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A-Z of Filmmaking (part 2)

This post was written by Joseph Monahan at

So you’ve checked out part 1 of my A-Z of filmmaking – here’s part two! Hopefully this blog and the links I’ve provided will help you in your filmmaking futures!



Night Conversion! Better known as day to night conversion, using this effect can save you dragging everyone out in the dead of night to get those dark night time shots. The idea seems simple, shoot your fotage during the day then use an effects programme, such as After Effects, to transform it into night. Of course it’s not as simple as it sounds.

We’ve used the day to night technique in our latest short film ‘The Field’ and it’s currently looking pretty cool. Always remember that you need to have it all planned before shooting. For best results you need to capture a washed-out look. An overcast day is perfect. Better still, film it all in shaded areas. Keep away from direct sunlight if possible!

My co-director Callum Smith is better at these types of things than me so go ask him about it. Find him on Twitter:

Or let Andrew Kramer show you how it’s done in this great tutorial:


Oscars! Everyone loves the Oscars don’t they? Don’t they? The most important award ceremony in any filmmaker or actors career, the Academy Awards are that grand event that seem so alien to anyone not involved. I personally love the Oscars. I love that it is a celebration of film. Fair enough it is also a celebration of who is wearing the best dress but you can’t have everything!

But the Oscars are a tradition that has been going since 1929 and will continue a lot longer. Check out Total Films best moments from the awards –


Practice! This is a must for your actors and your camera operators. Rehearsals can be put on the back burner. It means another day out of your already busy schedule. But trust me, it is very important. There is nothing worse than getting on set and having to practise everything that could take up a large portion of your time.

The best results for rehearsing with actors is to try and get them in the mind frame of the character. Get them to understand who they are, what they’ve done and then get them to become that character in various situations that are nothing to do with the films story. Get them to improvise a scene set somewhere different, say doing their weekly shop or delivering a large parcel. Then, once they have their character, begin to rehearse the scenes from the film.

As for the camera operators, if you can rehearse on the actual set, get the camera operators to check for shots, distances and movements. Anything that can save you time on the day of the shoot.


Quiet on Set! If you’re a director you need to be in control of everything going on around you, from the actors to the camera operators to the guy at the back of the room picking his nose and texting his wife. But don’t become one of those ‘nightmare’ directors you always hear about. There is a fine line between giving instructions and being bossy. On the same hand you don’t want to be a pushover and let others make the decisions for you.

Raindance have some great tips for directors –


Raindance! If there is one company that has helped me throughout my filmmaking career it is Raindance. Raindance is essentially a film festival. So get your films submitted to them! They also provide film courses so if you’ve got the spare cash get yourself booked into one and see what you can learn.

The main thing for me from Raindance are their online tips and advice. Take a look at their website:


Script/Screenplay! There is nothing more important for any film, no matter what the length, than the script/screenplay. It’s the foundations for your film. Without it, it cannot be made. So how do you write  a great screenplay? This isn’t an easy question to answer. The truth is that some buggers are born with a great ability to write. You’ll hear many times that to be able to write a good script you need to read lots and lots of scripts. Yes, this is great advice for people who aren’t born with this unnatural ability. And if you are one of these people then get on google and find scripts to read – there are plenty out there. If you are one of the lucky ones then get writing!

Remember that when you’re writing you need to create engaging characters. Even if the situation they’re in is ridiculous, like mutant chickens attacking the streets of Bridlington, the characters involved need to be real and feel real.

I’m not a great one for giving writing advice because I write in a very unconventional way. But check out these great writing tips from Raindance who have got it pretty spot on!


Television! Most of us have one. It’s that rectangular object that is the focus point of every living room. We arrange our chairs to face it. We position our lamp so it doesn’t shine on it. We complain if there is nothing on it to watch yet still flick through the channels ‘just in case’.

Recently there has been a surge of great television – Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, 24, Lost and Touch to name but a few. Television studios are finally getting the budgets to allow them to improve their content. Which is great news for viewers. It is also a great time for television actors who are being allowed to try something new. It also means it’s a great time for writers and filmmakers as their are more opportunities… if of course you’re one of the lucky ones to get that opportunity!

Check out the scripts to the pilot episodes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men here!


Us! One of the most important things in filmmaking is the ability to work together as a team. Remember there’s no I in team! If you can’t work together with other people then maybe you should get a job that doesn’t involve… well… people. I’m not going to bang on about it. In most jobs you have to work in a team to succeed. Filmmaking is no different.


