From Beginner to Intermediate Filmmaker: 5 Things You Need to Know | Dandan Liu | Skillshare

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From Beginner to Intermediate Filmmaker: 5 Things You Need to Know

teacher avatar Dandan Liu, Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Course Intro


    • 2.

      Picture Profiles


    • 3.

      Focal lengths


    • 4.

      Shooting for the Edit


    • 5.

      Fluid Camera Movement


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Bonus: LUTS


    • 8.

      Thank you!


    • 9.

      Newsletter Sneak Peak


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About This Class

Feel like you've mastered the basics of filmmaking but want to move to the next level?

This course guides beginner filmmakers who have done at least 1 film project to the intermediate level. It provides you with the essential topics you need to learn and practice to make this transition, featuring creative mini assignments to help get there. 

All of these techniques come from working on the field in the film industry. 


  • How to take advantage of your camera's dynamic range for a more cinematic image
  • How focal lengths affect other key factors such as depth of field, distance compression, and image stabilization. 
  • How to shoot for the edit
  • How to create fluid movement for your camera
  • How to light a scene
  • How to use LUTS for enhanced color grading


By the end of this course, you will have a concrete action plan with 6 applicable techniques you can use on your next film, to take your filmmaking to the next level. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Dandan Liu

Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Top Teacher

Hi there! I’m Dandan, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and contemplative creative living in Italy. 

As a self-taught filmmaker, I love foraging for unique stories around the world that illuminate the interconnections among us. I started making films while on a 4 year journey living in monasteries around the world. One film led to the next, and after persevering for many years, I found myself working full time on film crews and streaming my films on Roku, Apple TV, museums, trains, and airplanes. 

