How to Make an Amateur Film Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Make an Amateur Film

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Here are eight simple steps for making your own film.

Step One - Equipment

This may seem obvious but it needs to be said. Make sure you have all the equipment you need. If you haven't got a video camera it's going to be incredibly difficult if not impossible, to make an amateur film.

If you are thinking of getting one then you should buy a digital. They are more expensive but with a capture card as well you can edit your film on your computer. This might be better than using a separate editor (unless you can afford a good one) as you can use all the fonts and graphics you have on your PC. Also, if you don't have the font or graphic you want you can download one from the Internet. Editing your video on a computer tends to maximise your resources.

One Researcher pointed out that it's also a good idea to have spare batteries. Some batteries last for only half an hour and take a whole hour to charge, which would mean that you and your actors would be sitting around getting bored for an hour after every half hour of shooting!

A microphone is also a good thing to have, as the ones on the camera tend to be a little basic. Then of course there is the tripod - an essential for filming, unless you have the arms of superman and can hold the camera rock-steady for who knows what length of time. A tripod also allows you to be in the shot yourself, if you wish.

As you can see, the costs are already mounting. You can now probably understand why Hollywood films tend to cost so much.

Step Two - Script

Write or find a script which you can film. It is a good idea to write your own, even if you can't really write that well (You could always give it to a friend who is more skilled). This is suggested mainly because if you write it yourself you can write for the resources you know that you have. If you use a pre-written script you may have more trouble as the script may contain effects or locations which you can not reproduce. For example it may be set on the moon or in the white house which, unless you have incredible influence or amazing set design capabilities, you are not going to be able to film realistically.

By writing your own script you can also make sure that there aren't so many characters that your actors have to double up. This would look rather tacky and although you are hardly going to make a film of Hollywood quality it's a good idea to be as professional as you can realistically be. Writing your own script also removes the possibility of copyright problems.

Step Three - Planning

Plan out your shots and search out locations in which you are actually going to shoot your film. Try to keep the distances between shots as short as possible as it cuts down on petrol costs and keeps the overall cost of your film down to a minimum.

You should decide at this point what kind of angles and how many different ones you are going to use for each shot. (If you're not sure what effect different angles give, look at the angle list at the bottom.) Some scenes will need to be shot at two different angles. Mainly these will be conversations so that you can cut from person to person as they speak. For these shots you can either use two cameras or you can film the whole scene once from one angle, then again from the other. Don't worry about putting your actors in the exact same positions as long as they are not completely different - it will be difficult to tell even if you are looking for it.

This pre-planning is essential, as if you do not know where you are filming before the shoot you will generally look a bit of an idiot to your actors and this will most definitely undermine your authority. You also need to pre-plan so that you know which shots need to be done first. If a scene is set in the morning and you film it last, the morning light will have gone and your audience won't believe you.

With films (unless you are doing an 'art film') it is essential that your audience believes that what is taking place is possible. It does not matter if you film something exactly as it happened - if the audience doesn't believe it could happen, they will not appreciate your film.

You also need to know which scenes to film in the same day because if you film a scene on one day and a scene set in the same time period the next, you will have problems getting the weather to completely match, and the light may also be different.

Pre-planning will generally make the shooting faster as you won't have to figure out where to put the camera, props and of course actors as you go. Faster shooting cuts down on the overall time and costs.

Step Four - Actors

Choose your actors. Try to pick people who will take the film seriously and not mess around too much. If you pick a cast of jokers the shoot will take longer and will again therefore cost more. Although you want the filming to be as fun as possible, you don't want it to end up costing a bomb and you also want the end result to look as good as possible.

Whatever you do make sure that you don't pick people who are going to be difficult: they will hold up the filming, make you feel stupid, spoil the fun and will cause the overall cost of filming to rise.

Step Five - Shooting

Shoot your film. At this point you should have decided what style of film you are going to make. For example, will it be a Hollywood style film or a more artistic film. A mixture of both is probably best. This way more people will appreciate your work and you'll be able to use some strange effects in the place of difficult scenes.

