Your first feature will likely be made on a shoe-string budget, however, just like how some of the best meals are made in a pressure cooker, some of the best films are made under incredibly challenging circumstances – it seems to push out the best in everyone involved. Take these 10 low-budget films as an example; they pushed their directors to be smart and learn a lot from the whole process, leading them all into incredibly successful filmmaking careers.
Monsters (2010, UK)
Writer/Director: Gareth Edwards
Budget: £ 15,000 est.
With Monsters, writer and director Gareth Edwards both celebrated the forgotten film genre and created a monster movie “set years after most monster movies end”. The film follows a journalist and an American tourist as they try to make it back to safely the American border through an alien-infested Mexico. Just watching the trailer, you wouldn’t believe this film was shot on such a small budget.
Edwards demonstrates what you can achieve by being resourceful – driving your crew around different locations in a van and learning to use your laptop for editing and to create special effects. The specific budget is a rumour on the Internet: “around £15,000”. But even Edwards likely doesn’t know the exact amount. Nevertheless, it led the director to great things (we all know his latest feature is the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One).
Paranormal Activity (2009, USA)
Writer/Director: Oren Peli
When released, the film was marketed as “one of the scariest movies of all times”, and although the style has now been beaten like a dead horse, Paranormal Activity remains a fantastic film for its inventive use of two classic indie movie techniques: one location and handheld camera.
The film tells the story of a couple who move into a new suburban home only for a ‘paranormal’ presence to begin haunting their nights. Writer and director Oren Peli used his own house for this. Also eliminating the need for a camera crew by making the camera ‘diegetic’ (i.e. actually in the film), as the couple films their own hauntings and discussions – something that only increased the film’s believability. The film also focuses on the raw ‘scare factor’ rather than on gore and action. Thus working to contain the budget and establish empathy and a sense of “familiarity” with the audience.
The Blair Witch Project (1999, USA)
Writer/Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Most low budgets gather an audience based on word of mouth, but this film used the new and emerging technology of the Internet to create a viral campaign. This led many people to believe the events in the film to be true, as they portrayed it as a true documentary. The film grossed $248 million in the end, making it one of the films with the highest ratio of box office sales to production costs. It also managed to inspire a new wave of horror films, using handheld footage.
Pi (1998, USA)
Writer/Director: Darren Aronofsky
Pi tells the story of a quest to find the meaning of God through numbers. However perplexing the film is, it is masterly crafted and wonderfully filmed by ones of today’s most prominent art house directors, Darren Aronofsky. As the paranoia and obsession of the main character takes hold, the film follow suite, surging through mind-bending metaphors and sequences. Aronofsky, determined to see the project through, sold shares to his family and friends, which managed to fund a majority of the project.
Living in Oblivion (1995, USA)
Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
This meta-film shows filmmakers that their struggles making a low-budget film could be so much worse. The film follows a director having to deal with intoxicated actors, script changes, and just about everything going wrong. Shot in only 16 days, and completely financed by the friends and family of DiCillo, goes to show that when you have a strong enough idea, everyone is willing to help out – the actors of the film even worked for free, and some in fact contributed to it initial funding.
Clerks (1994, USA)
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith
Clerks tells the story of a group of friends, set mostly in the humble setting of a convenience store. Crafting a script full of humour and witty dialogue, Kevin Smith chose to shoot his film in black and white to bring his writing to the foreground. Young and unenchanted college students and adults were drawn to this simple slacker comedy; it being a truer reflection of their own lives than any big blockbuster. Smith did everything he could to finance his film, from maxing out all of his credit cards to selling most of his comic book collection. The risk was worth it in the end. Since its debut in 1994, Clerks has led Kevin Smith to a extensive career in writing and filmmaking.
El Mariachi (1992, Mexico/USA)
Writer/Director: Robert Roderiguez
The lowest budget of this list is Robert Roderiguez’s pinnacle of independent film, El Mariachi, famed being funded by drug trials Roderiguez went through. The film follows a mariachi band player who is mistaken for an infamous Mexican criminal. In Roderiguez’s book, “Rebel Without A Crew,” he details how he was able to produce a film ‘without a crew’, explaining that, along with Roderiguez, the other actors in the film would operate the film equipment when they were off camera. The film’s ingenuity and creativity continues to be an inspiration for independent filmmakers.
Mad Max (1979, Australia)
Writer: George Miller and James McCausland
Director: George Miller
Budget: Australian $350,000
Hearing that a film can be made for less than half a million dollars, and go on to earn $100 million world wide, and spawn two sequels, is madness (unless you’re talking about Mad Max or Paranormal Activity, or The Blair Witch Project).
Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, and focusing on the collapse of society helped to launch the careers of both lead actor Mel Gibson and director George Miller. Also helping to open up the global market to Australian film scene.
Eraserhead (1977, USA)
Writer/Director: DAVID LYNCH!
David Lynch’s debut feature sets an appropriate tone for his oeuvre, it being perplexing and revolting and fascinating, no matter how many times it is viewed. The story behind the film almost just has surprising; because of shoddy funding the film took about 5 years to complete filming. Lynch’s friends (like actress Sissy Spacek) and family helped to finance the remaining money not covered by the American Film Institute. But the long delay was well worth the wait as the film produced remains the most iconic “midnight movie”.
Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972, Germany)
Writer/Director: Werner Herzog
Conveniently chronological order has left the most incredible film until last, also made under likely the most incredible circumstances of any film – ever!
Werner Herzog wrote the script in only two and a half days, and whilst traveling on a bus with his football team. The film depicts a Heart of Darkness-esk story of the insane ‘Aguirre’ as he travels through South America. Just as life imitates arts, so too did the filming begin to become insane; the use of stunt men and special effects not in the budget; the crew had to deal with moving all the equipment around in the extreme heat and dangerous landscape of the jungle; and the temperamental main actor Klaus Kinski actually shot off the finger of an extra.
The film later inspired Apocalypse Now, which (yet again) famously suffered many disastrous setbacks.
Tripods may not be incredibly exciting just as they are, but they can help produce incredibly exciting shots.
Do you appreciate anything near the full potential of your tripod? If not, don’t feel bad; imagining the creative and cinematic possibilities of such an unspectacular and uncinematic piece of gear is a challenge. Luckily, Film Riot and Ryan Connolly took the time to come up with eight tripod tips and tricks you can use to help your films to look smoother and more creative.
We’ve summarised Film Riot’s video below, detailing the 8 Tripod tips and techniques they recommend:
- Smoother Pans – elastic bands?
Unless you have the bottomless pocket of Hollywood, you won’t be able to invest in film equipment that produces seamless and smooth pans – but you can use rubber bands. Pulling your tripod handle with one of these acts as a shock absorber, eliminating any of the wobble of the human hand, and producing smoother pans.
- Smoother Tilts – use gravity!
Just loosen the lock on your tilt and allow Newton’s law of gravitation to do the work for you. Of course you will have to adjust you drag to get the speed you want, but this is a zero-cost way of getting super-smooth tilts.
- The Tripod Steadycam?
Just shorten the centre column of your tripod and extend out the legs perpendicular to get a pretty good steady shot. Hold the tripod column near the top and allow gravity to help you stabilise you shot.
This is also helps you steady your shot in post-production, having an initial smooth shot to work with.
- Smooth Low angles:
Just turn your tripod steadycam upside down to get some sweet low-angle shots. You’ll probably remember to rotate the footage in post, as it will be upside down!
- DIY SnorriCam:
Angle the legs of your tripod against your waist while holding the center column, and it acts as a harness similar to those used in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.
- The Tripod Dolly:
Shorten one leg of your tripod and tilt on the other two to create a sweet tripod dolly. Can be used to create dynamic pushes in or out, or you can pan whilst moving to create a beautiful Dutch shot.
Works best with a heavier tripod, like the Benro BV10 used in the video.
- The Tripod jib:
Turn your tripod dolly into a jib by extending the legs and stabilizing them with sandbags. This can be used to create beautiful high-to-low or low-to-high movements. Just make sure the legs are secure, otherwise they will slip.
- Top Down shots:
Strap your tripod to the top step of a ladder and point your camera down.
This creates a Birdseye view shot, which can be very difficult to do smoothly without expensive equipment.
- “Jump Over” shots:
Very common in sports films or commercials; just secure your tripod on top of a couple boxes and pan when your subject jumps over the camera. You can pan the camera in place and it will follow the subject jumping over.
So those are the top 8 (or 9) Tripod tips and techniques you can use to create smooth and dynamic shots, they are all super-cheap so you can try them all out with no more investment than your time well spent.
Thanks again to Film Riot and Ryan Connolly for providing the video.
Smartphones are incredibly useful for documentary filmmakers as they are excellent cameras for “cinema vérité”: an increasingly popular style characterised by its realistic capture of events, often as they are happening – a la improvisation. In fact, there is somewhat of a revolution happening in cinema with smartphones, as discussed in another one of our articles.
