I still remember the first idea I had for a YouTube video.
Many summers ago, some relatives came to my family’s house with souvenirs from some trip they had just returned from. The gifts were pretty ordinary: beach towels, sweatshirts, baseball hats, a green anole. Oh right, that last one was a little shocking. For the unaware, a green anole is a small type of lizard that, as it turns out, makes for a generally boring pet. But even though Kiwi spent ninety percent of his life just lying there, basking in the sun or relaxing in his little pool of water, he would scurry faster than the human eye could see when we placed his food, a cricket from the backyard, inside his terrarium. Little me, funny guy that I was, realized the humor in this starkly contrasting behavior and decided it could make for a hilarious Planet Earth-style video with the right narration. I tested the idea on a live studio audience when my little cousin came over one day, and it proved to be a hit. So, I opened up the camera app on my iPod Touch, practiced a couple words in my British accent, dropped a new cricket in Kiwi’s cage, and hit record. Afterwards, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between my video and others I had seen. By comparison, my camerawork was awful, the audio was terribly distorted, and the concept really wasn’t very funny. I knew nobody would want to watch it, so nobody would get the chance. I deleted it.
Now maybe some of you are wondering why you’ve never heard this story from Reese before. Truth is, I’m not Reese, I’m the new Dashing Agent intern (AKA the Dashing Intern), Justin, and about six months ago I finally decided that making dumb or low-quality videos was better than making none at all. Since becoming a filmmaker, I’ve realized that the perks of this hobby go way beyond the simple satisfaction of seeing your ideas come to life, and if anyone reading this is struggling with the same fear of high standards that took me years to overcome (or knows someone who is), I hope these benefits convince you to take the leap.
A New Level of Communication
Consider this hypothetical: You have two children, Bob and Sally. Bob asks you if he can have a certain toy, but you know the toy is very dangerous and could even result in his death, so you deny him of it. But Sally, feeling bad for her brother, secretly gives him the toy. Not long after, it causes his death. Do you punish Sally? Do you ever forgive her?
Maybe you spent some time debating, but you likely came to an answer fairly quickly. Or maybe you didn’t even take the question seriously. After all, what kind of toy could kill a kid? Does Bob have a knife obsession? The hypothetical situation may seem silly, but when you watched it occur in the opening scene of A Quiet Place, I’m guessing you didn’t laugh.
Sure, I left out some details that make it more believable, but the point remains: When ideas are presented to you through video, you’re bound to examine them more thoroughly and be more deeply impacted by them than if they were expressed in words alone. You probably already understood this from a viewer’s perspective, but if you’ve never watched someone else watch your own film, you haven’t experienced the full awesomeness of filmmaking as a means of communication. Every the most basic of plots can provoke a furrowed eyebrow or a sharp exhale out of the nose, and when more complex ideas are thrown in the mix, the audience inevitably spends some time reflecting. So whether there’s some burning truth you want to spread or you just want to see someone smile, try making a film.
Thus far in my filmmaking journey, I’ve made a few comedy sketch videos, a terribly boring music video for some friends in an amateur rap group, a somewhat-interesting, but ultimately incoherent short documentary, and I’ve helped with the shooting of Cobblestoned 4. Obviously none of the former projects could be described as anything other than amateur, but I thought the set of Cobblestoned seemed professional enough to be a legit movie set until Reese and Erick informed me that I was mistaken. But despite my lack of professional filmmaking experience, I’ve seen enough to understand many of the subtleties that go into filmmaking, and it’s made movies far more entertaining.
To me, the most entertaining of these subtleties is also perhaps the most obvious—for every angle of every scene in a movie, the camera itself had to have been placed in position to capture the scene from that angle. Obvious as it is, unless you’ve dealt with the struggle of camera positioning for your own films, you probably don’t think about it a whole lot. Some especially difficult shots—and therefore more appreciable—include those in tight spaces, such as cars or small bathrooms (*cough* Cobblestoned 4), long takes during which the camera moves, such as this jarring scene from Children of Men, and my personal favorite, long shots, in which the camera is lugged a great distance from the subject to reveal their surroundings.
Other interesting aspects of filmmaking to ponder while watching movies include the order the scenes were likely shot in for convenience’s sake, the methods used to light certain scenes, how a densely populated area was cleared of people, or alternatively, how a large number of background actors were treated, a subject so significant that Reese dedicated a previous blog post to it. There are countless other things you’ll begin to notice in movies as a filmmaker, but first you’ll have to, well, make a film!
Hanging with Friends
This one’s self-explanatory. Filmmaking can be challenging, tedious, and frustrating, but it can also be exciting, funny, and just generally enjoyable. In other words, it’s the perfect way to bond with friends, and don’t worry if your friends get tired of it—there’s a whole community of passionate filmmakers waiting to work with you.
Why are you still here? Go grab a camera and film something!