My highest work is helping others craft an authentic, creative, and mindful life- your unique work of art. I believe that knowing who you truly are is the foundation for flourishing in every area of life. So, I founded Unravel, a playful journ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Course Intro: The great thing about learning film-making online is that you have the freedom to design your own learning path. However, as I've personally experienced by taking this path myself, sometimes it's more challenging if you're not enrolled in a film school, should know what steps to take next to advance to another level. So if you consider yourself a beginner filmmaker and feel like you've mastered the basics of film making, I've designed this course to help get you to the intermediate level. I'm going to share five things I consider central to make the beginner to intermediate film making transition. Mini assignments for every topic are included to help make you make the transition. Let's get started. 2. Picture Profiles: Number 1, picture profiles. You probably already know about the dynamic range of your camera, which is the maximum amount of shades between the widest white and the darkest dark your camera can capture. This is why cameras like the Arri Alexa are so expensive and sought after. These cameras have a high dynamic range, meaning that their sensors are able to capture more subtle differences in light, leading to more cinematic image. Even if you don't have a red digital cinema camera, or an Arri Alexa however, you can still take advantage of your camera's maximum dynamic range, by shooting with what's called a flat picture profile. Keep in mind though that you do this, you'll have to do some color grading afterwards. To do this, find your picture profiles, or also known as Picture Styles tab on your camera menu and go through each of them. There will be named different things depending on which camera you are using. Common picture profiles include S log, CineStyle, and V log. Check out the picture profiles chart PDF on the projects tab, which matches the picture profiles to the camera brand. When you choose a flat picture profile, you'll see that the image looks dull. This is so the camera can retain the most amount of information in your image so you can really find cine things when you color grade. If you don't have time to do color grading, I like to take the middle rule, which is to find the natural picture profile and turn down the sharpness, saturation, contrast and noise reduction down a bit. I find this can also take away the video we look and make your footage look more organic, like film. Your assignment is to go through your camera and find the flat picture profile. If there are more than one, do some experiments, shoot some them images, review them, and find the one that works best for you. 3. Focal lengths: Two, understanding the differences between focal lengths. You probably already know that different focal lengths of your lenses give you different fields of view. However, focal lengths can also affect other critical factors, such as depth of field, compression and image stabilization. Let's talk about these three. First, with depth of field. The longer the lens, the more shallow your depth of field is. In other words, keeping your F stop and distance to the subject constant, with a longer lens, you will have a blurrier background. This also means that with a longer lens it's easier for something to go out of focus. Next time you're choosing lenses, use this knowledge share creative power. If you're wanting a shallower depth of field, try using the longer lens if it frames are scene well. Next, let's see how focal length affects the compression of an image. With a wider lens you'll see that the distances between the foreground object and the background are enlarged compared to the distance perceived when shooting with a longer lens. If you shoot with a wide lens, you can distort the face where the nose and the foreground comes out and the ears are pulled back. This was used to create a comedic effect in a famous film Amelie, where her face was shoot with a 35 millimeter lens. An 85 millimeter lens in contrast, is known as a beauty lens because it's seen in the industry as one of the most flattering lenses for faces. Next time, keep this distance compression in mind when choosing lenses. For example, in this shoot, I wanted the actor to feel closer to the mirror, so I chose a longer lens. Use lens choice like they did an Amelie to serve your story. Finally, let's talk about how focal length effects image stabilization. Because you know now that the longer the lenses, the shallower the depth of field, the easier it is for something to go out of focus. If you're doing the moving shoot hand-held, I recommend doing it with a wide lens. I think the best way to understand focal length holistically and really get it under your skin is to shoot with one prime lens until you really understand it. Your assignment is to take whatever primes you have, maybe even borrow them from some friends and shoot one face from the same distance with all of them. Then compare and contrast the way the face looks sharp from these different focal lengths. Post your photos on the projects page so your classmates can also see the difference. 4. Shooting for the Edit: Third, shooting for the edit. Although this mindset can take time to develop, you can start acquiring it now. Shooting for the edit means having an idea of how the story will play out in the edit when you were shooting. Even if you don't know what's going to happen, maybe you're shooting a documentary, at least keep in mind and keep an eye out for potential establishing shots, closing shots, transitions, and other shots that will help make your edit more smooth. Don't guess and shoot everything. Think critically and what I like to call critically feel and decide the shots that you are getting. The best way I know to [inaudible] this mindset is to set limits. You have two options for this assignment, the first one is to shoot a short film with only a 16-gigabyte memory card. The second option is if you have a Polaroid camera and to shoot a complete storyboard with only one pack of Polaroid's. Then post your film or your storyboard on the projects page so your classmates can learn from your project and be inspired. Another great way to develop this mindset is to watch your favorite film with the sound turned off. Critically look at the sequence of shots and the function of every shot, see how they serve the story. Doing this will help you intuitively get a sense of what types of shots are needed to tell a compelling story. 