December 30, 2016

8 Things Every New Filmmaker Should Learn Before Making Their First Film

From getting good audio to choosing good costumes, this video covers all the bases of filmmaking for beginners.

For many of us, the way we learned how to make films was simply by making films—horrible, horrible films full of ugly mistakes and shameful regret. (Just me? Didn't think so.) We used our camera's built-in microphone for audio. We decided to see what 24 fps looked like mid-project. We tortured our audience gracious moms with super long and tedious expositional scenes. 

But, now that the internet is full of helpful videos about how to make better movies, budding filmmakers can learn from other people's mistakes instead of their own. (Don't worry, you'll still learn from the countless other mistakes you're going to make.) In this video, filmmaker Sebastian Solberg talks about 8 classic noob mistakes in hopes that you can avoid them as you set out on your first project.

Here are the 8 tips mentioned in the video:

  • Check the frame rate and resolution: The standard for film is 24 fps, but regardless of what frame rate (or resolution) you choose, just make sure, at least if you're a beginner, that it stays the same throughout. (Learn more about frame rates here.)
  • Choose your locations wisely: Noise pollution can cause major problems for sound, so either find a way to solve them or find a different, less noisy location. (Learn more about locations here and here.)
  • Use a boom: Most pros will tell you that audio is more important than the visuals, and a nice boom mic will help make yours sound a whole lot better. (Learn how to use a boom like a pro here and here.)
  • Experiment with light: Many beginners don't pay a whole lot of attention to lighting, but it's one of the major elements that makes a film look more cinematic. (You can find pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about lighting here.)
  • Find costumes that tell a story: No, your actors shouldn't be wearing their street clothes for your project—unless they go with the story you're telling. (Find out how to tell stories with your costumes here.)
  • Watch out for continuity errors: Have someone on set whose sole purpose is to spot continuity errors, especially if you're shooting over multiple days or have a lot of costume/blocking/lighting changes.
  • Show, don't say: For the most part, less is more when it comes to dialog, and nine times out of ten you can get your point across with visuals rather than lengthy and needless exposition. (Here's a great lesson on how to avoid these kinds of scenes.)
  • Give your actors something to do: Audiences love kinesis, so when you can, get your actors moving while they deliver dialog.

There are so many other mistakes and oversights that every new filmmaker makes on their first few projects, but these are definitely the big ones. After watching countless student films during college, I'd say poor audio, poor lighting, and poor costuming were the things that not only plagued the work of my classmates, but mine as well. (Also, that 180-degree rule can be a real bastard to navigate when first starting out.)

But, I think if I had just one tip to give a newbie other than write good stories (because that's obviously #1) it'd be to stick to making films within your means. In other words, don't go out and try to make a sci-fi movie about an Earthling space army defending their intergalactic spaceship against malicious reptilian aliens, because you probably don't have the resources to pull it off. Of course, if you're just making movies for fun, go for it, but if you're wanting to include it in your demo reel, stahp! (I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just saying it'd be really, really difficult—but really, I'm just trying to be nice here.)

What are some tips you could share with new filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below!      

Your Comment

8 Comments

But if you want to make that sci-fi movie you really should! No better way to waste your time then to make a film you aren't excited to make because you don't think you can afford your main idea. If your story is interesting people won't care if your sets are cardboard and your special effects are not top notch. I could totally make that reptile invading movie described above for less than $20,000 and it would be great!

December 30, 2016 at 6:30PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
755

Is that a new year's resolution? ;-)
I'd watch it!

December 30, 2016 at 9:42PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8473

One thing I managed to accomplish on my first feature (due out 2017) that I would definitely advise other new filmmakers to do also was I surrounded myself with a crew of people who all knew way more about how to do their jobs than I did. In other words, don't be afraid to admit that you might not know much about lenses or lighting or whatever your blindspot(s) may be. Your movie will be so much better if you know when, where, and how to relinquish control and defer to others so that every aspect of the production is being done to its highest potential.

December 30, 2016 at 10:38PM

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Daniel Shar
Writer/Director
175

I hear this allot, but I would argue that this person shouldn't be directing quite yet. The best directors usually know individual jobs better than their crew... at least the main creative jobs... you hire the crew because they're better at "executing" them... and they save time. They're not supposed to be picking up the directors slack, or making up for his/her inability.

This is especially true on the indie level with directors like Gareth Edwards. The guy knew arguably more than any VFX artist, cinematographer, and editor he could find for anywhere even close to his budget on his film "Monsters". I mean, sure... make a film anyway you want... but if you want it to stand out in anyway... you're going to have to be amazing at everything. Filmmaking is an elite craft and working directors really are genius-level people.

December 31, 2016 at 12:33PM, Edited December 31, 12:34PM

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I totally get where you're coming from, and I wouldn't argue with the notion that I probably shouldn't have been directing yet. That being said, I learned way more about filmmaking by jumping into the deep end than I ever would have if I had just waited to reach a point where I felt like an expert on every facet of production.

Also, I'm a product of the Chicago improv/sketch comedy scene, where the focus is on ensemble and collaboration. My cast, producer, DP, and various other crew members were also involved in that world, so I do feel that everybody was pretty amazing at leaving egos at the door, trusting one another, and working together to make this movie as a team rather than as an assembly line being lorded over by one under-qualified idiot (me).

December 31, 2016 at 2:47PM

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Daniel Shar
Writer/Director
175

nice hints :)
I think Simon Cade at DSLRguide also offers some good advice, it helped me a lot then.

December 31, 2016 at 5:59AM

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James A. Delancey
Writer/Director
1

One thing I learned also is to slow down when in production. Don't rush and put a lot of scenes into a day's shoot. This may add additional filming days but your content wouldn't suffer. Give some breathing room and consider setup times at each location.

For me I enjoy filmmaking process and always make films that would challenge us. Our next project is a martial arts comedy musical :) the learning process is a bit different.

January 1, 2017 at 8:31AM, Edited January 1, 8:31AM

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Johnny Wu
Director, Producer, Editor
281

That musical sounds amazing.

February 3, 2017 at 7:25AM

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Abi Stricker
Student
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