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Guide to Star Wars Filmmaking

by Skyler "Jace Taran" Hall

Who doesn't dream of seeing themselves as a Jedi, holding a lightsaber, or dream of being a smuggler, evading bounty hunters? Fan films are a way for us to fulfill those dreams. For some of us, its something we've always wanted to do. Others have only just discovered the world of fan films, dazzled at the level of the effects and production values, and amazed that it can actually be done by an amatuer, even themselves. It opens up a whole world of possibilities, where dreams can become reality, and techniques once thought too expensive or too complex to be used by anyone but industry professionals become almost commonplace.

Even more amazing is the revolution of fan films that contain not just amazing special effects, but engrossing stories as well. Who didn't feel for Karina when her brother was slaughtered by Vader or when she was thrown off the cliff in Knightquest? These are the fan films that are truly awe-inspiring. But how do they do it? How do they manage to make such high-quality pieces of work? Is it the money? Partially, but moreso it is the time and the talent put into these fan films. Can someone make an excellent film off of a small budget? Is it really possible? Yes, they can, and yes, it is. It just takes effort to put into it; the patience to pour your heart and soul into a project that will most likely gain you nothing but self-satisfaction and the respect of your fanfilm peers.

Everyone asks: "But how do I do it?" and they have their questions answered, but only partially. There are a lot of very useful tutorials on TFN, but they are all very specific, and it takes more than knowing how to so a saber effect, or an opening crawl, or how to make a replica saber handle to make a full movie. What if one wants to know how to bluescreen live actors, or how to properly frame a shot, or tips on creating quality stories, or what if one just wants to know just how to put a movie together overall? I realize it isn't easy to answer those questions. There is a lot that goes into making a movie. It is a very complex and involved process. It'd hard to put into words how to make an entire movie, but that is what this guide is an attempt to do; a step-by-step guide to making a movie, start to finish. It may not be as involved in some areas as a specific tutorial, but I hope it does clear up a few things and help people along.

(*tip* You may want to print this off and keep it for reference. It's rather long ;)

General Resources

First off, here are some links to sites with general info:

Step 1: Coming up with an Idea

The first step is the idea or synopsis. Ideas can be generated from just about anywhere. You could be watching a TV show, and something suddenly gives you an idea, or you could be driving down the road or mowing your lawn when you get a sudden inspiration, or you could be tossing ideas around with friends in some sort of brainstorming session. Where ever they come from, ideas are the basis of a movie. Ideas can be long or short, complex or simple. For instance Star Wars might have evolved, hypothetically, from an idea similar to this: Farmboy and Smuggler save Rebellion from evil Empire. Simple, and to the point. An idea doesn't tell the entire story; it just sums it up. It is the seed of the story.

Having problems thinking of ideas? Here are a few sites that might help you:
Still having problems? Before you decide to just simply take a deep breath and get back to it, take a visit to this site that has a few suggestions to help you overcome the dreaded writers block (the layout may be a little odd, but it has a lot of good information). If you are having any problems with writers block later on, like when writing the script or screenplay, just refer back to that site.

If you just plain can't come up with anything, no matter what you do, then it might be a good idea to find someone else willing to do it for you. You may have your heart set on filming a movie that you wrote, but if you can't get anything written, that won't happen.

Step 2: Script

From the idea comes the script. This is where you outline all of the scenes, mainly using description and dialogue. One thing to note, though, is that if you were writing a Hollywood script (or if you have someone else directing), you would want to leave out details like stage directions, angles, or transitions, because determing those aspects is the director's job. Of course, if you are like most of us working on a fanfilm, you probably are the director as well (among many other titles), in which case you can use as much or as little direction as you want in your script. If not, leave those details out, and let the director take care of that. Just make sure you lose that habit if you ever want to write for Hollywood.

What format are you going to be writing in? Obviously, since you are working on your own film and don't need to get your script past a producer, you don't need to use proper formatting. But, it still is a good idea.

Also, here is a link to a freeware script-formatting program (there are also programs for creating basic stories and storyboards).

Why should you format? Well, for one thing, it will be better organized, and easier for other people to read and understand. Plus, it gives you a good idea o fhow long your movie will run (1 page per minute is the general rule under proper format) Which brings up a point. How long will your movie run? First of all, unless your movie has some really great acting and a really entertaining story, you should not try to make it long, or people will get bored (plus, they may not want to take the time to download such a long movie, for fear of it being boring). Keep it at around 30 minutes or less (if you really want to make an epic film, maybe you could break your hour-and-a-half movie into three half-hour episodes, and release them separate). Second, if this is your first movie, take everyone's advice, and don't try to make it long or complex. Odds are, you will end up choking on it. If it gets done at all, it will take forever, and it probaly won't turn out they way you want. Test the waters first. Learn the process. Make effects tests. As someone on TFN once said, "Learn to crawl before you Skywalk."

