Whether you have Hollywood aspirations or just want to know how to use a camera properly, taking the leap into filmmaking is an exciting and creative journey that will open a whole new world of visual delight.
Anyone with a camera phone is a potential filmmaker these days, so if you’ve been tempted by the prospect of creating your own visual art, there’s no reason to delay any longer.
How to Learn Filmmaking
The sheer scope of filmmaking can sometimes be a daunting prospect, and the thought of having so much to learn may end up putting people off. It doesn’t have to be a painful process though, and there are a few simple ways to start.
- Education – Getting professional guidance is a great way for a novice filmmaker to begin and with courses available for every level of commitment. Whether it’s evening classes, summer school or a scholarship, or a full bachelor’s degree, you’re bound to find something that suits your circumstance and commitment.
- Experiment – Once you have learned the fundamental points of filmmaking, it’s time to get creative. There’s no substitute for experience and the more time you spend behind the camera improving your skills, the quicker you’ll build your skills. There’s no way you can fail, so just get out and get started.
- YouTube channel Film Riot has some excellent videos for how to use cameras and making films.
- Research – If you’re going to become a filmmaker, it’s important that you know not only what they do, but about the filmmaking process. Researching everything from roles on a set to breakthroughs in technology will help give you a better understanding of the film industry and may even help you decide your area of passion.
- Join an Amateur Group – Not only can you hone your skills, but it’s also a great way to network with other people trying to crack into the industry. You never know who might be a success down the line and shared experiences are always going to provide you with some insight. A fantastic place to start is the Shooting People film community.
- Volunteer – Don’t be afraid to approach film production companies and offer your help for free. You might only be making the tea, but you will learn so much on set that it will make the experience well worth it.
People Involved in Filmmaking
The term “filmmaking” covers a whole host of different roles, and you may well be surprised by just how many people it takes to produce even the simplest of projects.
It isn’t just about the actors in front of the camera either; there’s a whole army working behind the scenes before, after and during the shoot, that plays a huge part in how the film turns out. Below, explore the different roles and their significance.
- Producer – They are essentially the “boss” and usually the ones who have championed and developed the project from when it was just an idea. Taking charge, they are often responsible for financing, script decisions and managing the production process.
- Director – The one who’s job it is to get the film from script to screen, the director leads the filming and makes sure all departments, such as lighting and wardrobe, are working coherently. They work closely with the producer to fulfill the creative vision and sometimes these roles are combined, depending on the project.
- Screenwriter – Whether it’s a music video, documentary or feature-length film, everything you see on screen is carefully crafted. The screenwriter is responsible for the story. They usually become involved in the process at the beginning, during the development stage, and can have a huge influence on the direction of the project.
- Production Designer – Once you have a script, it’s the production designer’s job to turn that into a storyboard. The first visual depiction of your film, it will map out the entire project and is used as a guide during shooting and editing by the production team.
- Art Director – Once you have a script and vision, the art director, combined with a location scout, finds the settings and locations to film. This role includes everything from finding outdoor settings, to props, costumes and set dressing and essentially covers anything you see on camera that isn’t the actors themselves.
- Editor – For one average length film, there will be hundreds of hours of footage shot, and it’s the editor’s job to shape the raw footage during post-production. Most films are shot out of sequence, so the editor’s job will begin during production where they will start putting the scenes shot into the order for editing.
The Technical Elements of Filmmaking
Filmmaking is so much more than just the actors in front of the camera. There are so many other elements to use when creating your vision, some of which you may have overlooked.
- Lighting – Lighting is one of the most useful tools for a director to drive their vision and one of the most overlooked. Aside from having a huge effect on the visual of a scene, lighting is used to draw the audience’s attention to a certain point on-screen and can create a particular mood or tone. It doesn’t matter how good the acting or the set is, if the lighting is terrible it ruins everything.
- VFX and CGI – Visual effects and CGI let a filmmaker’s imagination run wild. Involving the use of computer imagery to create and change elements of a film, they are used on everything from someone’s appearance to significant visual pieces. The development of computer effects has opened a whole need world of opportunity for filmmakers and expanded what is possible to show on screen.
- Animation – This role doesn’t just cover cartoons, anything animated on-screen such as the titles you see at the start and end of a film falls to the animation department.
- Sound – Essentially covering anything you hear on film, the sound department encompasses everything from the dialogue and soundtrack to sound effects, dubbing and background noise, which are all added at different stages of production.
- Cinematography – The visual representation of what you see on screen, cinematography covers everything to do with the camera, from what’s included in the shot to camera positioning. It isn’t a case of just shouting “roll”, creative camerawork can transform any film and can be the difference between average and cinematic masterpiece.
