Excited about this 50mm lens!

Starting Out...

I remember how I bought my first camera. I was 16 or 17 and it was a tiny handheld Canon camcorder (really awful quality but good for the times) and I think it cost around £300 and the people I was lodging with at the time allowed me, because I was under 18 to buy it in instalments through their name. I felt so proud the day I paid it off and owned my very own camera.

There is so much more available now but it took me so long to realise what I actually needed and I wanted to give beginners out there a helping hand. If you want to get into filmmaking or are interested in making a short film for the first time, you'll need some basic tools. Everything costs even though it's way more affordable these days so I have tried to find you the low end, necessary equipment that will work and give you some tools but that you can afford - if you save.

Here is a list of some basic equipment that will get you started and isn't ridiculously expensive:

This camera gives a really high quality look and is relatively cheap (considering semi-pro cameras are in the £1000s) You don't have to get a Canon DSLR you can go Nikon. They allow you to get different lenses and are quite easy to carry around. 

DSLRs are the best when it comes to low budget, starting out filmmaking. A lot of traditional TV people have their little huffs and puffs about them but they do the job and they give lovely images

Tripods make your shots looks more professional because they make your shots steady. Always try to film with a tripod unless you have a reason for shooting by hand or are going for a particular look

These lights are not professional but they give really great diffused lighting when you are doing interviews and can be used for short film lighting. Lighting is essential. It elevates your shots to look more professional. The reason big films look so great is the amount of lighting they use. 

In general, prime lenses are faster than zoom lenses. I find them more fun to use because it makes you think about your shots more because you can't just zoom in and out. You have to move with your camera and it becomes a physical extension of you instead of just point and shoot. It also means you have to decide why you are taking your shots. Look for them on eBay they are usually cheaper.

Watch my video on this for some more details and so you can see what I'm talking about:

So go out and PRACTISE filming something with your camera. Don't be afraid of the camera. It serves you, it will not get you and it's built to be used. The worst you can do is make mistakes and film a load of rubbish. That's how I learned.

Once you're comfortable with your camera, try telling a short story.

If you're stuck for ideas why not try this STORY IDEA:

A man/woman who is afraid to leave their house but realises there is an important package left for them just outside their front door, just out of reach. 

A TCK stands for Third Culture Kid, someone who has a passport in one country but grew up in another and have combined their 'birth culture' with their 'new culture' and created a 'third culture.' It's a phenomenon. It's bittersweet. It never goes away. 

Sometimes I forget about it, other days it feels like it's consuming me - and you have to laugh, which is why I wanted to share one of these lists. 

I lifted most of these from a wonderful organisation's website http://tckid.com/what-is-a-tck.html#youknow although I took out a few and added in a couple of my own. Enjoy, all those who 'get this.' *wink wink* 

You know you’re a TCK when ...

- “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer.
- "Where are you from" leaves you thinking for hours, often crying, while the person who asked you, totters off unaware the turmoil they have just caused you
- You flew before you could walk.
- You have a deep mistrust of doctors, policemen, soldiers...
- You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
- You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
- You have three passports.
- You eat weird combinations of foods that no one else understands...
- ...like yoghurt on rice and whole lemons with salt
- You still can't understand why the supermarkets sell half a cucumber and slices of watermelon
- You go into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country.
- You don't understand why you have to clear your own tray away at McDonalds - there are staff for that!
- You also don't get why you have to fill your own car with petrol...like actually get out of the car and everything
- Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
- You get REALLY annoyed when people tell you where your 'home' is
- Anyone considered 'foreign' in your passport country you seem to really get on with
- You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
- The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless of the language.
- You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
- You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and realize that a transformer isn’t always enough to make your appliances work.
- You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”
- Death threats are not that weird to you
- You think in the metric system and Celsius.
- You miss the subtitles when you see the latest movie.
- You don't know who it is appropriate to kiss, hug, shake hands with or smile at anymore so you just avoid all physical greetings as much as possible
- You find yourself calling your countrymen 'they'
- You’ve gotten out of school because of earthquakes and/or popular demonstrations.
- All that stuff that happens on the news....you've been in it or very close to it
- You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.
- You KNOW how to pack.
- You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years.
- Because you may not have the money or time to move country that often, you move your furniture around every few months and dream about moving house
- When you run out of furniture moving combinations, you start throwing out clothes
- The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone doesn’t at all.
- You constantly hear people talking about how weird homeschooled kids are - *ahem* you were homeschooled...
- You have friends from 29 different countries.
- You sort your friends by continent.
- You can leave country at the drop of the hat and 'goodbye parties' mean absolutely nothing to you
- You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
- You realize what a small world it is, after all. 

