Last issue we looked at summer filmmaking camps for kids, and the 2007 Christian Filmmakers Academy workshop for the whole family. (It's October 23-24 this year, in San Antonio, TX. Check www.independentchristianfilms.com/academy/ for details.)
This issue, we're looking at ways of learning filmmaking without leaving home.
DVD Film School
If you have $395 to spend (about the cost of a single high-school distance-learning course), your very best investment is Dov Siemens' DVD Film School.
This four-volume set contains 16 one-hour DVD lessons, plus associated handouts, reference sheets, forms, Producer's Diploma, and Graduation Certificate, all packaged in large clamshell binders.
It's like attending Dov S-S Siemens' entire "2-Day Film School." Words almost fail me as I try to describe the breadth and depth of what is covered. Acclaimed filmmaking instructor Dov leads you through the nitty-gritty of everything you need to know to actually make a feature film: how to get the money, screenwriting, casting, directing, how much film costs and where to get it for less, budgeting, cinematography, shooting, handling the musical score, post-production, film festivals, and marketing your film to video chains, film packagers, and television.
Not that I'm a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work, but this is where he got his start. Other famous Hollywood Film School alumni include Will Smith, Sinbad, Connie Stevens, and Queen Latifah, to name just a few. As his website, www.webfilmschool.com, says, "I've launched over 3,000 film careers... You can be next."
If you just can't wait for it to arrive in the mail, the entire DVD FIlm School is also available as streaming web video. Just one caveat: Dov is not a professional screenwriter, and his description of a plot he was unable to successfully pitch shows why. I'd skip over that short, R-rated bit on the DVD. Be prepared for a smidgen of salty language, as well.
Of course, no single set of DVDs can teach you all the technical aspects of lighting, cinematography, sound, digital camera work, and other specialties. The DVD Film School teaches you how to find and hire people to do this. If you want to learn how to "do it yourself," then your best first stop is the bookstore on Dov's site. It provides handy, discounted packages that teach each of these skills, plus sets for studying the works of various directors. You can buy as little as one book or an entire library. After checking out the book reviews on Amazon (they basically all upheld Dov's view of what books were best), I purchased several packages and was very pleased with both the quality of the books and the customer service and shipping speed.
Finally, a lot (but not all) of the content of the DVD Film School is available in Dov's inexpensive book, From Reel to Deal, available in his bookstore or through Amazon and other online sellers.
Low- to No-Budget Filming
We move on to my second pick for "film school at home": Jason Tomaric's How to Make a Hollywood Caliber Movie on a Budget of Next to Nothing.
The title says it all!
First to appear in this series was the five-hour DVD of that name. It takes you step by step through 30 segments and 20 in-depth interviews that reveal the tricks and tips that went into making the $5,000 movie, Time and Again. Conveniently, the movie itself is also available for sale as part of a 4-part package that also includes a CD-ROM Producer's Notebook. The latter includes:
- All the forms and contracts used on the actual movie (plus blank forms for your use)
- Industry resource guides to building an editing system; lighting tips and tricks; guides to cameras, lighting, microphones, and grip equipment
- A post-production technical guide
- Plus the complete rough footage from an actual scene from the movie, for you to edit
The book is much more visual and approachable than the printed materials in Dov's course. However, Dov and Jason cover each topic slightly differently. Also, there is a huge difference between Dov's "lecture" format and Jason's "interview the crew and watch us do it" format. They really complement each other quite nicely.
You can purchase the book, plus the two DVDs and the CD-ROM, all together as the "Ultimate Filmmaking Kit," for $229.95 at www.filmschoolondvd.com. The components aren't available separately on the website. You can, however, see previews of some of the kit features there. And the two DVDs are available as a set on Amazon for $99.95. However, the book and CD-ROM are not. So if you crave the complete package, go to the source.
Cyber Film School
Our next candidate is the Cyber Film School Movie School Encyclopedia. If you've been longing for interactive training and "how to" technical details, grab this CD-ROM. Available for both PC and Mac, the website lists the retail price as $74, but it was available there for $49.99 when I last checked.
Here's what the website says you'll learn:
- Screenwriting fundamentals
- How to plan, budget, and produce a film
- What a director does and how to work with actors
- The history of cinema, in a condensed and concise format
- Acquaint yourself with world and foreign cinema and learn all about the greatest and best international filmmakers
- The most important shooting and lighting techniques and theories
- Learn the craft of post production by using software that turns your computer into an editing suite.
- Use the supplied professionally-produced video clips to experiment with editing
- Practice with your own camcorder using the numerous assignments and exercises provided
- Track your progress with special lesson and chapter tests
- Discuss ideas and lessons with other Cyber Film School students
- Obtain lists of hundreds of recommended production books and movies (DVD, VHS) to read, view and study. Books and movies can be purchased online and delivered to your door!
Once again, we broke open the family piggybank and anted up for the Movie School Encyclopedia.
Here's what we found:
- You can run it off the CD-ROM or install it on your computer (the latter takes around 400 MB).
- It opens in Internet Explorer.
- Chapters include: Overview & Introduction, History & Appreciation, Story & Screenwriting, Theory & Syntax, Equipment & Usage, and Editing & Post
- Each chapter is divided into lessons, each covering multiple topics. At the end of each chapter is a list of recommended books and a printable PDF test, with answer key.
- Inside each chapter are main text, sidebars, charts & graphs, and video clips illustrating major points.
- Both theory and practice are covered. However, you can't learn all you need to know about how to run cameras, lights, etc. from just this CD-ROM. What you get here is an introduction to the topics you will need to study in more depth later, via books or hands-on learning.
Thanks to its highly visual and interactive format, the Movie School Encyclopedia is a great, inexpensive place to start. If you get this for a child who doesn't rush through it on his or her own, you will definitely have eliminated the world of film as a serious career interest. On the other hand, if your child "gobbles up" the disc lessons, you might find it worthwhile to invest in some of the more pricey products mentioned in this article.
You can purchase Movie School Encyclopedia at www.cyberfilmschool.com.
Get a Mentor
The final option I have found is one that we haven't personally tried out yet. It seems that you can pay a price and get taken on as a trainee by someone currently working in the film industry.
The GetAMentor.com website, for example, offers on its home page to provide you with:
On-the-job, one-on-one training for a career in:
- Film/Video Production
- Recording/Sound Engineering
- Radio/TV Broadcasting
According to the site, you will "train with working professionals at an actual film production company, recording studio, or radio station in your area." On top of this, no prior experience is required... you can keep your current job while you train... and it's open to all ages: "the average age of our student apprentices is 37-youngest 16, oldest 67."
Program cost is $6,950 for a radio/TV broadcast apprenticeship or recording studio and record company apprenticeship. It's $7,950 for a film and video production apprenticeship. These are "paid up front in one lump sum" prices. Payment plans run $1,000 to $1,500 more, with minimum monthly payments of $350. Apprenticeships generally last 6-10 months. They say they can find you a mentor in your area.
Another similar (and similarly priced) option is Film-Connection.com. If any of you try them out, write to me and let me know how it went. Happy filming!