However, one major challenge faced by smartphone filmmakers is the limited hardware; how can you keep shooting with limited battery life and storage space? This may sound paradoxical, and it kind of is. If you need more battery life and storage then just use a ‘proper’ camera, right?That’s not always an option though, as those who choose smartphones often do so because of how cheap and lightweight they are – so they wouldn’t want a bigger camera anyway. Luckily, there are now plenty of accessories sold which resolve, as well as stuff to super-charge your smart-phone: rigs, apps, and lenses.
The Helium Core is one such rig; a chassis for customizing your iPhone camera rig, which when used alongside the Moondog Labs lenses, can produce a result that is visually appealing and costs only a fraction of a DSLR rig – especially if you follow our guide on how to get a cinematic look to your smartphone footage. Take a look at the results!
As far as fixing storage space and battery life, you can also follow these smartphone filmmaking tips to optimise your device:
- Use a Portable Charger
This is a necessary for everyone thinking of filming on a smartphone. You can quickly and easily pick up these, they usually charge via a USB port, and the high-end ones can actually store 5 or more of your phones full battery life.
- Clean out your Smartphone!
This is less obvious, but if you’re serious about filmmaking, then you’ll need to remove a lot of the baggage from your phone. Whether that be old iMessage conversations, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms which suck up your storage with their caches, games of course (apart from maybe Sudoku for your coffee break), and so many other unnecessary apps you have.
It is also a good idea to export your camera roll before each day of filming – not only freeing up space, but allowing you to better organise your dailies, and avoid the catastrophe of ever losing footage.
Nb. Also make sure your phone is updated! Sometimes there is just half GB updates sitting in your storage, taking up space, waiting to be installed.
- Bring your Laptop and External Hard Drive
This helps with both previous points, you can charge your phone off your laptop if necessary (although only as a last minute thing), and export your footage to it or your external harddrive.
If you use an android then luckily you will likely be able to use microSD cards to store everything in, although it is still advisable to bring something with TBs of memory – you don’t want to have lots of microSD cards everywhere, unorganised and easily lost.
- Record what you can ahead of time
If you are forced to record the interviews and B-roll all in one day, then you don’t always have to record the full interview. It will take up a lot of storage space on your phone.
Instead you can record just the audio of some of the interview (using the voice memo app most smartphones have) and edit your B-roll footage over it in post-production.
A good camera and a natural eye will get you somewhere, but if you really want to go far and achieve great things in filmmaking you’ll need to nurture a few keys skills.When you start filming, everyone needs to know how to do these key things: how to shoot, how to use different pieces of gear, how to edit, and (hopefully) how to write a compelling story. Beyond that (and only really gained through years of experience in the field, and years of mistakes, failures and learning from them), there are really valuable skills and mind-sets that will help you get noticed.
With the hope of passing on what he has learnt over the years, Darious Britt, who runs the YouTube channel D4Darious (which has almost 200,000 subscribers), has created a video listing the 9 skills he thinks are most essential.
Each of Darious’s points touch on a different aspect of being a filmmaker, a real filmmaker, with all the ups and downs and unglamorous failures that come with that. Here we have reviewed his list, summarising each point, into a list of Top Tips for student filmmakers.
(Also check out another of our articles “Turning Filmmaking Dreams Into Reality” where we detail a similar set of qualities which will really help you go far in the industry.)
This is really about being pragmatic. The chances of you making your debut film and it skyrocketing you into being the next Denis Villeneuve or Damien Chazelle are near-zero. You can’t rely on the luck a few others have, the meteroric success stories are like winning the lottery. You need to take the small jobs, the projects that you will need to sacrifice your precious “artistic integrity” for – whether that be commercials, training videos, adverts, wedding videos even. This point, above all, is that you can’t afford to be full of pride – as that won’t get you far.
- Business savvy
This is about economy. Don’t aim to write the biggest, most action-packed blockbuster to begin with, and certainly don’t waste your breathe trying to get a studio to pick it up. Instead write and make 5 smaller films for the price of that one. Think about what studios will actually pay for, and also what audiences will pay to see. Know your audience and again (the same as before) be pragmatic.
- Know how to learn
This just goes for life. It’s certainly not something that can be ‘taught’, as such, but instead something which you need to nurture within yourself, and that takes a good knowledge of oneself, and a lot of tenacity. It doesn’t come from filmschool, which is becoming increasingly less important (as discussed in another of our articles here). Make the most out of everything that happens to you. You succeed? Good, learn from it and move on. You fail? Too bad, but you have to be able to learn even more from it, and you have to learn to move on.
