Making a full-length feature film can be a huge job. But beginners shouldn’t let that stop them from getting started. You probably already have everything you need to make your own movie at home. However, to make the experience worthwhile, you’re going to need to put in some effort and creativity. This article will guide you through the entire process.

How to make a movie: pre-production

Determine your topic and approach

Maybe you already have a basic storyline in mind. If not, brainstorm some topics you are passionate about or things you want to learn more about. Pick a topic or theme that sparks your interest and decide how you want to explore that.

The documentary format is great for those looking to learn more about a topic. You can format the documentary movie around trying to find out more about a topic and getting answers to your questions. If you prefer to tell a fictional story, start with some underlying themes and emotions and build your characters and plotlines around those.

After you pick a topic but before you start writing your script, consider the tone and format you want to use for your movie. Is it live-action comedy? A stop-motion fantasy drama? An analytical essay film with historical footage and voice over?

Write your screenplay

Once you know what you want to write about and how you are going to approach it, outline your story. Keep outlining and fine-tuning until you are happy with the flow of the story and its direction. After you have a solid outline, you can start writing your screenplay.

Storyboard
Storyboarding can help you visualize the shots as you write your screenplay

Don’t worry about editing your script until you get a first draft done. After you finish the first draft, take a break from writing. You’ll be able to go back to the table with fresh eyes. Once you’re back, edit the screenplay. Keep editing and rewriting until you are happy with it. You can learn more tips about screenwriting here.

Once you have a script, you can work on creating a shot list. If it helps, make storyboards as well. Storyboards can help you visualize and plan the shots and how they will fit together. Your shot list will also help you set a schedule and budget for your production.

Get the right equipment for your movie

Early on, decide how much money you want to invest in production. From there, you have to determine a realistic amount you can spend on gear — if anything.

Camera

As a first-time filmmaker, don’t hesitate to use your smartphone if that’s the best camera available.

If you want to step it up a little and have more control over your video, you are likely going to have to shell out some cash to rent or buy the gear you need. One of the most important pieces of equipment you will need is a good camera. You can check out our buyer’s guides for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras to see what we recommend. You can get a decent 4K camera for just $650.

Lighting

You’ll also want to think about your lighting. You can have the best camera in the world, but if you have no lighting, that beautiful image is going to be left in the dark. Start by learning the basics of three-point lighting. Then, get a little more creative. You don’t need expensive pro video lighting as long as you have enough light and the lighting makes sense for the tone of the scene.

Audio

Finally, think about your sound. If you have a microphone, use it. If you have to rely on the camera’s built-in mic, get creative in order to capture the best sound possible. For instance, you can move the camera closer for dialogue scenes and make sure characters only have lines in quiet environments. Whatever mic you use, the closer you can get to your subject without showing the mic the better. You can also record voice over and ADR after the shoot if necessary.

Form your cast and crew

Most movies take actors and a crew to make (but you can do it all yourself, too). If you can, enlist at least a couple of people to act in your movie or fulfill the key roles on set. You can even find ways for pets to help out.

How to make a movie: production

Camera settings

Typically, when shooting a movie, you should set your camera to 24 frames per second. Why? Almost every film is shot at 24 fps, so your project will automatically look more cinematic at this frame rate.

However, if you shoot a bit higher, that is still okay. Most video cameras are automatically set to 30 fps, but you can likely change the settings to 24 fps.

Additionally, if you want to sprinkle in some slow-motion shots in your movie, shoot those scenes at higher frame rates, like 60 fps and 120 fps, and later slow it down to 24 or 30 fps in post. Slow-motion almost always makes footage more cinematic. Just don’t overdo it.

Here’s a good comparison of shooting in 24 fps and 48 fps:

Video courtesy: Adam Shomsky

Aside from the frame rate, you’ll also want to be sure your exposure and white balance are both properly set.

Lighting

Additionally, you need to sort out your lighting when on set. If you have a few lights, get them set up. If you don’t have lights, try using the natural light from the sun to light your scene. It is important to have good lighting in the shot. You can learn more about lighting here.

Composition

Where you point your camera is just as important as its settings. Keep the rules of composition in mind when setting up your shots. Use the rule of thirds, where shoots naturally look better when subjects are offset from the center.

Additionally, use leading lines to your advantages and avoid background mergers. Mergers are things in the background that makes a shot look silly. For instance, if you position your camera where a tree trunk is positioned right behind your subject, it will look like a tree is growing out of your actor’s head.

Shoot from multiple positions, as well. Getting multiple camera angles for each scene means you’ll have more to choose from in post-production.

Rule of Thirds example
This is an example of using the Rule of Thirds. Image courtesy: Modula

How to make a movie: post-production

Trim videos

Once you have all of your scenes shot and saved to your computer or other editing device, you’re ready to start putting your movie together. To start, you should look through all you shot and pick out everything that is usable or you think that has potential. Once you have all the shots with potential, start piecing together your plot in your editing software.

Keep trimming and moving around scenes until you have a coherent plot that you are happy with. Then keep running through the timeline and make cuts and trim scenes to perfect your pacing. The goal is to trim the fat off your movie.

Color grade

Color correction and grading improve the overall appearance of your clips. It can also change the tone of your shots. If you’re shooting a horror movie, your color grading will likely lean on the blue side. It creates a chilling effect.

Blue color grading
Horror films are usually color graded with a blue tone to convey coldness

Depending on your editing software, you should have options to change clips’ contrast, color, saturation, detail, black level, and white point.

Stabilize

Most editing software has an option to reduce shakiness in your shots. If there’s some shake to your video, you can smooth it out somewhat in post. If it works for the scene, you can also slow down the clip to make the shot look more stable.

Time to start!

The best way to learn how to make a movie is to go out and do it. Keep everything we talked about in this article in mind and you will be on your way to making something great.

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