It has never been easier to make a home movie than it is today. To start filming all you do is drop a film cartridge into a camera, focus, and shoot. You can buy a single-system sync-sound super 8 movie system–a miniature version of 16 mm systems used by CBS, NBC, and ABC news–for under $500. The only thing that’s missing is technique, a demystification of the medium. To fill that void, we offer here a primer on film technique. If you pay attention, you should, when you finish, be able to make a reasonably professional and accurate home movie, one that your spouse and children will love and that your neighbors may even stay to see the end of.
There are three basic stages to the movie or filmmaking process: preproduction (planning), production ( actual shooting), and post-production (editing). Planning–often the least glamorous stage–is extremely important, but it is regularly neglected by the home moviemaker. “A filmmaker must have something to film,” says James Blue, director of the Rice University Media Center and one of the country’s finest documentary filmmakers. All too often, however, home movie are spontaneous affairs during which a little of this and a little of that is filmed. You know the result all too well. Once you have decided to make a film, immediately begin asking yourself: What do I want to film? How do I want to film it? Who do I want to feature? How do I get action? Where should I be to get the images I need?
While in the pre-production phase, you should be concerned with two major film factors: overall structure and interpretive events. The structure of a film is that series of sequences that provides a beginning, a middle, and an end–in other words, continuity. The easiest things to film are concrete processes–events that have a tangible, visible reality–rather than abstract ideas, according to Brian Huberman, English documentary filmmaker who is teaching at Rice.
Luckily, most processes have a natural progression, and you should try, initially, to film such events because they will automatically provide structure for your home movie. The interpretive events are highlights, the essence of your film. If you are recording your daughter’s wedding, you could structure it around the bride dressing at home, the wedding, the reception, and the couple leaving for their honeymoon. The interpretive events within this framework might include the ceremony itself, the couple cutting the cake at the reception, the car pulling away a they leave on their honeymoon.
In planning a film, some people find it helpful to prepare a storyboard—a shot-by-shot diagram