4-Hour Filmmaker Become an indie filmmaker in a week.

Chris Neal /

Have you ever wanted to get into filmmaking but just have no idea where to start? Filmmaking can be an overwhelming subculture to jump into. You may be thinking – “I could never make a film.”

I’m going to present a guide to put you on the path for success. This post was inspired by Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef. His book provides the fast track to learning anything (from languages to cooking).

I created a custom Spotify playlist for his cookbook here.

Let’s apply his technique to Filmmaking.


Deconstructing Filmmaking to start.

The outcome is to become an indie filmmaker. But lets break that down a bit. What do filmmakers do? Create films right?

For our case study – let’s define an indie filmmaker as someone who has little to no budget, limited equipment and limited time.

But anybody can pull out there iPhone and call themselves an “indie filmmaker” – what separates the boys from the men? Quality of film can be measured by the reception of the viewers.

Another objection would be – “lots of people like stupid films.” This is true. Then lets measure it by the reception of fellow filmmakers.

Lets begin breaking it down even more. Where is a community of filmmakers that can critique and receive/reject our films? I would suggest Vimeo. It’s the place where small and big filmmakers gather.

So let’s define an indie film as something received well on Vimeo.

Vimeo.com has “Staff-Picks” which selected as the best content on Vimeo – this a great place to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

What are the pieces of filmmaking?

Lets break it down even more. Filmmaking is made up of what? Shooting, editing, audio, color correction, story, etc.

That’s a lot of stuff to learn in a week. That’s why we need to trim the fat and only learn the cores we need to know.

Selecting the key parts to learn.

This is the part where we select the most important things to learn in filmmaking. What 20% of filmmaking produce 80% of the results.

Heading over to Vimeo staff picks – let’s study what seem to be the most well received films.

Upon first look you may be slightly overwhelmed. After watching a few – you’ll get an idea of what fellow filmmakers like.

I just went to the site and picked a few on the front page:

These three videos show a few things. First thing you may notice is the awesome visuals. The second is the narrative of the film is unique in some way. The first two are documentary style shorts covering out of the norm individuals. Lastly you notice audio.

After looking at what fellow filmmakers like – we can break down the most important part of a film into two areas: Visuals, Editing and Narrative as Minimum Effective Dose to learn.

Sequencing: order the importance.

Visuals come first, you need to learn how to operate and shoot good visuals before you can edit. Also you can have an excellent narrative – but this is useless if you can’t create visuals.

Next, you have to learn how find/create a unique narrative. Now that you can visually capture the clips – the narrative is most important.

Lastly, you have to be able to edit your visuals into a narrative. This is pretty technical, but breaking down this skill into learning how to cut you visuals together for you narrative is how you can succeed.

Learn how to visually create a good film. Learn how to create/find a unique narrative.

Make the stakes real.

It’s time to put your money (or pride) where your mouth is. If you want to do something – negative motivators tend to be the best motivators. You have to create incentive for yourself to create a film. A simple way to do this is to tell your friends you are making a film. Even better, click here to send out a tweet.


Now that we’ve used the Tim’s formula to break down the skills, let’s learn the quickest way to acquire the skills.

Visuals come first.

Let’s start with Visuals. You can’t make a video if you can’t produce quality visuals. What is the quickest way to get the best visuals out of a camera.

The quickest way to figure out how to run a camera is by running a camera. Pick up your iphone and start shooting anything and everything.

Surround yourself with other filmmakers.

Another excellent way to learn how to shoot is to surround yourself with people better than you. Go to vimeo and search for your local town. You’ll pull up a list of films that have been tagged for your area, find some ones that look good and message the User that you would help him out for free on any shoots he has coming up.

I did this same thing 3 years ago – I learned basic shooting, audio and interviewing skills. It even landed me my first job out of college.

Steal art for the sake of art.

Another way to figure out visuals is simply copy and study. I have an Evernote file where I save images and clips from films I like. Anything that catches my eye visually I add to this Evernote file.

Swipe File
It’s a swipe file for Visuals.

If you collect the best visuals and attempt to copy them – you’ll learn to eyeball what looks excellent – you’ll learn the basics of composition in no time.

Narrative is the next step.

Now it’s time to learn narrative. We’re looking for something unique and different. To break it down even more we can skip writing anything by creating a documentary. Rather than spend the work writing something out – go find something that already exists.

Make a list of five things you could document within the next week. Here are some ideas I thought of:

1.) Portrait of a school bus driver.
2.) The real life of a clown.
3.) Daily life of a Priest.
4.) A little kid seeing fireworks for the first time.
5.) A glimpse into the life of a librarian.

Take this list and email it to your friends.

Saving the editing for last.

Lastly, let’s figure out how to Edit our film. If you have a PC open up Windows Movie Maker. If you have a Mac, open up iMovie (you don’t need anything fancy). Again – let’s exam the staff picks above to break down editing. What do you notice about the cuts in the short films above?

Start counting the distance between cuts. You’ll notice that each shot lasts only 1-4 seconds. This is an editing technique – visually it appeals to us best because it matches our eye movements. Look up from the computer right now. Did your eyes move smoothly? No they “cut” from the screen to what is in front of you. That is why cuts make sense.

Also notice the difference between the shot cuts. You’ll notice that distance and closeness and the focus of shots are constantly changing. One shot will be a wide shot of a skateboarder. Then the film cuts to just the face of the boarder. Every scene looks different from the last.

Avoid cutting to something that looks similar – it’s called a jump cut (it can be used stylistically, but for our timeframe just avoid it).


That’s it – go out and make a film this week.

If you get stuck on any of the above steps or have any questions send me an email.

Also if you have any success I’d love to see/post your film for you!