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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.

18 Comments on Tips for making movie magic

  1. #1StarWarsFan // October 16, 2016 at 12:58 am // Reply

    I love making homemade videos on my computer! Thanks for the tips! I like making videos where I do the unimaginable, like turn into a dragon and burn down my house! :p

  2. How can I get clear voicing when I video on a long-shot?

  3. EG Cub Scout // June 19, 2015 at 2:11 pm // Reply

    Cool I love history I can make a film on history

  4. I knew this all but good article

  5. Minnesnowtan // June 18, 2015 at 11:20 pm // Reply

    A tripod is a great camera stabilizing device, and it is generally pretty cheap. If you want to still have the look of handheld but still want the stability of a tripod and you have a little more money to spend, there are plenty of great camera stabilizers and mounts available ranging from shoulder mounts, fig rigs and the steadicam/glidecam. I use all of them but still prefer the glidecam, but it is personal preference.

  6. The most cheap and simple mini-movie special effects: Play,PAUSE,and play.
    Use this trick to make things disappear or turn your sister into a dog! :b

  7. thats really helpful

  8. superanonymous // December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm // Reply

    COOL even though this is from when I was a wolf scout

  9. I’ve been receiving BL as a scout since before this was published, but I just saw this. Thanks for the tips!

  10. I want to make a film about LBJ

  11. IAMsuperCool // December 27, 2012 at 2:44 pm // Reply

    Hey, this is AWESOME! I LOVE making movies. Thanks for the tips!

  12. AWSOME!

  13. I always wondered about this stuff, thank you!!

  14. I love making documentaries. My latest one is called the pets and I’m making a new one called miss piggy about my new pig I’m gonna eat at Christmas. I like making them about animals

  15. I like making movies, I have a tape camra that works realy well, I also like stop action!

  16. Ken Burns ROCKS!!!!!

  17. how do you break the rules because i’m still confused on that part


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