- Editing – Editing essentially covers post-production, where all the elements of a film are brought together to create the final version. Even the simplest of projects will have hundreds of hours of footage that needs to be sorted through, and it can take months to complete. Once they have the final ordering, the soundtrack and visual effects can be added.
Types of Cameras Used
Picking the right camera for your project can mean a massive difference to the end product, so researching what camera you need before shooting is incredibly important. Cameras used for filmmaking generally fall into two categories: film and digital, with both having their pros and cons for use.
- Film – The traditional way to record, film cameras store the visual to a reel of film and are shown using a projector. This was the norm in Hollywood until the arrival of the digital camera, which because of its ease and cost-effectiveness has become more popular than the traditional filmmaking method.
- Due to their fall in use, film cameras are becoming rarer, though you can still find them in use at film studios. It’s not a completely abandoned art form though, and if you can’t afford the vintage cameras, there are some reasonably priced film cameras still available.
- Digital – Like the rest of the world, filmmaking has been making the switch to digital over the last few decades and means movies can be shot and transported on something as insignificant as a USB stick. This process is much cheaper than film and allows filmmakers to easily incorporate computer techniques into their work.
- 3D – Even digital is getting replaced, with the rise of the three-dimensional camera. Thanks to the illusion of depth, the 3D camera creates a clearer and better quality visual as well as making the audiences feel more involved in the events on-screen.
- Phone Cameras – Advances in technology now mean phone cameras can shoot entire features. Favoured by amateur filmmakers, a phone camera allows you complete freedom when it comes to shooting keeping production and equipment costs down. Sometimes, they are preferred over high-end cameras for their ‘raw’ feel.
How to Get into Filmmaking
It can seem impossible to crack the film industry, but anything’s possible – if you’re willing to work for it.
Become a Runner
Wherever you want to end up, you can get there by starting at the bottom as a production assistant or runner. A runner traditionally transports films from set to editing, but can also be used as an odd-job person on set. It might not seem like the most obvious path for someone who wants to be a scriptwriter, but it’s a great foot in the door for anyone who wants to work in film. Not only do you experience being on set, but you can also make contacts with people in the industry and learn a thing or two from those already in the positions you want.
Take Any Opportunity
It might not be your dream job, but when you’re starting out, it’s important to start building a portfolio of work to show future employees. The key is to try and say yes to everything, even if the project isn’t something you’re interested in, it all adds to your experience and helps build your skills. Creating short videos with friends might not make mega bucks, but it could help you get a foot in the door.
Work for Free
Most people in the film industry, unless they were very lucky, started off working for free. It might feel unfair, but the more experience you have, the sooner you’ll be qualified enough to land a paying job.
Whether it’s a screening, event or launch night, it’s essential to go to as many events as possible. Meeting people in the industry, building contacts and getting to know fellow filmmakers is essential when it comes to landing your first job. Speak to people, ask them questions, strike up relationships, and always underline how enthusiastic and keen you are to work. Like many industries, film is about who you know.
There are lots of well-respected amateur film competitions that are bursting with undiscovered talent. Many of those who have early wins go on to film success, and even if you don’t, it’s a great way to get your work seen by an audience, who will give you an honest critique about where you’re going wrong and right. For instance, Watersprite is a fantastic UK-run film festival and competition for young people.
SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are all avenues filmmakers can exploit to crack into the business. It’s the easiest way for an amateur filmmaker to get their work to an audience and build a following. It also makes your portfolio of work accessible to anyone who might be interested in hiring you.
Learn About Film – Essential resource with dozens of step-by-step guides and essential advice.
Shooting People – Social network/online community for aspiring and working filmmakers to connect.
Talent Circle – Film community ideal for finding young talent and casting independent films.
Go Into The Story – Must-read screenwriting blog with hundreds of writing and film industry tips.
IndieWire – All the latest film and television reviews and film industry news delivered daily.
Raindance – Renowned for its annual film festival, Raindance also offers courses all over the world.
BAFTA – This annual awards ceremony also publishes industry news and hosts events and courses.
Filmmaking is a creative, innovative and exciting art form that continues to develop and evolve – and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Once a closed off industry, technological advancements have opened it up to the public and given everyone the chance to become a filmmaker, even if just for an hour.
While we might be experimenting with video more than ever, it’s still one of the most competitive industries to crack, and at times success can seem out of reach. Getting into film is not impossible though, and for those who have ambitions to go all the way, with a little hard work, it’s well within your grasp.