DIY Filmmaking

The biggest lesson from this guide is to experiment and get creative! You may discover the perfect way to light a scene without any professional equipment or how to make a tripod from household materials. The limitations we have offer a chance to be more innovative than ever and this can push us to make a better product in the end. This guide was created to help JuiceMedia students (and others!) in that process. Now get filming!

PRE – PRODUCTION

Creativity in a Bubble

  1. Plan for what you have. To use a drastic example, don’t plan for an aerial shot if you don’t have a drone or an airplane. If you don’t have a green screen, don’t build your movie around needing special effects from a green screen. This can feel limiting to your creativity at first, but can also challenge you to stretch your resources to new places then before. This leads me to my next point…
  2. Think outside the box. Some of the most exciting video/film projects have been made with extremely limited resources (think of the ways found footage films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity changed the horror genre or how award winning films like Tangerine and 9 Rides were filmed on iPhones) so its time to use your limitations to your advantage! 
    1. How can you integrate your technology into the story? (i.e. the camera used to film Blair Witch Project was also used by the characters and became an integral part of the story) 
    2. Have you thought about screen recording? (think the award-winning movie Searching, or the opening to Someone Great)
  3. Quality over…..quality. If the story and heart of your film aren’t there, it won’t matter what the visual quality looks like. There are some fantastic films made with bad/old equipment and, vice versa, there are some multi million dollar productions that fall flat. Focus on making the content exciting/emotional/rich and the quality of the production won’t matter. That being said, do the most with what you have! Putting quality over quality is not an excuse to be lazy.

Pre-Production Online Tools

CeltxOnline Screenwriting. This website has a free version that allows you to write screenplays with all of the formatting of a screenplay (slugline, characters, dialogue, etc.).

WriterDuet Preferred online screenwriting tool of JuiceMedia students! WriterDuet tends to be better because of simplicity, collaboration access, scene cards, access to revisions, and usability. (Look here for a more detailed comparison of Celtx and WriterDuet)

The PlotOnline Storyboarding. This website allows you to create digital storyboards either by drawing online or importing images. Making an account is free, but it only lasts 14 days once you begin it – after that it will ask you to pay (10$/month).

Tailor NovaOnline Clothing Design. Tailor Nova allows you to design articles of clothing without needing to know anything about costume design. My suggestion, would be to design the clothes and then screenshot your designs. Otherwise, if you actually wanted to make the clothes, you need to pay to purchase the patterns.

Studio Binder Covers All Pre-Production Needs. Studio Binder is AMAZING!! Not only do they make great YouTube video essays, but their website allows you to create all sorts of important tools such as screenplays, shot lists, storyboards, call sheets, shooting schedules, etc. I would recommend creating a free account and then spending some time exploring the different features at your disposal.

PRODUCTION

Cameras/Phones/Devices

  1. Applications for Filming Video
    1. iPhone:
      1. ProMovie Recorder (FREE) – in the free version, the footage comes out with a small watermark in the bottom right hand corner. You can pay $2.99 to remove this, or you could simply keep this in mind while filming and crop the frame smaller when you edit. This app is easily the closest you’ll get to Filmic Pro without spending any money. 
        1. Provides control over exposure, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, zoom, resolution, frame rate, aspect ratio, and more. A good way to learn the features of a camera (and how to use it) without actually having a camera! 
        2. Allows you to plug in an external audio recording device if you have it 
        3. Anamorphic Recording is available – this stretches/squeezes the image (you’ll have to desqueeze it in post) to give it a more cinematic look
    2. Android and iPhone:
      1. Filmic Pro ($14.99) – This app is pricey, but it is easily the best app for filming on smartphones. It allows control over everything a camera gives control over (exposure triangle, etc.) and easily saves videos to your phone. If you’re investing in making films from home for a long time, it’s likely worth it, but ProMovie Recorder is a great temporary alternative.

