Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Assignment 1: One Take Wonder

Purpose: To get a feel for filmmaking's roots and a better understanding of the "cut".

Basis: When film first started people shot normal, daily stuff. It was novel and therefore interesting to watch people walk out of a factory. This was before the discovery of the "cut", so everything happened contiguously. At best, it was like watching a stage play.

Directions: Create a video no longer than 1 minute in length with little to no dialog, no camera motion, and no cuts. Example: Push record, do something in front of the camera for 23 seconds, stop recording. Feel free to add music or sound effects if you like. Try to make a compelling story in that short amount of time and space. Compelling, of course, is relative. Somebody flipping a coin ten times where it always lands on heads would be "compelling". Someone sitting by a door would not. However, if the there was a knock at the door and the guy fell out of his chair, that would be good. In short, something needs to happen. This assignment does not mean that you only get one shot at doing your scene. Shoot it as many times as you need to get it right so your short clip makes sense all by itself.

Post your video link in the comments section so everyone can see your work.

Looking Forward: Your next assignment will be to shoot "cut aways" for this very short piece and see how the addition of close ups and other angles helps your story telling (if at all). Do not shoot these bits now. Wait until this project is done.

What to Watch: "Exiting the Factory" Earliest film recorded. The subject: People leaving work at the end of the day. It just goes to show that new technology often starts out gimmicky.

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Assignment 2: The Bits of Difference

Purpose: To gain an appreciation of the "cut" and the power of editing.

Basis: It wasn't too long into film history before someone discovered that he could cut away from one time and place to another time and place to add drama. However, it was a major shift in thinking to discover that you could cut to a close up or different angle to add interest, intensity and meaning.

Directions: Take your 1 minute (or less) video from Assignment 1: One Take Wonder and shoot "pick ups" for your movie. Shoot close-ups and cut-aways. Example: Show a close up of the person fiddling with the pen in the background of your shot. Gather as much footage as you think you may want to use (easily twice as much footage as you captured for your continuous shot movie). While it is important to pay attention to continuity, for this assignment it could be very informative to purposely break some of your continuity. Change your actor's shirt, hat, prop, and possibly even location. Once cut together, if your story is compelling, most of these changes will go completely unnoticed. Once you have cut your film with the added footage, compare it to your original production. Do you like it better? Worse? Why?

Post your video link in the comments section so everyone can see your work.

Looking Forward: Now that you have discovered the power, and danger, of shooting extra material for your film, you are set to continue your experimentation on your future projects. Do not be afraid to try new, even crazy, ideas that may help your film make sense, flow better, and be a more enjoyable experience. But for now, let’s tackle controlling the look of your movie next.

What to Watch: "Tango Scene" from Take the Lead [PG-13] I'm not really into dance at all. Yet this scene dramatically shows the power of solid editing to a great musical score. While this sequence would have been rather dull in a stage production, the ability to edit to intense shots made the sequence moving and fun.

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Assignment 3: Shadows Prove the Light

Purpose: To learn to control light so your images say what you want them to say.

Basis: How a scene is lit changes everything. Harsh shadows plunging to black makes things ominous and intense. Soft glowing faces evoke feelings of joy and comfort. Uniformly lit backgrounds betrays a student production. Whenever possible, when working on a dramatic piece, use lighting to help tell your tale. But to be able to do that, we need to learn to control the light you have.

Directions: Print and construct the White Cube. Place it on a black surface (table, t-shirt, box) in a room that you can get really dark. Using what lights you have, try to get three sides of the cube three different brightnesses on camera: White, gray, and almost black.

Post your video link in the comments section so everyone can see your work.

Looking Forward: Light is powerful, but so is music. Time to learn to control that as well.

What to Watch: "Field of View: The Warehouse" This is an incredible example of how lighting changes your film.

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Assignment 4: The Fat Lady Sings

Purpose: To gain skill in audio manipulation and help you see media as a tool, not a taskmaster.

Basis: Too often student productions drag on because the editor is basing the production on the song. 'The song is five minutes,' they reason, 'so my piece will be five minutes.' May it not be so! If your film is best at 1:30, make it only that long. And, for the love of good filmmaking, do not simply unceremoniously fade the song out at the end.

Directions: Take a song you like and make it exactly 1 minute long. You must include elements from the beginning, middle and end of the song.

Looking Forward: With a few more tools under your belt, it’s time start your next movie.

What to Watch: "Karate Kid Poker Face" [Karate Kid is PG] Here's a major Hollywood picture where they took a 3:35 song and cut it down to :50. Yep, this is a skill that is really put to use in "the real world."

Watch Samples: Please do not upload any copyrighted material to the internet.

Assignment 5: Tell Me a Story

Purpose: To get yourself in the habit of starting with a story.

Basis: Far too often a good movie idea fails because it was merely an idea and not a story.

Directions: Choose a genre (or three) and write three short stories in that/those genre(s). The goal here is not to come up with an original tale. Do not try to be original at all. If you choose to write a love story stick to the basics: Guy meets girl, they fall in love. You could certainly add in the bits about how they dislike each other at first, or how they don't realize they are related or are mortal enemies, or whatever. But do not deviate from the basic story. The point here is to learn what it feels like to tell a complete, albeit short, story. Once you know how to tell stories you can start to tell them on film. Until you know how to tell a story your movies will not be compelling. Don't waste time making a bunch of flops. Instead, write up three short stories (no longer than a page each, as short as a long paragraph).

One more note: You will be shooting at least one of these stories, so don't include anything you don't have access to already (including actors, locations, or explosions). Write three stories that you could shoot today.

Looking Forward: Your next assignment will be to begin the process of writing a script for one of your stories. Do not start writing a script. Write three short stories that follow the form of a genre. We'll get to scripts in a bit.

What to Watch: "Egghunt" This short drags a bit (it would have been better if it were a minute shorter), but the story is simple and yet compelling.

View Sample: Assignment 5 Sample

Assignment 6: It's All in the Cards

Purpose: To tell a story well by putting each piece in its place.

Basis: It is difficult, in the middle of a script, to figure out what piece is missing or what scene should go where. The solution, then, is to figure out where everything goes before you start writing. This is where most writers discover the power of Notecards.

