This is a guide for anyone who wants to improve their filmmaking skills regardless of their professions and levels. You will not only learn how to create a stunning short or long film but also how to succeed in the filmmaking industry!
This talk comes from a 1h webinar. I have transcribed its content in his own words.
The agenda points are as follow:
1. How do I get started?
2. Top 10 secrets to cinematic film shots
3. My 6 steps to making money.
First of all, I am 28 years old based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and I spent about 3 years working with a YouTuber named Devin Super Tramp. I had the opportunity to travel all over the world creating content for top name brands.
Some of the brands I work for during those travels include Ford, Champion, CityBank, Mattel, Turkish Airlines, Ubisoft, and many more…
On these high budget projects, I worked as a cinematographer, editor and even director at times. So, if you take nothing from this training, at least take away the confidence of knowing that the things I’m teaching you today, if applied, will give you the know-how to produce high-end video content for big names companies like these.
More recently I branched off and started my own production company working with some big names like Sean Johnson, Tony Hawk, and I grew my own YouTube channel to over 200 000 subscribers in just the first year. Creating content on my own channel for some big brand names such as LG, Canon and receiving sponsorship from companies like Glidecam, Zhiyun and Wescott and many more.
In a nutshell, I have learnt what it takes to create high-quality videos in a tracked high paying clients. I am super excited to share with you my insights right now. So let’s dive in.
1- How did I get started?
Secondly, I’m going to share with you my story and steps I took to get where I am today without going to film school.
So let’s rewind. Five years ago, I was knocking doors, selling network tv in the hot weather of Texas. I was absolutely hating my job and dreading getting up every morning to get to work. But I needed the money to figure out what I really wanted to do for a career. One night, I came across a quote by Steve Jobs that completely inspired me and changed my life. It reads: ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.’
So, I quit my job the next day, drove back to Utah and started searching for my real passion. That’s when I came across a video on Youtube by a guy named Devin Super Tramp and I immediately fell in love with his style. He had these perfectly smooth shots, vibrant colours and moving music. This is it, that’s exactly what I want to do with my life.
I used my life savings to buy my first camera to buy a used Canon T3i, a Tokina 11-16mm and Glidecam HD 2000, totally $1,300. You need to be willing to spend money in good professional gears if you want to be treated as a professional.
But as soon as my fancy new gears arrived, I realised I had no idea how to use it. So, I spent the summer watching frustrating Youtube tutorials trying to teach myself how to do everything. I’m sure a lot of you have been in the same scenario where you spend an hour looking for a tutorial. Finally finding one that looks promising but it’s 20 minutes long and you are lucky if you get 30 seconds of useful information out of it. Huge waste of time!
But after 3 or 4 months of tutorial watching and learning by trial and error, I took my limited knowledge down to Southern Utah University attending school at the time. That’s when I had my first opportunity to create a name for myself.
The first event of this school year was that awesome Pink Dancing. While dancing with my friends, I noticed that nobody was filming the event. I immediately recognised this opportunity to pose myself as a professional filmmaker on campus. I pretended to know what I was doing and like I was the one hired to film the event. And this is a huge principle to my success, be confident! Take the opportunities that present themselves to you. Because that’s the only way to grow and get better. I often refer to this principle as ‘Fake it until you make it’.
I then took that footage home, editing together a video, posted it on Youtube the next day. Everybody started sharing it like crazy. Everybody loved the video including the administration who saw the video and pulled me in the office. They said ‘we love this video you just made, we’d like to offer you a scholarship to film the rest of our events for the rest of the year’.
Within a couple of months, I was able to make a return on my initial investment by landing a full scholarship and paid gigs around campus. But I didn’t stop there. A huge part of my success was continually learning and growing. So, instead of being content with my new found success, I pushed myself to the next level by upgrading my camera set with a Canon 5D M3, Canon lenses of 16-35 mm and 70-200 mm and a Glidecam HD 2000, totalling of $6500.
This new set up was a huge key to being able to take my next opportunity. About a month after buying my new gear, I saw a Facebook post by Devin Super Tramp needing somebody for shootings. I replied to it. He responded back ‘Perfect, see you tomorrow’. So I spent the rest of that weekend doubling as Devin’s arm model for his far cry treat video on Youtube. While I was working on the set with him, I started picking his brain and said ‘Devin, who is doing all these videos?’. He replied ‘You know what? I’m actually looking for somebody right now. I have been doing all this by myself until now’.
So I’ve sent him all my work and said ‘Look, I don’t have the most experience but I can promise you that I will be more passionate and hard-working anybody else can’. He asked ‘What camera do you shoot with?’ And for me being able to reply ‘the exact same gear you do’, it gave him a lot of confidence to hire me. But it wasn’t easy.
