5 Obvious Tips For Writing About/For The Movies

Want to be a film critic/blogger or screenwriter? Devin has five tips that could change your life. Or won’t. Probably won’t, if we’re being really honest here.

I am sometimes asked to give advice about becoming a film critic/blogger or a screenwriter. My first bit of advice is always the same: don’t do it. Don’t become either of these two things. If you want to work in the movies, become a director or producer, as you’ll be paid better, will get to boss the screenwriter around and will be more respected. If you want to become a film critic or blogger, consider instead taking on a job that will be more helpful to society, like being a McDonald’s employee. That job probably pays better as well. Whole Foods has nice benefits, I understand.

The only people who should aspire to these jobs are the poor souls who are driven, who feel like this is their calling, who have the sense that the universe dealt them a bum hand and they’re stuck with it. If that’s you, I have five golden bits of advice that you should study and learn. But first, two things you must already have:

– An ability to communicate. Don’t learn how to communicate your thoughts on the job. Come prepared to write properly, to write with style and to write with verve. The end goal of writing is to be read; be prepared to be read.

– Something to prove. This is what drives you. Whether you want to write to impress a girl or you want to write to prove detractors wrong or you want to write because you think you’re the most correct person in the world and everybody else needs to hear your thoughts, you must have a reason to be writing.

With that out of the way, on to the Five Golden Tips:

Tip #1: FAIL.

Fail early, and fail often. Good writing is about sharing yourself – your thoughts, your opinions, your feelings – and that makes you very vulnerable. You cannot embark on a writing career if you’re not ready for rejection, dismissal, unkind internet comments and general failure. It’s like boxing – you have to get punched in the face to get over your fear of being punched in the face.

Not only does failing early in life prepare you for future (inevitable) failures, it adds to your ‘Something to prove’ prerequisite. When I failed out of college and found myself unloading trucks at a department store at 5am every day, I knew I needed to take serious action to change my situation. Failure is an excellent motivator.


Write what you know, they say, and most people don’t know shit. Experience is key for a writer; meeting people, getting to know their stories and points of view, having strange encounters and testing your own boundaries are exactly the things any serious writer MUST do.

You’re thinking, ‘But I just want to be a film critic. None of this applies to me.’ This applies to you, and almost doubly so. One of the cardinal sins I see committed by younger film critics is that they attempt to filter everything they watch through their own limited, boring experience. How can you really understand a love story if you’ve never been in love? How can you really feel for a character on the edge if you’ve never been on the edge? If your whole life experience is comfy, middle class, college-educated boringness, you’ll always be at a distance from the other experiences you find on film.

That doesn’t mean you can’t understand a movie about a drug dealer if you’ve never been a drug dealer. What it means is that the broader your personal experiences, the more you’ll be able to project yourself into what you’re watching. Obviously a good filmmaker should be able to make any character, however extreme, in some way understandable to an audience, but as a critic you will need to be doing heavier lifting. And that lifting will be easier if you have lots of human experiences under your belt. A nice side effect is that having lots of human experiences under your belt will also make a better, more interesting human.


No duh, right? You’d be shocked at how many screenwriters and film critics disregard this. It’s especially bad for critics, but it’s just as dangerous for screenwriters.

As a film critic your job isn’t to give people a consumer report about a movie. You’re not managing their movie-going budget. You’re offering readers three things:

– Informed opinion
– Context
– Entertainment

Every review should hit all three of those. Even if a reader has never heard of a movie/will never see a movie, they should be entertained by what you write. Even if a reader already has seen a movie, they should find your opinion interesting and well-argued. And even if a reader is deeply familiar with a movie, they should get deeper understanding of the movie after reading your review.

You’re on your own with entertainment value – that should be packaged in the ‘Ability to communicate’ prerequisite – but the other two can be earned by watching lots and lots of movies. If you see a tracking shot in a film and your only frame of reference for great tracking shots is Old Boy, you don’t have enough context. If your knowledge of film only extends back to the 80s, or is bounded by the limits of a specific genre, you won’t be able to really have an informed opinion.

As a film critic you should know more than the average reader*. There’s zero value in reviews written from a ‘Joe Six-Pack’ perspective, and I find the recent fad of reviews written by neophytes (“I’m watching black and white movies for the first time!” “I’m showing my cousin Star Wars for the first time!”) to be tedious. I want to read something I didn’t know or find an opinion I didn’t have, not watch somebody learn how to walk. There’s a reason we watch professional sports on TV and not local pick-up games. This doesn’t mean you must have seen every movie ever made before writing about film – everybody is always playing catch-up with the long history of cinema – it just means you should be making a real effort to see as much as possible.

Screenwriters should be familiar with a broad swath of films because the answers you seek often lie in the past. While style and fashion has changed drastically since the first motion pictures, the basics of storytelling have not. Some screenwriter in the past has faced the same problems you face in your current script; knowing how it was solved (or how it was screwed up) previously will help inform you now. Don’t be afraid to stand on the great big pile of screenwriters who came before you. The movies that were already made are Hollywood’s greatest institutional memory.


Let me immediately contradict that by saying OF COURSE you should read other reviews and screenplays. But you need to read a lot more than that.

One of the prerequisites at the start of this article was ‘An ability to communicate,’ but being able to communicate doesn’t mean you ever stop getting better at communicating. As a writer you should be absorbing other writing as much as possible so that you can be exposed to new words, turns of phrase, thought and general knowledge.

As a film critic being well-rounded (see Tip #2) is key. You should have an understanding of history and art and politics if you hope to write intelligently about film. You should know something about different religions, because metaphors for them creep into movies all the time. You should know great literature, because that stuff gets referenced a lot. You should be familiar with philosophy, because that’s all going to feed into how you read films.