Directions: Choose the story you like the most from Assignment 5: Tell Me a Story and break it down into events. For instance: A girl alone in her house gets scared by the TV and begins to hear noises; turns out it was her cat. Break down this story into its individual moments (scenes) and write down each scene on a notecard. Example: 1. Girl on couch gets scared by TV show. 2. Lights go out (power outage). 3. Relaxes when power comes back. 4. Package delivery startles her. 5. Everything's okay. 6. Bump in the night. 7. Goes to the closet to find the problem armed with frying pan. 8. Cat jumps out and runs away.

Now write out the purpose of each scene on the card: 1. Setup the issue. 2. Increase tension. 3. Relax conflict. 4. Knock audience off guard. 5. Let it all cool down again. 6. Present problem. 7. Build tension. 8. Climax.

Try rearranging the different moments of your movie. Does everything make sense? Does it flow? Show your cards to someone else and ask if they follow the story or think something is missing. Look for gaps or holes in your story. Write new cards or remove cards that aren't needed.

Looking Forward: Once your story is fully "fleshed-out" and structured so it works on paper you will start to tell your story in script format.

What to Watch: "Lost Unanswered Questions" [Lost is TV-14] A very clear depiction of the frustration brought on by writing a story without having it all figured out before hand.

Assignment 7: Scripts, Props, and Cast

Purpose: To learn how to type up a real script.

Basis: Many short films do not require, or would even benefit from, a properly formatted script. However, writing in script format is good practice for future, bigger, "real" films. The Script Format was designed to give you a good estimation of how long your film will be (one minute per page) and make it easy to see the different parts of your film.

Directions: Use the notecards from Assignment 6: It's All in the Cards to write your script. Each card will become one scene in your movie. Use the Script Template file to help you get the proper spacing. Remember to capitalize the name of a character when they are first introduced (e.g. LUKE HOLZMANN) and also props or locations that are important (e.g. ROPE or LIBRARY). If you are unsure about how to do something, check out the sample scripts, google it, and if you’re still stuck, post your question.

Once your script is finished, gather up the props you'll need and talk with your sister and dad, I mean, your actors about when they may be available to film the week after next. If you don't have a dedicated cast yet, start looking for them.

Looking Forward: You'll pick up a camera again soon. ...but not quite yet.

What to Watch: "Audition Scene" from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [R] Incredibly inappropriate movie, but this scene is a fine introduction to "Method Acting."

View Sample: Assignment 7 Example

Assignment 8: Pencil and Paper

Purpose: To find out how filmmakers "see" their movie before they shoot anything with Storyboards.

Basis: I have spent a lot of time on set. Being on set can be fun, but it is also expensive, even if you're not paying anyone for anything. The more time you spend on set the more unhappy people are with you, be it the actors and crew because they'd rather be doing something else, or your sister because you've been in the bathroom for 6 hours and she needs to get ready for a party. In short, you want your time on set to be as short as possible. Knowing what you want your shots to look like before you get on set will help you set up your shots a lot faster and give you an idea of what your film will look like when it's done.

Directions: Print off several copies of the Storyboard Template. Read through your script and sketch out what you want your shots to look like for each scene. You don't have to show every cut, but you do need to sketch each camera angle. Your drawings don't have to be good (in fact, one DP commented that he liked it better when the sketches were bad because they allowed him to do his job in setting up the shot but still gave him the idea of what the director wanted). Stick figures work great. The point of this part of pre-production is to figure out what you want your shots to look like. That way, when you're on set, you don't have to use up precious time and brainpower figuring out where to put your camera. You already know.

When you need a break from sketching, get busy gathering your props, getting actors, and figuring out when and where you are going to shoot. This is the time to get permission to use a location for your project.

Looking Forward: Armed with your script and storyboards you will shoot your footage next.

What to Watch: "Matrix Reloaded: Previs" [Matrix: Reloaded is R] Get a feel for the "high tech" ways major action flicks get a feel for a scene before they shoot it.

Watch Samples: Assignment 8 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 9: Run and Gun

Purpose: To begin to figure out how to use your equipment as efficiently as possible.

Basis: You can spend a ton of time fiddling with your camera, lights, and shots. The time for that is not now. This is about telling your story, not getting an Oscar.

Directions: Shoot your movie. If you have lights you may use them, but you really don't have to. In fact, it may be a good idea not to. You'll spend time working on lighting a set later. Right now the goal is to get your film shot. Do it as quickly as possible. Your storyboards should help you get the shots you want quickly. If they don't help, why didn't they? When you've finished filming, dump your footage onto your computer.

Remember to thank your actors, crew, and anyone who helped you or gave you snacks or access to their barn.

Looking Forward: Post-production starts soon.

What to Watch: "Extreme Parkour and Freerunning" Nothing like picking up your camera and shooting your crazy friend doing crazy stuff. This film is way too long, but you get a feel for "raw" production.

Assignment 10: The Assembly Line

Purpose: To get your story together in a "rough cut" so you can see if it makes sense.

Basis: Editing a film can take a long time. One really famous editor realized--after he finally finished one of his films--that if he had known which edits to make, he could have come in, made a single edit, and gone home for the rest of the day and finished the film in the same amount of time. But, as my mother often says, "If you knew it all beforehand, you'd be rich." The point? We don't know it all beforehand, so we need to experiment. But experimenting and tweaking takes time. And we don't have that time right now.

Directions: Use your best takes and assemble your footage onto your timeline. You want it to flow and make sense, but don't obsess over every cut. Just make sure it moves along nicely and everything fits together. Once you're done, watch your movie from start to finish without stopping. If you notice something, tweak it and then start from the beginning again. Do not spend a lot of time editing. The point here is to bask in the awesomeness of your flick.

Looking Forward: Don't worry, your ego needs some build up right now because it's going to be trampled next. You're about to do serious editing.

What to Watch: "Life of An American Fireman" A major breakthrough in the popularity of editing. This film clearly showed that audiences could follow cuts from one time/place to a different one and still see it as a continuation of the same action. Revolutionary thinking that is assumed today.

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Assignment 11: Slasher

Purpose: To see how films are "tightened" and improved through editing.

