Story Not Stuff

#STORYNOTSTUFF This whole expose is aimed at those who have fallen foul of “stuff” over “story”.  You know who they are and they are prolific at it, serial posters of utter rubbish but claim you need the latest and greatest to achieve it. 

Nothing winds me up more, than misinformation, and I don’t even mean a specific area, just in general but as this is about film making and content creation, then I’ll apply it here.  If you have proven and verified information to impart then, sure go right ahead and be sure it is tailored or suited to the audience it might reach.  If you have no credible experience or research based on fact, then conveying it will only misinform.  It will tell those who don’t know the wrong information and create an alternate understanding but will bring unwanted criticism of your endeavour from those who do know and are correctly informed, or maybe not as those who “don’t know” are starting to outweigh those who “do”.

This trait is known as the “Dunning-Kreuger effect” and in the field of psychology, is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. A bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognise their lack of ability. 

Now the purpose of highlighting this is not to out anyone or cause offence but to highlight a growing trend, especially on YouTube, where videos with “advice” or “top 10 tips” or anything that is supposed to educate/inform the viewer, but the video is rendered almost useless as the information is wrong, partially correct or taken out of context; so, let’s apply it to photography, film making type content creators.

If we assume there are 3 categories of ability – beginner, intermediate and professional – that’s a good basis of starting out; a beginner knows nothing or very little with an aim to learn.  Intermediate has covered the basics and is looking to add to that with additional info to propel them towards Pro and Professional would be accomplished in their field of operation but isn’t too big to admit when they need to learn something or increase their knowledge in a certain area. 

Now, seeing we have created the base line of ability it would be fair to say that the video “Things you need as a filmmaker” would be greatly different depending what skillset is watching…but I’m willing to bet that Martin Campbell isn’t watching YouTube for tips on how to film…… and if you don’t know who he is, then just walk away now.

I use YouTube and a lot and, when I started out it helped me immensely and still does.  Tips, tricks, lighting, editing, sound, screenplay, writing…. the list goes on and I watch other creators within their field and enjoy listening to them speak passionately about it; I might not want to do what they do but I enjoy watching others.  Unfortunately, I come across videos that aren’t of use, misinformed, incorrectly fact checked and, often, an opinion I can’t see eye to eye with or wildly out that I must roll my eyes and snort a laugh of hearty derision – which is better than saying anything as that will invite challenge, discussion, abuse, discussions on objectivity, a defence mechanism.  So, if you can’t engage with another creator with critique and help or be helped, then just move on.

So, what’s the point?  Well, I recently watched a video posted on line about things you NEED as a filmmaker and it dawned on me how wrong they were in terms of context, ability, financial availability and a whole host of other things, because YouTube creators within the genre of content creation fixate unhealthily on gear, amount of gear, size of gear, type of gear and not what it is you need to make films OF ANY CONTENT.  Just because you have a guitar doesn’t make you a guitarist, just as having a smart phone doesn’t make you a telecoms provider because you can share your signal.  Just because you have a driver’s licence doesn’t mean you understand the operation of an F1 car, because it’s broadly based on the internal combustion engine. And just because you have the latest Arri or Red camera, doesn’t mean you’ll be shooting the next fast & the furious follow-up, it’s all about context and understanding. 

I spoke with a friend the other day who is a musician and producer, and we were discussing many things, but we have a history of working on projects, bands, videos etc and we never had a lot of money, we always had to make do with what we had.  When we recorded songs, we needed a location, microphones, guitars, drums, amps, mixing desk…the list is endless but most folk have one or two of those items…hence the BAND and you work together to create the joint vision, filmmaking is no different.  

However, when you DON’T have the item you need you are forced to improvise and thus unleashes the creativity, the very fundamental of being a creative; imagine and then create. You are only limited by your imagination and creativity.  It’s an age-old argument and one I recently had with my daughter, like I had with my mother about learning maths; if we have a calculator, why do I need to know it.  True, but if the workings aren’t shown and the machine does it for you, what have you learned?  Now we live in the digital age, the same applies; if you ask Siri or Alexa but can’t type into the search engine yourself or pick up a reference book and know where to look, what’s the point?  Automation won’t always be there or maybe it will and therefore render the mind useless for mental problem solving.

