Kickstart your filmmaking journey and diversify your video production skills by following this guide to a plethora of free filmmaking resources.
There are few other professions that have been so graciously blessed by the internet’s pool of resources than filmmaking and editing. You can, in practice, open the web, watch a free educational series about video editing, download free editing software along with free motion graphics and sound effects, and create an exciting video without moving from your computer chair, and more importantly, without opening your wallet.
Paradoxically, because there are so many free resources, it can often be challenging to know where to start. That’s why this article aims to help kickstart your filmmaking journey. Or, if you’re already within the filmmaking community, this list can point you in a new direction to expand your video production skills.
It has been divided into three segments: learning resources, software, and digital assets. And, of course, all are free.
The epitome of free online learning resources is, of course, YouTube. With no exaggeration, there is nearly a tutorial for everything conceivable.
Our YouTube tutorial channel offers a diverse range of tutorials from software, film photography, and DIY filmmaking equipment. You would be hard-pressed to find another channel that covers the entire spectrum of filmmaking.
While our tutorials cater to the home content creator and budding filmmaker, how about information from Hollywood’s finest? ARRI, the manufacturer of motion picture cameras, lenses, and lighting, has a YouTube channel where they periodically release practical seminars that were filmed live.
Understandably, if you’ve just delved into filmmaking and have an entry-level DSLR and a single lighting unit, watching a MasterClass from an esteemed cinematographer with a small crew and $100,000 worth of equipment may seem overkill. However, I’d argue that while the performance is directed toward a more professional user, the information is applicable for all.
At one point in the video below, cinematographer and director Reed Morano and cinematographer Tom Stern discuss the different ways in which they could light for exterior light through a set window. Reed suggests that if she were to try and light for an overcast day, she’d position the lights low, then point them upward toward a diffusion sheet situated above the window. This would illuminate the room, but with the soft diffused light found on overcast days. You don’t need an expensive setup to take that information and implement it into your content.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Roundtable
Each year, during awards season, The Hollywood Report produces several roundtable discussions between the nominees and filmmakers of the most critically acclaimed films produced throughout the previous year.
While the videos rarely offer direct advice, the insight into how the filmmakers approached each project is invaluable. At the very least, it leaves the viewer with several ideas they can implement into their next project.
And, in all honesty, it’s 2020, everyone knows you can go to YouTube and find great tutorials that explore every avenue of filmmaking and editing. Therefore, let’s look at some lesser-known channels of learning resources that may help you get a step up.
Instagram can sound like a safe bet when recommending a place for visual inspiration, but not so much as a learning resource. However, if you were to take a peek into my picture folder on my phone, (along with an abundance of snaps of my rabbits) you’d find a considerable number of screenshots of Instagram stories from cinematographers detailing their methods.
Once a TV spot or ad is released, cinematographers who are active on social media often release lighting plans and behind-the-scenes snaps on how the set was illuminated. Likewise, agencies and individuals often partake in an “Ask Me Anything” through Instagram stories, in which they receive an influx of questions about their methods. While the information can be bite-sized, sometimes it’s enough information for you to learn how that filmmaker achieved something.
While I primarily follow cinematographers on Instagram, you’ll also find colorists and commercial directors sharing similar information that can add knowledge to your creative arsenal.
Unfortunately, stories only stay active for twenty-four hours, so you often need to be following the creative beforehand. However, some do pin their answers to the top of their profile.
Another educational aspect of Instagram is when filmmaking accounts post articles of information circulated through multiple Instagram posts. American Cinematographer magazine will often host a series of posts from esteemed cinematographers that divulge behind-the-scenes information regarding films they have photographed.
For cinematography tips and tricks, I recommend the following:
Facebook User Groups
If there is a camera you want to buy or software you’d like to test out, you can be sure that a Facebook user group exists for that specific tool. And, just as important, these Facebook groups are a haven for quick tips and questions you may not have previously thought about.
I’m not an active user of these groups, but as a passive member, I often see an interesting question asked and for the issue to be met with an abundance of replies that add to my knowledge set. I find these groups especially helpful for software, as sometimes I see a question asked for a problem I have yet to encounter, yet when I do, I no longer have to go searching for it.
Of course, with any level of social media, there is both good and bad. With larger groups, you may find an influx of repetitive questions, spam messages, and trolling. Although a more substantial group may look more active, I’d recommend joining a group that has around 3,000-6,000 members.
