We all start somewhere. For myself, it was my parents’ VHS camcorder, a bucket of toys dumped out on my bedroom carpet, and an eight-year-old’s passion entirely unaccompanied by any recognizable skill. My first film was an unwatchable nightmare, but that didn’t stop me from making another, and another, and another. Now — some one hundred films later — I’m confident enough to say that maybe they kinda don’t totally suck. So, what changed?
Was it the years of reading ‘Videomaker’? The countless hours spent watching YouTube tutorials and listening to filmmaking podcasts? Maybe it was the opportunities I had to shadow experienced cinematographers and absorb some of their wisdom? Surely all of these have taught me a lot over the years, but they alone weren’t enough to improve my skills.
What was? Some one hundred unwatchable nightmares that have shown me exactly what not to do. There’s no such thing as a filmmaking prodigy. It’s an art form that can only be learned from experience; from mistakes; from making movies every single chance you get for as long as it takes you to improve.
While it may feel like it in the moment, your first film isn’t your masterpiece.
This means not letting anything stop you, especially your equipment, or lack thereof. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a nice camera. You don’t need it! Use a cellphone, a webcam, or even an old VHS camcorder like I did. In this day and age, there’s probably a dozen devices in your house that shoot video. Find one and figure it out.
You don’t even need other people to make a movie! If you have one or two friends or family members willing to help, great! But don’t put off getting started just because you can’t muster up a large cast and crew. Tell a post-apocalyptic story, or try stop-motion animation, or put on a wig and play all the parts yourself. It sounds stupid, and it probably will be, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn something from it.
Which brings me to my last point: If you’re still learning, don’t worry about finding an audience. This might seem like a radical ideology for the social media era, but not everything you make needs to be shared. Most likely, friends and family will just give you a “like” or a thumbs up emoji, which teaches you nothing. But if they are actually honest, they’ll point out all your film’s glaring mistakes and probably discourage you from making the sequel.
Don’t get me wrong, watching someone watch your film can be very enlightening. But in my experience, you’ll always be your own worst critic. So before you go seeking feedback from someone else, study your own work. If you see room for improvement, do it again and improve it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
While it may feel like it in the moment, your first film isn’t your masterpiece. It’s the first step on a very long journey to mediocrity, which will eventually set you down the path to adequacy. But don’t think that I’m only talking to the beginners here. As artists, and in fact, as human beings, we should always be looking for ways to better ourselves. It’s really a beautiful sentiment: You are at all times both the best you can be, and not as good as you will be. But before you can get better, you have to first be not good enough.
So put down the magazine and make a movie.
Daniel Hart is a writer, independent filmmaker, and co-owner of production company Xavious Pictures. He is currently producing the short-form, comedic web series ‘The Hart Siblings’.