Lighting: How to Light from Home

  1. Use as much natural light as possible. Set scenes near windows, doors, or even outside. However – look at the forecast and plan ahead of time! If the sun keeps going behind clouds and then coming out again, this can cause the lighting to change a lot and look weird on camera. Also, if it’s very cloudy and you’re going for something brighter, you might miss out on the desired effect. If the light is too harsh, try shooting near dawn or dusk and/or use large white sheets to cover windows and diffuse light. 
  2. Use diegetic lighting. Try inserting lighting that works in the scene and also helps light it. This could simply include lamps or overhead lighting, but could also include lighting sources like digital screens, flashlights, christmas lights, candles, etc. Just like with natural lighting, covering these light sources with white sheets or white computer paper can help diffuse them and create a soft wash over your subject (although I would not recommend this with candles). Unless you’re shooting a night scene, a combination of natural and diegetic lighting will probably look the best. 
  3. You don’t have to let the light source determine the color temperature. Just because you only have cool lights available to you, doesn’t mean you can’t create a warm scene. This can occur through white balancing your camera to a different shade, adjusting the color temperature in editing, or even adding light, colorful cloth (such as bandanas or scarves) to light sources. 
  4. Get creative with reflectors. Large white objects can work great as reflectors – these include white shopping bags, white poster board, sheets, shower curtains, etc. These can work as fill to a strong key light. 
  5. Lighting technique still matters! Three-Point Lighting tends to be the standard – learn about it here! And start thinking about how you can achieve it with what you have available to you.

Audio: No mics? No problem!

  1. Use iPhones, smartphones, and other tablets. If you have some kind of device that you are not using for filming, it can be very helpful with recording sound! Try and find a place within the scene to hide the device so it can be as close to your subject as possible. Many smartphones have sound recording apps already, but if your device does not have one, you can often find free ones in the app store. Be sure to have your actor (or you!) clap so you can line the audio and video up!
  2. Use headphones as lavalier mics. Ok, so this isn’t a perfect substitute, but using headphones that have built in microphones as lav mics is totally possible! Then you can even mic your actors during a scene. You’ll have to get creative with placement, but it’s not a bad idea to try it (particularly in a scene where your actor is moving a lot and it’s hard to have the audio picked up from one place).
  3. Get creative with your Foley! Now is your chance to practice Foley like a real Foley artist! Many Foley artists use regular household items and/or food to create sound effects for movies. Why not give it a shot? There are a lot of good Foley artists on YouTube – this is a great example: How The Sound Effects In ‘A Quiet Place’ Were Made 
  4. Need a sound effect you can’t record? Check out Audio Effects and Music in the next section

Online Audio Recording Tools

Online Voice Recorder – If you don’t have a phone app to record with, this online website will work pretty great. This can be especially useful in post-production when you’re sitting in front of a computer and need a quick sound during the edit. This is not the only online voice recorder out there so definitely experiment with other ones if this one doesn’t work for you.

Acting In Your Own Piece (and General Acting advice!)

  1. Figure out the objective of the character. What do they want? This is the most important part of playing a character – figuring out what they want will determine how they act. Typically, there is an objective to a scene and then a super-objective to the entire script, but for a short film, there is likely just one or two objectives. 
    • For example, let’s say that Jack and Jill get into an argument. Jill says she wants to break up and Jack says he loves her. Jill’s objective is to end the relationship and Jack’s objective is to stop her from leaving.) 
  2. Once you have your objective, the goal is to identify tactics. Tactics are the actions that the character takes in order to achieve their objective. Tactics change a lot – usually a couple times per scene until the actor achieves their objective or new information makes their objective change. It’s important to note that tactics need to involve the other character in the scene as the tactic is trying to get the other person to do someting. If there is not another actor in the scene, the tactic should somehow involve the obstacle that is stopping the character from achieving their objective (for example, possible obstacles are society, themselves, physical obstacles, or their environment so the tactics need to involve those in some way).
    • For example, one tactic that Jack could use is to physically block Jill’s exit and one tactic Jill could use is to yell insults at Jack
  3. Next, there are beats. Beats are the moment that characters change their tactics. Beats are often accompanied by moments of silence or revelations (but not always!).
    • For example, a beat in this scene could happen if Jill told Jack she was in love with someone else. This is a revelation for Jack so he changes his tactic from blocking her exit to making her feel guilty (potentially by forgiving her, begging her, or adamantly expressing his love).
  4. The stakes of the scenario are what happens if the character does not achieve their objective. Stakes determine the degree of characters’ tactics.
    • For example, low stakes for Jill in this scene would be that if she doesn’t break up with Jack, she has to buy him a birthday present (which she doesn’t want to do) so her tactics might be to annoy Jack or to belittle Jack, but high stakes could be that she wouldn’t be able to be with the man she loves so her tactics might be to plead with Jack or humiliate Jack.
  5. My last piece of advice is not to directly tell your actor the emotions to express (don’t just say “be sad” or “be angry”), but figure out ways to get them to that point. The same goes for yourself! Don’t try to “be angry” – bring up a memory or imagined scenario that will illicit that response! However; acting should never be emotionally traumatic! Tapping into emotional trauma for real is one proponent of method acting and it can actually be dangerous to your psyche. There are plenty of ways to appear emotional destroyed/vulnerable on screen without actually going there internally!
    • For example, you are directing the actors playing Jack and Jill within this scene. Rather than tell Jill to be angry at Jack, tell the actor to think back to a time when she got really annoyed with someone because they made her late to an interview or to imagine that Jack kidnapped her dog. The intensity of the made up scenario/memory that the director tells the actor is dependent on the stakes of the scene.

