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How I Went from Film School Dropout to a Hollywood Director with a $10,000 Day Rate


Jason Tomaric, Emmy-winning director/cinematographer and founder of FilmSkills

Hello, I’m Jason Tomaric, and welcome to FilmSkills. I’m a working director and cinematographer in Los Angeles, California and the founder of FilmSkills.

I can imagine we have a lot in common. I grew up in a small Ohio town and started a production company shooting local commercials for bike shops, restaurants, and attorneys.  While I dreamt of shooting bigger projects in LA, I had no idea where to start. My family was a typical middle-income family with absolutely no industry connections, and film school wasn’t for me. But as fate would have it, our neighbors in the house behind us had a daughter, Johanna Jenson, who worked in the film industry in LA.  Our neighbor would send Johanna newspaper clippings covering my film shoots, and after a while, Johanna and I became pen pals. I would ask her questions about her life working in Hollywood, then anxiously await her reply. She was a lifeline between me and my career dreams in LA.  Her advice and kindness were instrumental in helping me move my career to the next level.

Eventually I moved to LA, where I built a successful career directing and shooting feature films, television commercials, and documentaries. If it wasn’t for Johanna’s kindness in helping an ambitious kid in Ohio, I may have never taken the plunge, and for that I am forever grateful.

As I continued to grow professionally, I was disappointed at the opportunities to learn– film schools were outrageously priced and had inexperienced – often bitter – instructors, books seemed too academic, and self-proclaimed experts on youTube were sharing what limited knowledge they had… from their bedroom studios and a webcam.  I didn’t want any of that; I wanted to learn from the pros.  And with that thought, FilmSkills was born.


Say Hello to FilmSkills

Johanna had a huge impact on my life and career. Afterall, it’s not every day that you can connect with a working Hollywood filmmaker. There isn’t a career day where you can follow around a director, producer, cinematographer, or editor like you can a police officer, doctor, or architect. Hollywood seems like a good old boys club where you have to know someone to get in, and once you’re in, no one on the outside matters.  But I found the opposite to be true.

Hundreds of successful and talented filmmakers from all parts of the business partnered with me on FilmSkills to share their knowledge and experience with you. We take you step-by-step through the hard-learned lessons on how to build a career from scratch. FilmSkills is about real world knowledge from real world filmmakers.


“Film professors do not teach the real world. That’s why our instructors are working Hollywood filmmakers.”


Widely adopted

FilmSkills has quickly grown into the film industry’s largest film training site.  Tens of thousands of students have learned from over 150 leading filmmakers.  FilmSkills has also been widely adopted by over 70 film schools, including UCLA, Yale, NYU, Columbia College Chicago, and Full Sail.  Why?  Because at FilmSkills, you learn from the best people in the industry.

  • James Cameron’s Assistant director team teaches you how to schedule and budget a film shoot
  • Steven Spielberg’s producers teach you how to produce a film
  • The directors of Castle, Star Trek, The X-Files, and The Fugitive teach you how to direct actors and the director’s craft
  • Judd Apatow’s audio post-product team teaches you about ADR, sound effects editing, and Foley
  • Emmy-Award winning Executive Producer of Everybody Loves Raymond and Seinfeld teaches you how to write a script

…and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.  Our 150 instructors have won, or been nominated for, over 70 Emmy, Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. I bet you can’t find a film school with that caliber of instructors, and at FilmSkills, they are all here for you.


Get the Jobs and Day Rate You Deserve

By the end of the day, you want one thing– to get the jobs you want and earn the paycheck you deserve.  That is the core goal of FilmSkills.  You will learn the process and techniques in the safety of your own home so when you get on set, you’ll have the edge.  We are here to dramatically shorten your learning curve so you can accelerate your career. You may be wondering who am I to teach this?


 I went from a film school drop out to earning $10,000/day as a director and cinematographer in Hollywood.


