Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Image Inspiration: Contemplative Cop

Elsa Pataky in Fast Five

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


In Your Own Backyard

I live in a typical suburban neighborhood. As a location for filming, it's rather dull. We even have white picket fences...

White Picket Fence

But while my wife and I were out on a walk, we decided to wander down some of the back alleys between the houses one block over. And there I discovered worlds of potential shooting locations. Our modern suburban streets vanished as we entered what felt like a rural landscape from decades long past.

Overgrown Greenery

Barren Dirt Roads

There may be exotic locations in your own backyard if you keep your eyes open.

On a related note: Sometimes we pass on a location because the familiar and common seem boring and repetitive. I had one film student tell me he couldn't bear to shoot another video on his college campus. "All the films look the same," he complained. "It's so obvious that you're shooting at the school."

...and, sure, if the only people who will ever see your movie are intimately familiar with a location, maybe don't use it. But if your audience is larger than the seven people with whom you shoot videos--it is because you can share your videos online--then familiarity doesn't matter.

In fact, some major motion picture directors like using the same location. Andrew Niccol has used the Sepulveda Dam in more than one of his movies.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Unhappy Angles

I recently buzzed through a rather horrible movie full of uninteresting, annoying, bothersome, despicable, morally repugnant, lame, boring characters in a world as equal to the aforementioned failures. But I did notice that there was one insightful shot in the movie... not a very good shot, mind you, but insightful. The shot was this:

Unhappy Angle

Granted, the actors--playing unhappy and miserable characters--do a good job seething at each other. But what really sells this moment is the way the scene is askew. We're given a dutch angle, where the whole world feels tiled around our characters. Nothing is okay.

Orson Wells, of course, did an even better job with far more subtly in Citizen Kane, such as this moment with Kane and his wife:

Unhappy Couple

How you frame, move, light, and otherwise execute a scene can give your audience powerful insights into what's happening within your characters. But if you set out to make an artsy, navel-gazing, drawn-out character study, please, please, please make your characters interesting and your story compelling. All the fancy angles in the world can't save you from tedium and an unhappy audience.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Vanishing Extras: Keep Scenes Simple

The family sits down for a nice brunch. The boys sit on either side of their mother.

The Boys

Less than a minute later, they've vanished.

No Boys

What happened?

I'm guessing one of two things. Either:
1. The boys, working under child film laws, could no longer work for the day but the shoot had to go on. Or...
2. Originally, the script contained a moment where the boys were ushered away--to save time, money, and a potential problem with child labor laws above--and that moment was edited out of the scene.

This kind of thing happens frequently. And, honestly, the audience doesn't care, assuming they notice in the first place. But such situations should serve as a reminder: Always keep your scene as simple as possible. Do we need the children? Probably not. We could have had two less bodies on camera, helping speed the process along, and keeping the scene focused.

On the other hand, the three seconds we see of the boys does help sell the idea of "family" before they magically vanish. So, perhaps it was worth it in this case.

Just keep this in mind: If they can be cut in the editing bay, do you really want to take the time and effort to put them in scene in the first place? For those of us working on zero-budget productions, the answer should probably be: No.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Image Inspiration: Contrast and a Vampire

Contrast and a Vampire

I've decided to start a new category: Image inspiration. There are times when I see something in a movie or show that catches my eye... but I don't have much to say about it. So, rather than sit on it waiting for inspiration, I decided to just post it instead.

I really love how anime is able to punch the contrast of a shot so we can focus on the moment.

The simplicity sells.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Test Your Tools

I finally had an opportunity to use my GoPro. I took it out shooting with two guys willing to do some free running as footage for one of the Filmmaking 101 assignments.

Here was the danger: I had, as I said, never used this camera or rig before. I had no idea what the footage looked like, and I was unsure what it would pick up, let alone how to run the thing. I had flipped through the manual a few months ago, and was pretty sure I knew how the thing worked... in theory.

Pressing Record on a Head-mounted Cam

Thankfully, the footage turned out well. But here are two reasons to test your tools before you do an important shoot:

1. Know what you can expect
I had no idea what the footage would look like when I finally dumped it to my computer. I knew I had to point the lens in the general direction of the action... but how much would the camera pick up? What was out of frame? How did the lighting work? Were there any important settings--like widescreen vs. standard--that I hadn't properly set? Sadly, had I known the answers to those questions before we started filming, the footage would have been even better.

2. Know what can go wrong
We tried to get a head-mounted shot of a front flip, but the camera went flying. I guess the head straps don't quite lock it down all the way (which is why most head-mount shots are attached to helmets). A few minutes later, every time I pressed record, the thing would just beep at me three times. Why? I had no idea. The camera was clearly trying to tell me something--the display had shifted too--but I wasn't familiar enough with the camera to know what it meant. Eventually, I discovered the the SD card had jiggled loose and we kept shooting. Also, as you can heard in the footage, when I was carrying the camera by hand, the head straps kept knocking into the camera, adding clicking to the audio. Now that I know that, I'll be more careful to keep things from bumping into the camera while we run.

I am a big proponent of doing a bunch of little projects with your equipment before you hit a mission critical shoot. That way you can learn the things above--and more--before you miss an opportunity because you weren't knowledgeable yet.

But here's the deal: Sometimes the only way to get the time and motivation to do tests is by producing real projects. So, like I did in this instance, sometimes you just have to pick up a camera and go ...if you want to learn how to shoot like a pro.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor