we have a guest post from new filmmaker Angelo Thomas, who is currently working on Yellow Brick Road, an animated film set in the Wizard of Oz universe. Angelo shares lessons learned from this intense project so that anyone thinking of starting their own film has a head start in the process.

This past week, I launched an Indiegogo campaign for Yellow Brick Road, a 2D-animated musical feature film that I wrote and hope to co-direct (should our funding efforts be successful). As a lifelong fan of not only The Wizard of Oz- arguably the greatest movie ever made- but also the great films of the Disney Renaissance era, the filmmaking process has fascinated me since the age of four or five, from screenwriting to visual effects and animation.

Yellow Brick Road

Though I’ve already been developing Yellow Brick Road for two years more-or-less, I’m only at the beginning of the journey and I’ve learned quite a lot.

1. Getting People to Listen

As I said, I’ve been developing this project for several years now. I began pitching it when I was fourteen-years-old. Through social media, I connected to filmmaker Leigh Scott, first helping to promote his film Dorothy and the Witches of Oz directly to the Oz community. As ideas for an animated Oz film began to form in my head, I just had to make it happen. It didn’t matter how old I was or how little experience I had.

There were, however, a number of obstacles I faced right off-the-bat. Leigh had never worked in animation, and had very little interest in doing so. After all, the animation process takes years to complete and costs millions of dollars. I was also rather clear that I wanted this to be traditionally animated (a la The Little Mermaid and The Lion King) despite the fact that the industry is now very much dominated by computer-generated animation (like Shrek and Toy Story). And a musical? That certainly wouldn’t make it any easier.

I had a lot of difficulty getting Leigh and other eventual members of the team to just listen to me. As soon as you tell people you want to make an animated musical with no money, experience, or real “plan” to do so, it’s going to be a fight to get them to listen to you and to believe in what you’re doing. Persistence, persistence, persistence. Don’t let things stand in your way.

2. The Importance of Key Art

After pitching this project for some time with little success in getting it moving, I realized that what I needed was key art. I needed to have something that would show them exactly what I wanted the film to look like and feel like. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that certainly proved true for me.

I stumbled upon Tally Todd, a wonderful illustrator, while looking through Instagram one day. I loved her work so much that I contacted her, and, with money collected from friends and family for my sixteenth birthday, got her started on creating two posters featuring the story’s three lead characters. I was ridiculously meticulous and descriptive, which Tally assured me was a good thing.

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The artwork she came up with was exactly what I wanted and so much more, and it’s these character posters that finally got the project off the ground. Now that they could see what I wanted, something just clicked. It’s hard to describe what it was, but I really think that if I didn’t go out on my own to get the key art done, the project would not be nearly as far along as it is today.

3. It Takes Time

The most important thing I learned while developing Yellow Brick Road is it takes time. Films don’t get from pitch to production overnight.

It takes time to craft the story and get it right. You have to understand your characters, your story, and your eventual audience. You have to have very clear ideas of what you want to accomplish. What do you want people to live the theater feeling, remembering, or raving about? And what do you want people to take away from it five, ten, twenty years from now? You have to have a solid script before anything else can happen, and I really believe that screenwriting is not a process that should be rushed or structured. There is so much more to it than sitting in front of your computer and just typing away.

You’ll spend a lot of time waiting. To get artwork in. To get your cast and crew signed on. To hear back about your script. It all takes time because it’s a team effort. There are so many different components in making a film, and it’s important to understand the importance of and trust in everyone’s roles.

-Angelo Thomas is the writer and creator of “Yellow Brick Road.” You can read more about the movie and contribute to its production here. A big thanks to Angelo for sharing his experience during the beginning stages of the film!-