I went from directing local bike shop commercials in Ohio to an Emmy-winning career in LA earning a $10,000 day rate. I’ve shot documentaries that span 20 countries and TV commercial campaigns for major companies like Toyota, McDonald’s, and Microsoft.  While my passion has always been filmmaking, a close second is teaching. I’ve seen a handful of people succeed in this business and hundreds fail.  The ones who succeed all have some of the same traits– as do the people who fail.  FilmSkills is about guiding you through the career minefield so you can improve your chances of being one of the success stories.

At FilmSkills, we’re not here to teach you the art. That’s your talent and gift.  We are here to show you the tools, process, and industry techniques to harness and shape your creative vision into a career.

We’re so excited to have you with us and are ready to help you take your career to the next level.  Let’s get started!

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18 Rules for Surviving (if not necessarily thriving) in Hollywood

OK, take all this with a grain of salt. After all, I haven’t made it big yet, either. Still, I have learned the following hard lessons:


If this guy can raise five million dollars to make your movie, then why the hell can’t he spring $12.99 for your tuna melt?


For those of us who haven’t been to film school, a film’s “palette” is the combination of dominant colors that is used in a film. It’s also the favored conversation topic of anyone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, since you can never be wrong. “I feel red is so precious don’t you? And Blue is so overused. I do like Green, however. But Burnt Umber would have been a stronger choice.”

If any wannabe director starts talking palette to you, run away.

EXCEPTION: Production designers, who are supposed to worry about this sort of thing.


If they’re name dropping, then they’re trying to impress you. And if they really are important enough to know Tom Cruise and Michael Eisner, then why the hell are they trying to impress some peon like you?


People with a real resume can condense it into one sentence. “I’m the guy who did STAR WARS. Maybe you’ve seen it?”

If it takes them more than thirty seconds to explain who they are, then they aren’t.


The following credits can be easily checked in a few seconds on the Internet Movie Database,
“I am the guy who directed…”
“I am the guy who wrote…”
“I starred in….”
“I produced….”
On the other hand, the following credits are completely unverifiable, and a sure sign that the guy delivering them is a Big Fat Phony (BFP). “I’m the guy who gave so-and-so the idea for…” “I originally set up the deal for…” “I’m the guy who introduced so-and-so to what’s-his-name.” “I’m the guy who came up with that line from….” “I’m the guy who gave what’s-his-name his big break”


Instead, go ahead and make your own little breaks. Want to shoot a movie? Don’t wait for someone to hand you a hundred million dollar budget. Instead, scrape together a friend with a video camera, some actors, an i-mac for editing, and shoot a five minute film.


If your friends are always talking about that great movie that they’re going to shoot someday, the important book that they’re going to write, or the hit song that they’re going to sing– dump them. Find friends who are actually shooting short movies, writing stories, and singing in a band. In doing this, be sure to observe RULES 8-12.


Because Lord knows, you’re going to be calling in favors from all your friends down the road. Need someone to recommend a screenplay to an agent, do makeup on your film, or just move heavy lighting equipment? It helps if you already took care of their cat, gave them CPR, and moved their refrigerator.

This rule can be also be substituted against RULE #10, and must be balanced against RULE #11.


If you don’t have enough money to pay people, at least try to show your appreciation with food. Buying your DP lunch while you work on the shot list is a cheap way to say “thank you”. Similarly, good food on the set is a MUST. If you’ve got actors giving you their time for free, then the least you can do is feed them well.


So don’t cast your best friend, just because he thinks he can act, or let your sister DP just because she thinks she knows how to hold a camera. That kind of favor can fuck up a film, and worse, ruin the hard work that everyone else puts into it. Which means that the talented and smart people from the crew won’t work with you in the future.


So when someone tells you that he/she is a great DP/Writer/Actor/Musician, DON’T BELIEVE THEM. Ask to see a demo reel or script. And even then, make sure that it’s actually theirs.

A corollary to this is RULE #13.


Write a script, direct a short, compose a score. Whatever it is that you want to do, prove that you can do it on a small scale so that people will believe you can do it on a big one.

(See RULE #6.)


