In film, we completely understand how tough it is to get your feet on the first rungs of the ladder. It’s a choice between using all your filmmaking tips and tricks in a masterfully done, well written and well produced short film- which everyone believes they can do, but fewer truly can- or finding a low paid or unpaid position right at the bottom of the food chain, where you’ll spend more time running coffee than using all the filmmaking tips you’ve learned for years. It’s demoralising to say the least.
But what if we told you that there’s a third way? That you could find a decently paid job where your skills are useful and- gasp!- maybe even appreciated? We think that teaching may be that that direction to consider. Here is a brief rundown of why we think that independent filmmakers make excellent teachers.
You can still develop your skills while you teach
First and foremost, this doesn’t just have to be about your students. At the end of the day you want to work in a position where you can improve yourself, improve your skills, and maybe one day move upwards. Believe it or not, teaching gives you that opportunity to work on yourself and keep learning filmmaking tips, while you get paid for doing it.
As you work on putting together lesson plans, it can feel like studying- because it is. You constantly have to learn all sorts of new things about the technicalities of shooting film, and get real world practice shooting film with your students. And as you pass on all of your filmmaking tips and tricks to your class, you learn how to talk film: how to put into words exactly what you want out of a particular shot, for instance. This is a vital skill in your own filmmaking career.
Your talent and enthusiasm are infectious
People who genuinely care about what they do make the best teachers, and you wouldn’t have become a filmmaker if you weren’t passionate about it! If you cast your mind back and think of your favourite teacher, it wouldn’t be unusual if they were somebody intelligent, quick witted and who had a real passion for whatever it was they taught you. Somebody who thought that what they did was the best job on Earth!
You could be that person: the one teacher who lights a spark in somebody’s heart and gives them a lifelong interest or passion. It’s not just about filmmaking tips, it’s about passing on your love for what you do, and students crave teachers who show them why something is worth learning. Not only that, but having actually been there and got the T-shirt, your experience and filmmaking tips are sought after. If you are a genuinely talented filmmaker- and if you’re reading this newsletter, we believe you must be- then it won’t be hard for you to find a school that will take you on. It might be a horrible old saying, but ‘those that can’t do, teach’ can many cases prove to be depressingly true. The talent you personally bring to the table could make all the difference in a student’s life.
This might sound backwards, even nonsensical or illogical. But being overly passionate about your project can make you feel like every decision you make is the right one when, to be realistic, you can’t always get everything right. It’s simply a fact of filmmaking- and if anything it’s a fact of life.
This can be a matter of technicalities, like colour, light and sound; it can also be a matter of bad choices, like filming a project at the wrong time in your career. Perhaps the script you’ve put together isn’t as good as you think it is, and could do with a few more drafts. Or, you could have picked the wrong people to play your characters. It can be surprisingly difficult to work with friends, especially when it comes to dividing any hard earned income.
Passion breeds over-ambition
If you’re overly passionate about your project, you might be biting off more than you can chew. This is because it can be surprisingly difficult to get your vision off the ground, not just because of time and effort, but because of cost. Visions can be uncompromising, especially if you’re as convinced of your own project as the person above.
But visions can also cost a lot of money. If a particular shot requires a particular lens, you might justify buying it because of your certainty that your film will be a success. Ditto a lighting setup, a bigger and more established name for your lead role, a filming location hundreds of miles away… Pretty soon, though, those costs start to add up and make it exceptionally difficult for you to make anything back from your project. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple, and maybe once you’ve established your career in film making, you can revisit your project with Tom Cruise and eye-popping CGI.
Passion isn’t a rare commodity that will set you apart
Believe it or not, almost everyone trying to carve out a career in filmmaking has passion. And that’s almost unique: if you work as an HR manager and you’re genuinely passionate about what you do, then you better believe that it sets you apart. But what students searching for film studies jobs often don’t realise is that putting ‘filmmaker with passion’ on your CV is akin to putting ‘filmmaker who breathes air’ or ‘filmmaker that requires food’.
If you’re in too deep, you’ve probably just told yourself ‘That may be true, but I’m especially passionate about what I do.’ And this isn’t intended as an insult, but you’re not. We all love what we do, and would like to do it as a career. Many people before you have been there and bought the T-shirt. A good proportion of them found that after all was said and done, a career in film making wasn’t ideal or wasn’t possible for them.
In summary, no great film or career in film will run on passion alone. Passion is merely one of the essential ingredients, but there are many more on the list to succeed as a filmmaker.
