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”.
Incorporating filmmaking into the curriculum not only helps foster an environment of creativity for students and staff alike but also allows students to develop an appreciation for digital media that will undoubtedly play a role in their futures. Simon Pile, assistant head teacher at London’s Anson Primary and Into Film Teacher of the Year, believes that filmmaking benefits every aspect of education when introduced in the classroom.
Pile believes that one of the most important steps in getting filmmaking in the classroom is ensuring that teachers are on board. Teaching filmmaking to groups of energetic students could seem daunting to anyone, let alone those who may not have experience with digital media. Pile suggests hosting seminars to introduce teachers and educators to basic filmmaking techniques. These lessons not only allow teachers to understand the technology available, but also provide a framework they can apply to their teaching methods. By removing their fear of the unknown, Pile allowed teachers to become excited about new filmmaking curriculums, allowing their exuberance to transfer to their students. By encouraging teachers to film one-minute films on their phones, Pile showed teachers just how accessible filmmaking is.
Pile also illustrates that filmmaking should be treated like literacy, incorporating both film watching alongside the more practical media skills. Young people are very comfortable around technology and may find themselves using their mobile phones to film themselves and their friends in social settings. By illustrating how certain filmmakers frame shots during film watching lessons, students will be able to incorporate that in their personal future projects.
Filmmaking and film literacy activities, like watching, are also effective tools to be incorporated in classrooms alongside more traditional curriculums. Pile likes to use film techniques when discussing adaptation. Many popular books and literary series taught in schools at different levels have been adapted for television or cinema. By pairing filmic adaptations with their source material in classes, students are able to visualise what they’ve been reading as well as understanding that filmmaking is a process that begins with the conception of a story. Encouraging students to also seek out and read the books that inspired their favourite films is a wonderful way of ensuring they view media, both traditional and new, from an refined standpoint.
Incorporating filmmaking and film watching into school curriculums also helps students understand digital literacy. With the constant evolution of technology, young professionals are required to have a deeper understanding of technology and digital platforms than ever before. Introducing students to digital learning and appreciation at younger ages will only benefit them in the long run, encouraging then to understand the technology that surrounds us all.
Filmmaking is an inclusive and creative endeavour that promotes teamwork and collaboration. Taking advantage of VLEs and other online platforms helps benefit students and teachers by allowing access to research materials and filmmaking tips as well as providing an environment for students to share their films outside of the classroom, particularly outside of term-time. Filmmaking only helps add richness to traditional curriculums and by establishing balance between traditional and contemporary methods of learning, teachers will help prepare students for the expansive world of technology available to us all.
It’s impossible to deny that creative industries are thoroughly competitive with many aspiring filmmakers finding that they need an edge. With cinema constantly evolving, it’s important for students to know what to expect. Below you’ll find an exercise to help your students finesse their skills and get closer to the career they aspire to.
Step One: Content Strategy
If there is one skill all filmmakers need it’s the ability to identify excellent content. For film, that content generally stems from a screenplay. Whether using your own story or adapting someone else’s for the screen, it is important to know what makes a story great. Have your students read a variety of screenplays to identify what makes a story great. Once they’ve done their research, ask them to write a five-minute screenplay using the skills they learned from their reading. This exercise should help them recognise what contributes to making a great story.
Step Two: Project Management
As any film professional knows, an entire project can fall apart if it isn’t managed properly. In order for your students to learn what makes a project successful, have them create a budget for one of the screenplays they read during Step One. Once they have the budget, instruct them to create a schedule that will allow them to understand how they would go about producing their film.
Step Three: Film Finance
Once your students have completed their budget and schedule, have them look into ways in which they could potentially finance their film. With the filmmaking schemes available to amateur directors their adventure into financing will help them truly understand and appreciate the entire process of filmmaking.
Step Four: Presentation
Your students may find that many of the potential financing schemes they encounter require filmmakers to pitch their idea to investor or studio executives. Now that they have made a budget and schedules, your students should be ready to pitch their film. For this exercise, act as a potential investor and have your students pitch their projects to you. Allow other students to sit in and hear their classmates’ pitch not only to acclimate those presenting to speaking to an audience, but also so they can learn from their peers.
Step Five: PR
Although your students may not have included marketing and advertisement in their budget, it is important for them to know how films gain traction after production is completed. Have your students put together a simple press kit for their potential film.
Step Six: Social Media and Creating a Brand
Although many students may already use social media on a daily basis, they may not know how to use it to its full professional potential. Have your students create new social media handles and portals to make a filmmaking resume suited for the twenty-first century. On Instagram for example, filmmakers can upload short clips from films they’ve already produced and interact with others who share the same passion. Social media is a wonderful way for filmmakers to network and you should be able to guide your students to do this in a professional manner. Another attribute many students may want to work on is a webpage where potential employers and colleagues can see their resume and film history. By the end of this part of the exercise, your students should have a personal brand that summarises them as a filmmaker as well as the types of films they would like to produce.
Step Seven: Networking
Although having a digital presence is very important, aspiring filmmakers need to know how to network with other professionals. Have your students lead professional conversations between themselves and instruct them to make the best first impression. By the end of this exercise, your students should feel confident enough to use the other techniques they’ve learned to promote themselves and make professional connections.
We hope this exercise will help your students understand what is required to work in film.