How to Make a Movie

Five Parts:Getting the EssentialsWriting the FilmThinking VisuallyCasting the CrewFilming and Editing

If you want to get out there and start making movies, it can be challenging to know where to start. Make-up artists? CGI? And how are you going to make that car chase happen? Read on for some tips on getting started with the essentials and making your first movie.

Part 1
Getting the Essentials

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    Get a camera. Lots of DIY filmmakers have used cheap cameras to make professional-looking films. Often, though, the "homemade" aspect of the footage is directly related to the story, marrying the form to the content. Decide what kind of camera you need and what kind of camera you can afford. They can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you already have access to a relatively cheap camcorder, consider filming a story that would work well with a homemade-look.
    • In the $100-200 range, you've got lots of commercially available home recorders. Companies like JVC, Canon, and Panasonic have relatively cheap cameras that are mobile, effective, and look great. Even something like an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch works great especially because it's easy to transfer videos recorded on your IOS device to iMovie. IOS devices have very astonishing cameras for what they are, and since most people have a phone already, then you don't have to go out and spend extra money. You could also attach an accessory over your iPhone camera like an Ollo clip, which hovers around $60-$100. The Ollo clip comes with four lenses. Cheap cameras can look great, for example: "The Blair Witch Project" was filmed on an RCA camcorder bought at Circuit City for very little money.
    • In the $500-900 range, you've got really solid Panasonic and Sony models that have been used to make films like "Open Water" and lots of documentaries. If you're serious about making films, and making more than one film, consider investing in a solid camera.
    • On an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Macbook, there is an app called iMovie ($4.99 for IOS version). It lets you make quick, easy films, yet still look professional.
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    Decide how you'll edit the film. Unless you're going to go quick-and-dirty and only edit on the camera, which would involve filming everything in order and filming only perfect takes, (which is very time consuming). you'll need to import the footage onto a computer. Mac computers come with iMovie and PC computers come with Windows Movie Maker, basic types of editing software that will allow you to edit the footage together, mix in the sound, and even add credits.
    • You can upgrade to more complex and professional editing software like Video Edit Magic or Avid FreeDV.[1] If these are not available two free but very professional movie editing tools are available Open Shot and Light Works which you can get for free and use.
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    Find a place to film. Filming an outer space epic in your dorm room would be difficult, as would filming your gritty film about a street hustler in the mall. Look at what locations are available to you, and consider what stories might evolve from that location. The film "Clerks" revolves around a bunch of apathetic guys working at a convenience store, and hanging out. Without access to said convenience store, it would have been difficult going.
    • Businesses and restaurants are often hesitant about letting amateur filmmakers use their property for filming, but you can always ask. Often, people will be excited about the idea of being included.
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    Find people willing to help. With very few exceptions, producing a film involves a large group of people who come together to serve a common goal: a great visual story that deserves telling. You'll need people to act and people to help film. Cast your friends in these roles, or place a callout on Facebook or Craigslist to get people interested in your project. If you're not going to be able to pay anyone, make that clear right off the bat.
    • If you live in a college town, consider putting up flyers in the drama buildings to see if any local talent might be interested. You might be surprised at how excited most people are to be included in a project like this.

