Top menu

Making a film

Young Black woman with video camcorder

How do you make a movie, short film or video that people will want to watch?

The secret is to plan it, keep it short, and keep it simple. Don’t be impatient: follow your plan and take the time to get things right.

Follow these ‘rules’ to help make your first film a success.

1 Build your skills.

Once you’ve got your equipment, learn how to use it and find out what it can do before you start using it on a serious project.

Find out what happens when you put the camera in different places or use different lens settings. Try setting up and shooting different kinds of shot with your camera, recording good sound, and editing them together. You can learn a lot by watching a short scene from a film you like and seeing if you can copy it exactly.

2 Watch other people’s films.

Quentin Tarantino famously said “People ask me if I went to film school. I say no, I went to films.” You can teach yourself a lot about filmmaking by watching all kinds of films: short online videos, adverts, feature films. Look at what you like, and what you don’t like, and try and work out how and why the filmmaker made it that way.

3 Get organised.

Follow an organised filmmaking process.  Include plenty of time for planning and editing as well as filming.  Once you’ve got your idea, write a script then make a storyboard (a series of pictures showing what the shots will look like). If you can’t draw, use a digital still camera, or just make a list of shots and tick them off as you shoot them. You can print out blank storyboards and shot lists on the Film planning templates page.

4 Keep it short and simple.

Have you got a strong idea? Try writing the idea for your film down in 50 words or 140 characters. If you can’t do that, it’s not clear enough.

Make sure you grab the viewer’s attention right from the start. And keep it short: most beginners’ films could be improved by halving their length. People are much more likely to watch the whole of an online video if they know it’s only 30 seconds long.

5 Shoot separate shots.

Learn about what the different shot sizes are for. Shoot separate shots rather than panning and zooming. Use plenty of closeup shots to spell out the story and show the important things. Put your camera in different places as well – above, below or to the side of the subject, not just from in front. Learn how to film your shots so that they’ll go together.

6 Get the sound right.

Sound is really important. Good pictures with bad sound will lose you viewers faster than than bad pictures with good sound. Use a microphone if you can: if you can’t, zoom out and get in close. If you can’t record the sound right, fake it using sound effects, or edit your film to a recorded voiceover.

7 Edit it right.

Don’t think of editing as a chore: it’s not about just getting rid of the bad stuff, it’s where your film will really come together. Get the pace right: make sure your film doesn’t drag, or that shots don’t flash past too quickly for the audience to understand. Finally, make sure your film makes sense. If you’re not sure, show it to somebody else and see if they can understand it.

How to make a factual video