At the end of the noughties, Canon released the 5D mkII digital SLR camera – a camera capable of capturing quality video at a pricepoint within grasp of ‘ordinary’ people. Arguably this was the point at which the world of video production began to open up, as the possibility of producing professional-looking video content with relatively inexpensive equipment became reality.
Since then we have all gradually began carrying tech around in our pockets that is also capable of creating incredible results. But do we make the most of what is - literally - to hand? How might we better use our mobiles to create great content to promote what we do? And if we want to go even further into the world of filmmaking, what kit should we be considering?
For this creative resource, collated by SSP Media, filmmakers working in and around Cardiff will reveal their top tips for video creation, the best equipment to stay ahead of the curve and what the fundamental changes in the industry has meant for their work.
The approach to making films
It’s all about connecting with the audience for Ben Smith, director at Gingenious, who create video content for the commercial, advertising, music and corporate industries.
He said: “Personally, I believe film and video is all about brands making connections with their audience, so I approach making films in the same way. I want to connect genuinely with the people I work with by learning and listening to them. You have to listen to each other’s ideas and respect each other’s challenges because filmmaking is a massively collaborative process.
“I think at the start of my career I didn't really put enough emphasis on collaboration. What I've realised as the work gets better and the projects get bigger is that you cannot do this alone and you need great people and support all the time.”
Osian Williams, director at SSP Media, is also a firm believer in working with people to put the message across. Osian said: “For me, being a filmmaker is all about how you connect with people; if you don't understand people, you don't understand filmmaking. I love breaking the fourth wall when making films. That means acknowledging the audience in your work and directly speaking to them.”
He also revealed that his approach to making video has dramatically changed since he started out: “The truth is you have a job to do and that is to get a message across to quickly and efficiently to someone who, firstly, doesn't have time for your ‘cool homemade time-lapse of clouds in your back garden’ and secondly, someone who will only give you around a minute of their attention span before moving onto something else.”
Understanding the vision of the client is freelance filmmaker Joe Marvelly’s first focus when approaching a new project. He said: “If I’ve been approached to make a music video the first thing I do is listen to the song and ask the band for some reference videos for the sort of thing they want. I feel like a music video is really important to the image and appeal of a band and that they should have a real say on what happens.”
Making content stand out
An important consideration for SSP Media when producing films for businesses, charities and arts organisations is distribution.
Osian said: “It's important to always understand where your content is going and why. There are so many different ways of watching video content these days there is no longer a singular way of making your video stand out. In order to make your video stand out, you need to tailor it to the way you want to distribute it. With the ability to stream video online, there are now so many ways of distributing video content, whether that is hosting on a website, through social media, viral marketing, dedicated platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo, or through more traditional routes like broadcast, screenings or through film festivals. The key is to learn about the different ways of distributing video content and adapting to that.”
For Joe, the content of the video is pivotal to standing out from the crowd. He said: “I love watching technically impressive shots but, to me, the concept should influence the technology more often than the technology influences the idea.”
For a lot of people starting out the initial cost of equipment, even entry level kit, can be a hurdle. However with almost every mobile phone, tablet and even some watches having a built in camera, that doesn't necessarily need to be the case.
Osian said: "As I said, content will always win and the actual process of telling a story it is the most underrated skill of any filmmaker. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in filmmaking to grab any tools they can to start practicing the skill of telling a story. Access to higher end visual equipment will come with experience.
Joe said: "I think that the quality of the iPhone camera is really impressive and seems to be driving the camera companies to develop competitive technology into their own systems. YouTube is full of amazing short videos filmed solely on iPhone and is testament to the fact that it is the content which is more important than the tech. It might not look as glamorous to see someone filming on an iPhone but in the end, the viewer won't see the phone - they'll judge your work by it's content."
And if you still need convincing, check out this list of films all shot with smartphones.
Game changing kit
Ben ‘thanks his lucky stars’ that he is a filmmaker today, given the sophistication of equipment. He said: “To be honest this generation of filmmakers has just been so lucky - everything from the camera gear and software, to computer processing power and grip, has developed in the last five years opening up so many possibilities.”
For SSP Media the first real game changer was moving from DSLR cameras to dedicated video cameras. Osian said: “We bought a Sony FS7 and Sony FS5 to replace our Canon 5Dmkii and our Canon 7D. That really took us up a notch and opened new doors for us. Don't get me wrong, content will always win over style but, we work in a visual medium, so it is totally about what cameras we use and how we use them too.”
Acquiring a professional standard drone and having a qualified drone pilot within the company has also helped the company grow. “It dramatically boosts the production value of anything we use it on,” Osian said. “And also gives you a whole new option with how you tell a story visually. Providing a drone filming service on top of our other production services has had a very positive impact on our cash flow, allowing us to build a bigger team and grown our client base. And also, they're really cool to play with...”
In the past couple of years, the gimbal; an electronic camera stabiliser for capturing ultra-smooth footage, has become a popular tool for many filmmakers. Joe said: “A real game changer in my eyes from the last few years is the DJI Ronin-M. It’s a very tempting price and the results are impressively cinematic. I have almost bought one a couple of times but I still feel that the next generation of gimbals will be less prone to bugs, so I’m still holding my breath for that perfect gimbal!”
How to get into filmmaking
For budding filmmakers looking take the next steps, Joe recommends keeping it simple to begin with. He said: “I’d recommend new filmmakers to start off with entry level cameras like a Canon 600D and a useful zoom lens (like the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8) and from there figure out what they can and can’t achieve with this simple setup. With a simple set up you’ll very quickly learn how the camera works and how to do the basics, and you’ll also get into difficulty achieving certain shots. From these situations, research how other filmmakers achieve these shots and build up your inventory based on experience and necessity.”
Osian’s advice is to ‘100% invest your money in buying a camera’. He concluded: “The only way to learn is to go out there and do it yourself.”
For Ben, it is about investing time in yourself. He said: “Really ask yourself - who are you? What work do you admire? What is important to you? Once you start work, it's easy to forget about those things but over the course of your long working life those values are so important. Find the love for this job and it is the best and most beautiful thing there is.”
For those just starting out with filmmaking, there are plenty more resources available online:
- No Film School - A website full of reviews, interviews and filmmaking news. Also if you subscribe you will receive a useful ebook called ‘The DSLR Cinematography Guide’.
- Lynda is an online database of tutorials for countless pieces of software including editing software such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro. It works on a subscription but is great if you are serious about learning a piece of software. It also has student pricing, and lots of creative courses will have a login so it’s worth checking with your department if you are studying a creative course.
- Vimeo is a great source of inspiration as it’s full of great films from around the world - check out their staff picks for a curated selection. It is also a useful resource for budding filmmakers with groups and channels dedicated to specific types of films, techniques and equipment. For example check out this channel dedicated entirely to films shot on mobile phones.
- Cinema 5D - A website dedicated to DSLR filmmaking.
- Wired has plenty of articles about digital filmmaking technology, including this article about how to capture great footage with your phone.