5. Fluid Camera Movement: Fourth camera movement. At this stage you probably, can set up a tripod with your eyes closed. The next step is to learn how to create fluid movements of your shots with a gimbal. If you don't have a gimbal, no it's time to be resourceful and call friends of friends or call a rental house and have them teach you. The classic gimbal is a ronin but I find they're very heavy for DSLR use and often require another person to help focus. Instead, if you're shooting with a regular Geoff's alarm, I recommend, the Pilotfly H2, which is lighter weight and allows me to run and pull focus at the same time. Whatever gimbal you use, the principles are the same. You're going to have to learn how to balance your camera on it and learn how to control it. Believe me, knowing the skill will really set you apart from the beginner filmmaker and increase the production value of your film. Just make sure that you are using the gimbal with purpose and not just because the shots look cool. 6. Lighting: Fifth, lighting. This was the most intimidating aspect of film-making for me. But it is really essential to learn how to control as an intermediate filmmaker. There're 1000s of tutorials on lighting up there. But if I had to design the lighting curriculum first, I learned about types of LED lights, then I learned about shaping light and finally, I learned about playing with color temperature. The only way to truly learn however, is to play with these lights yourself. However, to get you started, the following videos will give you good overview of all of these three areas. First, let's check out a video by my friends at aperture, who gave a great overview about the categories of LED lights. In the same way that you'd use wide lenses and telephoto lenses for different types of shoots, you also want to use different types of lighting fixtures for different uses. With that said, let's go through the six most common types of lighting fixtures and when you'd use each of them. Number 1, single source lights. Single source lights are called single source because, well, they come from one source, there's only one light on the fixture. Examples of single source lights include the aputure 300d, or the [inaudible]. When undiffused, single source lights are hard and are clear crisp edges. Generally speaking, you want to use single source lights when you want a strongly defined shadow, a harsher light, or a more directional light. Now, you can diffuse a single source light for a softer effect and turn it into an area life which will also soften the shadows, and the light's quality. This is very common in corporate interviews and in portrait photography. Number 2, multi-source lights. Multi-source lights have multiple light sources, some multi-source panels like the LS1 can have up to 1,536 sources on them. These types of lights generally have stronger outputs than a single source categories. It's not a direct correlation, but generally speaking, the more sources of light divided by P. Now, some filmmakers actually don't prefer multi-source lights because the multi shadow effect that comes with having too many sources of light. To counteract this effect most filmmakers and photographers will diffuse multi-source lights through a silk sheet or floss to eliminate the shadows and make it appear as a single source. Bouncing and multi-source light is another effective way to do this. Still, multi-source light have many useful applications in film-making and photography as they're some of the most powerful lights in the industry. Number 3, volume lights. Volume lights might like cannibals and space-like at soft luminous lending to your overall scene, volume might have a very soft wrap around your subject and you can edit lots of overall filters setup. Now, because volume light has so unidirectional, they have a huge variety of use, many photographers and filmmakers, will use space lights to light their green screens as it can provide extremely clean and even lighting to a background. You can also try using an array of volume lights over white psych or for a photoshoot for you want self beauty lighting. The array of volume mites will mimic the effect of one super-large soft source from above, ensuring that your light is clean and without shadows. Number 4, area lights. An area light is the opposite of single source. Area lights are achieved either through bouncing or diffusing a single or multiple source light and adding to its site. An area light generally has a wider beam angle and illuminate an entire room or environment. Soft boxes, silks, and form core bounce boards are all common ways you can tune your hard light into an area light. Area lights are soft and have shadows that are much less harsh than a single source light. Well, it's easy to make a hard spotlight into area light with a few tools, it's not that easy to make an area light to a hard light, I'm assuming light really far away, turn simulating a single source but then that makes you relative size much smaller and you'd almost never do this. Number 5, tube light. Tube lights are similar area light, they are an array of LEDs or a single fluorescent, but it usually housed in a frosted plastic tube that provides various types of light. Many photographers and DPS will actually take two or three of these tubes and shape them into squares or triangles for diva lighting. Now, because tube lights are smaller, they tend to have less output than their larger or single source counterparts. But because there are more mobile and easily hidden, they have many practical uses. In addition, many tube light nowadays are RGB making them extremely versatile as effect lights both onscreen and off, allowing you to make bars of lights in clubs, scenes or music videos, allowing for some really fun and so Iive practicals. Speaking of practicals, number 6 is practical lights, practical lights are the lights that are visible in your scene and are part of project narrative. Practical light, can be as simple as an open face tanks and bulb, lamps, the screen of a TV sets, candles, a Christmas tree, a chandelier, the list goes on. While lighting your scene well is very important, practicals can add visual interest and adds the diversity of your film. Many GPs choose replaced onset practicals with film light, such as using a tube light simulator fluorescent or having a large single source daylight balanced lights to stimulate the movie. Whatever the case, practical lights are the lights that are part of the screen and the narrative of their film and help add depth of their lighting sounds. Next, you will need to learn how to shape this light. This is where diffusion, bounce and negative fills comes in, which [inaudible] films effectively shows. We'll take a look at our first show here, which is hard light, which is basically the light is shining directly on Ashley right here. Right off the start, we can see that the light is casting a shadow from her nose and is a hard shadows. We have basically these even straight edges right here, you can see it right here and we'll also, we take a look at the highlight right here. We can see they're in a circle that's completely sharp, and also another thing I wanted to look at is more of the hot-spot on her face, you see some spectacular elements are just brighter than the areas around it and that's typically what you can get with a hard light, is little bit more reflective and suffering lot more harsh. Before we jump over to the next one, take note of the bocca back here, which really is a factor of hard light, is just because we'd have a dimmer on it and where shining very bright source at her subject. Another light is a soft light, and we did that by putting a diffuser right in front of the light. Right off the start, I'll talk about the bocca, and we can see that the bocca is definitely bigger than us, because we had opened up on the lens end, that's only because when you diffuse light, you are going to cut the light down by a little bit. We had opened up the lens and our bocca is bigger over here, but that's not really what I want to look at for the soft light. Why don't we look at some of the differences here so we can see that the shadow from her nose is a lot more soft and there's