How do I learn to make short movies?
August 15, 2010 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm an engineer wanting to explore my creative side a bit via making short films aimed at online viewing via YouTube or whatever. I've got the high-end Macintosh but I need (1) a camera (hopefully better than my old MiniDV camcorder), (2) software (Final Cut Express or similar, I suppose), and (3) skill in the mechanics of filming and editing and in the technique of story telling. In other words, I need to learn how to operate the camera and editing software but I also need to learn what I want to do with it. I'd appreciate suggestions for any of this stuff but pointers on good books or whatever for learning the skills would be really nice.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest video editing software to use, which should be more than adequate for your needs (at least initially), is iMovie HD, in Apple's iLife suite. Good stuff. Depending on how good you want the final product to look/sound, you could spend anywhere from not much to a whole lot on a camera, but I would recommend just a good, basic HD camcorder that records either to DVR tape or to flash memory.

My experience with developing creative hobbies has been that it's better to ignore my initial impulse to get the BEST gear (it will help me to be motivated and inspired and do my best work!) and really to start with the basics of what I need. Then, if interest and continued work in the hobby continues, upgrade as necessary. As a bonus, you'll also then upgrade smarter.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:10 AM on August 15, 2010 on how to run your software
Izzy Video on how to choose and use your gear and software
Hillman Curtis on how to make your movie
Google on video storytelling
posted by dpcoffin at 9:15 AM on August 15, 2010

I have a slightly different take from LooseFilter. Get the best gear for your purpose. You don't want to struggle with your tools, while learning your craft. The real trick though is this: once you've settled on your tools, learn them well - don't keep jumping from one to another. Pick the best for your task, and then study the bejesus out of them - that's how you grow. Getting distracted by 10 different editors is not helpful. I would jump in with the full FCS - it's not much harder to master than iMovie, but allows much more room to grow. If money is a concern, then FC Express is an OK choice (it's basically FCP). For cameras, you're in luck, as there are quite a few choices. Right now, the Panny AG-HMC 150 is a great camera, but if you can wait until the end of the year, Panny is coming out with the AG-AF100 which is shaping up to be an outstanding gizmo. The Lynda stuff is good training for the software, but really? Go out and shoot a ton and experiment - that's the best school there is.
posted by VikingSword at 9:55 AM on August 15, 2010

Final Cut Express is a great choice for editing when you're first starting out. You can get a good camcorder for $500 or less.

If you have a slight inkling toward action or fx-driven projects I really like The DV Rebel's Guide, it's packed with all sorts of useful information.

Then get out there and start shooting!
posted by shino-boy at 11:12 AM on August 15, 2010

Documentary Storytelling for Film and Videomakers by Sheila Curran Bernard is a classic.
posted by turtlewithoutashell at 11:20 AM on August 15, 2010

If you're planning to be even remotely serious, I recommend against iMovie. It's very nice for simple home movie editing. But there are two problems. First, it doesn't let you have enough control to do a lot of the kinds of things you'll end up wanting to do as you advance. I think you'd grow out of it quickly. Second, and more importantly, its editing paradigm is so different from that of the professional apps that you'd end up having to re-learn almost everything when you want to move up.

Final Cut Express is a fine starting point. The interface is very similar to Final Cut Pro, so if you later decided to upgrade, you'd have a very easy transition. If you already know you're going to want to upgrade soon, just get Final Cut Pro from the beginning since there's no discount for upgrading from Express to Pro. If you are going to look at Final Cut Pro, also consider Avid. Media Composer 5 is very nice, and isn't dramatically more expensive than Final Cut Studio. Avid also has a free trial version you can try. I personally use Final Cut Pro, but that's mostly because I've been using it since version 1 and it's what I'm comfortable with.

For either FCP or FCE, I like the Apple Pro Training Series books.
posted by sharding at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2010

If you want any kind of quality at all, you need to spend some money on lighting and sound equipment as well. You want microphones on everyone, or just out of camera near their mouths... you want good lighting too.

You can't make up for crappy video or audio quality after the fact.
posted by MikeWarot at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2010

Actually, I'd get a Flip HD camera and iMovie and make films. Lots of them. Shoot the shit out of your dog, your kids, whatever. Download and edit. Over and over again.

Then, when you can tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, upgrade.

You don't need a lighting package or a Nagra or an Arriflex. All that stuff can be rented when you get to that stage. Need to learn how to light? Rent some Marlene Dietrich movies and watch them over and over.

Documentary Storytelling is useful if you're going to use archival footage, but right now, you just need to learn to frame your shots, how to track and pan, and how to hold the camera still.

Watch lots of movies and documentaries. Watch well-done shorts, and segments, like CBS Sunday Morning shows.

Good luck!
posted by Ideefixe at 5:48 PM on August 15, 2010

I see you're in LA. I would highly, highly recommend taking a trip to SF for a week, and doing the six-day documentary filmmaking course from DV Workshops.

Aron Ranen is hilarious, incredibly talented, and can get you to a place knowledge-wise where you'll literally be ready to start shooting your own films by the time you leave -- heck, during the course, you shoot your own piece as part of the learning process, so you'll already have one film under your belt. You'll learn camera operation, audio, lighting, interviewing, storytelling, editing and more. (Note: I have no connection to DVWorkshops, other than as an almunus.)

I did his course 1.5 years ago, and can tell you it's life-changing, really. Although I haven't done as much as I wish I had with it, I see film ideas everywhere, and can make my away around Final Cut Pro surprisingly well.

Oh, and either way, I'd be looking at FCP instead of FCE -- you'll likely want FCP before long anyways, and you'll save $$$ by buying it up front.

Good luck!
posted by liquado at 11:54 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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