How to Create a Good Experimental Film

Experimental films are films that push the boundaries of conventional film making. The experimental aspect could be new and different ways of working the camera, using lighting, playing with audio effects, scripting or even acting.

Creating an experimental film is a rewarding processes and can be a fun endeavor for any film maker no matter how long they have been in the business.


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    Choose the type of camera or cameras you will film with. You may have access to a VHS camcorder, an 8mm movie camera, or even an old 35mm film camera, but to simplify editing, you will probably want to be able to transfer the video to a digital format so it can be edited on a PC.
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    Find people willing to work with you on your film. You may decide to work without a script, or even actors, but you will find that there are a lot of jobs involved in making even a short film.
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    Brainstorm your project. You will want to consider many things in the early planning stage of your film.
    • Film genre. Experimental film can be outside the envelope of conventional film making, but to be successful, you will have to decide on a subject, whether nature, comedy, terror, romance, educational, or art.
    • Script. If you plan to include speaking parts in your film, you will need to develop a script unless you are going to have your performers improvise the content. Your script can be word for word dialogue, or a general ideas of an on screen dialogue relative to the film subject, ad-libbed by the participants with speaking parts. The creative ability and ability to coordinate on the fly will determine the best approach.
    • Set or sets. When you have made a script or outline of your film objectives, you will have to decide if you need a stage, sets, backdrops, or other props and constructed elements to "fill in" the frame of your filming. Building custom sets, particularly special effects sets with moving stages, changing backdrops, and realistic (if necessary) elements may require a substantial investment of time, labor and money.
    • Cast. When you have decided your film subject, you will need to decide how large a cast to utilize, and what particular characteristics your actors will need. If you are filming a sci-fi drama, you may want very tall, large actors in costume to look like aliens, or fairly young kids to look like diminutive adults (with proper makeup).
    • Costumes. Again, if the story line of the film requires it, you may have to create or obtain costumes. For some period type films, the local thrift store may be able to fill your needs, but you may have to design and create your own costumes, or buy them from a theatrical supply or costume retailer.
    • Location. This is one of the largest "players" in getting an audience to believe your film. You will have a hard time selling a metropolitan street scene if you film in small town middle America, so work your plot and subject into the context you are able to shoot location for. The exception may be using "juxtaposition" as a technique, since the film is experimental, and the normal rules do not apply, but this goes for all of the previous steps.
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    Take the camera out and shoot location shots. This will give you an idea of how the frame will be filled with background, and how lighting will need to be observed to give the actually "keeper" shots the right balance of light, shadow, and color. Often, a certain location is only appropriate for a shot when the weather, natural light, and other elements are combined perfectly. Use your imagination to fill in the action in each scene, so that the camera angle and the on film action will be in proper proportion to the screen as a whole. In other words, don't make actors disappear into a background, but also, don't film so "close in" as to eliminate desired background effects.
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    Rehearse scenes, or practice scenes with no actor participation. This sounds confusing, but for some possible film subjects, you may simply be shooting an open shot of a place or occurrence (think space shuttle lift off or rush hour traffic, both with an interesting point of focus not related to input from added elements like actors or props).
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    Develop your project with respect to what you have learned up to this point. It is almost time to begin shooting, provided you have settled on a subject, found a location, built sets, created costumes, and assembled a cast and crew.
    • Remove any unnecessary "fluff", such as elaborate or complicated sets, costumes, etc., that don't contribute significantly to your finished product.
    • Go over details with the cast, how emotions should be played out, timing of lines from the script, camera angles, and any other considerations or suggestions which may have developed to this point. Once you begin shooting, you will want to stay as much as possible with the plan to keep things simple.
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    Set up your filming. Have all the elements in place, everyone on cue, and all distractions put away, so everyone can concentrate on their part of the process. Depending on how involved and detailed the scene is, and how critical the time window for filming is, you want to have as much control over the events on camera as possible.
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    Play the scene, and get the action recorded. This may be the least time consuming part of the production, and depending on the length of your film, the shoot may be over and the film heading to the editing room before you know it.
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    Set up an editing room. If you have a movie editing software program on a computer, and you used digital media or can convert your film to digital, you can edit on a computer almost anywhere. Logging frames, cutting and splicing, and scene or photo enhancement is up to you. Think about what you set out to create, and what you want your audience to see as you edit.
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    Add a soundtrack, narration, or other audio to the cut and edited film.
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    Get creative and integrate various themes into your film.
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    Trust your instinct and don't go for the conventional.


  • The subject of this article is experimental film, so do not hesitate to incorporate diverse filming technique or media in the project. Animation, Claymation, 3D effects, and special lighting and camera are all possibilities.
  • Experiment with lens filters, different lens focal lengths, and unusual camera angles to get unique effects.
  • Avoid trying to copy someone's style, instead, let the audience see yours.
  • Build your film around what you have to work with. If you are in the desert, look at interesting themes or for unique perspectives in that element.
  • Look at films and film styles you like, and decide if you want to use similar approaches and techniques, but since this topic is "experimental" film, don't be afraid to think outside the box.
  • Possible subjects:
    • Science fiction: may require complicated special effects, stages, and costumes.
    • Romance: would usually require skilled acting and well written scripts.
    • Nature: dependent on the subject's cooperation (nature itself) for successful filming.
    • Comedy: good writing, timing, and coordination are often involved to get the desired laughs.
    • Drama: may require dangerous stunts, complicated sets, and careful control of lighting and atmosphere to be successful
    • Merging any of the above: you are creating an "experimental" film, so go with your own ideas, and see if they work.


  • Filming in certain areas is strictly prohibited and could result in a large fine or possibly arrest!

Things You'll Need

  • A digital camera which can record video, or even an old VHS camcorder. The latter option is much cheaper, but your videos will look like they were from the 80's. This is useful if you want that effect though!

Article Info

Categories: Making Movies