I know, the odds are good that the person you’re facing is either a phony (see RULES #1-5), an idiot (see RULE #12), or a hopeless talker (see RULE # 7). However, he just might be a kindred spirit that will make your life out here a lot less unbearable. And you never know. That guy you’re throwing attitude at might just be an agent.


People like to talk about themselves. So stop bragging about yourself long enough to ask the other person what they do for a living, and what their hopes and dreams are. You might find out that you can help each other, or that they’re a fun person who will make your life more interesting.


Don’t waste your own time, and don’t let anybody else waste it for you.


Really. I’m not kidding. I know someone out there is telling you, “I really love this script, and I can get it made if you’ll just give me a free option…”

Stop right there. If this guy really has any chance of raising $3-5 million dollars to make your movie, then why won’t he spend $10K now to secure the rights?

When someone asks for a free option, what they are really saying is “I have so much faith in my ability to get this movie made, that I am unwilling to risk A SINGLE DOLLAR of my own money on it.” Think about that, and don’t let your desperation get the better of you.

You can’t get your work in front of the right people if it’s tied up with the wrong ones.


It’s one of the weird facts of life out here. Your agent will never read any of your scripts. Yes, they will give you notes on your scripts. Yes, they will tell the studios how great your scripts are, and how each one is easily worth a million bucks. But they will never actually read one.

At best, they will read a one paragraph summary written by some underpaid wanna-be rockstar that they pulled off the street.

Prepare Your Body for Production

Shooting a movie is a very demanding and exciting culmination of months of work and preparation. It’s also gruelling, with each shooting day a minimum of 12 hours and often running longer, some productions shoot 6 days a week.  When you add travel time, many crew people barely get enough time to sleep, let alone find life balance outside of work.
Shooting a feature film is a lot like running a marathon – it’s all about pacing yourself and having the stamina to make it to the end. When getting started in the production phase of a movie, be ready for what awaits you.
  • Long hours–  Shooting a movie often leads to long, tiring hours. Be sure to eat healthy food and get enough sleep before the production begins. You’ll need as much energy as you can muster, so avoid sugary junk food from the craft services table, opting instead for solid, protein-rich meals to help carry you through your day.
  • Stress–  Be prepared for problems and stressful situations on set – equipment will break, actors will have bad days, locations will fall through, it will rain and you will go over schedule. The better organized you are in preproduction, the easier it will be to overcome problems as they arise. Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. Assume there will be problems, keep a professional, level head and rely on your crew – everyone on set has the unified goal of producing the best movie possible.
  • Keep organized– The secret to a smooth-running production is to be as organized as possible during the entire shoot. From organizing the equipment to keeping the office paperwork in order, always maintain a clean, safe work environment.
  • Be prepared – You are responsible for yourself, so be prepared with an extra pair of socks and shoes, rain gear, a flashlight, the necessary tools for your job, a first aid kit, extra sweatshirt and jacket in the even you shoot into the night, mosquito repellant, and sunscreen.
  • Do your homework – Always review the script for the next day so you know what to expect. Take some time to review the next day’s schedule, shooting requirements, and location, so you can mentally and physically pace yourself for the day’s challenges.
  • Know where you’re going – The easiest way to get fired is to be late to set. If you’re early, you’re on time.  If you’re on time, you’re late.  If you’re late, your’e fired.  Always Google map the directions to the location the night before and allow plenty of time to arrive.  It’s never good to start out the day stressed because you miscalculated your travel time.
  • Don’t drink – As tempting as it may be to join the crew for a beer after a shoot, avoid alcohol whenever possible during a shoot. You are already taxing your body, eating unhealthy foods, and falling behind on your sleep. Drinking will only dehydrate you more and make you hate life the next day.

Production is an intensive process that can take its toll on your health very quickly.  Take care of yourself so you can make the best film you can.

How to Know When a Project is the Right Project

From the outside, producing a movie appears to be glamourous, fun and exciting. It is an adventure that may afford you the opportunity to work with famous personalities, travel the world, and have experiences that most people only dream of. The process of producing a movie is rarely as engaging as this romanticized facade. In reality, movie production is an arduous and challenging process that requires massive amounts of time and money. Many filmmakers fail under the weight of the demands of production and end up in debt with little to show for their efforts.

