What’s the fastest way to learn filmmaking? Get a bunch of iPhones, Macbooks, Final Cut Pro X and Filmic Pro, a ton of mobile filmmaking gear, and go make some movies together. That’s what they did at PBS station WDSE in Duluth, Minnesota with Cirina Catania, Aubrey Mozino, Sam Mestman and We Make Movies’ Smartphone Studio. With the new iPhone 11 now available, we’re pretty excited about seeing all of this go to the next level.
A few days ago, the participants of our recent filmmaking class at the PBS affiliate, WDSE-WRPT, based in Duluth Minnesota received the following message from the folks at the station: “We’re excited to announce that we’re sharing the videos that the class made at 4pm every day throughout this week on our Facebook page!...
The videos are also available on our YouTube page.We hope you’ll share your video, and those of your classmates, on your own networks. The videos will also air periodically ON OUR AIRWAVES (emphasis by the author) over the next couple of weeks. The next scheduled airing is Sunday, September 29that 1:45pm on PBS North (after Spies of Warsaw).”
This is pure gold for any filmmaker looking for distribution for their film.
And it all started very modestly but with a strong purpose:
- Remove the barriers of expensive equipment and provide iPhones, MacBook Pros and Final Cut Pro X as filmmaking tools.
- Provide inside knowledge and guidance - share our experiences
- Strip away inhibitions, creative blocks and encourage teamwork and positivity
- Make movies!
Flashback: It's early evening...
It all started with a meeting a few months ago in a conference room at the PBS station in Duluth, Minnesota, WDSE-WRPT.
Patty Mester, the President and Station Manager, listened to Philip Gilpin and I waxing poetic about how important creativity is to a local community. (Philip runs the Catalyst Content Festival, dedicated to independent television located in Duluth, Minnesota.
Patty watches, shares her questions, takes it all in, and at one point says, aiming that intense gaze directly at me, “You need to teach a filmmaking workshop here in Duluth.” I say, “Sure, that would be great.” She says, “When?”
We decide on a date and a title: “Master Class: Building Your Successful Career in Film.” And it will focus on the “Economics of field production and delivery, What film school doesn’t teach you about getting and keeping that job.”
We need to teach backroom skills in order to build a firm foundation be we are all aware that filmmakers need to be inspired. They need to run free and play.
Although we come from different backgrounds, we’ve landing in the same arena and our missions dovetail perfectly.
Aubrey, a big brained talented actress, advocate for young members of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and a go-getter with a positive take no prisoners attitude, she migrated to California after a successful career in New York City.
Sam had made films, helped start We Make Movies and is known as one of the founders of Lumaforge. With his strong mixture of technical, creative and quietly supportive approach to filmmaking life, he is the perfect mix for two highly energetic women!
The Duo had had just returned from an incredibly successful workshop in Chicago.
As they say, however, the devil is in the details.
Here’s the schedule as it was published. (Happy to say, thanks to everyone in the studio, we did it!):
9 am-12 pm - Learn what is required by the networks in order to get and keep your job working in television production (both independent and network). We’ll go into specific detail and you will get information not available anywhere else! We'll also do an overview of the workshop objectives, and discuss individual career goals and questions, and what is really required when you work for companies like the United Nations, National Geographic and the networks.
12 pm-12:30 pm - Lunch and networking.
12:30 pm-1:00 pm - Review workflow, logging and organizing include instruction on using Lumberjack, etc., for FCPX and Premiere Pro.
1 pm-3 pm - Using smart phones to enhance your story and let the creative side shine through. The class is assigned a one-liner and told to film using only five shots to tell their story.
3 pm - 4 pm - Break out into teams and begin planning your mobile filmmaking shoot. Instruction on supporting apps. We'll provide each team with a new iPhone and a new MacBook Pro to use during the workshop!* We’ll discuss story building, gear, logging and managing media, and give you a surprise log line.
4pm - Adjourn and Shoot - Your team will go out, shoot based on the direction given and return the next day with the original media on your team’s iPhone.
9am-12pm - With the help of your instructors, you will download the media shot the night before, edit your short using Final Cut Pro X, add music, titles, etc.
12pm-12:30pm - Lunch and networking.
12:30pm-1:30pm - Screening of the scenes and story-building/shooting feedback.
1:30pm-5pm - The Economics of Filmmaking - We'll discuss enhancing the bottom line: budgeting, making the deal, and the landscape of deals in the OTT world with companies such as Netflix, Amazon, PBS, etc. Questions and Answers. Say goodbye till next time.
Sam, Aubrey and I meet at WDSE the next morning to location scout, test the equipment in the studio, check the sound and start prepping our equipment.
Aubrey and Sam open the cases with iPhones and MacBook Pros that will be used by the creative teams, and begins downloading the software we’ll be using: FCPX, FILMIC PRO, Lumberjack System, Movie Slate, etc.
I am tweaking the sound and lighting in the room and checking connections to my personal MacBook Pro and iPad Pro that we’ll be using from which to present.
Everything is set up and we are incredibly impressed by the professionalism of the staff at WDSE. Many thanks go the the team at WDSE in Duluth for providing a great space and everything we need to do this right.
Our first day, we walk in and the room is filled with people sitting at tables, quietly waiting for us to begin. Arms crossed, leaning back in chairs, they are waiting, wondering what is really in store for them.
The ice begins to crack as everyone gets a chance to share their personal experiences, goals, and desires. We work individually with each person.
Turns out our class has a mixture of top-level station managers/producers who want to talk about workflow and current filming techniques, artists who want to figure out how to bring their work to life, attorneys who want to move away from the law and tell stories, independent filmmakers who aren’t sure yet why they are in the room because they are already making films, as well as some who just want to experience a class that will help them realize their dreams…and…you get the drift, right?
Some have used Final Cut before and others have never even seen it.
It is scary, overwhelming, but so important.
Filmmaking as a profession is not just about making pretty pictures, it is about working with your clients so that they too can be successful.
I use MindMap or MindNode Pro for complicated thought processes. This is an image of the Prep to Post navigation for a non-scripted reality show, right click for larger image:
Using the example of working on challenging reality shows such as those made at Nat Geo, Discovery, Smithsonian, etc., i went over everything from how to get your life in order before you leave, what to take with you, legal, medical considerations, even drafting a will. To what producers need to consider when in the field, and the post production process to final delivery documents and reports that are required by the legal department, the archive library and the network.
We covered dozens of reports, examples and suggestions, including, music cue sheets, FX ins-outs, clean scenes, and we talked about the old and new ways of logging and organizing media, including the solutions from Lumberjack System’s Builder, etc.
And then… things got really interesting!!!
This was the fun part.
We’d gotten everyone excited to use their imagination, make something and shed their inhibitions about telling stories.
When you remove the restrictions that come with big budgets, heavy equipment, long processing times, complicated infrastructures and get back to basics, it is amazing what can happen!
Handing out new iPhones and MacBook Pro laptops to each team, Aubrey and Sam began a detailed overview of how to film with iPhones, which apps and programs to use and gave the class a one-liner: “Most Interesting Exit.”
With instructions to “go forth and shoot,” the participants were given a five-shot limit and were told to bring the iPhones back the following morning, when we would help them download the media and edit a short film in FCPX.
Some of the solutions taught during the class included iOgrapher, Rode Mics, boom poles, tripods, lave mics, lighting kits, gimbals, headphones, lenses, hard drives and apps such as Filmic Pro, Apogee Metarecorder, Lumberjack Logger, and Movie Slate .
The next morning, the class returned with their footage and we began downloading, giving them two hours to cut their film including titles, credits, music, etc.
As we opened up the MacBook Pro’s, we realized that some in the room had used FCPX before but most hadn’t and we were pleased to see that they were surprised at how user-friendly the NLE was.
The bottom line is that everyone in the room had made a film with their cell phone and had finished in less than 24 hours editing with FCPX. I don’t think there is a faster way to teach filmmaking than this.
Here are the results:
After a brief break for lunch, we gave a rundown of the landscape in distribution, citing deals with Netflix and the other SVOD services.
Patty Mester, President and General Manager of WDSE-WRPt share an insightful run-down of the landscape for content providers at PBS.
And Philip Gilpin gave us some very bold and honest advice about how to structure the deal.
Five O’Clock came all to early and the quiet, reserved group from the first day seemed more like players in a long-running Broadway production. No one wanted to say goodbye. Most vowed to continue working together in the future and many of them came up to us to say “thank you.”
The moral of this story: Anything is possible when you have the tools, the courage to find your inner creative.
Sam says that his experience with the We Make Movies crowd has been rewarding because the self-funded group doesn’t let equipment and cost get in the way.
With the tools available to us tucked right into our pockets, we can film anything anywhere.
We can tell our stories!
A few days later, the evaluations came in and the ratings were almost unilaterally 5 out of 5
The only complaint we got was, “I wish we had more time!”
We’ll definitely be doing more of these in the future and are grateful to Patty Mester and Philip Gilpin for facilitating this very first one. Thank you both!
Sam Mestman told me, that his personal highlights were the films themselves. “I thought they were fantastic,” he said. “And I loved being able to travel to a filmmaking community that was maturing and being able to show them a different perspective on their work and what could be possible from a career and community perspective.”
Aubrey agreed, saying “I loved seeing the creativity on display in Duluth. We had never seen people take the “most interesting exit” prompt in such wonderfully metaphorical ways. It was inspiring to see people take a somewhat ‘simple’ exercise on paper and clearly take it seriously and turn in actual short films that told actual stories, not just a clunky series of 5 shots that satisfied the exercise.”
She continued, “I also just loved how open minded everyone there was to learning new ways of doing things— whether it was filmmaking as a whole or just a new set of gear and apps to use.”
For me, it is yet another testament to the enduring spirit of creative people.
Put us in a room, on a set, or on location, give us some love and some awesome tools and watch the sparks fly.
It is what I live for in this phase of my career, and I am forever grateful to those in my life who are by my side helping me make it happen and especially to Patty Mester for the invite, Philip Gilpin for the foresight, Sam Mestman and Aubrey Mozino for standing right next to me making it happen and for Apple and all the developers who provide the tools.
Learn more about WDSE here:
Learn more about Cirina here:
Learn more about We Make Movies here:
And click here if you want to see more about Sam and Aubrey’s Smart Phone Studio adventures:
Cirina Catania, Founder/Lead Creative at The Catania Group and partner, Lumberjack System, is a member of the PGA, WGA, IATSE-Local 600, National Press Club, National Press Photographer’s Association and others. She has worked as a writer, director, supervising producer, cinematographer, post-producer, or marketing exec on over 130 film, television and new media projects for the big screen as well as for networks such as National Geographic, Discovery, etc.
She is one of the co-founders and former director of the Sundance Film Festival and former Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at MGM-UA and United Artists. Cirina is based in San Diego, Washington. D.C. and Berlin when she is not on the road filming in the Amazon or other exotic locations. She is very proud of the fact that she has not yet contracted malaria and that after all these years, she still loves her job!