Filmmaking Advice From a Non-Professional
Get started or improve your skills in filmmaking. I offer advice to those at a beginning level, from an early point in my filmmaking endeavour.
I'm a young filmmaker/photographer and I aim to, one day, make a living from doing what I love, but I'm not quite there yet. I started making "films" about four years ago—of a very low production value and just for fun. It gripped me and fueled a passion I never knew I had.
For anyone thinking of starting in filmmaking, do it! It's such a wonderful, creative art that is so fulfilling to be a part of. For those who have started and don't know where to go next, I'm going to try and help you!
I studied media production in college and I'm now doing a degree in it, and both are heavily video/photo-based. This, however, is optional. I used my time in college to learn, make mistakes, and figure out where I wanted to be. You can do this in or out of education. Play around and find inspiration, learn from creators that you like, and create something of your own.
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations." Mark Twain.
This quote is relating to what I mean, it's not exactly a bad thing, it is unique, based on your inspiration. Part of the challenge is making your story unique. If you watch hundreds of hours of video content or look at hundreds of photos, that inspire you—it'll make your creativity flow much better. I'd even advise taking your favourite film scene and trying to completely re-create it, not for passing off as your own, but to learn how the original creators did it.
Your work for the first year of anything is going to be something you look back on and cringe, even work just from a few months ago I look at and think, I could have done that so much better. This is key. Your mistakes are what make you learn in anything.
This image was one of the first that I took when I really started trying with photography. It's not the first photo I took, nor the worst, but it lacks depth and has incorrect exposure. Along with other issues. The watermark was an amateur way of stopping people from "stealing" my photos. Not that this, or any of my photos at that point were worthy of stealing.
This is one of my most recent photos, with improved compositional attributes and a lot more practice. I'm still not perfect—out of the tens of photos I took, there were only a few I liked.
The images above show my progression from March 2nd, 2015, to January 19th, 2018. This is by no means a summary of what I've done. I have a range of films over the course of time that displays a similar development.
This video to me now is both embarrassing due to the low production value, yet treasurable because it's where my passion derived from. This was one of the first edited videos I ever made, and it just drove me to want to create more.
Being uploaded almost exactly three years after my Airborn Academy video, this one shows a strong development over time through hard work. I'm really proud to compare these two videos, as the difference is substantial!
When it comes to clients and taking/creating for other people, which will benefit them, work for free as little as you can. If what you do has some sort of value—like marketing and advertising, for example—then you should get something in return. If you shoot a concert, you should get free entrance at least; if you shoot a café shop, a free snack, and coffee in return at the minimum. I started in taking photos for bands—too many of them wanted it for free. I began getting paid for them and when bands said they didn't want my work if they had to pay, I didn't do it. Too much free work is detrimental and it devalues what you do. Once you've got some experience, don't be afraid to turn down an unpaid opportunity.
"If you're good at something, never do it for free"—The Joker ('The Dark Knight')
Client work can be draining at times, so bear that in mind when starting it. I've had experience with both awful and great clients. They will exploit your age if, like me, you're young, expecting free or ridiculously cheap work. You'll get those that undervalue your work and replace you. There will be those who think they don't need a service like yours and can do it themselves for free. Don't let any of this get you down or make you want to stop. I create work for clients now so I can gain the experience to achieve my goal of directing feature films in the future. It's not all bad. I've had clients that motivate me, give me the praise I deserve (and then some), pay me fairly, and treat me like a professional—this is the ideal client! It's also fantastic for networking, and great fun when it goes well. Find a reason why you want to do what you're doing, and don't take your eyes off of it.
Word of mouth. If I can fit what I do into conversation with people, I will do it. I'll tell them what I'm passionate about, and it's made links with clients and gotten me jobs in the past, and likely will in the future. I enjoy hearing about other's passions and a lot of people like hearing about yours, too. Don't be afraid to throw some reference to your passion into a conversation. Word of mouth is how you build up your network.
Budget is a big issue. I started making videos with a bog-standard bridge camera (Fujifilm Finepix S1, if you want to search it) with no sound equipment. I put audio over the clip in afterward and would splice the clips together, cut to the beat; some parkour videos, some videos of my dogs, whatever I found interesting. Most smartphones have the technology built into them to create good videos (Tip: If you use a smartphone, dialogue audio is better if you use the microphone built in on most earphones)! Don't be afraid to just shoot something with what you have. Find a subject/point of interest, a good angle (research composition techniques), and shoot away. I worked a day job and saved for a long time to upgrade my equipment (it's very, very expensive). Just don't let a lack of budget stop you from creating.
Crew or solo? You're always going to find people who let you down. I've found this through college and university, even people who are aspiring filmmakers can be unreliable. Either find people you can rely on or go it alone. It's not impossible to make something interesting on your own, although I find you can be more creative with help. If it comes down to waiting for someone else to help make a "better" film or just making something—just make it! If you're around the Northwest of England, contact me and I'd be more than willing to collaborate!
Finding something to film I often find difficult, or inspiration to even film at all. There are days that I just don't feel like I'm getting anywhere, but there are days that I can't wait to improve and make something amazing. Don't let these difficult times wear you out, though. Sometimes all you need is some space from it and to return in a better mindset.
This advice is based on my experience so far. I'm by no means an expert, just somebody passionate about filmmaking, photography, and digital creation. Due to this, I'm easy to contact. If you have any questions relating something I haven't discussed, want advice specific to you, to meet up to shoot together, or just want to chat about a passion for creative arts—please contact me on the links below.
Facebook: James Lyall Media
Email: [email protected]
Thanks for reading. I wish you all the best on your creative journey!