Filmmaking for Teens

By Edward Forrest Frank, December 10, 2019

You know more about making videos than you realize.  You have watched video on TV, on the internet, and the movies.  This knowledge can be seen in most of the videos being posted online. The problem is for most of you is that there are holes and gaps in what you have picked up from just watching.  Techniques you try could be more effective if you better understood how and why they work.  There are techniques you probably never realized you were seeing that you could incorporate into your own videos. The goal of the NAFCo Young Filmmakers Club is to provide hands on experience in using various types of equipment and more importantly a better broader understanding of the filmmaking process so that your own creativity can better be displayed in the videos you produce.

Mark Duplass in the keynote speech at the SXSW Film festival said:  “There’s no excuse for you not to be making films on the weekends with your friends.”  Robert Rodriguez, the producer/director of Spy Kids, Planet Terror, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Machete, in his “10 Minute Film School” says, “Okay, so you wanna be a film-maker? Wrong! You ARE a film-maker. The moment you think about that you want to be a film-maker you’re that…Don’t dream about being a film-maker, you are a film-maker. Now let’s get down to business.”  James Cameron, director/writer of films including Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar says:  “Pick up a camera.  Shoot something.  No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star it.  Put your name on it as director.  Now you are a director.  Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”

Everything you need to shoot a short film, you have already or is free.  What do you need to get started: 1) Camera that shoots video, 2) a story, 3) edit your video, and 4) show your video to other people.  Use what you have or can borrow and go out and make some videos with your friends.


Any camera or anything else that can shoot video can be used to shoot your short film.  I doesn’t really matter if it is great quality or not for learning about making films.  Entire feature length movies that have been shot on an iPhone 5.  Tangerine, for example, was shot on an iPhone 5, played at Sundance and got a national distribution deal.  Steven Soderbergh, won an Oscar for Traffic and has titles like Sex, Lies and Videotape and Oceans Eleven to his credit, shot the movie “Unsane” using an iPhone 7, and is working another iPhone movie. Footage from GoPro cameras were included in the film “The Martian.”  The 1999 film “The Blair Witch Project” has earned over $248 million since its release. Much of this movie is found footage shot on a Hi8 camcorder with just 400 lines of resolution. Almost every cell phone has a better resolution than this.  For reference HD is 720 lines, Full HD is 1080 lines, 4K is 2160 lines. I bought a Barbie doll at Goodwill with a built in camera that shot 320 x 240 video.  You could shoot a film with that.  As a joke someone shot a short film using the backup camera on a Prius.  You could shoot a movie on a spy cam, or a baby cam, literally anything that shoots video.  Look at the limitations of the camera you have and think about how to use those to your advantage.  Push your creativity. What do I use?  I try to shoot 4K because it gives me more options for cropping when I edit.  But I started using VHS cameras with just 240 lines of resolution. Most cell phones shoot good quality video.  Most digital cameras shoot video.  I am sure you have one.  If not, you can find something at Goodwill or a yard sale for $10 or less that will get you started.


The difference between just raw video footage and a film is whether or not the video tells a story.  Ask yourself, does my video tell a story?  There are different kinds of stories.  Documentaries are about a place, a person, a thing, an issue, or an event.  Fiction stories often follow what is called a hero’s journey.  Even if the story is not an adventure, it often follows the same pattern.  It starts with everything normal in the main characters life. Then something happens to change things – that is called a triggering event.  Next the character tries to fix things or counter the bad guy, and fails miserably.  Then the main character picks themselves back up and tries again.  This time he solves the problem or defeats the bad guy.  In the final section he returns to the life he had before and discovers he has changed.

Look at video posted on YouTube by kids.  There are videos of themselves swimming or doing some other activity.  There are videos of the old Ice Bucket challenge.  There are videos of gymnastic challenges.  There are videos of their night routine or morning routine.  Do these videos tell a story?  Talk about it with your friends.  There really isn’t a single right answer, but some videos have more of a story than others.


Editing your video will make it better.  You can take out the parts that don’t work.  You can rearrange the order of things in the video.  Much of the artistry in a producing a video is done by editing the footage.  Some footage isn’t going to look good no matter what, but most can be made to look better with editing.  You can shoot the video in order and edit as much as you can in the camera by planning what to shoot or not to shoot, but in almost every case editing the footage afterward will make a much better video.  If you are shooting on a phone there are free video editing apps, just search on Google for the latest and best.  If you are editing on a Mac or PC two free options to consider are Hit Film Express and Davinci Resolve free version  There are plenty of other free or inexpensive video editing apps out there.  Edit your videos and see them go from blah to great.

Show your Video

Show your video to other people.  Setting up a YouTube account is pretty easy and free. Vimeo is also a free.  Facebook is free.  Get your videos out there.  If you don’t show other people your video, you might as well have not shot them.  Leave your old videos online so you can see, and so others can see, how you have improved over time.

Final Thoughts – Practice and Audio

Look for others who are interested in making films or acting and team up and go shoot something.  Watch YouTube videos or read video articles online to learn how to make videos.  When you learn something new go out and try it.  Practice is the best teacher.  So long as you are working to get better, the more you shoot the better you will get. Pay attention to the audio.  Use the on camera microphone at least.  A shotgun mike will give you better sound.  Putting the microphone as close as possible to the actors. While keeping it out of the shot will make the sound much better than the on-camera microphone alone.  Use another cell phone with a recording app to get close-up sound.  Good luck.