Home Industry What is a Feature Film? A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

What is a Feature Film? A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

by Neil Chase

There’s no denying the immense influence and significance of feature films in the entertainment industry. 

Since the first flickering images of the Lumière brothers’ films captivated audiences in the late 19th century, feature films have become an integral part of global culture, capturing our imaginations, echoing our societies, and often shaping our perceptions of the world.

But what exactly is a feature film? And how can you, an aspiring filmmaker, navigate the process of creating one?

This guide is meant to prepare film students, independent artists, and movie enthusiasts with the necessary knowledge to create their first feature film. It provides a clear explanation of what constitutes a feature film and how to bring one to life on the big screen.

So, ready to lift the curtain on the world of motion picture arts and start your journey as a filmmaker? Let’s delve in and unravel the magic of creating a feature film!

Understanding Feature Films

So, what exactly is a feature film? Simply put, a feature film is a full-length movie typically intended for theatrical release. While definitions can vary, the industry generally considers a film that’s over 40 minutes in length as a ‘feature.’ This distinguishes feature films from other formats, such as short films (which are under 40 minutes) and television episodes.

But feature films aren’t just about length. They span countless genres and styles, from thrillers and sci-fi to dramas, comedies, documentaries, and animations. Each genre provides a unique way to tell stories and connect with audiences.

Indeed, storytelling is at the heart of feature films. It’s not just about creating moving images but crafting engaging narratives that captivate, move, and leave lasting impressions on audiences. Understanding these basics about feature films is key for aspiring filmmakers and film enthusiasts alike.

Let’s look at how you can bring your own feature film ideas to life!

The Filmmaking Process: From Concept to Script

Every feature film begins as a flicker of an idea, a compelling concept that has the potential to captivate audiences. Whether it’s a unique situation, a character, or a theme burning to be explored, this is where your filmmaking journey starts.

Developing a film concept is not just about imagination but also about meticulous research and brainstorming. 

You may explore similar works for inspiration, dive into historical or scientific research to add authenticity or draw from personal experiences and observations. The goal is to refine your concept, turning it into a story that will form the basis of your first feature film.

Once you have a solid concept, it’s time to translate it into a screenplay. Writing a screenplay is much more than just scripting the dialogue – it’s about structuring the story, developing characters, and crafting scenes that create an engaging cinematic experience.

You’ll build your story around a structure, typically a three-act structure with a beginning (setup), middle (confrontation), and end (resolution).

Your characters are the heart of your story. As you develop them, consider their motivations, conflicts, and arcs – how they change and grow over the course of the narrative. Your audience should care about what happens to them, and that’s where well-crafted character development becomes important.

And, of course, dialogue plays a vital role in bringing your characters and story to life. It should sound natural and authentic to each character while advancing the plot and revealing individual character traits.

As you write your screenplay, you’ll want to make sure to format your script correctly. Celtx screenwriting software can help you make sure that your script adheres to industry standards. And, with the advent of AI writing tools it will be interesting to see how the screenwriting process evolves. 

Pre-production: Planning for Success

Pre-production is the phase where your feature film takes shape outside the script pages. It’s the stage where you lay the groundwork for a successful shoot.

Securing financing for your film is usually the first task. To bring your vision to life, ensuring you have the necessary budget is first up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re acquiring funds from production companies or private investors or you’re applying for grants or even crowdfunding – the money aspect is the linchpin of your project!

Once the finances are in place, you’ll start assembling your team. This includes key positions like a director (if it isn’t you), producer, director of photography, production designer, and others. You’ll also go through the casting process, finding the perfect screen actors to bring your characters to life.

Creating a detailed production plan is another part of pre-production. This includes preparing a shot list, which details the shots you plan to capture, and storyboards, which provide a visual representation of your film’s sequences. You’ll also need to establish a production schedule outlining when and where each scene will be shot.

Location scouting is another vital aspect of pre-production. This involves finding the perfect places to shoot your scenes, securing the necessary permits to film there, and anticipating any logistical challenges that might arise.

Successfully managing traffic, coordinating with local authorities, and ensuring your cast and crew have the appropriate amenities are critical for ensuring a seamless production experience.

By properly preparing for these challenges, you can set the stage for success and keep your video production running smoothly.

Lights, Camera, Action: The Production Phase

Production is where the magic truly happens as your script and pre-production plans spring to life. It’s during this phase that your feature film gets physically shot and it involves collaboration between various roles and responsibilities.

Key roles on set include the director, who is the creative lead guiding the performance and composition of each shot, and the cinematographer (or director of photography), who crafts the visual aspects of the film. Several other crew members – from sound technicians to production designers to gaffers – each contribute their skills to make your feature-length film.

Effective communication and collaboration are vital during production. It’s a fast-paced environment with many moving parts, so having everyone on the same page ensures things run smoothly and the vision for the film is executed correctly. This also fosters a positive on-set atmosphere, contributing to a more productive and creative filmmaking process.

During production, the technical aspects of filming take center stage. It is crucial to master basic shot types, camera movements, and various camera techniques to visually tell your story. By doing so, your screenplay comes to life on the screen!

Lighting is key in setting the mood and directing the audience’s attention. Sound recording is equally essential, capturing dialogues and on-set sounds that bring authenticity to your film.

