We asked Ray Sims, a recent first class graduate, to give us some ideas on film making at home for those starting out, or those who want to know more about how to do more; also for some links to inspirational ideas and practical advice.
Ray tells us: “My experience has been via taking part in schemes which provide funding for young filmmakers to make films. I directed two plays, which taught me a lot about working with actors, as well as how to bring my own vision and interpretations of a story to life. “
We thought it would be really interesting to have her views here, as a young person just starting out, particularly to inspire other young people buty also to help anyone who may be looking to experiment with film at home as a way to express their creativity.
We’ll hand over to Ray:
I’ll start with some ideas of how to experiment with making films, with some prompts on where to get started, and some thoughts on where to find inspiration.
Once you’ve started making work, maybe you want to think about film as a career – so I have also provided a brief look about what a career in the film industry might look like.
Here’s a film I made recently at home, to give you an idea about my work:
And here is a film I directed with a budget and help from other filmmakers!
Film is a way to tell a story, but it also communicates a personal way of seeing the world. If you’re making your own film, you have the opportunity to make something which shows how you see things – so what might you want to be a part of that world?
You’ve probably been at home a lot more because of lockdown, so a good way to start thinking about a film might be to think about what you can make within the constraints of your own home – below are some examples of films made in lockdown.
Often, having restrictions on what you can make encourages you to think a bit more creatively!
Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down:
My Place: Self-Isolation Edition with Sage Adams: https://www.nowness.com/series/my-place-self-isolation-edition/sage-adams
The Wedding of Phoebe and Silvius (Royal Shakespeare Company):
Scripts and Screenplays:
If you’re thinking about writing a script or screenplay, this free FutureLearn course from the University of East Anglia is a good way to get started with the basics: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/screenwriting
This website has hundreds of free PDFs of screenplays from a huge range of films, so you can see how your favourite films looked on the page:
If you’re worried about how to come up with a story, or write a script, why not adapt something? Maybe you could re-shoot a scene from a film you like, or adapt a fairy tale, familiar story or urban legend.
If you don’t want to get filming straight away, you could instead spend some time on world-building, which is how sci-fi and fantasy films are often constructed. When a film is introducing its audience to a new world, the filmmakers have to spend a lot of time on the details of how that world might work. These are things like the geography of the world, the language, how politics and economics work, what the inhabitants of the world look like, and whether you’re seeing that world through the eyes of someone who inhabits it, or a visitor, or new person.
This short, for example, introduces the viewer to a very strange world – as you watch it, try and figure out how director Dylan Holmes Williams introduces the audience to the story, without actually explaining the scenario which drives the film:
If you want to film straight away, why not skip development stages and start filming what’s around you? Here are some films which are observational, or a guide to a place or thing. They might not have a narrative, but this is a fun way to experiment with film as an art form without having to write a script or follow a story. This might also suit documentary film-making – why not interview someone close to you, or write them a short monologue to perform?
The Wild Garden:
Finally, here are two links that can be good for a bit of spontaneous inspiration:
Oblique Strategies, which will help you experiment with an idea if you get stuck for how to move forward: http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html
And a random object generator – try choosing 3 objects and making a story out of them! https://perchance.org/object
Sound and Vision:
Film as a medium usually combines visual and audio work to tell a story, so I’ve split this into two sections just to look at a few specifics.
There’s a wealth of possibilities when it comes to sound in making a film. If you’re making a narrative-driven film and you have dialogue or narration, sound might be essential in getting the mood right. Directing the dramatic feel of dialogue and narration is really important – how do you want your actors to sound? Are they scared or excited, or speaking quickly or slowly?
Maybe you have narration that isn’t focussed around driving the plot, like poetry or a monologue. Even then, you should still spend time figuring out how the speaker’s delivery will change the film you’re making!
Sound isn’t just dialogue, however. Soundscapes are a great way to add texture to your film. You could record sounds around you and edit them in, or if you have editing software, like Audacity (which is free!) you could slow down sounds, reverb them, and reverse them to make creepy noises. The T-Rex noise in Jurassic Park includes sounds of tortoises, and a Yorkshire Terrier barking!
