Movie Making Manual/Education

"Should I learn one step extremely well... or should I learn all the steps of film making?" This depends on where you will make your movies. See The Basic Basics for a list of all the steps of making a motion picture.

"I want to learn film making. Why can't I just grab a camera and begin filming?"
You can... but your movie will look like the movies from Troma Studios.
Rent any of the movies directed by Lloyd Kaufman such as Sgt. Kabukiman to learn what can go wrong.

Education - Teaching yourself to be a filmmaker edit

In Hollywood -- Specialization edit

To work in Hollywood, you need to learn only one step but you must learn it very well. An example is Cinematography. It takes a lifetime to become good at cinematography so if you are going to become a cinematographer in Hollywood, you must specialize exclusively in cinematography and practice, practice, practice on every student film in Los Angeles.

Recommended Education
Read the trade journals for the field you want to specialize in. That is, for cinematography, read American Cinematographer magazine. For special effects, read Cinefex magazine. For acting, read Backstage West. (Note: And, of course, to become a studio executive, you need to read Weekly Variety or Hollywood Reporter.)

Theater Groups, A Group Effort edit

If you are not in Hollywood (or Bollywood or Eiga Mura in Kyoto, etc.), you can form a film group (just like a theater group) and make your own motion pictures. In a theater group, there is some specialization but, in general, each person helps in all departments. A good example of a theater group is Renegade Possums Productions.

If you are going to be part of a local theater group that makes motion pictures, you need to learn more than one skill.

One important theater group is the high school or college drama department. In the future, I hope that all high schools will produce an annual motion picture. To do this, the drama instructor must be able to teach the kids the 20 different steps of making a motion picture. Wikiversity is starting a film making course to teach high school drama departments how to make motion pictures. See Wikiveristy for the first lesson on script writing for high school drama departments.

Recommended Education
Start by getting everyone together and watch film dailies (unedited scenes showing how a scene was filmed) for television dramas to see how scenes are broken down into a series of shots and filmed efficiently. Anyone can learn but you must practice to become efficient. Once everyone sees the procedure, it is easy to mimic. One source of film dailies is Disk #02 from the Star Movie Shop which contains 24 unedited scenes so you can see how these scenes were broken down into a series of shots for filming. Once a scene is broken down into a series of shots, it is no longer such a frightening process.

Film making Families, A Great Source of Slave Labor edit

Steve Balderson's First Feature
Steve Balderson's First Feature

The next smaller unit is the family. The secret to their success is you don't have to pay relatives and they cannot quit. Also, they don't leave in the middle of your movie to go to Hollywood. (When you read about low-budget filmmaking, you will see that half of these productions loose at least one actor in the middle of their shoot.) An excellent example is the Balderson family. They have completed three motion pictures, their most famous one being Firecracker with Karen Black. It takes them many years to make each motion picture in Wamego, Kansas. To learn how they did this, purchase their documentary called Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere. (The posters are from his movies.)

Recommended Education
If your family is going to make a motion picture, you need to learn all the skills of filmmaking, not just one or two. The best place to start is to buy books on independent filmmaking.

The Home Animation Studio edit

The advantage of creating a motion picture via animation is you can skip the horrors of movie production and use your computer plus a few voice actors to create a motion picture. However, making your own animated movies means you have to learn all the steps of both animation and post production.

2D Animation edit

2D animation does not necessarily mean cartoons. But to save drawing time, you can use many of the techniques of cartoon animation.

Recommended 2D Animation Education
Start by looking at Toon Boom Studio Express. There are easier 2D animation program but it is worth downloading the free 30-day trial of Toon Boom Studio Express which helps you get started with tutorials and templates. Also look at Anime Studio.

3D Animation edit

Currently, creating a motion picture with digital actors using 3D software such as Maya, LightWave, Blender, and 3D Studio Max is surprisingly difficult because all the 3D software for doing character animation is still very primitive. As an example, the skeletons of 3D animated actors do not have rib cages. Therefore, the characters cannot breathe. Watch Polar Express to experience what it feels like to watch 3D actors hold their breath for the entire movie.
Recommended 3D Animation Education
Watch movies which have been made with 3D animation programs. Then start by getting the free educational version of Maya called Maya Personal Learning Edition. This disk is given away at most trade shows which is easier than downloading on slow computers. Most importantly, go to the next Siggraph Conference to see all the fun toys for creating professional motion pictures with 3D animation.

Digital Puppets edit

Digital puppets are the inexpensive 3D characters developed for Poser which are sometimes called "Poser" figures even though some also work with DAZ Studio. These 3D figures are normally used for still artwork. The quality of these figures is absolutely amazing, far better than most characters in Maya, Lightwave and 3D Studio. The problem with digital puppets is the lack of good animation software. I think the animation portion of Poser is awkward but the new version has some interesting features. DAZ Studio has very little animation capability. Note that these figures for Poser are incompatible with Maya, Lightwave and 3D Studio Max.

Recommended Education
Start by downloading the free DAZ Studio. Look at Vue or Bryce 5.5 for the background scenery. With Vue, start by looking at Vue 6 Easel. (Note: Bryce 5.5 is free from DAZ but is about 130 megs to download. Poser 5 might still be free from eFrontier.) Then look at the digital puppets from Runtime DNA. I prefer the digital figures from artist Lady Littlefox (Koshini, Ichiro, Krystal, Kiki) because they are good looking but not too realistic which would make them hard to animate. If you are horny, young male, look at LaRoo 2. Clothing is optional. You might also need a compositing program (so you can animate the human figures in DAZ Studio or Poser and then, to speed up production, create the background scenery as still images in Vue or Bryce and finally composite the images together with AfterEffects using a multiplane camera effect.)

