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So you wanna be a Filmmaker?

Updated on August 16, 2014

The first full-length feature film was released a century ago, starting a fad for sitting in a dark room watching flickering images. More than 20 years later the Oscars were established to reward the finest examples of the film-making art.

Much of the technology and many filmmaking techniques have changed over the years since those first silent feature films but people still love to go to the movies.

Do you want to 'become' a Filmmaker?

You could always do a university course. But that will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. Before you make such a commitment you may want to test the waters first. Read up, learn from the best and actually see if you have a passion for it. Grab a camera, some friends, and shoot something.

Photos by Sanja Gjenero and Madhur Verma

First Films

Photography was invented in the early 19th century, very soon after somebody figured out a way to project photographs on to a screen. In 1877, British-born Eadweard Muybridge used 12 equally spaced cameras to take pictures of a horse galloping (to prove that all four hooves left the ground at one stage). These pictures were then used for the parlor toy known as the Zoetrope - a rotating drum with viewing slits that, when spun, made pictures inside the drum seem to move. In 1880, Muybridge worked out a way to project his still images of motion onto a screen using an invention called the Zoopraxiscope.

This inspired inventors to create a single camera that could take rapid pictures of something in motion that could be played back to produce the illusion of movement. This was made possible by the invention of a camera that could move film quickly enough (16 frames per second) to take pictures of movement and also celluloid film flexible and resilient enough to move through a camera and a projector. American Thomas Edison took this technology and created the Kinetoscope, a device that allowed a person to view moving pictures through a slot.

But France's Lumiere brothers created the Cinematographe. It flickered more than Edison's invention but it projected its images on a screen and was more portable than Edison's design.

Modern Motion Picture Technology

Motion picture technology is evolving all the time. There have been many improvements in cameras, sound and even film since the Lumiere brothers first demonstrated their Cinematographe in 1895.

One of the major changes was the use of artificial lighting on sets. Up until the 1920s, most films were shot on sets built outside to make use of natural light. Another major change was the introduction of sound in the 1920s, which made it essential to use electric motor drives rather than hand-cranks on cameras so that sound and film could be synchronized. Color film revolutionized the art-form in the 1930s, although plenty of producers and directors chose (and still choose) to use black and white film stock for economic or artistic reasons.

The Future of Film

Digital technology is another future direction in film. Some day soon there may not actually be any "film" but everything will be filmed on digital cameras, be edited digitally and then projected with digital projectors. Computers are another way future movies will be transformed. At first they were used for special effects but it is now possible to film actors against a blue or green screen and then add most of the scenery afterwards, as was done in the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Computers have also created creatures such as King Kong and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and are sometimes used to add more people in scenes where thousands of extras would once have been used, causing many to speculate that perhaps some day we may even be able to replace human actors with computer-generated performers.

Cinematography Glossary of Terms

Commonly used terms in the industry...

  • Boom: a long, extensible rod, mounted on a swivel stand and used as a microphone mount to enable it to follow the action in a scene without appearing in camera range.

  • Background projection: a process whereby a background, previously photographed without performers, is projected on to a screen before which the actors appear.

  • Camera angle: the position from which a scene is photographed, depending largely ipon the effect it is desired to produce in the minds of the cinema audience.

  • Can (in the): a saying denoting satifactory film work. "It's in the can" means "It's as good as done".

  • Caption: explanatory matter photographed as printing.

  • Close-up: a shot in which a relatively small subject, such as a hand or face, fills the screen area when projected.

  • Continuity: the process of keeping the thread of the story throughout the film and from shot to shot.

  • Credits: captions at the start or finish of a film, acknowledging the contributions of cast, technicians, etc, towards the making of the picture.

  • Cutting: removing unwanted material, and assembling the edited shots into sequences according to the dramatic demands of the script.

  • Crane: a mobile mount for the camera, operators and lights, which is capable of being extended, elevated and traversed to allow the camera to follow the action.

  • Director: the actual creator of the film, whose business is to secore the most effective presentation of the idea underlying it.

  • Dissolve: the gradual change from one picture to another, in which the first picture gradually disappears while the second appears through it.

  • Dolly: a wheeled platform for the camera, crew and lights, usually running on tracks.

  • Editor: makes cutting decisions and instructs cutter.

  • Effects: sounds produced artificially to represent the noises which should accompany action ina film.

  • Extra: members of the cast without speaking parts, who are used to fill in, such as crowd scenes.

  • Fade-in/Fade-out: the gradual appearance or disappearance of a picture on the screen, employed usually to mark the beginning and end, respectively, of a new sequence.

  • Flash: a very short cut shot.

  • Footage: the amount of film expended in the taking of a film. This may vary from about 1000 foot, the average length of a reel, to over 10,000 foot. It takes about 11 minutes to show 1000 foot of 35 mm sound film.

  • Follow-focus: junior member of the camera crew, who is responsible for maintaining the focus of the camera in crane or dolly shots.

  • Frame: a single picture recorded on a strip of celluloid film. In a talking film, 24 such shots are exposed each second.

  • Location: any place, outside the grounds of a studio, used in the taking of a film.

  • Mixing: in the production of a sound film, a number of microphones are used in each scene, and it is necessary to control the volume of sound transmitted from each, so as to secure the required general effect and balance.

  • Montage: method of film scoring in which film, dialogue and music are blended to produce an effect.

  • Negative film: film as developed after exposure in the camera. It has all light and shade reversed.

  • Pan shots: panning, ie: moving the camera either vertically or horizontally during the taking of a shot following movement. IT is used in interiors to produce the effect of continuty of movement.

  • Positive film: film printed from the negative giving correct light and shade rendition.

  • Producer: the chief executive of a producing company who determines the policy to be followed in the making of a film.

  • Scenario: the "book" of the film. The director finds in it the story of the film arranged in shots, scenes, etc, together with a description of the pictures required and details of the setting. The position of the camera is also indicated.

  • Sequence: a section of the film narrative, ie: a series of conneceted shots dealing with one incident or phase of the story.

  • Set: the room, building or phase of the story.

  • Shot: the series of photographs taken during a single run of the camera. "Shooting" is the act of taking the film.

  • Stand-in: person with physcial characteristics similar to the star. He is used as a subject to test lighting and camera angles.

  • Still: photographs of a particular scene taken during production with an ordinary camera, and used to advertise the film.

  • Stock: raw film before exposure.

  • Synchronization: the process of securing the accompaniment of sound to action with precise accuracy.

  • Trailer: a short film advertising a coming attrachtion, usually showing sample dramatic highlights.

  • Zoom: A shot taken during the operation of a zoom-lens, gives the impression, when viewed, that the camera has moved through space rapidly, bringing an object into close-up from long-shot focus. It superseded the elaborate track scaffolding in dolly shots.


Every professional motion picture film starts with an outline, generally referred to as the treatment. This treatment is written in essay or story form. It outlines the idea without worrying about the technicalities of producing it as a film.

The treatment, however, already visualizes the film in terms of action and images. In the case of a feature film it may have to convert the literary style and expression of an original story into a pictorial presentation.

Once the treatment has been approved the script is written. This means that the subject matter is painstakingly divided up into scenes, preferably by someone who has sufficient technical knowledge to write only what is filmable: this is especially necessary in the case of documentary and other non-fiction films made on limited budgets.

The scenes are numbered consecutively and against each item is placed practical information such as location, camera position and movements, and the actors required (with their dialogue, if any).

Come Right In: First Sentences, First Paragraphs

Elia Kazan, brilliant director of stage and screen as well as a late-blooming novelist, told me that audiences give a film seven minutes. If the viewer is not intrigued by character or incident within that time, the film and its viewer are at odds. The viewer came for an experience. The film is disappointing him.

Source: Stein on Writing

Is it your dream to be a filmmaker?

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