Here are some examples of how sound or narration can change a film:
World’s greatest tour guide:
The Majestic Plastic Bag:
Music, if you want to use it, can be a really important part of a film. Most music is copyrighted, but you could use it on personal film projects as long as you don’t publish them – you could even make a music video if you find music helps you come up with ideas.
There are lots of websites which provide music which is freely available for use, or is in the public domain. Music is, of course, a really good way of communicating emotion or a change in tone to an audience, and you’d be surprised how much music can change a scene.
Moby Gratis (free music, by musician Moby): https://mobygratis.com/
Freesound.org (crowd sourced sound effects & recordings): https://freesound.org/
Bensound (royalty free music): https://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music/2
by which I mean everything that’s visible – this is also called mise-en-scene, meaning everything that appears in the scene. Could you make your own set or costumes? Or design some props?
A useful way to look at vision is to make collages or mood-boards which have a similar feel to the film you want to make –you could use screenshots from other films, photos you’ve taken yourself, or cut out photos from magazines and newspapers to make a collage.
Lighting can totally change the way a film looks, and playing with lighting is fairly easy as long as you have access to a few free standing lamps or torches! Just make sure to block out natural light if you want to have total control over the lighting.
Most computers have free editing software available, and they’re usually fairly easy to get to grips with. Or you could make a film with no editing – films like Rope (1948), Birdman (2014) and 1917 (2019), tell a full-length story with little to no cuts.
If you’re making a narrative driven film with a lot of shots, then editing will be important – but editing can also be a really fun way to play and experiment with film, by putting images together that might not be related, or playing with sounds to add new meaning to something you’ve filmed.
Here is a poem-film, by Margaret Tait, which uses editing to put images together as though putting together words or metaphors in a poem:
This is a video of Alfred Hitchock explaining the Kuleshov Effect, essentially explaining how cutting two images together can totally change the meaning of an image:
Film & The Industry:
If you’re thinking about a job in film, ScreenSkills does a rundown of every role on a film set, with a short profile about what each job involves: https://www.screenskills.com/careers/job-profiles/film-and-tv-drama/
Most filmmakers have had complex and interesting journeys into film – so here a few examples of well-known filmmakers, and their different routes into filmmaking:
Amma Asante was a child actress before founding her own production company, Tantrum Films, with which she made her first feature film in 2004. She then went on to direct Belle, in 2013, A United Kingdom in 2016, and later, episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale (2019) and Mrs America (2020).
Jacqueline Durran is a costume designer, who has worked on Pride & Prejudice (2005), Anna Karenina (2012), and Little Women (2019). Durran started working in film through working in a costume rental shop in London, after which she found work assisting on feature films and worked her way up to being a costume designer.
After studying at the Royal College of Art, Ridley Scott began to work as a set designer, before working as a TV director. He then founded Ridley Scott Associates, a production company, and began to make adverts. He worked in advertising for many years before making his first feature film, The Duellists, in 1977.
Gurinder Chadha started her career in radio, before working as a news reporter for the BBC. She then began to direct documentaries, including a 1989 documentary called I’m British But…. After that, she set up her production company, Umbi Films, and made her first feature, Bhaji on the Beach, in 1994. She has gone on to direct films including Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008) and Blinded by the Light (2019).
While studying art at Chelsea College of Arts and Goldsmiths University, Steve McQueen made multiple video installations and short film works, and continued to work as an artist before making his first feature film, Hunger, in 2008. He has continued to make feature films, including 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Widows (2018). He also continues to make shorter video works, including the video for Kanye West’s song ‘All Day’, and Year 3, an exhibition of photos of Year 3 students from the whole of London
Finally, here are some more helpful links:
BAFTA Guru, for talks, lectures & more: http://guru.bafta.org/
Screenskills Select Courses, for finding a filmmaking course at higher education level: https://www.screenskills.com/courses/search/#/
BFI Network, to share your work and see the work of others: https://network.bfi.org.uk
Nowness, Directors Talk: https://www.nowness.com/series/directors-talk
Random Acts, for inspiration: https://randomacts.channel4.com/tagged/featured-collection