If I could travel back in time to give myself filmmaking tips, this is what I would tell myself.
Making videos has always been my favorite way of expressing myself creatively. I started in junior high with a little Sony camcorder, later studied Video Production in college, and then earned a Master’s Degree in Digital Storytelling after that. I now work as a filmmaker full time making videos primarily for businesses and create online content for brands, too. Through this entire journey, I’ve made tons of videos and, with that, made tons of mistakes and learned a lot as well.
In this article, I want to go over the top filmmaking tips I wish I knew when I first started that would have greatly helped me in my journey and helped me grow faster as a filmmaker.
Use the Gear You Have Available to You
I may be more guilty of this than anyone and it still creeps up on me to this day. You don’t need an expensive camera to start making videos. Nowadays, with the powerful camera that is on your phone, you have a completely capable filmmaking device already with you. There are many filmmakers that actually shoot exclusively on mobile and make some truly incredible films with them.
Think about your favorite creator or filmmaker currently. If you gave them a phone, would they still be able to create something amazing? Chances are, they can. And, if you do a search on YouTube, you can find plenty of masterpieces filmed on less than stellar equipment.
Shoot videos with the gear you have available to you right now. Once you have shot at least 10 videos, consider upgrading your equipment.
Shoot Lots of Bad Videos
I used to be afraid to make videos because I didn’t want them to be bad. I was afraid of making something less than stellar and, as a result, ended up not filming anything at all sometimes. The reality is, though, you have to give yourself the room to try new things and experiment, which oftentimes means shooting a video that doesn’t end up working out.
And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay. That’s called growth.
For anyone that exercises or lifts weights, trying to lift a weight that is beyond what you have tried before is an essential part of the muscle-building process. You have to try to do it in order to eventually lift it. You have to fail on the weight before you can successfully lift it. And, when you are filmmaking, you have to shoot bad video before you can shoot good (and great) video.
Now, I’m not saying purposefully go out and shoot video you know is bad, but rather don’t be afraid of shooting video. Go out and shoot and, if it doesn’t work out, that means you have learned something for the next shoot.
Give yourself permission to try new things and make videos that may not work out. If something ends up not going as planned, recognize it as something new learned and not as a failure.
Learn a Little, Shoot a Little
I used to watch entire courses online about filmmaking, color grading, sound design, or whatever it may be, and not actually give myself the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned. The problem here isn’t that I was learning (that’s a good thing). The problem is that I wasn’t giving myself enough time to practice what I had just learned.
It’s like if I went to basketball practice for the first time and I watched the coach explain all the different things I need to learn without time to practice each individual skill. He shows me dribbling, passing, shooting, lay-ups, jump shots – all the essential skills for basketball. Instead of showing me one skill and letting me practice that one skill, he shows me everything and then I try to practice them all at once.
The problem with this example is that he may have given some great tips and pointers for dribbling, but I had already forgotten it by the time he got to shooting!
There’s nothing wrong at all with learning and even bingeing an entire course on something you want to acquire the skill for, but just remember to give yourself time to practice what you have learned. I want to re-emphasize this because it’s so important. In many courses, they give you practice assignments that you can do to practice what you have just learned. Don’t skip these! I used to skip them all the time, thinking I had already internalized what I had heard them teach. But, once I started actually doing these exercises, the concepts truly started to click
When learning from a course or online material, remember to learn from them and then give yourself a project to practice the skill you just learned. You’ll learn the skill even deeper and be expanding your skillset.
Find Friends That Like Shooting Videos, Too
One big regret I have when I went to college for video production is not joining more clubs and communities around filmmaking. At the time, I was focused on doing intramural sports, joining a language-learning club, and in general focusing on my schoolwork and hanging out with friends. I don’t regret being focused on these, though, but I wish I would have joined some of the clubs my campus had available for filmmaking in addition to what I was already doing.
Growing up, no one in my small town area was really interested in making videos. It wasn’t until much later, when I moved back and began helping the newly-created videography program at my high school, that I realized how much students can get when they collaborate with others that have similar interests. Looking back on this, it makes me wish I had joined those clubs in college, as I’m sure it would have helped me not only make some great friends but also elevate my filmmaking skills.
Find friends and network with others that like shooting videos. With so many online communities and the growing-popularity of online video, it’s easier than ever to find people with similar interests.
Learn From the Best to Become Better Faster
I started my filmmaking journey learning from free YouTube tutorials and rented books from my library. I am forever grateful for both of these because they got me started and that is most important of all.
But, I truly started making significant progress when I took paid online courses that were able to shortcut my journey to becoming a filmmaker. I’ve always believed that investing in yourself and your own education is the single best investment you can make. Looking back, these paid courses allowed me the luxury of learning from the greats in the filmmaking field so I could avoid common mistakes, build stronger habits, and learn faster than those who only learned on their own or only with free materials.
Now, this is important. You don’t need to pay for courses to become a great filmmaker. You can learn entirely for free on your own or from YouTube. But, on reflecting on my own personal filmmaking journey, the courses that I paid for were much more valuable and helped me learn faster than the ones that were free online.
Paid online filmmaking courses are great ways to gain access to incredible knowledge that will shortcut your journey to becoming a better filmmaker. They are by no means necessary, but were invaluable in my own journey.
Wrapping Up With a Note to my Past Self
I’ve covered a number of tips here that I wish I could tell myself.
In short, I would want to tell my past self to use the gear available to you, keep shooting video (even if it doesn’t turn out great), apply what you have learned with projects, find friends to share your passion of filmmaking with, and learn from the best to become better.
I hope these tips have helped you on your filmmaking journey and wish you the best as you pursue one of the coolest professions available today.