Tips for Wanna-Be Filmmakers

By WARREN MILLER for the Flathead Beacon

Last night at dinner, the young man sitting next to me had two good questions. The first was from a friend of his who wanted to be a full-time videographer and he wanted me to give him some advice on how to get started. I asked him all of the usual questions, and, of course, all his friend wanted was to make ski videos and be popular in the ski world and be able to ski whenever and wherever he wanted.

My answer was simple. If he liked to ski that much he should go skiing and maybe become a ski instructor. He could teach all winter and spend his hard-earned money on camera equipment.

His young friend had a very major problem, however. He had quit high school when he was a senior and never went back. I suggested that he might have some problems to overcome on his career path. Then he asked, “When was the last time you bought a lift ticket?” I had to give him an honest but long answer:

“I think it was in November of 1946 when I started making 8mm ski movies at Alta. I soon learned to ask for a trade-off for a free ticket by offering to show Alta when I got back to Southern California. Once I started shooting 16mm film I would expose from five to as many as 20 rolls of film in a day. At $11 a roll I was spending a lot more money on film than on a $5 or $10 lift ticket. I also felt that any money I could save on things such as lift tickets or sleeping accommodations, I would spend making the film better.”

There is an often-told tale that is not very nice about filmmakers. The men and women who can’t make a living making movies make a living teaching other people how to make movies. I personally think that they would rather have the regular paycheck than the sporadic one of a filmmaker. I was very lucky because I chose the subject of skiing to make movies when not very many people had ever even seen a ski resort.

There are, however, some very important subjects to study that can make you a better filmmaker. The first is arithmetic, because everything connected to the production of a movie revolves around numbers such as travel expenses, cost of the crew, room and board camera rental, editorial costs, musical score, actors and actresses and so on. The next important subject is artistic composition.

I could assign a 100 cameramen to photograph something as simple as a square room and I will have a 100 different versions of that room. The third subject you should study is psychology. Most often the object of your film is to change people’s minds about the subject you are producing the movie about. You need to know what makes a person change their mind and you are the guy who has to do it.

For example, I can film a skier so that you are inspired to try and take up the sport or I can film a skier on a vertical sheet of ice in Chamonix and make it look so dangerous you would never even want to try to learn how to do something that dangerous.

If you are looking for a profession that has no boundaries, think about filmmaking. Since 1950, someone with my name on his or her heavy rucksack full of camera gear has documented almost every place in the world where there is enough snow on the ground to ski. All I ever wanted to do was to share on film what I always had the privilege of viewing firsthand.

If I had to do it all over again, I know I would work harder in high school and maybe finish my filmmaking class at USC. Instead, I dropped out of college. Luckily I had already spent my four years in the Navy so I bought a small trailer and went skiing for the rest of my life. Why not?