So, let’s get back to the point at hand, and what you need as a beginner filmmaker.  Now, I’m sure you’ll have seen videos with that title and each of them different from the creator of what you need or that they want you to think you need.  Gimbal, Monopod, Tripod, glide-cam, 4K, 5K, 8K, lenses, drones, sliders, lighting, microphones…. the list goes on but what if you don’t have any of that kit?  What if that is all beyond your means and you’re just starting out?  Also, what if you are just someone who wants to make fun videos with their friends and not make a business out of it or what if you want to start in the industry and don’t know where to start? 

Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to decide what it is you are doing. 

Are you looking to become a filmmaker who make films and hopes to cruise the festival route until they are discovered and become festival darlings, Hollywood types and look for the glitz and glamour?  Maybe you want to be a content provider who are professional filmmakers who deliver movies whether dramatic, corporate, or documentary at a price per minute?  A job, not a vocation.   Or perhaps you see your path as a communicator, who ARE filmmakers AND content providers who have something to say using the power of moving images with excellent sound, well-crafted stories, and good soundtracks. Communicators will also consider a host of different mediums including short two- and three-minute episodes for mobiles or internet. 

I’d like to think of myself as the latter, a combination of the three, in that I work on production sets providing footage to a brief designed by someone else.  So, I provide a service from my technical ability as a cameraman and drone pilot, for pay and helps me keep the family in the life they are accustomed to.  I also create my own works, I have scripts, aspirations to make a dramatic film with a story and actors; not sure Hollywood would be calling, but in these times Amazon & Netflix are all real possibilities if you go through the right channels.   But I’ve never been one to “TELL” anyone anything unless I’m directly asked.  I feel I don’t have the right kudos or experience to “influence” anyone although I HATE that term in social media….”influence” is such a narcissistic label and often it’s used to influence the wrong thing to the wrong people; but anyway, what I mean is that if anyone learns something new indirectly from me, then I’m happy.  If my point is received with those who share a similar view and we can discuss it, then that is for the win too.  But, like most things, what is good for the individual is not always good for the masses and I speak out a lot on new tech; cameras arriving every 6 months with the same or alternate offerings from the last which divides opinion on ability and leaves these people with 12 pieces of tech which are the same, but slightly varied in some way at the same time; a complete paradox and I know it’s the business of these companies to make people want to buy it, so I think the sheep mentality is what I’m criticising.  But the “supply and demand” model isn’t what is being applied to tech, ESPECIALLY cameras and phones.  If tech giants had listened to what folk want, then the best camera would already exist and everyone would use it and there would be no 6 monthly debate; imagine if all the top companies put their flagship mirrorless offerings together to make one for all… would either create massive divide or a unity of destructive proportions, in that the sheer joy of gear nerds would cause some sort of self-combustion.  But it won’t happen…. too much money to be made and you just need to look at DJI as an example of the consumerist market.  

So, what are “Things you need to shoot video”? Well, that can’t be answered by me…because it’s the things YOU need but if we were to just humour the content creator world for a minute, what you need is…

  • AN IDEA/STORY – it all starts here; the idea and it can be absolutely anything.
  • IMAGINATION – It’s a big one, but if you can think it, there’s certainly a way to film it.
  • INGENUITY – very much tied to the previous step.  If you’ve thought it, then you need to work out how to do it; many famous movies have had to do the same when they had an idea, but the reality doesn’t exist.
  • A CAMERA WITH A LENS – anything you have to convey the movement of a picture will do and if you need something you don’t have then see items 2 and 3 to help.
  • SOMETHING TO EDIT ON – this has been synonymous with the camera; if you film it or photograph it; you need to see it.
  • MUSIC/SOUND – before dialogue there was music and you could make something silently, but I think this deserves a place and adds the emotion to your project.

#STORYNOTSTUFF but this whole expose is only aimed at those who have fallen foul of “stuff” over “story”.  You know who they are and they are prolific at it, serial posters of utter rubbish but claim you need the latest and greatest to achieve it.  I still watch many creators, outdoor types who still use a GoPro only to move the story along with real drive, risk, determination than the bedroom and garage producers with their 8K cameras still filming coffee and the sponsorship handouts and I loathe people who are disingenuous or inauthentic, but we live in a time where egotism is the anaesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.

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