Basis: Every film is created three times: 1. When it is written, 2. When it is shot, 3. When it is edited. Your rough cut, for all it's glory, needs to be improved. The first place to look for improvement is to remove a bunch of your movie. Is your film five minutes long? Try to make it two. If your movie is two minutes long, can you make it one? If it's ten minutes long ...well... it'd probably be much better at three.

Directions: Save a new copy of your movie project and delete a scene. Does your story still make sense? What if you delete another one? And if you can't delete a scene, can you trim off more than half of it? What lines and shots aren't necessary? I had a funny video about a swimmer who had to do an insane workout early in the morning. I thought it would be hilarious to have him swimming back and forth tons of times. The first cut of the movie was over five minutes. After I slashed it, it was down to 3:30. Today, as I review it, the movie is still way too long for such a short joke. Would have been a solid minute long film. Mercilessly slashing your movie down will almost always make it better.

Looking Forward: Time to finish out this movie with all the bells a whistles...

What to Watch: "Vault: Scarecrow" First watch the :30 second version. After you've done that, watch the longer, minute-long version. I am surprised at just how boring the video is when it's twice as long. Sure, there are a few cool shots that help flesh things out a bit. But cutting the commercial in half makes it much, much better.

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Assignment 12: Face the Music

Purpose: To gain an appreciation for the little things that make a big difference in production quality.

Basis: There is a huge difference between student films and professional ones. Some of it has to do with lighting and camera work and sound quality. But a huge part is the music and sound effects. We don't notice them, but even short thirty-second commercials can be packed with dozens of sounds and musical bits. If you need inspiration, watch your favorite commercials, TV show intros, or movie scenes several times and listen to the sounds.

Directions: Add at least 9 sound effects/music bits for each minute of your movie. [NB: Do NOT use copyrighted music or sound effects for this. It is against the law.] When this is done, share your movie with your family, your friends, or even the world!

Looking Forward: You've finished your first major production. Time to go back to the basics.

What to Watch: "Opening Titles" for Chuck [TV-PG] I found at least 30 different sounds in this 30 second video. How many do you hear?

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Assignment 13: Shooting Spree

Purpose: To become familiar with your camera's settings.

Basis: Film tools can be confusing and overwhelming when you don't know what does what. It's time to really dig into your camera's functions and discover all the ways you can push it to give you better images.

Directions: Record 20 minutes of footage outside, 20 minutes around your house, and 20 minutes in other locations (a car, an office building, a parking garage, a cave, a box, etc). Practice using your camera's manual controls. Do not use the auto-mode unless you are totally stumped, in which case let the camera adjust and then switch it back to manual to see what it did. Things to focus on: Focus (bring the things on screen in and out of focus, can you "pull focus" from one object to another?), White Balance (can you make the sunlight look yellow, the lights inside look blue, and then both look white?), Iris (how much light do you want to show? does it look better with more or less?), Zoom (zooming all the way in and moving your camera back gives you a shallow depth of field, zooming all the way out and moving the camera in gives you clearer images), etc.

Looking Forward: You’re not always in control of what images you have to use. Next you’ll take other people’s images and make something beautiful from them.

What to Watch: Nader El-Saeed's "K-Pax" [PG-13] Trailer. This trailer gives you a good feel for the ways the filmmakers used light and camera control in K-Pax, which is a visually pleasant and powerful film.

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Assignment 14: Relive the Moment

Purpose: To learn how to share an experience so others can relive those moments.

Basis: Whether it’s a wedding, an awards banquet, a corporate review, or a church report, you may be called upon to take their photos and videos and create a photo/summary montage. The skill of knowing how to get the shots for such a production are important, but outside the scope of this program.

Directions: Gather up the photos/clips from your last family vacation, sports team’s season, theater production, missions trip, or otherwise and create a photo montage. Remember the lesson from Fat Lady: Your montage should only be as long as your material requires.

Looking Forward: Not all movies require video cameras. Time to try your hand at animation.

What to Watch: "A Little’s Enough" [We Don’t Need to Whisper has Explicit Content and the video contains images of war] While compelling in sound and sight, the editing is not very good. Notice now the material often does not match the music and that the length of the song is driving the video.

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Assignment 15: Breathe Life onto Paper

Purpose: To experience the creation of motion from a static media.

Basis: Visual storytelling is more than just filming things happening with a camera. There is an entire other side to media production that involves creating the illusion of motion out of individual images. In fact, that is what film is: Individual images which--when shown in proper sequence--tell a story. The very first moving pictures weren't film at all. Early cave art and ancient Egyptian tombs have sequences of events carved one after the other to show the progression of a story. This moved into to Zoetrope and things like flip books.

Directions: Create an animation. You may use any cell-based animation technology you like: A flip book, an animated gif, a moving photo montage/stop motion, claymation, Legos, or even a zoetrope.

Looking Forward: Creating a story from scratch can be hard. Of course, so can telling a long story in a very short overview that is still compelling. The challenge--which is a good thing to keep in mind even with longer productions--is to share the most important bits without giving away the ending too early. That’s what the good people who cut trailers for movies have to do every day.

What to Watch: "Moth" A very creative--and fantastically short--stop motion flick.

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Assignment 16: Trashing to the Trailer

Purpose: To discover ways you can condense a story by getting to the compelling core and ignoring the rest.

Basis: "Previously on Lost..." started the new episodes. Somehow, in a minute or two, the editor had brought us up to speed concerning the last 45 minutes. Similarly, a trailer--in 1/60th the time--shows you the important elements of the movie so you want to see it. They do this by showing you the engaging moments, and hint at the emotion and drama surrounding those events. This is an art form. This is the skill of retelling a story in the "short, short" version while still making it compelling.

Directions: Rip one of your favorite DVDs to your computer and cut it down into a trailer. Try to aim for 3 minutes or less. Your goal is to accurately demonstrate what the movie is like, give a feel for the story, and make people want to watch the full version. The best place to start is by removing all the bits that aren't awesome or important. And then trim from there.

Looking Forward: Back to the camera you go.

What to Watch: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trailer" [Hitchhiker's is PG] Certainly one of the best trailers ever made. What's more, it gives you some good suggestions for your trailer.

Watch Samples: Please do not upload any copyrighted material to the internet.

Assignment 17: Talk to the Camera

Purpose: To learn how to make people look good.