Smart producers will carefully consider the factors that go into producing a movie.

  • Make sure it’s a project you LOVE – A movie can take you years to produce.  From the time you develop the concept or find the perfect script to the moment you turn over the master tapes to a distributor, years will pass.  As basic as it may sound, it’s important to find a project that you truly love – one that you will look forward to working on, even when the going gets tough and it seems that the odds of completing it appear impossible.
  • Your movie will always cost more than you think – Even the most experienced line producers fail to account for costly line items: weather that can wipe out entire shooting days, additional equipment that may be needed on set, days that may run into over time, payoffs to annoyed neighbors when you’re shooting on location, codec problems in the editing process… there are dozens of factors that can add thousands of dollars to your budget.  Be prepared to spend a lot more than you originally anticipated before beginning the process.
  • Your movie will always take longer to produce than you think – Movies will always take longer to produce than you initially think. Especially in the independent world where money is scarce, you will be forced to develop cheaper workarounds that while saving money, will ultimately cost you time. There is an old adage that says you can produce a movie with only two of the following three options:  cheap, fast or good.  If you want you movie to be inexpensive and good quality, it won’t happen quickly.  If you want you movie to be inexpensive and quickly produced, it wont be good.
  • Don’t be too ambition with your page/day count – Shooting 4-5 pages a day is a comfortable amount that allows you time to rehearse actors and carefully set-up each scene. Productions with limited funds will try to cram as many as 7-9 pages per day.  This won’t allow any time to light or rehearse and will drastically cut into the production value of the movie.  You have to ask yourself at which point are you going to compromise the quality so severely that you’ll hinder your ability to sell the film.
  • Don’t forget Post-Production – Many producers are so focused on getting the film “in-the-can,” that they completely overlook the costs and time required to complete the post-production of the movie. From editing and sound mixing to composing and mastering, the post production process often takes longer and is more expensive than shooting the movie.  It’s a god idea to work with your post-production house at the very beginning so you can anticipate and manage your costs by pre-planning your post-production requirements.

Approach the production of a movie like you would with any investment. Look realistically at the costs and resources needed to properly pull it off.

Does Your Film Need to be Rated by the MPAA?

A common question asked many many independent filmmakers is, “Does my film need to be rated by the MPAA?”  The MPAA, which stands for the Motion Picture Association of America is an independent board comprised of parents and clergy that view and rate movies. The rating system, G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 helps parents select appropriate content for themselves and their kids. But, the rating has a serious impact on where a film can be released.

You’ve definitely seen the red or green band screens that appear before a movie trailer.  And yes, even trailers are rated by the MPAA.


FilmSkills recently partnered with Barry Freeman, former member of the MPAA and one of the people directly involved in the movie rating process. In his lesson, he teaches you how the MPAA functions, how a rating can affect a film’s box office revenue, when an independent filmmaker needs to have their film reviewed, the costs involved, and how to appeal a ruling.

In this lesson, Barry walks you through every step of the film ratings process, from how to prep your script at the beginning, to navigating the tricky review process itself.

You can check out Barry’s lesson and 240 other lessons from leading Hollywood Filmmakers by subscribing to FilmSkills Gold.

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Prepare Your Film for Distribution From Day 1

The process of making a movie is the same as the process of manufacturing any other product, and preparing your film for distribution from day 1 will save you a lot of pain when it comes time to sell it. Research the market, the audience, and what the distributors are looking for before you undertake a production. Most filmmakers spend massive sums of money and time on a movie only to discover that there’s no market for it. Smart moviemaking means figuring out a marketing and distribution plan before you begin preproduction.


