The Ultimate Guide to Student Filming and Film Production

The Ultimate Guide to Student Filming and Film Production

When you're starting out as a film student, the world is your oyster. You're enthusiastic, excited and ready to create – and the best way to keep that enthusiasm alive is to keep learning new things, filming, and, finding new ways of doing old things.

We believe that mentors as well as knowledge-bases are the best resource to learn from, whether you're a beginner or experienced filmmaker. It's always beneficial to learn from someone else's experiences, especially if they've gone through and done a lot. As a student, you're just starting out – and you can benefit greatly from any well intentioned guidance given to you in the field of filming.

Student films make up around 10% of our bookings here at Giggster. For that reason, we decided to write this detailed piece on student filming – tips, advice and stories from our team's vast experience all of which are aimed at enabling student filmmakers to find perfect locations and produce their projects, over the last 3 years.

Table of Contents

  1. The Secrets to Student Filming
  2. Locations
  3. Film Permits
  4. Gear Rentals
  5. Important Factors That Could Affect Your Film
  6. BONUS: Succeeding At School – The Importance of Collaborations

The Secrets to Student Filming

1) Shorter Projects Can Work In Your Favour

Today, short content is becoming incredibly popular to produce as well as to consume. With the prevalence of mobile video today, shorter content is more easily shareable and more easily consumable – making sure that your film gets as many eyes on it as possible.

Even though The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits", it might be more preferable if you keep your film to around 10 minutes.

Moreover, a short short film will challenge you to boil down your plot and characters to only what's necessary – furthering your skills as a writer and filmmaker. A lot of times the most captivating short films are the ones that are crisp and clear in their execution.

Lastly, short short films, by virtue of them being smaller projects, cost lesser than feature length or longer-form short films. Aside from their lower monetary cost, creating a short film allows you to tune your skills in networking and asking for favours as well!

Who knows, your next short could be like WHIPLASH and expand to become the next Oscar-winning feature.

2) Dialogue ≠ Information

In a lot of student films, there is dialogue that is just repeating or saying out loud what the character is about to do. "I'm going shopping." – and then the character is seen going shopping – this is quite unnecessary and is seen in many student films.

Dialogue does not serve the purpose of delivering information, it serves the purpose of informing the viewers of the character. Information can be delivered by visual means – the character being seen going shopping is enough to inform the viewers that he/she has indeed gone shopping.

To have greater impact, you can leave the dialogue, and instead work on what's visible on the screen – characters' actions, their emotions, and their expressions.

3) Networking is Key

While you're in film school to learn how to make films, don't miss out on the opportunity to network with fellow students, professors as well as alumni. You never know which one of your mates will become the next producer for The Verge or the next award-winning feature filmmaker.

Make sure that you're chatting with your classmates at least enough to add them on LinkedIn (or Instagram, even) – you never know who reaches where, and when that connection can become handy in the future. This holds true especially even for students in your film classes who are not film majors – they might end up at media companies in other positions that may prove to make valuable connections.

4) You Can Make a Niche Film

This is the one time in your film career that you're not bound by the pressure to sell tickets, so you can really feel free to make any type of film you want, to any kind of audience.

It's the perfect time to truly explore your creativity, your desires and your motivations without anyone else telling you what you can or cannot make a film about. You don't have to worry about marketing or about impressing any studio head – you truly have the freedom to make what you want.

5) Good Locations Don't Have To Be Expensive

There are usually two expensive components to a film shoot – the gear and the locations.

Screenshot from our new student landing page

Thankfully, the latter does not always have to be expensive. You can use Giggster's new student landing page to quickly see our top student-filming locations, and even do a quick search by budget – so that you only see locations that you can afford.You can even find free locations to shoot at – it's a bit more work, but it's totally possible.

And if gear is what you're looking for, simply follow the link in the image below to see our deals and pick the package that you feel best suits your needs.