Following this, I started working for him for a couple of months working for him for free just to add value to his business. And that’s another principle I live by is ‘Add value first’. After he saw the value I added, he hired me full-time and I was able to pay back my debts for my equipment purchase.
However, after working for him for 3 years, I left the job because I wanted to continue learning and growing. I then broke up, started my own production company and ‘full-time filmmaker’ class.
After that, I asked all my Youtube followers ‘What do you want to learn from me?’ I received two hundred replies, which I ordered them chronologically from beginning to end. Then, I set up a plan to reply to what people needed to know to become a filmmaker, even if they were complete beginners. For this, I spent the next 6 months to create this full-time filmmaker programme, 20 hours of content.
2- My top 10 secrets to cinematic FILM shots
Thirdly, let me share with you my cinematic shot secrets.
Buying the right gear: what camera should I buy?
Well, it completely depends on what you want to shoot and what your budget is.
a) First budget range
If you don’t have any budget, just use your phone. Most smartphones have decent cameras integrated. I can assure you that you can get similar results to that of high budget cameras. If you are using your phone, make sure to use of a manual camera app like FiLMicPRO. It only costs $10 (17 Euros) that allows you to manually control your image for best results. Also, to get smooth shots, I recommend using a stabiliser. The Zhiyun (Smooth Q) is a good option.
b) Second price range
You can get a DSLR for $600. The best beginner camera I recommend is the Canon SL2. There are other great options like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 Mirrorless with 14-42 mm lens. But I prefer Canon cameras for their amazing in-camera colours, the superior auto-focus and great lens options. However, every camera manufacturer will have pros and cons.
c) Third budget range
If you have around $1000, I’d say look into a nicer lens and stabiliser for your DSLR. Lenses are just as important as the camera bodies. Depending on what you shoot, I’d recommend either getting a wider lens like the Tokina 11-16 mm for Canon cameras, a Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 or a standard lens like the Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 zoom lens for Canon.
As for the stabiliser, I’d recommend a Glidecam HD-2000 hand-held stabiliser that helps incorporate cinematic movements. You can also get the Zhiyun Crane 2 for a similar price as the Glidecam.
d) Fourth price range
For around $1000 just for the camera body, you can get a Panasonic Lumix GH4, Canon EOS 80D or the Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless. Each grade for different reasons like the sensor size, resolution, frame rate.
At around $2000, I’d say the Panasonic Lumix GH5 is probably the best for a quality image for the price. Or the Panasonic Lumix GH5s for 500$ more and few extra features. For around $3000, I’d say your best options are the Sony a7S II, which is amazing in low-light for shooting events like weddings, or the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Both these cameras are full framed sensors, which give you a more shallow depth of field compared to smaller sensor cameras like the Panasonic GH5.
e) Jumping into $5500 mark, the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II shoots 4K at 60 frames per second (FPS) and has the most amazing in-video auto-focus tracking system on the market. Now if you have outgrown the DSLR world and are looking into getting into the higher grade cinema cameras, a couple of good options would be the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro, the Panasonic AU-EVA-1 and the Canon EOS C200 EF. They are all sitting around $6000-7500. The next one up would be the Red Raven for $6000 body only, a type of camera used to film Hollywood films, like Pirates of the Caribbean.
However, keep in mind that it’s not the camera that makes the most difference but rather the skills and creativity behind the camera. So, I always tell people it is pointless to buy expensive cameras if you have no idea how to use them.
Choose the right settings: how to get a cinematic look?
- Shoot at 24 frames per second (fps)
This is what they shoot Hollywood films at and this is what your eyes are used to seeing when it comes to high-quality films. The reason is that it gives a certain motion blur that is easy on the eyes and makes it feel more like a film. If you shoot at 30 frames per second (fps), it looks smoother but it will make it look like more like a soap opera or a news broadcast. They shoot at this speed to make it feel more ‘live’ and less like a film. If you shoot at 60 fps you will convert that to 24 fps in the editing room if you want to create a slow-motion effect.
2. Picture profile settings
A standard profile with sharpness down to zero, your contrast turned down 1, saturation up 1 and colour tone up 1. These settings will give you a super vibrant saturated happy look.
3. Auto White Balance
I highly discourage you from anything auto on your camera. Instead, learn how to use your manual settings. Every light source has a colour temperate. The temperature of the sun during sunrise is 2500 Kelvin-3500 Kelvin. In the auto balance, everything except the sun will look blue. To change this, go and set it manually to 6000K. It will warm everything up and make it look like a true sunset. As a rule of thumb, if you are shooting outdoors with direct sunlight, I’d recommend shooting between 5600 and 6000 Kelvin and if you are indoors, you usually want to be between 3200 and 4000 Kelvin.
