Elias, 2009.

It can be fun to dive right into filmmaking as soon as you get your hands on a camera but before you do, take 20 minutes out to learn these 3 simple lessons!

The 3 instructional videos below were created by young people from Miller Technology High, Western Sydney, to be a resource for other young and first-time filmmakers. Beneath each video will be a short description expanding on the ideas of the video.

Using a Camera & Tripod

Probably the biggest mistake of many first-time filmmakers is the idea that you can make a watchable film by shooting handheld. Unless it is specifically required by the aesthetic of your movie, handheld video work looks distracting and unprofessional. So use a tripod! All cameras will fit on any tripod, they attach to the base plate which is secured to the tripod. Usually the base plate is removable, make sure you keep the base plate with the tripod after your filming is done – they are very easy to lose!

If a tripod is unavailable then find a flat surface where you can place the camera and position it. If this isn’t possible then use two hands to cradle the camera and keep your elbows in by your side. You can also lean against a wall as this will give you more stability.

DO NOT ZOOM! Another important rule is to remember to setup the shot the way you like it and not to zoom in and out while the camera is rolling! This looks entirely unprofessional and can often ruin a good shot, rendering it unusable. Its difficult to use zoom tastefully – you have been warned!

Quiet, Camera, Action

Once the camera is mounted on the tripod, turn the camera on and you are ready to film. Three quick phrases are used to get everyone’s attention and make sure you capture what you intend to:

  1. “Quiet on set!” Calling this out ensures everyone is quiet for the take and focused
  2. “Camera rolling!” Call this out AFTER you have pressed record and the camera says it is recording
  3. “Action!” Call this out when you’re ready for the onscreen action to begin!

At the end of the scene, don’t stop recording right away, leave the camera rolling for a second or two before you yell “Cut!” This slight pause at the end of a take can sometimes help with pacing when editing.

Rules of Lighting

As the video illustrates, your subject needs to be well lit. Keeping the camera in between the subject and the main light source is one of the easiest ways to achieve this, but there are many other advanced lighting techniques you can use. Don’t forget that lighting can be used to create a certain mood for your scene. Using indoor lamps can be very effective!

Shots & Framing

An important part of filmmaking is getting to know the language of film. An extreme wide shot, as demonstrated in the film, may be used to establish a scene. You may then choose to cut to a mid-shot to reveal your subject, and then a close-up for a dramatic piece of dialogue. The definitions of these shots can be quite loose, but a general understanding of them and the terminology involved will help when planning and shooting your film.

Composition is important to consider. Two examples of framing compositions are:

  • Centre
  • Frame in thirds

With a centre frame, the subject is (or should be) positioned in the centre of the frame with the top of their head or close to it in line with the top of the frame. The bottom of the frame should be in line with their chest or just below and completely centred within the frame. This type of frame is good for when the subject is standing up.

A frame in thirds is a bit trickier. The idea is that the frame is split into thirds and the subject is positioned either on the far right or far left section with one line bisecting him/her. When using this particular frame, you must ensure that the subject is angled towards the remaining two sections of the frame. Note that the subject must be angled towards not completely facing, the rest of the frame.

You also need to be careful about what is behind the subject when you’re filming them. A plain neutral colour is ideal although things such as paintings or pieces of furniture can add to the effect. Avoid busy patterns especially with paintings on the wall. Also avoid an inconsistent background as this will draw attention away from the subject (for example, shelves packed with different objects).