It's never been cheaper or easier to make movies, but many budding amateur filmmakers are still put off by the initial expense of purchasing a good camera and audio equipment. Thankfully, there's plenty of free content available for public use if you know where to look. You can turn that raw material into creative and inventive works of cinema with a few free video editing tools, some hard work and a place to share your movie with friends and family.
Before we jump into where you can find grist for the movie-making mill, let's lay out what sort of gear you'll need to start making your own movies. You may own a PC or smartphone with basic audio and video recording capabilities, but all you really need is a computer with Internet access.
Find Free Audio And Video
You can download plenty of free multimedia content online, including audio clips for your soundtrack and full-length videos you can cut and edit as you please. The lion's share of this free content is going to come from one of two sources: the public domain or the Creative Commons. The Creative Commons website actually has an excellent search tool that lets you find works with Creative Commons licenses across a variety of different websites, including YouTube, and the Wikimedia Commons. The Creative Commons licenses allow creators to release their works for public use without giving up the other protections provided by copyright (for example, work with certain Creative Commons licenses can't be republished for profit) and as of this writing over 400 million works have been licensed under Creative Commons, so you have plenty of material to sort through.
If you want to be more specific you can also check out dedicated free media websites like the Free Music Archive, which hosts a ton of music licensed under Creative Commons. If you need shorter audio clips (explosions, screams or other sound effects) check out Freesound, an online database of sound effects created by users and freely available for use under the Creative Commons license.
If you're more of a history buff you might consider grabbing some classic images and video clips for your project. Plenty of popular websites license their images for use under Creative Commons (including Wikipedia and Wired), and chances are you're already familiar with one of the best sources for free high-quality images: Flickr.
To find the pictures you need, just start a new search on Flickr and select "Advanced Search" next to the search bar. Scroll down Flickr's Advanced Search page to find the Creative Commons search option, which allows you to filter your Flickr search to find images you can legally use in your movies. Simply check the "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" box, and be sure that your movie only employs images that are licensed for you to modify, adapt, or build upon for commercial and non-commercial purposes.
Flickr's archive also hosts some great video clips uploaded by users under a Creative Commons license, but there are better sources for finding free video assets. YouTube is a great place to find some Creative Commons video; just open the "filter" dropdown menu on any YouTube search result page, and select Creative Commons on the lower right to get a list of video clips that are free for public use. Plenty of successful amateur filmmakers have made movies using nothing but clips from YouTube, and you could be one of them.
If you're not finding what you need in the Creative Commons it may be time to start rooting through stuff in the public domain, which includes commercial works that have fallen out of copyright and are now free for public use. It takes quite a while for a commercial copyright to expire (often seventy years after the author's death in the U.S.), so if you're looking for some post-modern indie rock for your soundtrack the public domain won't be of much use. However, there are tons of great movies from the silent era and a lot of classical recordings that can be used in your personal projects.
The Internet Archive has a great selection of old photos, video and audio clips that are available for use in the public domain, but not everything stored in the Archive is free for use. Unfortunately, there's no simple way to filter your Internet Archive search results to only display works available in the public domain.
Here's a simple trick for finding media in the public domain: open the Internet Archive Advanced Search and filter your serach results to only show media published before January 1st 1923; any works published before that date have fallen into the public domain and are free to use.
Get Started With Free Video Editing Software
Once you have enough material to work with, you're going to need some robust video editing software to make your movie. While the technical process of editing video is intricate enough to demand a dedicated article, for the purposes of this guide we can point you to some great free software to help you get the job done. If you need a little help, here are some timeless video editing tips to get you started.
When it comes to free video editing software, almost every Windows user has access to Windows Movie Maker since it comes pre-installed on most Windows PCs. While Windows Movie Maker doesn't offer many flashy features, you should be able to import your video and audio clips and edit them together with ease thanks to Movie Maker's storyboard layout. Getting started is easy: you select the photos and/or videos you'd like to include in your finished product, and Movie Maker automatically arranges them into a storyboard-style layout.
Meanwhile, Mac OS users will have a slightly easier time editing their movies together with iMovie, which comes pre-installed on every Apple PC. Simply import the audio, images and video you've collected for your project into iMovie and stitch them together by dragging and dropping clips to the timeline. While your options for editing clips in iMovie are limited in when compared to a full non-linear editor like Final Cut Pro, you can still create great movies by cropping, editing and adding transitions to your media clips.
If you're a Linux user check out OpenShot, an open-source video editor that's free and (relatively) simple to use. Like most free video editors, OpenShot presents you with a timeline upon which you can arrange pictures, audio and video clips before knitting them into one cohesive film. If none of these options work for you (or you just don't want to bother downloading anything) you can always take advantage of the free YouTube Video Editor, which allows you to upload all of your video clips to YouTube and edit them together to create your masterpiece.
Publish And Share Your Video For Free
Once you've completed your movie you'll want to share it with friends and family, so head on over to the venerable YouTube or it's upstart contender Vimeo. Both websites allow you to upload your videos to their servers for free, though paid accounts are also available. Vimeo has a reputation for hosting high-quality HD films, but now that YouTube allows you to watch videos in HD there's no practical difference between the two services in terms of technical limitations.
YouTube lets you upload as many movies as you'd like as often as you want, but those movies cannot be longer than 15 minutes in length unless you verify your YouTube account by providing a mobile phone number. Vimeo imposes no time limits on your uploaded videos, but it does limit you to 500 MB of video uploads per week. The first video you upload every week will be viewable in 720p high definition, but anything else you publish that week will be plain ol' standard definition unless you pony up for a Vimeo Plus account.
Unless you're planning to become a full-time video producer, a free account with YouTube or Vimeo should satisfy all your video publishing needs. Now that you've read up on all the fantastic free tools available to create and share your movie ideas, it's time to get started!