When you want to get started in filmmaking, it’s not easy to know where to start. With the makeup artists? With the computer graphics? And how do you pull off a car chase? Read on and find out how to get started with the basics and how to make your first film.
Many amateur filmmakers have used cheap cameras to make professional-looking films. However, the self-made material is often directly related to the story, i.e. the content and appearance go together. You have to decide what camera you need and can afford. A camera can cost a few hundred or several thousand euros. If you already have access to a relatively inexpensive camcorder, you can film a story that suits the amateur look of this camera. In the range between 100 – 200 euros you get a large number of camcorders. Manufacturers such as JVC, Canon and Panasonic offer relatively cheap cameras that are mobile and work effectively and take good pictures. Even an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch works well because you can use them to easily transfer your videos from an IOS device to iMovie. IOS devices already have surprisingly good cameras for their standards. Since most people have such a phone, you may not need to spend any extra money. You can also connect an additional device to your iPhone, such as an Olloclip, which costs between 60 – 190 euros. The Olloclip has four different lenses. Cheap cameras can take good pictures. For example, consider the Blairwitch Project. It was shot on an RCA camcorder that was bought cheaply at an ordinary electronics store. In the range between 400 – 900 euros you get solid models from Panasonic and Sony, which were used in films such as “Open Water” and many documentaries. If you are serious about filmmaking and want to do more than just one film, you should consider making an investment like this. The “iMovie” app (EUR 4.99 for IOS devices) is available for the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Macbook. This allows you to quickly make simple films that still look professional.
If you don’t want a very quick and easy solution, i.e. just editing directly with the camera – which would mean filming everything in the right order and only shooting perfect scenes (which is very time-consuming) – then you have to put your footage into a computer load. Apple computers have iMovie installed. PCs have Windows Movie Maker, a simple editing software that allows you to cut your footage together, mix the audio and even create titles, opening and closing credits. You can also upgrade to more complex and professional editing software, such as Video Edit Magic or Avid FreeDV. If those aren’t available, there are two other free but very professional editing programs – Open Shot and Light Works. You can use both for free.
It might be difficult to shoot a space localized movie in your college dorm. Equally inappropriate would be a mall for a gritty film about a prostitute. Which locations are available to you and which stories could work in this environment? The movie Clerks is about a group of apathetic guys who work and hang out in a small shop. If you don’t have access to such a shop, such a story is difficult to implement. Shop and restaurant owners are often reluctant to hire amateur videographers to film on site. But asking doesn’t cost anything. People often find it exciting when they can participate.
With a few exceptions, the production of a film requires many people who are pursuing a common goal: to tell a visually powerful story that is worth it. You need actors and people to help with the shooting. Friends can play the roles or you start a call on Facebook or similar to find people who are interested in your project. If you can’t pay someone, make that clear beforehand. For example, if you live in a town with a college or university, you can put up flyers where drama or similar classes are taught. You might find a local talent. You may be surprised how much fun most people have participating in a project like this.
Since most stories are mainly told through images, you should first think about which idea you can turn into a film. What story do you need to see to believe? Not every detail has to be fixed yet, but you should have a basic idea of the project. Think of movies you enjoy watching or books you enjoy reading. What makes them so interesting? Is it the characters, the plot, the images or the theme? Whatever it is, keep that element in mind as you plan your film. Make a list of all the props, locations, and actors you have available. Then develop a film around it. Keep a dream journal, because dreams are like movies: powerful stories and dreams. Keep a notebook handy to jot down any ideas that come up. Read news in newspapers. You should have a basic idea and work with it. Narrow the idea further as you write the storyline.
To turn an idea into a story, you have to focus on the characters. Who is your protagonist? What does he/she want? Why doesn’t the main character get what she wants? How will the main character change? If you can answer all of these questions, you’re well on your way to writing a good story. It is said that every story begins with one of two things: a stranger arrives and disrupts normalcy, or a hero embarks on a journey. Your story should have a beginning where the setting and characters are introduced. In the middle, the conflicts should have developed and in the end, these conflicts should be resolved.