Other Resources:

Screen Acting Tutorial

POST-PRODUCTION

Post-Production is the step of the DIY Filmmaking Process that most resembles a “normal” process. While Adobe Premiere is likely the best editing software, there are plenty of free softwares that offer a variety of editing tools.

Video Editing

DaVinci Resolve (Download Here: DaVinci Resolve) DaVinci Resolve is the most similar editing alternative to Adobe Premiere. The free version offers a wide spread of tools, with the biggest limitation being that there is a limited number of effects allowed (3). If your project requires a lot of effects, a possible solution to this could be cutting/trimming your whole project, adding the allowed amount of effects, exporting the video, and then bringing it back into Resolve as a new project.

iMovie (Only available with Apple products) iMovie is a simple editing software that has an easy learning curve. Overall, I would recommend iMovie for beginner editors (or very short projects), but it does not offer as many tools and the render speed is much worse than other alternatives. iMovie is good for home movies and social media posts, but I would recommend an alternative for any major projects.

Audio Editing

Audacity (Download Here: Audacity) Audacity is an excellent (and free!) audio editing software. It allows everything from recording, multi-track editing, effects, analysis, importing/exporting, and more.

GarageBand (Only available with Apple products) GarageBand is easy to use and has lots of online tutorials to help you learn its tools! Also, the full version is free.

Audio Effects and Music

Free Sound is a website with a variety of free sound effects and some music. Accounts are free and also include the possibility of uploading your own sound effects. The site is also easy to navigate and you can usually find any sound effect just by searching a keyword or phrase.

Free Music Archive is another free sound website where you can get access to lots of royalty free music. Highly recommended for creating a soundtrack or score for your film!

YouTube Audio Library This one is a little bit harder to find, but has tons of royalty free music. To find the library, go to the “Create” section of YouTube, upload a video (it doesn’t need to be something you’re actually working on), and click on the Audio Library in the left menu. From there, you can listen to and download any songs you’d like.

MAKING A MOVIE WITHOUT PRODUCTION

There are a plethora of resources online that can allow the possibility to make original content without a camera. Possibilities are virtually endless through this, but some options include film essays, documentaries, animation, and poetic works. In each section, you will find some examples to get you started along with resources to find footage.

Film Essay

A film essay is an analysis of a film or film element using a montage of film clips with a voiceover. This can be a great project if you are particularly interested in film theory, analysis, and critique! You will need to record your own audio for this project. Watch this clip about fair use so you know what movie clips to use and how to use them: How I Use Movie Clips In My Videos – Fair Use

Examples/Tutorials of Film Essays :

To Play 1950: A Video Essay on Brokeback Mountain by Nathan in JuiceMedia Spring 2020

Scott Pilgrim: Make Your Transitions Count

F is for Fake: How to Structure a Video Essay

Documentary

Lots of archival footage can be found online, so it would be pretty easy to create a research-based documentary (especially a historical one). This would probably need some sort of through-line (like a voiceover or text graphics throughout), but is definitely possible given online resources. Here are some:

Archive.org This site has millions of resources, including video, audio, software, websites, and even books. It can be a bit overwhelming to navigate, but there are all sorts of historical clips that could be included in a documentary. (As an example, try searching “50s commercials” or “World War 2” and selecting movie on the Media Type menu to the left).