Rent Film and Photography Equipment for Your Shoot Using Giggster

6) You Can Show Off

Especially if your project is a short film, perhaps under 10 minutes, it is much more doable to spend lots of effort on every single shot and sequence. You can incorporate more VFX, top-notch cinematography, and generally put in more into each shot since there are a limited number of them.

This will ensure that you impress the hell out of anyone that's watching your film, making it more impactful and hard-hitting.

7) Film Permits for Students Are Really Cheap

You still need a permit for student films. However, you're in luck: FilmLA offers significantly cheaper student permits – starting at $26 for a simple permit. You'll however need a proof of student status as well as a letter from your instructor stating that the project is for educational, non-commercial use.

man writing on paper
Film permits for students start at $26 for a simple permit.

FilmLA has significant staff resources to help students and other first-time filmmakers with permit-related challenges – they're truly there to help you out, and you should make sure you utilize all of their resources to your advantage! They even offer free help from their Production Planning department if you're a student working on your senior thesis or any other more involved project.

You can read more about the permitting process here.

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Location Scouting Explained

One of the biggest problems that first time independent filmmakers face during production is not being able to find suitable locations to film their projects. While it would be awesome to build custom-made sets for every project you want to shoot, we know it's not always possible.

Location scouting is one of the most important parts of the pre-production stage of filmmaking and photography. It involves searching for suitable places to conduct shooting, outside of the studio.

But what does 'suitability' mean? A location can be considered 'suitable' if it follows the overall sense of aesthetic that the project demands, is within the location budget allocated for the project, is logistically feasible – i.e. not too far away to travel for cast and crew, catering, and other members of the team, is technically feasible – i.e. availability of power outlets or generators, is workable from the perspective of lighting and sound, is given a 'go-ahead' by neighbours, local government and law enforcement — the list can go on.

In short, a location must: look right for the story; have cooperation from the owner for filming; be feasible logistically.

Location scouting typically involved two kinds of scouts: a location scout and afterwards a tech scout.

Location Scout

During a location scout, you're essentially going to different places and seeing which ones fit your script and your requirements the best while also factoring in where have the most creative potential and opportunities.

Depending on the size of your production, this trip can be just you alone, or could include your director, a location manager, the DP, the production designer, as well as your sound engineer.

Each member of your team would be studying the location from their own perspective.

This scout is extremely important as it gives you an understanding of the vibe and feel of a location, while also having a chance to ask any and all questions that you may have for the property owner or representative. You should ask all your questions during this scout, and it's best to not leave anything to a surprise on the day of the shoot.

Tech Scout

The tech scout is like a second date. This is when you gain a much deeper understanding of a location that you've shortlisted. This scout involves your DP, Gaffer, Grip, Sound Recordist and the AD if available.

This scout is also typically much longer than a location scout – sometimes lasting multiple hours.

During the tech scout, each of your team members gains a deeper understanding of the location from their perspective – the grip/electric crew will look over the power availability and distribution, staging and storing equipment, dealing with creaky floorboards and/or uneven flooring. The sound recordist will understand the environment and note down any potential clashes or disturbances. The AD will plan for the shoot day. You get the drift. You may not always have the privilege of conducting two separate scouts, and in many cases you'll have to combine both scouts into one.

That said, this is but a quick rundown. If you'd like to know more about the scouting process, please follow this link to view our Ultimate Guide to Location Scouting.

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Can I Get Free Locations?

As platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Twitch mature, the competition to stand out amongst their community of creators is increasing.

While a few years ago an iPhone and a blank wall may have provided sufficient production value, amateur online storytellers are becoming increasingly more professional.

Upgrading camera and audio equipment is a popular first step. But after that, one of the best ways to improve production quality is to find and film at cool and interesting filming locations. Today, digital creators are taking their cameras outside and shooting in the real world as opposed to in their bedrooms or living rooms.

If you live in a major US city, paying for a filming location on websites like Giggster is a great way to source a cool space at an affordable rate. Our student landing page is populated with low-budget, student-friendly film location rentals as well, perfect for beginners and student filmmakers.

