When I was a kid, I used to take trips to the movie theater with my dad. I remember being mystified by the magic unfolding on the big screen. I spent much of my childhood writing, filming on whatever camera I could get my hands on, and editing in cheap programs. I didn’t always know it, but my path led me to filmmaking.
Filmmaking for Dummies: Getting Started
Filmmaking is a unique storytelling method that allows you to create visuals artistically, evoke emotions and captivate audiences with the blend of cinematography, performance, editing, and directing – among many other fields in the filmmaking process.
Like myself, most filmmakers first fall in love with films or television when young and aim to understand how to tell their stories best. While learning how to make films may seem overwhelming, by the end of this post, you’ll feel confident to take the first step in creating your films. I hope you enjoy Filmmaking for Dummies, a beginner’s guide to making fascinating films.
Let’s jump into some of the non-technical basics of filmmaking. You can have the latest gear, the best actors and crew, and a dynamic budget, but without a great script, your film is simply a string out of pretty visuals. My first piece of advice is to read scripts of films you enjoy. Spend time getting familiar with script formatting and learn dos and don’ts – including not placing too many acting or camera direction notes in your script.
Read screenwriting books from the most popular (Save The Cat, anyone?) to obscure screenwriting books. Learn about the various elements and act structures. Everything starts with a great script. Makayla Lysiak does a fantastic job of explaining the basics of a film script in this video.
So, you’ve got a fantastic script and are ready to shoot? Not just yet. Before hiring your cast and crew, think about the overall tone of your story. When you watch a film, and something doesn’t feel quite right, someone likely misses the mark on the tone. What’s the tone of a film? The film’s tone is the language of the film, from the cinematography, wardrobe, locations, editing, color, and performances – the film as a package.
It’s like a film starts with super bright colors, signifying a lighthearted comedy, and through those same bright colors, turns into a heist film but expects the audience to now transition from a comedy to a drama.
If the performances aren’t distinctly different from the beginning, if the cinematography doesn’t shift, and if the color grade of the film stays in the “comedic” realm, chances are the audience will experience dissonance but be unsure why. This is tone. For more on creating tone, check out this MasterClass article.
Lights, Camera, Edit
Finally, you don’t have to be an experienced cinematographer, gaffer, or editor to understand the basics of shot composition, lighting, or editing. Dozens of videos and books are available to help you understand different shots, three-point lighting, and the importance of telling a story through editing. You’ll save time and money when shooting your film by understanding the basics of shot composition, lighting, sound, and editing.
Getting caught up in researching and owning the latest and greatest tech is easy, but the truth is that tech changes every two to three years. Consider renting DSLR or mirrorless cameras with one or two lenses when starting. There are fantastic rental houses and online companies such as Sharegrid or Borrow Lenses.
A little-known secret is that some libraries even have gear for rent for free. Along with your camera, make sure you have a compatible set of memory cards and a tripod that is approved for the weight of your camera.
Additional gear to obtain for your short is a boom microphone, lav mics, and a basic lighting kit. Most filmmakers must pay more attention to the importance of superb audio and lighting and splurge on an expensive camera instead. The better your lighting and audio are, the more likely your film will stand apart from other movies. Finally, ensure you have access to a computer that can edit your project.
On Macs, you have access to iMovie for free, and on PC or Mac, you have access to Davinci Resolve for free. Don’t forget an external hard drive or two to store your editing files! For more filmmaking gear, check out this article about the best gear for your filmmaking kit.
Hiring Your Cast And Crew
When you are first starting, you might not have a budget to pay your cast and crew. This is why many filmmakers recruit their family and friends to help make their films. Regardless of your budget level, be transparent about what your cast and crew will get from the experience. You can often find available cast and crews in your local Facebook groups, on Backstage, ProductionHub, and Mandy.
My advice for caring for your cast and crew is to have great food on set. If you can’t pay them, invest in a sandwich platter instead of pizza. Not only will your cast and crew appreciate you, but they’ll have the energy to continue through a long day without getting into a carbo-loaded daze after lunch.
On Set, Know Your Limitations
We all love to be ambitious when scheduling shoot days, but most novice filmmakers underestimate how much time everything takes. While it is possible to film 10 pages of dialogue in one day, it creates strain on everyone in the production. This is why the more prepared you are in pre-production, the more seamless production will be.
If possible, location scout before filming. Know what shots you’ll be filming and where you’ll be filming. Have your lighting setups planned. Rehearse with your actors before getting on set, and be ready to help with blocking. StudioBinder has a great article about how to plan your shooting days.
Time for you to stitch your film together! Post-production can be daunting, but it’s manageable with the proper workflow. Pick your editing software, and label your video footage and audio takes. In most editing software, you can link the audio and video clips directly in your timeline. This saves you tons of time manually syncing your audio and video files.
Don’t be scared to play with different transitions, cuts, and pacing. Once your visual edit is complete, spend time with sound design, adding music and sound effects. Starting isn’t easy, especially when you are emotionally connected to your film. Please don’t be scared to get outside perspectives on your film from friends, and remember not to take their feedback critically.
For example, read this article about synching audio and video clips in Final Cut Pro from my collaborator Courtney Birk.
Marketing and Distribution
You’ve made it through pre-production, production, and post-production. Your film has been exported so many times you’re at ‘final_final_finalthisoneimsure_please4.mov’ file name. Now what?
Get it out into the world! Whether it’s uploading it to Youtube or Vimeo, hosting a screening at your place, or renting a theater, make sure to have a grand premiere with your cast, crew, friends, and family. If you’re thrilled with your film, look into entering film festivals via FilmFreeway, but read this before entering random, cheap festivals!
Here is one of my short films called Legacy. A Filipino immigrant fulfills his dreams of coming to America, vacationing yearly in Los Angeles with his daughter. Through the years, his videotape entries into a diary provide insight into their relationship and the test of time.
Most importantly, celebrate! You’ve worked hard to complete your film. Many filmmakers make the mistake of finishing their movies and moving on to the next without commemorating their hard work and accomplishments. Come up with a ritual to celebrate finishing your film.
My Final Thoughts
Filmmaking has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Filmmaking has taken me around the world, traveling to film festivals, telling stories, and meeting some of my closest friends. It’s an incredibly overwhelming process to understand at first, but the more you practice and learn, the easier it gets. In my decade-plus of creating 150+ films, I’ve grown as a storyteller and human being.
While it’s not for the faint of heart, filmmaking can help make you make sense of the world around you and share your vision with the world. It’s never been easier to jump online, learn about screenwriting, cinematography, directing, and editing, and make a film in a weekend.
Don’t be scared to experiment and try different storytelling methods to find your style as a filmmaker. Be sure to comment and share any tips, tricks, or resources for filmmakers getting started. Get out there and tell your story. I hope you enjoyed this article, and happy filmmaking!
More Filmmaking Resources for Beginners
- Film Theory: A Guide to Understanding Film Theory
- Documentary Filmmaking Basics
- Low Budget Filmmaking Equipment
Director: Ashleigh Coffelt
Date Created: 2020-08-31 12:16