No Film School has a pretty extensive list of where to find archival footage too!

Animation

Blender – Blender is a popular (and free!) 3D Editing Software. Blender has a large user community which also means tons of online examples and tutorials (many of which you can find on Youtube). If you like 3D animation but don’t know where to start, Blender is a great first step!

Krita – Krita is a popular (and free!) 2D Editing Software. Much like Blender, Krita is highly recommended by animators and is a great place to start if you’ve never animated before. The website also includes many tutorials and a manual.

If you’ve never animated before it can be very intimidating, but both of these softwares are a great place to start and experiment! You’ll never know if you are the world’s next great animator until you try.

Examples:

Wine City – This film was made on Blender. Something like this would probably take a long time to create (especially with the learning curve) but it gives you an idea of what you can do within the software.

Stone Animation Progress – Something like this is hard to make on Kirta without an external tablet, but see what you can do!

Poetic

Every semester in JuiceMedia, one of the options for projects is creating a motion poem. A motion poem includes choosing or writing a poem and then finding images/shots that go with it. This is a project that can be filmed yourself, but also another method that works great is to find footage online and edit it together. Footage like this can be found in the same locations as documentary style footage or can be found in stock footage.

Pexels This site includes thousands of free stock videos available for download. You can find videos of almost any subject or mood just by searching for it!

Examples:

The Color of Our Shadow by Baine in JuiceMedia Spring 2020

Minecraft – by Baine, Stephan, Nathan, Liv, and Elias in JuiceMedia Spring 2020

COPYRIGHT & FAIR USE

Lastly, regardless of what kind of film you’re making (or how you’re making it), it’s important to be aware of a few copyright rules.

Fair Use is essentially using something that is copyrighted without having to pay for the rights. In order to qualify something for fair use, it needs to follow a few rules:

  1. It needs to be transformed. This means that you need to be using the source material in a different way that what it was intended for. By and large, material intended for commentary, criticism, education, and news is not subject to copyright violations. This usually means that video essays, documentaries, satires, and parodies do fine, but of course, there are always exceptions to that rule.
  2. It needs to be a reasonable length for its intended purpose. While you could record a voiceover over the length of an entire feature film and call it a “video essay”, the creators of that film would likely have an issue with that. Find the clips that are the most relevant to your intentions and figure out what you absolutely have to show. Do you really need 3 minutes? Or could you boil it down to 30 seconds?
  3. It cannot negatively affect sales of the copyrighted material. This is basically referring to the way in which you talk about it. While criticism/commentary are fine, they need to be educated, backed up, and not directly discourage viewers from watching the material on their own. For example, you couldn’t make a video essay about Marvel movies and say that the first Avengers movie was terrible and isn’t worth seeing. What you could say is that the first Avengers movie does not do a good enough job tying in other films and relies too heavily on the action spectacle. See the difference?
  4. It can’t be used commercially. This just means that you couldn’t make a short film using something that is copyrighted and then sell it without getting the rights. Pretty straightforward.
  1. A quick note about music: Music has some of the most complex and serious copyright laws. This is largely because songs/albums’ rights are usually held by more than one holder and music isn’t usually transformed easily within a film. If you’re using music as a soundtrack to a film, you should probably try to find copyright free songs.
  2. A quick note about intellectual property: Intellectual property essentially refers to ideas and stories (intangible products) and can also be copyrighted. As you can imagine, the IP lawsuits get even trickier because it’s extremely difficult to prove whether you copied an idea from something else (read about a particularly interesting lawsuit regarding Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water here). Fan films can run into this, but a lot of big franchises (notably the Star Wars series) allow or even encourage fan sequels/remakes.

Since the Fair Use laws are written pretty subjectively, it’s possible that you follow these rules and copyright holders can still find reasons to sue you (although, unless your film is shown at festivals and gains a decent amount of exposure, they likely won’t know/care). To avoid being sued, look at alternatives first, use work from artists you know (and can contact), or use media that is public domain (aka copyright free).

Some More Resources:

Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

The Ultimate Guide to Fair Use and Copyrights for Filmmakers

Have something you’d like to add to the DIY Filmmaking Guide? Comment on this post or send an email to cmccluskie@myfilmnorth.org