Filmmaking in the Internet Era by Reese Hayes

Written by Justin Andrus, The Dashing Intern

September 4, 1998.
February 19, 1999.
February 14, 2005.

These are the dates of Google’s founding, my birth, and YouTube’s founding, respectively. By the time I was born, most information (or at least a lot of it, I don’t remember) was just a computer away. By the time I finished first grade, the first YouTube video to do so had hit a million views. Point is, the internet’s always been available to me. While editing the first Dashing Agent vlog last week, I realized that without the internet, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into filmmaking at all. After mulling it over some more, I came up with four of what I consider the most important-to-understand impacts the internet has on filmmakers. Let’s start with the positives:

Easier Learning

The internet lets us share knowledge across the globe, so of course it’s made filmmaking easier to pick up; it’s done the same for every skill. But aside from maybe foreign languages, I can’t think of any skill the internet has made as dramatic a difference in learnability for than filmmaking. The technical instruments combined with the art form’s visual nature can make it extremely difficult to learn by word alone. Many film textbooks try to make up for this by filling half the pages with pictures, but in my experience, nothing beats YouTube tutorials such as this helpful (if a little long) video on three-point lighting. Of course, simple practice can sometimes be a better way of learning cinematography skills, but the internet is especially useful when it comes to post-production. Every editing software invariably has a complex and intimidating layout, so if you’re at all interested in this side of filmmaking, just know that Google is your friend. Seriously, remember that it’s just a friend, or you might develop romantic feelings.

More Inspiration

The internet’s wealth of knowledge made filmmaking easier to learn, but it’s not what got me into the hobby. That was the other aspect of the web—the endless entertainment. My interest originated with Reese’s early videos (which I watched because my older brother appeared in) and grew steadily until l discovered YouTuber Gus Johnson, a comedian who makes low-production-value, yet hilarious sketches. This style seemed extremely approachable, so I finally decided to try it out. I’m sure most filmmakers my age got into this for similar reasons, but it’s easy to forget that the internet can still inspire us as we make our own projects. Whether it be writer’s block or trouble finding the right visual style for a scene, there’s always a short film on YouTube or Vimeo that can lead you in the right direction.

But the infinite entertainment does have a downside, so let’s look at the first of the internet’s negative impacts on filmmakers:

Boredom Shortage

At the end of the first lecture in my intro to film history class at Penn State, the professor showed us a short film about the dangers of constant cell phone use. At the time I thought it was just old man syndrome, but now I realize there may have been some merit in showing it to a bunch of film students. Of course, I don’t think it’s cellphones that are the problem, but it is something they can access—the internet. Making our own amusement via film or any other art form is much more work than enjoying that which is already so easily accessible, so getting motivated can be tough.

If you do find yourself on an unproductive streak, don’t blame it on your ability. As soon as you start thinking you’re not creative or a good artist, two things will likely happen: It will gradually become true, and you’ll place impossible standards on yourself in an attempt to prove that it’s not true. So rather than blaming it on your ability, blame it on how funny The Office is or how great the soundtrack was in the new season of Stranger Things. Then say today’s the day and get to work, even if it means sitting down with nothing but a notebook and a pencil until the idea for your next project hits, even if it means purposefully getting bored.

Popularity Contest

When you do make a film, the internet provides a great place to put it where it will be easily accessible. So accessible, in fact, that you might think a large number of people will access it. I mean, why not? Maybe you’ve already got a few loyal subscribers in your close friends; if they could just tell their friends and those friends could tell other friends, suddenly BAM! You’ve gone viral! Right?

Well, probably not.

Sure, it can happen, and that possibility is a beautiful thing, but I don’t need to look up the ratio of YouTubers with more than a thousand subscribers to those with fewer to know that it’s incredibly lopsided. In addition to getting your hopes up, this popularity contest format can make you give up your individual creative vision, convincing you to cater to mainstream taste before your own. While one of the best parts of being an artist is definitely entertaining others, you should still make films that you like. If you really enjoy it, someone else will too.