How do you make a short movie or video that people will actually watch?
You need to get the right equipment and learn how to use it, plan your movie carefully, and allow enough time for each stage of the filmmaking process.
Get the right equipment
You need a camera to film your movie, and a program or app to edit it. You’ll probably need gear for recording sound and keeping your camera steady as well, and you might need lights.
For filming, you could use your smartphone, a camcorder, an SLR/mirrorless camera or a pro ‘cinema’ camera.
For editing, you’ll need a computer with a video editing program such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve.
You can edit smartphone video on your phone or tablet, but it’s easier on a computer.
Before you start on a big movie project, make some simple short movies. That way, you can get used to your equipment, find out what it can do, and learn how to tell stories with film. Practise filming, recording good sound, and editing.
Get the idea right
Do you know what your movie’s about? Try writing out the main idea in 50 words or a tweet. If you can’t do that, it’s not clear enough.
Plan your movie carefully
You’ll save a lot of time shooting and editing if you plan your movie properly. You can develop ideas using a mindmap, write a detailed script, then draw storyboards to plan your shots.
You also need to work out the practicalities. Make sure you know where you can shoot, who and what you’re going to need on each day, and when you’ll film each part of your movie.
Make it short, simple and clear
You need to grab people’s attention right from the start and give them a reason to keep watching. Keep the story simple and make sure people can understand it. And keep your movie short: it probably needs to be much shorter than you think.
Use separate shots
Don’t wave your camera around, panning and zooming: film a series of separate shots instead. Set up each shot carefully. Either keep the camera completely still, or move it smoothly and steadily.
You can use wide shots or long shots to show the setting, and closeups to spell out the story and show details.
Put your camera in different positions: above, below or to the side of the subject, not just from in front.
Film shots that will work together
You need to film your shots so that they’ll look right when you edit them together. That means learning some simple ‘rules’ about where to put the camera and how to frame each shot. If you follow the rules, your movie will be easier to understand and more enjoyable to watch.
Film (a bit) more than you need
Film a few extra shots from different camera positions and angles, but don’t shoot so much material that it becomes unmanageable.
Make sure there’s a bit of ‘spare’ at the beginning and end of each shot. Start filming five seconds before any action or dialogue, and keep filming for five seconds afterwards. If there’s no action in the shot, film at least ten seconds.
Get the sound right
Good sound can make so-so images seem better. But bad sound will make your film unwatchable.
Think about the sound while you’re planning your film. Good sound can help people understand the story, engage their emotions, and make your movie seem to ‘flow’ more smoothly.
Use a separate microphone if you can: if you can’t, zoom out and get in close.
If you can’t record good live sound, make a movie that doesn’t need it. Edit it to music or a voiceover, or add sound effects when you edit. Be careful not to use copyright music without permission.
Edit and share your movie
Allow plenty of time for editing. It’ll probably take a lot longer than filming. If you’ve filmed a lot of material, it’s best to watch it through carefully and plan how you’ll edit it first.
As you edit your movie, keep reviewing it: see how each clip works with the ones before and after it. Every so often, play the whole sequence or movie. I use this STAR checklist:
- Is the story clear?
- Is the timing OK?
- Is the audio good?
- Do the edits ‘feel’ right?
Once you’ve made a version you’re reasonably happy with, show it to other people and get their feedback. Take their feedback on board and show them the revised version. You may need to do this several times before you start fine-tuning your edits and making final adjustments to sound and colour.
Finally, share your movie: show it to your friends, arrange a screening or put it online. Always save a copy of your finished movie at the highest quality available, even if you’re going to be sharing it at a lower quality.