3 Tips for Beginner Filmmakers

Do you even want to make digital films? The way I see it, there’s two types of people watching our videos. The people who come for the ridiculous shit we do, and the people who come to become better filmmakers. We welcome both of you. But from the people who come to be better filmmakers, there are often two more types of people. Those who want to put in the hard work, long hours and practice to make a good film, and those who think their first project is gonna be Citizen Kane.

The point is, we’ve met too many newbie filmmakers who go out and buy a camera and expect to create a feature length movie with no real hard work, study or discipline. They have no idea what work goes into creating even a basic two to three-minute short film. Well, I got news for you… You got big dreams? You want fame? Well fame costs! And right here is you start paying…IN SWEAT!

Okay, now that we got the ridiculous shit out of the way, here are some exercises that I did to learn about all the stuff that goes into making what we make.

Tell a very simple story

I get my very first DSLR, and I want to immediately make something amazing. I fire up my camera and after about 20 minutes I finally find the autofocus. I also realize, this isn’t gonna be so easy. I wanna make films! So I narrow my focus. If I tell a super simple story, I can learn a ton. If I create something super simple, from concept to upload, I will see lots of the details that a newbie takes for granted. So I did. My very first movie is called “Micah Gets The Mail”. It’s the story of my son, Micah, going to get the mail. That’s it. Nothing more.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the stuff I learned doing this simple, crappy short video:    Things take longer to create than I think.

  1.  How to create titles and credits.
  2. What an establishing shot is.
  3. Camera angles
  4. Pacing in editing
  5. Sound is important
  6. Lighting is important
  7. The Story should make sense.

I advise anyone who is serious about making films, to take the simplest idea they can, and try to write it, shoot it, edit it and complete it. It may never see the light of day, you may never ever want anyone else to see it, but trust me, it will change the way you think about this stuff.

Make an audio only story

Music engineering is my former background. I’ve mixed tons of songs, worked in a recording studio as a professional engineer and even ran my own studio for years. So I have a lot of experience creating and producing audio. And as we mention over and over, good audio is a key component to making better video. I don’t care if you are vlogging or making a feature length movie, if the audio is a mess, then you lose a large part of your audience.

This is an exercise where you create a 30 second to 1 minute audio only story. Think of something that you can convey to a listener using only sounds. Like leaving for work in the morning. Or cooking a meal. Once again, keep it simple. Then use your audio recorder and record some sounds. Or maybe go online to get sounds and lay them out on your timeline. See if you can tell your story in audio only. Like this:

Have someone else listen to it and see if they can hear what story you are trying to tell. You may be surprised what they hear, vs. what you do. What story did you hear in my example? Let me know in the comments. I’ll write what it was supposed to be at the bottom of the description field. This is a great way to hone your audio editing skills and your story telling skills as well as teach the importance of audio in your projects.

Shot for shot recreation

And I mean, shot for shot. Find a short video online that you really like and try to recreate it. You might change some of the words but do a shot for shot remake. For example, we had to shoot a video for a Patreon campaign. We decided to do a shot for shot remake of a commercial from the 70’s because A, we loved the commercial and B, we wanted to examine the shot style of the commercial. So we told a new version of the commercial but tried to match the shots and lighting as best we could.


This was great in that it helped us really break down the details of scene. We listed all the shots and then found which shots were similar so we could them all in one go and not have to move cameras and lights. Also, we got to focus on angles and shots that we probably wouldn’t have tried. I can’t tell you how much this exercise opened my eyes to the entire process of making digital films. As a newbie, there are a ton of things to learn. Where to start is always an issue.

Remember there is no substitute for practice. ABS, always be shooting. Start with these tips and you’ll be on your way to getting better fast.

1977 KQED Pledge Drive Commercial: https://youtu.be/TIV3rwQFquc?t=177
Law & Lindy Commercial Remake: https://youtu.be/d0jpz9v0ByM

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Manu Smith

Frank Dellario