How to Make a Movie
If you want to learn how to make a movie, the best thing to do is make one. Yep. By starting DIY, you will get a sense of the big picture and be more likely to become a better filmmaker down the road. In fact, there is no better time to learn how to make a movie. You have tools at your fingertips that your creative forefathers would have died for. If you are reading this article on a phone, there’s a good chance that that phone has a better camera than the early digital cameras with which many people learned and mastered filmmaking. So if you have an idea, what are you waiting for?
Right. But where do you begin? Getting the idea out of your head and onto the screen can be a daunting task, but once it is broken down in steps, it becomes more manageable. Even better, once you master these steps, whether you are making a film with an iPhone or with a full camera kit from a rental house, they are relatively the same — the biggest difference being that the toys are more expensive and the crews are bigger. But let’s start small. Let’s say that you want to use that phone in your hand to make a movie. What would you need? Well, several things, from the creative to the technical, and if you are not technical, do not let that deter you.
In our discussion of how to make a movie, we’ll cover:
- An idea/script
- Film tools/film gear
A lot of people are afraid to get started because they don’t think they have a good idea. Trust me, an idea doesn’t have to be good in order for you to learn or even make a good film. All you need is a story. It can be as simple as telling the story of someone who rolls out of bed, stumbles to the coffeemaker only to find that she is out of coffee. The goal with storytelling is to get someone to relate, and with filmmaking, it’s all about the images you use to tell the story. So as you develop your idea, don’t over think it. It just needs to be something you can visualize and execute. What’s going to make it unique is your point of view. Take the example of no morning coffee. How does she feel when she discovers there is no coffee? How does that translate visually? Does she grab her hair in despair or throw the empty pot against the wall?
Whatever story you want to tell, put it in a script. For the most part, screenwriting is what you see and what you hear. Just remember that it’s always more interesting to tell the story visually. Rather than having the character say, “Oh no, there’s no coffee,” show us the empty coffee container, show us her reaction. Another thing you will want to do is get feedback on your script. Have someone read it to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, fiddle with it until it does. If it does make sense, still fiddle with it to make it better.
How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless.
Film Tools/Film Gear
The most accessible camera these days is on a smartphone. It can be an Android or an iPhone; all you need are the right accessories. In order for you to get the most out of your phone camera, you will need an app called Filmic Pro; this app will get your phone to behave more like a camera. You will also want to get lenses so you can shoot a better variety of shots. There are two ways to go here — you can get lenses that are designed specifically for smartphones – like Moment lenses, or you can use an adapter, like the Beastgrip adapter that will allow you to use regular camera lenses with your phone. You may also want a tripod or a stabilizer to keep the camera steady; all you need is a mount adapter to put your phone on a tripod and there are stabilizers built specifically for phones.
Next, you need sound equipment. Unfortunately, phones (and most cameras, for that matter) don’t record good sound, so you will need a sound recording device, like a Zoom or Tascam. You will also need a good microphone on a boom pole to record the sound. You can also get lavalier microphones – which are the kind that you attach to an Actor to record dialog, as well.
Alright, technically you can do all of this on your own and maybe you want to start that way — maybe film your cat to get some practice in, but eventually, you will want Actors, someone to record the audio, someone to operate the camera, and ideally someone to help produce it. (Without getting into it, a Producer will help you stay organized and on track. Learn more about the role played by Producers here.) So, finding collaborators is essential to filmmaking. There are many ways to go about this – you can post something on social media, you can go to events sponsored by your local film community, or if you are in school, get to know the film and media students. One thing to keep in mind as you are meeting people is to find folks that you enjoy being around, who have similar interests, and who are interested in learning and mastering skills. If you know nothing about the camera, lighting or recording sound, find people who are passionate about these things.
Once you have your team, get their input about the script and start to plan what you will need to make it. The more planning you do, the more successful you will be. The basics you will need are locations, Actors, and food! You will also want to talk to your team about how things will be shot. Create a shot list, which will be your roadmap during production. Some people like to storyboard, but that’s up to you. It’s just important to have a plan because you don’t want to waste people’s time during production. Something that will help you create a shot list is to remember that each time you move the camera, it’s a new setup, which is a shot. Shots are like sentences, some are long, some are short, but when you put them together, there is a rhythm and a pace. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the different kinds of shots: wide, medium, close up, etc. Understanding the language will help you communicate your ideas to your team.
One thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.
This is the day you all come together to get the job done! You have done your homework; you have food and drinks to keep you energized; now you will spend the day perfecting each shot. Some of the things you will be focusing on will be blocking – how the Actors move through the space in relation to the camera, framing – how the shot is framed, and the performance of the Actor.
When you block a scene, you decide where the camera goes and how the Actors will move through the set. This includes any action they may do like grab a set of keys, when to pat someone on the back or when to sit down. Once you decide these things, you can put tape on the floor to make sure the Actors have reminders of where to stand and when. How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless. Working with Actors is also important. Actors come to set with some terrific ideas, but it is important to make sure they hit the tone you are trying to achieve, whether it is humor or drama. Actors love to know what they can do to make their performance better
Once you have your movie in the can, you are ready to edit. Well, almost. You will need to sync the sound in what is called a non-linear editing system (NLE), which is a fancy way to say editing software, where you will put the pieces you shot together. Again, this is something that you can learn and I highly suggest you learn the basics, but there are plenty of people who want to master this craft and are hungry to find material to work on to learn and hone their skills. Also, editing is like writing. Getting feedback will make your movie better.
After the editing is done, you still need to polish your film up. You will need to make sure all your shots are color corrected, which can be done in your NLE or you can have a professional do it. Again, always look for people who want to practice. The same goes for post-production sound. Post-production sound involves a lot of detail work, which includes cleaning up the dialog, laying in sound effects, music, and balancing all these elements in what is called the mix.
Once you have gone through these steps, you are a filmmaker! But one thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.
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