Recommended User Groups:
- Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K & 6K User Group
- Adobe Premiere for Beginners
- Blackmagic Resolve User Group
Facebook Pages — Streaming Events
Since Facebook has integrated live streaming into its platform, many companies, both software and production, have taken advantage of this by hosting live events. This could either be a live tutorial walk-through (often produced by the Adobe Premiere Pro page), a lighting demonstration (broadcast by Aperture), or a demonstration on new equipment (documented by Blackmagic).
On the note of Facebook pages, social media managers are always looking for new and inventive ways to keep the user not only on their page, but engaged with the content. If you recently purchased a plugin or software application, follow the brand page and you may be surprised at the tips and tricks you can pick up. Aescripts+aeplugins, a website that sells Adobe After Effects material, regularly publishes short sixty-second workflows to their page.
Over the past few years, there are two mediums that have grown tremendously: streaming and podcasts. Quite like the early ’10s when it seemed like everyone was starting a YouTube channel, it’s hard to turn the corner without hearing that someone else is thinking about starting a podcast.
However, there is a merit for their popularity, especially regarding education. Although indirect, there is much to learn in listening to seasoned pros talk about how they approach a project — quite like The Hollywood Reporter roundtable. And due to its radio-like nature, podcasts allow the listener to work on two things at once. Clean your gear and gain valuable insight from Roger Deakins? Perfect.
Here’s a list of my favorite filmmaking podcasts. Plus, as noted above, the legendary Roger Deakins recently started a podcast with his wife James.
- Team Deakins
- Show Don’t Tell (Noam Kroll)
- Hey Indie Filmmakers (Griffin Hammond of Indy Mogul)
Outside of the Box — Blu-Ray Commentary
An overlooked element of Blu-Rays and DVDs are the commentary tracks. Understandably, not everyone wants to sit through a film while someone talks over the action. Nevertheless, for aspiring filmmakers, you essentially have professional homeschooling in the palm of your hand. It’s one thing for a YouTube video essay creator to analyze why a filmmaker chose a specific shot or what certain colors could mean. It’s an entirely different thing to hear it from the director.
Of course, let us talk about the elephant in the room. This is a list of free resources, so buying a Blu-Ray or DVD defeats the purpose. However, as studios have started to see filmmaker commentary as marketing material, you’ll often find snippets uploaded to the studio’s YouTube channel. For older films, sometimes a YouTuber has even gotten away with uploading larger fragments to the platform.
In this playlist, you can find over ninety videos of audio commentary from some of the biggest filmmakers on the planet.
Ten years ago, free software meant a redacted version of the premium edition, or that the software was basic in comparison to the pricey competitors. In 2020, that’s not the case. There’s plenty of free software on the market that’s the tool of choice for many.
Sure, the more expensive options will likely retain more significant features, as well as process operations quicker, but that’s not to say the free software is obsolete. As there are now multiple offerings for free software across all categories, we’re going to focus on what can be considered the best free option in each area.
Editing — DaVinci Resolve
Several years ago, you might have only known DaVinci Resolve as the powerful grading software used by professional colorists. However, year by year, Blackmagic has slowly integrated several features to make the software a fully-functional post-production powerhouse — sound mixing, color grading, and of course, editing.
Usually, when editing software has a free version along with a paid version, the free features are minimal, the best features are watermarked, or your project length is limited to just a few minutes. This is not the case with DaVinci Resolve. Many of the features tucked away behind the studio version paywall are likely only to be used for professional delivery, or are features only used by larger files (6K to 8K). Admittedly, there are a few OFX plugins that aren’t available in the free version. But again, I doubt a new editor would have use for them.
I have a tutorial series on PremiumBeat that’ll take you from start to finish and get you up-to-date with the basics in just under an hour.
Premiere Pro Rush
Long gone are the days where all aspects of post-production were solely committed to the desktop computer. You can now shoot, edit, and deliver on your phone with Adobe Premiere Pro Rush.
Think of Rush as a simple version of Premiere Pro. It’s the same program, just without the clutter. The phone UI offers basic editing inputs, such as arranging video, audio, and graphics, by dragging and dropping. And, like the desktop version, you can modify the sound, add basic color correction, motion graphics, transitions, and voice-overs.
To make the process easier on a smaller device, it also has several automated features, such as a one-click auto-duck audio feature that adjusts the volume of the backing track when recording voice-overs. Also, all trims are ripple trims, which prevents you from having to delete open space. This is ideal if you’re editing on an iPhone with a small screen.
However — and it’s a big HOWEVER — the free version is limited to three exports. It’s not ideal for a long-term free solution. Therefore, I’d only recommend this for specific projects, such as travel videos, before moving on to Resolve.
Audio — Audacity
Since 2017, Blackmagic has integrated Fairlight within DaVinci Resolve. From a built-in automated dialogue replacement tool to an abundance of effects — such as cross-platform reverb, de-esser, hum removal, and many more stereo and vocal plugins — the page is a fit for a purpose professional audio mixer. And, I’d be hard-pressed not to recommend Fairlight if you’ve already got Resolve installed. However, if you need a less GPU-intensive software, and something that looks less like the operation controls to a spacecraft, you should check out Audacity.
Initially released in 1999, Audacity is an open-source, free to download audio editor and recording application.
When looking at the UI of the software, it certainly feels like it hasn’t been updated much since 1999, but its minimalist approach to its interface should not be snickered at. From direct mic to computer recording to post multi-track audio editing, the software does a lot more than it should for being free. Likewise, there’s a host of effects built-in that can rival the likes of Adobe Audition.
One thing to note is that the software is destructive. This means that if you import an audio file, remove the start, and apply an echo, then save your progress and close the software, when you start the project again, you’d be unable to revert the audio track back to its original state.
Blender — 3D Modeling
I only try to recommend software and assets that I have used so I can give you a personal recommendation. I’ve had Blender on my desktop for several years, and I’ve opened it just a few times. I can’t say that I’ve used the software properly, because in truth, I’m not a 3D guy and probably never will be. However, the key takeaway from that sentence is that I can say I’ve opened Blender because 3D software doesn’t come cheap. A perpetual license of Cinema 4D can cost you $3,499, and AutoDesk’s 3D can be just as expensive after a few years. Blender, on the other hand, is free.
Blender is a free, open-source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline — modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.
And, of course, just like every other aspect, tutorials are abundant for Blender on YouTube. Though, there’s maybe no voice more significant in the Blender community than Blender Guru.
Production — Studio Binder
Studio Binder is an incredibly robust resource for writing a screenplay, then taking that script and navigating the planning aspects of the entire production. Take the script and effortlessly create production calendars, shooting scripts, shot lists, and call sheets, as well as managing locations, all under the same roof. It’s cloud-based, which makes it easy to collaborate with your team. While there are paid subscriptions for Studio Binder, you can work on one project at a time in the app for free.
In the video below, PremiumBeat’s Jason Boone highlights the script writing feature of Studio Binder and discusses the theory behind creating a screenplay.
If you already have your screenplay, shot list, and other pre-production materials in hand and just need to create a call sheet, I love this fantastic template from Simplecallsheet.com. It’s completely web-based. You can fill in the necessary information and effortlessly download a .pdf, all from one single location.
Production — Scriptation
Scriptation is a free iOS and Windows app that’ll allow you to adjust and mark up scripts using a wide range of annotation tools. You can then transfer the notes into subsequent revisions of the text.
Due to the nature of this app, it does seem better served for larger professional sets. But, if you’re working on a student project where multiple hands are looking at the script, the app could be a great addition to keep the production moving smoothly.
Streaming — OBS
For obvious reasons, streaming has become incredibly popular over the last several weeks. While not related to filmmaking in the way of DaVinci Resolve and Studio Binder, it’d be unruly to leave it out in a list of free creative software.
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) is a high-performance real-time video and audio capturing mixing software. You can create streams made up of multiple sources, whether that is your webcam, BMPCC 4K, desktop capture, images, and text.
Filmmaking assets are a dime a dozen. With so many free assets being given away, it can be a challenge to know what to store on your hard drive. Let’s break down some of the better options on the web.
After Effects Plugins and Scripts
Are you a budding After Effects whiz? After Effects in its default installation is already a powerful tool for creating professional motion graphics and even big screen-worthy visual effects. The library of built-in effects and animations continues to grow each year, and it’s never been an easier time to learn the software with the abundance of tutorials online.
However, one of the core components of After Effects is the usability of installing scripts, presets, and plugins, engineered by developers outside of Adobe. Many of these plugins can come at a cost (some quite steep). But there are also a few that are free — or at the very least, name your price — most of which you can find on aescripts.
To get you started, I recommend:
While this is a free list, I’d always suggest giving a small gesture to the publishers.
PremiumBeat’s Free Week — Animations
For one week in October, PremiumBeat runs a free week campaign with new assets offered throughout the week. The packs range from transitions, overlays, lower thirds, animations, and even sound effects.
To top it all off, you can still download content from previous years. There’s no expiration date on the download links.
The assets are generally rendered as an RGP + Alpha file. That means you can take the animation and place it directly onto your timeline or composition, without having to remove the background. This is perfect if you’re in a pinch for time and need something quick but professional.
- 80+ Cinematic Atmospheres
- 51+ Accent Animations
- 13 Textured Motion Graphics
- 21 Hand-Painted Motion Graphics
Video Copilot — Pre-rendered Graphics
Andrew Kramer of Video Copilot stoked the creative fires for many current working filmmakers and motion graphic artists. With an onslaught of what could be considered the first free online tutorial library, Video Copilot taught many how to add set extensions, turn your face into a ghoulish monster, and create 3D planets with no additional After Effects tool.
Throughout the years of their brand’s growth, you’d also often get a folder of free assets as a gift. They were usually pre-rendered alpha files to add to your footage, but they could also range from Photoshop textures to sound effects.
The number of tutorials, along with the freebies, have declined over the last decade due to Andrew becoming a prominent VFX artist within Hollywood itself. But, every so often, we’re still treated to free assets. Most recently, we Video Copilot gifted us with a slime VFX pack. This pack features twenty-five high-quality 2K pre-rendered slime clips that you can add to your footage.
VashiVisuals — Miscellaneous Editing Tools
VashiVisuals is the blog of professional editor Vashi Nedomansky, ACE. Not only is his Twitter feed a visual feast of inspiration and behind-the-scenes information rarely seen elsewhere, but his blog is a treasure trove of filmmaking assets.
However, his assets are not the typical run-of-the-mill freebies you’d usually find on other blogs. Instead, you’ll find free assets such as a PremierePro Blockbuster timeline template — a template for a timeline structured around what you’d find on a blockbuster film. Or, you can discover Deadpool Premiere Pro presets to give your footage handheld shake that was interpreted from a real camera operator and not digitally created.
Rocketstock — VFX Overlays
Rocketstock is undoubtedly a hub for amazing After Effects Templates and video layering elements, but did you know they also have a freebies section on their site? One of the most useful free packs you can get on Rocketstock is, without a doubt, the Volumetric Light and Dust Overlays. You can use them in any NLE, and they’re so useful when trying to add some extra texture to a bland shot. Check out this preview:
More Rocketstock goodies:
Obligatory Mention — Shutterstock
And, of course, the blog here at Shutterstock. The blog houses a ton of high-quality, free design elements. While some of them are not specific to video, they still come in handy. For example, these free flower images are excellent for layering in graphic design, but you can also use them for designing motion graphics.
There are so many more wonderful free design elements — from backgrounds to business card templates — all super useful in the filmmaking and video world. To grab more exclusive free design elements from Shutterstock, visit the free downloads page of the blog.
Animography — Animated Typeface
Animography is an online asset store for elaborative, but reasonably priced, animated typography. Their tools are the perfect addition to exalt your video production value. And, of course, the reason why they exist in this list is that there are a few free animated typefaces available.
In the way of typefaces, no editor or motion graphics artist’s toolkit is complete without a robust font library. We’ve all heard of Dafont and Font Squirrel, but are you aware of Google Fonts? This search tools make it super simple to get to the exact font you have in mind, plus the download process is seamless. If you’re new to the free custom font world, check out these resources for installing fonts on your Mac or Windows PC.
Music — PremiumBeat
Finding the right music track for your project is an art form. The right piece of music can elevate your project to the next level, and the wrong piece of music can leave your audience feeling like something was off. Finding music that is free and also good is on a different level of difficulty altogether. Thankfully, PremiumBeat recently introduced a selection of free music tracks you can download and use for your projects at your heart’s content.
You can find the free tracks here.
Freesound.Org is one of the oldest free resources on the web. Launched in 2005, the website now has more than 400,000 sounds and sound effects that you can download by simply creating a user account.
If you want to build a library of free sound effects at professional quality, make sure you keep your eyes peeled to our blog, as we’re always tending free giveaways. We recently gave away 50+ cooking sound effects, which you can find here.
Filmmaking is an expensive passion to follow, but that doesn’t mean you have to pull out the credit card at every stop. Fortunately, this detailed list gives you an influx of ideas and elements, all while saving you money.
Cover image via Fer Gregory.
Want even more freebies and filmmaking insight? Check these out.