A few DO'S/DON'Ts and tips on script/screenplay writing:

  • DO write a script with the plot, story, and characters at the center
  • DO NOT write write a script around special effects or action scenes
  • DO create characters that are unique, three dimensional, and realistic
  • DO NOT create characters that are cliched, flat, or unrealistic (no one is perfect)
  • DO use subtle emotions; as Nathan Butler said in his writing tutorial, an under the breath remark or comment on a situation can go farther in developing a characer than an explosion of rage or tears. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use anger or anything like that, just don't assume that you have to use emotional extremes in order for the audience to care about the character
  • DO consider alternate possibilities
  • DO NOT limit yourself to just one thing
  • Kick-butt action scenes and effects are ok, after you're created a kick-butt story to back it up :)
  • Jedi are OK as long as you make the story and characters unique. People are sick of random duels set in forests that have flat, emotionless, or cliched characters that have no unique personallity
  • DO NOT write scenes using locations you don't have access to, unless you can fake it realisticly with a set or bluescreening.

Step 3: The Bare Nessessities: Getting the Essentials

There are a few essential things you will need in order to do your movie. It would be a good idea to get this stuff right away (even the stuff you won't need until later), because if you find out that you can't get what you need, then you will have saved yourself the trouble of finding out later on that all the stuff you shot is worthless.

You will obviously need a camera. Don't have one? Well, you could borrow one from a friend or relative. You could rent one from a local video production place. You could even check to see if anyone from TFN is close to you and willing to help. Don't worry too much about not having the best camera. You can still make an awesome fan film, even if you only have a handicam. Just make sure you have a way to transfer footage to your computer, which means buying either a capture card or a firewire card (firewire, also known as IEEE 1394 and iLINK, is for DV, miniDV, and Digital 8 cameras, while a capture card is for analog cameras, like 8mm or VHS/VHS-C). If possible, it is a good idea to get a digital camera, though (as long as you can buy or get a hold of a firewire card), because digital has a higher resolution than analog.

REMEMBER: having an expensive camera does NOT mean you will automatically have better results. How you light and shoot your movie is more important.

You will also need software. Software can be very expensive, so you may need to find programs that fit your budget, or try and find a friend who has some. If you are a student, you could try and find a place to buy student-priced software, or buy the student editions from the company. NO WAREZ. I don't care how much you want the latest and greatest program but don't have the budget for it. Warez are wrong (and also not allowed at TFN). If you need to, just buy a cheap program. The least you should need is an editing program and something to rotoscope with. Other programs are optional (though can be really nice). Here is a list of the more popular applications:


  • Premiere
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Ulead MediaStudio Pro
  • MainVision (formerly Axogon. The original Axogon is freeware, but hard to find anymore)
  • After Effects
  • Commotion
  • (other programs like Premiere, MediaStudio Pro, or MainVision can do some compositing, like bluescreening, but are not as powerful or capable as After Effects or Commotion)
Special Effects:
  • After Effects
  • Commotion
  • Photoshop (NOTE: in order to use Photoshop for effects, you need to have either Premiere or After Effects so you can use them to convert your clips into an Adobe filmstrip file)
  • Paint Shop Pro
  • Ulead MediaStudio Pro
  • MainVision
  • Lightwave
  • 3DStudio Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • Electric Image
  • Blender (freeware)
  • Animation:Master
  • Strata 3D (freeware)
Step 4: Finding Actors

Hmmm...you'll need actors, won't you? Actors, actors, where can you find actors...You can find actors just about anywhere. You could cast friends, relatives, anybody. Good actors, though, are another story (unless your friends are good actors, in which case, you are phenomonly lucky). One thing you could try is to "advertise" your movie at a local highschool/college's drama club or department. You could place an ad in a newspaper. You could do a casting call on the boards to see if anyone from TFN is willing and close enough to help. If all else fails, just go ahead and cast your friends or yourself, and don't worry what people will think of your performances. Remember, you are (or should be) making this movie primarily for yourself, not to please other people, and you should only worry about making it as high a quality or putting as much time and effort into it as *you* want. It's your movie, and no one elses. Besides, one point that must be brought up is that even if you get an extremely good actor to work on your movie, it will not save bad writing, or bad directing. If the dialogue is corny on paper, it will still be corny when spoken by a good actor . Same thing with directing. If you give them little or no direction, they will just be reading off lines in front of a camera, with no idea what emotions they should be portraying. On the other hand, a movie will be much better, even if your actors are average or sub-average, if the writing and directing are good.

Step 5: Shooting your movie

Ok, so now you have a script, camera, and actors ready. Time to start shooting!

This isn't going anywhere, is it? Maybe you should have held off...

I guess this is really:

Step 5: Storyboarding and Planning

Before you start pointing the camera at anything, there are a few things you should do so your movie is planned better. A well-planned movie will go smoother, faster, and much more pleasantly than a loosely-organized production.

