In Make Film History, you read about moments when great filmmakers made revolutionary advances. On this website, you learn by doing as they did. You learn the history of the movies by actually redoing the history of movies. You rework footage by great filmmakers or make rudimentary movies of your own.
Buy the book. Read it. Learn it. Do it. It’s études for the movies. You learn what makes a great movie. You learn how the magic started and where it’s going.
1. Follow these steps.
• Read a chapter in Make Film History. Each focuses on a great filmmaker in the act of transforming movies. No chapter takes longer to read than an old-fashioned two-reeler movie (roughly 20-24 minutes). At the end of every chapter is a filmmaking exercise—many offer two—where you work out for yourself whatever the filmmaker at the center of the chapter was wrestling with.
• View the film clip or clips for that chapter on this website. The clips demonstrate what you just read about. The clips set before your eyes—from the filmmaker’s point of view—what the challenge was…  and is.
• Download the exercise from the website...and do it. There's an exercise for every chapter, and some chapters offer several. Work through the exercise using your computer's digital editing software. Repeat the exercise as many times as you like. Play with it every which way. Run it double speed and slow motion. Filter it so that it looks like a movie made on Mars or a hundred years ago. Try anything.
Each exercise is a scale you practice before you make your masterpiece. When you’re satisfied, you can advance your skills by making another similar movie of your own invention. The book offers numerous suggestions.
The payoff to this reading, viewing, and making is huge. When you get to the end, you’ll have learned how movies developed from 1880 to 2014. You’ll have learned and practiced the rudiments of making movies. You’ll start seeing and hearing as filmmakers do. You may find yourself reading those names at the end of a movie—writer, producer, associate music producer, color timer, and telecine operator. You may start envisioning your name among them. You’ll have learned movie history the way the great filmmakers learned it—by making it.
2. What equipment you need.
If you elect to try the exercises, you need only the media-making software pre-installed on your laptop computer or your desktop computer. iMovie is perfect for Macintosh. Movie Maker or Live Movie Maker works for Windows. Advanced editing packages like Final Cut Pro X or Avid Studio (for Windows) are fine if you’re already comfortable using them. The exercises work in almost any computer operating system. Whatever software you use, you focus on basic principles, not advanced techniques. For a couple of exercises, you many find a digital camera or a cell phone camera helpful.
You don’t need anything more to work through Make Film History. For that matter, you don’t need more to make engaging movies. “You can basically edit, color, mix and score an entire film on a laptop computer,” says Scott Franklin, who produced Black Swan (2010). In 1995, filmmaker David Lynch made a continuous take, fifty-five second movie, Premonition Following an Evil Deed, employing nothing but the hand-cranked camera the Lumière brothers used to shoot their first movie in 1895. You need an inquisitive mind, a curiosity about how movies evolved, and a willingness to fool with things. The one essential need is a love of the movies.
3. What this book explains about movies.
If you think of the history of movies as itself a movie, Make Film History is a series of freeze frames from the film. We advance the projector, speed through the reel, then stop at turning points when something especially crucial happened:  How motion stirred in still pictures. How sound came into movies. How editors learned to structure action. How the voice-over turned movies into Möbius strips that, ever twisting, turn outward while turning inward. This book focuses on turning points in the history of movies.
4. How to use this book as a text for a class in movie history or movie viewing.
Working with peers or a teacher brings other eyes and ears to your work, and the sharing process demonstrates how most filmmakers work. With friends, with peers, or in a class with a teacher, you can collaborate in numerous ways. You can save an exercise—finished, unfinished, or somewhere in between—on a web-based file sharing service (such as Dropbox) where everyone in the group accesses it. There everyone can change it, or complete it in stages. Create alternate versions. Create a single master file that everyone, in sequence, changes. Give everyone a time period—say, twenty minutes—to ring a change, add a feature or a title or a sound. Run a “virtual” film festival there, awarding prizes. Review. Talk about everybody’s movie. Redo. Discuss. Redo the redo. One movie grows out of another.
You can create a private YouTube channel for all members of the group. You can set up a group blog, a Facebook page, or a Google+ circle for posting video exercises and exchanging feedback comments. You can mix and match all of the above.
5. How to use this book as a self-paced guide to the history of movies and to movie making.
Proceed at a pace that suits you. Read the text. Nothing requires weekly meeting in a room. Try the “You Did It Then” exercises. Then move on to “You Do It Now” exercises, shooting original footage with your point-and-shoot or your DSLR camera. Post your work to YouTube or Vimeo or elsewhere where videophiles gather. Join a group. Share, upload, and comment. Create your own group. If you do eventually feel the desire to work intensively with others, hundreds of schools, colleges, and educational programs offer programs in film making or courses in appreciating movies, both of which Make Film History teach you.
You can create your own exercises even without shooting a foot. You can mash up public domain movie footage available, among other places, at the Internet Archive.
The Internet Archive moving image library now contains hundreds of thousands of items, including thousands of full length and short feature movies. Footage for your next filmmaking exercise may be in there somewhere. No one’s home in the house of alone anymore.
I wrote this book to inspire you to find your inner filmmaker. You can reach me at
Robert Gerst