Volume! Get your sound mixing right or go home! There is no excuse for badly mixed sound. And whilst we’re on the subject of sound, capture the best sound you possibly can on location. Get yourself some good recording equipment – or find someone who already has it and get them on board. Plus you need someone good at using it too! And any sound that doesn’t sound great, has wind interference, background traffic etc, needs to be corrected in ADR. Overdubbing your actors voices may seem like a chore, and you’d be right, but it could save your sound!

There is nothing worse than watching a film with bad sound. Too many times have I watched a short film that has recorded sound via the onboard mic. It makes you seem amateur and no one will want your film!

Here’s some tips on how to record sound on location:


Webseries! The invention of the internet and the creation of sites such as Vimeo or YouTube has it’s downsides (see Y below). It is also however a great place for ideas and what better idea than a webseries? A place for you to make a series that, unlike television, every episode can be any length you want and whatever content you like. Plus we don’t have to get our series actually onto the television in order for people to see it.

I’m not going to put a link to any as everyone has different tastes. All I can say is get searching for some and you’ll find some little gems. You’ll also find some rotters, just like the rot you go through before you find your one true love. But then that’s life!


Xylophone. Only joking – Xtras! I know, I know, extras begins with an ‘e’, but what are you going to do about it? Now at some point in your film you are likely to need extras. We all know what they are – people in the background of your film to convince us that your location is real. Be it nightclub, train station or street. All those friends of yours, and your mum and dad, brothers, sisters, cousins and grannies, at last they come in handy for something! Get them in your film as your extras. Make sure they know however, that a film shoot is a long process and there is a lot of waiting around.

Also make sure they are the right people for the scene. There’s no point have your elderly grandmother sliding down the pole in the nightclub! Another thing to make sure is that they are not wooden on screen. Many people freeze in front of a camera or appear uncomfortable. It is a directors job, or if you’ve a bigger crew, your assistant director’s job to get them acting as naturally as possible.


YouTube! The website that has changed the way we watch video content forever! Love it or hate it, YouTube is hear to stay. Now, the problem with YouTube is that for every brilliant short film you can find on there, you have to sift through a bunch of people falling over, a number of dancing girls in bikinis and a shed load of cats. So how do you stand above the crowd? How do you get your video to those heights of a million views and 50,000 likes? Truth is I have no idea. But the truth also is that if you only want to make content to get hits on YouTube then you need to be taking videos of people falling over, girls in bikinis and cats.

YouTube has created a generation of people who have short concentration spans. It is proved that on average people will only watch a video for a couple of minutes. Then, if the video hasn’t finished, people get bored and move to the next video. It has come to a point where people think they don’t really have the time to watch your half-hour film on YouTube, but will then sit and watch an hours worth of dancing cats.

Stand out, don’t be a sheep – demand great content! Here are some brilliant little short films from YouTube –


Zombies! Ok, here’s a major gripe of mine – bad indie zombie films! Yes it’s cheap to make a barrel of fake blood and get your friends dressed up as the undead. The problem with that is, more often that not, they look cheap and that you’ve just got your friends dressed up as the undead – which is fine if you’re just having a bit of fun!

There are plenty of other monsters out there to chose from – or why not even create a brand new monster! If you’re a writer, a storyteller, then you should be able to come up with some sort of new monster idea.

And if you have to do zombies then please try something different! The same with music, make it stand out from the crowd. How can you make your zombie film different to the million other zombie films out there?

The End… unless there are any letters I have missed out?!

If you liked this post, check out Berry Productions on Twitter –


A-Z of Filmmaking (part 1)

This post was written by Joseph Monahan at

Someone recently asked me if I could name 26 different things to do with myself, but each thing had to begin with a different letter of the alphabet. ‘Easy,’ I thought. Until I reached X and Z. Xylophones and Zebras don’t really have anything to do with me but I managed to blag them into my life somehow!

This got me thinking of making an A-Z list of things to do with filmmaking. So here is my list, filled with happy links to relevant sites and blogs for you to become a goose and gander at!

Let us begin…



A-Z ActorsActors! Vital, of course, for every film, but even more so for indie filmmakers with little or no budget. There’s nothing worse than watching a film with bad acting! The truth is, that friend of yours that looks like he could be the Android Pig Farmer from Mars who has come to Earth to enslave the Human race, although potentially could look like an Android Pig Farmer from Mars, probably can’t act like one!