You could start off by drawing storyboards. Can't draw, or can't find someone who can? That really doesn't matter. Just use stick figures. Having well-drawn or cool-looking storyboards isn't the point; you just need to get a rough idea of how scenes will be played out. Basically, storyboards are used to show the sequence of events, and also to illustrate possible camera angles. Also, while no subsitute for a rough cut in post-production, they can give an idea of the flow of scenes.

In addition to doing storyboards, one option is to use animatics. Animatics are low-tech "animated storyboards" used to show how a scene will roughly look. Animatics can use toys, low-res CG, live actors, or anything you can think of. If anyone has seen the video From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga, you may remember seeing them doing a shot of the speeder bike chase using toys. The TPM DVD also has some great examples of animatics used for different scenes. Animatics can be really usefull to decide on camera angles, different shots to use, and give you an overall feel for the pace and flow of the movie.

Another good thing to do is to have a shooting schedule planned out, so you know what you are going to film and when, what camera angles you are going to use, and where to setup equipment. You should also plan out time to setup, takedown, and re-arrange equipment as needed.

Another very, very, VERY important thing to do is to make a schedule with your actors, to work around their own schedules. If you don't, and instead decide to just call them the day you want to film something, you will rarely be able to have your actors show up, because they will have likely planned something else.

Oh, so, that's why it took you so long to film anything before! You didn't have any idea how the scenes would be setup, or what camera angles and shots to use. You had to waste valuable time thinking those things up on the fly. If you had already planned the shots out in advance and scheduled your time, rather than jumping the gun, you wouldn't have had to learn this important lesson the hard way. Kind of makes you wish someone had told you this before, huh? ;)

btw, this goes for rehearsals as well. If you don't plan anything, you'll most likely end up having everyone sitting around bored while they wait for you to decide what to rehearse, or waiting around for you to make up the saber choreography they are suppossed to be practicing.

Step 6: Determining your Budget

You need to plan out your budget. You have to look at how much money you "need", and how much money you have available (If you need more, you could always ask for "donations" from family/friends/cast, or you could try to get donations/discounts of products by promising the companies to put there name/logo in the credits, but I'm not entirely sure on the legality of doing that in a non-profit fan film, seeing that your film is now advertising something). You have to see how much money some things you want to do would actually cost, to see if you can afford to do them. Darn, I guess that rules out your shot of the main character waking up the ramp into a full size model of the ship, or the exploding bulding using real pyrotechnics.

(NOTE: Pyrotechnics not recommended unless you really know what you are doing, or have a pro doing it for you)

Step 7: Getting more bang for your buck

Now that you have a budget, you have to use it wisely. Remember those effects shots that the budget wouldn't allow? Well, that's not necessarily true. There are always ways to do scenes cheaper, and depending on how much effort you put into it, it won't nesessarily look cheap. For instance, you could have had the character only walk up a section of the ramp in front of a bluescreen, and composited a CG or physical model of the rest of the ship onto the scene. For the exploding building, that could be done entirely in CG, or you could have taken a physical model and composited stock explosion footage over it. The trick is to make it seem like you have a lot more money to spend on the project then you actually do, by taking shorcuts and new approaches . Of course, this is completely different from sloppy corner cutting. You shouldn't try to rush things.

Step 8: Buying Props and Equipment

You're going to have to spend money on equipment, costumes, props, and sets. What you buy and the quality of it depends on your budget. Try to remember that you need all the money you have, so don't waste your budget, even if it's for something good. If you only have a $600 budget, don't blow $500 of it on an expensive mic. Below are some tips on what to buy.

  • External microphone. The built-in camera mic is usually not very good (even on a good camera), and can pick up noise from the camera. The quality of the audio will be much better with a mic. Remember, audio is half of a movie. You don't need an expensive professional boom mic; just a decent one. Just look around local at places that sell audio equipment or look online, and find something that fits your buget. Also, make sure it's unidirectional (less background noise).

    *Tip*: You can make a makeshift mic pole using PVC pipe or any type of rod/pole and attaching the mic (make sure it's a unidirectional mic) to the end of the pipe (just make sure the cord is long enough to reach the camera and still give you room to move the mic). Just plug it into the camera, hold it up over the actors, and film. Just remember to try to avoid getting the mic in the picture. ;) Thanks to BrenDerlin for this tip.

  • Lights. You will need plenty of lights to light the movie. There are a lot of types of lights you can buy. You could use flourescent lights, house floodlights, halogen lamps, just about anything. Just make sure you have enough to light your scene the right way, and even more lights if you plan on lighting a bluescreen. If possible, use something like white posterboard to reflect the light back towards the scene. That way, the light is more diffused.