Pre-production, also known as the planning stage is the point at which you think of the story you would like to tell, and how you imagine you can tell that story through the medium of film. Now, you’re welcome to your own opinion, but we think that this is by far the most important part of the process: quite simply, everything hinges on the quality of your idea and its presentation. When you conceive your idea, try to keep it simple: can you pitch it in one sentence? If not, it’s too complicated.
Once you have your idea, break it down and flesh it out with a script and storyboards. It can be surprisingly difficult to stay ‘on message’- in other words, to stay true to your original idea- but this is no bad thing, because all stories evolve. It’s also at this point that you start to think about where you might want to shoot, and who you might want to play each character (although this choice isn’t so hard if you’re at the beginning of your career- you can only really ‘hire’ your friends).
Once you know what you’re going to shoot, you have to shoot it. This is production. As part of what could be called post-pre-production, you have to make sure that your equipment is up to scratch for what you’d like to do: is each shot feasible? Do you need stands, tripods, different kinds of lenses? Consider this before getting started.
Once you’re shooting, remember that it’s better to shoot a little too much rather than a little too little. A good rule of thumb might be that when shooting a small budget film, for every one minute that makes it into your film, three minutes will be left on the cutting room floor. But for now, focus on the following key things: framing, light, focus and sound. If you get these parts right, you can’t go far wrong.
Editing your film is just as important as filming it. This is when you polish what you’ve created, so that it’s coherent in message and tone; this process is what changes a good idea, and perhaps good execution during filming, into a good film. There are different ways to approach editing, but if you’re a beginner, do try to keep it simple.
The first thing to keep in mind is continuity and pacing between shots. This means two things: first that the story is told beat by beat throughout the film, both coherently and consistently, and second that basic details like whether the main character is wearing a hat or holding it in his hands do not change between successive shots. It’s also possible to an extent to edit colour, lighting and sound in post-production, although no amount of editing can fix bad filming. That being said, follow the basic filmmaking process step by step and your film will become something that’ll tell an audience your story.!
It’s the oldest cliché in the book that a media or filmmaking degree is the epitome of a navel gazing, time wasting university education. But to take a step back and genuinely think about the importance of an education in filmmaking, it really isn’t so bad. In fact, we think that a film degree actually gives you a ticket into a growing industry, or alternatively gives you the skills to go and ply your trade elsewhere. Read on and find out some of the wider benefits of learning about understanding and creating film.
A filmmaking degree doesn’t just teach filmmaking
It’s not just learning how to shoot a film that gives a filmmaking degree importance. While we do believe there are more jobs than ever before in media and film, a filmmaking degree can help you into other careers because of the skills that it develops in you, above and beyond simply ‘creativity’.
First things first, studying the creative process gives you an eye for detail that not many other pursuits do. Shooting films requires a level of skill and attention to detail in a thousand different ways: selecting shots, backgrounds, costume, lighting and so on means making a thousand decisions and choices in every second of film.
There are also the points of persistence, because shooting films takes a whole lot of time and effort, and the fact that telling a story or sending a message to your audience can improve your wider skills of persuasion and communication. These skills are useful not just in the film industry, but in jobs from sales and advertising to working in public services. A film degree gives you these skills.
Media is becoming easier to make and easier to access
Back in the 1920’s, commercial radio broadcasting wasn’t available all day. You could only tune in at certain times of the day, and when you did, you might be treated to a light opera like the HMS Pinafore. Fast forward a few decades to the advent of television and ‘pop music’: you might only be able to hear it on pirate radio, but the three minute catchy song had arrived, as well as the all day, every day TV broadcast.
Today, media surrounds us. Music, movies and the written word envelop us, and not just on their terms but on our own. We can pick and choose what to listen to and what to watch at any hour of the day or night. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much of a cynic you are! What we can all agree on, however is that entertainment is more widespread and more popular than ever.
And because of the entertainment explosion we’re living through, a film degree gives you value and a chance at a career in media. We won’t lie and tell you that jobs in the industry grow on trees, but bear in mind that there only used to be two, then three, then four TV channels; at some point in the past, there was no such thing as YouTube. Opportunities are more abundant today than ever before.
Smartphones make snapping quick pictures and shooting quick films easy. But what about shooting good films? How is it possible to get the very best out of the relatively limited software on offer by Apple and Android phones? We’ve put together this brief overview of some smartphone filmmaking tips to help you shoot the best films you possibly can.
Specialist apps can give you far more control over your pictures and videos
The camera on an iPhone isn’t half bad considering the phone’s small size. But the app that comes included with iPhones that determine the control you have over your shot isn’t so great. You can’t manually adjust focus or contrast, for a start. This really puts a damper on your efforts if you want to make beautiful films with just an iPhone.