4. Auto ISO
Furthermore, avoid using it auto. With this auto setting, you will either expose for the sky and under-expose the subject or under-expose the darkest part of the subject and expose-expose the sky. While choosing the exposure, use this histogram graph. It will tell you if under-exposed (left) or over-exposed (right). If well exposed, it will be spread out evenly throughout the diagram.
Get smooth shots: how can I get smooth shots?
- Good balance
- Lens choice
- The off hand
- The way you walk.
1. Good balance
First and foremost, focus on getting a good balance and smooth shots with your Glidecam stabiliser. There are 3 points of balance with your Glidecam: left/right, front/back, top/bottom. The top to bottom is the one people are struggling the most. The way to correct that is by having a drop time between 2 and 3 seconds (not too fast). The drop time is the amount of time it takes for the glide to come from horizontally to vertically. This will prevent the glidecam from swinging back to forth as you walk.
2. The off-hand
Secondly, the off-hand is the biggest key next to your balance. I personally recommend holding the glidecam with your least coordinated hand and stirring the glidecam with your best hand. Do not touch too much the shaft of your Glidecam, the less you will stir the glidecam, the smoother the shots will be.
3. Using the right lens
For starters, I will recommend you use a wider lens (16 mm). This will give you a wider view making less apparent when there’s a camera. As you improve, you can upgrade to a narrower lens (70 mm).
4. The way you walk
Pretend you are carrying a hot cup of coffee across a room and bend your knees to absorb your foot sets.
Create Movement: how do you make your shots look so dynamic?
So, here are my top 10 Glidecam moves:
- Push-in shot. This is the most commonly used for establishing shots like real estate, landscape. This is a great alternative to static shots.
- Pull-out shot. This is something to re-build something in the image.
- Parallax shot. This is the one I used the most and is my favourite. I move my body in one direction while panning the camera in the opposite direction. This makes you look like the subject stays in the same spot on the frame while everything else around them is moving in the background. It creates movement while focusing on a subject.
- Rise up shot. This is just going straight up.
- Reveal shot. That’s when I find something in the foreground to reveal something else in the background.
- Tilt-down shot. This is when there is something interesting above me. I use it to glide up against to reveal something else below me.
- Tilt-up shot. I like to use this for intro shots to establish a location in a video or to reveal a character to open up the scene.
- Change of focus shot. This is when I set up close to my subject. I start further away from my subject (out of focus) and move closer to focus on it (into focus).
- Tracking shot. Lead tracking, follow-tracking, sidetracking.
- Transition move shot. This is where I use two different objects from two different scenes. I match the two shots together creating a cool transition making seem like I’ve been from one place to another by using something in my frame.
- Low mode shot. I turn my camera upside-down, stir my subject up against the sky and giving a fresh new perspective.
Create depth: what aperture should I shoot at?
In this regard, I personally like filming at aperture 2.8 or lower for most things. The reason being is when you use a low aperture; it knocks the background out of focus and gives a shallow depth of field. This helps the viewer focus better on the subject as the background is blurred. It also looks more cinematic because that shallow depth of field is creating layers and depth to the image.
But, depth can also be created using foreground. When filming, I’m always looking for some foreground to glide up against to make my image feel more 3 dimensional.
Other than that, another tip for creating depth is finding natural leading lines, whatever it is around you, to help you lead your eye to the centre of the image.
Camera angles: what camera angles should I cover?
- Let’s start with the 5 angles they will teach you in school:
a) Wide angle for establishing shot
b) Long/full body: a wide shot that covers your subject from head to to
c) Medium shot
d) Tight/close-up which is usually just a face
e) Detail/extreme close-up shot which focuses in on a particular detail.
Of course, you can mix up those angles by doing low angles to show more power or dominance or high angles to show more vulnerability or weakness.
2. 5 shot rule covers 5 angles of the important action
- Wide shot to establish a location
- Front using a GoPro
- Top to give more perspective
- Side right in the action
- Back using a GoPro.
Then in the editing room, I can cut between the different angles and piece them together to show the viewer different perspectives. This adds life to your story. You can add some music to make your video look the same scene more dynamic and action-packed.
Perspective (lens choice): which lens should I use and when?
By far, my favourite one is the widening angle lens (16 mm) for wide group shots, landscapes, real estate to give an impressive look and close-up to action feeling.
