Making a film can seem a daunting task if you haven't had a go at one before. But you will be amazed at how much can be achieved in a short space of time and with a basic knowledge of equipment to hand. Having a clear idea and good planning is the key to a successful film.
Different ideas are possible, different starting points, different film styles. It's worth thinking first about how your film project will be run. How much say will the students have? A project can teach about making film, but equally should be viewed as a way of teaching about the subject to be filmed, and students may try to shy away from films that involve research and planning.
Will the young people come up with the ideas?
How will they be involved?
Who will perform?
Will the project be filmed on location?
Who is in charge?
How will your film be scripted? There are numerous ways that this can be done, for instance:
Writing a traditional script and filming it.
Improvising and choosing bits for the finished film.
Purely visual - if so, how do you decide what to film?
Who or what is the film for? The intended audience can make a big difference to the style. Is it to be shown on a loop at an open day for instance, or will the audience be sitting down and concentrating? There's no reason why the film can't have multiple uses, but it is worth thinking about these from the start.
A film that responds to a site needn't be filmed there.
Responses can be:
Historical - Based on events that have happened at the site.
Physical - A response to the structures, architecture, trees or other features at the site.
Atmospheric - Inspired by moods that the site conjures up - spooky, tranquil, chaotic.
Character-based - Using one or more figures connected with the site as a starting point.
Abstract - The world's your oyster! What thoughts does the site trigger, that may be have no other connections with the site itself.
The opportunity to film on location can have great rewards but also adds other pressures and responsibilities
Visit the site if at all possible. Even if you aren't going to film there it will act as a springboard for ideas and it is good for everyone involved to have a clear idea of any possibilities that the site may hold.
Look into the history of the place. Find out the quirkier things that have gone on there. There are many places to get help with this:
From the site itself - guide books, curators, plaques on walls, monuments etc.
Local historians. Just about every place in the world has someone who is already interested in it. They are usually very friendly and willing to help you - and you will potentially find out information that will be of use to them too.
Libraries - local studies sections are particularly useful.
Newspapers - many newspapers are making archives available on-line.
Think about physical possibilities:
Often historical sites make great backdrops, with really interesting features. More often than not, that is why they are historical sites of note! Perhaps you want sweeping landscapes with sumptuous dressings - but don't forget the tiny stairways and the stable yard and the cellar - everything is a possibility, and every aspect of a site is important.
And also think about some of the problems that the site may throw up:
Is the site outdoors?
Is it easily accessible?
Is it safe?
Can you get permission to film there?
Is it very busy, crowded with members of the public, and if so, can you film outside opening hours?
The sites that inspired the Children of the Mills project are a World Heritage Site, recognised by Unesco, and recently made famous by an appearance on the BBC's Restoration programme. But your own site could be a much more modest affair. A village church, a local park or playground, a museum or other interesting building - even the student's own homes could be good subjects for a film. The main thing is to come up with an idea based on the site that you think will interest the audience. And don't feel that you have to take the obvious route. A film about a parish church could end up being "the day in the life of a church mouse" complete with home made puppets, cameras whizzing along the skirting boards and subtitles translating the mouse's squeaks. Such a format could look at the history of the church, the day-to-day use of the church and the physical structure of the building.
Everything used for the Children of the Mills film project was domestic equipment: a normal camcorder, a home computer, and the free editing software that came with it. There is no point in planning to do something unless you can achieve it with the equipment and skills that you have.
Many cameras come with all sorts of effects built in - fade in and out, sepia or black and white options, etc. If you can do this in the editing process it is much better to do so. Make the filming process as simple as possible - there will be complications enough anyway, without giving yourself a lot of extra things to remember!
What every camera does:
Zoom - but make sure this happens gently, if at all.
Use of tripod / hand held - you get very different effects. Tripods are quite cheap for a basic model - they start at about £10. Youngsters find it tricky to hold the camera still for too long and so a tripod can really help to keep the picture steady and clear.
Low point of view, high point of view - try filming someone from above (from a little ladder, say) and then from below and look at the results. Simple changes such as this can really affect the mood of what you are filming.
Close-ups - try with your camera. See how close you can get and stay in focus.
If you are going to edit the film you will probably want to do it on your computer. Film often takes up a lot of room on the hard drive, so try not to pick the computer that everything else is on! Most cameras connect direct to the computer so that you can transfer film straight onto it.
Microsoft Windows comes with Windows Movie Maker these days, while Apple computers come with iMovies. These programs are used to edit the film. You can add titles, music, effects, choose which bits of film you want to use and chop and change the order of things. Both have online instructions and tutorials available, and both are fairly straightforward. By far the best way to learn is by trying things out; if possible do this before you start your project so you know what your equipment is capable of doing. Experiment - you will probably be inspired!
Remember that if you do not film what you need, you will be unlikely to make the film that you want, so:
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!
Know exactly what you want to do, where you want to do it, and how long it might take. It is possible that you will need to film a scene lots of times to get it right - so make sure that you have scheduled enough time to do what you want to do.
Be patient! Filming often takes longer than you think and problems will probably arise that you hadn't even thought about. Planes will fly over-head, ambulances will pass by with sirens wailing, and someone always sneezes. Don't worry! Spielberg has exactly the same problems!
Talking of Spielberg, when you are making your film try to think of things in big movies where they have used simple effects with great results. The trembling water glasses in Jurassic Park are so simple, but start the tension building brilliantly. The jangling keys clipped to the belts of the "bad guys" in E.T. give them a real sense of authority. And in Saving Private Ryan, scenes with very jittery hand held cameras contrast hugely with other scenes where the camera movements are smooth and gentle.
As well as getting to know how the camera works everyone involved in the project should start to feel comfortable about having the camera around. When the camera first comes out many people get embarrassed, freeze or start "acting about": all of these things will stop your project being as good as it could be. Ways to get around this:
Film some everyday activities so the camera becomes less of an issue.
Film everyone at the beginning of each session with the viewfinder turned round so the subjects can see themselves - get all of the waving and face pulling over with at this point!
Do some exercises that involve looking into the camera, and ignoring it.
You should try to be methodical when making a film. You can plan right down to the smallest detail. Professional film-makers often use a story-board to plan every shot in advance. (Essentially, they make a comic book of the film, and then film it bit by bit.) It cannot be stressed enough: the better your planning, and the more detail that you include, the easier your filming session will be.
Editing, also known as post-production, is where you decide which bits of film you want to use, put them in order and apply any effects, titles or other features that you cannot do while you are filming.
How you do this will depend upon what software you are using, but possibilities will include:
Removing any sound on your film that you don't want.
Making your film black and white.
Speeding up or slowing down sections of film.
Making your film look like an old movie, with scratches, crackles and jitters.
Putting rain or fog in front of your footage (although, be warned - it can end up looking odd if you did your filming on a bright sunny day!)
Choosing pieces of music for the beginning or end, or to underscore particular scenes.
Adding sound effects
Putting titles at the beginning; cast lists, thanks to lists, etc at the end; adding subtitles to the scene set in Paris ; or adding "chapter titles".
Changing the brightness and contrast.
Fading in or out, cross-fading from one scene to the next.
Adding still images to your film.
You should think very carefully when editing about what will be interesting to the audience. Twice as long rarely means twice as good!
If you are completely stuck with the editing process then ask around. There may be a local video club that could come and help, or someone's big sister or brother might be a whiz on a computer and thus prove invaluable. But by far the most preferable method is to learn to do it yourself. From sports days to school plays, there will always be times when you are glad that you learnt in the first place.