  • Call and set up meetings with domestic and foreign distributors and ask to talk to a sales rep – The best way to reach them is by attending a film market like the American Film Market in Santa Monica.  Held each year, it’s a marketplace where distributors from around the world meet to explore and purchase content from producers.  Film markets are the best way to see what is selling and to where.
  • Ask distributors what genres are selling and what genres they feel will be hot in a year – For example, the horror genre is generally a consistent seller in the foreign market, is cheap to produce, and doesn’t require big name actors in the cast. Action-driven movies are less reliant on the dialogue, so even if the audience doesn’t follow the nuances of the performances, the action will be enough to sell the film.
  • Find out which actors you should approach to help increase the marketability of the movie – Which actors are bringing in the largest sales of independent movies in the foreign market? Some actors perform better in different markets, and producers know this.  Smart casting is not just about finding the right actors to play the part, but finding actors who can attract crowds in popular markets like Germany, latin America, Japan, and China.
  • Find out what format distributors prefer – Each distributor will require slightly different delivery specifications, be it 35 mm film, an HD, or digital format. This will help you decide the best camera and format on which to shoot your film.
  • What is the ideal length for the movie? –Many distributors prefer a movie around 90 minutes in length, simply because movie theaters can fit more movies into the daily schedule, thereby increasing audience turnaround, and profits.
  • What marketing materials should you collect during production to help in the distribution of the movie? It’s critical to start shooting behind-the-scene stills, videos on set, interviews of the cast and crew, and assembling bloopers for social media. Not only can you start building hype in the film during production, but these materials will come in handy when you send out press releases.
  • What are the average sales prices for the type of movie you’re making – By analyzing how much movies of a similar genre perform in the market, you can calculate the budget and determine how much money you should spend. Basically, you want to keep you budget low enough to ensure you see a return on your investment.

The rules of producing and selling a movie are a lot like the rules governing the game of basketball. Each player must acknowledge and understand the parameters, the size of the court, the height and diameter of the hoop, the number of players on each side, and the time restrictions for an organized game to take place. Whereas some may find these rules limiting, many talented athletes have excelled at the game, even when playing within the guidelines. The same philosophy applies to the production of a movie, in that filmmakers must follow the distributor’s strict guidelines governing the content, format, casting, and genre for the film to be commercially viable. Using a little creativity and talent, filmmakers can certainly succeed within a distributor’s rules. Remember that the film industry is a business designed to make a product that sells and makes a profit.


Learn More at FilmSkills

Introduction to Distribution
Now that your movie is finished, it’s time to sell it and begin generating revenue.  But this is easier said than done – the costs of distribution, marketability of your project, and dozens of other factors will impact the price you receive.

In this module you will learn how the distribution process works, the way studios approach the process, the windows and time frames of distribution, how to approach self-distribution, and knowing your audience. Guiding you through these tricky waters are veteran studio executives from LucasFilm, Sony, and FreeMantle Media.

Unlock the distribution process so you can get the most for your movie.

Domestic Distribution
Making the film is only one part of the process. Selling it is the other. Whereas making the movie has been a stressful process, the game of finding a distributor, negotiating the contracts, preparing the deliverables, and facing the sometimes staggering costs of E&O insurance, conversions, and M&E mixes hit most filmmakers by surprise.

In this module, we will prepare you for the distribution process so you know what to expect, what materials are needed, and most importantly how to protect yourself in the high stakes game of film distribution.

Foreign Distribution
Selling your movie in the United States is only part of distribution.  Now, it’s time to sell your movie to the rest of the world, and in doing so navigate the challenging path to making money in the foreign market. With thousands of films produced and marketed every year, foreign distributors are faced with more choices than ever before. Knowing how this process works can put you at a tremendous advantage.

In this module, you will learn how foreign sales agents work, how to find a reputable agent, common scams used to steal your movie without paying you, what you will be expected to deliver, how to collect your money, and hundreds of other tips.  We take you to the heart of it all at the American Film Market to see – firsthand, how the foreign distribution process works.

Become the smartest person at the negotiating table by learning the process, and make a profit on your movie.