However, sometimes you really just need a place to film for the sweet, sweet price of $0.

5 Tips for Finding Free Places to Film

Traditional filming location agencies exist in every large American city. However, since they cater to big-budget fashion and feature productions (with prices starting around $3,000/day), they are generally a poor fit for self-funded media creators whose typical location budget is under $1000. Even on sites like Giggster, which are built for filming, location budgets are in the $100 to $1000 range.

For creators without a C-note to spare, we've compiled this list of 5 strategies to wrangle locations with zero payment.

  1. Visit Free Creator Studio Spaces to Shoot Video
  2. Find Low-Risk and Low-Traffic Areas to Film
  3. Film For Free in The Great Outdoors
  4. Shoot Your Movie in Middle America (or Mexico)
  5. Dress Up As A Tourist

That said, to know more about free locations, do go through our complete article on how to find free film locations for rent.

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All About Film Permits

You have your story, your cast, your locations... (if you don't, you may want to see our list for the 10 most affordable homes to shoot in LA) but wait – what's that you hear about a film permit? Do you need one? How much does it cost? How long would it take to receive one?

Truth be told, permits can be tricky to think about, and may sometimes take longer than expected. It's important that you think about the permitting logistics for the locations that you're scouting, since different cities and areas of cities have different rules, timelines and deadlines when it comes to permits.

What is a film permit?

A film (or stills) permit allows you to legally carry out your production in the region that gave the permit. A permit is always issued prior to the shooting, after submitting details about the shoot including locations, dates, times, equipment, cast and crew, use of special effects, pyrotechnics, actions and stunts.

It is usually the responsibility of the location manager of the shoot to obtain a permit, and every city and state has an office that handles permitting. In Los Angeles, film permitting is handled by a non-profit organisation called FilmLA.

When do I need a film permit?

In short, if your production is a commercial one, intended for profit and sale – whether it is stills, motion or digital, for print, TV, theatres or even the Internet, you are required to obtain a permit prior to beginning shooting.

In many cases, even if your project is for non-profit or educational filming, you may still require a film permit – although this depends on the city you want to shoot in. For example, the City of Santa Monica requires you to have a permit even for non-profit filming, so does the City of Orange. I'd advise you to check on this with the local government for the city you want to shoot in.

If your project has no commercial value – it's something that you're shooting for your own (and friends') enjoyment without any large, professional equipment, you probably don't need a permit.

Do I need a film permit if I'm a student?

You still need a permit for student films. However, you're in luck: FilmLA offers significantly cheaper student permits – starting at $26 for a simple permit. You'll however need a proof of student status as well as a letter from your instructor stating that the project is for educational, non-commercial use.

FilmLA has significant staff resources to help students and other first-time filmmakers with permit-related challenges – they're truly there to help you out, and you should make sure you utilize all of their resources to your advantage! They even offer free help from their Production Planning department if you're a student working on your senior thesis or any other more involved project.

Do I need a film permit for YouTube?

This is a tricky one. Basically, if your intention is to upload it to YouTube (or anywhere else for that matter) for personal, non-monetized use and sharing, you probably don't need a permit. If you are monetizing your video and earning significant ad revenue from it, it's best to get a permit.

How much will a film permit cost?

The cost of your film permit will vary depending on the exact location(s) you want to film in, but the basic application fee is $685 for a motion permit and $65 for a stills permit. There are fees on top of that which again will vary – this is just to give you a ballpark figure.

However, as mentioned earlier, if you're a student it will cost you far lesser. :-)

How do I obtain a film permit?