Basis: You will often find yourself shooting an interview. Even if you never work on a documentary or behind-the-scenes crew, you’ll still have to get shots of actors talking together from time to time. And there’s no time like the present to practice making people look good in the space you’ve got.

Directions: Get a friend or relative to agree to an interview. Find a nice looking setting in the house or outside and see if you can get a couple good looking angles. You will need both a mid-shot (from middle of the chest to the top of the head) as well as a close-up (face and little neck). Get them to chat with you for at least ten minutes about something they find interesting after setting up everything.

Looking Forward: We’ll see what you can cut together from your footage next.

What to Watch: "Into the Blur - Focusing for Effect" from the good people at DJTV Nothing like a couple quick tips on getting an interview shot to look dramatically better. Also, check out “Take 5: Awesome Interviews

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Assignment 18: Keep It Interesting

Purpose: To craft a documentary story from footage you have.

Basis: Documentaries are powerful films. They are also easily biased and too often rather untrue. The skill of “tellin’ it like it is,” convincing your audience to care and then act, all while maintaining a firm grasp of reality may be too tall an order for most people. But for now, the important thing to learn is how to use someone else’s words to tell a story.

Directions: Use your Assignment 17: Talk to the Camera footage and rustle up whatever other images and sound bytes you can to write a compelling--albeit extremely short--documentary on the subject your subject discussed.

Looking Forward: Start editing when you’ve figured out how you’re going to tell the story in your documentary... you’ll finish this next week.

What to Watch:Intel Visual Life - Michael Wolff” A solid short documentary that encourages curiosity and appreciation. Color and action is all around us; as filmmakers, we get to help people see the world as we see it.

Watch Samples: Go to Assignment 19 to see the finished videos.

Assignment 19: For Posterity

Purpose: To let you wrestle with a piece and make it come together.

Basis: At some point in pre-production, you have to start shooting if you want the movie to be made. Eventually on set you have to wrap and move on. There comes a point in the edit bay where you simply don’t have what you need for the scene you’re working on. What do you do? How do you make it work? This is where your problem solving skills come into play.

Directions: Finish up your documentary from “Keep It Interesting.” Fill in the gaps you will likely find while telling the story in your documentary. Do you have to gather new footage, find a better photo, get a new audio clip?

Looking Forward: You will become a master of Foley next. Not sure what that is? You’re about to find out.

What to Watch:King Cut” Don’t forget that you’re cutting out moments, adding elements in and making a story out of the bits and pieces you’ve gathered.

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Assignment 20: The Sound of Silence

Purpose: To learn the art of Foley and ADR.

Basis: When shooting a scene for a movie, the main focus of the audio team is to capture the actors. The rest of the audio--walking, gun shots, dogs barking, food cooking--is often added in post. The last name of guy who started making these sound effects was Foley... and that’s what it’s called to this day. Sometimes, however, you can’t get good audio of the actors either. To fix this, you have to bring them into the studio and have them dub their own lines over the video. This is the process of ADR, or Automatic Dialog Replacement, which is not at all Automatic in any way.

Directions: Take a short scene from a movie and remove the audio. Then rebuild the entire audio track (dialog, sound effects, clothes rustling, music, etc) from scratch.

Looking Forward: Filmmaking is so much more that entertainment--though it’s great for that as well. Next, you’ll take time to save someone else a little time.

What to Watch: The bit on Fencing in the Behind the Scenes material for The Princess Bride [Rated PG] minute and a half in you’ll get a tiny glimpse into some Foley work they did.

Assignment 21: Make Yourself Useful

Purpose: To learn how to teach others via video.

Basis: You’ve got some skill that others may want to learn. Video is a powerful tool for demonstration, and with the ability to freely distribute it, there’s never been a better time to share what you know. If you ever get to work on an international shoot, for a humanitarian group or missions team, they may need you to shoot some tutorials for the team overseas. You never know when you’ll need to be able to demonstrate something on camera.

Directions: Create a succinct (only a couple minutes long), clear video demonstrating how to do something. This could be making your favorite fruit smoothy, plunging a toilet, beating a video game boss, darning a sock, sketching a character, editing a photo, etc...

Looking Forward: Keeping things short is a challenge. Find out if you’re up to it!

What to Watch: "Multi Tracking" Notice how this could have been even more tightly produced. But it still stays on topic and is relatively short... plus it teaches you a very useful skill in Audacity.

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Assignment 22: Pass the Time

Purpose: To learn how to better communicate visually.

Basis: With written words it’s easy to say, “Two weeks later...” or, “The next morning...” or, “Ten years later...” but because film is a visual medium, that idea is much harder to get across without a lame title card. Properly done, the audience will know just as quickly that you’ve jumped through some time, but mastering this skill takes practice and thought. Once you get it down, you will not need to fall into the temptation of slapping words on the screen in the middle of your movie: Ten years later...

Directions: In ten seconds or less per year (or day), jump through a few years (or days) of a story. This will likely require that you create a montage of events or visually shift the elements around your characters to keep things moving. Think about how you can creatively--and visually--tell the audience what’s happening without resorting to dialog or title cards.

Looking Forward: Now that you’ve jumped through time, you need to learn to capture the important moments as events unfold in front of you.

What to Watch: Pixar’s "Married Life" from Up [G] One of the best short passage of time stories ever shown.

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Assignment 23: Real Time

Purpose: To learn how to capture live events as they unfold.

Basis: With a film, you can reshoot the same action over and over again--time permitting--to get the perfect angle and look for that moment. You don’t have those opportunities with live events. You have to get everything you want, plus all the different shots, plus all the material you need for editing, in a continuous stream of an hour or so. This is a powerful skill to master, and necessary if you ever shoot a live event like a wedding, a seminar, or even a news story.

Directions: Get permission to film a live event such as a Sunday morning sermon, a dance recital, a nature walk, a school lecture, etc. It must be an event that has a definite start and end time and something where you can be part of the “audience”... not a participant. Your goal is to get shots of all the important moments, various shot kinds (close up, mid shot, long shot) so you can edit, as well as whatever “pickup” shots you need so you could edit this event to only include the “important” moments.

Looking Forward: You will edit your event next week, so be sure to get all the shots you need.

What to Watch: "Field of View: The Recital" It’s not about technology, it’s about learning how to shoot what’s in front of you. This video is unbelievably spot-on: Don’t just set up your camera and sit back. Get in there and make it fantastic!

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Assignment 24: The “Good Parts”

Purpose: To practice the art of tightening a moment on camera.

Basis: The “shooting ratio” for feature films is often 20:1... meaning, they shoot 20 hours worth of footage for every hour they use. In live events, you may not have that much extra footage, but you’ll still need to find a way to only show the best moments.

Directions: Edit the live event you shot for Assignment 23: Real Time into a summary of the event. If they event was an hour, can you make it 20 minutes and still keep all the important stuff in there? What about 10?

Looking Forward: Learn to light.

What to Watch: "Changing Education Paradigms" This is the slightly shortened animated version of a TED presentation by Sir Ken Robinson.

What to Read: "The Princess Bride" The book claims to offer the “good parts” of a much longer tale. Also fascinating is that Goldman reworked his own content for the movie version of his tale... which is significantly different from the text. Great example of fantastic adaptation.

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Assignment 25: Set the Mood

Purpose: To develop your skills in using light to communicate.

Basis: Film is a visual media, so light plays a huge roll in communicating. The kind and color of light you use, as well as the quantity and quality, dramatically changes what the scene communicates. Comedies have a certain look, dramas another, horror yet another.

Directions: Set up a scene where a simple action unfolds (such as two people chatting, or someone reading, or a person walks through the frame). Then shoot it with different lighting styles to make it look like this scene comes from a comedy, a drama, and a horror flick.

Looking Forward: You’ve shot your scene, now cut one that’s pre-shot.

What to Watch: "Stranger Than Fiction" Trailer [PG-13], "Deja Vu" Trailer [PG-13], "Underworld" Trailer [R] Notice the difference in color, lighting style and approach.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 25 Samples and Student Examples

If you'd like some more ideas on how comedies, dramas, and horror flicks differ in lighting, check out How to Light a Scene: Horror, Comedy, Drama.

Assignment 26: Cut to the Chase

Purpose: To keep things moving.

Basis: Films, unless you’re doing a foreign art flick, require you to keep things moving. And nothing needs moving like a chase scene. If you don’t cut fast enough, the whole thing feels like a stroll through a park, rather than an intense getaway. On the other hand, cut too quickly and the audience has no idea what’s happening: “Who just crashed? Why do I care?”

Directions: Dump the “Cut to the Chase” footage into your editing program and make it rock. Remember, show only the important moment of the clip. But don’t make the shot too short or you’ll lose the action in a blur of madness.

Looking Forward: A popular (and powerful) approach to filmmaking uses the graphics of games to get awesome looking shots. You’ll do that next.

What to Watch: "Quantum of Solace" chase scene. One of the absolute worst car chases ever cut together. There are a number of problems--none the least of which due to the fact that all the cars in the chase are black--but most of them have to do with the shots which are too close to the subject and the cuts which are way too fast for us to get excited... or even care. On the other hand, the chase scene from “Transporter” [PG-13] does not make any of these mistakes.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 26 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 27: Movies and Machines

Purpose: To learn the power of machinima and making alternative movies.

Basis: Actors, sets, cameras and other stuff aren’t always available. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make excellent movies anyway. Machinima is a popular, and powerful, form of story telling that uses modern video/computer games to give you the characters, props and sets for your movie. You provide the story, the camera direction, and the editing. So...

Directions: Provide the story and the camera direction by writing and storyboarding your machinima project. Figure out which pre-rendered graphics program you want to use (Halo, The Sims, Xtranormal, WoW, etc) and get busy creating your tale.

Looking Forward: Start “shooting” the minute you’ve finalized your story.

What to Watch: "Yesterday’s News" by Slashdance. An incredibly solid short that conveys a story without any dialog.

More Info:

Assignment 28: The Cell in the Shell

Purpose: To build a machinima movie.

Basis: While computers enable us to do all sorts of amazing things, it takes a ton of time to get them to do what we want. Over and over again in Behind the Scenes interviews with CGI animators, you’ll hear them talk about how long their effects shots took them. Even without having to build and control the specific animations, machinima still takes a long time.

Directions: Use screen capture software, hook a camera up to your TV, or use one of the many free animation programs to finish getting all the footage you need for your machinima movie. Then cut the thing together.

Looking Forward: People don’t do things based on facts, they respond to stories. Use your skills in story telling to sell something.

What to Watch: "16 Weeks to Go" in the King Kong Production Diaries. Some computer work is simply painful.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 28 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 29: Selling Out

Purpose: To learn to tell a very short story yet still keep things interesting and complete.

Basis: Some of the best stories are found within the few seconds of a commercial. Commercials also often contain great comedy, visual appeal, and/or strong emotional ties. The goal of these things is to get you to act, so they have to be compelling.

Directions: Make a :15, :30, :45, or 1 minute long commercial. Feel free to use whatever products or brands you like. Normally, trademarks and company names are tightly controlled; however, there is leeway for aspiring filmmakers to produce "spec commercials" to show off what they can do for a brand or company. Make your commercial as funny, moving, or visually striking as you feel appropriate.

Looking Forward: Next you're going to create some eye-popping special effects. Or, at least, some modestly cool visuals.

What to Watch: "Parisian Love" An amazing commercial made without a video camera that still tells an entire love story. What can you do with the tools you have?

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 29 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 30: Faking Life and Death

Purpose: To learn to creatively handle effect shots.

Basis: Whether it's a spaceship or a beheading, a talking animal or a choking vine, a monster or a moving car, your productions will often call for you to create something out of very little. George Lucas created the Death Star trench run using models set up on tables which he drove past on a golf cart to film. You will often need to come up with a way of creating an effect without the aid of fancy tools and a large budget. Far better to learn to do things without expensive technology and props.

Directions: Choose three FX shots from this list to create:

•Teleportation •Disembodied body part •Flying saucer
•Talk to yourself on screen/clone yourself •Miniature forced perspective •Remove object from frame (after filming)
•Make a ghost •Walk on a wall/ceiling •Add gunfire
•Replace a computer screen/TV monitor image/video with something else •Get a leaf to float through your shot •Green/Blue Screen/Chroma Key a person into another location

Looking Forward: Time for the start of next major project.