As a screenwriter inspiration waits on every page. One of the purest, and best ways to defeat writer’s block is to read. You’re filling up the mental gas tank in the simplest way possible, by absorbing other words and ideas.

Most of all reading makes you a better writer. There’s no impetus to improve your own writing like reading something exquisite and realizing how shitty you are. Don’t be discouraged by better writers, be inspired. At the very least get really competitive and vow to show them who’s boss (seriously, having a bone to pick will make you such a better writer).

One last thing: read a lot about the making of films. Truly great film critics will not just have seen lots of movies, will not just know lots about art and history and philosophy, they will also know about the technical aspects of making movies. They will understand what editing is and how it works. They will understand how different lenses change what we see. They will understand acting techniques and the concept of mise en scene.

In other words, being a film critic is more than watching a movie and saying whether or not you liked it.


Everything that comes before this is useless if you don’t have something to say. You may have the ability to communicate, and you may have the drive to do the communicating, but if you have nothing to actually communicate, what’s the point?

The point, you might say, is to make money and to get access and to be involved in the Hollywood dream factory! If that’s your attitude, you might already be fucked. You’ll end up writing garbage for money and attention, but you’ll soon discover that even with all the money and attention you’re getting some jerk-off agent is making more money and getting more respect than you are. And you’ll find out that this is a pretty hollow and gross way to make a living, because you sold out for much less than you’re really worth.

But if you have something to say, and you say it in your writing, you’ll be much more fulfilled than the jerk-off agent. Much poorer, and getting laid way less, but much more personally fulfilled. And you’ll make more of a difference. A great film critic serves as a champion for great movies, and supporting art with your own art is a wonderful feeling. A great film critic also serves as a guide, leading readers places they might never otherwise go. The best responses I get from readers tell me that I turned them on to a movie that’s now their favorite. What’s more, and this is something I’ve only learned now that I’m old, is that great film critics can influence the next generations of filmmakers. There’s something weird but ultimately satisfying about meeting a filmmaker who tells you that your writing made an impact on him.

It’s may be even better for screenwriters. Yeah, directors get the respect and actors get the adulation, but it’s the imagination of the screenwriter that sparks it all. It’s the themes and ideas put on the page that blossom into movies. A screenwriter with a point of view and something to say about the world can easily impact the lives of millions of people who don’t even realize they’re being impacted. A terrific screenplay can entertain and also move people and also make them think differently, feel differently, see the world differently.

I don’t really have any tips for finding something to say. That’s got to come from within you. I saved it for last, though, because I think once you’ve taken all the other advice (vague as each tip is) you’ll figure it out for yourself.

Tips, tricks and shortcuts for making movies on your mobile Part 2

11. Insert title cards

Title cards are another area where WeVideo proves its worth, and you’ll see one inserted for you at the start of every video project you create in the Android app. Tap on the Title card to edit the text, then use the Theme button (which looks like a magic wand) to choose a style for your title cards to be applied throughout the project. The iOS version of WeVideo isn’t quite as advanced, but you can always export a basic project to the Web app where all of the editing features and file formats are available.

Adobe Premiere Clip

12. Go hands-off with automatic projects

Clip is the stripped-down, mobile version of Adobe’s heavyweight desktop video editing application, and it’s available for both Android and iOS. One of its most useful features as far as casual filmmakers are concerned is the automatic mode that appears as an option whenever you create a new project and import some clips: choose to go automatic and the Clip app customises your footage based on a music track and speed chosen by you. It’s the perfect halfway house between sharing your raw video unedited and spending hours poring over every detail of the sequence.

13. Create motion from photos

Clip includes a more advanced freeform editor too, and one of the tools available in it is Photo Motion: this enables you to add photos to your movies while keeping some kind of movement so your project doesn’t grind to a static stop. Tap the cog icon at the top of the freeform editing screen to open the project preferences, then toggle the Photo Motion to the on position. You can’t control the zoom focus or speed, unfortunately, but it makes your project look more fluid if you’re mixing video clips and photos together in the same timeline.

FiLMiC Pro

14. Tweak focus and exposure

If you’re serious about mobile moviemaking and you have a few pounds to spare, FiLMiC Pro is one of the most professional iOS filming apps available. You get access to a wealth of settings that most apps wouldn’t come close to thinking about, including live focus and exposure settings: drag the focus reticle (a square) or the exposure reticle (a circle) around on the camera view to set these values based on one part of the shot. The icons to the lower left lock these settings in place and prevent FiLMiC Pro from making adjustments on the fly.

15. Tweak white balance and contrast

More options become available in FiLMiC Pro after you’ve recorded a particular scene on your smartphone. Tap on the video clip icon to see your existing recordings, then tap the slider button to adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, saturation and tint using simple sliders, with the results previewed in real-time. The reset button on the left lets you undo all of your changes if you need to go back. Additional options on the same set of menus enable you to trim and downsample clips should you need to, before they’re ready to be exported to a video editor.

VideoFX Live

16. Blur videos

Installing the VideoFX Live app is like putting a fully featured editing suite inside the confines of your iPhone: from artistic titles to coloured overlays, there’s plenty to explore within the app. Some of the overlays and filters are aimed at a younger, social media-savvy crowd but there are a lot of genuinely useful ones too — such as the adjustable blur tool that you could use for anything from a dream sequence to a pre-credits intro. The blur effect is one of many you can get in the Cinema Pro Pack, a paid-for add-on to the app.