A screenplay breaks up each moment of the story into discrete, rotating scenes. It might sound tempting to dress up in costume and shoot each scene chronologically. However, it pays to plan things ahead and view your film scene by scene. In a screenplay, all of the dialogue for each character is in place, along with some physical directions, shots, and camera movements. Each scene starts with a short description (e.g. interior, night). Keep costs in mind as you write. For your purposes, it’s probably better to skip the long, 30-minute car chase and get straight to the implications. Your protagonist might be lying in bed with bandages wondering what happened.
A storyboard is like a comic book version of your film but without the dialogue bubbles. This can be done liberally, only drawing the most important scenes or changes. Or, if the story is very image-heavy, it can be very small-scale, capturing every shot and camera angle. This process makes it easier to shoot a long film. Difficult scenes or sequences can thus be anticipated. You can also shoot without a storyboard. Not only does it help you visualize your film better, it also helps you better communicate your vision to the crew members.
Because movies work through images, you should consider how the movie should look and feel. For example, think of two example films: “Matrix” is monochromatic, in a yellow-green tone that gives the impression of digitizing the images. Or: “A Scanner Darkly” by Richard Linklater, which was processed with a rotoscope and thus had an unforgettable cartoon-like look.
Everything is possible. Think, for example, of Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”. The shots of the opening scene were shot with a super high-speed camera that creates smooth, graceful movement. The rest of the film was shot with a handheld or “shake camera” to enhance the sense of the emotional and spiritual conflicts that characterize the film.
What should the scenery of your film look like? Can you shoot it in a real location or do you have to build a set? The sweeping panoramas of big-screen films of the 1960s and ’70s were a combination of wide-open spaces and studio shots. Scenes from The Shining were filmed at a ski hotel in Oregon. “Dogville” was shot on an empty stage with only hinted buildings and props. In movies, how the main characters are costumed is very important in order to convey their personality traits to the viewer. “Men in Black” is a good example of this.
In some films, you see a soft, almost veiled light that makes the actors and scenery look very flattering and makes the whole film almost dreamlike. In others, you find realistic lighting and in still others, the director takes it to the extreme and works with a very harsh light that is almost cutting. Watch Domino starring Keira Knightley.
If you want to work directly at an existing location, find the right one and make sure that you can shoot there. If you’re working on a staged set, you’ll need to furnish it (e.g., with props). If possible, you should use existing locations. Green screens (green areas onto which something is later projected) look inappropriate in certain locations. But you can use them if you want. It’s easier to shoot in a bar than to make a room into one.
He controls the creative aspects of the film and is the main liaison between the crew and the actors. When you have an idea for a film and you know exactly how you want it to look and feel, then you probably want to direct it. But if you’re not good at leading people and bossing them around, then you can either direct someone else – or hire someone to direct the entire film. You choose the most important employees, supervise the filming and offer creative input where it is needed.
He ensures that everything that has to do with the lighting and the actual filming works. He also works with the director to decide how each shot will look, be lit, and shot. Or she or he takes care of lighting and camera crews. For smaller productions, he/she operates the camera himself.
This person ensures that the scenery/set matches the director’s creative vision. He or she may also be responsible for the props (anything that goes with the equipment). Costumes, hairstyles, and makeup may fall into this category on a very small production. On a large production, this person chooses (or sews) every costume that appears in the film. In smaller productions, this person often has other tasks.
One or more people can be responsible for the sound. Dialogue must be captured either in the scene or in post-production. Sound effects like shots, grenades or explosions have to be created. Music must be selected or produced. It has to be shuffled and sounds (footsteps, crunching leather, breaking plates, slamming doors) have to be made. The sound has to be mixed, edited and adjusted with the film in post-production. And remember, music doesn’t have to be very loud. In a silent scene, it can be so quiet that the viewer hardly registers it. It then only underlines the actual scene.