- Technical Expertise
Filmmaking is more of a technical subject that most give it credit for. There is a vast amount of not only technology you need to become acquainted with, but also huge amount of regular practices which you need to adopt – whether that be marketing, Photoshop, special effects, or even understanding the physics of a camera.
- Story Analysis
They say that some are just born with a naturally brilliant genius for voice, the written word and story – think Oscar Wilde or F. Scott Fitzgerald – and that others will never achieve the same knack for storytelling, even with all the training in the world. This is a lie (mostly). There is a science you can learn, and from that the art will come: story structure, fundamentals of drama, character development.
For this there are 3 books:
- Story by Robert Mckee
- Screenplay by Syd Field
- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Also read more. This will help so much more than you will think; if anything this is actually more important to making movies than even watching movies.
- Film grammar
Like all languages, film has grammar, and hence rules in place, although the rules are slightly less strict than with written language. You can subvert various rules for a desired effect, but you still need to know the rules in the first place to be able to do this.
Filmmaking is the most social artform of them all. You can’t get away with being a recluse or ‘just-not-a-people-person’. You have to learn to communicate with everyone in your crew, and work well with them. This involves management, motivation, and empathy. A huge part of empathy will be knowing what each persons jobs actually entail, and their responsibility as part of the whole working machine that makes up your crew.
- Critical thinking
This ultimately comes down to being logical about what works and not being overly sentimental about ‘your baby’. Tone and pacing a hugely important and if you find out that a whole scene doesn’t fit in your film only after you’ve started editing, you still need to chop it.
- Talent and hustle
Everyone loves talent; it’s the one skill that gets all the praise when something great is achieved. However what is forgotten are all the skills which helped talent get there – and without which, talent would have gotten nowhere.
Hustle is actually much more necessary, and will actually get you further – as Darious said “Talent rarely beats hustle when talent don’t hustle”.
As teachers, it’s our job to guide our students in every way. Of course, the first thing that means is teaching facts and theories to budding minds. But it also means being something of a life coach, too, sometimes even being a shoulder to cry on.
So to help your students, here are three things that are going to kick start their careers in the film industry.
Have them really consider whether filmmaking is the future for them
This should always be the first of many tips for growing your filmmaking career. And it’s by far the most important, because let’s face it: not every single film student is going to go on to be a professional. There are some things that we can control, like how hard we study, schmooze and work; and there are some things we can’t, like how much we really want it.
Every student has to ask themselves: do I have the patience, time and fortitude to turn my dream into a reality? If yes, then that’s fantastic, although we should all be aware that passion alone won’t make anybody stand out from the crowd. But if the desire just isn’t there, it’s better to acknowledge that before wasting too much time.
Always keep a positive attitude
The first of our tips for growing your filmmaking career is to stay positive. It’s true that it’s difficult to get a career in filmmaking, and that the hours are long, and that the slog is hard. So it can be difficult to crack a smile at the end of all that! But it’s positivity that’s absolutely necessary to keep a young filmmaker going through those hard times.
Positivity is especially helpful during that first long job search. There are probably going to be dozens of emails and applications that never even get a reply, and a few promised phone calls that you’ll never receive. Tell your students that it’s natural to feel disappointed not to get the job they were after, but that the most important thing is to pick yourself up, and get back on the horse.
Tell them that sometimes, being pushy is a good thing
Let’s go back to that unanswered email for, say, an internship. Your student could just leave it at that; if the employer doesn’t respond, it’s probably pretty clear that your student isn’t in contention for the job, right?
…Well, yeah, probably. But even so- tell them it’s always worth being a little pushy and sending a follow up email, making a follow up call, or even trying to see somebody in person. Why? Reason number one is that you can get useful information on why you didn’t get the job, be it your outlook, your experience, or your grades.
But the second reason is that maybe your pushiness might land you that job after all: it shows how much you really wanted it in the first place, which can impress an employer. That pushiness is what careers in film industry are based on… Figuring out how FAR to push without going over the edge is the talent that usually only comes through experience and learning from mistakes.
Need some inspiration for your latest shoot? Or just looking for some reading material? Aren’t we all. One of the best ways of finding that inspiration is in the stories or expertise of others, but the problem is, that everyone and their mum has a blog these days. So how do you find the best of the bunch?
Look no further! Feel free to check out our list of twenty top filmmaking blogs, for hints and tips on cameras and camera angles, and to help kick start your career
Stephen Follows’ personal blog is one of the best websites for filmmakers looking for insight into the movie industry. We liked his recent post on 49 interesting facts about filmmaking in the UK. Apparently, the BFI awarded more than £1million to short films in 2012- where can we get some of that?!
