15 minute film school

15 minute film school

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1. A script. Where do they come from? They come from ideas. Where do ideas come from? Try comic books. Tales From The Crypt is great. The local newspaper often has good story ideas. Go to the local coffee house and eavesdrop. People talk about fascinating situations all the time; they just don't seem that fascinating till you need ideas for a film. Or, you know what? Just steal an idea from your favorite TV show, and modify it to make it yours. Nobody's gonna see your first film anyway. This one's just to get your chops. (The next ten or twenty will be too, but don't worry about that for now.)

2. Actors. Where the heck do I find actors? Every college has actors, and there's always a local theater scene. Hang a flyer. If you can't find the drama department of your local college or the local theater scene, either you aren't trying very hard, or you live in a really, really small town. You may have to rely on your friends and family. Pick the outgoing ones. Make sure they actually memorize their lines. They may say they can't but they can. Tell them not to "act". They should just say the lines to the person they are supposed to be talking to, in the most natural way they can, based on what is going on with their character at that moment. "Acting" always looks like acting. Saying lines naturally ---IS--- acting, and it comes from understanding what is natural in the situation. (It's easier to deliver lines naturally if your script is actually good, so make sure your characters are saying things that make sense for the emotion of the moment.)

3. Film school. Okay you don't really need film school. But here's it is anyway.


1.) The establishing shot sets the stage, for example a quick shot of the Golden Gate Bridge tells you the story is set in San Francisco, a quick shot of the exterior of the house shows you the story is set, well, in a house. Usually the establishing shot is a wide shot, but anything that identifies the situation could be an establishing shot. A closeup of a jack-o-lantern could establish the setting as Halloween. Establish the time and place.

2.) You can shoot people from basically a few different framings. Medium shot, Medium closeup, Closeup, Extreme Closeup. Try not to cut people off at their natural joints. A medium shot looks more natural if the bottom of the frame is not in line with their waist. Include the top of the thighs. Same goes for knees and necks. Medium closeup usually means head and shoulders. Some directors like it looser than that. Closeup usually includes the entire head and a little more or may cut off just the very top of the head. Extreme closeup is usually just part of the face.

3.) Shoot everything using at least two of these different framings and overlap what you shoot. The idea here is to always have at least two choices when you are editing. Also when you change framings, also change the angle. So shoot the dialogue of lines a b c d e f g h i and j using the medium shot, then change to a medium closeup or closeup and also physically move the camera about thirty degrees or so from where it was and shoot h i j k l m and n. Personally I'd shoot A thru J using both medium and medium closeup then move camera and change framings and start shooting from H thru N, and so forth, but I'm an editor and I like lots of choices.

4.) B-roll. This is a fancy term for anything that's not the main action. If your characters are in a race against time, you might shoot a clock, one of your character's watches, or better still, an extreme closeup of sweat rolling off the brow of your protagonist. Maybe a shot of the sun setting, or a time-lapse shot of traffic building to a rush-hour crescendo. Almost anything can be a cutaway, also known as b-roll. These are the shots that may save your ass if you get into a logistical problem in the edit session.


1. Here's an exercise to help you frame your shots in an aesthetically pleasing way. Draw a box that's about 4 inches wide and 3 inches high. Draw two horizontal lines in your box dividing it into three equal sections. Now draw two vertical lines in your box dividing it that way into equal sections. You now have 3 rectangles on top, three rectangles in the middle, and three rectangles in the bottom. See the 4 points where the lines intersect? Those are where you want interesting things to happen in your frame. Don't center things in frame, put them on those intersections.

2.) Respect THE LINE. This is a tough one. "The line" here has nothing to do with the lines we just drew in the box in the exercise we just did. When two people are talking to each other, there is an imaginary line that runs between them. In order to not confuse your viewers, you should place your camera on only this side of that line or only that side of the line. DON"T CROSS THE LINE. If you respect this rule, Dick will always show up on the left side of frame and Jane will always show up on the right side of frame, and if two people are having a conversation you want them to be on the same side each time it's their turn to talk. Otherwise the conversation will be very confusing for your viewers. Now yes, sometimes you want to confuse your viewers, and then that might make the idea of crossing the line useful but you aren't making NYPD Blue here. You're learning how to make films. So try following the rule till you understand why it's a rule. THEN go out and break the rule once you know how it works.

3.) Respect THE LINE alt. - - - Okay, it's not totally true that you can never cross the line, there are just certain ways to do it right. One is, while shooting, move the camera across the line, then use that take in your edited piece. That re-establishes the line on the other side. Two is, have your characters change positions while you're rolling a take that ends up in your edited master. Again, the effect is the same, you are having the viewer watch as you re-establish THE LINE. The third way is to take a shot that is ON the line, for example, from directly overhead.


1.) Get the mic as close as you can to your subject without being able to see it in the shot. One of the tricks to getting the mic close is to shoot in tighter rather than looser framings.

2.) Try to shoot in quiet places. Go where the jackhammers aren't. Turn off the air conditioner. Unplug the fridge. Shut down the computer. Have your best friend stop traffic for a few seconds while you roll tape (only recommended for those whose best friends are traffic cops.)

3.) Get extra sound. Now go out and collect the sound of the jackhammer and the traffic and the air conditioner and the fridge and computer. You might need them. Also get sound of the empty room where you just shot all the dialogue. You can use that to smooth over gaps in your sound once you've edited stuff out.

4.) Music. Your buddy who writes all those cool songs he plays in his garage? He'd love to have his songs in a short film. Or use garageband software or soundtrack software or just use your led zeppelin cds. No one's gonna see this film anyway.


1.) You didn't need them for your first five films.