Part 2
Writing the Film

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    Dream up a visual story. Because most movies are essentially visual stories, the first step is coming up with an idea that you want to turn into a movie. What's something that you'll have to see to believe? You don't have to have every detail in place, but you should have a basic idea of the premise.
    • Think about the movies you like to watch, or the books you like to read, and consider what makes them so interesting. Is it the characters, the action, the visuals, or the theme? Whatever it is, keep that element in mind as you plan your movie.
    • Write out a list of all the props, locations and actors which are currently available locally then develop a film around this. Keep a dream journal, dreams like films are visual stories and dreams. Keep a notebook with you for writing ideas down. Read the news stories in the papers. Have a basic idea, and work with that. Narrow it down as you go along while writing the plot.
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    Expand your idea into a story. The essentials for building a story from your idea have to do with character. Who is your protagonist? What does your protagonist want? What keeps them from getting it? How will the protagonist be changed? If you can answer all these questions, you're on your way to a great story.
    • It's been said that all stories have one of two basic premises: A stranger arrives and shakes up the normal way of things, or a hero departs and goes on a journey.
    • Make sure your story has a beginning, in which the scenario and the characters are introduced, a middle, in which the conflict builds, and an ending, in which the conflict is resolved.
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    Write a screenplay. A screenplay breaks every moment of the story into an individual, film-able scene. While it may be tempting to want to costume-up and start filming every scene as it comes, you'll be in much better shape if you can plan things out before hand and think of your film scene-by-scene.
    • A screenplay writes out all the dialog, attributed to each character, along with some physical directions, exposition, and camera movement. Each scene should start with a brief description of the scene (i.e. Interior, night).
    • Think cheaply as you write. For your purposes, it may be much better for the story to cut out the epic 30 minute car chase and instead cut straight to the aftermath. Maybe your lead protagonist is laid up in bed, bandaged, wondering, "What happened?"
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    Storyboard your film. A storyboard is a comic-book-like version of the film that you'll create, but without the dialog bubbles. It can be done on a large scale, drawing only each major scene or transition, or, if you've got a very visual story, It can also be done at the micro level, planning every shot and camera angle.
    • This process makes a long film go more smoothly, and will help you anticipate difficult scenes or sequences to film. You can try shooting without storyboarding, but it will not only help you visualize your movie, it will help you explain your vision to the other members of the crew.

Part 3
Thinking Visually

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    Develop an aesthetic for your film. Because movies are visual, it's a good idea to spend some time on the "look and feel" of the movie. Consider two films as an example: Matrix again, with its monochromatic, yellow-green tone throughout, which heightened the sense of being “digitized,” and A Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater, which was rotoscoped and had a unique and memorable cartoon reality look to it. Here are some other areas to consider.
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    Do you want your film to feature smooth, expertly-edited shots, or a rough, handheld camera look? It’s all there to do. For example, look at Melancholia by Lars von Trier; the opening scenes were shot with a super high speed camera, which renders as a fluid, graceful slow motion. Most of the rest of the movie is shot with a handheld, or “shaky cam,” setting the tone for the emotional and spiritual conflicts that ripple through the movie.
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    Design the costumes and sets. How do you want the setting of your film to look? Can you film it in a real location, or will you have to build a set? The sweeping panoramas of the big screen epics of the 60s and 70s relied on a combination of wide open spaces and studio-lot sets. Scenes from The Shining were shot at a ski lodge in Oregon. Dogville was shot on a bare stage, with only suggestions of buildings as props.
    • Films rely heavily on the costumes to communicate essential character traits to the viewer. "Men in Black" is a key example.
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    Consider lighting. Some movies feature soft, almost gauzy lighting that makes the actors and the sets look significantly more appealing, and the entire film more dreamlike; others favor a lighting style that looks closer to reality, and some people push the edges and go for a really hard light that is almost cutting. Check out Domino with Keira Knightley.
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    Dress the sets, or scout a location. If you're going to shoot on-location, find the area you want and make sure it's available for filming. If you're working on a set, start building and "dressing" (or adding props) them.
    • If possible, using actual locations is easier. Green screens can look very fake in certain locations but you can use one of you want. It's simpler to film in a diner than make a room look like one.

