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Creator and Artist Stories

Embracing exploration: being a filmmaker today

By Heather Menicucci

Director, Howcast Filmmakers Program

Digital filmmaking has evolved quite a bit since the first affordable “prosumer” mini DV cameras were introduced in the early ’90s. Not only have options, opportunities, practices, and standards for filmmakers changed, they continue to expand almost every day. Welcome to a Modern 101 for Emerging Digital Filmmakers: a semester’s worth of tips and tricks for today’s video creators navigating these changes.

Starting today and wrapping up on December 17, we -- the producers and filmmakers from Howcast’s Emerging Filmmakers Program -- will be sharing our experiences, advice, and ideas right here with YouTube's creative community. We’ve got some unique insights that come from a blend of traditional filmmaking backgrounds with lots of experience producing, distributing, and promoting web video. And after three years working with filmmakers from all over the world, we’ve learned a lot about their concerns and questions.

It seems that just when you have a handle on what works, something new pops up. What format of HD should you shoot on? What’s the best way to export for the web? What’s a codec? What are other filmmakers doing to build a community of viewers and collaborators online? And where are trusted sources for information? Is it possible to find success as a filmmaker in this changing landscape? How do you know if you’ve hit your target, when that target seems to be always be moving?

In April 2005, the first video was uploaded to YouTube and in July 2010, the first short film was shot and edited entirely on an iPhone. When I went to film school in 1993 we shot on 16mm and edited on Steenbecks. Today I get to work with lots of film students and recent grads and I occasionally catch myself envying them. Every short I made back then cost at least $1,500. I could never set up a Steenbeck in my dorm the way filmmakers are running iMovie or Final Cut on their laptops. And, if I wanted anyone to see my film, my options were pretty much limited by the festivals I was accepted by. Sure, many filmmakers bemoan the poor picture quality of popular pocket cameras or the lack of certainty around earning money from online video, but, at the same time, it’s never been cheaper to create your own work or easier to find an audience.

You can make a new video almost every day and get feedback on your work practically instantaneously by hitting “Upload.” Filmmaking is no longer for the privileged few and access to audiences is not guarded by select gatekeepers. It’s really become more of a practice, in the way that playing an instrument can be. What does that really mean for us?

  • We have easier access to the tools we need to refine our skills.
  • We get to know more about what’s working because we can see audiences responding to our work immediately.
  • We can find collaborators with common interests because we have instant access to other filmmakers.
  • We have more chances to learn from each other because we can watch filmmakers’ videos or even tutorials from all over the world.

Your definition of success should depend on the stage of your career, your project, and what you’re looking to get out of it. For me, just out of school, success was getting my shorts into festivals. Today, success might be garnering 100,000 views on YouTube or raising $15,000 on Kickstarter. One of our filmmakers recently blogged about how she tweeted and posted her way to over 1,500 views in just 4 days and coverage in a local paper for her Howcast video. I’d call that -- and the fact that she discovered how to use the web to launch her first marketing campaign -- a new kind of success.

Of course, most filmmakers know launching a successful filmmaking career, no matter how it’s defined, is and always will be risky. On top of that, today’s seemingly endless possibilities, although exciting and empowering, are naturally, a little bewildering. So, stay tuned for some of our insight, tips and tricks for your journey. We want to hear from you -- send us your biggest fears and burning questions about being a filmmaker in the digital age. Articles, videos, and live events will be posted every Friday and every couple weeks, we’ll schedule a session to answer your questions.