  • Dolly. A dolly can really help to make shots more interesting. You don't need an expensive one; you could make one for cheap. Basicaly, all you need is something with wheels to mount the camera on to, and some kind of track (which could be as simple as two PVC pipes or two 2 x 4's). Here are some sites with tips for creating cheap homemade dollies:

  • There are many ways to do costumes. If you need Jedi robes, you could buy Halloween costumes (which don't usually look very good, unless it's an expensive deluxe set), or buy Robes online (probably too expensive to be worth it, unless you have the money to toss out). You could buy fabric and a pattern and have someone sew it. You could alse use Karate outfits. For a Bounty Hunter, you could use a paintball mask (similar to the mask they used on Duality), and soccer shin guards painted over could provide leg armor. If you need any tips on making cheap costumes, ask around the Costuming boards.

    Here are some costuming sites:

  • As far as things like sabers go, you can easily put together a nice-looking saber from stuff bought from hardware stores (such as piping for the handle, doorbell buttons for Original Trilogy style activators, etc). You could make a custom one machined from metal with a lathe, but unless you have the money to toss out, it's probably not worth it, especially because no one will likely be able to see enough detail of the saber for it to matter. Unless, of course, you plan on doing an extreme close-up of a saber, but even a saber cobbled from parts can look good enough for that, if it's done right. As for blades, I hear that wooden dowls are the best. The problem with PVC is that it shatters, and could send potentially dangerous shards flying. Alumnium (or any metal blades) have the problem of possibily being heavy, they can do more damage if they strike you, and they are probably too expensive to be worth it. You want something that can take a beating, but also won't weigh to much, cost too much, or hurt too much. Of course, you shouldn't be hitting the sticks together too hard anyway, as the moves are choreographed and should be pulled.

  • As for any other props, use your imagination. You could take a toy gun, spray paint it black, maybe add some details, and voila! You now have a nice blaster rifle. A lot of the stuff in Star Wars is simply modified from something else, like how they modified a Gillete Womens Sensor Excel into a Jedi communicator for TPM, or a camera flash handle into a saber for the Original Trilogy(I wouldn't suggest trying to find a flash handle for a saber prop, because it's probably too expensive to be worth it, and you should try and make your saber unique anyway). Just take a walk around a hardware store and think of how different things could be used or modified.

    Here are some good saber construction sites:

  • Cheap sets can be constructed that look good. For one thing, you could always go to construction sites and ask for their leftovers (the stuff they will toss out anyhow). Plus, you could use things like cardboard or foamboard.

Step 9: Choosing Locations

Are you going to film a certain scene out doors or indoors? On location, on set, or bluescreened? These are very important questions. You should consider all of your options, and choose the option that will work best for the particular scene and fit your budget.

On location gives you the best look, as you don't have to worry about compositing issues. The problem is that we don't always necessarily live within range of suitable locations (which is why people often settle for forests). Of course, there are ways around this. You can make a lot of things look like something else. With proper framing (as to omit certain details), and maybe even some compositing, you can turn an ordinary location into an exoctic, otherworldly location. Respectable Employ is a good example of this, as they made real city streets look like Coruscant. With even more compositing, you could even do something like turning your backyard into Hoth (similar to the effects tests that PixelMagic did for The Soft Drink Menace, a fan film he is working on). All it takes is a little masking, and a good background to replace the mask. Anyway, location shooting also has the advantage of basically being a pre-built set (unless you are digitialy manipulating the footage to make it look like another location). The problem is accessibility. Locations weren't made to be filmed on. You may not have much room to move around (whereas on a set, you may have a big, emtpy area behind the camera, allowing for more movement), and you have to worry about transportation of cast, crew, and equipment. You might also need a permit of some kind.

You could choose to film something on a set. Maybe you have constructed a cardboard/wood/foam set of an X-Wing cockpit, or you have converted a room into a small hangar or the Emperor's throne room (like they did on TESBY). Sets, of course, have the disadvantage of having to be built. You have to set them up and take them down. Plus, they aren't quite as real as a location (though, they are sometimes the only alternative other than bluescreen, as with a spaceship set). But, accessibility is not a problem. You don't need to drive a few hours to use it. Plus, you won't ever need a permit.

Another option is to use bluescreening. When I say bluescreening, I mean all similar types of compositing (like greenscreening). Bluescreening has the advantage that you need no set, nor do you need any transportation. You can make an actor appear to be anywhere you can imagine (as long as you can actually create the background). The downside is that the actors won't have much to work with. It's tough to act realisticly when you can't get a feel for the environment, and when you can't suspend a little disbelief.

