So you love movies,
huh? Think you want to try your hand at
making your own, eh?
You've decided to try something that's a lot
of fun! Well... Sometimes it can be pretty
grueling, not to mention frustrating and painful (both mentally and
physically). But, if it doesn't drive you insane it can be
the most rewarding thing you've ever done!
you're just getting into movie making then I hate your guts, because
the amazing digital solutions that are available these days were not
around when I first got into this game, oh so many years ago.
thousand or two bucks may not sound very cheap to you, but
considering that 10 years ago a decent camera and editing system could
easily cost tens of thousands of dollars and produce lower quality
images than today's digital consumer gear, trust me it's a bargoon!
FAQs address the very basic questions you should be
asking about how to get geared up to make movies. Feel free
to ask for more specifics in the Forums. We're here to help
What camera should I get?
won't get into any specific makes or models of cameras, but I'll tell
you what I think are the bare minimum features your camera should have.
1) Manual control of everything.
you are serious about MAKING movies, about capturing the images YOU
want, you must have a camera that allows manual control of
EVERYTHING. You can't learn camera techniques for yourself if
the camera is making the exposure decisions for you.
2) External microphone and headphone jacks.
Sound is 50% of the picture. To make a good movie you need
good sound. The mics. built into most camcorders aren't very
good and pick up noise from the camera (tape
transport, zoom and focus motors), and any physical fumbling
you do with your hands. Also, the further away your actors
are from the camera the worse the sound will be.
An external mic. on an extension cord lets you get away from
the noise the camera makes and closer to your actors.
Headphones allow you to monitor the sound while it's being
recorded. This will let you know immediately if there are any
audio problems (mic. bumps, airplanes flying overhead, etc.) instead of
later in the editing room after all the actors and crew have gone home.
3) MiniDV or Digital8
The only difference between MiniDV and Digital8 is the size of the
tape. Digital8 gives you the bonus of being able to play the
old 8mm formats with your new camera, but MiniDV is much more wide
spread and I would suggest you go for it instead. Some film
festivals will accept movies on MiniDV, but not on Digital8.
Stay away from cameras that record to DVD. The image quality
isn't as good, the data format isn't as “editing
friendly” and there is way more support and options for the
I would strongly suggest you get an extra battery and external
microphone. A wide angle lens adapter is also a nice thing to
There's plenty of other features that would be great (audio record
levels, progressive scan, 16:9 aspect ratio, image stabilization
(optical is better than electronic), high definition, interchangeable
lenses, etc.), but they will of course cost more.
If your camera meets the above 3 criteria, you will have a very good
foundation for learning and experimenting with the basic movie making
Here's a great page that compares and rates just about every camcorder
out there. I highly recommend it:
NOTE: Don't spend ALL your money on the camera.
Keep in mind you will still need to buy some support equipment such as
a microphone, tripod, computer software (and a computer to run it on!),
What kind of computer should I get?
Well, that can be a touchy question, and I don't want to start a Mac vs.
PC flame war here.
It is my personal belief that the less you know about computers, the
more a Mac system makes sense. There are a lot more
software/hardware options and support out there for the PC, but you
will run into compatibility problems more often than with a Mac system,
and unless you know how to fix them you can run into some major
Despite not having as many options, there are still some excellent
programs out there for the Mac that will allow you to do just about any
movie making related thing you can imagine.
Get whichever system you're more comfortable with. Just about
any G5 equipped Mac or Pentium 4 equipped PC has enough horsepower for
DV editing and audio work. Get at least 512 MB of RAM and a
second hard drive of 100 Gigs or more to dedicate to video data, and
you'll be in good shape. Firewire ports (to connect your DV
camcorder to your computer) are pretty standard these days, but you
should double check that your system has one.
What editing program should I get?
This is more of a “what can you afford” type
question. If you're serious about perusing a career in
editing try to get an Avid product. You can't go wrong with
Final Cut on the Mac (and it's giving Avid a run for it's money in the
professional field). I personally use Vegas Video with no
regrets on the PC, but would not recommend it for
“career” editors. Whichever editing
program you go for, make sure it has at least these features:
1) Allows “split edits”.
A split edit is
when the picture and audio cut at different times. (e.g. You see a shot
of someone talking. The picture cuts to a reaction of another
person while the audio from the previous shot continues.) A
lot of the el cheap-o editing programs that come with camcorders only
allow you to cut the picture and audio at the same time.
Split edits are a MUST HAVE feature. You can't do any kind of
respectable editing without them. Watch ANY movie and you'll
notice that the majority of edits are split edits.
2) At least a few tracks of audio and the ability to mix them.
Some el chep-o programs only allow you to use the original audio
recorded along with the video and another track for adding music. This
simply isn't enough. You also need extra tracks for sound
effects, ambiance, etc. Four tracks would be the bare minimum,
but most decent programs allow you to have as many audio tracks as your
computer system can handle.
3) Lets you control and export/import video to/from your DV camcorder
Okay, I guess it's not a must have feature, but using 3rd party programs to handle your video I/O is a pain.
What effects program should I get?
Another “what can you afford” question.
Most editing programs have the ability to do simple effects, including
chroma keying (green/blue screen). However, programs
dedicated to effects (or extra plug-ins you can buy for most editing
programs) will do a much better job than whatever comes standard with
your editing program.
After Effects is a popular choice and you can easily get help/advice
from thousands of people on the web.
If you are serious about perusing a career in visual effects, Shake
seems to be the big up and coming program these days. My
personal choice for the most bang for the buck is Combustion, which
also has a decent foothold in professional effects studios.
Honestly, if you're just starting to get into this whole movie making
thing, I suggest you concentrate on learning how to use the basic tools
to tell an entertaining story before you get caught up in the eye
candy. A visual effect should contribute to telling the
story. If you don't know how to tell a story first, you won't
know how to make the most effective effect.
What audio software/hardware should I get?
Just about any microphone on a boom (a long pole) is better than
using the mic. built into your camcorder. Directional (or
shotgun) mics. are usually the best choice. (See the
Knowledge Base for more info on microphones.)
Even the cheapest audio hardware that comes standard with most computer
systems is adequate for the amateur film maker. There are
higher quality audio cards that can be added to your computer, but you
should only consider them if you're really picky about the quality of
your sound, or are looking to pursue a career in the audio field.
On the editing side of things, I find that most decent video editors
(Final Cut, Avid, Premiere, Vegas Video) have enough audio editing and
mixing tools to keep the amateur movie maker happy.
My audio knowledge is a bit weak, so if anyone wants to
provide more newbie info please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
What can I do to make my movies better?
Sorry, people, but there ain't no easy answer to that!
If you want your movies to LOOK better, I would say that lighting and
camera composition are the most important things.
If you want your movies to be more ENTERTAINING, I would say writing
and editing are the most important things.
None of these things have simple catch all solutions, so I recommend
that you check out the Knowledge Base and the forums for some hints and
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