If you’ve just joined MZed Pro, you may be wondering which course is a good starting point on your journey to learn filmmaking. What should you watch first?
Whether you’re a beginner or advanced filmmaker, documentary or fiction creator, there is a wealth of knowledge packed in our lineup of courses. Currently there are nearly 30 courses, totaling over 200 hours of education. And in each of those hours is a carefully developed lesson plan that’s an essential piece to the overall course goals.
That’s why we believe MZed is closer to a film school than a collection of online video tutorials. In fact, an MZed Pro membership makes for a perfect companion to students who are either in film school or are taking film studies in a traditional university.
But for those of you are learning filmmaking on your own, you are in good hands with MZed courses. Here is our guide to developing a watch plan for new MZed Pro members.
How to make a movie: first, change your mindset
Before you can become a filmmaker - whether as a profession or for hobby - you have to rewire your brain a little bit. If you’ve watched a lot of films, you might have some assumptions of the filmmaking process, what it’s like to be a crew on set, and how movie magic happens.
The truth is, most kinds of filmmaking - from solo gigs to big budget produtions - are just a series of problems that you need to solve, with a limited set of tools, people, time, and money. The end product may look elegant, artistic, and straightforward - but the production is a constant battle that never ends, even after years of experience under your belt. That’s because no two days of productions are ever the same.
So before you begin learning the ins and outs of the filmmaking process, we strongly urge you to watch The Art of Visual Storytelling, followed by Alex Buono’s Visual Storytelling 2. Both courses were filmed over the course of several years of a touring workshop, and their 10 hours of education is incredibly packed.
Why is this the course that can help you rewire your brain to think like a filmmaker? Because Alex Buono’s work spans nearly every type of filmmaking out there, from commercials, to documentaries, narrative features, to live productions. And in these two courses he shows you how he’s achieved all these style of productions, down to the lights, cameras, lens choice, and locations.
And in pulling back the curtain to the world of practical filmmaking, we see the honest truth behind every shot: it takes your own imagination, creativity, and passion for visual storytelling - along with the drive to work hard - to get beyond whatever technical challenges stand in the way of making your film work.
As Film Unit Director of Photography at Saturday Night Live, Alex Buono has only a couple days each week to create music videos, commercials, comedies, and movie trailers that look and feel identical to productions that usually take weeks to months to produce.
How is it possible to create a Wes Andersen movie trailer in just one day? Or a musical on the streets of New York City, with only a few hours to shoot? How do you make a small budget feature film look like it was made by a blockbuster studio?
Through his direction for the series Documentary Now!, Alex has also recreated the styles of legendary filmmakers that span the entire 20th century, but with a small crew, budget, and time frame. Seeing first hand how a working cinematographer utilizes practical effects, readily available gear, and some common sense is an inspirational introduction to the world of filmmaking.
That’s where the lessons in these two courses are essential to rewiring your brain. Alex illustrates clearly how to achieve every style of film imaginable, using the tools you have in front of you. He shows you how to stop making excuses for yourself, and how to make films right now. And most of all, he emphasizes how to problem solve, how to work under pressure, and how to take the language of film and turn it into an actionable production plan.
In watching the gear demonstrations, it’s amazing to see that the tools that we now find commonplace, like DSLR and cinema cameras with interchangeable lenses, brushless gimbals, and high powered LED lights were such a breakthrough for filmmakers like Alex, even when he’s had access to traditional filmmaking gear. He’s just as interested in geeking out about gear as the rest of us, as long it helps him do something better, quicker, and cheaper.
That sense of hack culture - or using whatever is available as long as it helps you do your job - is so essential to thinking like a filmmaker. Your job is to tell a story, and to make it look beautiful, elegent, and perhaps even effortless. But to get there, you’ll need a lot of gaffer’s tape and some willingness to think outside of the box.
Learning to become a working filmmaker
The next course we recommend all MZed Pro members watch is Philip Bloom’s Cinematic Masterclass. Like Alex Buono’s Visual Storytelling, this course gives you a very practical background to the why of filmmaking techniques, before you can learn how to achieve them.
And like Alex, Philip Bloom has a background that we can all relate to. He was a news photojournalist for many years, before becoming one of the early champions of DSLR filmmaking. Since then, he’s created award winning commercials, documentary films, feature films, and he served as Director of Photography for CNN’s The Wonder List.
He’s done all of that with a bottomless interest in photography, filmmaking, and lucky for us, educating others along the way. With his unique intellect and delivery style, Philip shows us how to use the tools we have now to create stunning films that have the power to move people. And how to do it with nothing more than a camera, lens, and tripod.
In the world of freelance filmmaking, there’s no set path for getting hired for jobs. Each of us has a completely unique network of people around us, we bring different experiences and approaches, and every day we meet people in a different corner of the world. So, this course is not going to tell you how to get from A to B on the path to learning filmmaking.
But what Philip does is show you how to create amazing work, with the world you have around you. From visual language, to interviews, timelapses, slow motion, drones, and even lens whacking (a free and very worthwhile lesson), there is an endless stream of inspiration in this course.
And as you continue to improve your skills as a filmmaker, putting out beautiful work out into the world, you will find that people respond to your work, some of whom will want to hire you, and that will lead to other opportunities.
There are other courses in the MZed Pro library that teach you the ins and outs of working on set, how to use cameras, lights and lenses, and audio tools. Cinematic Masterclass teaches you techniques too, but more than that, it inspires you to take the leap and become a self-made visual storyteller.