What to Watch: "Alive in Joburg" short film which served as the basis for District 9 [R] Some incredible special effects that make use of excellent CG as well as cheap creative film making.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 30 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 31: Modern Ancient Stories

Purpose: To discover the challenges and rewards of converting a written story to the screen.

Basis: There are very few new stories out there. In fact, depending on how you look at it, there are no new stories period. The challenge for filmmakers, then, is to find new ways to present old stories so the audience gains a new perspective, appreciation, experience or encounter with these age-old tales. Films seem to have an approximate life-cycle of 30 years before they are remade for the next generation with modern technology and ideals. Much of what comes out of Hollywood is a remake of something our parents could have seen.

Directions: Adapt a Bible story or ancient myth to a script. Use the tools you've already learned. If proper script format would help you--and you’re interested in becoming a screen writer--use that. If you want to trim down a longer Bible story, use note cards to help you figure out which scenes to keep and which to cut.

Looking Forward: Start finding actors and locations for your scenes. You'll need to schedule everyone, so be sure to record what times your actors and locations are available.

What to Watch: "Help!: An adaptation of the good samaritan" Here's an example of visual story telling at play. Much like stained glass windows in cathedrals told stories to the illiterate in the past, today simple animations can convey similar truths. Just remember: Do not use copyrighted materials in your productions.

More Info:

Assignment 32: Finding the Time

Purpose: To develop some methods for scheduling a shoot.

Basis: Sure, when it's just you and a friend getting together to shoot something, you don't really have to think about scheduling. I used to get together with a friend every Sunday afternoon to make videos. Scheduling was easy then. But very soon, when you start to need more actors and locations, you have to find ways to figure out when the best time to shoot will be. This can be a complex and time-consuming process.

Directions: Put your actor's and locations availability into the Scheduling Spreadsheet. Experiment with arranging the data so you can find times and places that all match up well enough that you'll be able to get the shots you need.

Looking Forward: Start shooing as soon as you can. If your actors and locations are available now, stop reading and get shooting!

What to Watch: "Harry Potter Timeturner Split Screen Part 1" [Harry Potter 3 is PG] Sometimes it's important to be able to go back in time. But to keep things interesting and the story moving on screen, you have to cut out certain bits of action to get to the next important part. This video is a great reminder that editing is the art of keeping things interesting by not showing you everything that happens.

More Info:

Assignment 33: Principal Photography

Purpose: To give you time to get your film shot so you can make the most of the Production Triangle.

Basis: We don't have unlimited time to do anything in life. In productions you have to balance Time, Quality and Money to get the movie you want (what is called the "Production Triangle"). For this production, you have this week to finish up filmming. Get to it.

Directions: Finish shooting your Bible Story Adaptation.

Looking Forward: You're back to the edit bay when you're done. When you're done shooting, start cutting.

What to Watch: "I've Been Framed!" Some basic rules to make your shots look good.

More Info:

Assignment 34: Deadline Deadlock

Purpose: To learn when something is "good enough" and be done.

Basis: It is possible to tweak with something forever. You will never have forever to tweak with something. One of the biggest challenges as a media producer is learning when "good enough" is truly good enough. Deadlines help with this. It is amazing to watch the special features on DVDs and discover just how many times filmmakers barely "finished" their films in time for theatrical release. This is a very clear indication that without a release date, many of these film may still be in post-production.

Directions: Finish your movie this week. Edit your movie. Mix your soundtrack (effects/music). Render it out for delivery (DVD/web video).

Looking Forward: It’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

What to Read: "Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem" [Mature Content Warning] This article wonderfully outlines what happens when you don't stop trying to make something awesome. And, honestly, we need to get done with one fantastic project so we can move on to the next.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 34 Samples and Student Examples

Assignment 35: Encore

Purpose: To practice what you’ve learned by focusing on what you like.

Basis: If you don’t enjoy the process of creating media, it’s not worth it. The goal of this program was to introduce you to a wide variety of tasks and styles within filmmaking so you could discover the different elements you would like to continue studying. As this program draws to a close, it’s time to let you fly.

Directions: Over the next two weeks, create a new project like one you’ve already done: Animation, machinima, documentary, drama, adaptation, effects piece, memorial recap, commercial, trailer, etc.

Looking Forward: We’ll wrap up next week.

What to Watch: "Stay Tuned" There are plenty of places to get inspiration, if you remember to keep your eyes open.

Assignment 36: Fin

Purpose: Everything comes to an end... it’s time for a new beginning.

Basis: Every project must come to a close. And every learning opportunity is just a doorway to the next. Now is the time to consider what you’ll do tomorrow.

Directions: Finish your final project.

Looking Forward: Don’t stop making media just because this course is over. And don’t forget there are plenty of tools to help you hone your skills. Be sure to check out the other resources found at

What to Watch: Go back and review everything you did this year. It will be somewhat thrilling to realize how much you’ve accomplished. Don’t be surprised if it’s also a little disappointing to see how much you could have improved what you made. But take heart: That just goes to show how much you’ve learned and all the ways you’ve improved your filmmaking skills.

Watch Samples:

Even more Assignment 36 Samples and Student Examples


Lesson 1: Get to Know Your Video Editing Program

Purpose: To introduce you to your video editing program (non-linear editor: NLE) and get you comfortable with the very basic functions. Also, I want to get video transitions out of your system.

Basis: For all the sections and tabs and work-spaces your video editor comes with, there are really only three main areas: 1. The Bin that holds you media; 2. The Screen that shows your video; 3. The Timeline where you put your video together. And almost every NLE comes with video transitions. Inexperienced editors like transitions because they seem "cool" and appear to "fix" bad edits. Neither is true. Good editors stick to simple, well-placed cuts. Occasionally they use a cross-fade or dip to blank... but our focus in this Editing 101 course is cutting well.

Directions: Import some media--video, music, pictures--into your Bin. Be sure to use only non-copyrighted material (i.e. do not use music you did not create or specifically have the right to use). Cut it together into a short piece. Then render it out as a video. Rendering is different from Saving. Saving your video project creates a file that is basically a database that keeps track of where to put each media file in your timeline. Rendering out your project creates a stand-alone video you can upload to YouTube. Do so, and then post it as a video response to this assignment.