Find local actors, there are plenty of groups out there, many of whom are starting out like yourself and are willing to work for cookies and something to go on their showreel. Please also cast the correct aged person for your roles as well! Too many times, and especially with younger filmmakers, do I see young people cast as characters that in the real world would be a lot older. Bumfluff Mike who you go to college with won’t be right for Colonel Frank Frisk, who is head of the armed forces about to take down that bloody pig farmer!

Check out the actors in our new short film ‘The Field’!


Good 8aBerry Productions! What else! Berry Productions is my little indie film company consisting of a talented group of writers, directors, camera and sound operators, actors, editors, musicians and a whole bunch of other clever little skills that people need to make films!

In our little city of Hull in the North of England there really are not the same opportunities to filmmakers to make a name for themselves. Which is why we’ve had to learn that the only way we’re going to make it is to keep on going – keep making films, keep writing scripts. Sure, we’re skint (aren’t we all) and sure we have to battle through the day jobs till the weekend when we can continue our dreams (don’t we all!). But if that’s what you’ve got to do then that’s what you’ve got to do! Christopher Nolan made his first feature film at weekends whilst working full time during the week. It possible, but it’s bloody hard work!

Check out some of our older films here!


Camera! Ok, an obvious one this. You can’t make a film without a camera right? Right! And you can’t make a film without the best camera with the most expensive lenses that the world has ever seen right? Wrong! The truth is that you can make a film on ANY type of camera be it your family camcorder, mobile phone camera, webcam… or of course the best camera with the most expensive lenses the world has ever seen!

The trick is to have a good story to tell and then be creative with your shots. Let’s face it – every film starts off with a story and that story, plus your brilliant actors, are the key points to making your film a success. What you shoot it on really depends on what it required for the film. Could you film your action-packed sci-fi epic with exploding buildings and car chases through LA on your iPhone? Probably not. But do you need the best camera in the world to film your heart-felt, realistic view of a woman’s struggle to find the TV remote down the back of the couch? Again, probably not. It’s all about how you use the camera and the interesting shots you can capture from it that will make your film stand out from the crowd.

Find the best cameras to suit your film and your budget. Here’s some good reviews of affordable cameras –


DirectorDirecting! If you’re a director then it’s you vision of the script that is going to bring this film to life and make it great. This also of course means that it’s also your vision that could make this film flop and end up at the bottom of YouTube’s search pile. What is different about you that is going to make your directing style stand out about the crowd? What is different about your style that is going to make your film be a hit? How are you going to get your cast and crew working together to make the magic happen? How are you going to translate that script into the best film that was ever made?

The best advice I can give is to try and not do it alone. The best directors in the world have a lot of people around them, going over and over the story, helping them to create a style for the film and make it work. Of course on the other hand as the saying goes, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. You have to know how to ask for help and who to ask it from depending on what you need.

The way I direct is quite simple – everything, and I mean everything, is planned out beforehand with with my crew so when we get on set the only thing I have to really worry about is directing the actors. And above all else I try to keep it fun and make sure everyone enjoys themselves!

Anyway don’t listen to me, listen to the experts –


Edit 2Editing! The anti-social side of filmmaking (aside from screenwriting of course!) The best thing an editor can do is grab the people shooting the film and scream at them ‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!’ Yup, there’s nothing worse than getting the rushes back to edit only to discover that editing them together is going to be like you’re getting dragged through hell by your hair!

Life for an editor is a tough one. Hours staring at a computer screen – but hey, at least in this modern world we all have computers and can get access to great editing software at reasonable prices. We do all of our editing on Adobe Preimier Pro and Adobe After Effects – I suggest you check them out!

The best advise I can give to maximise your time, is to make sure you go through all of the rushes first – I know, it an be boring as hell, but log the best takes and save you scrawling through the clips at another point. And label everything so you don’t get lost! Better still… get someone else to do all that for you!

And when you’ve got a rough edit together, leave it for a day or two and come back to it. There is always something you’ll want to change!

Here are some great tips on editing –


200429986-001Film Festivals! I love film festivals, mainly because I love films so much! There is so much talent in the world that it deserves to be seen. Most cities and even a lot of towns now have film communities that hold regular or annual film screenings or festivals. As film lovers (which, let’s face it, if you want to make films then you must be) you should get to see as many as possible – not just the ones your film is showing in!

So why should you enter your film for a festival? They’re usually expensive to enter, you’re not guaranteed to be accepted and even if you are then you might not win or end up with that multi-million film deal right? True. But if you’ve taken the weeks, months, years to make your film then you surely want people to see it? When you’re planning your budget for your film, think in advance and try and save some pennies for the festivals. Yes they can be expensive to enter but really worth it! Just getting to see your film on the big screen is an amazing experience. Plus, many festivals are a great place to network, meet other filmmakers and actors who may wish to work with you in the future.