The Basics of Video Lighting

Remember, the production phase is a complex, creative, and exhilarating stage of the filmmaking process, where planning and preparedness meet artistry and spontaneity.

Post-production: Bringing the Film to Life

Once the camera stops rolling, the post-production phase begins. This is where all the pieces of your feature film come together.

The first step in post-production is usually editing. This is where you assemble the footage in a way that effectively tells your story, ensuring the pacing, transitions, and sequencing all work together to create an engaging narrative.

Sound design is another aspect of post-production. This includes everything from dialogue editing to creating sound effects and ambient noise. It’s through this process that the audio landscape of your film is constructed, adding another layer of realism and immersion for your audience.

Choosing the right music for your film is also of great importance. A film score or soundtrack can enhance the emotional impact of your film, helping to set the mood, create tension, or bring out the emotions in a scene. It’s not just about picking good music, but music that fits the narrative, characters, and overall tone of your film.

Last but definitely not least is color grading. This is where you adjust the colors in your film to achieve a certain look or mood. Whether it’s a warm, saturated look for a romantic scene or a desaturated, cool look for a dystopian sci-fi film, color grading is a powerful tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal.

To sum it up, post-production is where all the various elements of your feature film – from the visual to the auditory – come together, forming a cohesive, engaging, and polished cinematic piece.

Distribution and Exhibition

After your feature film is complete, it’s time for the world to see it. This stage involves distribution and exhibition, which are crucial to reaching your audience and recouping your investment.

There are several ways to distribute and exhibit your feature film. Film festivals are a popular choice among independent filmmakers. In addition to being a platform for showcasing yourhttps://raindance.org/behind-the-scenes-the-business-of-filmmaking/ work to audiences and industry professionals, they can unlock doors to broader distribution opportunities. Attending these festivals could be the opportunity to gain wider recognition for your film.

A theatrical release is another option, where your film is shown in cinemas. This traditional cinema route can reach a large audience, but it’s often competitive and can require significant resources for marketing and distribution fees.

In recent years, digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have become viable avenues for distribution of movies. They offer potential access to a global audience and can provide more flexibility regarding release strategies.

Marketing your film effectively is essential in any distribution strategy. This could involve creating compelling trailers, designing eye-catching posters, utilizing social media, and even organizing premiere events. The goal is to generate buzz and reach your target audience, enticing them to watch your film.

The Business Side of Filmmaking

While filmmaking is an art, it’s also very much a business, involving financial investments, strategic decision-making, and the use of various business tools.

As noted in this article, creating a feature film is a significant financial expense. Budgeting is crucial, detailing expected costs for everything from pre-production to distribution. This informs your financing strategy, whether you’re seeking investment from production companies, applying for grants, launching a crowdfunding campaign, or using personal funds.

Once the film is complete, thinking about revenue streams is next. These could include box office sales, streaming platform licensing, DVD sales, or selling broadcast rights to TV networks. Understanding these streams can help forecast your return on investment and navigate the financial landscape of filmmaking.

The legal side is another important facet of the business. Contracts need to be established for everything from actor agreements to music licensing. Managing rights is also crucial to ensure you have legal permission to use all elements within your film. This includes protecting your own intellectual property and registering your film for copyright.

Networking plays a significant role in the business of filmmaking. Building relationships with industry professionals can open doors to opportunities, provide valuable insights, and lead to collaborations on future projects. Attend industry events, film festivals, and workshops to connect with like-minded individuals and potential partners.

In essence, the business side of filmmaking is just as important as the creative. Balancing both aspects will help you succeed in the film industry!


In this guide, we’ve looked at how you can make your first feature-length film or short film by showing you the process of creating motion pictures. We’ve also touched on the business side of filmmaking, looking at the importance of financial planning, legal aspects, and networking. Finally, we went over how to get your first feature film into the world through distribution and marketing.

Don’t forget, it’s your unique creative spark that’s at the center of this whole feature film production journey. It’s that spark that will turn your most compelling stories into shorts or full-length films. So keep working on your craft, continue perfecting those skills, and soon enough, you’ll see your very own stories lighting up the big screen!

Here’s to your successful journey as a filmmaker!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Considered a Feature Film?

A feature film is a full-length movie, typically anywhere over 40-60 minutes in duration, designed to be the main attraction in a theatrical screening. It’s a narrative work that employs elements such as script, acting, cinematography, and directing to create an engaging story or express artistic visions.

What is the Difference Between a Feature Film and a Movie?

A “movie” is a general term that refers to any motion picture or filmed entertainment, regardless of its length or type. On the other hand, a “feature film” is a specific type of movie, typically over 40-60 minutes long, that is designed to be the main or “feature” presentation in a cinema setting.


  • Neil Chase

    Neil Chase is a story and writing coach, award-winning screenwriter, actor, and author of the horror-western novel, Iron Dogs.  Neil has won over 100 international awards for his writing and filmmaking, including the prestigious FilmMaker’s International Screenwriting Grand Prize Award & the ScreamFest Best Screenplay Award. His directorial-debut feature film, Spin The Wheel, is currently in post-production. Neil believes that all writers have the potential to create great work. His passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are both entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, check out his website for tips and inspiration!

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