2.) But since you bought em, here's how to use 'em. THREE POINT LIGHTING. Key, Fill, and Back. They'll be about 120 degrees apart as a rule of thumb, but the configuration of the room and the MOTIVATED sources of light will alter this. Motivated source of light means if your subject is supposed to be in a room with a window, the window would naturally have light coming from it, so that is motivated.

a.) Key light. This is your strongest light source. Hit em with the key light from a direction that is motivated. This will probably cast some nasty shadows on the other side of their faces.

b.) Fill light. This will be 1/2 to 1/4 as strong as the key light, which means it'll have to be less wattage, or further away from your subject or diffused or a combination of the above. This is what you're going to use to soften those nasty shadows you just created with your key light.

c.) Back light. This will help separate your subject from the background. You're just trying to get a little rim of light around their head. Point it at their head from almost opposite of the camera, but not letting the light shine right into your lens.

d.) Incidentals. Is there a lamp in the room? Use a real light bulb. Not strong enough? Point a set light into the lampshade. It'll do wonders for the look of your film.

e.) what about shooting night scenes? DON"T MAKE THE MISTAKE OF THINKING NIGHT SCENES SHOULD BE LIT DARKLY. Night scenes should still have plenty of light. The thing that makes it look like night is using lots of CONTRAST. So just think in terms of "POOLS of light" Lots of dark areas with hot spots of light areas. Add a blue gel to your light and it looks even more night-like. If you just use less light overall, I guarantee it will not look like night, it'll just look like it was shot poorly. Take my word on this. Then do some camera tests if you don't believe me. Shoot the same scene twice, once with low light levels overall, then once with pools of light. You'll see. And watch the godfather or the x-files or something. You'll see.

E. EDITING - This is the hardest part and one of the most fun. It's where your film really starts to take shape. Here you'll see if you shot the right pieces, and this is where you'll really learn from your mistakes as a director and a shooter. All is revealed in the edit session. Let's talk fundamentals.

1.) Continuity - if she wore the sunglasses in the first shot she should be wearing them the next time we see her.

2.) The invisible edit - there's ways to make things look really smoothe. Generally if you're telling a story and your audience notices the editing, it's probably detracting from the story you're trying to tell, so try to make the editing as invisible as possible. Here's some methods.

a.) Match action - if jane is slapping dick in the first shot, cut in the middle of the slap to another angle of the slap. The ACTION of the slap masks the cut.

b.) Match color - cut or dissolve from something yellow to something else yellow. A banana to a school bus.

c.) Match motion - something moving left to right in frame, cut to something else moving in the same direction or at the same speed. experiment with this.

d.) Match shape - cut or dissolve from a closeup of a tire (circle) to a bowl of soup (circle).

3.) Avoid the jump cut. this is really part of the invisible edit, but deserves its own number cuz it's a biggie. A jump cut is a jarring cut. You know these by feel mostly but there are common causes. Cutting from one framing to another without changing angles is one. Cutting from one framing to the same kind of framing from either the same angle or a different angle is another. Having someone's head or hand in a different position than in the previous shot is a very common way to get a jump cut. This is an important reason to have your actors do things the same way each take. Jump cut calls attention to the editing and takes the viewer out of the story momentarily. Usually that's gonna work against you, unless you're really crafty. Learn to avoid it in your first 4 or 5 films. Then learn to use it.

4.) The natural shot choice - this one is for the experts. Think about if you were in the room watching what's going on in your film. What would you be watching at any moment? That should basically determine which shot you should go to in your edit. Think about the psychological distance of the moment. Is it two people who just met? Wide shot. Are they getting to know each other? Medium shot. Did one of them just reveal something personal? Medium closeup. Moving in for the kiss? Closeup. Suddenly a shot rings out? Wide shot, we wanna see the whole room to figure out where the sound came from. Or to keep the suspense going, deny the audience the wide shot just yet, they so desperately want to see the whole room. Instead show the extreme closeups of first one face then the other. The tension is building. Finally one of the characters slumps over dead. NOW go to your wide shot. Wow. You're a regular Hitchcock, baby!


1.) You made a film. It wasn't the perfect film. But dammit you did it. And that's what you oughta be doing. Don't procrastinate about this. The technology is accessible. It's not brain surgery. Just doing it is the most important thing. Don't wait for a thousand dollars from your rich uncle or for your christmas bonus to come through. Come up with simple ideas, and shoot em on the cheap. You'll learn A WHOLE LOT about film making just by doing it, and that means the next one will be even better.

2.) Be honest with yourself. If it's good it's good. If it sucks it sucks. But figure out why or why not. You'll need help.

3.) Show it to people who aren't your close friends and family. Those people are always gonna try to protect your feelings. Show it to invitees from the general public. And if you're thick-skinned enough, hand out response cards which you'll collect at the end of the screening. What worked? What didn't work? Did anything confuse you? Who shot Dick? What happened to Jane after the final scene? Which character did you like more? Were you sad when Dick died? Why did someone shoot Dick? etc. etc. You wanna make sure the stuff you were trying to convey in your film came off the way you intended. You may think you were totally clear and maybe nobody understood. On the other hand you may think nobody will get this, and actually everyone understands exactly what you were going for. Congratulations. You learned something about your strengths and weaknesses. Moving on to your next film.


I encourage you to go out and make your film, don't wait to make the perfect film, just make --a-- film - - - this month!! I was in a club for almost two years where every member made a short film each month. And it's incredible what you can do with $20 and an idea. I've seen it over and over and over again. Join forces with others who are interested in doing the same and make a club. Critique each others' work, and get better at it. You'll thank me, in fact you might even ask me how to send me something via PayPal. Check out Group 101 films, or Quick Flicks or any of a number of other groups that are now doing this sort of thing. Grab your camera and get out there and make your first film. Stop thinking about it and do it.

reply if this info has helped :D