17. Add flames and explosions

There are a plethora of ways you can use VIdeoFX Live on your iPhone, covering green screen effects, frames that border your video and so on, but the flame and explosion filters are some of the most dramatic tools. Via another premium add-on pack you can have flames rise from the foot of the screen, or have sparks, bangs and phaser effects flit across the screen in line with the movement in the frame. Of course the end results aren’t quite as slick as those produced by Hollywood studios, but they’re very impressive for an inexpensive smartphone app.

Stop Motion Studio

18. Create your own stop motion animations

From Wallace and Gromit to Fantastic Mr. Fox, filmmakers continue to explore the potential of stop motion animation, and you can emulate the professionals using Stop Motion Studio (available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone). The app features overlay and grid modes to help you get each of your frames perfectly aligned, and everything can be compiled on your mobile device — there’s no need to switch to a computer editor to finish off your project. There’s also an automatic mode where images are snapped at regular intervals, saving you having to press the shutter button each time.

19. Add in green screen effects

Stop Motion Studio supports the use of green screen effects, a tried and trusted movie technique where a coloured background (usually green, hence the name) is swapped out for a different image or video. By using a blank coloured material behind your actors (whether real or cut out of cardboard) it’s possible to replace the background with a couple of taps of your finger. The only downside is that the green screen feature is one of the premium paid-for add-ons in Stop Motion Studio, but it’s well worth the investment if you’re going to be using the feature regularly.

Hyperlapse from Instagram

20. Stabilise shaky video footage on iOS

Hyperlapse from Instagram is a spin-off of the photo filtering app that offers two key features: timelapse capture and video stabilisation. If you want to shoot clips that are smooth and cinematic even while you’re on the move then Hyperlapse is one of the best ways of going about it (for those using iOS devices at least) — capture your footage with the main shutter button and then choose 1x as the playback speed to end up with a finely stabilised clip which is saved to your photo gallery. Instagram and Facebook sharing options are also available.

Microsoft Hyperlapse

21. Stabilise shaky video footage on Android and Windows Phone

If you don’t have an iOS device then there’s an alternative app from Microsoft that does essentially the same thing — confusingly, it’s also called Hyperlapse. There are more speeds to choose from (1x to 32x) so you can choose video stabilisation or a timelapse effect, and another feature available here that’s not in Instagram’s alternative is the ability to import existing videos. Neither of these Hyperlapse tools have any advanced editing features to speak of, but you can use them to stabilise (or speed up) clips and then export them to other applications on your phone.

Tips, tricks and shortcuts for making movies on your mobile Part 1

Our resident mobile-auteur guides us through ten film-making apps, including iMovie, Hyperlapse and Kinemaster, revealing some of their cleverest features.

Native apps

1. Ramp up the resolution… or not

Owners of an iPhone 6S or an iPhone 6S Plus can record video footage in glorious 4K (that’s a frame size of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels), and it’s also supported on some flagship Android phones. However, it can take up a serious chunk of room — roughly 375MB per minute on your device’s internal memory. For those occasions when ultra high-definition playback isn’t important, or you’re just running out of space, dial down the resolution: on iOS, find the Photos & Camera option in Settings, and on Android open up the Settings panel in the stock Camera app.

2. Get creative with timelapse movies

You too can create one of those gorgeous-looking timelapse videos that regularly crop up on YouTube, presuming you don’t need to move your phone for a few hours. On the iPhone, you’ll find the timelapse mode by swiping through the modes above the shutter button inside the Camera app; on Android, your options vary depending on your phone. Some handsets (like the Samsung Galaxy S6) support a timelapse mode out of the box but if your phone doesn’t have it you can use a third-party app such as Framelapse or Lapse It to do the job for you.

3. Invest in some extra kit

There’s now a whole host of kit out there for the budding smartphone moviemaker: tripods, lenses (such as the Olloclip), microphones and more besides. From making sure audio is picked up correctly to widening the field of view, these professional add-ons are more than just gimmicks and can make a real difference — if your phone is a popular flagship model (especially an iPhone) then you stand most chance of finding some suitable accessories, but it’s worth investigating what’s available. Any existing photography kit you’ve got to hand (such as spotlights) can prove useful for your movies too.


4. Rotate and mirror clips

Kinemaster is one of the most powerful and polished video editors you can get for Android devices, and among its features are a bunch of effects you can apply to the clips in your timeline. Tap on an individual clip, choose Rotate/Mirroring and you can flip a particular section of your footage or rotate it in 90-degree intervals: if you’ve somehow shot your video in the wrong orientation or the wrong way up (not that difficult if you’re importing from multiple devices) then this feature can get everything looking like it belongs in the same movie.

5. Create picture-in-picture effects

Another area where Kinemaster excels is in its use of photo, video and audio layers, enabling you to combine multiple files together in the same frame — for use with picture-in-picture effects, for example. Tap the Layer button from the main dashboard, choose Video or Image (note the former will require an in-app purchase), and you can drop in a new clip or picture as an overlay on top of the existing footage. Stickers and text can also be inserted as additional layers, while the picture-in-picture effect is available as one of the transition options in Kinemaster too.

6. Adjust video colours

If you’ve ever wanted to apply Instagram-style colour filters to your video clips, you’re in luck: that’s exactly what Kinemaster lets you do. Tap the video clip in question on the timeline, then choose Colour Filter to see what’s on offer: a wide variety of filters and colour casts are available, which can be applied with a tap. Alternatively, select Colour Filter from the previous menu and you get three sliders enabling you to change brightness, contrast and saturation levels on the fly. When you’re happy with how your footage is looking, tap on the tick icon.


