Beginner's Guide

General

Great question, and thanks for asking! Despite all the information on this site about making video, it all boils down to four primary steps.

  1. Write down what you want your video to look and sound like.
  2. Grab a camera and shoot what you wrote down.
  3. Edit everything you shot to be in the order that you planned on in step one.
  4. Export a video file and share it with the world.

Ok, oversimplified, we know. To get moving in the right direction, read through the rest of the FAQ and check out the links to the resources we’ve provided. Video production and filmmaking can be a deep rabbit hole, so it’s up to you how far you want to go.

Well, that was fast. Weren’t you just asking how to make a video in the first place?

At any rate, we generally don’t critique videos unsolicited. However, during our community events, like our livestreams, conferences and workshops, we often look at community submitted videos and give our thoughts. If you want to hear what we think specifically, we recommend attending these events. If feedback from the community will work, try posting your video in our forums and asking for feedback there.

Plan, shoot, edit, export. Everything beyond that is about maximizing efficiency. For example, shooting your video doesn't mean starting on page one of the script and going in order toward the end. Organize your shoot based on the resources you have at the time. If you have all the talent, props, and gear for scenes two and five, shot them and worry about scenes one, three and four later.

In post-production, your main concern will be doing your best to avoid undoing work you've already done. For example, if you do a rough cut, then apply sound effects, music, and titles, then go back and do some more editing for a final cut, you may end up deleting some of the sound and graphics you've just made. Count that as time wasted!

Pre-Production

By “on the edge” do you mean “on the brink of disaster?” If so, then we say do what you’re going to do, you rebel, you.

To everyone else, we caution that shooting and editing a video can be expensive, so you want to do everything you can to reduce your cost. If you’re renting a camera for $100 a day, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure the shoot takes the least amount of time possible so you can return that camera and save money?

OK, if you’re shooting video of your child’s first birthday, you probably don’t have to break out your screenwriting software and storyboard templates, but the bigger your production becomes, the more pre-production planning starts to make sense. Time is money, so spending some time now may save you lots of money later.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and storyboarding.”

In reality, Mr. Franklin was wrong. No, you don’t have to storyboard if the situation doesn't call for it. Storyboarding is most useful when you have a specific vision as to how your shots should look, and you need to communicate that vision to someone else. That someone else may be the person who’s running your camera for you (because it’s hard to shoot and direct at the same time), or a client who just can’t imagine what a video will look like without visual aides. If you don’t feel that kind of communication is appropriate, it’s fine to skip the storyboard.

Storyboards don’t have to be pretty (although that never hurts), they just have to be functional. Stick figures and crude sketches work fine. Additionally, there are apps that will help you create storyboards using photos, 3D elements, and screen direction.

Storytelling is an art, and like all art, it’s been studied to death. The better you can educate yourself before starting out, the more likely you are to succeed.

If you want to write a screenplay, there’s a great book called The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field. It will help walk you through the process of finding your story, developing characters, and writing believable dialog.

When you’re ready to start writing, download a copy of CeltX (it’s free) and get started.

Production

There is no one camera that will work for everyone. Read through our many buyers guides (we split them up by camera type) and do your best to come to a determination. If you’d like to pick our brain about this and tell us more about what you hope to achieve with your camera, we encourage you to attend one of our community events and chat with us.

Our first bit of advice is to learn to love audio. Doing so will help you to advance the overall quality of your video in ways great cinematography can’t.

That said, Lavaliers and Shotguns are generally the best for video. If you can only buy one mic, we recommend a shotgun mic with a boom pole and shock mount. This setup is highly versatile and mobile. The only downside is you have to get someone to hold it for you.

Wireless lavaliers are also great mics, but they can only be on one person at a time. However, once attached, they practically go into “set it and forget it” mode. That is, as long as you’re monitoring your sound for anomalies, like static, peaking or rustling clothing; you and your talent don’t really have to worry about them.

