A Guide to Filmmaking

Before you embark on producing a film there are some fundamentals that you must understand. With the rapid growth of computing power and the spread of digital cameras it is easy today for anyone to film some action, throw it together in an editing program along with some music and titles and call it a movie. The result is an explosion in the number of home movies being made. Sadly most of these films are poorly constructed and at best fail to truly engage the viewers attention.


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We want to produce films that are highly engaging, well produced and demonstrate an understanding of how film communicates with its audience.

Key to our success will be understanding that:

  • A movie is not the same as a play because the filming allows you as the producer to decide what the audience will see, how close they will be to the action and where they will look at it from
  • Planning is everything, it requires the most time and most thought
  • We are producing short films, with simple ideas, telling human stories, we are not producing the next epic action film
  • Simple is best
  • Ultimately success will come from how well we work together

Advice from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Before launching into production some simple guidelines should be considered:

  1. Keep films short and simple. 60 seconds can be a very long time watching a boring, badly made film. Aim to produce short, good quality video stories that are one to three minutes maximum in length. Many filmmakers (of all ages) fall into the trap of trying to produce an epic movie, inevitably with unfortunate consequences.
  2. Good films are:
    1. well thought out,
    2. tightly scripted,
    3. well recorded, and
    4. carefully edited.
  • Allocate lots of time to the project, and then some more, as it always takes longer than you think.
  • Encourage cooperative teamwork.
  • Encourage the production teams to make all the major production decisions before the shoot begins.

    What’s the Film’s Story?

    It is the quality of the idea that has the greatest impact on the quality of the final product so it is important to get the right initial idea for your film. A good story can carry a less than perfectly made film but pointless waffle will not. Key questions to consider at this point:

    • Why are you making this film?
    • Are there any specific requirements such as topic, content specifications, time limit and format to consider?
    • Who is your audience?
    • What is your message?
    • What sort of film will you make?

    Visit the ACMI Website

    Our first task will be determining our idea for the film, a theme or a simple idea that we want to communicate to our audience. We do not start with a list of events or action sequences. In short we want to answer the question 'What is the film about?'

    With our idea in mind we can think about drafting a script. The ACMI advises:

    The Script

    Write a script to flesh out the story outline. Limit the script to between one and two pages (it is important to set tight limits to keep the production scale in context). Layout and format your script using the Sample Script

    A script includes the following elements:

    Characters and RolesWho is the film about?

    • Establish characters and their roles.
    • Write a one-line description of what you are looking for in each character to help determine the cast.
    • For a documentary or news report think about who will be the reporter or the narrator.


    • Where is the film taking place?
    • List ideas for, or design one or two appropriate locations. Locations should be within the school or on private property as filming in public places can be difficult.


    • What do the characters say and how do they say it?
    • All dialogue needs to be short and to the point. An actor needs to say the lines so they flow well and make sense.
    • If there is no dialogue in your film think about your characters facial expressions and body language. What are they thinking and feeling?

    Time and Lighting

    • When is it happening?
    • Decide on the time of day and any specific lighting conditions if required. (Keep it simple!)


    • What do you want the actors to do?
    • Give the actors specific directions for each scene.

    Music and Sound Effects

    • Add instructions on ideas for music and sound effects if required.

    Sample Scripts

    Before you start writing a script have a look at these sample scripts. What makes them different to other scripts you may have seen from a play? Notice how the script includes notes on important matters such as setting and camera angles or shots.

    For a Film the scrip is an important document for everyone involved from the actors who need it to learn their lines to the camera crew and sound departments who need to know what types of shots they will need to get. The Script is one of the first documents to be produced for a film and is often what will sell the idea to a producer.

    If the Script is good it then has a chance to proceed to the next step, Storyboarding.

    Read the Script from the film 'ANTZ' produced by Dream Works Pictures written by Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz and Todd Alcott


    Compare the Script with the Film

    Watch this important scene from Dead Poet's Society and as you do read the corresponding piece of the script.

    Watch Scene  -  Read Script Excerpt

    Read the full Script from the film 'Dead Poet's Society' by director Peter Weir, written by Tom Schulman

    Download the Script Writing Template for Microsoft Word

    Use the template to ensure your Script is correctly formatted.

    From Script to Storyboard

    A Storyboard is an essential piece of planning for a film. Unlike a script the story board shows the placement of the camera and how the camera will move or change position during a scene or from one shot to another. It is important that the film maker plans where the camera will be and there are a number of typical 'Shots' used to tell the story.

    From our study of Visual Literacy you will understand that the placement of the camera can have a powerful effect on an image is read by its audience. The same applies to film and in fact many of the terms we use when looking at picture books come directly from film studies.

    A Storyboard is a little like a comic strip version of your film. For commercial films the storyboard will be done by an artist and be very detailed but for our purposes simple diagrams are sufficient.

    Before you begin planning you will explore in class various shots, camera angles and movements and how these can be used to tell your story.

    Here are two examples of a Storyboarding, one is a video showing the storyboarding for Toy Story, the other is an image for a scene in Lord of the Rings. In each case the emphais is on planning where the camera will be placed and what the audience will focus their attention on as a result.


     Download a Storyboard Template

    Shot Types

    In class we have discussed many different Shot Types and you have seen videos demonstrating each. These videos can be viewed via the RediQuest YouTube Playlist. This website provides an easy to understand guide to the different shot types. It is important to understand the Shot Types and apply them to the design of your film appropriately and to good effect.

    View Camera Shot

    Planning your Shoot

    Once you have the script in place and have your Story board under control the next phase is creating your shot list. The Shot List unlike the script and the Story board is arranged in the order you will shoot your scenes. This is an important document as it lets the whole crew know what is happening and when. The cast refers to the Shot List so they know when to be on set and which scene to prepare for, the lighting department will have the right lights and the camera department will be in the right location.

    The order of the shot list should make the entire process as smooth as possible and minimise the workload. Shot in one location should be done together, scenes with specific actors, costumes or equipment demands should also go together. When organisisng the Shot List you must have a go reason for the order you choose.

    Download the Shot List Template

    Download a Shooting Schedule Template


    Visual Effects and Green Screening

    One option to consider when planning your film is the use of Green Screening. The advantage is that you can use this technique to place your characters into a more exciting scene. The disadvantage is it takes more time and can make the acting difficult. However if well planned this is a way to shoot in location otherwise impossible.

    This clip from the film 'The Great Gatsby' shows what is possible and reveals how frequently this technique is used.

    Many roles make light work

    A film set is a busy place with many individuals all completing specific duties to ensure the film is completed and meets the vision of its creative directors. These sheets describe each of the key roles and provide a checklist of each person set of responsibilities.



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    Editing with Adobe Premiere CS5

    The final stage in preparing your masterpiece is Editing. In this Post Production phase you will arrange your many different Shots into order to tell your story. You will make important decisions about the clips which make it into the final version and finalise your decisions about the flow of the story. At this phase you can also fix the sound, add titles and and subtle transitions and effects.

    This video introduces you to the essential elements of working with Adobe Premiere. This is a Pro level programme with many controls and options which can make it confusing to the novice. Keeping things simple and sticking to the controls you need to use will make your life easy.