Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Short Film: Damsels

This short film explores beauty, art, and objectification. How do we shift from the good things of beauty and art into the destructive realm of objectification? What's the difference between appreciating a pretty girl's looks and sexualizing her?

Behind the Scenes

For your convenience, here are the six chapters of the Behind the Scenes video:

  1. Story - 0:00
    Explore the over-arching themes as well as the writing and script editing process.
  2. Cast & Crew - 5:20
    Hang on for the wild ride of finding people willing to commit to a project and the ups and downs of putting your "perfect" idea out into an imperfect world.
  3. Pre-Production - 13:10
    What does it take to get a movie up and running? Here we walk through locations, technology, lighting, props, and more!
  4. Production - 21:57
    Immerse yourself in the middle of the action as each day of filming unfolds. This is what it's like to be on a zero-budget film set with Luke Holzmann and team.
  5. Post-Production - 40:46
    Witness the highs and lows of learning new software, editing for over 30 days for a 7 minute project, and all the tiny changes that make a huge impact on the quality of your film.
  6. Epilogue - 53:10
    Take a few minutes to chat, one-on-one, with a few of the young women who were part of this project; hear their stories and find some encouragement for your own struggles.

This film took seven months to complete, almost to the day. I share a lot about that in the Behind the Scenes above; I'm not going to bother transcribing an hour's worth of content here. There's so much good stuff in the video -- and I worked really hard to put to it together -- so watch it and then read on for even more.

I kept bumping into my own personal limitations throughout this process. In earlier shorts, I could (and did) do "everything": Writing, directing, producing, editing ... even acting a bit. As the years have gone on, and my projects have become more ambitious, I've needed more and more people to make the films a reality. And this movie broke several aspects of my personal self-reliance that were probably a bit unhealthy. I clearly needed help with photography, filming, gathering extras, writing, editing, and producing. I may have still been the one doing some of those things, like writing and editing, but without outside input, the final project would have been far weaker. And had people not agreed to help out, there would be no movie, just a quirky script in a Google Doc.

As is, whenever we hit a roadblock, I wanted to quit. Each challenge proved too much for me and bruised my ego by demonstrating clearly how inadequate I am as a person. I can't do it on my own. I do not have the skills. I don't know what I'm doing. I need help. For someone as naturally prideful as I, this was overwhelmingly painful, to the point where I would often end up laying on the floor, the epitome of can't even. I think this ego crushing may be getting worse as the projects get more ambitious. When you're no longer simply recording a conversation at the park, things get messy and difficult and expensive. I am so grateful that Brittany (my Producer) and Jonathan (my DP) were as involved this time as they were. We got such a great video from it!

Some lessons (not covered in the video above):

Framing is important (the belly button)

This may feel like a no-brainer. But while shooting, we got the wide shot of this scene:
Damsels Belly Button

When we went in for the closeup, Abby was no longer in frame:
Damsels No Belly Button

That's when I asked Elise to move a couple steps over. As her navel came into frame, Jonathan looked at me and said, "I see what you did there."
Damsels Close Belly Button

But it wasn't just about her shapely tummy. Without her in the background, I knew the edit would have felt odd. Cutting to Carley by herself in the frame would have given off the wrong impression, like she was abandoned or alone. It would have made the world feel like it had shifted and the others had disappeared. That can be a very powerful thing to do if you want to isolate a character, but it's bad when you want your scene to flow by unnoticed. We expect to see Abby back there, so by moving her over a smidge, the continuity holds, even if we "cheated" the positioning.

The Tutorials I Watched

I mention two tutorials in the BTS video, and I wanted to make sure I could find them again in the future you could find them.

Damsels - Tori and Luke on the Red Carpet
  1. How to make a super bright LED light panel (for video work etc)
  2. DaVinci Resolve Tutorial - Professional Color Correction / Grading (it gets good around 1:30)
Now, as you can tell from the Behind the Scenes, I simplified the LED light panel build. I used three power bricks per panel and didn't bother with a cover. But after talking with Tori, one of the models, at the film premiere, she told me I really needed to add some heat sink (not only is she a beautiful young woman, she also happens to be an Architectural Engineer and major lighting nerd who is focused on light design and knows a ton about LEDs). She urged me to add a sheet of some kind of heat conductive metal to both the LED and power brick sides of my build to help keep things cool. "The more heat sink, the better," she told me in a way that I could understand.

That's us on the red carpet at the premiere.

With that, I would also recommend using only, say, eight of the 10 strips for each brick. I'm assuming that running the power bricks at full capacity for hours on end probably isn't helping anything. Will you be missing a ton of light by reducing each panel by 20%? Eh ... I don't think it'll be noticeable, and if it lets you shoot longer because things don't overheat, it'd be totally worth it.

As for color correcting, I really don't have much to offer. I really appreciated how thorough and clear his video is. It took me, an absolute color correcting n00b, to a place where I felt comfortable with the tools in less than 15 minutes. Granted, I followed along, pausing at each step to try it myself.

Color Code Your Characters

No, I don't mean like the Power Rangers, nor am I talking about the whole Black Hat vs. White Hat good/bad distinction. This is far more practical.

So in the scene where Abby comes screeching into the studio, a billow of smoke behind her, she has a quick conversation with Tabby about Greer. We cut to her spilling her coffee.
Damsels Greer Red

When we cut back to the scene, in has walked Ashley with Carley. Ashley is in a red shirt.
Damsels Ashley Red

Here's the problem: Since we don't know Ashley yet, I was concerned the audience would initially think this was Greer, come to reclaim her photo slot or something. Then there'd be a moment of confusion when the line of dialog introduces a different name. Then the audience would have to make the huge jump to connecting Ashley to Abby as sisters while also catching who Carley is as we crank toward our first really big visual gag with the cat. It was too much.


