Matt K’s Free Film School!

So you want to be a filmmaker but don’t have the time / money to go to film school?

Here is your first free film lesson

Get a camcorder, any camcorder, with a zoom- which I think ALL of them have. DON’T buy a DSLR, yet, they’re too hard to learn.  (If you already own a DSLR with video capabilities…. ok… use that!)

You don’t even need to buy a NEW camera- scour goodwill or local pawnshops!

Zoom in on the subject of the shot.  If its a wedding and the subject is a pastor speaking, then its the pastor speaking.

Zoom in ALL the way- get perfect  focus then zoom out.

If its is a horror movie and the villain is stabbing someone then subject would be….. hmmm…. the victim.  Focus on the subject and let the rest of the scene be as focused as it naturally falls. It will look pretty good.

Make sure the subject is lit. Sure, professional grade lights are always best, but as a beginner / learner something as simple as THIS might work:

How lit is too lit? For a beginner, just look through the cameras viewfinder… it it seeks too hot / too bright move the light a little bit further away

For home movies, the cameras built in mike will be ok IF you put the camera REALLY close to the subject.

If you are interviewing someone, some one is giving a speech,  an actor is giving a long monolog- consider this:

a $79 mike that goes into the smartphone that you and every one of your actors and crew members already owns!  I own a samsung but Im sure that Apple iPhones and whoever else’s have a voice recording app!

Even is you are shooting your video on a smartphones video camera, have another smartphone in the subjects front pocket.  I once shot a wedding with the groom having his phone in his front pocket, no microphone, just the phone itself, and I edited the grooms sound with my cameras video! It sounded great!

if you can afford it, consider moving up to:

As a beginner, always always always use a TRIPOD!  Nothing screams out “ amateur” more than shaky hand held video footage. Get ALL of your footage, even close ups and B-Roll, using a tripod.  As a beginner try not to have your hands anywhere near the camera. You won’t be able to resist the urge to zoom in and out or move around.  Even if you are shooting on a phone- get a tripod.

Here is a pretty good phone camera  tripod:

and for Pete’s sake don’t hold your phone vertical! keep it horizontal.



If you MUST go hand held, stay zoomed out wide and get as physically close to the subject as possible.

And always remember to shoot do that people other than you need to be able to view it and understand whats going on.

Yes some movies and TV shows use handheld. The opening of Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. But they’re deliberately using handheld footage to make a point they’re TRYING to make it look rough and shaky. its handheld footage shot by experienced professionals using expensive state of the art equipment. Even the much maligned “Blair Witch Project” was shot mainly with tripods ( at least the first act was).

I shot this wedding reception many years ago hand held and I cringe at how sloppy it looks:

This is my more modern, tripod shot footage:

The opening Wide Shot on this wedding video was shot on a phone stuck onto a simple cheap tripod!

The wide shot at 1 seconds into this wedding video was done with a phone on a tripod

if you skip ahead to 1:27 thats hand held phone video shooting the car:    and at 1:59 the shot of them “jaunting away” was from a phone video!

If your computer system, comes with some kind of video editing software, use it.  Otherwise get a “real” editing system like Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas.  They don’t cost much more than the amateur apps and think about it- if you spend 6 months or a year struggling to learn a professional application you will be much more hire-able if you apply for a job in the video field.  If were hiring an editor, someone with a lot of experience editing home movies with Premiere or Final Cut would be more attractive to me than someone who’s been using “ Larry’s magical home video maker!”

Learn Adobe Photoshop!  Not “learn something LIKE Adobe Photoshop” But … learn Adobe Photoshop!

Watch a lot of films made on youtube. Every single one of them was made by someone who THOUGHT he was making a masterpiece that they THOUGHT would take them into the big leagues. Some are good, some are well intentioned but kinda awful, many are just awful!  Learn from their mistakes!

Two last things

Even if you can’t afford “film school” consider take ONE film or digital video class at your local community college.  You can make friends with the teacher and or fellow students and work on projects together! As a student you can get the Adobe Creative Suite for a FRACTION of what it normally costs.

And…. the class itself should teach you something!

Lastly- everything I said about tripods and keeping all your shooting safe and boring….  eventually you will outgrow ALL that and be shooting hand held and using gliders and sliders like a boss!

Now start practicing today! Make a “documentary” on your family or sport or hobby!  If its no good – so what? Just don’t post it to youtube! Your next one will be better!

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