This week, I received an email from a lecturer of an online film course, asking me what my top tips would be for young filmmakers looking to get started in the industry. After resisting the initial urge to reply with “Run, kids. Run away and don’t look back”, I began thinking about a more pragmatic and helpful response.

As it turned out, I had quite a lot to say about this topic. The lecturer actually ended up turning the tips into a PowerPoint presentation, and somehow it’s become actual course material. I figured if it’s good enough for a presentation, it’s good enough for my blog. Here goes…

Before I start a list here, there’s one rule that deserves a separate special mention. It’s the most important thing to imprint in your brain.

TURN UP ON TIME.

Turning up late is a sure-fire way of guaranteeing you never get invited back. No one cares about your excuses. If you’re not there, you’re not making yourself useful, and if you’re not making yourself useful, you’re not getting invited back. Simple.

Now, on to my list…

1. The story comes first. It doesn’t matter how good your equipment, location or crew is, if you have an ill-thought-out story, your film’s going to suck. Try and have a reason for telling a story too, that’ll give you an emotional motivation.

2. Ask yourself what emotional feeling you want to get from the scene you’re about to shoot and follow your gut. Worry more about what feels right for a shot, and less about what might look cool. If a simple but intense close up feels better for the scene than an epic and difficult gimbal shot, just go with the close-up.

3. Inspiration is all around you. Some of my favourite scene ideas have come from places I’ve seen in real life. It can come from anywhere. Put yourself in new and unusual places and pay attention to your surroundings. An idle car or train journey can become an opportunity for references. Make notes, take photos and sketch it!

4. Appreciate your favourite films and director. Be influenced by them, but don’t try and emulate them or their style. Everyone is unique, so try and find your own voice, even if you fail a bunch of times getting there. It takes time and work to build a style, and failing part of that process.

5. Learn about traditional shot compositions and filming techniques/rules, and then decide when it’s okay to break them. The rules are there because they tend to work, and can be a good starting place.

6. People can forgive a bad image, but they can’t forgive bad sound. Even if your visuals are amazing, if your sound is sub-par, your film will suck!

7. Pay attention to the lighting in a scene. If you can make your shots look nicely lit on a camera phone, they’ll look good on a cinema camera. No amount of expensive kit can fix a badly-lit scene.

8. Filmmaking from my point of view revolves around a balance of technical knowledge and artistic intent. To be a good painter, you first have to learn how to use your brushes, right? In the film world, that means learning how camera and lighting works.

9. Read constantly. In my case, I read A LOT of filmmaking blogs, and I use a platform called Feedly to compile them. Cater your reading to your desired profession. If you can make it a habit, you’ll be set.

10. If you’re just starting out, and you don’t know what role you want to play in the film industry, don’t worry about it. Just get involved, and pay attention to other people’s roles. Learn what each role is all about. You’ll soon realise what you like the look of.

11. Be as useful as you can on set. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crew of two or 200, don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets—there’s always something you can be doing to make someone’s life easier.


I could probably have gone on, but I think this is about as distilled as is digestible in one sitting. Let me know how you get on. If I’m wrong, give me shit! If I’m right, send doughnuts.

About the author

As Storm & Shelter’s in-house cinematographer, Lewis works alongside our directors to help them achieve their vision through the use of lighting, camera equipment and composition.

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Lewis Jelley