Chris Jones’ blog, at the aptly named chrisjonesblog.com, is a great resource: he features articles on making a ‘killer’ pitch, as well as how to make low budget horror movies. And if you’re in the mood to kill some time, he regularly posts blogs on top film quotes and filmmaking tips. He puts out loads of general tips that are great for anyone looking for top filmmaking blogs.
Nofilmschool.com isn’t a personal blog- it’s much more than just a blog! They have forums on any number of filmmaking topics too. But their blog is a great way of keeping up to date with all the latest releases and latest conferences, as well as finding out facts about things from filming on a smartphone to the movie industry at large.
We love Indiewire- it’s one of the best websites for filmmakers. They’re constantly being updated with posts on both TV and film. We really liked their post not too long ago, which put together 30 (thirty!) moviemaking tips from ‘the best directors working today’. Richard Linklater thinks that the key to good filmmaking lies in storytelling. Who knew?
Filmmaker Magazine’s online blog can keep you up to date with all the latest news and releases. Their piece on George Romero’s death not long ago, not wanting to miss a trick, talked about what’s next for zombie movies in the Age of Trump. You just can’t get away from politics these days! But seriously, check them out, they’re one of the best filmmaking blogs on our list.
PREMIUMBEAT’s blog- known simply as The Beat- is great for checking out the latest tech. One of their latest posts takes a look at RED Cameras and HYDROGEN. Another post of theirs we really liked is on how to stop expensive gear from overheating- they really do cover every conceivable topic, eh?
Cinema 5D are another site that specifically covers the latest advancements in filmmaking tech: cameras, DSLRs and the like. But aside from that, they are host to a range of guest bloggers on topics like cinematic filmmaking tutorials. They also put out really in-depth reviews of the latest filmmaking equipment, too. Worth checking out if you’re a tech head.
Philip Bloom’s personal blog is another cracker. Bloom is a world renowned filmmaker, having been a part of the industry for almost thirty years. He really loves Canon DSLRs, so expect to see some love for Canon in his blog! Aside from that, he posts about all sorts. It’s great to get some insight from an older head in the industry.
Moviemaker’s blog, like many others here, is the host of a dozen or more guest bloggers who each contribute on various topics. If you didn’t know, Moviemaker Magazine is a leading movie making magazine (yes, really) over in the U.S. You might not see it on every shelf over here, but you can still subscribe- although if you don’t want to fork out £6 a month for the privilege, check out their insightful blog instead.
FilmmakerIQ is one of the most interesting sites on this list. Every single one of their posts has a cutesy header image, made especially, featuring two little cartoon puppets… It’s difficult to describe but still do their site justice! Anyway, check out their blog, because they cover all sorts- why filmmaking is becoming more important in schools and ‘the treachery of expectations’.
Filmmaking Stuff is a great site for anyone interested in resourceful filmmaking and self publishing. You can use their blog to find hints on how to set and meet your own filmmaking targets, using your smartphone to film, and whether you’re likely to be replaced by a robot any time soon. The blogs are normally courtesy of Jason Brubaker.
Noam Kroll’s top filmmaking blogs are for anyone wanting to improve their shooting skills. Noam is a filmmaker out in L.A., and his blog is for all his thoughts on the industry and shooting on a micro-budget. We just wish he’d update more often, because his tips make his blog one of the best filmmaking blogs we found.
Learningvideo.com is Dave Dugdale’s site all about turning from an amateur filmmaker to a pro. Dave actually calls himself an advanced amateur, which is probably not quite fair to him! He’s great at what he does, and you can see how he tries to recreate professional shots with his own equipment.
Newsshooter.com is a website mainly geared towards film journalists, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth checking out no matter your background. They regularly feature new hardware and software that you might find useful, too. They recently reviewed their experience at Cine Gear Expo, and are one of the best filmmaking blogs for filmmaking tech.
Vashi Visuals is a website dedicated to low budget filmmaking, and we mean dedicated! It’s the personal website of Vashi Nedomansky- a defector from Cold War Czechoslovakia, turned ice hockey pro, turned video editor of fifteen years. Quite the life story, huh? It’s worth checking out just to learn about Vashi!
The Filmmaker’s Process is a really useful resource for the filmmaking amateur. Robert Hardy writes on a range of topics, from guides on how to make a profit from freelance filmmaking to advice on how to conquer the fear that goes along with it. He also writes in depth about his own personal filmmaking journey, which is quite compelling.
