Tuesday, 2 April 2013

How to make professional looking films?

Like many filmmakers, I started out by teaching myself and learning from my mistakes. I would often attempt to replicate what I saw in movies and this taught me a lot of what I know. I have a degree in Film Production Technology and since I started that course my filmmaking became more serious. I want to share some tips to help other aspiring filmmakers. Hopefully this will be useful and might benefit those who are starting out.  

I always pay very close attention to the audio in my films and I put an equal amount of effort into it as I do with visuals. Try turning the volume down next time you watch a film. Sure, the cinematography might be stunning but without sound you've only got half a film. You want to ensure your dialogue is crisp and can be heard clearly over the soundtrack and sound effects. By using an external microphone, you get more control over sound acquisition than your camera's built in microphone. However, not all cameras have microphone ports. I use a Marantz pmd660 to record my sound and it works great. I need an extra crew member to operate it on set but it's worth it in the end. Next time you make a film, try spending more time on sound design and you'll be glad you did. 

In film, photography, painting etc there's something known as the "rule of thirds". Just divide your scene into 9 equal blocks and position your actors on the vertical lines. This creates a visually pleasing shot and I was surprised at how effective this technique was. I don't know exactly what it is but it makes your film look a lot better. Every feature film I've seen does this. You don't have to do it for every single shot but it's good to have a few where your actor isn't dead centre. Check out the Wikipedia article here to learn more about the rule of thirds. Also, try and use a variety of Close Up, Medium and Long Shots because sticking to one shot type is boring.  

If you don't have a tripod then buy one now. Every film maker needs a tripod because it will help you a lot. Handheld shots are good for certain scenes like if you're conveying a sense of disorientation but an audience doesn't want to sit through an hour of shaky footage that will make them sick. A tripod also lets you pan the camera smoothly and can make a scene seem more interesting. Have a balance of static, moving and handheld shots in your film and it'll look great. Buy a tripod from Amazon and don't worry about it fitting your camera because they're universal. If you're filming with a mobile phone then don't. Buy yourself a camera because you can't attach a phone to a tripod. (Just googled "mobile phone" tripods and they actually exist. I've seen it all now)     

Light is very important because without it your movie will be a black screen. Outside during the day is perfect for filming because the sun is the best light source out there and it's free. However, if you're filming in your mom's basement you're gonna need some artificial lights. Most standard light bulbs won't do because they're not powerful enough. You can buy special light bulbs that are more intense but I prefer using  LED light panels because they're cheap, bright, use very little power and can be mounted on tripods. 

There's something that your camera probably has which you should never use and that's artificial gain. If you increase gain, your image becomes brighter but it also adds a lot of visual noise. This may look okay on your camera's small LCD screen but when you play it back on your computer or TV you'll realise too late how crap the image looks. Your camera has an aperture that restricts how much light enters it. Obviously, when there's too much light (like outside in daylight) you'll want to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera. If you're indoors, set the aperture to as wide as possible and increase the light in the room without touching that gain button. Make sure your shutter is set to at least 1/50 because if you decrease it further then you're going to be getting a lot more motion blur. 

Many cameras these days have 25p (or 24p if you're in the USA) which offers "cinema" like video. If your camera has this option then use it if you want that film look. Also, shoot in high definition because your footage will obviously look better. Many filmmakers are using DSLRs to make movies these days because they're cheap, have large sensors and can accept a wide variety of different lenses. I use a Canon 600 DSLR which is a consumer camera but it's great because of its ability to use all those Canon lenses on the market. The lenses are expensive but they will greatly improve the quality of your footage. 

Before you even start filming your production you must complete the pre-production stage. Plan every aspect of your film beforehand so you know exactly what you want. Obviously you'll have to write a script or at least some sort of guide (if you want your actors to improvise) but it's also worth making a storyboard. If you can't draw that well then just do it on a computer. There's plenty of storyboard software on the web which will make storyboarding fast and easy. Last of all, compile a shot list and shooting schedule for effective time management.    

After you get your footage it's time to put it all together. I'm not going to say one editing application is better than another but you're going to need something a bit more advanced than Windows Movie Maker. Movie Maker is good if you're starting out but it's limited in what it can achieve. I personally use Adobe Premiere Pro and that provides everything I need for editing. When I film on my DSLR, I tone down all the settings so I get as flat an image as possible. This allows more scope for colour grading in post production so I can shift contrast and adjust whites and blacks more. Pay close attention to the pace of you film as well. Think about the sort of mood you're trying to convey. Action sequences should be fast with a lot of cuts while a slow pace with very few cuts will build up suspense.  

That's probably the best advice I can give. Everyone has to start somewhere but if you're dedicated enough then eventually your films will look better. I look back at my old stuff and it makes me laugh and cringe but it all helped me get to where I am today. I'm still learning everyday though and my stuff is still far from perfect.

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