7. Pinch to crop your footage

iMovie for the iPhone and iPad is designed to be as straightforward to use as possible (you don’t have a mouse and keyboard available, after all) but one clever feature unique to the mobile apps is pinch-to-crop: using the well-established two-finger pinch technique you can zoom into a clip you’ve recorded and then chop out the extraneous borders. Tap on a clip in the timeline, tap the magnifying glass that appears and then pan and zoom around the current video frame as required (of course the latest 4K formats give you a lot more pixels to work with).

8. Start on your phone, finish on your laptop

In case you hadn’t noticed, Apple wants to make it as straightforward for you as possible to switch between iOS and Mac OS X for every task, from email to photo editing. This philosophy extends to iMovie too, so you can start creating your movie masterpiece on an iPhone or iPad and then seamlessly export it to iMovie on OS X to finish the job: from within the iMovie mobile app, tap on the Share button and then choose the AirDrop or iCloud Drive option. You can then use the desktop application to open it and continue editing.

9. Slow down (or speed up) scenes

Another handy feature in iMovie for iOS is the option to slow down or speed up particular clips. With one selected in the timeline, tap the speed adjustment icon (which looks like a car speedometer) and then drag the slider accordingly — the app lets you go from 1/8x speed all the way up to 2x speed, and because the effect can be adjusted from clip to clip you can create some impressive results. To apply the effect to one part of a clip, split it into segments first (tap the scissors icon to see the Split option).


10. Add a soundtrack

WeVideo’s impressive suite of apps cover the Web, Android and iOS, and come with all the key features you’d expect to find in a video editing tool — including the ability to add music to your clips. The right soundtrack can really turn your road trip movie from good to great, and the WeVideo Android app lets you drop in a track from its existing library or choose one of your own. With one of your clips selected, tap on the musical note icon and then select a track from those shown (or switch to the My Music tab).

How to Be More Creative With the Camera: Film and Video Tricks

Think about some of the most creative shots you’ve ever seen in a movie, television show, or video. What made them stand out to you? The composition? The movement? Chances are it wasn’t a standard locked-down shot of a talking head, right?

The reason these shots stick out is because they’re different. They’re creative. They were designed to invoke a feeling and make you remember it well after the fact. That’s where creative use of the camera comes in. Whether you’re mounting it in an interesting spot, using a specialized lens, or adding a little bit of handheld shakiness, it’s all a good way to get people to remember your work and enhance your storytelling.

Put the ‘Move’ in Movie

Adding movement to your shots is one of the easiest ways to apply some creativity to your cinematography. While some movements require specific rigs, others can be done with little to no investment at all.

The single most important factor you think about is, “Do I need movement in this shot?” A well-executed camera move means nothing if there’s nothing motivating the move. You can convey a tone or emotion, foreshadow, reveal or hide something in the frame, move between locations, or even force the viewer’s eyes to a certain area on the screen, all just by moving the camera in a certain way.

Once you become adept at moving the camera, you’ll see endless creative possibilities with your storytelling

A Glass Menagerie

The type of lens you attach to your camera is very important to the look and feel of your project. There are certain specialty lenses you can use to spice up your video — lenses like a tilt-shift, lensbaby, macro, or fisheye vary in price, but all add something different to the scene.

Another way to get interesting footage without actually having to buy any new lenses is by trying a few different techniques. Try rubbing vaseline on a UV filter attached to the lens (NOT DIRECTLY ON THE LENS!), pull some stockings or other sheer material over the lens, or try a technique called “lens whacking,” where you hold the lens just in front of the open sensor and distort the image with light leaks and selective focus to get a dreamy feel. (Always use caution when you try this!)

The Right Angle

Much like adding movement to the camera, changing up your camera angles can drastically improve your cinematography. But keep in mind that this also needs to be motivated. Experiment with your camera by varying your angles and utilizing the equipment you have available. Put your tripod at its lowest or highest setting, mount your camera anywhere it will securely fit, or get on top of a building or somewhere with a really high viewpoint.

You can also try shooting “through” objects to give a unique look to your project. Shoot through a window at your subject to make them look vulnerable. Try shooting through the flames of a fire or a candle to give viewers a sense of danger, or through someone’s angled leg to create one of the most iconic scenes in film history. (Wait, it’s already been done?)

Using interesting angles in your productions ensures that you not only get coverage of your scene, but also provide some variety, while telling your story in new and different ways.

Add a Filter

The most common way that lens filters are used these days is for simply protecting your lens, but there are specific reasons you may want to use a filter to improve your shooting creativity. A simple UV filter will cut down on the “haze,” or dust in the atmosphere, that can degrade your image. A polarizing filter will reduce reflections from water, help increase the visibility of clouds, and even boost the saturation of your images. And an ND filter will drop the brightness of your image a few f-stops, allowing you to keep your aperture open and giving you a more shallow depth of field without completely blowing out a bright scene.

These are the most common filters, but there are also filters that completely change your colors, give you optical effects (more on that next), or even an infrared look. You can have a lot of fun with filters while you’re shooting; be careful with these, however, because you may not be able to “fix” anything in post-production if it doesn’t quite work. It can actually be easier to add these effects and adjust your colors digitally in post, so keep that in mind.

Filters typically screw on to the end of your lens and run anywhere from $15 for a cheaply made, basic UV filter to several hundred dollars or more for high-quality, specialty filters.

Snap Into Focus

Depending on the tone and style you’re going for, you can do some pretty creative things just by changing your focus settings. Obviously you can experiment with basic techniques like “pull” or “rack” focusing, but you can also shoot at the widest aperture setting possible for a more shallow depth of field (DOF), creating a sharp difference between your in-focus subject and the rest of the frame. A shallow DOF puts more emphasis on your subject and will give your composition more layers, creating a cinematic feel. Just keep in mind that a more shallow DOF means more work when you or your subject are constantly moving.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can close your aperture down to its smallest setting and shoot in “deep focus.” This is marked as the infinity symbol on a lot of lenses, and is good (also necessary) for very bright scenes, or landscapes that take up the entire frame.