Go to Lesson 2

Watch Samples:

Lesson 2: Practicing Pacing

Purpose: To show you how many ways there are to cut a simple scene.

Basis: Editing is the art of finding the best shots to show the proper moments. You can also shape a scene with how you cut it together. There's a lot of talk about how best to do this, but I've found the answer is simple: A good edit will feel right--or not at all. A bad edit will feel like a slap. The trick is to figure out how to fix it if a cut doesn't feel right. Unfortunately, both noticing and knowing how to fix bad edits takes practice. You can't just read a book about it. So, practice we shall.

Directions: Download the footage for this lesson and cut it together. Feel free to use the Script... or make it your own. I don't mind one way or another. Then upload your edit to YouTube and post it as a video response to this lesson.

Go to Lesson 3

Watch Samples:

Lesson 3: How to Use B-Roll

Purpose: To help you cover your edits with b-roll footage.

Basis: Sometimes you can't get two shots to cut smoothly together. The solution to this problem is to use some "b-roll" footage to hide the cut. B-roll is typically shots of various things or actions happening in the scene. You can cut to these elements (also called "cutaways") when you need the audio to look at something else for a moment. But keep in mind: What you cut to should make sense to your audience. If you add something random you'll lose your viewers. Your job, as an editor, is to keep things moving forward and help your audience to keep up.

Directions: Download the footage for this lesson and cut it together. You can find the Script here. Upload your edit to YouTube and post it as a video response to this lesson.

Go to Lesson 4

Watch Samples:

Lesson 4: Introduction to J-Cuts

Purpose: To teach you how to smooth out your edits with J-Cuts.

Basis: It feels natural to let an actor finish talking before cutting to the next person who speaks. But doing so slows down a cut and creates some awkward pauses. Upon further reflection, you'll realize that you rarely focus solely on the person speaking in a group. Your gaze will drift to the reactions of others. The J-Cut allows your audience to do the same. This gives your scene more life, moves the story along, and gives you a powerful way to make your edit flow by undetected.

Directions: Download the footage for this lesson and cut it together using J-Cuts. [Tip: You will likely have to "unlink"/disconnect your video and audio tracks from each other to do this. If you do not know how to unlink the two tracks, look it up online.] You can find the Script here. Upload your edit to YouTube/Vimeo/etc and share the video as a response to this lesson.

Watch Samples:


Why Pay for a Film Class?

You could absolutely take advantage of my free film school. I offer a complete introduction to movie making in a year-long course. You can watch all the lessons, do all the assignments, and access all the examples for free. It's great. I've had 1,500 students from all over the world -- California to India -- benefit from the free classes. It's one of my favorite accomplishments in life.

But I've also got this Beginning Filmmaking course that costs money.


Why spend $80 where there's a free option?

Three reasons:
  1. You'll get better instruction
  2. You'll learn more
  3. You'll finish the course

  • You're covered 100%
  • You can make money
  • You can apply for a scholarship

I'm ready to learn how to make movies!

1. Better Instruction

Since launching my free film school four years ago, I've learned a few things about teaching video production. I've had the opportunity to mentor a few local filmmakers, teach in classrooms, and connect with hundreds of aspiring filmmakers all over the world. I've also seen what works and what's not as awesome about my free film school. For example, I push storytelling and script development in the very early stages of the free program. I've discovered that doesn't help students. Taking time away from shooting videos causes all of us to lose steam. When we no longer have instant feedback on our videos, we are less likely to continue. Plus, script development is not really needed at these early stages; far better to keep making movies instead.

So I fixed that in this course.

I wrote the Beginning Filmmaking Manual with you in mind. Drawing on my experiences, I've created a hyper-focused program that gets you making movies immediately. More than that, you'll keep making videos throughout the entire process. You'll build on what you learned the lesson before. This is the program for you if you want to learn how to make movies. The free Filmmaking 101 classes provide a grand overview of all of video production. This Beginning Filmmaking course gets you making movies. Period.

The single best way to learn how to make movies is to make a lot of movies. This course does just that. You will progress through eight projects, honing your filmmaking skills each time.

You will also practice things that will make you a better filmmaker today. You don't need to worry about lights and microphones and expensive cameras. You don't. I'll show you why and help you make the most of what you have right now. You can make movies today. There is no need to wait. This course gets you started immediately.

But that's not all. I draw on my decades of video production experience to bring you real examples from my successes and failures. I've included freeze frames from movies I shot as a teenager as well as now as a professional; from these I connect application to your videos. You will see real examples from over two decades of my productions. This isn't theory, this is all based on real movies I've made. And through it all, you'll see exactly how you can make movies yourself.

You will learn what you need to make movies today.

Plain and simple. No distraction. No interruption. No sidetracks. You'll be able to start here and launch your filmmaking journey today.

2. Learn More

This course is worth every penny, and then some. The free classes I offer are more like pep talks. I introduce ideas and show you examples, but the videos are designed to inspire you and then let you go off on your own. The manual in this course, however, is packed with useful information, applicable lessons, and key concepts that will benefit you as a beginning filmmaker. You'll be inspired, encouraged, and empowered to make your short films today.

Practicing on your own is great. You will learn plenty and can become successful as a filmmaker. But if you want to jump start your career and make better movies today, you will absolutely benefit from one-on-one feedback and instruction. That's what you get as part of this course. I will personally review your videos and provide specific, actionable, and useful feedback you can take to your next production. I combine my knowledge as a professional filmmaker and my experience as a video production teacher to give you the notes and insights you need. This is, by far, the most powerful advantage my classroom students enjoy: direct, specific insights based entirely on what they produce. And now I'm giving that same opportunity to you.

Why pay money for an online film course? Because you will learn more, do more, and get more from the experience, and I will personally help you improve your skills. There is no better way to learn how to make movies.

3. Finish

Complete Course
In four years with 1,500 students, guess how many have completed my free Filmmaking 101 course?

Seriously. Guess.

Close to 1,000?
Maybe 100?
At least 10?


Two of them used projects they'd already shot for a few of the lessons. So, in reality, I've had just one student make it through the entire course.

