Filmmaking Tips by Cecilia Araneda and Heidi Phillips

I’ve been asked more than a few times over the last several years about how I started to make films, moving from the desire to make a film and actually realizing this goal in consideration of the fact that I have no formal training in film production. There are many schools of thought on this topic and probably no specifically right or wrong way; as such, I can only talk about my approach and what I’ve learned from my particular experience. Before anything else, you need to figure out what it is you want to do and why you want to do it. if you want to break-through in the commercial film or television industry, your approach will be different from mine. If you are interested in the art and craft of cinema, and feel the power of its specific artistic language will enable you to develop and grow as an artist and to realize your artistic raison d’etre, I may have a few tips.

Whoa, back up you say – artistic raison d’what? You just want to make a short film you say?

Tip #1
Have the confidence to accept yourself to be an artist; declare it publicly. Looking up the word ‘art’ in the Gage Canadian Dictionary, this is its definition: Any form of human activity that is the product of imagination and skill and that appeals mainly to the imagination. If you want to make a film of any form or genre, you are an artist – dare to accept this and move on. Artists come in all flavours and varieties, Declaring yourself to be an artist by no means implies that you can no longer work on that comedy you’ve been trying to get into production for a few years; being an artist isn’t onto itself synonymous with being arrogant and not having a sense of humour. Accepting yourself to be an artist and to have the right to be an artist is of critical importance when working in an art where you will be judged critically (and – yes – sometimes mercilessly) on a regular basis, because confidence is 9/10th of the game.

Tip #2
Sit down and figure out why you want to make films. Why is your film different from all the cinema that currently exists and why is it necessary for you to make your film? If you watch entire bodies of work of the film artists you most admire and respect (or even those you don’t necessarily admire, but who have developed a body of work), you will see recurring, developing and evolving themes. In some cases, artists will declare a formal manifesto or their artistic raison d’etre. I haven’t made a formal statement, but I am keenly aware of the themes I explore and their recurrence over and over again in my work is not accidental. IF you have a difficult time getting into this head-space, imagine yourself writing an English essay about your film or your films much like you would about a play by Shakespeare, and this will get you started. If you’re not at the point where you have a specific idea, but want to be inspired to make a short film, watch films. Start with any and all films by Sergei Eisenstein you are able to locate and then move on to the following: The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tectonic Plates, Blade Runner (yes), The Unbelievable Truth, Léolo, Reservoir Dogs and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Watch Close my Eyes while you’re at it. Once you’ve seen all of these, move on to the films of John Paizs, Guy Maddin and Jeffrey Erbach, among other Winnipeg filmmakers. Accept the fact that by sheer virtue of you working in Winnipeg, your films will always be contextualized against theirs in one way or another; this is not a bad thing.

Tip #3
Quite the opposite of many filmmakers working out of the Film Group today, I don’t think you need any particular technical experience or expertise to be a filmmaker. But, if you choose this route, learn that your very best friend should be an experienced Production Manager. Experienced Production Managers are worth their weight in gold, especially for a first film. Having said this, by saying you don’t require any technical expertise or experience, I am not saying it is all right to not understand the technical language and context of the art. Beyond watching films, you should take workshops to fill in the gaps of your technical knowledge to bring these up to a general level of understanding – you don’t have to be an editor to be a director, but you should understand how editing is done so that you can direct your editor. If you don’t aim to work in a narrative, live action model but want to make experimental films instead, forget what I just said about not needing technical expertise – if experimental is your model, you must know what you are experimenting with and for this reason you should take every film workshop you can get your hand on.)

Tip #4
At the risk of sounding cliché, my last tip is the following: just do it. Making a first film requires – more than any other thing – the personal belief that you can make a film and that you have the right to do so. Nothing will teach you more about how to make a film than the very act of making one.

– Cecilia Araneda in The Moose, Spring 2007


Well, if you are not going to use a camera then you need to find your footage. It is fun to use actual film footage be it 8mm, super 8 or 16mm. This way you can manipulate it by hand which is very fun. It’s best to have a theme so that you know what you are looking for then you are ready to hunt. Good footage places would be in your grandparents’ basement, thrift stores, eBay or the Film Group. Then watch the footage with a projector cutting out your favorite images. Next use a light table and scratch or bleach the film to desired aesthetics. If you don’t have a light table simply grab your glass coffee table and get the glass frosted. This with a clamp light underneath will make a perfect one. Now all you need to do is edit the footage together. You can do this the old fashion way on the Steenbeck by cutting and pasting. Or you can transfer the footage onto video for editing on a computer. This can be done simply by video taping the projected image while watching the footage. Editing is the most challenging part of making a film without a camera, as this is when all the decisions have to be made. But it can also be very fun as you get to mix and match all the great pictures you found during the search. Finally, you can add sound to your film if you like or just get the audience to make it for you.

– Heidi Phillips in The Moose, Spring 2007


~ by cineflyer on July 7, 2011.

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