Indie Tips has it all! It’s a blog which covers everything you would want from websites for filmmakers, including cinematography, writing, editing, video and directing – practically anything you could think of! You can find tutorials for the latest filmmaking software, film reviews, tips on creating good characters and much, much more.
Agnes Films is a site dedicated to supporting women and feminist filmmakers. The website is named after Agnès Varda, a French filmmaker. As pointed out on the website, filmmaking has historically been a male-dominated profession – this blog aims to change that! Amongst other things, they post interviews with female writers and directors, reviews of films directed or written by women, and general filmmaking advice.
Nathalie Sejean of Mentorless has a unique perspective – she believes that we can learn about filmmaking and storytelling from everyone and everything in the world. As long as you have a curious mind and a “DIY spirit”, you can become a filmmaker. Nathalie publishes one of the best filmmaking blogs out there, featuring interviews, anecdotes, guides and tips on the filmmaking process.
Jon Reiss is an award winning filmmaker who has directed and produced a number of feature films, short films and music videos for well-known artists. It’s a privilege to be able to get a glimpse into his mind via his personal blog. As well as stories of his own life and personal experiences, he posts film reviews and advice on making an impact in the world of filmmaking.
So what can we take from this list of the mighty?
There really is a blog out there for everyone, isn’t there? We’re blessed with our internet access- no generation before us has had as much insight at their fingertips! If you can’t find some technical tips and career-boosting ideas in these twenty blogs, then perhaps there are other subjects which you’d prefer out there?
There weren’t relatively nearly as many documentaries before 1980, but over the last 4 decades the “genre” has rapidly risen to become one of the most popular forms of filmmaking. The criteria for a good documentary film is subject, just as it is for any other art form, however that doesn’t mean you should just charge head-first into it, following these key documentary filmmaking techniques will greatly benefit your film and yourself – regardless of your unique vision for the film.
6 universal tips for great documentary filmmaking:
- Choose an interesting subject:
This should be the first and most important thing you do, as you don’t want a 2 month filming process to conclude with the realisation that the finished documentary will be boring (even to you!). This is difficult; as of course everyone will find different things interesting. So the best way of approaching will be to strip all façade from the subject matter and consider whether there is a genuine and compelling human story to be told. If so then regardless of the eventual subject matter your documentary will most crucially tell a compelling story.
- Get the right crew:
Documentary filming schedules can be unstructured, so get a crew that is flexible, open to work in a moments notice, and passionate – you don’t want someone complaining and asking when lunch will be.
- Go to documentary film festivals!
This can be before filming, during, or in post-production. You can meet some of the best, most well respected documentary filmmakers currently working. In doing so, you can learn about their filmmaking process and get first-hand tips from them. Admission is normally fairly affordable (students can usually get discounts), and it is certainly worthwhile to be inspired if you’re interested in documentary filmmaking.
- Get the right support around you and have patience:
Documentary is a long-form process; meaning you will end up reels and reels (or hard drives and hard drives) of footage, which you will need to whittle down in the editing stage. This can be very hard at points, ending a day and realising none of the footage from that day is useful – you need perseverance and the right support around you to keep filming usually on a hectic, ever-changing schedule.
- Consider your equipment:
Not everyone will have access to huge, professional cameras that probably cost more than most people’s car, but that doesn’t matter, if your subject matter requires a fast moving crew and lots of travel, you don’t want to be carrying round heavy equipment with you, in fact that’ll make your footage worse as you can’t capture quick authentic moments. You can even shoot on a smart-phone now, most have a great camera set up and with the right app you tailor it to you (companies like Olloclip and iOgrapher even produce equipment just for this). If something between the two extremes sounds better, then a quality DSLR, a few lenses, a tripod and an audio set up will also need to be very adaptable to the variety of footage you’ll end up shooting.
- Watch the right kinds of documentaries:
Depending on the style of documentary you want to emulate, you will want to educate and inspire yourself with those films; whether that be crime re-enactment documentaries like The Thin Blue Line, long-form character pieces like Hoop Dreams, or more grounded investigative pieces like many of Louis Theroux’s documentaries. Watch the best films there are to watch, get ideas from them, and hope some of the greatness rubs off on you!
Documentary filmmaking is a tough passion to pursue; however it is also very rewarding. We hope these tips for documentary filmmaking help minimise the toughness and maximise the rewards – now get out there and shoot!
Technology is ever changing, at what feels like an accelerating rate. Film-making has always been closely tied to this, you only need to look at history: the invention of film at the close of the 19th century, the transition from silent films to “talkies” in the 1920s, CGI becoming more prominent in the 80s and 90s, and most recently digital colour grading and 3D technology.
With improving technology, new styles and emerging trends arise; here is a list of 5 new cinematic techniques defining this decade of filmmaking, along with some filmmaking tips to get the best results from them:
- Impossible camera angles:
A seemingly crazy camera pan or track is a fantastic way a director can show off visual flair – if done correctly. We can all remember sweeping through Hogwarts, in through a tiny window and into the Great Hall; of course this wasn’t actually filmed, but was made possible through greater computational power allowing film-makers to more seamlessly merge real footage with CGI.
A particular favourite of mine is from Contact, a 1997 Robert Zemeckis film, and pioneer of the subtle merging of CGI and real life, as exemplified by the clip below. We see young Eleanor Arroway rushing upstairs, along the corridor, and then open the mirrored bathroom cabinet, where the perspective flips and it is revealed that all before was through the mirror, as if in the mirror world – which of course would be impossible.
2. ‘Diegetic’ Footage
This is simply a shot from within the film, from a camera in the film world – from CCTV, security footage, webcams, and handheld, and often includes the recording info around. This likely became more prominent simply as cameras became more common in our lives, with the advent of digital and smart phones.
As a helpful filmmaking tip and technique, ‘diegetic’ footage is useful for creating immersion and a sense of the characters place within their world. However, if over-used or used incorrectly then it can make your work seem amateurish.
3. (Very) Long Takes
Extended takes have always existed, from the birth of cinema, and have always been a way for a director to show off visual finesse – if done correctly. For example, it can be used to create tension, as in the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil, which starts with a winding 3-minute long take, ending in a bomb detonating.
However now with better technology, filmmakers are able to film incredibly long takes. For example Birdman, which looks like one continuous take when it is actually many digitally merged together. Or Irreversible, which is 13 long takes, in backwards chronological order.
What is even more impressive is a real-time long take; at is, a long take done with no digital special effects or digital trickery. 2 films exist as such; Russian Ark, a singular 99 minute long take; and Victoria, an uninterrupted 138 minute take.
4. Camera Interaction
This is when the camera may get rain, or dirty or blood even on the lens – it is interacting with the scene. This is distinct from ‘diegetic’ footage in that the camera is not part of the film, Steven Spielberg doesn’t want the audience to think the camera is real in Saving Private Ryan just because it gets blood splatter on it. Instead it is a way of breaking the 4th wall, and either creating or breaking immersion, which is something filmmakers are increasingly wanting to do. Camera interaction is a very modern filmmaking technique, you wouldn’t have really seen it before the 1980s.
A common, often unnoticed, camera interaction is when the camera itself shakes during an intense scene. This happens all the time, particularly in action films, for example in most Paul Greengrass films, from Captain Phillips to the Bourne Trilogy.
5. Text On Screen
Words on screen are nothing new, silent films had interstitials. But with the invention of mobile and smartphones, and with how prevelant they’ve become in modern life, filmmakers must face the challenge of presenting them on screen. Would you rather show the phone, close-up, to show the text, or just put the text on screen? Directors are increasingly choosing the latter, as there is no need to disrupt the shot by cutting to a close-up, and you can capture the actor’s reaction as in real time.
This technique is also being increasingly used in television, for example in House of Cards and Sherlock.
All 5 of these cinematic techniques are not new to our era, however they will be what defines this decade of filmmaking, what cinephiles will look back on and call “Modern Filmmaking Techniques of the 20-teens”.
The film industry is the fastest growing in the UK, now worth £4.3bn to the economy and employing 66k people – approximately the population of Boston (Lincolnshire). This suggests a bright British film industry future, surely? Yet the industry is now uniting to ensure a future for the sector, by using £20m of BFI lottery funding to train a new generation of creative talent, and a new future of UK filmmaking.
This comes after a recent report claimed that 10,000 new workers are needed over the next 5 years. According to Future Film Skills, there are key skill gaps in the sector – such as art and production departments, camera, costume, hair and make-up, post-production, VFX, and even construction and electrical – all require funding for training to ensure a British film industry future.
This is why a new 10-point plan has been devised to tackle these gaps, which will be addressed over the next 5 years, supported by £20m BFI lottery funding.
This industry-led initiative is chaired by famous producer of the Bond films, Barbara Broccoli OBE, who had this to say: “We live in a diverse society and it is vital both culturally and commercially that our industry reflects this in front of and behind the camera. With industry, education and government uniting behind this new Film Skills Strategy and 10 Point Action Plan we know we will be able to increase the number of people working in film and ensure we have a representative workforce.”