People around you may join in if they are named in the opening or closing credits of a low-budget film. Of course it would be an advantage if you could win a well-known actor for your film. But if you want to play to your actors’ strengths, then you have to make sure the end product is great. If you need a cop, ask one if he’s available for a few scenes in the afternoon. But make sure that nothing illegal happens while the police officer is there. Otherwise it could cause trouble. If you need the advice of a teacher or professor, ask at the school or university. Test the range of your actors. If you want one of them to cry in a sad scene, make sure he/she can do that before signing the contract. Make sure the dates match. Your actors should be available on set when you need them. Be wary of stunt scenes that could injure your actors.
You need at least one video camera. You’ll also likely need a tripod to set the camera on for steady shots. There is also lighting and sound equipment. It’s a good idea to take a few test shots. Meanwhile, your actors can rehearse and the crew can coordinate their activities.
Note which “take” is the best of the scene. That will help you later in the cut. If you have to look at all the failed or bad takes every time you search for a scene, then the editing process will take forever. Make sure everyone is on the right side of the schedule for each scene at the start of each day. It can be very time-consuming to bring everything necessary, the crew and the location to a common denominator. It is therefore helpful if you write and distribute a shooting schedule right at the beginning.
Your decisions are the basis for whether you shoot a “home movie” or a professional-looking film. Some find that shooting a scene from different camera angles makes it more interesting and easier to edit. As a general rule, professional filmmakers shoot each scene full, medium long and with close-ups of the important elements.
Bring your material to the computer and load the files. Capture them and find out which settings are good. Produce a rough cut with these settings. How you edit your film is critical to how the final product looks and feels. Jump cuts capture the viewer’s interest and are often used in action movies. Long, lingering shots can also leave a deep impression. However, if done poorly, they can become very boring. Watch the beginning of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. You can also cut to match the music to work quickly and effectively. You can also edit to the music of a quiet scene in the film by choosing music that sets the right mood. Editing a scene from different angles can show parallel things. You can use your editing system’s split or razor tool to create smaller clips of different takes. You can then mix and match them. You will soon find out how to do it. With digital editing, you can still undo your mistakes with the undo or back button.
Your music should be tuned so that every second fits the flow of your film. The live audio track you recorded while shooting should be loud and clear. If necessary, re-record important parts. If you decide to release your film, keep in mind that certain found music can cause legal problems. It is, therefore, better to have music composed for the film. In addition, there are many talented musicians who would like to gain experience on such a project.
The actors and crew should be named at the end of the film. You can also include a thank you to organizations you’ve had the privilege of filming with. But better keep it simple.
Cut a teaser or trailer. If you want to promote your film online or in a theater, cut a promotional trailer. Don’t show too much of your story. But the audience should be interested. And don’t forget to upload your film to YouTube or Vimeo. If your film is playing in a theater, don’t upload it to YouTube because you won’t make as much money from it as you would from ticket sales. Only load teasers etc. up and don’t forget to promote your film on places other than YouTube!
Sound and lighting are very important: Good sound (where you can hear the person speaking without hearing the cameraman breathing or street noise) is extremely important. Good lighting is what makes a video/film viewable. Good, cheap lighting includes: shooting in the morning or evening hours, on a foggy or overcast day, or in the shade (if there’s a darker background). Light reflectors can help brighten the shadowy side of a face. Professional spotlights are suitable for night shoots. You don’t necessarily have to plan every detail of the film. You have to know the plot and the script. Small changes are not bad. Improvisation can make a film more realistic and fresh if the actor gets it right. Find ways to make your film special and unique.
In screenwriting, don’t steal ideas. Your ideas must come from you and be as unique as possible. You don’t have the same budget as a Hollywood producer. To stand out, you have to be as unique as possible. If you want to shoot in a location that you don’t own – such as a restaurant – ask permission from the owner or manager in advance. In this way, you ensure that everything runs smoothly from a legal point of view and guarantee the right processes. This way you avoid delays and complications during the shoot. Get permission to shoot or something similar in writing so that there are no problems later.