No matter where you are, you’re likely impacted by the Stay-Home Orders that have been delivered during the pandemic. If you’re an aspiring creator, chances are also good that you’d rather be out in the world making videos and expanding your audience. While it may feel like a travesty to be stuck at home and deemed non-essential, this is the perfect time to develop your skills in video production. Regardless of your niche in the industry, ensuring that you have a strong grasp on general filmmaking techniques will elevate every project you tackle.
There are several technical and artistic roles in the video creator realm. Most people are passionate about perfection in a few of these roles while simply muddling through the others or enlisting an expert. You can sharpen the skills that are lacking by combining your goals with a solid plan, and self-challenges. Short films are often created on limited budgets with fewer resources, so it’s a great way to challenge yourself during isolation.
We’ll show you how to set effective goals and get organized for successful at-home learning. Additionally, we’ll give you ideas for online resources, practical exercises and insights to ensure your time is used wisely. Follow this strategy so that when you do get back to work, your work can be better than ever.
Step 1: Create effective goals.
As with setting any kind of goals for yourself, this will require reflection on your own skills and talents. Consider your overall goals as a filmmaker or video producer. Where are you now and where do you want to go from here?
Assess your current capabilities in writing, pre-production, directing, lighting, filming, editing and graphic design. When do you need the most help? Which areas would your productions benefit the most from improvements? Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Where do you excel? Which aspects of production use up the most time? Where do you need to develop more confidence in your abilities?
Once you have a good idea of your overall goals, you can start zooming in. Be specific and create attainable goals with realistic timeframes. When you think about the practices and steps you’ll need to take, be sure to keep them relevant to your goals. For example, let’s say you need to boost your lighting skills and your big goal is to host a talk show. Practicing lighting in the dark or outside won’t bring you closer to your goals because talk shows are usually filmed in a studio setting. However, polishing your three-point lighting applications and modifications could make a big difference in your finished work.
Having your goals and practice steps in writing serves a few important purposes. It can keep you on track during self-learning sessions and encourages you to keep pushing forward. Moreover, it gives you milestones to track your progress and successes.
Step 2: Gather your resources.
Even with libraries and schools closed, learning is as accessible as ever. Undoubtedly, the internet is bursting with resources and experts creating their own content with the purpose of helping you reach your goals and elevate your skills. There are endless articles and videos to be found in the form of gear reviews, expert opinions, real-life experience stories and instructional courses. Spend some time searching for sites that cover the areas you’re focusing on. Then, add these fresh ideas and techniques to your goal notes. Bookmark the websites so they’re easy to find when you need to refer back to them.
Whether this is your first solo project to create a short film or you’ve done it a few times before, watch this video on how to create a short film. Pre-production is the planning stage for your film which is vital to the success of any film but it is especially important for short films. This tutorial covers refining the script, casting actors, finding your crew, sourcing equipment and scouting locations. It’s everything you need to know about pre-production to help your quarantine projects shine.
Next, take a quick inventory of the equipment that you have available at home. Determine what you have and what might be easily acquired. This might limit which skills you can work on right now but don’t let that deter you. Work with what you have and improvise where you can.
Obviously, using a dedicated camera is ideal. It will give you a wide range of features and options to adjust for achieving various results. You’ll have a lot of opportunities to learn and practice different techniques with a camera of any sort. In the absence of that, though, your phone camera can do the job.
What options are at your disposal for lighting and audio? You might be lucky to have professional lighting gear and mics on hand. If not, table lamps can be useful. Also, learning to use natural light well is definitely a technique you can practice at home. For audio, you can focus your energy on learning how sound changes with the size of the room, the type and placement of the mic and more. You’ll be able to find DIY hacks online for both lighting and audio so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Your most valuable resource, though, is your network of peers and mentors in the creator community. Most video professionals love to geek-out about their work. You can learn from their stories and get great advice from their experiences. Ask the people whose work you admire most to look at your projects and allow them to give creative or technical critiques. Whenever possible, add “get feedback from a mentor” and “try recommendations from the feedback” to your exercise list.
Step 3: Practice with practical exercises.
Now that you’ve set clear goals and assessed your gear, we can figure out which steps you can take to support your goals. We’ve curated a variety of do-at-home exercises in several aspects of video production. These are the steps to include with your goals. Pick and choose through the categories and ideas that are relevant to your objectives. Write them down and refer to them often to stay on track.
A good script is the foundation of your work. When you’re creating a screenplay, even if it’s a short, your storylines and dialogue should be clear and meaningful to your audience. When your goals include better scripts, we recommend these ideas:
Join an online writer’s group. You’ll gain a supportive network to collaborate with. Often, they host online workshops and assignments that will stretch your creative muscles. Getting thoughtful critiques and comments from other members can push you to do better and build up your confidence to take risks.
Make one-sheets for all of your main characters. Start with the basics and then dig deeper into their personality. Make them a truly believable, unique character with a history. Our histories shape us so this is important even if it won’t come into play in the script.
Find something you wrote in high school or college and revise it. Doing exercises like this will help you see your own work from the outside. You’ll be able to learn from your own missteps. What’s more, it gives you a view of how much you’ve already grown.
Even if you don’t plan to become an actor, learning about acting and seeing things from your actor’s perspective makes you a more effective filmmaker. Plus, chances are good that you’ll at least occasionally find yourself in front of a camera for announcements, presentations or commentary. These ideas can broaden your directing skills by embracing the role of the actor:
Demonstrate something on camera. It can be anything. Try demonstrating how to make a cup of tea or how to make a paper airplane. The point of this exercise is to be comfortable delivering the material without stumbling over your words. Get out of your comfort zone and have fun with it.