With bluescreening, all you need to do is film the actor in front of the screen, and replace the screen with an image or video later. Simple as that, right? Well, no. First of all, you have to light the bluescreen well. That is another disadvantage of bluescreening. If you don't light the screen well enough, the results once you actually do the bluescreen effect can range from so-so to absolutely horrid. The bluescreen must be lit brightly and evenly, with no shadows. The best way to do this is to light the actors and the bluescreen separately, making sure the actors are far enough away from it to lessen bluespill. One method of lighting, so I've heard, involves a "single thermonuclear fusion source, placed 93 million miles away. This light source gives perfect corner to corner illumination and makes a perfect match between the key level and backing level. Shadows are easy as it makes only one set of shadows. If you place a water vapor diffusion screen several thousand feet up, you get a great shadowless light. A thinner water vapor diffusion softens the shadows nicely. Those who are inexperienced at controlling these types of diffusion may want to use a large silk or other diffusion instead. If you're shooting spacecraft models, this is probably the best way. Plus the rental charge can't be beat. The Death Star trench scene in Star Wars including scenes in the newly revised Special edition, used this very same light source. "

Anyway, you also have to make sure nothing of the same or similar color is in front of the bluescreen, or else it will be removed as well. Even if it isn't removed completely, it will mess up the results. Good lighting on a bluescreening is very important, even if you have expensive bluescreening software that is suppossed to take care of those mistakes. You will get the best results if you film it the right way from the start, rather than trying to take a clean matte from a poorly done shot.

NOTE: Before you go ahead and decice to shoot your entire movie using a bluescreen, test the effect. Make a test shot, and try out the effect. That way you can either learn from your mistakes and do it better when you do it for real, or decide not to use bluescreen. That is a lot better than finding out later on that all the bluescreen footage you shot won't work. For bluescreening info, take a look at the bluescreening section down in Step 12.

Step 10: Lighting

There are several excellent tutorials found in the FanFilms forum that describe lighting better than I ever could. Be sure to check them out.

Step 11: Shooting your Movie

Here is where you film your movie. Before you actually begin, though, you need to learn a few concepts.

Framing Rules

  • Rule of Thirds

    The rule of thirds is a shot-framing rule where you basically divide the shot into thirds horizontaly and vertically, and you place objects on the intersections of the lines. Centering is pretty much not a good idea. Also, you should not try to balance everything in the shot, for the most part. Supposse you are filming a shot of a small group of people. You should not try to have equal numbers of people on either side of the screen. You should off-balance it a little. Of course, you don't have to use the rule of thirds, because film is an art, and the rule of thirds is a guideline, really, rather than a rule. You should place subjects the way you want (though, I would assume that most people use the rule of thirds even if they don't know it, because that's what they're used to seeing in movies and TV).
Continuity Rules

  • Crossing the Line

    Crossing the line is a continutity rule. To illustrate it, consider two people talking to each other, person A and person B, with an imaginary line drawn between them. The camera is pointed so person A is on the left side of the frame and person B is on the right. No problem so far, but if you then cut to a shot on the other side of the line, where both people are on opposite sides of the frame, you will have crossed the line. When viewed, it will appear as if the two people suddenly switched places. As another example, consider a shot of a person running down the street. He enters the frame from the left, and exits on the right. If you suddenly switch angles and film him entering from the right and exiting on the left, you will have crossed the line (even though the person himself is still running in the same direction). When viewed, it will appear as if the character has suddenly reversed direction and is running the other way. The only way to change angles not violate this law is to have the camera move or pan over to the other side of the line all in one shot (rather than cutting from one angle to the other).

  • General continuity

    You want to make sure you keep up the continutity from shot to shot. For example, supposse you have a Sith who enters the scene and removes his cloak, which falls to the floor. In subsequent shots, you must make sure the cloak is there, or it will look like it dissapeared, and in the same place, or it will appear to change places (it's even worse if it's there in some and not there in others, because it's more distracting to have something dissapear and reappear than it is to have something dissapear and stay dissapeared). Also, you must make sure that if people are holding an object in one hand in a shot, that they use the same hand in subsequent shots, or else it will appear as if they are switching it from hand to hand. Another very important thing to keep track of is lighting. If you light different shots that are suppossed to be part of the same scene in different ways, they will look off-colored when viewed, unless you color correct in post. Try to keep lighting consistent, because it's better to do things the right way from the start than to try to fix it later.
Directing Tips

  • Always be specifc on what emotions you want your actors to portray. The more specific you are, the better they will be able to act the way you have in mind. If you simply hand them a script and tell them to read the lines and do the actions, that is all they will do, with little or no emtotion, even if they are great actors. They can't get inside your head to see what your vision of the movie is. You have to describe that to them. Make sure you use extra direction when shooting in front of a bluescreen, describing the scene they would be in if this were a real set. That helps the actor be able to picture the surroundings and suspend a little disbelief.

  • You do want to be open to suggestion. If an actor (or any of the cast/crew) thinks something would be better this way or that, consider their suggestion. That doesn't mean you have to use the suggestion, but at least consider it. No one likes a director who has a "my way or the highway" attittude.