Online Distribution
The Internet has become a powerful alternative to traditional distribution outlets for independent filmmakers, but while this option seems alluring, it is fraught with challenges. Finding a voice and an audience online is a long and expensive road, and while the profit margins can be greater, so can the time and effort you put in for those profits.

In this module you will learn how to properly distribute your movie online, how content aggregators work, how to find a unique presence online, and how to leverage your online movie to get your next movie deal.

Invest your time wisely with the best results by learning the right way to approach Internet distribution.

Film Festivals
We all dream of an extravagant Sundance Film Festival premiere where we are showered with offers from anxious distributors stepping over each other to acquire our films.  While this certainly happens, the reality is that film festivals offer much, much more in the way of contacts, self-promotion, and an opportunity to pitch your next project to investors and producers.

In this module you will learn how to find a qualified producer’s rep, how to get into top film festivals, what to do once you are accepted, how to attract the right audiences at the screenings, and how to leverage the opportunity for your next production.

You worked hard, so learn how to maximize you and your film’s exposure at film festivals.

How to Effectively Work With Your Editor

The editor holds a very special position in the filmmaking process. An artist in his own right, the editor is tasked with assembling the rough footage in a way that fulfills your vision. However, whereas you have been involved with the film for months, possibly years, the editor has an objective point of view and can spot problems in story and pacing you may never see. For this reason, you must trust the editor and give him breathing room to build the story.

As the director of your movie, you’ve been involved in virtually every step of the process – from writing the script to shooting the footage on set. But now that you’re in post-production, you have the opportunity to work with someone who can bring something to the project that you can’t – objectivity.

The challenge that somebody has to have, and most often that challenge is met by the editor, what is actually relevant to the telling of the story. They weren’t on set, they didn’t get up at five in the morning and fight the mosquitoes to get that incredible opening shot as the sun came up over the swamp and people were dying left and right because the bugs were thick and the air was hot and it was just a miserable [experience]; they don’t care, they want to tell the story.


             – Larry Jordan, Award-winning post-production trainer, member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America


The biggest disservice you can do for the film is to sit over the editor’s shoulder and direct each edit. This common mistake not only takes away the editor’s creativity as an artist, but also your ability to make objective decisions as to how the film will cut together.  Let’s face it, you have spent months, possibly years working on the movie and know every detail of the story. Subsequently, plot holes may be invisible to you as you mentally fill in gaps with your knowledge and familiarity with the story. That’s why working with an editor is so important – editors come onboard later in the process and aren’t exposed to the creative process during production. When they receive the footage, they can objectively build the story with the available shots.

One of the most difficult scenarios with a director, is one who is a little too controlling for their own good, because sometimes, directors, and it really comes from a state of passion, I find, they have their vision, and they’re so set on their ways that they can come into the editing room and completely dominate the process. And it’s a very uncomfortable position for an editor to be in because it doesn’t give the editor time to really explore the footage on their own and see if there are alternative ways to create the scenes.


                   – Brad Schwartz, Emmy-winning Editor, “Top Chef,” “Dancelife,” and “Viva Hollywood”


Be smart and give the editor guidance that allows him to build the assembly cut alone. Once the assembly cut is finished, can come in fresh, watch the film and give the editor notes as to what changes need to be made.

Some tips and tricks to keep in mind when working with an editor:

  • Concentrate and focus – The editor is the keeper and manipulator of the footage, builder of the story and the objective eyes of the director. Tasked with building the best possible story out of potentially thousands of shots, sound effects, lines of dialogue and music cues, it’s important to be completely immersed in the story and footage.  Part of being able to concentrate is setting up a quiet area where he can work uninterrupted. Make sure the editor can aside specific time to work on the film, turning of the phone or television so he can fully immerse himself in the world you are creating. Although it takes hundreds of people to produce the footage, it really rests on the shoulders of the one editor to put it together.
  • A good editor spends more time thinking than editing – The actual physical process of cutting a film is fairly quick and easy; but the majority of the editor’s time is spent discussing the ordering of scenes, what shots work and which don’t, options and alternate ways of telling the story, how to improve the performances, how to correct pacing issues, and address the flow of the story. The editing process involves a little bit of cutting, but a lot of thought, discussion and analyzing to determine whether the edit has improved the movie. Welcome, and be open to, this dialogue, for it is in these conversations that the real art of editing happens.
  • If you’re directing the movie, bring on an experienced, objective editor – No matter how good of an editor you think you are, NEVER cut your own film. You know it too well and will mentally fill in plot holes because you know the story so well. You need the objectivity of a third party.

Ultimately, a good editor needs time to wrap his head around the material to find the best way to assemble the story.  Trust him, and let him have a pass at the material before you jump in.  You may just be surprised at the result.

Shoot for the Edit

Believe it or not, the editing of a movie begins well before you shoot the first frame. Filmmaking is a tedious process of shooting a scene numerous times from many angles using only one camera, and it’s important to consider in pre-production, how these shots will be edited together. In the editing room, the editor assembles shots so the action in the scene appears to have had occurred only once, and was covered by multiple cameras positioned around the set. This can be tricky because the quality of the edit depends heavily on how well the footage was shot on location.

When on set, always shoot for the edit by envisioning how every shot will be cut together. A great way to ensure continuity between shots is for the actors to perform the scene in its entirety and cover as much of the scene as possible from each camera set-up. The more rehearsed the actors, the more consistent their performance from take to take; the more consistent the performance, the better the continuity of the footage.

Although editing is the process of assembling footage shot in the field into a meaningful, logical sequence, smart directors and cinematographers will determine how to edit the shots together before stepping foot on set. Shooting for the edit will help you better achieve your vision, control costs by eliminating extraneous set-ups and streamline the editing process.

Shooting for the edit covers several aspects:

  • Planning camera angles and movements – During pre-production, think about the relationship between each of the shots in the shot list and how they will ultimately cut together. Storyboarding the shots, or using software that allows you to animate each shot will help you visualize the flow the each scene.
  • Plan to maximize the coverage in every camera set-up – If working on a tight budget, shooting each camera set-up from a wide shot, a medium shot and a close-up will instantly triple the options available to the editor.

One technique I employ when planning my camera angles is to place the camera where an observer would be compelled to look during a scene. As I block the actors, I take note of where my natural human tendency is to look. If I feel the need to look at a character’s face in a certain moment, odds are I will need to cover him in a close-up. If I am pulled to stand back and watch an entire action unfold, I will think about covering that part of the scene in a wide shot.

The camera is really an extension of the audience, so treat it as such. Pretend as though you were taking an audience member by the hand as the scene unfolds around you and walking him or her to different parts of the set to experience the action unfolding. What would be the best vantage point to see the action? Where would the audience member stand? How close or how far would he or she be? All these answers can translate directly into the positioning of the camera.

Get Off Your Ass and Start Writing Your Screenplay

I’ve always hated writing… it requires discipline, focus and a willingness to go back and rewrite something again and again.  I know that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Lots of my writing friends agree that writing the script is one of the most difficult parts of making a movie; it’s not fun, social, or exciting.  Writing is a tough process that involves you, your computer, and your life experiences.

So how do you start writing? Well.. the question has the answer built in… you JUST START.  Follow the easy steps in this chapter to help you break into the first page. After that, it’s up to you to find the motivation to write.

When I wrote “Time and Again,” I was really inspired by the idea of a man escaping from jail and appearing in the middle of an open field. I started writing down ideas I had had about where he ends up, who he meets, where and when he goes… all these questions helped me make a list of unconnected ideas that further spurned additional ideas. As I kept writing down ideas, the plot eventually came into being.  The more ideas I had, the more I was able to work the plot.

Once I had an idea of where the story was going, I called Bob Noll, a friend of mine at John Carroll University. We had discussed the idea for this story and he agreed to help me write it.  We spent numerous nights at his office, brainstorming and developing the characters, fleshing out scenes and ultimately developing an outline that was strong enough to begin turning into a script.

