How to Learn Filmmaking by Watching Movies

How do you learn filmmaking by watching movies? Here is my 3-step process, broken down for you to follow step-by-step:

Links mentioned in this video:

This is the best video I’ve ever made:

Step One: Slow things down.

How is a filmmaker different from a member of the audience? He/she should be able to see things differently. To do this, the first step is to slow down.

Slow down the movie. Scene by scene. A scene happens in one location. Watch the whole movie first, and pick a scene that you really love.

Prepare yourself to watch the same scene multiple times.

Here’s the secret:

When you become a filmmaker, and you might make your movie someday, you’ll have to watch and rewatch your movie hundreds of times, maybe thousands. the ability to watch something repeatedly is a good indicator of your passion. If you can’t do this, maybe filmmaking is not for you.

Step two: Study each element.

Watch one important thing at a time. Movies have many elements, many parts that all come together. Focus your attention on one thing.

When you start out, focus in this order:

  1. Actors
  2. Camera Angles
  3. Camera Movement
  4. Editing
  5. Sound Design
  6. Music
  7. Colors

There are other things to worry about later, but for now, this is good enough.

Actors

Watch the scene and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How are the actors contributing to this scene?
  • Can you imagine the same roles played by other actors?
  • Watch their movements, their looks, their emotions. How are they helping or hurting this scene?
  • Now imagine you being the director. What would you do differently?

Camera Angles

Now play the scene again, this time stopping to locate every cut. This way you count the total number or shots in this scene.

The number of shots is significant, but not at this stage of your learning process. What is more important and fun is to observe how the shots are different.

E.g., the three simple types of camera angles are long shot, mid shot and close up. Restrict your observations to these, and see how many long shots there are, how many mid shots there are, and how many close ups there are.

Now ask yourself this fun question: Why on earth did the director decide on these shots? 

Let me help you with this process. E.g., if you see a long shot, you see the character in full length. Ask yourself why it was important to show the full body at this point in time? What else can you see, and why is it important that you see it?

Ask the same question for the mid shot, and the close ups. Why did the director decide to get closer? Did he or she want to eliminate what was unnecessary, or hide something, or just help us focus on the actor? Try to guess what the director’s goals were.

When you have a handle on the three important shots – the long shot, the medium/mid shot and the close up, then it’s time to watch the 15 Essential Camera Shots, Angles and Movements in Filmmaking.

Editing

Editing is the second side of the camera angle coin. Ask yourself:

  • Why are these shots in this particular order?
  • What if they were in another order?
  • Would it work for you?

You could download the scene (don’t ask me!) and bring it into an editing software. Then edit the clips and reorder them. You can have hours of fun with this exercise. This is one of those things that you have to do to really understand it.

Camera Movement

Watch the scene again. Observe all the shots, but now look for the moving camera. Is the camera moving? Or not? Both are acceptable. The real question to ask is: Why is the camera moving, or not? 

Then ask yourself how is it moving? Is it fast, or slow? Is it steady, or handheld, shaking a bit? Is it going high up on a crane, or low down to the ground, or behind the actor.

And the fun part: Why is it doing this?

Why did the director decide that the camera needed to move this way? Imagine the same scene where the camera didn’t move, or moved differently. Imagine being on location and you had to decide how to place the camera and move it.

If you have completed the camera angles and editing exercises, this should be easier.

Sound Design

Watch the scene again (are you getting tired already?). Now listen.

Maybe you can turn away from the screen and just listen to the audio. By now you will know all the shots and action by heart, so take away the visuals.

Listen for the footsteps, the rustle, the thunder, the car crash, the gun going off, anything and everything. Note it down.

Then ask yourself:

  • What if you changed the sound to something else?
  • What if the sounds were louder or quieter?
  • How does it impact your impression of the scene?

Music

Listen to music in the same way.

What kind of music is it? What tempo? What genre? What mood? What instruments were used? Then ask: Why?

Why is it this kind of music, why is it this tempo, why is it this genre and what if you changed the instruments?

Maybe you can load up iTunes or Spotify or SoundCloud or some other music app and listen to the scene while playing other songs or music. Can you find a better song or music that goes with this scene? What makes it better?

Colors

And finally, look for colors.

  • What is the predominant color in this scene? Why?
  • How does the color help the mood, the composition, the production values and the overall feel of the scene?
  • Is it a very colorful set, or is it muted and sombre? Are the leaves green as in real life?
  • Are the skin colors natural, or warm or cold or green? Why is it like this?
  • What if you changed the colors?

You can change colors in your editing program and see for yourself how the scene would play out.

So imagine reediting the scene, adding your own music, changing the colors and then checking if the scene plays better. That’s filmmaking.

Step three: Watch it again!

Step back and watch the whole movie again, in real time.

Then your favorite scene comes. Observe how it fits into the overall story. You know all the choices the director made. Now ask yourself: Were all those choices right for the movie as a whole, or does it hurt it?

You should be able to do all this in a day, and by the end of it, you’ll be tired. Congratulations, you know how it feels like to be 5% of what a film director goes through over an entire production.

I hope you found this beneficial. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *