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5 Important Things Every Film Student Should Know

by Prof. Wesley Ellenwood

  1. Know the difference between film and video and digital media.  At Augsburg University we teach filmmaking with film.  If you hold a frame of film up to a light you’ll see an image.  If you hold any videocassette up to a light all you’ll see is plastic.  And if you try to hold a computer up to a light, may I suggest you use a laptop.
  2. Know that film doesn’t have a R-E-C button.  With film, you load a roll into the camera, calculate the f/stop with a light meter, focus, shoot, then unload the film and take it to a laboratory for developing.  Once it’s exposed and developed, that’s it.  With video and digital media you can press that red R-E-C button again and again to record and reuse it time after time.  For those who didn’t know, R-E-C stands for record.  Knowing that film can’t be re-recorded forces the novice filmmaker to plan out the project, rehearse the scene, and carefully consider the shot before pressing that shutter button.  Oh by the way, film cameras have shutter buttons, not R-E-C buttons.
  3. Know a favorite film inside and out.  If you don’t have a favorite film, pick one.  Once you have a favorite film watch it until you can quote lines or accurately describe sequences.  Study the credits.  Get to know who did what.  Perhaps even do some research on all those technical jobs?  Like what is a key grip anyway?  Or what does a best boy do?  Not only will this familiarity with a favorite film prepare you for studying film, you’ll have a ready-made answer for all those social gatherings where the typical question is:  What’s your major?
  4. Know the importance of sound recording and sound design in filmmaking.  After you’ve watched your favorite film often enough that you can easily quote lines, watch it again but turn your back to the picture and just listen.  If you can ignore the dialogue, that would be best.  When you do this you’ll be amazed by what you’ll hear.  A typical film has multiple layers of sounds, elements, and effects that normally go by unnoticed by casual audiences.
  5. Know the three basic camera shots (wide, medium, and close up) and know the four basic camera moves (pan, tilt, truck, and dolly).  Get a camera, any camera; still, digital, super 8, anything.  You don’t need to shoot anything (though it would help) to practice framing shots and moving the camera.  If you can locate a tripod, use it.  Too many novice filmmakers don’t have the patience to properly set up their shots.  They shoot their stories with a ‘quick and dirty’ hand-held camera and the end result looks it.