Lessons Learnt - Filmmaking tips

Lessons Learnt - Filmmaking tips

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Lessons Learnt

When you first start filmmaking, some things inevitably go wrong, but you learn from your mistakes and do things a bit differently the next time!

We asked young filmmakers aged 15-25 to submit their 5 ‘lessons learnt’ to First Light. We wanted to hear your top 5 stories of problems encountered when making films and how you recommend that other filmmakers avoid making the same mistakes.

1st place: Deborah Boyle, 23, Northern Ireland

We loved Deborah’s little sketches to go along with her tips (See image gallery on right hand side)! Well done, a goody bag is on its way to you!

Runners up:

Josh Alward, 24, London

1. When filming at an airport, make sure you read the sign that says, “Filming and photography strictly prohibited”. Unless of course you’d like to meet two machine gun-wielding policemen during a crucial moment. This was scary enough as a thirteen year old, and would probably be slightly off putting for film makers of any age. If you’re going to do it gorilla style, probably best to not do it at an airport…even if you are wearing reflective jackets (often a fantastic deterrent, however).

2. When filming with blank firing guns in a public park (even after you’ve obtained permission from the council and the police) never underestimate the angry elderly woman whose dog has run away as a result of the gun fire. Make sure you have someone on hand with good interpersonal skills to diffuse these sorts of situations, otherwise it will be a citizen’s arrest that shuts your film down, and that is uncool.

3. On the first day of a big location shoot that is miles away in the middle of nowhere from your base, don’t forget the camera batteries. Never underestimate the power of multiple list making. Make sure your crew are all aware of their jobs, and delegate the responsibility of final checks to someone. As a young director, I often tried to do everything myself, which sometimes worked, but seldom produced the best results.

4. So you’ve managed to get permission to film in a real life working bar / restaurant for FREE! Fantastic!? Yes, but that is exactly what it is – a working bar / restaurant. So when filming that dramatic moment when a couple are deciding whether to get back together or to go their separate ways, phones ringing, coffee machines and blenders singing at the tops of their voices and squeaky doors distinctly devoid of WD40 all rather kill the mood. Not to mention real life extras walking in and out, talking and laughing, making the doors squeak more and refusing to answer their own phones. (The very least they could do is walk across the shot in the same way every take, right…?) So whilst getting permission to use somewhere for free is fantastic (especially when you don’t have a budget) remember that you may need to put aside more time than you originally planned for, (never be reassured by the words “quiet times”, when filming in public places. They don’t really exist). Whilst it is certainly good and valuable to learn these things the hard way as a film maker, I probably could have thought it through a little bit more, and at the very least bought a can of WD40 for those doors…

5. In a similar vein to number four…just because you’ve managed to get permission to film in The Royal Parks does not necessarily mean you now own the land, and a group of 70 tourists won’t want cameos in a scene about loneliness….If you’re filming in a public place, especially if that public place is a massive tourist attraction (like the Greenwich Meridan Line in Greenwich Park), make sure you plan ahead and check with the park if there are any planned disruptions in your particular location for the time you’re there, and film around them if possible. Obviously there are some things you can’t plan for, which is part of the buzz of filming on location. Sometimes these unplanned things can even end up enhancing the scene! More often than not, though, you end up identifying with Hitchcock’s preference of filming in a studio environment. Having said that, don’t let these little things get in the way of making your film in your dream location. They can add so much to the story.

Ben Fisher, 21, Buckinghamshire

1) Lesson Learnt
Make sure you have a spare battery and recording format for your camera as it can be very annoying when during filming your battery dies or you do not have any space left on the recording format. In the past I have had this problem and it can be very difficult when you plan to do filming but are unable to complete it.

2) Lesson Learnt
Always plan ahead and keep any production paperwork with you to write any changes you need to make and inform any crew/actors of information, this would really help you to improve your film. In the past of making films I have forgotten my paperwork and have had to catch up on it a few weeks later and then by the time to update the paperwork the details are normally forgotten. It would also be a good idea to give a copy of all your paperwork to your crew and actors so they are aware of what is happening.

3) Lesson Learnt
During my film making I had experienced some problems of not having enough footage and that I had not planned my filming very well as I did not really organise that much in advanced needed for filming. Always ensure you have enough footage or more than enough would be good as this means you can improve your film.

4) Lesson Learnt
Ensure you have full knowledge of the editing system and that you have more than enough footage as this can help you to come up with alternative ideas of what to include in your film and this can also help you to improve it. Have more than one of the crew members with you and always discuss with them about their opinions. Also ensure your footage is compatible with the editing system as it can be very annoying when after filming you then realise that you can’t download your footage. Also ensure you have a very experienced editor with you to help you with any system problems or queries.

5) Lesson Learnt.
Always have production meetings with your crew so they are fully aware of everything and so that you can rely on all your team members this can also help you to get your other crews opinions on the film. Once you have completed your film write an evaluation of overall how your filming, planning and everything went. Then pass your film onto someone who is not involved in your filming for their input.

Cem Yildiz, London

1) Adapt to the situation

In my final year of University I decided to create a documentary about children with Asperger Syndrome only to later find out that they find it hard to be in social situations. Instead of scrapping the idea, I spent a month getting to know the children at their youth club whilst teaching them how to use all the filming equipment. Before long they were opening up to me and actually helped out with the production. 

2) Don’t wing it 

Failure to plan always leads to wasted time or more work in the long run. When I returned to university in my 2nd year my lecturer told me about a competition to create a short video for a local firm with a prize pot of £1000. Seeing pound signs I jumped in without planning (I was a poor student) and instead ended up producing a heap of unusable rubbish that ended up costing me a few days of my time.
3) Just ask! 

When it comes to getting locations, props or just learning something new you’ll be surprise how willing people are to help. I wrote a short film about a blind man who after an a series of unfortunate events end up walking into the wrong house. I was seriously stuck on how to get one those white tipped canes that blind people use without having fork out the cash from my student loan. Instead, I found a guy on my campus who was partially blind and asked I could use his, he said yes and I made the film! – PS: He did have spares.

4) Use it or lose it 

Once upon a time knew how to to use soundtrack pro pretty well… With most software used for film making unless you’re using it on a regular basis you’ll forget it pretty damn fast – constantly refresh your memory even if you’re not currently making a film. Do you still remember the short cut key for snapping in Final Cut? 

5) Care about your subjects 

But Alfred Hitchock said “Actors should be treated like cattle!” I once filmed a music video for a young lady and thought it would be a good idea to film at 5am on a winters morning while it was still snowing and requested that she should wear a summery kind of dress (creative contrast?) Maybe not. She almost froze to death and could hardly sing a note without her lip trembling, the editing process was hell. 

Well done to our runners up who will receive cinema tickets in the post!