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Digital Filmmaking Handbook: Extract

An extract from the book 'The Digital Filmmaking Handbook' by Mark Brindle.


Pick your Genre

Any film, even the shortest video, stands out from the rest if you give the audience what they want but not in the way they expect. Have a look at the types of films that grab you: see what you can learn, and how you can adopt a similar approach for your own projects.

Feature films are made in a variety of genres and types, from action adventure, animation and romantic comedy through to crime dramas and science fiction. Audiences as well as the film industry have always defined what kind of film it is they are making, selling or indeed going to watch by genre. Highly successful pictures often use multiple genres to give a new spin on a well-worn formula. Quentin Tarantino's box office hit Pulp Fiction is crime fiction with a hefty dose of comedy, which has since spawned a whole genre of similar films. Pick some of your favourite films and see if you can break them down by genre.

Filmmaking, though, is not just about making fictional short or feature films. Television needs filmmakers just as much, to work on programmes like chat shows, fashion, travel or holiday shows, DIY programmes, through to current affairs and news bulletins. TV dramas use the same genres as cinema, but often allow for longer-running storylines as these programmes are often episodic. Before you dive in, learn some techniques that require little or no crew and they can form the basis of your filmmaking future.


Making a skilful wedding video takes preparation and great people skills, but can be hugely rewarding if you get it right on the day.


Weddings and friends
Filming friends just hanging out or at an event can help with your camerawork and sound recording. Making a story from your footage can be a lot harder, so try filming at specific events such as a wedding or a walking or cycling trip – something that has the classic beginning, middle and end.

Family videos
One of the easiest types of films to make, and usually one of the first that you will try, is a family video. The birthday party of one of your children might be a good starting point. Family videos can be pure fly-on-the-wall style to give you something to look back on in years to come – like blowing out the candles at a birthday party, a visit to the zoo or the first time on a pushbike without stabilizers. Crucially, these videos don’t require much kit – a smartphone or a small compact camera will often do, since quality isn’t always paramount. It’s unlikely you will make a living from it, but clips from family videos do seem to fuel all the best You’ve Been Framed-style TV shows.


Above: Filming a racing sequence of the film Seabiscuit. Director Gary Ross (left, wearing protective goggles) likes to be closely involved with the action.

More than just ‘talking heads’, documentaries take many forms and can cover any subject. Sometimes you might start a documentary project with a plan or a story to follow, much like an investigative reporter covering a news story. Morgan Spurlock asked himself what would happen if he ate nothing but burgers for 30 days, which resulted in the acclaimed documentary Super Size Me. Short documentaries are a great way to teach yourself filmmaking and interviewing techniques, and learn how to tell a good story.

Sports and hobbies
Try looking at your own or your friends’ hobbies from a filmic point of view, and suddenly a whole new world will open up. Think about a local football match or the dominoes competition in your pub; it’s always best to start with something you know about. Consider how the sport is already covered on TV or film – visualize the angles and the way it’s ‘always seen’. Can you improve on it, make it more interesting? Maybe you can create a niche for high-quality coverage of your minority sport and with easy distribution via the internet quickly build up an audience. Extreme sports force you to learn a whole host of fast-action techniques.

Corporate videos
A potential money-earner for the self-shooter, corporate filmmaking covers both internal and external communications. You may be asked to create visuals for a new advertisement, or document a trade show or a conference to be broadcast as streamed web videos. Corporate communications can come in many forms and cover documentary and news-style filming as well as techniques usually associated with drama and music video productions.



The unknown, mysterious realm of the sea has been used for many a drama, like James Cameron’s Abyss or Luc Besson’s cult classic The Big Blue, as well as high-earning animations like Finding Nemo and A Shark’s Tale. We are both awed and frightened by the vastness of the deep ocean. Filming under water needs some specialized kit in the form of underwater camera housings, lighting and breathing gear. But if scuba diving happens to be your hobby, or if you are a snorkelling enthusiast, filming in the shallows can be achieved easily with a small ‘bullet cam’, or something like the cheap GoPro Hero HD camera. You won't get as much control over camera settings, but you can shoot some astonishing material if the light and visibility are good.


Great underwater footage can be achieved with a ‘bullet cam’ or GoPro — it’s often the subject that makes it great, rather than an expensive camera.


Wildlife and nature
Whether you are taking time-lapse footage of plants growing or trying to film foxes in your back garden, nature is always interesting, exciting and pretty unpredictable. The weather changes very fast and you have to be able to cope with the locations you may be filming at, from seaside to allotment and from jungle to the steppe. You need a lot of patience and knowledge to be a great wildlife filmmaker but the rewards are spectacular, both in terms of amazing footage and a rewarding lifestyle.

Music videos and live music
Music videos tend to fall into two categories: straight performance videos that show the artists singing live or miming to a recorded track, or a form of dramatization to the lyrics of the song — or a combination of the two. Straight performance videos are usually the easiest to film, but bear in mind that you’ll need multiple cameras to cover all the angles, unless you’re just filming a single music track that can be mimed a few times for different camera angles. Try to find a local band for whom you can produce a performance music video at a live gig. Sometimes your single camera angle video will be better than what they already have, and it’s a great way to build up a relationship with the band for doing future work together.

A little planning

Before you go out to start filming your epic, take a quick moment to do a little basic planning so you can avoid some of these all-too-common mistakes that could potentially ruin your first film shoot. The amount of planning you need to do is generally in proportion to the scale and complexity of your filming project.


Below: Conveying the true steepness and height of a cliff can be a challenge. This video with climber Chris Sharma was filmed with a DIY crane.


If you’re only going down the road to film your kids playing in the park, then you can pick up more spares from home or film again on another day. But even simple projects like this can be made easier by checking your kit over first. See the shooting checklist opposite for ideas on what to consider before setting out on your next filming trip.

The basic tips
Know where you’re going and keep the contact details of everyone involved in the filming. Use Google Street View or similar to check out an unfamiliar location before you arrive. Plan how much filming time you'll be doing to ensure you have adequate media (and battery life) or a way to offload cards while on location. To be safe, assume you will need to film longer than you’ve planned.

Always, always test your equipment before you leave home. Cleaning it helps, too. Make sure you check lenses and LCDs, and preset as much as you can in advance: frame rate, shutter speed, video format, colour presets and white balance can all be preset. Examine all cables for signs of wear and check for breakages, especially on small items such as lavalier mics and on any lighting gear you take. Do a full sound check on your audio gear and preset frequencies and sensitivity levels on radio mics if you’re using them.


Date: 15-04-2013

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