We caught up with one of our favorite filmmakers, Jen Randall of Light Shed Pictures, to get her tips on adventure filmmaking. Jen’s films have won tons of awards at Banff, Edinburgh, and Vancouver Mountain Film Festivals, and she’s got a new project in the works called Psycho Vertical. To learn more about the project check out her Kickstarter.
1. Work Out What Your Film is About
My most successful film so far has been Operation Moffat – it’s been in a load of festivals, is for sale online and won 16 awards. It’s also the only project where, very early on, my co-director and I spent 5 days in a hut working out what it was we wanted our film to explore and why. This meant that during the shoot we had more focus and a clearer idea of what we were making. It also made the edit a little more straight forward because I had an outline of our story ready and waiting – often a whole film is worked out in the edit room which is also exciting, but certainly more time consuming.
2. Use a Tripod
It’s a total pain carrying a tripod into awkward locations and setting it up and taking it down over and over again, but you know what’s worse? Watching an entire film of wobbly footage. Use a tripod to get a steady shot whenever you can, or if you don’t have a tripod use the ground or a wall or whatever you can. Only use a handheld shot when you have a solid stylistic reason to do so – you’re audience will thank you for it!
3. Make it Fun
If you’re relaxed and happy then you’ll get a lot more out of the people you’re working with, in front of and behind the camera – simple!
4. Be Flexible
When you’re filming real life, no matter how much development or prep time you put in, your storyline can change at the drop of a hat. Maybe your climber doesn’t send the route the whole film has been building up to, maybe your skier decides to quit skiing altogether. These situations don’t mean your film is ruined, they just mean you need to think on your filmmaking feet and quickly find the new story in front of you, which is often more interesting anyway.
5. Be a Ruthless Editor
Editing your own footage is a great way to learn, but it’s also a tough one because you’ll inevitably be tempted to include shots based on the time and effort it took to get them, rather than how well they fit into your story. Forget all the hurdles you had to overcome to get that sick shot, if it doesn’t quite work in the story or doesn’t look quite as cool as you first thought, don’t put it in your film. As a friend once reminded me, ‘all killer no filler!’
6. Search for Music and Use It
Music can add an amazing extra layer to your film, so work hard to find the right track with the right tone for your sequence and use that track to its full potential. Lots of films are let down by a very watery, non-committal background track that floats along in a very annoying manner for the whole film – what a waste!
7. Listen to Feedback
It’s obviously important to share your work with a variety of people before you put it out there to check if it makes sense, if people enjoy it etc, etc. When you ask some one to give you feedback, don’t be scared to listen to it and consider all of it. Sometimes the unlikeliest person will have a brilliant observation or idea that you would never have thought of.
8. Make the Most of the Kit You Have
If you can’t afford the best camera in the world don’t let that stop you – use what you can get your hands on and make sure you use techniques that are free, like storytelling and composition, to the best of your ability – suddenly the technology won’t matter so much!
Thanks for the tips, Jen! Don’t forget to check out her Kickstarter and show your support if you like what you see.