Shoot an Indie Film – My Mistakes and Learning

In October 2019, I went to shoot an indie film. It was my first indie film shoot. Prior to that, I had already shot many videos as a director, executive producer, creative director and producer.

I am most proud of my directing credits because I have done everything from reality shows, corporate videos, social media content, product videos, short stories and even dramas.


Geng Mak-Mak

Pasukan Sungai Paku


However, I will be honest and say that up until that point, an indie short film was never on the list.

Why I decided to shoot an indie film

There are a few factors that led to me shooting this indie film.

  • After catering to clients and bosses for so long, I wanted to shoot something that was solely for me
  • I had recently quit my job, so I had free time
  • There’s a bit of extra cash in my bank account
  • I believed that there might not be another opportunity to do this

So with these reasons in hand, I got off my butt and began the process of making a short film!

Before I continue – here is the final product.

My First Mistake – The Script

When writing the script, I tossed out a lot of the basic rules I usually use when making a short film. I got outside my comfort zone and tried to write ‘what I feel’. I had this image of someone throwing a cup of urine in my head. So that is how the original short film starts. The story grew from that plot point. (Bad Move).

At the same time, I don’t think I spent enough time refining the script. How do I know this? Because, at the end, many people did not understand it.

The short film is based on depression and a feeling of trying to be something you are not while fighting off demons. At the end, however, the short film was way too self indulgent.

The film is suppose to push the idea that depression is something that builds up little by little. It is not always a big thing that pushes someone over the edge. Instead, it is based on time.

However, since people don’t understand it also means that I did not get my message across properly. And what’s a film without an audience? Check out the initial short film below and let me know what you think?

How could I have done this better?


I think I should have spent a lot more time refining the script. Looking back at it, I definitely could have re-wrote it in a way that could have conveyed the message better. My suggestion is to write the script, let it simmer, revisit it, and repeat until you feel like it is ready.

Especially if it is a passion project, you should give it the time it deserves


The biggest mistake was going into a genre without knowing the genre. Like I mentioned, I come from the entertainment industry. I make videos for the mass public. I rarely watch indie films (mostly because I believe they are very dull).

However, making a video in this genre, I should have sat down and watch as many short films on depression as possible to understand what makes an indie film good. Instead, I just shot what I wanted – which is not great.

My Second Mistake – Shooting an indie film on a budget

I made a decision to spend just RM 12,000 on the short film. For me, that would have been sufficient. I received a lot of free stuff – the equipment, lights and all the locations were free. But for me, with the outcome, I think I would have spent the money differently.

I would have lessen the amount of crew

I think there were way too many people on set. Instead of feeling like a run and gun indie, it felt more like a b-grade film. I would have liked to have less people on the set, which means less mouths to feed and less money spend on people. I would have become my own assistant director. Adrian, someone who was willing to do this for a cheaper rate, was honestly not very good at it. He was too relaxed and wasn’t pushy enough. This led to shots being cut out.

Side note – this is also why I hate asking for favours. When you ask for a favour, people believe that they can do things half-heartedly because ‘I’m not charging my full rate. If you want me to be a pro, then pay me!’ Next time – no favours.

I would have changed the rig used

Sam, the director of photography, used a Blackmagic Mini Ursa, which has amazing quality. He also provided some great cine lenses. In retrospect, however, it is not the image I was looking for. After a couple of years of learning more about cameras and lenses, I would have gone for a smaller camera, to lighten and quicken setup, and use vintage lenses to give it a grittier feel.

Sam Koay

The amount of people and time required to set up and get this rig rolling is too large for an indie film short on time. Setting up this gimbal is time consuming, which led to cutting out a few shots that I really wanted. Additionally, we couldn’t really go handheld (which is something I now know I would have rather had) because the rig was too heavy.

Side note – unless you are a DP or really experienced in the field, you really don’t know how long it will take to set up a camera. As such, make sure the camera you choose does not become an obstacle to your shoot.

My Third Mistake – Shot and Design

The biggest things I learnt from this shoot is that I needed to brush up on shots and design.

When you shoot an indie film, I still believe the key is play. I didn’t play enough with my shots and cinematography. If I could go back, I would have made time to find those angles that really push the feeling of being uncomfortable. During shoot, we had to restrict blocking and a lot of movement because set up would take too long. Getting the right lights in, making sure it works, etc – too time consuming.

However, I could have played a lot more with angles and cuts to really get a better feeling.

colour palette

I also should have really thought about my colour palette. After looking at the final footage, the colours just don’t gel and there’s just so much that can be saved in post production.

I still need to work on colour palettes. From what I know now, it really is looking at a scene in totality. I was just been mixing and matching and only focused on the wardrobe rather than the whole scene. I really should have looked into complimentary colours, secondary colours and so on and so forth.

My Fourth Mistake – Post Production

I am a fast editor. I know that. However, I should have spend more time editing this. What I mean from this is that I could have edited a draft, taken a break, and see how I could have rearrange things to make things better.

I started with a faulty script. And I edited based on the faulty script, which means that the end result is, of course, faulty.

In addition, during this point of time, I did not know much about colour grading. As such, I entrusted the colour grade to someone and I really did not like the end result. It was very meh. If I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it to look, I would have known better on how it should have looked at the very end. I also did not give him enough time. I should have given him at least 1 week to do it.

My Final Step

I left the short film for a year and during the MCO, i decided to revisit it. During this time, I re-edited to the final version you see above. In addition, I spend a lot of time learning about colour grading and decided to give it a try for myself. It is still not perfect, but I think it’s getting there.


Jack in the box before
Jack in the box before
Jack in the box before
Jack in the box before


Jack in the box after
Jack in the box after
Jack in the box after
Jack in the box after

Shoot an Indie Film – Conclusion

  1. Spend time on your script – Make sure it’s as great as it could be. Think about the symbolism and the movement. Think about facial expression. If you have someone, let them read it.
  2. Budget correctly – Make sure you utilise the budget in a way that benefits the film as well as you.
  3. Make time for play – Many amazing directors will take countless takes in different angles. Sometimes, it’s just finding that point of view that really makes the film. This includes time during post production. Have the confidence to dissemble your short film and rebuild it. You never know – you might come up with something much better than you could ever expect.
  4. Colour Palette & Colour Grade Make the Film – Think about the colours you want in your film, and blend it naturally in your environment. Don’t force colours that won’t match.
Colour palette in shooting an indie film

I should have known this would look too blue. If I did, I would have made him stand out a bit more here as it compliments the idea of him trying to be different. Instead, he is colourful at the start (when he should be mixing in) and mixing in at the end (when he should be standing out).


A lot has happened in the past 2 years of my life. When I rewatch this film, I can see all the flaws. At the same time, I still believe the story has merit. The most interesting thing is the fact that I can now see that this character and story is far more complex than I intended it to be.

The protagonist himself – is he really the victim of an unjust world? Is the boss really such a problem? I’m not sure anymore. I focused so much on the motivations of this one character that I did not consider the motivation of the others. He could have had an off day – we don’t know!

So what I took from this, when you shoot an indie film, or any film for that matter – you build a whole world. People are just not tools to the story of one man. Each person has a reason. Each person is neither good or bad.

126 thoughts on “Shoot an Indie Film – My Mistakes and Learning”

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