  • Don't be a jerk. If someone makes a mistake and you throw a fit, that will not make those people want to work with you. I saw in a thread once a story about a group of people working on a Mission: Impossible fan film. They were using a Sony XL1 to shoot the scene, and they had a tape rigged to go up in smoke in a tape recorder, for the whole "this tape will self-destruct" bit. When they started the camera, a billow of smoke arrose from the camera itself; someone had mistakenly switched tapes and put the self-destructing tape in the camera, damaging it. The director started yelling and cussing at everyone, fired some of the crew, and walked off the set in a fit of rage. When he returned, a lot of people had left, leaving him with an unfinished film. Sure, the camera was expensive, but it was a simple, human mistake, and in the end left him with a worthless film and alienated friends.
Other Notes and Tips

  • Find a way to mark the beginning and end of a scene. This makes it much easier to edit the film. Professionals use clapboards, but try and find anyway of doing it. Maybe you could have someone read out the shot and take number, and wave their arm in front of the camera, and then wave it again when you cut. Or, maybe you could build a makeshift clapboard somehow.

  • Use the manual features rather than the auto ones. You may think autofocus is nice, but pros never use it. Try to get the gain as low as possible, as this makes the image lower quality. As for white balance, adjust the white balance to a grey card (just print off a piece of paper with grey).

  • Depth of field. According to this site, depth of field means
    "While a lens focuses on a single plane of depth, there is usually an additional area in focus behind and in front of that plane. This is depth of field. Depth of field increases as the iris is closed. There is more depth of field the wider the lens and less the longer the lens. There is a deeper area in focus the further away a lens is focused than there is when a lens is focused close. Depth of field does not spread out evenly; the entire area is about 1/3rd in front and 2/3rds behind the plane of focus. To factor together all these variables it is best to consult a depth of field table, such as the ones found in the American Cinematographer?s Manual."

    Film cameras have a narrow depth of field. Everything in the shot is not in focus. This is not so with camcorders. Camcorders have a very wide depth of field, so even far away details are clear. This is not how our eyes work, so it looks fake. Too acheive a narrower depth of field, setup the camera as far away as you can from the subject and zoom in

  • Feed your cast and crew.
Now you can finally shoot your film. :)

Step 12: Transferring footage to your computer (capturing)

Now you have all of your raw footage. You should have a computer with a capture card or firewire card installed. If not, get one. Here are a few tips on recording footage to the computer:

  • Keep track of time codes, to you keep footage together

  • Name clips according to scene and shot number (for greater ease in editing later)

  • If you are using an NTSC camera, use NTSC standard settings. That may seem obvious, but you don't want to make the mistake of taking footage shot at 29.97 fps, and saving it at 30 fps onto to your computer. If you ever want to go back and output to tape, you'll need to save it back to 29.97 for it to be compatable with the camera, and the audio will be out of sync. If you save the footage to your computer at 29.97 fps in the first place and keep it there, there won't be an audio problem. Also, use NTSC standard resolutions when capturing as well. Likewise, if you are using a PAL device, use PAL standards.

  • Don't compress unless you have very limted hard drive space. Wait until you have a completed film before compressing. Recompressing a movie degrades it, and you want the final product to be as high-quality and clean as you can.
Step 13: Compositing and Adding Visual Effects

Better pour yourself some Mountain Dew (top choice for all fan film makers out there, especially ClearConcrete :p , pull a chair up to your computer, and take a deep breath, because you're going to be there a while.

Ok, first of all, I will start out by saying that you should take the time to do some research. First, read the manuals for your software, and try to figure out the effect yourself. If you can't come up with anything, then look for tutorials for various effects online. A good place to start is the tutorials on TFN. If you can't find what you need there, try some other fanfilm sites, if you know of any. You should also try doing online searches. If you can't find anything those ways, ask a question on the boards. If you still don't get what you need, then you will either have to figure out a way to do it yourself, find someone who is willing to help with it, or just write that effect out.


If you have any footage requiring blue/greenscreening, you should test out your software first, to see how it works. That way you can learn from mistakes and do better on the real film.

Another good idea would be to head over to dvgarage.com and check out their bluescreening tutorials (they are geared mostly towards After Effects, but the lessons can be applied in other apps as well). They also have a good Composite Toolkit with tutorials, programs, and plug-ins for creating nice, clean mattes.


If it's lightsabers you are interested in doing, these programs can do them (though some require more work then others):

  • After Effects
  • Photoshop
  • Ulead Video Paint (part of MSP)
  • Commotion
  • Paint Shop Pro
  • Animation:Master
  • Blender
  • 3D Studio Max
You may hear a lot of people saying that one method or program is the best for doing sabers (or any effect, for that matter), but for the most part, it's the user rather than the software. True, the different programs have different limitations and capabilities, but there are always more than one way to do things (that's a little different in ALAM DV, though, because your sabers will look the same as every other ALAM DV saber unless you create your own plug in, which they explain how to do on their site).