Make practice audition tapes and send them to your mentor contacts. Ask for honest reviews and accept their critiques with grace. Direct feedback can feel negative but remember that these are people whom you admire and who agreed to help you hone your craft. Then, use their advice to create a new audition tape and compare the results.
Rehearse a poem or short story and present it to the camera in character. If you created one-sheets for your writing technique, try it as each of those characters. Otherwise, record it channeling your favorite actor or your best friend. Get creative with the delivery and explore the same reading in different emotions. Pay attention to how each reading feels in the playback.
Practice repeating an action on camera for continuity. For example, try to pick up and set down a coffee cup at exactly the same time and in the same way. Repeat for several takes while delivering dialogue. The objective is to capture the exact same scene perfectly for a few takes. These different takes are very helpful in editing.
Knowing your tools will set you up for a more successful shoot. Take the time to explore, test and practice with your camera and its accessories. The intention here is to build a broad knowledge of its capabilities. Great shooting can save time in post-production. For this category, we suggest the following exercises:
Practice camera moves and using your stabilization gear. Imagine various scenes and how to capture them most efficiently and then most creatively. When you’re confident in your capabilities, try to recreate movement shots from your favorite movies.
Create your own shooting challenges for whatever areas you need to improve. Shoot a one-minute short film using a single focal length or shoot something in motion without losing focus. You can use things around the house like your pet chasing a ball or a wind-up toy rolling across the floor.
Shoot the same shot with various camera settings. For instance, use different apertures, shutter speeds and frame rates. Be unconventional and experimental in this exercise so that you see the visual results of various combinations. Keep good notes as you work so that you’ll have a record of what works well for different effects.
Control over your lighting gives you control over the mood and tone of your scene. Since this defines the emotions and the emotions help convey the story, it really must be mastered to achieve your best results. A strong fluency in lighting will open opportunities to give your viewers a great experience. More importantly, though, you’ll be able to problem-solve when the lighting isn’t working. Here are some ways to practice:
Set up a proper three-point lighting and film a short bit of dialogue. Next, remove one light from the setup and film it again. Repeat to create examples of each variation of two lights and each single light. Notice the differences in shadows and backgrounds. Determine when you might want these lighting setups for various scenes.
Try to light the same scene in multiple ways to convey different moods. Imagine how the lighting for a light comedy, dramatic noir, intense horror and other genres vary. With practice, you’ll learn how to pull that mood in with your lighting. As always, get creative and experimental, make adjustments and film it again.
Light only one subject in the foreground, allowing the background to be natural/ambient. See if you can match the character of the ambient light. Explore what happens when the subject is overlit and underlit. Notice how each variation changes the mood.
Clear, intelligible audio is critical for the success of any video. Poor audio can be distracting to the audience and undermine the entire project. Cleaning up audio in post-production is difficult and time-consuming. Your best bet is to capture it well and prevent potential headaches altogether. To get the best audio, try these exercises:
Experiment with your microphone. Record a short piece of dialogue with and without background noises. Repeat it in different rooms, outdoors and at variable distances from your subject.
If you have access to more than one type of microphone, record the same sound with each different mic and then listen for differences in each recording. Try to predict what the differences will be and see if you’re correct.
Editing shapes raw footage into a story worth watching. Most filming is not actually shot in the story’s sequential order and it’s best to have several good takes of each scene. Then, in the editing phase, you’ll take all of these pieces and cut them together in the right order with the best takes. You’ll also adjust colors, audio, speed and more to polish the final cut. If honing your editing skills made your list, you’ll want to practice these ideas:
Shoot a bunch of random footage and turn it into a story. You can incorporate stock footage from the internet or even compose it entirely of random stock footage. Incorporate some music tracks to practice editing rhythm, timing and volume. Use a variety of music styles and observe how it affects the overall tone of the scene.
Edit the same set of clips into several different stories. Using the same set of random footage, rearrange them to create an entirely different story. When you’re finished, sharing these can be worth a few much-needed laughs with your peers and mentors.
Titles and graphics are used in nearly every production. You’ll see them in opening or closing credits, subtitles, preface storylines and even incorporated into the story to inform or entertain the audience. Whether your end goals are in large-scale movie production or in growing your YouTube channel, you’ll be using titles and graphics. Use these ideas to be on top of your motion graphics game:
Find a few tutorials on YouTube to learn new software techniques. Follow along to practice your skills and take notes. You can save the final results for use in future projects.
Now, find some of the oldest tutorials and be amused by the really bad graphics that were cool in bygone eras. It’s important to know when a font or design has fallen out of style. Using outdated graphics can quickly discredit your project so be sure to keep up with the trends and lean on the classics.
Make a title sequence or trailer for your YouTube channel or an imaginary movie. Or, better yet, create a title sequence for any of the other practical exercises you’ve completed. Then, do it again in different ways to see what makes the most sense for your piece.
Step 4: Keep track of your results.
Consider keeping a filmmaking journal. You can begin with this set of goals and exercises. Include each of the steps that you experimented with as well as what worked and what didn’t. Also, add your general observations and lessons learned. You’ll be able to refer back to these notes for future projects. If you ever find yourself in a situation with extra time on your hands, you can do some of the same exercises again to measure your progress.
Apart from any sharing you’ve done with peers, remember that you can expand even more by sharing what you’ve learned with others. Social media outlets are perfect for starting conversations within your own circles and expanding your network. Professionals, hobbyists, amateurs and enthusiasts can all offer new perspectives and insights. When we collaborate, everyone learns and can be inspired. Just because we’re quarantined, that doesn’t mean we have to be disconnected.