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Stuck doing your degree or job, wanting to start making film but have no idea where to begin?

I too spent most of my University life resenting my degree, wanting to do other things. “What degree is that?” I hear you ask.  “Must be something completely irrelevant to your desired career,” I hear you say. Well if you assumed that, you would be wrong.  I have a degree in Film and Television Studies. The problem with my degree was that it was completely devoid of any practical knowledge of the Film and Television making industries. Sure I learnt about Eisenstein and Vertov, about Film Noir and the Production Code. I could bore you for hours on the cultural implications of Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings on New Zealand. However this all served primarily to fuel my need to get hands on and expand my film making skillset. In my experience I have found that you don’t need a Film degree to make film, a view supported by the amount of chemists, civil engineers, philosophers, lawyers etc. that I know, who are substantially more talented and skilled in the art of film making than I will most likely ever be.

These are some of the things that I did to begin my own journey into the realms of practical film making,

1. Find others like you

This probably won’t be a shocking revelation but you’re not alone. It doesn’t matter where you are, after a little bit of research you will find a group or at least an internet forum of people yearning to learn about film making (Raindance for example). I found my home in Student Television and through that got opportunities to get hands on and introduce myself to all aspects of video production. If you’re not a student don’t fret, there are similar opportunities (if not more) in local film making societies and in local radio and television stations. People who are trying to learn often want to share their new found knowledge so make sure you’re around to hear it!

2. Read manuals…they actually help

You may have the natural talent of Spielberg but that won’t help you find the ‘on’ button. Knowing your equipment even before you get to play with it is an advantageous skill, especially when working with a small inexperienced (inexperienced does not mean untalented) team.  Luckily, these days most manuals are freely accessible online, so if you have a spare minute why not look at how to work Canon’s latest model – you never know you might be using it one day. Many of the times I’ve been asked back to a shoot is when I happened to know how a bit of equipment worked.  If you’re the person who solves the camera issue or knows why the microphone won’t pick up sound, you will find yourself more and more invaluable on set, which is always a good thing.

3. Sell yourself over your skill set

Worried that if you manage to get on to a shoot you would have nothing to do?  If you can make a good cup of tea, smile and hold some camera bags then you have something to offer.  I don’t think I’ve been more proud than on the day I single handedly delivered a tea order to upwards of 50 people without a single sugar in the wrong cup.  Many independent film making teams will have limited resources, so offering to be an extra hand for the day will be appreciated.  Sell yourself over your skillset, show interest and a good outlook and you might find your job description expanding rapidly.  Either way you’ll end up learning something new and in no time at all you’ll be swiftly rejected for being ‘over qualified’.

4. Make bad movies

Among the many cliché’s I’m sure you’ve heard, “if you want to make film, just go out and make it,” and with equipment getting cheaper and the ability to get it shown through social media, it’s becoming easier to do that.  What they don’t tell you is – it doesn’t have to be good (not just yet at least).  So your Joss Whedon inspired sci-fi epic hasn’t quite hit the mark, only had 37 views on YouTube and received… moderate reviews from friends and family, the most important thing is you identify what you learnt during the process and make it better next time. It’s a fantasy that people are born good filmmakers, the unfortunate reality is that it takes time and practise.  I have plenty of terrible video content that hopefully will never see the light of day again, however, each god awful project I was involved with was a learning step towards being a better filmmaker.

If you let your situation limit you it always will; instead, let it drive you.  If I hadn’t spent my time at university passionately trying to do anything but my degree, I would probably still be there doing a PhD on how to make film having never picked up a camera. The resources to learn are already at your disposal and yes, you will probably drop a couple cameras and smash a few hardrives along the way, that’s ok, mistakes happen…just don’t do it too often. If you feel that filmmaking is just too daunting and far afield from what you currently are doing, these are some basic steps that helped me starting out, I hope they help you too.

Why not go and check out the tips & vids section on our website to get inspired for you next project:
http://www.raindance.org/resources/