Recent Comments

Tips for making movie magic

Film Camera

Ken Burns knows a little something about making movies. His famous documentaries, including “The Civil War” and “Baseball,” have won many awards over the years.

ken1BL sat down with Burns, a former Scout, and asked for his best advice on making movies.

“Filmmaking is difficult but unbelievably rewarding,” he says. “It involves a lot of details that require a lot of patience. If you remember some of these basic tips, you can’t go wrong.”

TELL A STORY. The most important thing is to know what you want to do in your video. What’s the story you want to tell? You’re going to be leaving something that is going to last a long time. Take advantage of this opportunity. Say you have a grandfather who was in World War II. Talk to him and get his story. You can record any great experiences like this. Long after the subjects are gone, you have a record — and this becomes our new family albums.

ken3LIGHTING. Today’s video cameras respond in very low lighting situations, which is good, but this can lull a filmmaker to “sleep.” And quite often it’s important to have better lighting on your subject.

Shoot practice footage first and see what it looks like. You might be shooting somebody in a living room and it’s a little murky, but it looks O.K. in the viewfinder. Then when you review the video, it doesn’t look good. Consider positioning your subject next to a window where there’s more light, turn on a light in the room or in a particularly dark situation, add your own light to make it more beautiful.

THE LOOK. Do you want a handheld or steady look to your video? The handheld approach gives you some intimacy, but it also has problems: The audience can get a little dizzy. If you choose to go this way, concentrate on being as steady as possible.

ken5For a steadier look, put the camera on a tripod and don’t move it around too much or too quickly. Constantly moving the tripod doesn’t work very well unless you have a fluid head — an expensive piece of equipment that attaches to the top of the tripod and lets the camera move in a fluid motion while panning or tilting.

You can always change the shot and move to a different angle. Follow the action but don’t do wild, unnecessary movements. That’s what makes a video look like just home-movie stuff.

SOUND. Always be aware of the sound around you. Our ears tend to filter out that noisy refrigerator, the traffic outside, the TV or radio in the next room, other chatter. With film, these sounds get in the way. Remember that the microphone on the camera doesn’t filter out sound as our ears do.

ken2FRAMING. Figure out how to frame things well in each shot so that they’re pleasing to the eye and also help tell your story. Once again, take advantage of the instantaneous feedback of video to see if your techniques are working.

EDIT. Whether you use a PC or Mac, there is a lot of easy-to-understand home video-editing software to help you shape your film into a coherent story. You don’t have to assume that whatever you shot is whatever you get. You have the ability to edit.

ken4NO RULES. There really are no rules in filmmaking. Even the jerkiest, murkiest, loud and noisy films can sometimes be unbelievably effective. But that’s because the filmmaker wanted them that way. If you don’t want them that way, do everything you can to prevent it.

It’s important in any art form for people to experiment. There’s going to be that one person who figures out how to break all the rules and make a masterpiece. At the same time, you have to know what you want to do and how you’re going to do it. And if you can get there by breaking some of the rules, that’s great.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and good luck.

55 Comments on Tips for making movie magic

  1. i am just starting to get into the art of moviemaking and am using these tips to learn to take good video

  2. PERSON SAYS // July 4, 2010 at 8:13 am // Reply

    I am in for it

  3. i love to

  4. Dr. Marones // March 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm // Reply

    I like making Lego movies with my friends but I am really bad at it, I need some advice.

  5. i like magic.

  6. how do you make it smokey in a movie?

  7. annoyedby2sisters // January 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm // Reply

    The movie making tips sounds kind of complicated. I do have a digital camera that takes pictures and records video. Could someone tell how to get better sound on my camera? But I have another problem: when I install the software for the camera on my computer, there is a pop-up saying I need to get administration signed onto my computer. Could somebody tell me what to do?

    • a digital camera will work fore moviemaking, but I recommend using a camcorder, I no this will work better because I have made many movies bofore.

      • Minnesnowtan // June 18, 2015 at 11:15 pm //

        I remember reading this article years ago and have since really gotten into video. My main camera that I don’t borrow (I occasionally get to use $10000 cameras) is a Canon T5i with a decent lens. For audio, it has a 3.5 mm jack that will take anything for input and I mount a Rode Videomic on top with the cold shoe mount and It works really well.

  8. I don’t know anything about making a movie, and i’m thinking about going to a monument and filming. I’ve been to the grand canyon and filmed on my camera, so I have experence.So can people with more experence than me help me please?

    • if you wish to make a story based movie it is best to get people together and create a story for your film (along with scripts for your actors). once done filming, edit your film on your computer using editing software (I recommend pinnacle studio 9 or adobe editing softwares).

      • Oh, and if you wish to make your film a documentary, then do stuff similar to what you have already done,like filming the grand canyon, and just narrate over it. Glad I could help.

  9. I have nver made a video before ,but I’m sure my first one will be the best.

  10. I like making lego videos,too!!!! =D (turn your head sideways to see a smiley face!!!!!)

1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Comment

Please do not use your real name.