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Making 3-Minute Social Media Masterpieces OR How To Stop Worrying and Love Home Movies

How have you been using the Social Web lately? I’ve been using it to bond with my daughter through movie making. My parents use to make home movies all the time - it was social media before there was even a term. They’d get together with friends to make stop motion animations, short films, and little documentaries. And this was on an 8mm camera!

Making a good movie now is way simpler, cheaper, and easier to share. This is great news because making a movie is fun. You get to work with friends, family, and who ever else is around to create an experience you will all remember forever.

I thought I’d share some tips, tricks, and tidbits I’ve learned while making several movies with @ellarox.

Keep in mind this isn’t a “tutorial on how to make a movie” - there’s plenty of those. The focus of this post is how to make a fun, better than an average home movie, and make it a bonding experience for everyone involved. Hopefully it will inspire you to take similar action with your friends, family, loved ones, band mates, co-workers, or whomever else may be around.


What You’ll Need

  • Paper and Pencil
  • A camera with video recording capability - this could be an Android Phone, an iPhone, a Flip cam, a costly Sony MiniDV camera you bought in college with credit cards when you thought you were going to be the next Kubrick… Just find a device that can capture video and can then easily move that video to your computer.
  • A computer with a decent processor and enough RAM. Anything from the past couple of years will be more than enough.
  • Video editing software:
  • Some people

OK. Now that we’re geared up, let’s start making a movie to share with our social graph.

STEP ONE: Get some people together to make a movie.

Are you having a party? Make a movie! Got nothing to do on a Saturday? Make a movie! In-laws nagging you for some photos of the kid? Make a movie! Whatever the reason. Just try and get at least four people together.

Once you’ve got your own Factory together, start brainstorming. Think of all the crazy things you could film and don’t rule anything out. Have fun with it.

You’ve got 3 minutes to tell a story. How can you make this movie BIG? Big requires people and participation. That’s the whole point of this thing - participation. What are the different things you could do that requires three or more people to act out. Here’s some starter ideas:

  • Think about special effects. Do you have a big green blanket? Then you can do some green screen shots. Gut some toy guns? Great - how can you make some realistic gun shot wounds. Got some pets? Dress ‘em up and put ‘em to use, Jim Henson style. Try to thing of the most outlandish stunt or effect you could possibly do (without getting hurt, of course) and try to make it happen. Even if you fail miserably, trust me you’ll have a blast doing it. BONUS: Special effects are fun.
  • Think about how you can use multiple locations. Even if it’s just around the block, moving from one location to another will make the movie more dynamic and more interesting.
  • Think about making it short. How big can your movie be in just 3 minutes? OK - now try and make it bigger, but don’t go over 3 minutes. Keeping it short will make it easier to make and keep you focussed on only the elements that are necessary to make your story killer.
  • Think about product tie-ins. You’re already drinking PBR to get the old creative juices flowing, why not include it in your movie? BONUS: All big brands have “Community Managers” these days, If you show your product in a favorable light and someone at the company sees it, they just might send some swag your way.
  • Think about reimagining your favorite movie/story/song. Hollywood doesn’t make original content anymore - why should you?
  • Think about making a serial. Like Indiana Jones. Or those old Crimson Ghost movies. Something with recurring characters (both Good and Bad) that keep ending in cliff hangers.
    BONUS: If you make a serial, then you and your posse have a reason to get together at least once a month to make the next installment.

This step can be one of the most fun parts of the whole process. Bouncing ideas around a group of friends, coming up with crazy shots, and then figuring out how to make those shots happen will create some really funny, memorable moments.

STEP TWO: Make a storyboard for your movie.

If you’re not familiar with it, a storyboard is a series of pictures that outlines the major shots and story points of a movie. You can see some storyboards on Google.

You don’t have to be Michelangelo on the storyboard - think more along the lines of stick figures. Don’t forget to include key lines of dialogue. Take the big 3 minute idea you came up with in STEP ONE and make a story board for each major point of your movie.

I like to use scrap paper and make one frame per page. That way you can take your story boards and group them by locations or cast members. Then I put those groups in the order I want to shoot them. (“OK - I’m going to shoot the shots in the front yard that involve Dino first, then shots in the front yard with everyone next, then I’ll shoot the backyard shots last.”) 

The process of planning your movie makes you think about what you’re going to do. Plan where you’re going to shoot these shots, who’ll be in them, and how you’ll do it. Are you going to need costumes? Makeup? Props like a toy gun or a Doctors stethoscope?

While you’re making a storyboard, don’t forget to make one for the opening title sequence. Let your imagination run wild. Come up with crazy ideas and then figure out how to make it happen as best you can. Here’s some inspiration.

STEP THREE: Start Shooting!

Alright Soderbergh, let’s make this thing. Start shooting. 

Be sure to get everyone involved in the process. If you’re not in the scene you can film it. Maybe you can be in the scene after all - play multiple roles or be a background extra.