Rural Film Studio edit

There is one kind of studio which is half way between a Hollywood film studio and a local theater group. To work in these studios, you need to learn one skill very well as if you are working a studio in Hollywood.

The best example of a rural film studio is Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios. When George Lucas moved away from Hollywood and was successful, people considered this a fluke. Every time Pixar Studios creates wonderful stories, people are not sure if this is just the magic of Steve Jobs or the good, clean air of Northern California next door to Lucas. But Robert Rodriguez in Austin, Texas proves that someone who is familiar with the filmmaking methods used in Hollywood can move to a remote location and produce more interesting movies than are made in Hollywood.

Start by looking at Robert Rodriguez' famous short Bedhead. Can you do what Robert did when he was a kid? If not, you need to learn more of the steps of making a motion picture. Robert learned them all at an early age. And be sure to read his book Rebel without a Crew which should be required reading at all film schools.

Recommended Education
To follow the path of Robert Rodriguez, start by buying a camcorder and practicing filming dramatic scenes. To understand how to film a scene, look at lots of unedited scenes with scripted dialog. Then practice editing scenes which you can get through the Wikiversity Film School.

The Traditional Ways to Learn Film making edit

If you want to learn film making the traditional way, you can becoming a Production Assistant or go to Film school.

Become a PA edit

You will learn a lot about film making by becoming a Production Assistant on motion pictures or even student films. To do this, you must go to LA or to New York. A typical situation is the internship with Troma Studios in New York. In Hollywood, read Back Stage West each week for all jobs on student films in the LA area, not just acting. You can find Backstage West each week at every newsstand in Hollywood.

Note: There is no pay!!! So bring a lot of money from home. In Hollywood, you will need it.

Film School edit

Film school allows you to concentrate on film making 24 hours a day for four years. It gives you the chance to interact with people who have a similar interest. That is what makes film school special. The problem is film school costs from $40,000 to $100,000 (including the cost of your student film.) Before you go and spend that much money, it might be a good idea to visit a movie set for a couple days and try editing scenes from real television dramas or motion pictures to see if this is really what you want to do.

Either way, most of your learning will be done in the library rather than in the classroom or on the set. Film making encompasses literature and all the arts, and one must at least have a basic knowledge of these forms to understand the craft of film making (additionally, some film makers have studied other subjects in university).

Teach Yourself The Technology of Film Making edit

If you cannot afford to go to Hollywood or go to film school, you can teach yourself by using a personal computer and professional quality software. Today, most of the tools used in Hollywood are available on your personal computer. If you want to learn the technology of making a motion picture, all you have to learn to use the computer programs that the pros use.

There are many classes offered in computer software such as Avid and Final Cut Pro editing programs. If you want to learn to use a $50,000 computer system, it makes sense to go to a class rather than buy the software. But now that Final Cut X costs about $300, it makes absolutely no sense to go to a class at UCLA Extension on Final Cut Pro which costs $999. And they don't even teach you to edit dramatic scenes with scripted dialog. It makes more sense to buy the program and teach yourself. Yes, it is true that using the tutorial for Final Cut Pro is a little like Medieval torture. Yet, it does work. Slowly you begin to master all the functions of the program.
Similarly, it makes no sense to go to a local Junior College for a digital video class if all they give you is the same tutorial you get free from Apple. Just buy the program and begin learning. (See more about learning film editing below.)

If you want to master all of film making technology, there are 20 programs that you need to learn. Fortunately, you can often download fully working demonstration programs as well as lots of free tutorials to help you learn. You don't need to go to school for this. You just need determination, a good computer and lots of time.

Which Model To Buy edit

For beginners, I recommend the iMac with the 24 inch screen or a laptop computer: either the MacBook or the MacBook Pro. The Mac mini is an interesting option but it costs the same as a MacBook. Note: You need to buy a complete hardware package. This can be a bit confusing... so get help from someone who really knows. This includes extra disk drives and lots of RAM. I do not recommend the wireless keyboard for your first keyboard.

Career Paths edit

This section grew too large so it is now in its own page at Teach Yourself A Career. This page will show you how you can learn on your own to learn a career in filmmaking.

Graduation and Diploma edit

When you are ready to go to Hollywood (or Bollywood), create a demo reel. When you graduate from film school, you receive a diploma and your student film. Most film studios don't think much of either student films or diplomas. Neither one will get you a job. They much rather look at your demo reel.

Demo Reel edit

If you want a job in film editing, film composing, 3D modeling and animation, DVD-Video authoring, acting, and sound effects, potential employers want to see a demo reel. Long ago, this used to be video tape but now this means a DVD-Video disk. You will need a DVD-Video authoring program such as iDVD which is free with all new Macintosh computers. Better still, employers may be fine with simply receiving a digital copy of one's demo reel via sites such as Youtube or Vimeo.

Film Editing Demo Reel
To create a demo reel for film editing, you need unedited scenes. eBay is occasionally a good source of original film dailies but make sure they are first generation so they can be digitized properly. Currently, there are no other sources of digitized film dailies. "Highlander Uncut" is no longer available and the Star Movie Shop is now closed to the public. You can take the courses at the Wikiversity Film School where they loan you disks of film dailies. These are the original Film Editing Workshop disks from the Star Movie Shop.
Film Scoring Demo Reel
To create a demo reel for film editing, you need edited scenes with the dialog and the sound effects but not the music. I do not know of any source of edited scenes with the music removed. Anyone know of any other source of great scenes with no music track?

*** Part 2 *** edit

Go to Education2 for the second half of this article. Discover possible career paths that you can learn at home using your personal computer and the correct software.