Make Greer's shirt purple.

The Speed of Editing (don't play to the music)

I know Jonathan made fun of me for my frenetic pace while cutting, but I get bored easily. Keep things moving. The first day of filming, we captured an hour and twelve minutes of footage. On my first pass, I trimmed this down to 45 seconds.

I tell my students all the time that your music should never dictate how long your scene is. Cut your music to fit your scene. After cutting the song I wanted down to those 45 seconds, I watched my edit.

It was felt about two times too long.

So I re-cut the music down to under 30 seconds.

Damsels Opening Music
Taking over and hour of footage and turning it into 30 seconds of blazing fast edits takes time. In this case, about 8 edit days (taking into account learning a new NLE at the same time when I switched from Vegas Movie Studio to DaVinci Resolve).

It's Art (dialog)

Much of the storytelling in this piece is buried in the dialog. There is a bunch of talking that fills the movie. The nuances can get lost as we tear through the script at breakneck speed. The fact that Ashley hints at her immature photographer boyfriend ("Boys like you are so myopic"), the longstanding Tabby + Abby friendship ("Thanks, Tabs." / "No, Abs, thank you."), the thoughtfulness and limitless dreams of childhood ("I want to be a doctor, a docent, or a ventriloquist") all slip by, their depth unexplored.

The one theme I'm afraid is totally lost in the moment is the discussion of nudity in art.

Damsels Hair Up

Ashley's boyfriend photographer claims that his photos are art, like David or The Birth of Venus. He cagedly starts with an example of male nudity before citing one of the most recognizable female nudes in history. These are both, most assuredly, artistic nudes. So what's the difference? Ashley senses there is one, but we don't explore precisely why.

But the question is an important one, and I hope people think about it, even if we don't take time in the middle of that scene to discuss it further.

There's more to say, to be sure. But I'll stop here. I'm happy to answer questions about whatever should you have any.

Thanks for watching!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

P.S. See more short films by Luke Holzmann here:


Show to Tell: Wedding Rings

Thus far in the show, we've seen these two characters interact a couple times in stressful, work-related situations. We've learned that they've known each other since high school and were friends back then, with a slight hint of maybe more.

Now, out of the blue, he calls her while she's home making dinner for her family. And we are shown this:

His Wedding Band

First thing I thought, 'This is building to an affair.'

I'm writing this post, so I don't yet know how the scene ends, but the way the creators of the show are making it, I'm right. A few moments later, we cut back to her in the kitchen:

Her Wedding Ring

All this is done through framing and camera position and the subtle/natural way the characters hold their phones. The filmmakers are showing us something to tell us something. And as one who has watched a lot of movies, this sequence feels almost too "on the nose." But it's a solid visual cue of what this moment in the show is all about.

I was told in film school: "Show, don't tell." That's probably true, but I'd like to suggest that we show to tell. What natural cues can you use in your scene to share with your audience the tone of the moment?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Aside: Scars

The point of these things is to remind us that there is no going back. There's only moving forward.

This line comes in one of the best subtle acting moments of the show thus far. And I love this line. It reminds me of an incredibly insightful post by one of my bloggy friends: Stretch Marks. In it she writes, "I think [stretch marks/scars] are beautiful. After all, what other tangible sign do we have of this life-altering transformation?" Give it a read.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


How to Think Like an Editor: Finding the Moments that Tell Your Story

As I watched "Watchtower of Turkey," it reminded me of my first attempt to edit some footage together. But before I tell you that story, check out this amazing bit of art:

Now go read this great write-up on how he made it.

Okay, back to my story (which is far less impressive, but a little more attainable than taking three weeks to wander Turkey gathering four terabytes of footage and then exporting each usable shot as an image sequence so you can color correct it using a photo app and then exporting it all out as video again for editing along with your 3,000 sound bites). The first time I was handed a bunch of footage to cut, I looked through it and saw nothing usable. Here is that story:

Take heart if you're despairing that your footage is worthless. I've been there. I know exactly what it's like to look at what you have and see ... nothing useful. But this, this is the very heart of editing. Your job is not to have the footage tell you its story, but for you to draw your story from the moments captured as video.

Start, as Leonardo Dalessandri did, by finding all the moments you like and discarding the clips that aren't any good. What can you tell with what you have?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Image Inspiration: Squares


There have been very few shots, of late, that have told me anything. But this one screams: TRAPPED!

Everything in the shot -- aside from the character, off to the side, separated from everything else by the doors framing the scene -- is sharply angular. The lamps. The couch. The windows. The panes. The pictures. Everything reinforces the "behind bars" motif. The character is now alone, hopeless, and trapped.

It's fantastic.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Keep Things Moving

Not only do I find this comic humorous, but it also teaches a great lesson about storytelling, comedy, and editing. We do not need to see the bowels move to the bathroom. In fact, we can cut directly from the moment of surprise to the sound of the toilet flushing. This keeps things moving and focuses the audience on the important moments of the tale.

Do the same in your productions wherever possible.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Visual Joke: Short Skirts

As filmmakers, we can slip in all kinds of little jokes here and there. This one comes right after a brief discussion between two characters about a girl. Character A insisted that B likes the girl because of the length of her skirts.

"They're not that short," Character B protests.

The next scene includes this shot of a different girl:

Skirt Length

It has no bearing on the story whatsoever as the waitress is a background character. But the wardrobe is absolutely intentional to play the gag a bit longer. These moments aren't just for the humor. These choices help reinforce key ideas and are a great way to practice visual storytelling.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor