Quick Guide to Film Making for Beginners

Content from Dr Ian McCormick, Director of the International Community Film Forum and blogger behind Community Media Artist.

Making a film is an exciting project for any organisation, but what is involved is often poorly understood. But don’t be put off, it’s just a case of being clear about what you want to do at the outset. A community film is a great way to bring people together because film-making requires a collaborative approach and a wide range of skills. The first point to consider is whether the priority is process or product. A process led approach values inclusion, participation and engagement of the (unskilled) target group(s). A product-led film leaves most of the work to a commercial company and the focus will be on a highly-finished glossy product.

The 3 Stages of film-making

(1) Pre-production is the planning and development stage: rationale, scripts, budgets, locations, roles, timetables etc; (2) the production or filming stage; (3) post-production involves editing down what has been filmed and the use of distribution formats such as dvd. Be prepared to spend 80% of your time on the first and third stages.

Defining a Rationale

Who is your finished film for? Is it aimed at the general public (to be posted on YouTube), or is it more internal, for staff or service users, perhaps a limited edition souvenir dvd? If the aim is to document an event such as an activity day then the project is already time-specific. But also remember that only the most dedicated participants will want to sit through a 3 hour film. A 5 minute film could be much more effective and practical.

Quality counts

A film can be very effective in shifting perceptions, in raising awareness and supporting your campaigning objectives. Perhaps the idea is to produce a promotional film that can be added to your website, or sent out as a dvd to your supporters. In that case it would be detrimental to end up with an amateurish product that suggests an unprofessional organisation. Shoddy communications will do more harm than good. On the other hand real people talking about their experiences can be more powerful than the best actors!

A job for everyone

If the emphasis is on process then the main resource will be volunteer time, commitment and training, perhaps over 3 months. There are as many roles as you have volunteers, and most of these will be behind rather than in front of the camera. Think about roles such as producer, director, camera operator, sound. Perhaps there is a role for a researcher and an interviewer (a community reporter). You could also think costumes, make up, music-making, posters and publicity, ushers, refreshments …But the editing process can be quite complex and it makes sense to leave it to a small team or to one trained individual.

Fundraising and resources

Expect to pay £1500 or more for a 1-day film shoot to produce a 3 minute film. In briefing a film company be clear about how you want to engage the real-life community most effectively and ensure that ethical issues such as consent are fully understood. If you are buying your own equipment prices start at £80 for a very basic flip camera; expect to pay £300 for a good camcorder, and over £1000 for a second-hand semi-professional camcorder. DVDs printed with cases cost about £1 each and online upload on YouTube or Vimeo is free.