In my graduate film from university I attempted to deal with some of identity crisis I and a lot of TCKs have. It wasn't as successful as hoped, mostly due to the lack of Turkish community around when I made it, but a lot of hard work went into this short film on all parts so I will share it anyway. 

Film is Captured Forever 

I'm using this time now to get myself back to why I wanted to be a director. As much as I believe university taught me business, gave me a useful certificate and developed my pitching tools, it also crushed my passion and love for film, by teaching us to believe that research, formats and target audiences are the most important thing about production.

I read a wonderful quote from Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan's Labyrinth.

"Nobody that I remember in the 1970s or 1980s was talking about target audiences, tracking, which studio was weaker, or four-quadrant appeal. It's entering the building the wrong way. One of my most cherished rituals when I am shooting is waking up really early and playing 20-30 minutes of one of my favourite movies just to remind me what it is I am doing." 

I want to go back to the almost child-like innocence I had in simply wanting to make films because I loved to watch them. Watching entertaining, good films makes me happy and I want to make films that I want to watch.

I wrote the script for The Key after being inspired by a painting. It's not a painting I would say I love or even really like - but it is one that really made me think.

It's a guy chained up to the neck, unable to move, looking up to a shaft of light seeping through his prison cell, all the while...the key to his chains are in his hands. 

I once listened to the artist talk about the reasoning behind his painting. That we, as humans are all caught up in chains and we all hold the key, but we need someone else to take the key from us and unlock those chains, yet so often we refuse to hand over the key to our freedom. 

So I made a film about it. Quite a literal film too. What I tried to build into the film was the relationship between the prisoner and the guy who comes to break him out. The prisoner, after years of abuse and isolation, trusts no one - not even the person who has come to help him. So the guy has to figure out how to find a meeting point, a mutual interest, a place of trust with the prisoner.

The Key from Jay Moussa on Vimeo.
We shot this in a day, in a little stone garage, with minimal lighting, lots of silence on a Canon 5D MK II.

Writer/Director: Jay Moussa-Mann
Lighting Director: Kev Harte 

Prisoner: Bill Fellows
Man: James Senior
Guard: Kevin Moussa-Mann

I have finally come to terms with something - my pride. Since the age of 10 I have wanted to direct films. But I also wanted to write them. You hear all the time that to write and direct is hard because essentially you are splitting the amount of time and energy you can give to two entirely different jobs.

Last week I finally set down my pride and decided to give myself the chance to practise directing and only directing. It would not only be good for my humility but good for my filmmaking. If I can focus on one thing I'll learn more.

I asked writers to send me any short films or plays they had written to see if I could work on something.

Incredibly, I got an amazing short film script sent in almost immediately by Allison Davies, which was perfect for exploring camera moves and focusing on shots I wanted and what I wanted to put across with image.

It's fantastic when you don't have to worry about writing it, how your brain is suddenly open to so much more - like what could symbolize certain words and how you can portray that with visuals, how you will spend time opening the scene, what lens you will choose to emphasise the themes and story.

I start by reading the script. Then I read it again and make some notes. I also start to doodle out shot scenes as they come into my head. I mix my doodles with notes on symbols and themes. I tend to work on each scene separately but not necessarily in any order.

I spend an awful lot of time not actually 'doing' anything that looks like work. I wander around thinking mostly. I think the scenes through in my head and churn them round before I start making it concrete.

I have no budget but I am really looking forward to making this film. I am very lucky to have been given such a beautiful short to direct.

I really hope I do it justice.

Have you heard about the BIG event happening next month? Well, you should have!

It's the DON'T DREAM IT. SCREEN IT. event in partnership with Mima and Laura Degnan from Writers' Block. 

What is it?

It's a two day music festival across Teesside, March 13th and 14th 2015, showcasing a whole host of local musicians as well as some workshops. The music videos will be screened in various local venues simultaneously and all this in aid of CELEBRATING the Teesside music scene!

You can find more information and get involved with Don't Dream It. Screen It. here:


I had no idea how much local music there was around here until Laura asked me to get involved.

I had already submitted two previously filmed music videos I had filmed for the festival, Over the Yardarm and The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band (which can be found on my website www.jbmoussa.com)

I was then sent a link to Tyneside Rain and clicked on their track "Let's Talk About The Rain." As a lover of music and a songwriter myself, I knew immediately that I had just found my new favourite song and that I would love to make this into a music video.

So I approached Roger Wicks, one of the creators of Tyneside Rain, his co-writer is Syd Collumbine and they agreed to filming a music video.