no really defined edge. There's this like a nice little gradient and obviously the light is wrapping very nicely along her cipher face here. We can take a look at the highlight right here, and we see that as a little bit bigger and doesn't have the harsh edges like we talked about in the last one. The spectacular highlights are definitely a lot larger and it's a lot more even across her face here, so that's really nice using a soft light. Using a soft light over hard light can be great for interviews or when you really make people look nice. Of course, hard light is going to be great in a lot of other situations so don't always discount, you'll hard light for certain projects. Take a look at negative fill and essentially were negative fill does, is anytime you add a dark object like the blackboard or what I'm using right now is a fluffy cutter. Basically it will absorb light. In the previous shows, the light was bouncing off of the walls and filling up her right side of her face here, which I'll call the fill side. By adding a floppy cutter or a DIY black art card, which you can get one out like Walmart or local art store flight $3. Essentially when you put it next to your subject, their fill side is going to get a little bit darker, and as you see from the previous shots that, the light is a lot more contrasted on her right side of her face and just adds a little bit more depth into your shot. In the shot, what we're doing is we are taking the light and shooting it into the diffuser. Basically the diffuser is the primary light source, and what's happening here is that, we get even softer shadows compared to the soft light, and is even wrapping the face a little bit more. We definitely have a lot less spectacular elements on her face here, and it's really what I would use this form. If I really want an extreme new soft light on our subject space like, if there's been a lot of examples where maybe someone has been a hot day, someone's face has been sweaty. We don't have a makeup person and just I want to make sure that we don't have any of those in hot-spots hitting their face. For the shot we are still bouncing the light, but instead of using the diffuser as light source, we are using a white board that you can pick about Walmart like $2-3, or you can use like nice seeing white bounce. But basically this is my favorite look overall. Essentially what's happening here is you're still getting a nice soft light here. But definitely turning the light into our larger source because the card is definitely bigger than light. Essentially what's happening here, we still get these nice soft shadows still wrapping around the face and we take a look here. We can see the highlight is now at rectangle because we are using a small art card and we definitely see that the light is nice and evenly spread along her face and is looking really nice. Just as an example, I just want to show you guys just another use of bouncing light with different materials. For the last shot, we are bouncing the light off of the ceiling, and the ceiling is the light source, and this is something else I want to add in the video. Just coming at you guys thinking about how else you can use other than just having, reflectors or diffusers or anything like that, you can use the roof as light source. Now to me, right off above for an interview setup like we are right now, I will never do this. But maybe for a narrative or whatever, I would even suggest about adding a nice little reflector down here and bouncing it up underneath her chin and all that. But we take a look at top of her head stuffing a little bit more hot, and just because the roof is closer to the top of her head and obviously down here. But we're definitely getting a more of a dramatic lighting setup, and it's still a soft light because we're not getting those harsh edges that you would get from a hard light even though it's not necessarily a primary soft light, but still here they are diffusing the light a little bit. Finally, you will need to understand how color temperature plays in with lighting. As you probably know, all light comes with the color temperature associated with it, which is measured by Kelvin. The two we work with in film are daylight and tungsten, and you want to memorize the respective color temperatures. I always buy my lights daylight balanced. Once you choose your main light, you can convert it to different color temperatures by using colored gels. These are transparent pieces of thin colored film that you put in front of your lights to achieve a desired color temperature. The two most common are CTO, which converts daylight bounce light into tungsten lights, and CTB, which does the opposite, converting tungsten lights into daylight balanced lights. If you'd like an overview of lighting equipment, especially for those on a budget, checkout, my lighting equipment PDF. The best way I know to refine and hone the skill is to light a scene based on a painting. For example, here I chose one of Vermeer's paintings, women holding a balance and played and tweak my lighting until I was happy with the resemblance. I picked out four paintings with different moods and qualities of lights that I feel is feasible for a one-person setup. Your assignment is to recreate the scene using whatever lighting you have, diffusion. We can even use a shower curtain for this negative fill, you can use any black cloth and try to recreate the mood and the quality of the light found in the painting. Feel free to replace the props. I'm only interested in the quality and the mood of your lighting. Then post a photo of your light scene on the class page for review. 7. Bonus: LUTS: Bonus tip, LUTS. Here's a cool trick, if you are using a flat picture profile, LUTS, which stands for Look Up Tables. These are used in film sets so directors can have a reference for what the footage will look like with more saturated colors. Instead of seeing just a flat desaturated image that comes from the picture profile, which freaks many directors and producers out. In essence, LUTS are basically color grading formulas. You can use LUTS to create a starting point for your color grading, saving you time, or use them to create a stylized look. There are thousands of free LUTS out there. Do some fun research and find some styles you like. To apply a LUT add the Lumetri color effect onto your clip in Premier. Then scroll down through the LUT menu, which already comes with built-in Adobe Premiere Pro LUTS and apply. If you downloaded your own LUT, make sure to hit "Browse" and click on your LUT download to install it. 8. Thank you!: I hope that by now, you feel like you have a concrete action plan, to make the next transition from a beginner to intermediate filmmaker. If you have any remaining questions, feel free to send them my way as I am here to support you. In the meanwhile, I send you all the best for your filmmaking journey, and I will see you next time. Actually, I will see you on the other side. Take care. Bye. 9. Newsletter Sneak Peak: [MUSIC] If you enjoyed this class, I invite you to leave a review and sign up for my newsletter. This is not your ordinary newsletter, but instead a virtual teahouse of wonders where I share curated inspiration, behind the scenes, updates, and more high-value resources on the art of authentic creative living. It is my most intimate space to spoil my readers with delight. Sign up to receive on my course instructor page. [MUSIC]