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by Chloe Brennan

A small guide into being a film student and surviving life on set.

What was the last great film you saw? What really brought it to life for you? Which film inspired you to want to create something more? The films that defines you as a person. 

Films have consumed me ever since I was a little girl, from Disney to Kubrick. It’s the constant in everyone’s life, there’s always a new film, a better film, a different genre. Going from watching film to creating it is a bumpy ride. You watch the film or the show you love, and you think to yourself ‘Wow, that looks like a piece of cake’. Then you begin studying film and suddenly you have film teachers shouting the importance of ISO settings on the camera and having to spend hours studying the tripod and how to use it correctly and safely. It is slightly chaotic, but the good kind.

During the change between just watching and now creating I picked up the essential pieces of advice, mainly from trial and error, and finished with a list which if given the chance I would give to my past self. 

Here is my top tips, the most important reminders you will ever need. 


Cliché but probably the most important. You will start working with new and different cameras, with different features that help add to your piece. You need to know exactly what you are working with before you use it otherwise you may miss out on some good camera opportunities to make your film better.


Yes, it is terrifying at first glance. Trust me, I procrastinated learning the ins and outs just from the sheer fear of trying to process all the information. It is not as scary as it looks! Take some time to figure out the features and what they do. This will make editing your piece so much easier if you are comfortable with the program. 


Undoubtable the biggest part of a film, so much time and effort go into these, it is essentially the guidebook to your creative piece. Allows you to keep track of everything from the script changes to the locations and hazards that follow. Sometimes it can be draining especially when you are eager to go out and shoot. But if you do not have any pre-production documents it’s a recipe for a muddled mess. Making the documents look nice can help tackle the boredom.


You may find yourself comfortably slipping into a certain style of cinema and perfecting it slowly. Get out of your comfort zone, it will be the best thing you ever do. You get to explore different styles and you will surprise yourself with the things you can create. Trust yourself to delve into the different and add more things into your cinematic portfolio, you will find what you enjoy and what you don’t easier than never attempting anything different. You won’t regret it!


There may come a time you have a role on film set that you don’t enjoy and doesn’t follow your ideal path. Try your hardest to stay within the role, it is more likely you will be noticed for doing your role properly than trying to slide into other ones. As frustrating as it can be it will also give you the experience of a wider range of roles.


This one is straight forward. Clapper Boards help you track every shot, take and date in which you filmed. If you start every shot with a clapper board it helps you keep on top of the footage in post-production and helps you to align sound and video a lot easier. Without one it gets complicated.


From personal experience, nothing breaks my heart more than spending weeks shooting and then losing all them hours of footage because I didn’t back it up on hard drives. You think it wont happen to you but when it does you will consider quitting for good. Just remember how hard you have worked and back that footage up like your life depends on it. Live by the basic rule of One is None and Two is One.


You may think you have the time. You don’t. That’s why its so important to clearly plan and create a detailed plan of your time and how you will use it. This includes time for filming, retakes, editing, extra scenes, time to take down the set, etc. Everything needs to be considered so you have the most efficient, smooth running process. Time is precious, use it wisely.


Many times, you will have people bringing your ideas down, having an input and trying to change what you have created. Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman famously said of the film world that “nobody knows anything”; and it’s true. They will often try to overshadow your ideas and give you negative reviews if it isn’t up to their taste. You will be met with ‘I think it needs this’, ‘its not the right style’, ‘You should have done it this way’ but, unless you have asked specifically for their advice. Don’t listen to them and continue to make something you are happy with, listen to yourself and trust your instincts. If you want to experiment and do something out of the box, do it and don’t let anybody try and stop you. Your film is your art expression, use it and embrace whatever the hell you want to make. Because if you have made it in your way, its special, its yours.

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