Filmmaking 101 : And How to Start It

Artwork by Alessandro Mulya

Filmmaking is one of the most artistic profession there is. The perspective manifested unto a poetry in motion; a series of thought-inducing, mind-blowing cinematography. We’ve all had our favorite filmmaker — ranging from Quentin Tarantino with his blood/gore/feet fetish to Christopher Nolan with his otherworldly narration. So for all the passionate doers out there, what does one have to prepare to be a filmmaker?

Lights

The first thing cinephiles need to understand is the importance of lighting. Whether dimmed or bright, lights need to complement each and every scene — they are the part of the cinematography before the film even starts rolling.

It is better to have light sources ready than to crank up your camera’s ISO. Because one, it creates noises ( those dots in the darker sides of your film ), and secondly, light can create the ambience you need on your scene. Light leaks and wide meadow shots made for a killer serene rural scene — bright red neon lights and silhouettes of people jamming to the music are the bread and butter for every club scene. You get the point.

And for every aspiring light manipulators out there, there are a lot of ways to set up the lights without the expensive, heavy studio lights. Ranging from collecting your teammate’s phones and turn on their flashlight to finding the correct time to shoot during the midday or turning on your car’s fog lights…if you can find lights virtually anywhere, chances are, you can replicate the source of light using many ways.

Camera

Now to state the elephant in the room; to be a filmmaker, you must have the means to film one. This is a must — it is non-negotiable and necessary. But worry not, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Actually, this is one of the biggest film industry fallacy out there. To create an amazing shot, you need an amazing camera, and a similarly amount of amazing money to do so. This is false, by the way.

Technology has certainly moved — or rather, ran with tremendous speed over the past couple of years. From the dawn of mobile phone with blurry camera to the smartphones with three cameras ranging from macro, wide and fix lens; it certainly does open up a new possibilities in cinema. I was once the elitist that thinks thoughts like, “DSLR is the only proper way to film” which is rather snob, and frankly, wrong. I am happy to stand on the other side of the fence, where everyone can be a filmmaker.

And if it could be easier, then why not? I would rather trade my DSLR for a mirrorless camera — and I would presume that during the olden days of analog camera, and that’s why DSLR became popular, is it not? Because it is smart? If so, then smartphone are here to stay ( for a long time, too ). Don’t let the snobbish elitist drag your passion down the next time around.

Action

Here comes the part everyone is excited about; the action, darling! Being a filmmaker forbids you from being on the screen itself, but you dictates what goes on the screen. Yes, you are the artist painting on a blank canvas called cinematography, and all the brushes and paints are your crewmates.

I remember during my college days, actors and actresses are difficult as hell. But worry not; we were able to get through that because of creativity. That’s right, finding actors is also a form of poetry, after all. Asking your good looking friend to play the part of a hero is a trait less recognized, but a help nonetheless.

As a filmmaker ( and preferably a director yourself ), you get to be hands-on with every crew members, their different skillsets, and the drama that happens with every filming. Even the drama itself could be a soap opera miniseries on itself. But that’s the interesting part! I mean, what could be better than to experience being a leader? I remembered also during my college days, when the job was done and over, all you’re left with is your crew’s manifestation of hard work; a one, fully complete, film. All is paid off, and nothing gets better than that.

What Comes Before All That?

But hold your horses, gents and ladies. Before the amazing sunset, comes the hiking first. Before the execution, comes the ideation. First and foremost, the script. You can find dozens of scripts and even the script of your favorite movie spread almost anywhere on the Internet. My personal favorite method of honing this talent of writing comes mostly from YouTube and the creative channels; there are “Lessons From The Screenplay” that teaches you the artistic touch of every scene, of every director, of what makes it memorable and whatnot, and there are also channels that goes in-depth with character tropes like “The Take” and “Nerdstalgic”.

So scriptwriting, check. You can take notes of your favorite director writing styles and add touches of your own; like the dashes and beats of Aaron Sorkin to the back-and-forth conversations of Noah Baumbach and select what best suits you; what you really want to write from the beginning. It always starts with an idea, and the mind mapping that follows after that. I always start with a dialogue that spun around your daily life — incorporate those unto your scripts, take what’s natural and scrap away the inside jokes ( or not, depends on the depth of the story itself ) and write again and again and again…until you finally look and mutters to yourself, “This is perfect.”

So you got the story planned. But this is not a novel, and it needs some vivid imagination to put the script description of “The hero puts the glass to his ebony desk, his eyebrows stay sharp as ever” into the big screen. How do you do it? Through something called a storyboard. It’s a rough sketch of how the screen can capture both the hero, the ebony desk, and the sharp eyebrows into one beautiful, continuous shot.

These two — the script and the storyboard — shall be the reference both for you, your crews, and your actors. They are that important, after all ( in my experience, always print more than the amount of people! ).

What Comes After All That?

What happens when the “lights out” actually meant the studio lights are done doing their job? That’s when the post-production comes in. You see, the digitalization touches almost all aspects of creative — from the lighting to the cameras, from the computers to the lenses. The CGIs, the color gradings, the subtitles, almost all of the things that make up our beloved series and films always goes through the final pipeline of post-production.

And a lot of things comes after that, even ( but not in the terms in producing the film itself ). The likes of marketing, promotion and pitching decks, submission to various festival and contests will more than likely to follow. Likely, your film can be submitted year after year to all kinds of festival there is — because film, they are timeless. Your piece of art will be delivered to the right audience someday!

That is a beautiful thing to wait, or to chase. You pick.

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