Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Blanket: Make Your Background Better

Last night we shot an interview in my basement for a documentary. Unfortunately, the room we were in has boring white walls with a pipe in the middle. Not a very compelling background for the subject.

Boring Wall

We placed a dragon statue in front of the lights and added a textured, colored background:

A Much Better Background

What really expensive backdrop did we use to add color?

A $5 Blanket

Keep your mind open to the simple things around you that can dramatically improve a shot or overcome some technical challenge.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Homage: Stan Lee and Superheroes

There are certain people who become icons within the film world. Someday that could be you... which would be pretty stinking cool.

But for those of us who are not yet so awesome as to be recognizable, we can but smile when we see an obscure homage on screen. For example, if you need someone to stay the line, "It was like he was a superhero, or something!"'d be pretty awesome if you could get...

Stan Lee

The world of Television and Film is full of inside jokes, references, allusions, and homages. Until you're awesome enough to become one, it can be fun to keep your eyes peeled for 'em.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Continuity and Multiple Takes

"I'd rather not get wet," she says.

...but her swimsuit is definitely damp.

Wet Bum

Sometimes we have to shoot the same scene several times. I tend to inwardly cringe every time someone falls into water with their clothes on. I always wonder: How long did it take to reset that shot?

And, sure, you may be tempted to shoot the same scene over and over again if you're surrounded by, say, a bunch of attractive women in swimwear... but don't. Time is money, and filmmakers like us tend to have very little of both. So get your shots, even if one of the actresses is a tad damp and she's supposed to be dry. Continuity really isn't so important that you risk not being able to get all the shots you need.

So keep moving. Do your best to keep things consistent, but don't let your desire for perfection stop you from producing your film.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Hunger Games Lesson: Obvious to the Audience

Our heroine moves expertly through the forest. Something catches her eye. It's a drop of blood.

But because this is a movie--and we need the audience to know what's going on--it's not just a tiny drop hidden in a crevice. It's a puddle of blood.

And then another, and another.

Puddle of Blood (sorry, I had to fake an image because I don't have a still from the movie)

The blood is so obvious, anyone casually strolling through the woods would instantly notice it. You certainly wouldn't need to be an expert hunter like Katniss Everdeen. But that doesn't bother the audience. Why? Because the obvious puddles, and the ridiculous amount of blood loss associated with them, isn't the point of these shots. The point is that our character is following a trail of blood. And we need to know that.

A simple suspension of disbelief to see what's going on is far more important than any kind of accuracy of what would or would not constitute a trail of blood in the real world.

Film is a visual media, so the audience needs to be able to see what's going on. As filmmakers, we need to remember that the important elements in a scene need to be obvious to the audience, however ridiculous they may appear on set.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Hardwood Floors and Audio Recording

I step into the bathroom and notice that the sound beyond the door does not diminish at all.

Bathrooms are typically poor places for audio recording anyway. The tile and sink and tub tend to reflect sound. But this room is worse than usual. Why? What's amplifying the noise beyond the door?

I look down.

Hardwood Floor

The hardwood floor continues beyond the door. The hallway funnels the sound from the room beyond. This is not a good location to record audio.

The lesson: One of the most important aspects of a "location scout"--where you go to see a shooting location before you pack up your gear and friends to spend the day there--is to consider the acoustics of the place. How does it sound? Are you going to have echo problems? Is there something that makes noise you can't turn off? Does noise from outside bleed inside?

So, what can you do if you find yourself shooting somewhere with hardwood floors? Put fluffy stuff down. Grab blankets, towels, pillows, a mattress... even piles of clothes can help. I've been in a few recording rooms that have moving blankets tacked to the walls. You want anything that will absorb sound.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Assassins and Getting Great Shots

I just watched Assassination Games, and I noticed some killer shots we, as aspiring filmmakers, should keep in mind.

1. Powerful Focus
Nothing is quite as awesome as a follow-shot of an important object... like a gun. This shot blew me away with the movement and the sheer power of the image. The cops in the background absolutely help sell this moment.

2. A Little Dazzle
The diamonds sparkle and shine in the bag. But to help the audience feel the temptation of the offer, we need to see the light play on our hero's face. There is no way this was accomplished with the diamond props. They had to have used a light to play on his face.

The lesson: Cheat. Always cheat if it helps your audience follow action or idea.

3. Religious Icons Are Powerful
Religious visuals are frequently used in movies. It's really easy--and cheap--to use the theme of hypocrisy and abuse of power with a man of the cloth. But equally as often, it seems to me, the practice of religion is used to portray something higher and uplifting in an anti-hero or jaded-butt-kicking-assassin/master-thief. Why? For all the ups and downs played out in history by major religious institutions, the idea that something more is in there, somewhere, is hard to shake.

Is it cliche to use such images? Sure. But if it communicates--as we see in point #2--do it.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor