You're a Classic
I’m so glad you’re here! This is exactly the right place for you. Let’s dig in.
If you want to get started making mini documentaries or brand videos or even short narrative films, then let’s do this.
You’re going to need some gear. But you can get started with the bare bones and grow your kit as your skills and projects expand.
I'm a solo filmmaker, teacher, and full-time creative. Nice to meet you!
SOME KIND OF CAMERA
Any camera will do. To get started, use your iPhone an old DSLR from a friend or something you buy used. Or if you’re ready to go all in then get either a Canon DSLR (90D is good) or a mirrorless camera. I’ve used both Canon and the Panasonic GH4 and GH5 cameras happily. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras are wonderful, but I don’t recommend them if you’re starting out and don’t have a strong grasp on manual exposure yet. Here’s the thing, get started with what you have easy access to, and then build from there. If your budget is limited, my recommendation is to start with a used Canon DSRL or Sony/Panasonic mirrorless camera and kit zoom lens i.e. the zoom that comes with it.
A WAY TO RECORD AUDIO
Friend, this is where you’re going to need my Sound Gear Buyer’s Guide. It’s down below. Linked for FREE. Watch the whole darn thing and make an informed choice. You can’t record audio using your camera’s internal microphone. And I also don’t recommend slapping a mic onto your camera and recording with the camera’s internal recording device either. Your camera’s internal audio should only be used as your scratch track i.e. the track you use for synchronizing your real audio track to. I know this might sound complicated if you’re just starting out. But it’s totally doable. Stay with me!
Get started with the sun. It’s cheap and beautiful. Film everything outside or next to a window. Then rent a few lights from a photo or video rental house to see what you like. From there (much later) buy one great light. That’s all you’ll need for a while. I always recommend buying one great light rather than a bunch of crappy lights. (I use the Westcott Ice Light II, and I also use a Photoflex Softbox.)
EDITING SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER
I don’t recommend staying on free editing software for too long. It’ll drive you bananas! I use Premiere Pro, which is the way to go if you’re not on a Mac. Mac users can go with Final Cut too. I’ve never used Final Cut myself, so I can’t say whether it’ll be awesome or not. I like Premiere because I buy it through the Adobe Cloud and get a ton of other programs that I need as a media creator (InDesign, Audition, Photoshop, AfterEffects, Illustrator).
TRIPOD AND/OR MONOPOD WITH FEET
For interviews that you’re running solo you need to be able to put your camera on a tripod. For keeping your shots stable when creating shot sequences, you’re also going to need some form of stabilization. I recommend using a tripod when starting out because this is the best way to learn framing. I also use a gorillapod as small rig to keep my camera stable. Put two gorillapod feet on your chest, and holder the other one. Fact: more points of stabilization keep your image more stable!
For video editing your computer should have 4-8 GB RAM otherwise it’ll be crazy slow.
More than that will be necessary as you advance in your craft and take on bigger projects. But you can get started with as little as 4 GB RAM. You just won’t be editing at lighting speeds. But you probably shouldn’t editing that fast when you’re starting out anyway! ;)
If you're trying to edit higher resolution footage on a slow computer you can use a little something called proxies. Just google, "How to Edit with Proxies" and you'll find a tutorial.
Don’t buy lights until you’ve rented a few, mastered manual exposure, and know your shooting style.
A good rule of thumb is to not buy anything expensive until you’ve mastered the basics i.e. manual exposure and shot sequencing.
Don’t buy a DSLR with a fixed focal length lens (also called a prime lens). You’re probably going to need a zoom. If you’re a solo filmmaker working in a documentary style, you usually need a zoom to get all the shots you need. So don’t drop $1000 on a 50mm lens right out of the gate. Not sure what I’m talking about? Not a prob, just make sure if you buy a DSLR that it comes with a zoom lens. When you’re starting out in video, you’ll need a zoom lens. (So if sale guy tries to sell you “prime lenses,” say no thanks!)