A very common deep-focus technique in films is called split focus, using a split-focus diopter. This optical effect filter will enlarge one portion of your image, while the other portion stays the same size. However, since you have a deep focus, everything will still be able to be seen clearly. It creates a different feel and look for your frame, but is a wonderful technique if you can master it.

It’s Okay to Be Jittery

Along with changing up your focus, you can adjust your shutter speed/angle and create some different looks for your project. Normally, the shutter is set at double your frame rate (or 50 on some DSLR cameras), but depending on what you’re shooting and the look you’re going for, you may want to try increasing or decreasing your shutter speed. Anything that’s high-intensity or fast-moving (sports, action sequences) can benefit from an increased shutter speed, allowing your eyes to see more clear, “jittery” imagery.

Slowing your shutter speed down is quite the opposite. It makes your footage more “dreamy” or blurry, and is good to use in low-light situations, or when you want to portray confusion or disorient the viewer. Think of a scene where someone is drugged, intoxicated, or tranquilized, for example.

To Shake or Not to Shake

When you think of shaky camera movements, you tend to think of found-footage films, horror films, or… found-footage horror films. What makes them stand out though, is the creative ways they shake the camera and still keep it (mostly) coherent and easy to follow.

You can implement a lot of the same creative techniques from these types of movies while going handheld (or on a shoulder rig). Move the camera around and get close to your subject, because it helps the viewer feel more immersed in the story. Explore your space and shoot different angles with the freedom that comes with handheld shooting. However (this is a big however!), going handheld without a proper shoulder mount or rig can be troublesome, especially if you’re inexperienced behind the camera, so be sure to practice. Having shaky footage because you’re bad with a camera is vastly different from having intentionally shaky footage because you’re shooting a fight scene in close quarters.

On the other hand, putting your camera on a tripod is the easiest way to avoid unusably shaky footage. You’re limited with movement, but if you aren’t planning on moving during the scene, it won’t matter. The basic moves are pans and tilts, but you can step it up and try a whip-pan if you’re feeling adventurous. And if you’re feeling even more adventurous and have a fairly steady hand, you can try using the tripod as a dolly: shorten the forward-facing leg and hold the camera so it won’t fall, then simply move forward or backward, adjusting the tilt on the camera to keep it steady. You can do this in any direction, really, as long as the camera is faced the right way.

Using these techniques appropriately and effectively can really put your viewers in the middle of your project, conveying a feeling or tone that will add to the end experience. Once again, the biggest factor with anything you’re doing is making sure that it’s motivated. Would your story benefit from your shot being from a bird’s-eye view? Would it make sense to have a dolly shot at that moment? Only you can answer those questions.


10 Zero Budget Filmmaking Tips

Firstly, independent fimmakers can make films much more cost effectively than the majors. Secondly, because the budgets are relatively modest, independent filmmakers can afford to make a movie that fails (unlike the majors). And finally, in this brave new movie world, everyone wants in – the studios want in, the websites want in, traditional TV want in, the gamers and app builders want in, the big banks, the big brands and hedge funds want in. Everyone wants in. The studios and distributors, websites and television broadcasters all have the hardware to play movies. What they lack is the software – the movies. And if you are able to make compelling content, you will make money.

Let me show you ten ways to make compelling content for next to nothing.

1. The Story Is Everything

Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does one really care about the budget of the film?

Stories and screenplays have four main elements:

Firstly, your story must have characters with a specific goal. A specific goal is one that can be measured, so at a point in time we can see whether or not the character achieves or fails to achieve the goal. For example, if your character’s goal is to move out of London – this is a weak goal. We all want to leave London. It’s dirty, expensive and increasingly dangerous. But if the goal of your character is to leave London by noon tomorrow, or else… then we have a goal that is easily measured.

Secondly, your story has a setting. The setting can be usual or unusual.

Thirdly, there are the Actions of the main characters and finally what they say, or Dialogue.

The trick of a good storyteller is to weave these four elements together so the seams do not show. When a writer achieves this, we say they have mastered the craft of storytelling. But not necessarily the art of storytelling.

2. Location Location Location

There are two expensive components to a film shoot. Image capture (camera) and the locations.

Moving a cast and crew from location to location is time consuming, and expensive, regardless of your budget.

If you can reduce the amount of location moves, or eliminate them altogether, then you are a huge step closer to reducing your budget.

Locations in this scenario suddenly have a huge impact on the script. To learn how, we need only to look at some of the most interesting films of the last few decades: Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It , Orin Pelli’s Paranormal Activity and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These films have one thing in common: limited locations. In fact, they would each make excellent stage plays. The trick, it seems, is to take a bunch of actors to a limited location and chop them up. When you do this, you will essentially be filming a stage play. But a stage play filmed as a stage play is boring. Turn your limited location script (which is essentially a stage play) into a movie successfully, and you will have, what the moguls in Hollywood call, Talent.

3. Image Capture

Choosing the camera that suits your script and your budget is simpler than ever before. Most likely you will be shooting on a digital camera. Two elements of any camera you should look out for are: compression and lenses. Remember that all digital cameras generate the same signal. What influences the image quality are the lenses you film through and the numbers of pixels per frame (compression).

Since the shooting of the Sundance sensation, Tangerine, shooting on cell phones is becoming commonplace. We’ve been championing cell phones as cameras since the early days of 2004 when we created the 15 Second Shorts competion with our partner Nokia.