The second one is the narrow-angle lens (70-100 mm) to create a better face-tight shot as it’s more flattering and doesn’t destroy facial features. So, when I’m shooting a wedding or a portrait, I always pop up on my standard 24-70 mm lens, as it allows me to get either the wider group in the image (24 mm) or the close-up spouses (70 mm).
My next lens is the 70-200 mm telephoto lens for the times when I can’t get physically close to the subject. I can use the zoom at up to 200-yard distance to focus on the subject (200 mm).
Now, as far as prime lenses go, I go for Sigma Arts series 20-85 mm costing between $800 and 1200 mm.
Focus: how do you keep subjects in focus while moving?
These are the 4 tips to stay in focus:
- Get a camera with a good auto-focus tracking like Canon for any predictable moving subject (interview/wedding)
- Set focus and maintain the same distance to my subject
- Handheld continuous focus pulling. I will help the glide shaft while moving away or closer to my subject.
- Use a high aperture between 16 and 22 mm so that everything stays in focus.
Polarisers: what filters do you use?
I rarely use filters and I’d rather use polarisers. Polarisers make your colours look more vibrant. This gives you the appearance of better dynamic range as it softens those highlights from the sun reflection for outdoor shoots.
At present, the polariser I use is B+W 82 mm HTC Kaesemann circular polarizer with multi-resistant coating costing about $140 depending on the size of your lens.
Lighting: how do you get the most out of natural light?
- Time of day.
Indeed, the best time of day to film is during the ‘Golden Hour’. The golden hour is the first hour of the day (sunrise) and last hour of the day (sunset) when the sun is low in the sky. If you shoot at noon when the sun is overhead, it’s much less flattering. The colours outside are less saturated. The harsh sunlight creates hard shadows.
2. Camera direction
Besides, I love shooting in the sun because when you use the sun as your backlight (golden hour), it gives you those beautiful sun flares coming in and out of your image creating a cinematic look. It also creates even more light on the subject faces (no squinting eyes and unflattering faces).
Now and then, I like to have the sun as a frontline source, it’s for landscapes. It gives vibrant colours.
3. Nonetheless, If you can’t wait for the sun to come out and it’s cloudy, don’t just put your camera away
For instance, for weddings, the clouds act as a giant diffuser, which softens the light and creates a more flattering look on people’s faces. So, just figure out to utilise the weather patterns to your advantage. For me, I use the rain and the snow in slow motion creating movement and epic look to my film.
Bonus secret: editing. What software? Editing tips?
The editing software I use is Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X. But I’m sure you want to know how to use them.
Hence, here are my post-production tips:
- Audio is equally important to display a good quality film.
Yet, do not neglect audio. Make sure you are getting close enough to the subject to make sure you are capturing a good quality sound. Also, the sound design added on top of what you recorded that will help everything come to life. You can use stock sounds. Throwing as many layers (sound effects) as you can to help your viewer feels it’s actually there.
2. Choosing the right music
My four go-to music licensing websites:
Moreover, be patient with finding your piece of music and picks one that helps tell your story best. Additionally, you can also use a list of independent artists.
3. Colour correction and colour grading
– Colour correction:
Within Adobe Premiere Pro, I use a ‘lumitri colour’ in colour effects. Next, I will adjust my white balance using my temperature selector, then adjust exposure if needed, add some contrast and saturation. And last, I’ll go to my RGB curve and create an ‘S’ curve to bring highlights up and shadows down. It helps colours and image pop.
– Colour grading
This will give your footage a specific look or feel. You can do so again within the ‘creative lumitri colours’. These are basically colour grading presets you can choose from to give a look that fits your story. One of the most popular colours grading out there are:
The Orange and Teal look or the Blockbuster look or the Flat Profile or Brown Aqua RMN, Brown Aqua RMN.
Though, remember, practice makes perfect!
Now, I’d like to talk about how to make money within the film industry.
3- My 6 steps to making money
a) Video Revolution for brands to promote their products:
– Youtube/ Webcam/ Drones…
– Digital Ad Revenue: $9 billion in 2016.
b) Furthermore, you can set up into any of these film industries. Likewise, there is plenty of variety.
– Independent films
– Luxury Real Estate
– Business Commercials.
Consequently, don’t give out your dreams because you feel you are too late in the game and the market is over-saturated. There is plenty of work to go around for everybody!
c) Last but not least, here are my 6 steps to making money:
– Invest in yourself: gear, education and time
– Master your skills: what separates you?
– Build a portfolio
– Market yourself
– Build relationships
– Add value first/free to fee: start working for free and then get charged for your work. Do negotiate to be paid at the right price.
Finally, for those who prefer watching a video over reading, please find his webinar below.
To close the topic, do you have any questions? Is there anything you would like me to clarify?