Now that you’ve received a full dose of inspiration and imagination for what’s possible, using only the tools you have in front of you, let’s move onto a working film set to see first-hand how cinematographers create movie magic, scene by scene.
The first course we recommend is Vincent Laforet's Directing Motion. Like Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet was one of the first advocates for DSLR filmmaking, demonstrating his methods for achieving cinematic visuals with tools that many of us already have.
Directing Motion was an incredibly popular touring workshop that Vincent created to teach contemporary approaches to camera motion. Blocking actors, moving cameras, and creating sequenes have been essential components of cinematography since the beginning of film. But new tools and visual styles have changed the game, and it’s important for up and coming cinematographers to learn the new rules of filmmaking.
Perhaps the most challenging task for a cinematographer is the one-shot sequence. In this lesson, Vincent illustrates how to plan and execute a shot where multiple scenes are filmed in a single take, with the camera moving the entire time. One lingering question we have is, how nervous is the boom pole operator during a one-shot sequence?
Next up is ASC Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who has three courses available on MZed Pro. There’s nearly 20 hours of education here, but Shane is sharing an entire lifetime of filmmaking expertise, so we think it’s worth watching all three of the courses.
Cinematograpy: Mastering the Image is the latest course, and it has a good mix of pre-production lessons, developing the set, moving the camera, and how to work with lights. Shane is perhaps best known for his passion for lighting, and in this course he goes way deep into the theory and use of many types of lighting instruments.
What most stands out for us in Cinematography: Mastering the Image is Shane zooming in on specific practical areas of cinematography that are incredibly useful for a filmmaker-in-training. For example, there is a lesson on power distribution that goes deep into electricity on set, how to use power generators, the many styles of connectors and cables that you’ll use, and how to properly manage everything so that nobody gets hurt.
Just like Alex Buono emphasizes in his Visual Storytelling courses, Shane is a master of solving problems with what he has available. He’s rigged up cars with all sorts of tiny cameras, he hides lights in places you wouldn’t even imagine, and best of all, he has this insane ability to remember those details even during busy productions, so that he can pass those lessons on to us in his educational and entertaining courses.
Video Editing Courses
When it comes to video editing courses, there are two approaches: make tutorials for a particular video editing software, or teach lessons on approaching the edit and how to improve the story.
The Cutting Edge falls into the strategy approach. Course instructor Adam Epstein also works with Alex Buono on Saturday Night Live, so he has to be able to work incredibly quickly, while creating a vastly different product each time he sits down to edit.
How do you edit an epic music video in a matter of hours? How do you create a Jeep commercial that looks and sounds like an Edgar Wright film (see video above)?
Just like the practical mindset of cinematography, Adam emphasizes the hack philosophy of use what you have for the purpose of telling a better story. So it’s not a matter of what software you use, or which plugin or effects you enjoy - each video edit is completely different and requires you to shift approaches in order to be efficient.
One of the best lessons in video editing is actually Adam’s lesson in audio effects. Step by step, he walks us through the process of layering sound effects in order to elevate a movie trailer. He also shows us exactly what it means when people say that audio is half the film. We think this lesson should be the first thing any video editor learns before taking on any assignment.
When you are ready to dive into the nitty gritty of video editing, we highly recommend The Definitive Guide to DaVinci Resolve, even if you plan to use a different editing program.
Ollie Kenchington is the brilliant instructor for our two color correcting courses, Directing Color and Mastering Color. Both of these courses are essential for anyone who wants to learn color grading, and they happen to feature DaVinci Resolve as the editing program of choice, even though the color lessons are universal to any software.
But in the Definitive Guide, Ollie walks us through the entire program, step by step, as we learn how to organize media, edit a short film, add titles and motion graphics, mix audio, color grade, and deliver and archive a final product. There are lessons specific to Resolve, but they’re also valuable to watch if you want to expand your knowledge of video editing techniques.
DaVinci Resolve has quickly become one of the most popular video editing software among both professionals as well as hobbyists and students, and if you’re just starting out in editing, we believe that you should learn DaVinci Resolve before moving on to other programs. But there’s also a lot of value in adding Resolve to your toolbelt, even if you already have a favorite NLE.
Screenwriting, Audio Production, and Camera Courses
There’s a lot more to MZed Pro than the courses we’re talking about in this article, so if you have a specific interest in the world of filmmaking, then by all means, go directly ahead to those courses!
For anyone who has an interest in writing for film, or developing a story, or even pitching ideas to producers, Seth Worley’s Writing 101 and Writing 201 are a must watch. Seth has a deep understanding of story and writing, and he’s able to teach the fundamentals with a contemporary approach.
Watch Mark as he edits sound effects, foley, dialogue, and music on a video, just as you’ll most likely be doing every time you’re hired for as an audio producer. Mark also provides a background into microphone choice and usage on a production, to ensure the best possible sound when you begin editing. And don’t miss his look into microphone manufacturing, as he tours the RØDE Microphones headquarters in Sydney, Australia.
Finally, MZed is committed to providing working filmmakers with up-to-date education on the latest cameras and tech. We’ve partnered up with AbelCine and ARRI to bring you thorough training on specific camera systems, as well as overviews of lenses, LUTs, and media compression.
There’s something for everyone at MZed, no matter what path you take on your journey to learn filmmaking. We hope this guide has been helpful to you, and if you have suggestions for future content you’d like to see here, please get in touch. Thanks!