Don’t read photography blogs and take their advice. The internet is FULL of photography blogs. But the advice they give is very specific to photographers. Lens advice and camera advice from photographers has very little relevance to someone making videos and short films.
Get started by brainstorming all the stories you’d love to tell.
List ‘em all out. Include people you know who are interesting. This is where you can start. Work on your technical and storytelling chops with subjects that you already know.
The thing you’re going to need to master for doc-style shooting is shot sequencing. You need to be able to combine a series of shots to create a cohesive sequence. From there you need to be able to combine sequences to tell a story. Once you’ve mastered that, then you’ll need to learn how to film interviews.
Start experimenting with shot sequences.
A common shot sequence you can start experimenting with is this: WIDE SHOT of scene, MEDIUM shot of subject’s waist up, CLOSE UP on whatever they are doing i.e. hands in motion, CLOSE UP on face, OVER THE SHOULDERS to see what they’re doing. MEDIUM-WIDE from the side to get another perspective. Your mantra is this: WIDE, MEDIUM, CLOSE UP, OVER THE SHOULDERS, FROM THE SIDE.
I teach exactly how to create shot sequences in my 12-week Filmmaking Course. Click here to find out when the course goes live and get on the interest list.
The first step is patience. You can definitely make this your career. But you’ll have to grow your skills before you can start making serious money doing this. That said, I’ve mentored a student who turned this into his career in less than a year. So it can be done quickly if you have the right training.
Here are some paths you can take:
BUILD YOU PORTFOLIO
Build up your skillset and a portfolio with at least 4 good videos that show off your style and start a video production business. If you live in a city with an underserved market, your business could become busy really quickly. Be aware that if you live in a city with a lot of film schools, this can be tough. You can do it, but you’ll need to get some business and marketing chops.
PITCH YOUR JOB
Pitch your current job to become their in-house video producer i.e. invent a totally new job. Gather together the stats you need to show your boss that an in-house video producer is good for the bottom line, and create a proposal based on what you know your company’s needs and goals are. This will be hard to turn down if you do it right.
USE THE GROWING JOB MARKET
Build up your skillset and a portfolio with 2-4 good videos and start applying for jobs that include video production. You can find jobs for video producers, an all-in-one video creator, a video editors. Usually the jobs are collaborating with a team to create video content for a brand. Online retail companies have the most jobs on offer. And this will only continue to be the case.
Instead of looking for jobs, reach out to companies you’d love to work for and tell them about how your video skills can help their business. Ongoing video production will help businesses connect with their current customers, reach new customers, increase sales, and it build brand affinity. There’s no limit to how video can help businesses and customers are asking for more video.
Pitch media outlets such as big newspapers and blogs who either currently create video content or who should be, and see if there are any story-based projects you can create for them.
TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU DO
I've actually gotten two gigs from people I've met in my apartment building. And I'm an extreme introvert. That said, I'm not shy. And I've learned how to talk about what I do to people without being long-winded or apologetic.
Side note: If you ever run into a marketing director at random, definitely tell them about what you do. Your key to working with brands is via the marketing director who is usually a lovely artsy woman who is overworked and underpaid. If you can make a marketing directors life easier, you're in a good place to get more work from them in the future.
Get the Ultimate Sound Gear Buyer’s Guide
This Sound Gear Buyer’s Guide is a bonus lesson from the Epic Journey Online Filmmaking Course. That’s a 12-week course that’ll take you from beginner to intermediate. The earlier you can start practicing with sound the better. So take this offer while it’s still around!
This sound guide isn’t specifically for filmmakers interested in making features. It's designed to help solo filmmakers get a handle on sound. But the sound principles will apply to anyone making films.
Also, I speak from experience when I say you should know at least SOMETHING about sound before hiring a sound recordist.
This Sound Gear Buyer’s Guide is part of my Epic Journey Online Filmmaking Course. Get it for free.
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