A few years ago this was a very hard question to answer, but today, it’s pretty easy. Get a DSLR or a digital cinema camera, set your frame rate to 24p, open up your aperture (make you f-number as small as it’ll go), and you’re over half way there. If you can apply some dramatic lighting, you’re pretty much done. There are lots of tools that’ll add that bit of extra polish (like realistic looking film grain), but when most people think of the cheap video look from 1990s era COPS, it’s deep depth of field and interlacing that they’re imagining.

Most are sufficient, and some are just plain good. The Sony NEX 5 and the Canon EOS M, for example, have strong followings. The rule of thumb is that if it has a mic jack and can shoot 1080p at 30fps or better, it’ll be fine for beginners.

The Lowel DV Creator kits are great for people buying their first light kit. In general you’re looking for a three to four light kit with stands and a few modifiers e.g., gels, scrims, and umbrellas.

Yes, regular lights (called “practical” lights when they appear in your shot) work find for many beginners, as long as they provide the right quality and amount of light you need. Be safe! We’ve seen some pretty janky homemade setups, and lights can be a fire hazard if you don’t handle them with care.

DSLR for filmmaking and commercial work. Camcorder for events and broadcast. The rule of thumb is that if you have the time to set up and perfect each shot, a DSLR will give you the better results. But if you’re constantly on the move, a traditional camcorder is much better at putting the controls you need right at your fingertips.

Try to match the requirements of your final destination.

Movies? 24p
Television? 30p/60i (25p/50i in Europe)
Sports (or anything you want to later convert to glass-smooth slow motion)? 60p+
Home video? Whatever you want.

Post-Production

There is no best, only different. Cineform, ProRes, DnxHD will give you the best image quality but the biggest files. MPEG-4 and H.264 are not as good, but the files are much smaller and more manageable.

AVCHD is a file format and H.264 is a codec. Think of it this way. AVCHD is the file, H.264 is the programming code which compresses and decompresses that file for playback and storage.

Hmm... how to be diplomatic here...

For the most part, it’s personal preference. If you’re already dedicated to specific editing software, check the system requirements to make sure it works on the operating system of your choice.

In the past, the industry leaned toward Mac, but that’s slowly changing. If your goal is to work in the post-production industry professionally, we recommend learning both.

That’s smart thinking! The music industry can be ruthless. It’s best to avoid upsetting them if you can manage.

There are lots of great royalty-free music providers, including some that are free. Whatever you do, be careful when choosing music for a video that’s going to be seen by a very large audience, and don’t get sued!

If you've never edited before, go with something free. iMovie for Mac and Windows Movie Maker Live for Windows are great for beginners. Additionally, there are tons of great mobile apps that are easy to use. When you’re ready to drop some dough on an intermediate or advanced editor, read through our buyers’ guides before making a decision.

Business

Great! We think it’s smart for any budding videographer or filmmaker to do a few projects for free before going truly professional. Unfortunately, beyond that, there’s no easy answer here. Only an easy-to-use video rate calculator that will help you come up with a number that makes sense!

Your first source should be your professional network. Friends help friends get work. If you don’t have any friends in the industry, it’s time to turn to the internet. Mandy.com, EntertainmentCareers.net, and StudioDaily.com all have great job boards worth checking out. Good luck out there!

You mean the perceived gold-rush of the 21st century? Make awesome stuff and be consistent. Need more info than that? It’s a complicated subject if you want to get serious about it, but you’re in luck. We have a free report all about how to grow your subscriber count, increase views, and make money.

Lots! Filmmaking, corporate video, livestreaming, making commercials, visual effects, motion graphics, church services, legacy videos, YouTube, blackmail… actually, scratch that last one.

Whenever you need someone’s permission to do something, make sure you have that permission in writing. Actors, locations, music, you name it. Need contract templates? Check out or book of forms. Or, if all you need is a model release, we have a free one you can download here.