But with a whole host of professional grade apps, you can completely transform your film to the point where people might not even realise it was filmed on a smartphone. Cinescope, for instance, can be used to shoot in any aspect ratio you like. Adobe Premiere Clip gives you the ability to edit films on your phone. And Filmic Pro can adjust lighting, contrast, and colour. With apps like these, smartphone filmmaking is easier than ever.
Tripods and mounts can help you get a steady shot
Hardware is just as important as software, and not much more expensive either. With a cheap, basic tripod or handheld mount you can turn your smartphone films into steady shots. It’s almost a tradition now that anything filmed on a smartphone is 1) in portrait, and 2) filmed so shakily that it’s reminiscent of Blair Witch Project-style found footage. Even if you do your best to keep your camera still, you can always tell it was filmed by hand.
Some full height tripods are designed to fit both cameras and smartphones, and the very basic entries can be found on eBay or Amazon for two or three pounds- so you won’t be breaking into the piggy bank. But for such a small investment, they can help your filmmaking come on leaps and bounds.
All the rules of composition still apply
Just because you’re filming on a smartphone, that doesn’t change what makes a good shot good, and a bad shot bad. Even when using the smartphone filmmaking tips above, bear in mind that fancy equipment and some cheap apps can’t replace the basic skills and knowledge of filmmaking.
The rule of thirds, for instance still applies whether you’re filmmaking on a £10,000 camcorder or a smartphone. The 180 degree rule still applies, and lighting and angle are still just as important as they always have been. It’s these skills in combination with the equipment above that can help you make standout films on just an iPhone or Android.
No, brand isn’t a dirty word in many authentic artists minds, and to create branded content isn’t selling out. Well, maybe strictly speaking it can be, but it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your dearly-held creativity on an altar of cold hard cash. If you have some skills and you know how to make short films, it’s perfectly possible to create branded content that genuinely reaches out and connects with your audience, and provides much-needed funds throughout your career.
Filming branded content with genuine creativity is possible
First things first, just because you’re filming branded content, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be creatively honest and even deserve artistic merit. Take Prada’s Castello Cavalcanti for example. This particular short film was written by none other than Wes Anderson and produced by Roman Coppola. It’s eight minutes long, but doesn’t contain a single reference to Prada, apart from the jacket worn by the main character. Other than that, the film is a typical Wes Anderson story about an Italian racing driver who crashes by coincidence in the hometown of his ancestors. It’s a story, not an advert.
And believe it or not, but 2017 marked the second year of the Brand Film Festival, which was held in New York on May the 4th. Its purpose is to showcase the very best of the year’s branded content films. They even hold open discussion groups on topics like: ‘Ways to Deliver Compelling Content within Your Branded Film’, and ‘Providing the Perfect Pitch for Your Branded Film’. These questions are at the heart of real concerns for professional and amateur filmmakers, so the Brand Film Festival isn’t a cynical marketing gimmick.
So, take it from us, you aren’t the only one out there wondering if branded content can be anything more than subtle advertising. But if you’re to believe the Brand Film Festival, it certainly can.
Using branded content eases money worries
Filmmaking is a difficult industry to break into. Not only is there not a clear career path to the ‘top’- whatever the ‘top’ of filmmaking is anyway- but amateur and student filmmakers are ten a penny. In such a crowded competitive atmosphere, there’s not much room to turn down a paid opportunity to further your creative career, and earn money doing it.
Making branded content, however, can be a great exercise in how to make short films on a low budget. It gives you the opportunity to do what you love. And if you approach it with an open mind, it’s even possible to put your heart and soul into it just like you would with your own content. But best of all, it beats working as a cameraman by far, and can be a fantastic addition to your CV. What’s not to love about that?
GekkoGum is an all-purpose adhesive designed especially for filmmakers. It can be used to stick a GoPro or even a phone to almost any surface, and is surprisingly strong considering how it just looks like Blu Tac. It’s called GekkoGum because- supposedly- it bonds to surfaces tighter than a gecko’s foot pads.
This one really is hot off the presses– it’s only recently been Kickstarted. But when it hits the market, it won’t cost that much more than £15, so it’s great for learners on a budget.
Joby’s GripTight Stands
For filmmakers who want something a little more stable, and maybe a little less sticky, Joby’s GripTight stands are perfect. These little stands are beautifully reminiscent of the strange tripod-walkers from War of the Worlds, but they’re bite sized so far less threatening.
The great thing about these little stands is that they are so cheap for the functionality you get, at just £20 or even less! They fit almost any phone with the adjustable mount, and can sit on any surface with their adjustable legs. For students working with a virtual film teaching app, it’s perfect for learning on the go and framing professional-looking shots with just an iPhone or Android phone.
The ‘Golden Hour’ App
For anyone who doesn’t know, the ‘golden hour’ comes twice a day. It tells you exactly when to get out and shoot photos and film at the perfect time for beautiful lighting. Again, this is perfect for students learning through a virtual film teaching app, since it means they can completely organise shoots with their phones. I wish we could have had tools like these that back when I was enroled at filmschool…
Adobe Premiere Clip
Did you think that GripTight stands were cheap? Well Adobe Premiere Clip is a free video editing app with loads of the functionality that Adobe offer on more powerful PC versions of the software. It’s perfect if you need to teach online filmmaking, because it’s available to everybody. It’s the perfect playground, and you can start editing with it for free!
Students can then upload their creations to Adobe’s CreativeCloud, and carry on their work on Adobe’s flagship PC software
Hague PS2 Phone Steadymount
If you want to kick it up a gear, you can make your creations look completely professional with just a cheap steady mount. These have been common in the industry for years, but with the advent of smartphones and (relatively) cheap DSLRs, even amateur filmmakers can make use of them!
The Hague PS2 Phone Steadymount comes with handles on each side, so that your films won’t have any of the jitters that you get with handholding your phone. This is a basic entry, so it only clocks in at £24; but there are plenty out there that automatically stabilise themselves, although they can run into the thousands.
Quinn Shephard is a remarkable filmmaker. But she’s only made one film.
At the age of just 15, Quinn- still a high school student- started work on what would become her first (and so far, only) project, Blame. She got the idea after starring in a stage adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at school, and decided to update the story for the modern day (think Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, Romeo and Juliet). Before this, Quinn was something of a child star: she appeared in the 2001 French film, Harrison’s Flowers at five years old, starred in Unaccompanied Minors at eleven and had guest spots on Law and Order and Made in Jersey.
In Blame, Shephard stars as Abigail Grey, a student returning to high school after a mysterious incident a year earlier. Once back, she quickly forms a bond- too strong a bond- with her drama teacher, played by Chris Messina. But her rival, Melissa (Nadia Alexander), is full of hatred, or perhaps jealousy, which could persuade her to reveal Abigail’s secret.
We won’t spoil the rest of the film for you, but the screenplay was nominated as a finalist for the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriters Lab, and won Shephard the Rising Star Award at the 2015 Garden State Film Festival. So it’s good. And hopefully it’s just the first step in Quinn’s career as a filmmaker, not just an actress.
What’s so great about Quinn’s work?
What’s remarkable is that Blame was filmed in just nineteen days. Of course, the film was shot on a relatively tight budget, so everything had to be meticulously planned and designed beforehand, with no time for creative clashes on set! Quinn planned the filmmaking process from top to bottom long before she had to film, including everything from set positions to lighting and makeup. She described it as a monumental task, especially considering it was her first ever professional shoot.
For anybody wanting to replicate that process, things have become a lot easier in the last few years. There are a multitude of tools online, and filmmaking apps for both iPhone and Android that make the processes of planning, filming and editing a cinch. But even the best laid plans go wrong, so don’t expect to get everything right first time like Quinn Shephard did!
Most impressive is how relatable the film is. The story is set in an American high school, but everybody can understand how Abigail is feeling: walking a social tightrope, and not knowing who you can trust! Having made such a relatable movie, it’s particularly impressive that she didn’t go to film school, or even get online film teaching to get herself where she is today. Considering the fact that Shephard has no formal filmmaking training, her achievement shines all the brighter.
Shot/reverse shot is as basic as it gets. It’s probably one of the best recognised shots of all, and it’s included in every textbook and virtual film teaching app right towards the top of the list. It’s a filmmaking technique where one of the characters is shown looking at another character. More often than not, we can see the back of their head, and shoulders. The shot is then ‘reversed’, so that we can see from the second character’s point of view instead.
This is not the most thrilling or innovative shot out there. But it’s very easy to pull off, and have it look professional… So it’s perfect for beginners. It’s used to almost-literally get inside the character’s head, and see what they’re seeing. Shot/reverse shot can be achieved in either one take or two, if you have two cameras to hand; either way, the shots are edited together afterwards, remembering not to break the ‘180 rule’.
The Dreaded Zoom Shot
Zoom shots are cool. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise- a friend, a mentor, or a loved one- they are wrong, and should feel bad. Zoom shots are a brilliant way of lacing a shot with emotion, positive or negative. Zooming in slowly creates tension. Zooming in very close (like an Italian shot) can make the viewer feel close to the character, or uncomfortably close, if it’s an antagonist. Zooming in and tilting up (the Ridley Scott zoom shot) makes a character appear dominating.
Or, if you want to move in the opposite direction, zooming out to a wide shot gives a sense of a wide open, empty space. This will make a character seem lost or alone. Considering the fact that wide shots create such a vast range of responses, it’s a shame that they’ve fallen out of style.
The best thing about zoom shots is that they can be done in post-production using editing software or online filmmaking apps. Bear in mind, though, that professionals have professional equipment, so their zoom shots will look better than anything filmed on an iPhone or DSLR.
A two shot is what you probably imagine it is: a shot of two people. But that’s all that’s predefined. They can be close together, far apart, facing each other or not. This allows a great variety of creative ideas to all be captured using one kind of shot.
For instance, a two shot is fantastic for establishing the emotional reaction of two different subjects, at the same time. This can show the range of the characters’ emotions, where one might be happy and one might be sad. It’s also a great way of showing conflict with an ‘American’ style two shot, where the two characters face each other in profile. A three shot is the same kind of filmmaking tool, except with three characters instead of two.
It’s no secret that cameras are central to filmmaking. No matter your genre, budget or narrative, every filmmaker wants to tell a story. The difficulty is, choosing which camera is best for you can sometimes seem near impossible! We’ve compiled the following short guide to help all limited-budget filmmakers get the best shooting bang for their buck!
1 – DSLRs and mirrorless cameras
Still cameras with interchangeable lenses like the Canon 80D SLR are the best bet for quality footage on a budget. The super-versatile cameras are great for beginner filmmakers as they can also shoot still photography and will likely get a lot of use. For super tight budgets, check out the Canon 700D or the EOS M3.
Best for: creative projects on a budget
2 – Basic Camcorders
DSLRs can be cumbersome and camcorders are much lighter and easier to carry around. Their built in microphones also tend to be superior to those on still cameras with video modes. There’s a seemingly endless range of models you can find for a similar variety of prices. Cheaper options like the Panasonic V180 have great built in microphones while more expensive models like the Panasonic V770 give you the option to attach an external mic. The Canon LEGRIA G40 will provide you with a rich array of manual controls to help ensure you get the shot you want.
Best for: News, documentaries and events as well as videos for online use
3 – Prosumer Camcorders
While more basic camcorders may not give you the best image result, professional models like the Canon XA30 will give you amazing quality while also allowing more creative control.
Best for: News and documentaries
4 – Professional Camcorders
Professional camcorders offer incredible creative controls which are quick and easy to use once you’re familiar with the camera. The creative controls allow your shots to be more precise and finished which helps in post-production. The Canon XC10 is a great starting point if you have the budget to go upmarket with professional camcorders.
Best for: Documentaries and events such as weddings where you need to set up and make adjustments quickly.
5 – Interchangeable lens video cameras
These sensor cameras have the advantages of both pro camcorders and still cameras. The interchangeable lenses give you a range of opportunities for footage finish and many of them offer pro sound features that give better results in post. The Canon EOS C100 records up to 1080p HD while the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera offers users both 2.5K and 4K quality options at a good price.
Best for: Serious filmmakers, news and documentary filmmakers with larger budgets
6 – Smartphones and Tablets
Smartphones and tablets give you the opportunity to shoot and edit on the same device. With the right accessories, most modern mobile devices can make great cameras. iPads and iPhones are not only amongst the most used cameras worldwide in everyday life, but are also able to record feature film quality footage which make mobile devices some of the best cameras to learn on.
Best for: Home video and schools
7 – Compact Still Cameras
Lots of compact cameras like the Panasonic ZS60 can shoot HD footage. These cameras are ideal for filmmakers on the go as their size allows them to travel anywhere. Like DSLRs, you’ll get a lot of use from a compact still camera but invest in a camcorder or video DSLR if the main pupose of your camera is for filmmaking.
Best for: Journalists and documentary makers who need discreet cameras.
8 – Action cameras
Cameras like the GoPro HERO4 will let you monitor the image with a wireless monitor to get the best action shots. For a more affordable option try the GoPro Hero Session.
Best for: sports and action shots; news and documentaries
Features to look for when buying a camera
When buying any camera, it’s important to research the functions on offer. Is it easy to use and compact? How many features does it let you adjust whilst filming? How is the sound and can you attach an external mic? How is the image quality? A plethora of review websites will give specs and the low-down of each model and we insist you use the camera before you buy one! Borrow from a friend or colleague if on offer or even have a thorough in-store play. Finally, YouTube naturally offers a variety of channels dedicated to camera reviews so there’s nothing you CAN’T learn before investing in the right camera to take your filmmaking to the next level.