In Los Angeles, the process is handled by FilmLA, a not-for-profit organisation. The following is a rough outline of the steps to be followed:

  1. Before you finalise your location, give FilmLA a call to discuss about your location and intended filming plans. They can help guide you through permit requirements, as well as speak to you about the specific area/location you're interested to shoot in.
  2. Before you can apply for your permit, you will be required to furnish proof of liability insurance. The exact requirements may vary depending on the areas you intend to film in and the activities you intend to conduct.
  3. Submit your application for the film permit with FilmLA. This is an easy process that you can do online. Do note that FilmLA may ask you for additional requirements such as a filming survey, meetings, additional permits, utilizing a FilmLA monitor in sensitive areas, or others.
  4. FilmLA will then distribute official "Notices for Filming" to all residences and business in the proximity of your location, in order to inform them about when you're filming, activities that you're filming, and contact details.
  5. Pay for your permit – you can pay online or offline, using a variety of methods. This is when you get your finalized film permit that allows you to begin filming.

How long would the film permit take to get processed?

You need a minimum of 3 days to get a permit approved. The reason for this is that the LAPD has to see and approve every permit application. However, other delays can always pop up, and we recommend that you budget enough time for this. There you go – our rough guide to getting a film permit in the City of Los Angeles. If you're still in the beginning stage of your production planning process and are looking for locations, have can scourge through our expansive location rentals available for film and photo rentals on Giggster! You'll be able to find thousands of filming locations in LA, SF, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.

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Gear Rentals

Don't Do These Things With Rented Gear

We get it – as a filmmaker you're often spread out thin, overworked, underpaid, and tired. It's quite possible that you're not going to be on top of your game all the time, and as a result you're bound to make some mistakes.

Most of the time, mistakes are just mistakes, and you own up to them, learn from them, and move on. However, when you're working with rental gear, mistakes made on that gear can sometimes prove to be expensive. Sometimes, carelessness with film equipment has cost some people their career and livelihood – don't let that be you!

To avoid those mistakes, here are five things you should absolutely never do when working with rental gear:

  1. Not Checking The Equipment With The Team
  2. Not Insuring Your Shoot
  3. Being Careless With The Rented Equipment
  4. Taking Shortcuts During Load-In and Load-Out
  5. Not Double Checking All The Power Outlets

That said, you can rent your equipment on Giggster itself.

Rent Film and Photography Equipment for Your Shoot Using Giggster

In case you'd like to see more camera and equipment rental options, please follow this link to view our list of the 10 best places to rent film equipment from in Los Angeles.

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Important Factors That Could Affect Your Film

1) Not Obtaining Film Permits

Getting the appropriate permits for your film is a very important aspect of the pre-production process of your student project. While you can shoot without a permit (and hope you don't get caught), we highly recommend you obtaining one.

people standing near vehicles
While you can film unpermitted, the risks are way too high. We don't recommend it.

The risks of not having a permit are just too many, and too high:

  1. Your shoot can get completely shut down and/or your equipment confiscated, especially if you're caught filming un-permitted in a public area.
  2. You can be fined.
  3. You can cause your location host to get temporarily or permanently banned from hosting any further shoots on their property.
  4. Even if you don't get caught, if your film turns out to be very successful and your budget is audited, and it is revealed that your $15,000 budget had $0 allocated for permits, it can cause you problems in the future.

That said, some permits can be obtained quickly, other may take a lot of time, depending on the area or region you plan to shoot in. For this reason, it's important to do careful research on permitting timelines and plan in advance. As a student, you can obtain a film permit fairly cheaply – student film permits in LA start at $26, and here are some resources on the film permit process you should go through before you get into location scouting:

a. Film Permits, the rules, pricing and when you need one in LA

b. FilmLA's guidelines and steps to follow to obtain film permits for student filmmakers

2) Improper/Lack Of Production Insurance

On a shoot, especially a beginner shoot, things can happen. Things that you didn't anticipate. Broken bulbs, scratched furniture, stained driveways (these are the worst!) – these can rack up really high bills that you definitely don't want to pay out of pocket for.

As a film student, it's quite likely that production insurance will be provided by your school. If you're not a film student, or you've just graduated, or for any reason insurance is not provided by your school, you definitely want to make sure that you're covered by some sort of insurance coverage.

debris inside room
No one ever intends for there to be damage, but it happens anyway.