The ultimate no budget camera trick is use a little known fact of British law: security camera footage can be recovered if you have been the victim of a crime. The UK is covered in security cameras, some private and some publically owned. By law, if you suffer a crime, the police will request a copy of the tape from the camera owner.

Recce the CCTV cameras in your neighbourhood, write a screenplay, re-enact a series of ’crimes’ and presto – you will have your movie shot – for absolutely nothing.

4. Sound

It isn’t the look of skin on skin that turns you on in a sex scene. It’s the sound of skin on skin. Professional filmmakers spend much of their time considering and creating the sounds that go with their pictures.

It is a fact too that our brains are wired in such a way that when we need to strain to hear what the actors are saying, the picture goes dim. Good clean sound with interesting effects added in is the quickest way to make your images, even those shot on your mother’s humble video camera, look great.

5. The Bucks Are In The Music

The fact of film revenue and distribution is that the main revenue streams are from the sound tracks for your film. This is because the musicians unions are much stronger than the actors, writers and film unions. After you film leaves the cinema (if it was lucky enough to get there in the first place) the main revenue streams a movie generates is for the mechanical copyright royalties for the sound track.

Filmmakers are usually the last to understand how music royalties are decided, registered and administered. Explaining music copyright law is something that falls outside this short article.

Briefly, filmmakers can get cheap or free scores by composing and performing it themselves. Remember that there are three music copyrignt streams: composers, lyracists and performers. Or, by getting an unsigned band to perform, or to acquire the movie rights to an existing band by contacting them through their agent, or estate if deceased. Research the track you are interested in through http://www.ppluk.com/

6. Get Organised

Nothing is more disheartening than showing up to help out on a mate’s shoot only to spend an hour looking for a screwdriver. Disorganisation is totally unforgiveable and easily preventable by advance planning. Make sure you know where everything is, and make sure everthing and everybody shows up at the right place at the right time. If this is not within your organizational ability, partner with someone who is.

7. Your Friends Cannot Act

It is always tempting to get a few friends together to make a movie and use them as actors as well. This usually leads to peril because your friends are not trained actors. They may have spent hours and hours with a video camera in front of the bathroom mirror, but they will not know how to act in front of a camera on a set. When your friends think they are acting well on set, you will probably be so shocked at their hammy performances that you will be unable to direct them without running the risk of destroying your personal relationship.

Far better to advertise for actor/collaborators at local theatre and acting schools, hold rigourous auditions until you find a stellar cast of talented unknowns than use your friends.

If you have a suitable script and some money, you can approach a casting agent who will then pimp your script and your project out to established actors who might be willing to do it for nothing if they like the script, their role, and have been offered a suitable cut of the profits.

8. Build A Following

In the good old days (pre-Valentines Day 2005) filmmakers would submit their films to a series of film festivals and tour with their film building the hype for their film until they received sufficient distribution offers to finance their next project. By making and touring film after film, a filmmaker was able to build up a loyal fan base which would guarantee them and their producers a predictable revenue stream.

The explosion of social media has changed the landscape and created two types of filmmakers: those who loathe and abhor social media, and those who embrace it.

Contemporary filmmakers can use social media to create a following of people eager to sample and appreciate their latest work. Astute filmmakers employ two producers: one who deals with the traditional production work flow, and one who deals with social media.

A first step for any filmmaker is to register the domain name for their production company and film title, as well as Facebook and Twitter profiles. Often these are sold on to eventual distributors, as was the case with Paranormal Activity.

One way to build a following is to attend industry events, like the Raindance Film Festival, or our monthly drinks, Boozin’ N’ Schmoozin‘.

A great way to build your list is to comment on relevant articles, like this one. You can comment below.

9. Are You a Filmmaker, a Content Provider or a Communicator?

Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to decide what it is you are doing.

Filmmakers make films and hope to cruise the festival route until they are discovered and become festival darlings.

Content providers are professional filmmakers who deliver movies whether dramatic, corporate or documentary at a price per minute.

Communicators are filmmakers and content providers who have something to say using the power of moving images with excellent sound, well crafted stories and good sound tracks. Communicators will also consider a host of different mediums including short two and three minute episodes for mobiles (mobisodes) or internet (webisodes). Gaming and phone apps also provide interesting storytelling  possibilities with a host of different strategies for monetizing current content being debated around the world.

10. There’s No Such Thing As Luck

I believe that luck is earned through a combination of hard work and karma. If you maintain your integrity and your passion, success will surely visit you.

It’s A Wrap

Nothing is as powerful as a good movie. And by using the medium of cinema you are able to influence and change lives. It is people like you that can make a difference and make this world a better place.


Every composer knows this feeling. You just successfully finished scoring your last film and then another one brought to your table. Seemingly, the process should be easy hence you just finished scoring one. However it feels like you forgot how it supposed to be done and how you have previously done it. If ‘how the hell have I done it before and from where I’m supposed to start now’ is a question you found yourself asking at least once, here are 8 tips that will help you remember from where to start.

