September 29, 2015 at 2:33AM


What makes a student film look like a student film

I am currently a film-maker studying at university. After watching each years graduation films I can just tell that they were made by students and not proffesionals.

So, what is it that makes a film look student like and how do you make one that has that proffesional award winning feel to it.


Level Zero: no craft at all. Uses only available light and/or in-camera mics, undressed sets, random wardrobe, etc. No thoughts about camera movement, lens choice, etc. Actors look, sound, and move more like friends who are doing a favor.

Level One: visible craft. Lighting techniques are used, but they call attention to themselves. Audio is tolerable, but perhaps too punchy in every way. Sets and wardrobe have some thought put into them, but no cohesion. Or, they are coherent, but they fight a larger reality that just won't go away. Camera movements call attention to themselves. Lensing calls attention to itself (too wide, too telephoto, too zoom-y, too much rack focus, etc). Actors look like actors acting.

Level Two: invisible craft. Nothing in the scene screams "Look at my great 3-point lighting technique!" Nothing in the scene screams "I've got a shallow DOF lens and I'm going to use it everywhere!" Nothing in the scene screams "I'll bet you're wondering how I got that dolly shot in a single take!" Actors become characters.

Level Three: pulling the viewer into the story. The craft is not only invisible, but the characters and the story are so compelling that the viewer commits themselves totally.

Not all movies reach Level Three from start to finish. Students whose films never rise above Level Zero should consider another field of study, such as flower-arranging. I would say that student films look like student films because their ratio of Level One (visible craft) to Level Two (invisible craft) is noticeably higher than what we expect from professional films. Award-winning films deliver a lot of Level Three goodness (even if there are a few "Look at me!" Level 1 moments here or there).

September 29, 2015 at 4:02AM


Michael. GREAT FREAKING ANSWER. Appreciate this.

October 1, 2015 at 2:01PM


Seeing that the feature film "Tangerine" was released in theaters this summer, yet was shot on three iPhone 5s cameras with modestly priced lens adapters ( roughly $150 for the lens adapters ), I don't think it's equipment that separating student work from professional work.

Here are the things that scream "student film" to me...

1- Bad audio : Good audio is not expensive, but you have to know what you are doing.

2- Poor story idea : Often not an original idea, or poorly thought out idea.

3- Un-natural dialog : Workshopping the dialog could help so many student scripts. The dialog should be good enough to work as a radio-play, so that the audience believes what the characters and the story they are telling.

4- Poorly thought out visuals that are not motivated by what is happening in the scene.

5- Poor acting ability : This is tough, as even working professional actors can be quite poor too, though a really good director can bring out better performances from poor actors and sometimes save the day.

September 29, 2015 at 11:19AM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Like the old joke says, "practice..."

It's just a lack of experience and ability that will come with time in honing skill and craft. You can see that in the final product on screen, but with talent, time, repetition and patience, you won't.

September 30, 2015 at 12:23PM


I think the two biggest factors are:

1. Bad acting / the actors always being student age

2. Bad sound / music

You can appreciate a great story that isn't shot masterfully. But if the sound is bad it is dead in the water

October 1, 2015 at 7:52PM

Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor

Summer vacation is great. That is the most productive time to record the film, I think, as you have a lot of free time to do it. Students could rest from the studying everyday routine and have time to do the thing they like. I know for sure that that is the happiest period of their studying. The look forward to it and plan what they will do on it. But they shouldn't forget about the summer home assignments they were given from teachers as they will need to return to in case they won't do it on tehir own. They should divide their free time carefully to be in time with theirs homework and their hobby or friend meetings.

May 9, 2016 at 2:23PM


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