Most property owners will demand proof of insurance before letting you on their property, and for good reason. At Giggster, we've seen all kinds of damage claims for shoots – student or otherwise – and you don't want to be in a position where you're expected to pay $1000 for damages that you didn't anticipate would happen.

Get insurance, folks!

You can consider the following for your insurance needs:

a. Event Helper

b. Athos Insurance

3) Not Making a Good Impression During Scouting

As a student production, it is likely that you will face some amount of resistance when scouting for your filming locations. Property owners are generally wary of handing over access to their million-dollar homes to first-time filmmakers.

For this reason, you should always try and make a great first impression when you go and visit someone's home for the first time to scout. Make sure that you're expressing your responsibility and sensitivity to possible issues. Ask as many questions as you can, and clear all of your doubts.

You can also follow this link to view our ultimate guide to location scouting which will give you all the tips and steps you need to follow while performing a location scout.

4) Bad Budgeting

Budgeting is one of the most important aspects of your pre-production. You should make sure to not only budget for all the things you know you'll be paying for (such as your cast, crew and locations), but also for incidentals such as damages and last-minute expenses.

You never know what can come up – unexpected delays that cause you to require overtime, unexpected damages at your location rental, your crew requiring a little bit more food than expected – you never know!

It's best to not blow through your budget during your pre-production, or even through your production. Always leave some of your budget remaining for emergencies and incidentals.

5) Not Getting Proper Signed Releases

You need to make sure that whoever appears in your film, has signed a release agreeing to appear in your film. In essence, you can't waltz into Santa Monica and start shooting – you need to make sure that every single pedestrian that appears on camera has signed a release.

two blue cruiser bicycles on graffiti wall
Just because you see cool artwork at your location, don't assume that you're allowed to use it in your production!

A more unconventional situation regarding releases arises when you have copyrighted artwork in your film location. You need to make sure that all the art in the background of your film location is OK to appear on film, and it's your responsibility to ensure this and obtain the release from the property owner/manager.

While you might get away with it initially, if your film becomes more successful in the future, the lack of releases can really affect you by inviting the possibility of lawsuits.

6) Not Properly Planning for Traffic and Parking

Don't assume that there will be parking spots for your entire cast and crew on-site, especially if you haven't enquired about this from your location manager/host beforehand. Either make sure that there is enough parking for everyone on-site, or coordinate access to a large parking lot ahead of time.

At the same time, make sure that you understand the traffic situation, and account for it in your shoot schedule. You can use a tool like Google Maps to estimate travel times with high accuracy. If you start rolling an hour late because your DP got stuck in traffic and had to park a mile away due to lack of a parking spot, it can mess up your entire production schedule, invite extra over-time fees, and cause unnecessary stress to everyone involved.

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Collaborating Your Way To Success

You've taken the plunge and you've just started your new semester at film school, ready to rock your career in the film industry and make it big in Hollywood!

While school is great to set you up with a solid base in terms of skills and provide a platform to start developing your professional network, simply attending class and putting in the minimum for your film projects isn't going to cut it when it comes to developing real world value.

At Giggster, we had the opportunity to chat with Manahar Kumar, an MFA Film & TV student at Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta. Manahar has been at SCAD for the last 2 years now and he's won numerous awards including a Student Emmy Award for his short film Kya Dekh Raha Hai? (What Are You Looking At?) in 2018.

According to Manahar, collaborations are key to succeeding at film school.

  1. Collaborate and Work in Your Classmates' Shoots
  2. Learn How To Network and Find Collaborators
  3. Utilize Your Professors and Their Connections

Learn how to work on each of the above points by reading the entire article on the importance of collaborating especially at film school.

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There you go, folks. We truly hope that this detailed guide helps you in your student filming endeavors – and if you still have any questions, please feel free to write to and we'll be happy to answer your questions for you.

Now go out and start filming. We, for one, can't wait to see what you make!

Find and rent student friendly film and photo locations on Giggster.