Broccoli mentions representation as a key aim due to the new report also showing that the film workforce is comprised of only 12% from poorer backgrounds; 5% with a disability; and black, Asian and minority ethnic groups representing just 3% of the workforce. Whilst women, who make up 40%, earn on average £3,000 less than male counterparts – how can we have a bright future of filmmaking (lest a bright British film industry future) with these statistics?
The 10 Point Action Plan
- A trusted and reliable careers information service
A single, trusted online destination for anybody seeking information to start or progress a career in the industry. Offering links, networks and information for training and jobs in film throughout the UK, building on and linking to sites such as Into Film, HIIVE and BAFTA Guru.
- An accreditation system to guarantee employer confidence
Developed by the industry for the industry, in partnership with higher education, to win the confidence of parents, learners and employers, this will build on the achievements of existing work and will involve industry and employers in setting up the scheme.
- A suite of new Apprenticeship Standards
Complete and deliver a new Apprenticeship Standard, which will be applied to courses for a range of job roles throughout the industry including production, distribution and exhibition.
- A Skills Forecasting Service
A responsive skills forecasting and planning service to respond to industry needs, and ensuring the regular supply of data across the sector on future skills opportunities.
- Embed the BFI Film Academy into the skills pipeline
Develop the BFI Film Academy to work closely with industry, placing set-ready alumni as trainees on film productions across the UK.
- A mentoring service to break down barriers for new entrants and returnees
A new personal mentoring programme that offers bespoke support for individuals wanting to enter or progress in the film industry, and those returning after a career break. Including mentoring, pastoral care, coaching and opportunities to network, and awareness of specific job opportunities.
- World-class Centres of Excellence for screen-related craft and technical skills
Working with higher education and the new Institute of Technology to create a small number of world class Centres of Excellence for screen-related craft and technical skills.
- A new bursary programme to ensure wide participation
A new bursary programme designed to support individuals taking their first steps, and removing some of the practical obstacles to those currently under-represented in the industry.
- Professional development courses to maintain world-class skills
A new range of professional development courses, aligned with the latest technology and business skills will ensure our workforce maintains world-class skills.
- Mobilise the industry
Encourage the industry to support the future workforce through a number of schemes and campaigns including creating a database to match individuals with local needs, and which recognises enlightened employers who encourage skills transfer.
Zero-Budget Filmmaking is just as the name suggests; making a film, all pre-production, filming, and post-production, using just what you already have – on almost no budget. It is a brave thing to do, especially now, in an industry of larger and larger blockbusters, but it will also make you stand out against all the superheroes, giant robots, aliens, and all other manner of world-ending threats.
Most of the biggest names in Hollywood (and many more of the biggest names of world cinema) started out by making a film with what they had. Using what they had and saying “Why not? What is stopping me?”
This may also be the most logical way of starting and getting noticed. The film industry has followed the same general trend as corporate economics have; where corporations have become ‘too large to fail’, so too have the films. Now fewer big films are made but they are huge (nearly guaranteed to gross over $1billion) as opposed to making more small budgeted films. Getting enough money to start a project has always been a struggle for filmmakers, along with not making a loss on it. So now, in this ever-divided film-industry, perhaps the best way of minimising your loss, especially with your first production, is to have nothing to lose.
With the new emerging technology of the 21st century, this is now truly possible too. With smart-phones and a lot of cheap or free software, you can make a film on almost zero budget. There are always actors, DPs and sound technicians looking for promising work who may be willing to work on a voluntary basis (with the promise of pay should the film be a success).
Yet this just shifts the struggle further down the production line, to distribution: getting your film in festivals, in cinemas, or even on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon. However, just like with filming, new technology can greatly help with finding distribution opportunities, and in promoting your film.
A key part of promotion will be optimising on the ‘otherness’ of your work, separating it from bigger budget films, in finding and pin-pointing your niche before targeting your marketing. That implies that you’ll need to angle your film towards a niche from its inception. Take the recent Oscar Best Picture ‘Moonlight’ as an example of this, it is about the intersectionality between black, poor and gay people, in doing so it was able to pinpoint its audience, however also appealed to a wider audience by bringing to light a completely unrepresented demographic. This does not mean you should just find a minority to use and exploit, but instead in finding the niche group of people who most NEED to know that your film exists, and perhaps tweaking the finer details of your script with this in mind.
Once that is done, you’ve got a film, and hopefully a success (even if only a mild one). Zero budget filmmaking isn’t easy, but no amount of money will make a film good. The question is not whether you can do you (you can!). It will take smarts and gusto, but now is a better time than any to go for it.