I would think of the story in terms of how the audience would see it… one scene at a time, from the beginning to the end. As I thought about these ideas, Bob would type them into the computer in an outline form.  Sometimes we would write dialogue, sometimes only the character’s actions. But whatever we wrote, our goal was to capture the spontaneous thoughts and ideas we had to paper so we could later go back and rewrite and tighten the story.

As much as I hated writing, I always looked forward to these writing sessions because they helped me as the filmmaker more deeply explore the world of our characters.  I found that I really enjoyed the creative, brainstorming part of writing and Bob was really good at translating my ideas to the page.  Our partnership began to take form as I would pace in his office and, following the outline of the plot points the story needed to hit, develop exciting scenes that would get our character from one plot point to the next in an exciting, unpredictable manner.

We usually only worked for a few hours a night.  Beyond that, our brains would turn to clay and the creativity valve would shut off.  Even if we tried to push longer, the material we wrote looked really bad when we came at it again with fresh eyes the next day.  The lesson I learned was to listen to my mind.. when it got tired, we quit for the night.

The process of writing the script from the outline was pretty simple.  The more detailed the outline, the easier the process of writing the script. Completing the first draft, no matter how good it is, is the first crucial step in making a good story.  Revising and rewriting the story to make it tighter, better paced, to make the characters stronger and the dialogue more snappy was a lot easier once we got past the hurdle of completing the first draft.

We went through several revisions of “Time and Again” before we were happy with the script and felt like it was time to go into pre-production.

How to Shoot a Short Film

So, you’re thinking about shooting a short film? Short films are a terrific way of learning the process of making a movie, showcasing your talents, and generating interest from producers and investors in future projects.

Despite the educational and career benefits, there is virtually no market for short films, making it nearly impossible to see a return on your investment. While there are a few distributors who may release a compilation DVD of short films, filmmakers rarely see their money back or see distribution of a short film by itself.

If I can give one piece of advice from the years I’ve been working as a filmmaker, it is to produce several short films before tackling a feature. The process of learning how to make a movie is cyclical, meaning you have to go through the entire process at least once just to begin understanding the craft.


For example, much of directing stems from understanding the editing process and the way shots work together to make a scene.  Understanding just this one aspect will have a huge impact on your choices for camera placement and pacing when directing on set.


Don’t turn your star idea into your first film… you’ll regret it for your entire career.  Start small and learn the process with a short film, then with the second and third films, hone the craft of directing, working with actors and directing the camera.  You will know when you’re ready to take on a feature.


– Jason J. Tomaric, Emmy-Winning Director


The power of a short film is that a viewer can watch your work and see an entire story arc without a big time commitment.  This is really important in Hollywood as you start marketing your talents to producers, agents, and managers.  They are all extremely busy, and won’t have time to commit to a new filmmaker’s project without a lot of buzz.  This is why a short film is a great calling card.

  • A viewer can watch your short without a big time commitment – This will make it more likely for them to see the entire film
  • You can invest your time and resources into only a few minutes – If you have $10,000 and two months, you will produce a better quality 2-minute short film by focusing those resources on 2-minutes than on a 90-minute long feature film.
  • You have more distribution options – You can easily release your short on youTube, Vimeo, post it on blogs, and even stand a better chance of being accepted into a film festival.  It’s easier for a festival programmer to fit a 2-3 minute short film than a full feature.
  • It’s a great way to practice your craft – The only way to become a better filmmaker is to practice, practice, practice.  Shorts are an outstanding tool to craft a story in three acts, create compelling characters, and emotionally engage your audience.  If you can do it in 2 minutes, then you’ll be able to do it over a 90-minute feature.
  • They don’t have to be complicated – You can shoot a compelling story in your own living room with one actor.  Short FilmSkills aren’t about scope – they are about telling an emotionally compelling story in a short time frame.
  • Don’t expect to make your money back – There isn’t a financial model or market for short films, so when you produce one, be prepared to invest in your craft and in a great calling card.  You probably won’t see a direct return on your investment.


So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and shoot your short film!