And you never know… that film deal, or at least distribution deal, could happen. But it won’t if you don’t enter!

Withoutabox is a great website that lets you enter your films details and screener, search for thousands of relevant festivals and submit to them. Check it out, it’s free –


NeilGreen Screen! I love green screen – when used correctly! With my film company Berry Productions, we go around primary schools providing filmmaking workshops for the children. The best way to make films films with the children is have them acting in front of a green screen allowing us to put them in whatever location is needed. Sin City style – but not Sin City content… that would probably get us fired!

Green Screen is used in more films than you probably even realise. Unfortunately it is often used very poorly – especially in indie films, and surprisingly in many major Hollywood blockbuster. We’ve all seen it. There is no excuse for a bad use of green!


HelicamHeli-Cam! We can’t afford helicopters to shoot aerial footage unless we’re Richard Branson. However there is a new spate of capturing aerial footage using remote control helicopters or Heli-Cams. Using small HD 1080p cameras, such as the GoPro camera, attached with stabilised rigs, some of the footage that has been appearing online is amazing! Great aerial footage at a reasonable price? Sound good to me!

This is the best footage I have seen. Imagine having a shot like this in your film – would really increase your production value!


Indie Film! So what is Indie Filmmaking? This is one of those questions that everyone seems to have a different answer to. We all know that making a film with  a zero budget, shooting it on your mums dentists camera and bribing all of your mates with jellybeans to get involved, technically makes you an indie filmmaker. But then ‘The King’s Speech’ istechnically an indie film too and I’m pretty sure Colin Firth didn’t get paid with jellybeans.

Officially an indie film is a film that has been made outside of, and not with the backing of, a major film studio. It’s also about style and content. Look, don’t ask me, I’m as confused as the next person about it all. Check out what Wikipedia – it seems to make sense:

Keep supporting indie film. We all complain about the quality of ‘Hollywood’ films – indie is the future!


Job! As in ‘don’t quit your dayjob’. And the saying is correct. You’re not going to become a sensation overnight. Your dreams of fame and fortune, although could possibly happen, aren’t going to happen any time soon. Stick to what you know, work hard to earn money then work hard spending that money on making your film!

I am a strong believer that if you work hard at your dreams then they will eventually come true in at least some form! Keep your day job for now because eventually you’re day job could be doing what you love!


tron_1Kramer. Andrew Kramer. Where would we all be without Andrew Kramer and his video copilot tutorials. With today’s computers its so easy to make digital effects for your film. This of course makes it easy to add some very bad digital effects. Don’t fill your film with fancy effects just because you can. Subtlety is the key when it comes to effects.

Check out Andrew Kramer on Video Copilot. He’s got some brilliant tutorials for After Effects on there to help you on your way:


Arri-lightsLighting! As indie filmmakers we can’t afford many things. Food being one. Rent often another! One thing we need to spend our cash on though is lighting. Lights are something that is often overlooked but will really make a huge difference to the production of your film. A perfectly lit scene will make its value boom. However that word ‘perfect’ is a tricky thing to get right. Too much light will blow out your image, not enough will make it too dark. Light in the wrong positions will add the wrong feel to your film, or make it look as though random light is pouring in from an unknown source.

Get it right however and greatly positioned lights can make your scene scary, tense, mysterious or funny. Three point lighting is the norm – two lights from the sides, one for backlighting. I’m not a lighting expert. These guys are though –


filmmusic1Music! One of the things that lets down indie film is bad music. Or not necessarily let’s it down but doesn’t make it stand out from the crowd – usually because they’ve used royalty-free music they’ve found on the web. Generic ‘movie’ music that could possibly have been used in someone else movie already. You need to get some personality in your film. You’ve spent so long planning, shooting and editing the damn thing you need to take the time on the music as well.

However, remember if you’re going to use any other music you need to get your copy-write clearance. One of the major reasons good films are rejected from festivals is a lack of clearances. If you managed to sell your film distribution and not cleared copy-write then you are going to be in big trouble!

My advice – find someone who can make it for you. If you’re not blessed with musical skills yourself, or don’t know anyone who would be interested to do it for you, then hire someone who can. But get the right people – the wrong music for your film will ruin its chances!

To be continued…

Hope this helps you in your filmmaking – check out part 2!

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