How to Become a Filmmaker in High School
Tips and tricks on how to start small.
High school is about the time when teenagers start thinking about what they want to do with their lives. Some may already have a better idea than the rest and refuse to wait until they have a college degree in their hand to start practicing their craft. The only way to become a successful filmmaker is to gain experience and the only way to get experience is to make films of your own. This may seem scary and stressful, however. The worry of not being able to get your project done, how to write a script, or just simply not knowing how to start can be disheartening but can be easily beaten. In today's article, we're going to talk about some methods I used to overcome my pre film school anxiety while still in high school.
A film set cannot survive without appropriate funding. I know what you're thinking, "Oh I can just use my family's handycam and have my friends act for me, that saves the need for a budget." I hate to admit it, but there is no such thing as a film that costs $0. I'm not saying that your projects have to have a multi million dollar production value but you're in high school, you can stretch twenty bucks easily. Let's say that you want to shoot at a location thats a few miles away from town. That adds at least ten dollars to your expected costs for gas. You have a small crew of five and a cast of three. Adding you to that equation, that equals nine mouths to feed. Pizza is a high school student's best friend, especially if there is a budget involved. A few pies should cost around ten to fifteen dollars. So now you're at thirty five dollars total. You shot your scene, fed your crew, and are ready to edit your work with your wallet intact.
If your crew is bigger than the one mentioned in the above scenario, you can always work out car pooling options or have your parents drive you to your location but always try to keep filming local, you're not a big production company with location scouts and paid transportation.
If pizza doesn't cut it, there are plenty of alternative food options for your crew. Suggest a cheap fast food joint or surprise everyone by preparing a small sack lunch containing sandwiches and fruit. This option is cheap and healthy.
Just because you are making a film, you do not need the newest RED camera on the market. "But Gavin, on this behind the scenes video I watched, the crew used some cool looking camera. Why can't I?" Well, that crew you saw had funding and are adults who have worked in the film industry for years, you are a kid in high school. I used to shoot films on my Motorola Xoom when I was a kid and was totally satisfied with the turnout. Since you are starting small, you should focus more on your screenplay and locations rather than equipment. Instead of begging your parents for that fancy rode kit that costs thousands of dollars, just find someone that has an iPhone, open the voice memos app, put the phone in a shirt pocket or tape it to an actor's chest underneath their shirt pointing the mic upwards, press record and bam, professional grade audio. As far as lighting goes, try to work with natural light as best as you can. A high school student has no need to buy a high end lighting kit. If you're filming in the dark, buy some small LED flashlights from a nearby gas station and light your scene! And finally, cameras. Technology is so advanced that high end cameras are in every household these days. Smartphones have super powerful cameras that provide a crisp HD image. Just find what works best for you without spending hours Googling "What is the best camera for movies?" (yes, I've seen students search this.)
I want you to name a movie that you have watched that was 100% done by a single individual... Nothing?
There is no way at all that a filmmaker who is barely starting off can even hope to dream of making their first film if they don't have one hell of a team. The film industry is all about networking, meeting people and making business contacts. If you want to start a film crew to help produce your screenplay, start small. Ask around your school for help but do not ask your buddy from 5th period. Friends are great and everything but if they have very little to no interest in your creative ideas, do not even bother pitching the idea to them unless you feel like wasting your time on a mediocre project. If you need a camera operator, most schools have a journalism or yearbook club, or in other words, people who have and know how to use a camera. So pay them a visit and pitch your idea to them and even bribe them with some free pizza! How can any high schooler resist? If you have the ideas, but lack the writing ability, head to your English class. Ask your teacher if you can make an announcement before class begins. State your name and what you need from your fellow classmates, making sure to talk about every detail of your proposed project. Once class is dismissed, you should have a small crowd of young writers anxious to put their skill to use. Use this method to recruit yourself a full team so you can shoot your first film perfectly alongside talented and highly motivated individuals who are willing to put their thinking caps on and make art.
You got yourself a beautifully written script, an amazing crew, awesome locations, you just need a cast. As time effective as it may sound, please refrain from asking your buddy that sits at your lunch table to star in your films. It may seem fun to film your bro screwing up his lines and butchering how they are delivered and call it a film but from a professional standpoint, that is a huge no no. Most schools have a theater department, acting club, or thespian society. All of which are populated with individuals who are dying to have their talent shown on camera. Approach your school's administration or leaders of before mentioned clubs and ask for permission to make a speech or pass out flyers that contain information on your project, who you are, what you're doing, why you're doing it, and make sure to emphasize that it is a non paid shoot. I have had several actors who had very little stage time ask for money when I had none to give. Explain that you are both artists trying to practice their craft so you both can gain the experience necessary to perfect it in your professional careers.
So there you go! You should know how to form a crew, save money, and pick the appropriate equipment for your short film all before lunch! So go out there, make some movies and make sure to promote all of your content!