That could be depressing. But students drop out not because my course is too hard or poorly made. The data show that, on average, fewer than 10% of MOOC students complete free online courses. Years ago, when these free online classes first hit the market, I signed up for one offered by MIT. It was a very fascinating subject that I was mildly interested in learning about. But then the course started and there were deadlines and projects and a ton of prerequisites and I never started.

Similar things happen with my free classes. You actually have to make projects and work hard. Hundreds of students have completed the first assignment. Half of those go on to the second. Only a handful make it to the third (though many people stick through to the end of the course, learning things just be reading and watching).

This course is designed to fix that problem.

If you're willing to invest $80 into your film training, you're serious about making movies.

This course is also much shorter. Instead of an entire 36-week long course -- that will likely take longer -- you'll learn everything in a manageable eight projects. And these are fun projects, too. You'll make eight short films. Complete this course and you'll be well on your way to mastering beginning filmmaking.

Are you ready to start making movies?

Buy the Beginning Filmmaking course.

What's included in Beginning Filmmaking?

You will receive:
  1. The Beginning Filmmaking Manual
  2. A Feedback Pack for your 8 projects
  3. Upon completion, a signed diploma


Beginning Filmmaking Manaul

The digital edition of the Beginning Filmmaking Manual takes you from uploading your first video to mastering the basics of making movies. You will gain confidence, encouragement, and real-world experience through the completely do-able projects following each section.

You will...
  • Learn the three rules of filmmaking
  • Shoot a half-dozen or more projects
  • Understand the technology you need
  • Master the basics of...
    1. Lighthing
    2. Audio recording
    3. Camera motion
    4. Storytelling
    5. Directing
    6. Writing
  • and much more

Filled with examples from his own films over the last three decades, Luke Holzmann shares the lessons he's learned as both a filmmaker and a teacher. He has four years of experience reaching 1,500 students worldwide with his online film school. Drawing on these experiences, and the things he's learned while teaching students in the classroom, he has assembled a clear, practical, and encouraging manual.

This isn't a booklet to be read for the sake of theory. Quiet the opposite. This manual introduces concepts you'll immediately relate to and practice yourself.

Are you ready to being your journey toward mastering moving making?

This is the manual for you.

Get started today.

Feedback Pack

Turn your manual into a course

The Beginning Filmmaking Manual is awesome, but this bundle turns it into a complete high school level course (that totally works even if you're in middle school). You get personalized feedback on each project you turn in. Make your dreams a reality today.

  • 8 feedback credits (2 BONUS)
  • save an additional 20%
  • your own personalized course

Think about this for just a moment: I'm giving you the Beginning Filmmaking Manual PLUS 8 feedback credits. The credits alone are well worth $10 a piece. And you're getting much more that that.

But it isn't just the stuff you get. What really counts is what you'll learn and all the skills you'll be able to use. That makes this course one of the best investments you'll ever make.


Depending on the time and effort you put into this program, you could earn homeschool high school credits. Or, if you attend a traditional/private school, this would be an excellent preparatory class before a media production elective. No matter how you choose to use your experience, upon completion of the eight projects, I will send you a signed diploma stating that you have completed the Beginning Filmmaking course. There will be a place for a witness' signature (can be signed by either a parent or a teacher).

I'm ready to get started!

100% Guarantee

You're going to love this course. You're going to find that it helps your productions be awesome. You will learn a ton. I guarantee it.

If, after trying the projects, you discover this isn't the course for you, just send me an email: [email protected]

Tell me what project you quit on, what's not working for you, and why it's not worth what you paid for it.

I'll send you back your money.

Plain and simple.

Make money through the sharing program

Once you've tried this course, you're going to love it (or you'll take advantage of the guarantee I just told you about).

So you love this thing and want to share it with your friends. Awesome! That's so awesome, I want to be able to thank you for doing so. Sharing awesome stuff is one of the best things you can do in life. Here's how the sharing program works:

  1. Tell your friends about this course
  2. If they buy the course, have them email me your name and email address
  3. I'll verify you and their purchase and send you $20 (25% of the money)

Simple, eh?

Why spend $80 on a film course? Because if you love it -- and I have a money-back guarantee that you will -- you'll want to tell your friends. And if four of them sign up, they've paid for your tuition.


Camera Issues
Is $80 out of your reach? Too young to have a job? Parents who both work just to pay the bills?

Yes, I have a scholarship opportunity for you. Yes, you can get this course at a discounted rate or even free. Yes, I want you to be able to learn how to make movies.

No, I'm not doing this to try to make tons of money.

If you cannot swing the $80, here's what you can do to apply for a course scholarship:
  1. Email [email protected]
    • Explain why you want to take this course
    • Tell me how much you are able to pay (even if that's $0)
  2. If approved, I'll email you back with details of how to claim your scholarship
  3. Once you complete the course, I will ask you to write a review of your experience to use for marketing purposes


Let's review. For a mere $14 a project, you get:
  • a video production manual loaded with relevant instruction that will kick start your career
  • direct, personal feedback from a professional filmmaker who knows exactly what it's like to make movies as a beginner
  • a chance to build your skill set by actually making short films
  • a diploma when you finish the course
  • confidence that you can make movies ... today
  • all of this backed by a 100% guarantee
  • with an opportunity to make money just by telling your friends about something you love

In film school, I paid more than $80 for a single little book that I used for one assignment (and that assignment was to fill out a quiz, not shoot a video). That was terrible, and the bookstore wouldn't take it back. This course is the opposite of that. Like, 180° different. Useful, practical, important, and if you get it and realize you're already way beyond what I share, I'll give you back your money... and you get to keep the manual.

I'm so confident that this course will inspire you, encourage you, and transform your movies that I'm even willing to give the thing away if that's what it takes to get you to try it out.

What I ask is this:

Prove you're up for the challenge. Prove you want to learn how to make movies. Decide, today, that you're ready to get started. Mow a few lawns or babysit a few kids to get the money. Do what you need to do to make your dream a reality. And if you work that hard to get this course, you'll take Hollywood by storm. Video production isn't easy, but it can be a ton of fun! Ready to get started?

Get your copy of the Beginning Filmmaking course now.

Here's to your success.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor