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Photo credit: Alice Morrison.

How to make your own running film

07-Oct-16

Last updated: 10-Oct-16

By Alice Morrison

How to make your own running film? Now, that is a question! There are so many different types of film you could make that it is quite a daunting subject to tackle. However, if you are reading this, I can assume that you are not yet a professional film maker (although if you are, please share any useful experience in the comments) and are probably ready to start off with something pretty short and sweet. 

I am also assuming that you want to make something a bit more complicated than a top it/tail it smartphone video – although these are brilliant to start with and practice with! I have tried to collate some of the things you need to consider and where to find useful tools and information.

Who is your audience?

It seems the most obvious question but it is one that you should have a real think about as it will govern a lot of things that you will do including: content, length of film, quality of production, language used and so on. If you are making a film purely for yourself then you don’t need to worry about it, but if you are making it to be seen, then keep your audience firmly in mind.

Here are a few of the groups that most of us might be aiming for, and only the first one is truly “friendly” and indulgent:

  • Friends and family
  • Running community
  • Charity
  • Possible sponsors
  • Film Festivals
  • Competitions

I haven’t included professional broadcast or theatrical release on there as that is a well-nigh impossible dream for start up film makers. If you want to start making professional films then my strongest advice is to team up with an existing professional crew. Check out who is making films you like and get in touch with them.

There are also film offices all over the world who will be able to give you advice about your area. One of the best and most helpful I have worked with in the UK is The Liverpool Film Office who can also help with the Lakes and Peaks. You can also search for crew and facilities across the UK here and internationally here

Content: what’s it about?

Having decided your audience, it is time to think about what you are going to actually put in your film. Obviously, this can be anything that inspires or moves you or makes you laugh or cry. It can be sharing your expertise, showing off a place or thing you love, cooking up your favourite running recipe… anything you like – but maybe steer clear of running porn for now, trainers were never meant for THAT.

Here are some examples of running films produced for very different reasons and audiences (in no particular order). Some professional, some amateur and a spread of topics.

Length – size really does matter

Make sure you have a good idea of the length you WANT your film to be before you start making it – at the very least before you start editing it. Of course, if you want to enter it into a Film Festival or Competition you may be working to a brief, so make sure you are absolutely clear what the parameters are. For example, Depict want 90 seconds, whereas Women in Adventure Film puts 10 minutes as its max but expects around 5 min. 

Our viewing habits have been formed by what we have already seen and what we are used to getting. Most audiences are extremely sophisticated and with so much great material out there you are much better to make a short, pithy film that grabs the attention – especially if you are starting off. Take inspiration from David Fincher, the Director of "Se7en," "Fight Club," and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". His early works include this pretty dark Coca-Cola ad:

Storyboarding

The more time you spend on your storyboard, the better your film is going to be – honestly! I would recommend that you storyboard before you get your footage, even if you are doing a race or challenge and you are not exactly sure how it is going to turn out. You can then do a post race/challenge set of revisions but at least you will have had some idea before you get out there what you need to be filming, who you want to talk to, what shots you HAVE to get….

Storytelling is a very simple task. Tell your audience where, what, when, who, why and give them a beginning, a middle and an end.

Start your story with a bang: a great shot sequence, some danger, a fantastic soundbite, a mystery. Your audience needs a reason to stay with you, so give it to them.

In all screen writing classes, you will be told about the story arc. Screen Writer? I’m doing a running film – is she mad? You may not need a conventional screen play but the basic principles are good ones and thinking of your film in this way and your protagonists as characters will differentiate it from a video of folk running with some music and some soundbites taken in a high wind. There is so much help out there for screenwriting. Here are some useful sites:

As part of storyboarding, make sure you have recced where you are going to be running, in person if possible or if not through extensive use of Google. You want to have an idea of where your good shots are likely to be. Going out ahead of time with your smartphone and doing little videos can be a great help. Likewise, if you will be featuring various people have some idea of how you want them to come across, what their main interest to the audience is and think about what story you want them to tell.

Cameras, microphones and filming

Cameras are a highly technical subject and there are a huge number around to choose from. They are not cheap pieces of kit. If you haven’t done much or any filming before, practice first on your smart phone so that you are sure you are going to stick with it – otherwise you will have spent a fortune on something that you don’t use.

If you are already filming regularly, you probably already have a good idea of what you fancy. A microphone is necessary if you are going to be using lots of interviews/soundbites and need descent sound quality. You almost certainly will also need a tripod. Really, a lot of it is judging what level quality you want in relation to the amount of budget you have to spend.

When it comes to actually getting your shots, remember to shoot more than you need. You will regret it in the edit if you missed out on an angle you later rely on in the edit suite. Think about plenty of transition shots too to make the cuts easier. If you have the luxury of time, plan sequences and film them a couple of times in different ways so that you can have a choice when it comes to putting the film together.

Be clever about using more than one camera, if you have a go pro and a smart phone and one “proper” camera, a lot can be achieved. Check out your lighting carefully. You may have a profoundly moving piece from a runner on the go ruined by their face being in shadow. If you are just going with the action, then just go for it and do the best you can.

Editing

This is really where the magic happens. It is a long, slow process but it is where the film is truly created. For software it is the same advice as with cameras. Start off with your smart phone and any of the basic editing Apps, then progress on.

Adobe Premiere Pro and Magix Movie Edit Pro are both contenders. For some more ideas, check out this review.

The best way to save yourself endless angst when you are putting your film together is to shotlist first. What have you got and where is it? Cut out the dross at this stage – do NOT be tempted to drag it across to your edit…. 

If you have storyboarded and got your ideas in order, you can focus on choosing the best shots to tell that story and then put them together as beautifully as possible.

Keep your ear on the sound, that is one of the many difficult things to master. Also beware the jump cut, if you got enough footage and transition shots you should be fine. Don’t get too carried away by effects. They can get very wearing for a viewer after a while, so use with caution.

Rights and release forms

This is a world of pain right here! The basic rule of thumb is, don’t use other people’s stuff without crediting them or without their permission. This is a very, very hard rule to follow in the age of shared information, so depending on where you are showing your film be aware. Release forms are for people appearing in a film. Again, if you are at a race and doing a little film it would be very hard to get release forms so just be aware of this if you are filming on a bigger scale.

A picture’s worth 1000 words

Your story deserves to be seen. Remember that and go into this process with a light heart and a will of iron. If you thought running an ultra was exhausting, wait till you are trying to grapple with the obscurities of edit software and a dodgy wind on your audio track.

I worked in TV for a long time but always with a professional crew so I understand how the process works and how to construct a story, but flash forward to me on my tod with no talented cameraman and genius editor and life gets a lot harder. I have only just begun trying to make my own little films myself using my iPhone and Adobe Premiere Pro. They are absolutely terrible at the moment but I know that if I keep practicing and manage to get the tech right I will get there eventually. Always keep in mind that you are sharing the experience with your audience and telling them your story. That is the key!

And if you get the bug and want to get some professional help to improve then I highly recommend the  Kendal Adventure Film Academy.

I’ll leave you with Martin Scorsese. “There is no such thing as simple. Simple is hard.”

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