First thing first, there is no such thing as ‘a correct’ way to score a film. Every composer has his own technics of scoring a film and each of them can be super-efficient for one but dreadfully inefficient to the other. James Newton Howard once said “I wish I had some great words of advice. The only advice I have ever been able to give anybody is to focus on writing music, and if you’re writing a movie score particularly, don’t worry about the picture. Just write great music and the rest will take care of itself”. We will get back to James’ words slightly later to show you how right he is, but maybe most important – why. Before being able to just focus on the music there are couple of things to clear out first. Let’s begin:

1. Never skip the spotting session – to cut a long story short, spotting session is a meeting session with the director, the music supervisor etc., in which you sit in front of the movie and talk about the film, the music, the game from last Sunday, the characters in the movie and their stories, general ideas for the music etc. Why is it so important? Because that is the time and place you learn about what the director wants, his thoughts and expectations, and about his general vision of the music for the film. So what is the information you will want to receive during the spotting session:

  • What kind of film is it? It sounds obvious but actually it can be very tricky: This Is The End (2013), the horror-comedy feature directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, was beautifully scored by Henry Jackman. On one of his interviews he said that although this is a comedy it isn’t actually sound like one. By listening to the music itself you would never guess that this is actually a comedy feature film. This example can be given for almost every film out there, so first thing is to stress up the attitude of the music.
  • Is there a preferred music style? Or is there a specific music style which is not welcome?
  • What is the deadline for handing over the final score file?
  • What is the budget?
  • Which scenes will include music and which are not (sometimes tend to change)?
  • What are the subtexts in each scene?

And those are only the tip of the iceberg. Oh and here is another small but important tip for you: never forget the film producer; he is the one who control the project and it is quite a bad idea to put his thoughts and ideas aside, once he brought them up – at least if you will ever want to cooperate with him again in the future.

2. Making time marks in your project file and writing timing notes in the Master Cue Sheet – A Master Cue Sheet is a worksheet we use to list the scenes we are about to score. In this worksheet, we have details such as where this scene is located in the movie, beginning and end time of when the music should kick in and out, and also important notes about the cues. Next step is to go back to your project file (using Cubsae, Protools, Logic Pro etc.) and mark those beginning and end points in the movie file itself. That way we won’t have to go back every now and then to look for those details and could only focus on making great music. Wait, we are not through yet. Inside of those time frames, it is very important to mark your vision regarding on how to address each scene, meaning how you will address the changes that occurring in the scene or a sequence of scenes. For example, let’s say that we have a scene in which our hero runs in the streets while it’s raining, in the middle of a New York traffic jam, only after he found out that the girl he loves is in trouble (sounds lousy, yeah I know). Now let’s say that the filming angles and the rhythm of those shots are changing every couple of seconds; in the first shot we see our hero leaves his car behind and start running from the side of the street, then in the second shot we see the whole big picture from above, and then in the third we see him in sort of close-up running as fast as he can between the cars. You can choose rather to compose flat music that will accompany the whole scene from beginning to end, or you could divide those segments in the scene by composing a dynamic cue which will change slightly in rhythm, attitude and even tempo according to the changes in the picture. Normally it would depend on the weight and attitude of the music that the film requires, but further to our example let’s talk about the second possibility. How do you plan this dynamic music to run through the entire scene? Simply by delimiting those segments’ time frames. You can use a sound like a single drum, and you then mark the beginning and end points of each segment. Now you have the ability to focus only on writing a suitable music to those segments, and to be synchronized with all the changes going on the screen without having to literally be destructed by messing around with the picture.

3. Full understanding of the scenes and subtext – It is immensely important to truly understand the movie, the scenes and its subtext, before you start writing even one note. This is actually rule number one: know the story, the dilemmas of the characters, their stories, what are the things that keep them going, what motivate them, what is the meaning of each face or reaction they do in the scenes, is there any subtext going on and how it inflects on the story or the other characters involved etc. There is a lot to know when it comes to scoring a film but understanding the dramatic is maybe the most important one. Composer Frank Ilfman said: “To convey emotions through music that touch the listener and ultimately unite the whole film, you must have a sense for the dramatic. You need to feel the music, not just hear it. That’s where the real gift is”. Composer Haim Mazar, who scored The IceMan, an American crime thriller film based on the true story of longtime notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski, told on one of his interviews that the score he wrote for The Iceman, defines the two aspects of Richard Kuklinski’s life: the Cello tells the story of Richard’s the family man, while the electric sounds tells the story of his career as a hitman. The understanding will help you with pouring content in the form of music into those time frame segments which I have wrote about in the last section. Bottom line is, the director will fall in love with the great music you will ultimately write, only because all the information you have collected through the entire process, suddenly came together and brought you to this creation.

4. Finding a great idea – It can be a main theme as it can be also short cues, intriguing sounds etc., that speak in the same language, attitude and the tone of the movie. Sitting in front of the film with the keyboard next to you but without having a basic idea of what you are about to try next, can turn out to be a perfect recipe for time wasting. Scoring a film can be a very horrifying process as it is for a composer, so sitting around while playing freestyle hoping to luckily fall on some nice tunes is simply to relay on luck. In other words, delimit the scenes you about to work on, know everything you can about the movie, know what the director wants, and then sit down and try to come up with great ideas that will take you further in the process. One of the best methods that I tend to use, after having as many information as I possibly can about the movie and the story, is to simply imagine myself in the shoes of the people in the scene. It can be the good guy, the bad guys, and even a crazy old lady who is being targeted for assassination efforts by Tom Hanks (The Ladykillers for anyone who has not watched the movie). Mark my words: Everyone has his own life soundtrack; we all hear music in our heads in almost any event or situation in our life – and so are the characters in the films we work on. The only trick is to find their certain music.

5. Focus on the music, not the film – So you had the spotting session, you now have that long list of the Master Cue Sheet, you have delimit the scenes and its segments, you have a really good understanding of the film, and even has a super great ideas on how the movie should be sound like. Great. Now forget about the film and start focusing on the music. Just like the quote of James Newton Howard from above, “…don’t worry about the picture. Just write great music and the rest will take care of itself”. Once you have all the pieces together all you need is to feel the music and you will see that it will work out fine. It is also brings me to the next section:

6. Work ‘restrictions clean’ – Choose two or three main scenes, those that you feel will be easier for you to start from. When you start putting all of your ideas into them, put aside any form of restrictions; mute the metronome, take off your quantize option, and just feel the music. Having any sorts of restrictions can block you from having full control and full attention to the most important thing in this business – writing music and fast. Working ‘restrictions clean’ will also help you to translate the emotions you feel while playing the music into the screen, and that is a gold winning ticket for a composer. After having the main idea of the melody, you can start shape it into a full music cue and to make any needed changes until you feel you nailed the scene.

