Movie-camera users are photographers, too. So for a change from talking about still photography, let's focus on techniques to improve basic filmmaking.
Use fresh batteries in your movie camera. Old or used batteries can cause incorrect film exposure, distorted sound and even jammed film -- none of which contributes to topnotch films.
Whenever panning (moving the camera from side to side) or tilting (moving camera up and down), do so s-l-o-w-l-y. Fast motion will only make your audience reel from dizziness. A helpful panning tip: Point your feet in the direction you hope to end your panning. Begin the shot with your body turned and unwind like a slowly unwinding spring as you pan. This is more comfortable and effective than ending your shot with your body twisted. i
Always pre-focus your camera with the zoom lens set to its telephoto closeup position. In this way, you'll end up with maximum sharpness. After you've set your focus, you can zoom back out to whatever lens setting you wish. If you focus in the wide-angle mode, chances of being out of focus as you zoom up to telephoto are greatly increased.
A zoom lens isn't designed to create motion, so don't use the zoom as though you were playing a trombone. The surest sign of an amateur filmmaker with a new zoom lens is zoomitis, zooming in and out, sometimes several times during a single scene. Instead, use telephoto shots for accents or to single out your subject. At the opposite end of the spectrum, wide-angle shots are ideal for capturing groups of people or for wide scenic settings.
If you intend to shoot outdoors in bright light, set your lens to 15 feet and forget about focusing for all subjects from six feet to infinity. Depth-of-field will take care of the rest -- but only in bright light.
Framing is the position of the subject in the viewfinder. Think if the finder as divided by two horizontal and two vertical lines (like a tic-tac-toe grid). Then place the subject at the intersection of two of the lines. If you're shooting a beach scene and the beach is important, show two-thirds beach while indicating what the filmmaker considers the most important part of the scene.
An annoying jump cut occurs when you start and stop the film on the same subject. The picture seems to jump from one scene to another instead of appearing unified, smooth and connected. You can avoid this by changing the camera angle each time you begin shooting. You can also change the framing of your subject with the zoom lens between scenes. By varying the angle and the zoom, you can eliminate jump cuts without being tedious.
If your camera's lens features a macro setting, use it to film titles. It's a good way of introducing your films. Titles remind you of when and where you shot the movie. When on vacation, use street signs, billboards, postcards and such as titles. For special events, try filming a cake (with Happy Birthday written across the top, for example) or a greeting card as a title.
Don't be chintzy on film. An average scene should last between eight and 15 seconds. Much shorter or longer, and the film may be uncomfortable to watch.