Intro to Amateur Film?
June 28, 2012 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I have an idea for an amateur film project I'd like to try out, only I've never so much as held a video camera. Where should I start learning? Ready to jump in with both feet.

I'd like to do this just for the fun and experience of it. Of course the more people who see it, the better (because I get more feedback and can improve), but I'm not trying to be an internet sensation here. Bearing that in mind, I'd still like some clues on how to "market" my videos.

I will probably be purchasing a video camera of semi-decent quality, and I am somewhat experienced in the use of Pinnacle Studio software, so I will be using that to edit the videos - unless there's something way better that can be had/used on a student's budget (albeit a student with a good job and no rent to pay, so there is some leeway here).

So, help me out here. I've never studied film before, though I do appreciate good films (some of my favorites are British espionage flicks, if it matters or helps at all) and have studied acting pretty extensively and have resources relating to script-writing. What books should I read to start? Websites I can go to? I'm not looking for thousand-page "Everything You Ever Needed To Know" books unless they're packed practically cover-to-cover with information that would be genuinely useful to me. What do I need to know about scene-setting, placement, dialogue choices, and maintaining focus, and where do I go to learn this?

To open this question up some, I'm also interested in seeing examples of excellent scenework, from five-minute amateur vids on youtube up to Hollywood and international films (I fear neither subtitles nor long torrent searches). Give me your wisdom, MetaFilter!
posted by Urban Winter to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'd still like some clues on how to "market" my videos.

Upload to Vimeo (not YouTube). Huge community there that will see your videos and critique.

Link to your videos on Facebook so all your friends can see. More people watch videos than people think, at least in my experience when no one comments on my video, but when I see family/friends/colleagues in real life, they are always asking me about my videos when I thought I had no viewers.

To learn, I would poke around YouTube and Vimeo and watch lots of videos. I know someone who has film and acting experience and their videos are absolutely horrible (and he wonders why he enters countless contests a year and is completely ignored). Also, if you find a video you like, it seems to be "the thing" now to make a behind-the-scenes video and post it as well; you can learn a lot of secrets from that.

Something else to remember, too: even though it may seem like one person put a really cool video on YouTube, they do still have a team of people working on them, actually. Some have credit rolls and many do not, but I assure you there is a team behind it.

posted by TinWhistle at 10:47 AM on June 28, 2012

Personally, I've always wanted to attend the The Two Day Film School as it sounds quite guerrilla and fast paced and learn by doing.

As far as books go, the $30 Film School looks nice.

Finally, check out MeetUp and see if there are any screenwriting, actor or filmmaking meetups near you.
posted by THAT William Mize at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Quick Tüts series on vimeo has a bunch of small, but awesome tips for guerrilla-type filmmaking. Stuff like using a rubber-band for smooth pans, and creating a camera stabilizer out of a screw and string.

My other suggestion is to start small. Like 1 or 2 locations, 2 actors, and a couple crew. Finished project no longer than five minutes. When I first started making things, I noticed the smaller the scope, the better it would turn out. Good Luck! and if you need low-budget equipment recommendations, feel free to memail me.
posted by 2ghouls at 12:04 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to give you the bad news first, followed by suggestions.

The bad news: Making anything that is even half way watchable is difficult, and if you've never done it before, than you're going to have a lot of learning to do before you're going to have a video that isn't mostly terrible. Most of what you see on youtube that looks easy and simple, but well made, actually involves a ton of work with a lot of people, or at least one or two people who really really know what they are doing.

Before I get into some advice, it helps to know exactly what you are going to be doing. Are you talking about short 5 minute scripted films, or music video's, or artsy fartsy stuff, or little how-to video's? Those all have different requirements.

Now, that being said, if you're willing to do a few things, you should be able to come up with a product that is watchable.

First of all, don't think you can do it yourself. There are people who can do creative video's by themselves, but they are people who have a lot of experience and know exactly what they are doing. If you think about it, a good watchable film requires a good script, good actors, a good director, good lighting, good camera work, good sound, and good editing, at a minimum. Can you do all of these things well? Whatever you can't do well will be your weakest link. You can have the most amazing footage in the world, and if the editing is poor it will come across as bad. Definitely find a few people and do some projects together. Even if it isn't the type of stuff you want to be doing, the experience of working with people who know what they are doing will teach you a ton.