7. Reuse the main theme more than once – The main theme of a movie is its musical signature. Movies can be amazing also with only a nice soundtrack; but a great soundtrack can turn the film to be memorable. For me, a great soundtrack has always been one that even hours after living the cinema I can still hear the music playing in my head. In order to etch the main theme in the people’s minds, there should be several references of the main theme, in different variations, along the entire film. For the convenience of the demonstration, let’s make up an action film; Bamm, Universal Studios’ logo went on the screen and the main theme starts to kick in. Through the next couple of minutes, while the opening titles are still running and the first action sequence run on the screen, the powerful main theme is still playing. Let’s go 15 minutes into the film; there’s a chase, an upbeat music plays in the background, something surprising happens and then there is a brief jump to the main theme melody and back to the previous up beat cue. Let’s go another 40 minutes into the movie; the partner of our poor hero gets killed by the bad guy. Our hero finds an old picture at his partner’s house of some fishing trip they went together years ago (damn, I won’t be a screen writer after all) and suddenly the main part of the main theme starts playing in a very different style and tempo to fit the situation and mood of the picture. This example can be found in many great movie titles along the years, such as The Rock, Speed, Point Of No Return, Days Of Thunder, Titanic, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Bad Boys 1 etc. Look at it this way; if your main theme is very catchy, after 90 minutes (at least) of hearing parts of a very catchy main theme over and over again – people will hum your music all the way back home if they want it or not.

8. Conformance testing – Always keep in mind that our job as composers for visual media is to tell a story, define it correctly and then present it in a way that will highlight the movie and will make it even better. What we don’t want is the music to take over and by that destroying all the hard work of the people who worked on it. That is why it is important once in a while to do a conformance testing. Meaning we turn back to the beginning and watching the cut with the music without stopping. Sometimes when we are inside of a project too long it gets easy to be blurred about how the music reacts with a scene. Sometimes, while doing this test, you will suddenly find out that something won’t necessarily work for you in one of the first scenes as it has been earlier, and you will have to find solutions to bring back the same magic you felt back then. Most of the times the director will be a fair checks and balances factor for you, so scenarios like that often won’t happen so much. But it is still recommended to do that at least once or twice during the whole process.

That’s it for now. I hope I succeeded a bit to illuminate the darkness for you. Keep the great music rolling.

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review

By Mark Nichol

When I wrote for my college newspaper, one of the assignments I enjoyed most was writing film reviews. And I was terrible at it, as I soon realized. Why? I was writing the equivalent of book reports: movie reports.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that evaluating films and plays and the like (and, yes, books) is more complicated, yet more satisfying, that that. Here are some tips — not necessarily in the order in which they would be applied in your writing — for crafting movie reviews (which are more or less applicable for reviewing other types of composition, or even products like software or gadgets):

1. If circumstances permit, view the film more than once. It’s easy to miss key elements, or even the whole point, after just a single viewing.

2. Express your opinion of the film, but support your criticism. If you are offended or disappointed or embarrassed, provide a valid reason, even if you think it is obvious. A film review that comes across as a personal attack on an actor, director, or screenwriter or a diatribe about a genre is a failed review.

3. Adjust the style of your review for the readership. If you’re pitching reviews to a traditional publication, you’re expected to be fairly evenhanded (though even mainstream film critics are permitted — nay, expected — to gently mock particularly inept filmmaking). If your target audience is fanboys (and fangirls) on a movie-geek Web site, though, feel free to take the gloves off. Either way, though, support your criticism with valid observations; hurling invective is not the same thing as evaluation.

4. Avoid spoilers. One of the most pernicious fairly recent developments in the review genre is the careless, thoughtless revelation of key plot points. It’s a sign of professionalism to refrain from giving such information away. Exception: Reviews of previously released films don’t necessarily adhere to this rule, though it’s still considered sporting to warn readers or site visitors to skip to the next paragraph if they don’t want to read something. Some classy sites actually code spoilers to be invisible unless the visitor scrolls over the blank area to highlight that passage in the review.

5. Judge the story. Are the character’s actions justified, and are their motives plausible? Is there an internal consistency to the way each person behaves, or do some words, thoughts, or actions ring false? Does the plot make sense? Is the story line logical? Is the narrative arc well shaped, with an economy of form, or is it flabby or drawn out, with time-killing pointlessness?

6. Rate the actors. Do they meet the expectations dictated by the plot and other story elements? If not, is it their own thespian shortcomings, are they hampered by a poor script, or is there something about their performances that makes you believe the director is at fault? What could the performers, the screenwriters, or the filmmaker have done differently to make the movie work better?

7. Evaluate the technical elements. How do the cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, and other components support or detract from the film? Is music appropriate and effectively employed? You needn’t know film-technology jargon to share your thoughts about how these elements contributed to or detracted from the whole.

Writing film reviews is in one way a thankless task: Often, readers will disagree with you, and many people will go to see movies without your wise guidance. How to avoid frustration? Writing about movies, like writing about just about anything else, should be primarily an exercise in enjoyment: You do it because you like doing it. If anybody else out there enjoys the result of your exercise in self-entertainment, so much the better — but you’re your own primary audience (and your worst critic).