For instance in my film Connection I used a 'running through trees' shot and added a red tint to it. This made it look like you were looking through something else's eyes. I used this effect rather than show the alien itself because I wouldn't have been able to make a very realistic one.

However, you can basically do what you want, as it is your film.

Before each shot, you should explain to the actors exactly what you want from them and in some cases a demonstration would probably help. Then ask them to rehearse the scene so you can see if they understood and also so you can decide if that really is how you want it. If you have a lot of time you could of course ask your actors to come to rehearsals on a date before the actual shoot.

When filming, try to get the best result you possible can. Don't be afraid to change your plan slightly if you think it would make the end result better. If an actor is not quite doing what you want them to do, tell them so. Explain what you want reasonably, and whatever you do don't lose your temper with them because unless you are paying them, they can and will walk out.

Step Six - Editing

Edit your film. If you are new to the editing process you should perhaps experiment on something else. That way when you come to editing your film you will know exactly what your editing package can do and therefore you will know what is best for the film. If you need help with your editing package you could look it up on the Internet - there are some really good tips up there for most amateur film-makers: try for starters.

Editing is not just about cutting out scenes you don't want. It's also about deciding which fade or cut you use between scenes. In some cases a dissolve (where the first scene fades into the next) would look good, while in others a straight cut (where the first scene moves to the next without the use of a fade effect) would be more appropriate. For instance, if you are cutting from one angle to another of the same scene, a straight cut would look better as you don't really want people to notice it. If you are ending one scene and starting another, a dissolve may be more appropriate, especially if there is a small time gap (ie if the scene is set at a different time to the one before it). Also, in some cases, a fade to black may be appropriate. For instance at the very end where your titles will be coming up, and also between scenes with large time gaps.

Editing is also about titling. If you are making a Hollywood style film you will need to show you actors' names at the beginning in the opening sequence and at the very end where you also name all the other people involved. eg cameramen and so on. The end titles should be scrolled but if you are using an editing package which doesn't allow you to do this, it may be a good idea to write the names for each individual group (backstage people, actors, people you wish to thank...) on separate pages and then fade them in and out one after the other. However it is completely up to you.

If you are making an 'art film' it is probably a good idea if you do the same, but conventions can often be ignored with them.

Step Seven - Soundtrack

Add a soundtrack. This is really optional but your film may seem empty without some music. The best thing to do is use tracks off your own collection. Be careful that you don't use a happy tune in the middle of a tense scene or vice versa, as it will spoil the mood.

Of course, if you happen to have your own private orchestra you could always write yourself a mini film score.

Step Eight - Show

Put your finished film onto video and once you've made sure you're happy with it, invite all those involved and your friends to a première. Then you can crack open a bottle of champagne and watch the compliments role in.


This is a list of the more conventional angles used in most films.

  • Close-up - Normally this shot involves a close-up of a person's face to show their emotion during a tense, dramatic moment or to show the character's true feelings.

  • Mid-shot or two-shot - This shot normally involves the upper bodies of two characters, and is used to show their relationship with each other.

  • Long-shot - This shot is a long-distance shot of what is happening within the scene, and can involve a larger amount of characters or show the surrounding environment. Used to give the audience a sense of perspective.

  • Point of view shot - A shot intended to show the viewpoint of one particular character, to give the audience a small glimpse of the character's thoughts. Often shortened to POV and sometimes called 'subjective'.

  • Over the shoulder shot - A shot quite literally taken over the shoulder of a character. Used to focus on a person's face and to help audiences keep track of who is talking to whom, and one of the basic types of shot used to give a sense of realism.

  • High-angle shot - A shot looking down. Used to emphasise the subject's vulnerability and isolation.

  • Low-angle shot - A shot looking up. Used to give an impression of power and domination to the subject.

  • Static camera - A shot where the camera stays still but actors move within the scene.

  • Motivated camera - A shot where the camera follows the action. Used to show that it has dramatic meaning.

  • Panning shot - A shot where the camera rotates horizontally about its axis to follow the action, or to survey the contents of a room.

  • Tracking shot - A shot where the camera physically moves across the ground to follow the action.

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