If you’re on the sideline you can:

  • Take some digital stills that may come in handy later.
  • Start drawing the Official Movie Poster on a big piece of poster board. 
  • Use some old T-Shirts and a Sharpie to create the Official Movie T-Shirt.

If you’re inspired during the shoot don’t be afraid to try and make your inspiration work. Sometimes the best ideas happen while your making the movie so go with it.

As far as specific movie making technique, here’s what TO DO:

  • Think about light - you need enough light to actually have something on the screen. Make sure you have enough light. I’d advise shooting outside for this reason. If you have to shoot inside, open up all the blinds and turn on as many lights as possible.
  • Make sure you give your shots “handles.” That means start the camera rolling and let it run for 5 whole seconds before you call “action”, then let it run for a 5 whole seconds more after you call “cut” on the scene. This makes it way easier to edit later on.
  • Know what the rule of thirds is and how to use it. Image dividing your shot into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. (Think a tic-tac-toe grid). All the important parts of your shot should be placed along these lines or their intersections. You can see it in action here

Here’s what NOT TO DO.

  • For those of you using an iPhone / G1 / still camera… you’re shooting video, not stills, so only record in LANDSCAPE mode. If you shoot in portrait, it’s like turning the movie screen on it’s side. It’s a hassle we don’t want to deal with.
  • If you’re running the camera, DON’T SAY ANYTHING unless there’s a reason for you to talk in the scene. Your voice will end up way louder then everything else in the scene which is usually very distracting.
  • Move the camera too fast. Most people tend to move the camera around, left to right, up and down, very quickly. You know how the camera makes everyone look taller? It also makes camera movement seem faster, so just be aware of jiggling, shaking, and quick movements. Think s    l    o      w.
  • Don’t use the camera’s special effects. This greatly limits your options later on. Instead, do digital special effects in the editing phase. 

STEP FOUR: Edit the movie.

OK. Now you’ve got your vision captured in electrons. Great. Let’s hack it up. 

In all seriousness, editing is one of the most fun parts of the process and also one of the most important. Some people contend the art of editing is what makes movie-making a unique art form. Whether that’s true or not, good editing makes a huge difference in improving your movie.

If you don’t know how to do this, there’s a ton of tutorials on the steps to import and edit a video:

iMovie  Movie Maker

Since my goal for these movies is to get them out and share them with friends and family for a few laughs, I try and edit quickly. You can belabor an edit decision or a special effect for days. Don’t do it. Just make an edit, try an effect, and move on.

Here’s the secret to editing: don’t be afraid to cut things down. Got a whole bunch of dead space before and after the action? Cut it out. The shot just didn’t work out? Cut it out - you probably wouldn’t need it anyway. Remember - in general, shorter is better.

Don’t be afraid to be play with the effects. Experiment. Have fun with it. Are effects going to make the movie win awards? Probably not. Are they going to make editing a whole lot of fun? Absolutely. 

You can go especially nuts on the effects in the opening sequence - you can change the color of the whole clip, play it backward, and/or add a snippet from an awesome song (assuming you have the rights…) Having an opening title sequence and scrolling end credits turns your 3-minutes funny video shot with some friends into a bona-fide short film.

One last thing that can make a big difference is audio. Pay attention to sound while editing. For example, you may find a scene where you can’t understand what someone says for one reason or another. This is why overdubs were invented.

iMovie let’s you record audio over a clip using the computers built in mic or an attached mic. Take advantage of this to re-record the audio for the segment that’s messed up. You may have to do it a couple of times to get it to sync up right. Once you’ve recorded the new audio to your satisfaction, drop down the volume on the offending track but don’t delete it entirely. If you cut it out entirely you’d notice a big difference in the ambient our background noise level. Keeping the bad audio in the shot at a greatly reduced level is an easy way to minimize the change in ambient noise. 

STEP FIVE: Roll out the Red Carpet.

Your movie’s made. Now let the world know! Celebrate what you’ve created. Think about having a premiere party with your friends that made it with you. Make a movie poster for your creation using stills from the movie, then use that poster for an E-Vite to the movie’s premiere party.

Take advantage of self publishing to get your work up on Vimeo or YouTube. iMovie let’s you share the movie from the program. And if you’re using Movie Maker, here’s that tutorial. If you can set the thumbnail for the movie, use the movie poster you created.

Once you’ve got your film uploaded, grab the movie’s URL and share it.

  • Tweet the link
  • Post the link on Facebook
  • Email the link to those that were in the movie and let them share it with their friends. 
  • If you took photos during the movie (you did have a unit photographer on set, right?) then post those pictures to a Facebook photo album and tag everyone in the photo. Give the album the same name as your movie. 
  • Burn the movie to DVD, make a DVD cover, and send it to the in-laws.
  • If you had a product tie-in, send it to the company. You already sold your soul so you might as well.


So that’s how I make movies with my friends. Here’s what we came up with one afternoon:


Now go try it yourself and let me know in the comments what you come up with.

Just be sure to have fun with it and I promise it will be some of the best use “social media” you’ll ever make.

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