Secondly, don't spend all of your money on your camera. That is the easiest way to be disappointed. Keep in mind you need sound gear (yes, you do need sound gear, the stuff built into the camera is not going to be good enough for anything other than a silent film), lighting (there are ways to do this cheaply, but it requires that you know exactly what you want), and various other things (a good tripod at a minimum).

Third, your audio is 90% of what will make your final product seem professional. You can have less than stellar camera work with great audio and it will come across as professional. You can have the greatest cinematography known to man with crappy audio and your film will seem unprofessional. That's just how it is. Make sure you have a clean way to record audio, with a good mic that is appropriate to your location. The built in mic on your camera will make anything you film seem like a home movie, no matter how wonderful the visuals are.

There are a few DVD's worth checking out.

Lighting for film and television

Sound for film and television

These are fantastic tutorials that explain the basics in a very easy to understand way, and go over the equipment with examples to show you how to do things right. If the price seems steep, try to find them used, and when you're done, you can sell them used for what you paid for them. I cannot think of anything that would be a better investment for someone coming into film without any experience.

Your first couple of projects are going to be pretty bad. If you just accept that, and use these as learning experiences you will be a lot happier in the end. Because of this, don't start of by filming the one script you've got which you are sure is a masterpiece. It will probably come out really bad. Save the projects you are most in love with for a while, and do a few things that you aren't so attached to. Once you feel like you have a grasp on how to do what you want to do, then start working on the things you think have a shot of being accepted by the public.

posted by markblasco at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ack, I don't know what happened there, but I'll finish my thoughts here. If I were to tell someone what to buy when getting started, I would always suggest starting with a decent fluid head tripod. If you have any camera movement whatsoever, you want fluid head. The cheap ones used for photography will make every movement look terrible.

Make sure you spend your time learning the basics, such as getting a good exposure, framing your shot, how to shoot multiple shots which can be cut together, etc. Here is a great set of video's for camera work, and goes into great detail about how to set up your shots to make things look professional:

Hollywood Camera Work

It's expensive, so definitely something to buy used if you can find it, and then sell once you've watched it.

Finally, really accept the fact that film making takes time. If you want things done right, and you don't have a huge crew, don't expect to get more than a few minutes of final footage out of a day of shooting. There are so many things that need to happen before you shout action, and every time you move the camera for a different shot, even if it's in the same room for the same scene, you'll need to make a lot of adjustments.

A good place for more resources and to talk to people is the DVX User Forum. Lots of people there who can answer questions and help out (and their classified section is a great place to buy those DVD's, that's what I did years ago and I was able to sell them for what I paid for them)

Having said all that, if this is something that really interests you, definitely do it! Film making is a lot of fun (even with all of the hard work), and very rewarding once you get to know what you are doing. The tough part is the initial stage when you don't know what you're doing, and everything seems to come out wrong. If you can get past that, than you'll soon find it to be a great creative thing to fill up your time!
posted by markblasco at 12:35 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, keep it small, get it finished. A lot of times I've seen people get too ambitious with their first project, and not realize the mistakes they made writing it and shooting it that became crystal clear while it was being edited. If they hadn't been so ambitious, maybe they would have got to editing in two months instead of two years. Then they could have learned from those mistakes and moved on to new projects, instead of getting mired trying to fix it.

Don't underestimate the importance of good sound.

If acting or working with actors is your strong point, maybe collaborating with someone who is very visual and technical but not great with actors could be a good way to make something better together than you would make separately. Collaboration is itself a skill that needs practice.
posted by RobotHero at 12:37 PM on June 28, 2012

markblasco said everything I'd have said, and I will add: make a few shorts. But do this: make several shorts that have a hard time limit of 1 minute. You have one minute to engage the viewer, tell a story, convey something, create an experience. Make it complete. What that lets you do: you get to experiment with equipment and assemble what you need; teaches you basics about using the equipment and what it's for, what is important and what is not; hones your writing skills, your technical skills, your directorial skills - and keeps the budget modest enough to make complete projects - this is very important, because you learn much, much, much, much more when you complete a project. After you've done a few of those, decide what you want to do next - longer shorts, webisodes, whatever.
posted by VikingSword at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said. Use storyboards. They save so much time, it's unreal. I've gotten out of the directing thing, but at the time, I kicked myself for not starting with them.
posted by CarlRossi at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2012

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