How to Make a Movie
How do you make a short movie or video that people will want to watch? You need to:
- Get the right equipment
- Learn about film language
- Get ideas from other filmmakers
- Build your skills
- Be organised
- Get feedback
Want to get started quickly? Read my 10 tips for beginner filmmakers.
You need a camera to film your movie. You could use your smartphone, a camcorder, an SLR/mirrorless camera or a pro ‘cinema’ camera. You’ll probably a microphone and a tripod or stabiliser to keep the camera steady, and you may need lights or reflectors.
For editing, you’ll need a computer with a editing program such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve. If you’re shooting on a smartphone, you can edit it on a phone or tablet – but it’s easier on a computer.
Film language means the way pictures, sound and editing help to tell the story.
Your movie will be much better if you understand things like when to use a closeup and when to use a wide shot; how to use the lens, camera angle, light and sound to create a mood; and where to put your camera so that your shots seem to fit together naturally. Learn more about film language here.
Watch other people’s films to help you get ideas. Watch movies that are different to the ones you usually watch: old movies and movies from different countries and in different styles.
The best filmmakers are movie addicts. Sofia Coppola and Quentin Tarantino are influenced by French ‘new wave’ movies from the 1960s, and Martin Scorsese loves British films from the 1940s.
The creative ideas section includes some short films and other ideas to help with your filmmaking.
Practise and build your skills
Before you start on a big movie project, make some simple short movies to build your skills. Everybody makes mistakes, and it’s much better to make them on your small practice projects. That way, you can get used to your equipment, find out what it can do, and learn how to tell stories with film. So if you’re planning to make a documentary, make a mini-documentary to practise. If you’re planning a drama, film a single scene first.
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.
You need to grab people’s attention right from the start and give them a reason to keep watching. This is particularly important for online movies.
Keep the story simple and make sure people can understand it. And your movie should be short: it probably needs to be much shorter than you think.
Plan your film as a series of separate shots. Set up each shot carefully. Either keep the camera completely still, or move it smoothly and steadily.
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. More about filming shots that work together.
Think about the sound while you’re planning your film. Good sound can help people understand the story, and affect what they feel about it. It can also 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 your equipment doesn’t let you record good live sound, make a movie that doesn’t need it. Edit to music or a voiceover, or add sound effects. But be careful not to use copyright music without permission. More about film sound.
Making your movie divides up into three main stages.
Pre-production is the planning stage, where you work out your movie in detail. What you’re going to film, how you’re going to film it, and what you’re going to need. Planning might seem boring if you just want to start shooting, but it’ll save time and make for a much better movie. There are several ways to plan a film. You can develop ideas using a mindmap, write a detailed script, then draw storyboards to plan your shots.
Production is where you shoot your movie and gather other stuff you might need (like sound, still images, archive material and so on.) This stage will be much easier if you’ve planned properly in advance.
Post-production is where you choose what you’re going to include in your movie, edit it, add sounds and effects, and get it ready to share. You need to be really organised about this process, which is usually different depending on the kind of movie you’re making. Don’t just import everything into your editing program and try to make sense of it: you should have a plan before you start editing.
Before you finish editing your movie, show it to other people and get their views.
- Does it make sense? Is the story clear?
- Is the timing right: is it the right length, and is the pace consistent?
- How about the audio: can you hear all the dialogue?
- Finally, does it feel right? Does anything feel awkward or wrong, and what can you do to improve it?
Share your movie
Make sure your movie is backed up, and then export or ‘share’ a copy at the highest quality your program allows. (You can alway make a lower quality copy from a high quality copy). Then make copies in the format you need for distributing your movie.