Part 4
Casting the Crew

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    Choose someone to direct. The director controls the creative aspect of the movie, and is a key connection between the crew and the cast. If you have an idea for movie and know exactly how it should look and feel, it would be a safe bet that the director is you, but if your not good at directing people and your not comfortable bossing people around, then, you can take a different approach on directing or just hire someone else and try to give them the full picture. You'll cast the major players, oversee the filming, and offer creative input where you see fit.
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    Choose a Cinematographer, or Director of Photography. This person is in charge of making sure the lighting and actual filming of the movie go smoothly, as well as deciding with the director how each shot should be framed, lit, and shot. He or she manages the lighting and camera crews, or operates the camera on a small film.
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    Assign someone the set design. This person is in charge of making sure the sets correspond with the director's creative vision. He or she might also be the props master (in charge of the items that fill the set).
    • Costume, hair, and makeup design could be in the same category on a very small production. On a large production, this person would choose (and maybe even sew) every costume used in the film. On smaller productions, this position is usually merged with another job.
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    Put someone in charge of sound and music. The sound man may be one or more people. Dialog needs to be recorded either in scene, or looped in later during production. Sound effects, like gunshots and grenades or an explosion, all need to be created; music needs to be sourced, recorded, and mixed; and foley (footsteps, leather creaks, plates broken, doors slamming) all the needs to be generated. The sound also needs mixed, edited, and lined up with the video in post-production. And remember, the music doesn't have to be very loud, it can be quiet in a quiet scene to the point where people aren't focusing on it as it now just acts an aid to capture the scene.
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    Cast your film. People in your community might work for screen credits in low-budget films. Of course, it would be advantageous to have a well-known name starring in your movie, but learning to play to the strengths of the actors you do have will ensure that you've got a great filmed product. If you need a cop character in your film, call one up and ask if he'd be willing to film a couple scenes some afternoon. Just make sure that the movie doesn't involve anything illegal while the police officer is there, as this could not end well. If you need a college professor, contact the school.[2]
    • Test the range of your actors. If you know that one of them will have to cry in a sad scene, make sure he or she can do it before you contract for the project.
    • Avoid scheduling conflicts. Make sure your actors can be available on-set when you need them.
    • Be careful of stunts that may injure your actors.

Part 5
Filming and Editing

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    Gather and test your equipment. At the very least, you'll need a video camera. You will probably also need a tripod — to mount the camera for steady shots — lighting equipment, and sound equipment.
    • Filming some "screen tests" would be a good idea. Give your actors the chance to practice while being filmed, and give the crew a chance to coordinate their actions.
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    Plan meticulously. Keep track of which "take" is the best take for each scene, to help yourself in the editing process later. If you've got to comb through multiple missed takes and bad takes every time you want to find the scene you wanted, the editing process will be a drag.
    • Make sure everyone's on the same page at the start of each day for filming each scene. It can get a lot to get a whole case, crew, and location appointment together at once, so it might help to write out and distribute an itinerary at the beginning of the process.
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    Film your movie. The decisions you make will result in the difference between a "home movie" or a professional looking movie.
    • Some people say to shoot multiple takes from multiple angles because it will be more interesting in the end, giving multiple options for the editing process. As a very general rule, professional filmmakers shoot each scene in a wide shot, medium shot and close up of important elements.
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    Edit your film. Take your footage to your computer, upload the files, then log them, identifying what shots work. Put together a rough cut using these shots. The way that you edit your film drastically affects the way the film ends up looking and feeling.
    • Making jump cuts will hold the viewer's interest and set the tone for an action movie, but long, lingering shots have a powerful impact as well, but done badly this can be very boring. Consider the beginning of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
    • You can also edit to music, which is a fast and effective way of editing; you can also edit to music on a quiet section of the film, by choosing music which provides the right mood.
    • Editing between various angles can quickly show multiple things going on in the same scene. Use your editing system's split or razor tool to create smaller clips from multiple shots, and then mix and match. You'll get the hang of it quickly, and with digital movie making, your mistakes are always saved by Undo.
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    Sync sound effects and music. Make sure that your music flows with what is going on during the movie at that second, and that the live sound you recorded with the film comes through loud and clear. Re-record any parts that are important.
    • Remember that if you are planning on distributing a film using found music can cause problems, so it is best if you can get music specially composed for the film; plus there are many skilled musicians out there who would love to get experience.
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    Create the title and credits sequences. You'll want to name your cast and crew at the end of the film. You can also include a list of "thank yous” to any organizations that were willing to let you shoot in their establishments. Most importantly keep it simple.
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    Export the film to a digital format DVD. Make a teaser or trailer. If you want to promote your film online or in other theaters, select pieces of it for a promotional trailer. Don't give away too much of the plot, but do try to catch the viewer's interest.
    • Also don't forget to upload your movie to youtube or Vimeo, or if your movie gets accepted into a theatre, don't upload the movie to YouTube as you won't make as much money on YouTube Vs. The box office, just upload teasers and stuff like that, and don't forget to advertise other places than YouTube!