The musicians organised the venue, which happened to be Darlington Railway Museum, and I turned up Friday morning at 9 a.m with my backpack, tripod and lights raring to go.

Having never been inside the museum before I was pleasantly surprised. The ceiling was made up of glass windows, letting the morning light fall through down onto the beautifully designed track with vintage trains, setup with vintage suitcases piled high on trolleys. My eyes lit up. This was a filmmakers dream set.

I quickly noticed a spot that gave amazing lens flare and a beautiful soft light around the singer, positioned her and got to it. Never having done a music video before, Caitlin Morrow warmed up after only a few takes and really shone, with her sweet, casual style. A powerful voice, projected with apparent ease.

I shot with my Canon 5D MK II and for most of the shots I used a Pressman Lens 1:28 135mm, which was passed on to me on a shoot by Abandon Hope Films (who is the kind of lighting/cameraman/director you WILL want on your shoot by the way and does some really great short films - look him up) 

The Pressman Lens 135mm is a relatively cheap lens, fantastic for getting that soft, vaseline look and getting a huge DoF (everything blurred behind even when you're taking a wider shot) 
Note: You can't use it handheld though there is no image stabilisation. 

For shots where I needed to go handheld I used the standard Canon EF 24-105mm, which ain't cheap but I use it ALL the time as a go-to lens so try and afford one if you can. 

Back to the music video, since this was for an event and was done pretty much on the fly without much planning or budget there not a huge amount of prep for it. 

"Let's Talk About The Rain" is part of a Rock Opera (called Tyneside Rain - who'd have thunk it!) so there was a very definite character and story behind the song. I tried to bring this out in a few of the little details you will see in the film. Subtle, but hopefully sets the scene for the audience. 

"In the early 1970's, when the story is set, a government minister claimed there was a cycle of deprivation in which problems repeat themselves from generation to generation.  The victims were largely blamed for the circumstances they found themselves in.  Tyneside Rain features protagonists who are beset by factors which contribute to this vicious cycle.  

In Let's Talk About the Rain, Caitlin's character busks at the station for spare change.  She realizes that despite all her efforts to make a better life for her family she is locked in to this cycle of despair.  She can't change anything.  The French would have had a revolution; the English accept their fate and talk about the weather." - Roger Wicks

You can find Tyneside Rain at these sites:

Caitlin Morrow performs with her semi-acoustic rock band Occasionally Ben:

Writers' Block NE is a wonderful organisation that do a lot of workshops and events for creatives. Check 'em out:

If you are a singer or a band and want a music video for this event filmed by me then just get in touch as I am doing these at a reduced cost specially for the event: 


I was flicking through the channels tonight when I happened to land on Made in Tyne and their Creative programme. I love everything creative so I paused for a while. Unfortunately I had just caught the tail end of it.

However, this is what I saw:

For a programme that is supposed to be about creativity, it doesn't really give off that vibe at first glance and believe me, first glance is all your audience is going to give. I stayed on because I am in production and I was interested but at a glance the setup of this scene immediately puts me off. 

Now what exactly is the problem? The lighting is nice, the presenter is very attractive and comes across great. 

The main problem for me was the set behind her. Why? 

1) I am not a huge fan of curtains or material in sets. 

2) The off white wall and shelving (placed right behind her which makes it seems flat and blocks the lovely things on the shelves) looks dull and boring

But those aren't really the actual problem. They are just my personal opinions, which doesn't really set a production standard. What the real problem was is that the whole composition and image was flat.

Flat = Home video

All this can be fixed in two simple words: PERSPECTIVE and DEPTH


Having worked for many years in a low budget TV production where we learned on the fly, I have experience with this kind of set. We've done it loads of times. You make a nice set that you're happy with, you stick your speaker in front of it, film it, get into edit and wonder why it looks home video.

Here's why - there must be a distance between the talent and the set. A good distance. The minute you do that you've already given depth to the picture and added a nice depth of field to your image. Just go on YouTube and watch some of the top bloggers. They've figured it out (with the help of the DSLR which lends itself naturally to depth of field) 

If this presenter was not so close to the shelving and set behind her the whole composition would feel lighter, brighter and more professional. You can make almost any questionable background look great by not having it in focus. 

Here is an example of what you could do below. Michelle Phan (YouTube personality) is nice and in focus, her background of shelving is bright and colourful, you can vaguely make out what is on them, but she has enough distance from it to make the background slightly blurred and softer, helping her to stand out and giving us that much needed depth and perspective. 

I wrote this post for anyone out there who is starting in TV production or starting their own YouTube channel to point out how simply moving a few things around and creating layers of background and perspective can add miles of professionalism to your production.