Advice for a High School Filmmaker

An eighth-grader approached me for advice on making movies and getting started at his age. Here’s what I shared with him:

The first and most important thing to do is get started. Pick up a camera, any camera, and practice. An iPhone is way better than the first camera I started with, so use whatever you can and never be ashamed. It’s about storytelling more than the lights or gear you use, so focus on telling great stories. Pick editing software you are comfortable with and learn (I started with Adobe Premiere and use it to this day). There are many helpful tutorials online. The more movies you edit, the better you will understand the software.

Find friends you like hanging out with, can rely on and who like making movies. Beyond the core group with whom I always made movies, filmmaking helped me become friends with hot girls, nerds who knew how to animate 3D models, shady stoner kids who owned fake realistic looking weapons that looked great on camera, class clowns, incredible artists and everyone in between. It was amazing who I was able to connect with by just asking, “Hey, do you want to be in my movie?” It helped high school be a great experience for me.

Start simple with your first movie, then make it more complicated as you go. My first film ever was 1 minute long in my backyard. By the time I graduated high school, I was making 30 minute films with action and visual effects. You’re capable of this and so much more, especially with the tools available these days. But again, start small. It’s incredibly motivating to see your finished work – and then want to do better the next time.

It also helped a lot to find teachers who supported my interest. I made sure to get into every media, theater or film class I could and made friends with those teachers. Sometimes, I got away with making movies for classes instead of writing papers – it can never hurt to ask! To this day, I still hang out with some of my teachers who supported me ten years ago. It may not be cool in high school to be a “teacher’s pet,” but you’ll be laughing at your peers later when you get farther in the world than they did. For example, I got a job right out of college working for one of my professors who enjoyed having me in class. You never know!

Most importantly, have fun with it. You will make a ton of mistakes and learn a lot. None of your films in high school will go to film festivals (no offense, but it’s true), so don’t stress about any of it. Keep your head on your shoulders, keep an open mind. The more fun you have, the more you will learn and the better your movies will be.

Oh, and needless to say, watch a lot of movies. Television is cool these days, too. I spent an entire summer watching all the best picture academy award winners and many more. I wish I had Netflix back then – take advantage of it! I also took notes on what I liked or didn’t like about each movie, which helped inform choices I made when I made movies.

Long story short, go out today and make a movie! Good luck.


Where Did Apprenticeships Go?

Apprentice. Man and boy making shoes.

In the Middle Ages, master and apprentice relationships were integral to business. Aspiring youngsters would offer continuing labour and business support to veteran craftsman in exchange for lodging, food, and formal training. Before universities popularized, trade education stemmed directly from experience in the trade itself. As classroom education expanded, apprenticeships fell to the wayside. Can someone please tell me why? The mentor and apprentice relationship is no less integral to business than it was a thousand years ago. In fact, I think the relationship may be more important today – for both sides of the table.

The mutual benefits are endless, but here are four key points to whet your whistle (Note: I find “Mentor” more palatable than “Master,” but the same theory applies):

Mentors offer seasoned experience. Apprentices offer fresh perspective.

With years of service in the workplace, the mentor has war stories and lessons that can better-frame an apprentice’s education. More importantly, these stories are experienced firsthand. On-the-job training is far more vivid and dynamic than book studies because the stakes are higher. Apprentices get their hands dirty and glean a far more richer understanding of their craft in the process. Moreover, the education is reciprocal. Apprentices bring to the table a whole new way of thinking: contemporary models, innovative market approach tactics, modern brand image insights, and more. The apprentice speaks a fresh language mentors need to be versed in today to connect with the consumers of tomorrow.

Mentors offer inexpensive education. Apprentices offer inexpensive labour.

As a mutual service favor, very little money trades hands. A mentor can staff his or her growing business with a zealous and thirsty student without the burden of salary; an apprentice can get invaluable hands-on experience without the burden of tuition. More often than not, the education from a mentor is far more in-depth, targeted and pertinent than from a classroom teacher. You get more value for less spend.

Mentors offer relevant trade skills. Apprentices offer relevant modern skills.

Unlike the intimate hands-on apprenticeships of old, modern internships are often more clerical with little exposure to the higher workings of a company or trade. A true apprenticeship can bring students closer to the skills they need to grasp and aim to learn. In exchange, apprentices can introduce mentors to new methods for leveraging technology, connecting with people, and creating product. The opportunities are boundless with both new and old at the helm.

Mentors offer a name brand. Apprentices offer brand vitality.

Through years of service and loyalty, the apprentice will embrace the mentor’s brand. With that brand comes the mentor’s network and resource pool, saving the apprentice a lot of time and money developing his or her own from scratch. Brands are noteworthy bullets on resumes and form the connective tissue of the business world. In return for the mentor’s gracious stamp of approval, the apprentice will forever carry all the philosophies adopted and lessons learned from the mentor. The mentor’s reputation will live on through the apprentice.

The only potential risks I foresee in apprenticeships are compatibility and working pace. Some people cannot see eye to eye and lack patience for one another. Compatibility can be offset by both formal and casual interviews, along with recommendations and referrals. And unlike the Middle Ages, I do not think it wise to start apprenticeships too early in career development; an apprentice needs strong theoretical introduction to a trade first before asking a mentor for valuable time.

If you are a seasoned professional, I highly encourage you to take on an apprentice. If you are a student, develop relationships with professionals in your field of interest and ask permission to shadow them. Listen well to each other. After a while, you will both learn a lot. I guarantee it.