  • Sound and lighting are very important: Good sound (easily understanding the person speaking without hearing the photographer breathing, or street noise, for example) is critical. Good lighting makes the video/movie watchable. Excellent "budget lighting" includes: Dusk or early morning, a foggy or overcast day, and shade (but only when there is a darker background.) A white poster board or tinfoil can be used to bounce light to the shaded side of the face. For night shooting use work lights.
  • If you don't have good lighting, try using your camera flash. To improve this, face your camera to a white wall so the light can bounce off and soften the shadows in your scene.
  • You don't necessarily need to plan every detail of the film. Just know the plot and the script, and a little additions aren't bad. Improvising can give the movie a more realistic and fresh look, if the actor does a good job with it.
  • Find ways to make your movie stand out and intrigue. Whether that be in an unconventional story, or unique cinematography, make sure your audience doesn't feel your film is too relatable to another work!
  • Make sure to follow basic filming rules such as the rule of thirds (imagine the screen is split into vertical thirds and always have a focus point or vital character in the scene in the furthest left third), this makes it much more interesting. Rarely is a character in the very center of the screen and make the film look much more professional in the end.
  • Watch a lot of movies with a critical eye—not so much to critique acting or direction, but to understand tones, styles, how sound is used, how lighting is used. Look for errors, too: for the budding filmmaker, these are illuminating. When you're watching a movie at home, pull that movie up on IMDB. Near the bottom there is a section entitled "Did You Know?" that is loaded with trivia and goofs for virtually every film and TV show out there.
  • You can make high quality movies using cute cut for the iphone and ipad. If your just starting out, use your iphone or ipads camera and an editing app for great quality.
  • When you finish your movie, share it with the world. If it is a serious work, bring it to film festivals where it might be picked up. If it is a small, casual work, host it on the Internet for the world to view freely. They're both paths to different kinds of fame.
  • When making a film never cross the limit line. Make a basic storyline, if a base is needed for the movie, but if confident, then go all out!
  • If you're shooting a documentary, you probably won't spend time developing a script or storyboarding. Instead, come up with an idea, set goals for shooting such as what is the purpose of this film? What audience will it appeal to? What new perspective are you providing. Set out to capture as much footage as you can, and focus on the editing and other post-production processes (such as adding music).
  • Its a good idea to keep a journal full of ideas that you come up with so you can look back and think for.
  • Don't use any songs from a movie, because you can be stealing parts of the movie. Use your own made up song.
  • Use a camera stand if you don't want to hold the camera.


  • Don't steal ideas when writing the script. Make sure the ideas are all your own and as original as possible.You do not have the budget that Hollywood does so the only way you can stand out is be unique.
  • If filming in an actual location that does not belong to you, such as a diner, ask the owner or a worker/manager for permission first. This would ensure that things are being done legally, the proper procedure is being followed, and to avoid any delays or complications with the shoot. Always get permission in writing so there are no questions later.
  • Child pornography is illegal, so if you want your actor who is under the age of 18 to be involved in sexual activities, you must have their parent or guardian's permission and signature.

Things You'll Need

  • A script
  • A storyboard
  • A film crew
  • Actors
  • Technical equipment
  • Locations to film
  • Funds
  • Director
  • Props
  • An editing program on a mobile device or computer
  • Multiple cameras (recommended)

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