So, you have a program, but don't quite know how to add in the saber effect? Before you even ask, there is no way to automatically track the blade, so you have to do it frame by frame. Some programs will let you keyframe the effect (basically guessing the effect's animaton between the keyframes), but you need to include a lot of keyframes, and you may need to do some manual rotoscoping to fix it up. If you're using ALAM DV, the program should have come with a help file including a saber tutorial. If you're using any of the others, then just visit the Tutorials section of FanFilms.com for a wealth of information on adding lightsaber effects with a variety of different programs. Keeping in mind these aren't the only ways to do the effect.

Miscallaneous Effects

Ok, you know how to do saber effects. What about holograms, blasters, Force jumps, or Sith lighning? Here is a list of TFN tutorials that may help you in other programs:

Creating Holograms in MSP Creating Force Jumps in MSP Creating Energy Weapons in Axogon/MainVision Creating Forked Lightning in Axogon/MainVision. Creating Blasters in Animation:Master

Hmmmm...you want to know how to do an effect that doesn't have a tutorial on TFN...You could either search online, ask a question on the boards, or come up with your own technique (and maybe you could write the tutorial on it). If you do all of that and you still can't come up with anything, you're SOL. You'll probably have to either find someone else to do it, or write that effect out.

CG Effects

Now you want to add CG spaceships and CG backgrounds, do you? You'll need CG software, of course. There are a lot of pieces of software out there, and they can all produce good results. Before you do buy your software, though, make sure it's for the right reason. DO NOT buy a piece of software because it was used in this movie or that TV show, or because ILM uses it. For one thing, they have just a little bit more money than you to toss out at these things, besides the fact that they often create their own custom plug-ins. For another, it's the artist, not the software, that makes the difference, for the most part. Paying a heap of money for some high-end pro app will NOT automatcally give you better results (this applies to any special effects software, really). You have to understand how to model, light, texture, animate, and render properly before you can produce realistic results. You should put research into it, find out the best ways to create more photorealistic results (such as using multi-pass rendering).

dvgarage.com, besides it's composite toolkit, also has tutorials and a toolkit for CG work.

Titles and Credits

Scrolling text (like for credits) is really simple to do, and should be explained in the manual of your editing software. If you want to do an opening crawl text, there are a few different methods. NOTE:It might be a good idea to not worry about doing titles and credits and such until after you edit.

Step 14: The Trailer

Ok, so you've got all or some of your special effects, CG, and compositing done. Time to make the trailer!

Hmmm...not a good idea. This is a lesson that many a fan filmmaker has had to learn the hard way. If you create a trailer and post it up as soon as you have enough completed effects shots, but before editing of the final product is at least partially done, then you usually don't make the release date you set in your trailer. The reason is that you usually give too optimistic a release date, and things often come up. The best way to handle the trailer thing is to wait until the movie has been edited mostly, and then create the trailer. Or, you could also have created the trailer before, but waited until after most editing was done before releasing it.

So, step 14 should really be:

Step 14: Editing the movie

Editing, of course, is where you simply slap your scenes together end to end, in the exact order as they are in the script, and render. Right? Yeah, that's right, if you want a poorly edited movie. Editing is much more than simply sticking the scenes together. In the editing process, you can change a lot of things about your movie. You can re-arrange scenes in ways that improve the pace, flow, and even the story of the movie. You can drop scenes, move them around, and trim them at will. You can even intercut scenes (meaning, you can cut one clip into two or more parts, and insert shots in between).

You can even make the film more dramatic, by showing character reactions to dialogue. To illustrate this principle, say you have one shot of a person saying a line, and another of a different character's reaction. You could take the clip of the person saying the line, and have it change over to the to the reaction shot while still playing the dialogue. This creates a shot where the person starts to speak, but then the camera cuts to the other character's reaction as the line is being spoken.

Editing can also change a movie's pace. To illustrate this, on the recent A&E George Lucas Biography, they talked about how the Ark of the Covenant ending scene from Raiders was originally much longer. Lucas cut it back by at least half, which made the scene much more intense, because it was faster paced.

Here are a few pointers on editing:

  • DO NOT use flashy transitions or animated fly-ins. They distract from the film, and look extremely tacky.
  • DO use only simple wipes and dissolves to show passage of time from scene to scene
  • DO NOT use transitions during action scenes
  • DO use quick cuts (basically, slapping two clips together with no transition) durring action scenes
  • DO keep track of your clips and keep naming them according to scene and shot number, for ease of editing
  • DO create rough edits to give you an idea about how the movie looks (pace, flo, etc)
  • DO NOT compress until the final product, unless you are severly limted on hard drive space
Step 15: Putting together a trailer

Ok, so you have all or most of your effects, compositing, and CG work done, and you have your movie mostly edited. Time to put together trailer. Here are a few pointers:

  • DO NOT use your best effects shots or action scenes
  • DO only use enough effects and action to entice the audience
  • DO use incomplete effects or test shots (that way, the audience will be even more amazed at the effects when they see the final film)
  • DO NOT give away the entire plot
  • DO only hint at the plot
  • DO balance the effects and action shots with character-based shots
  • DO NOT use music that you will use in the final film; let that be a surprise
  • DO edit in such a way as to be extremely fast-pace (unless it's a character-driven trailer)
Remember, it's your trailer, so you decide how you want to arrange your shots, or any titles you want to use (just don't follow any cliches, like white letters on a black background fading into the distance followed by a few shots). If you want, you can even create multiple trailers. You could start off with a teaser (something short to get people's attention, with virtually no hint to the plot), and then make one or more full-blown trailers. You do something like having an action based trailer and a character bases trailer (the difference being one would be faster-paced and have more effects shots). A good example would be the AOTC trailers. Mystery would be the action one, and Forbidden Love would be the character one.

Step 16: Adding Sound Effects

You film is missing something...Sound. You have to add sound effects. TFN has a great library of sound effects for things like lightsabers, blasters, explosions, and even Stormtrooper phrases. Click here to go to the sound section on TFN.

Some tips:

  • DO balance your audio volume to it does not make dialogue hard to hear
  • Do carefully sync the audio to whatever action it is being associated with
Step 17: Adding a Score

Well, your movie is nearly complete. It just needs one thing. Music. You have a few options here. You could just take some Star Wars CD's (or similar music) and rip some tracks. A few pointers:

  • DO NOT use a piece music simply because it's cool, or your favorite piece
  • DO choose music that best fits the unique mood of the scene and brings out the emotions
  • DO edit the music to fit the movie (or vice versa), rather than hap-hazardly slapping pieces over scenes.
  • DO balance the volume of the music so that it does not make dialogue hard to hear
You could also create your own music (or find someone who can). That's a bit more difficult, but it can be pulled off. You could either find someone from your local highschool/college band to help, or you could go online and find someone on TFN (if you do that, more than likely, the music will either be sythensized or sampled, rather than orchestrated).

Step 18: Promoting Your Movie

This really takes place as your are finishing your movie. Promotion includes such things as creating a website, making online posters, and releasing trailers. Always try to make your website professional-looking if you can, using images and arranging it in a cool, eye-pleasing design. As for releasing trailers, you may do something like this if you have more than one: release trailer A one month, trailer B the next, trailer C the next, and release the final film the next month. Obviously, this only works if you waited until the movie was mostly edited before releasing trailers.

Some pointers:

  • Don't over hype your movie. If you hype your movie, and it doesn't live up to your hype, you will get a lot of criticism. Plus, if you hype your movie, and don't make your release date, it makes people get immpatient.
  • Don't badger people to watch your trailers or visit your site. If you are constantly creating threads talking about your movie, and constantly asking people to "please, please, please, please watch it," they will get annoyed. Create one thread talking about it, ad maybe more if you have major updates (like a new trailer). If you want more site visits, put a link to your site in your sig. You will get more visits that way than by creating threads anyway.
Step 19: Compression

Ok, so now you're movie is edited with sound and music. Now you are ready to compress it for final release. You can compress in any of these file formats:

  • AVI
  • MPEG
  • MOV
  • WMV
I recommend using MOV, as that is the most compatabile with both PC's and Mac's. My advice on WMV is: Just DON'T. Mac's hate that format. They will probably run fine on PC's, but that's about it . You don't want to alienate half of your audience (I use a PC, and it runs fine on it, but I don't like it).

Ok, so now you will have to choose a codec to compress with. These Codecs seem to be favored:

  • On2 (MOV's)
  • Sorensen 3 (MOV's)
  • DivX (AVI's).
If you don't have them, you have to download them. To get a limited version of Sorenson 3, you can download the latest free version of Quicktime. Once that is downloaded, Sorenson should appear in the list of available quicktime (MOV) codecs in your editing program. You can get the full version of Sorenson 3 by buying either QuickTime Pro or Media Cleaner 5. I don't know about the other codecs. Depending on how long your movie is, you may want to render it out to multiple clips, and compress those, because a long movie is a large download. You should make a balance between frame size, frame rate, and compression settings, until you get a good file size for your movie. You may even want to make more than one version, like having a high and low rez version (you may even go one better and create a medium rez)

Step 20: Hosting

Ok, so your movie is now compressed. You will need to find a place to host it. Try not to go with free hosting sites like geocities. Geocities only allow a very small bandwidth, meaning only a small number of downloads can take place in a certain amount of time, and once that number is exceeded, your site won't be available for another hour. Anyway, you should try to find a site you can upload your movie to that will allow other people to download it, and not have to pay money for the space. If you want to try and submit to TFN, go ahead.

Step 21: Relax ;)

Now, just post the link (or wait for TFN to reply to your submission), and there you go. You're finally done. Now, you can sit back and relax...or, if you are like a lot of us, start thinking of your next fan film. ;)
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