Sunday, March 28, 2010

Examples of Low Cost Lighting

I've been in Louisiana this week to visit friends and shoot a short documentary. There were several interviews to record and I was excited to try out some budget lighting gear. This involved basic three point lighting using 2 incandescent bulbs (for key and fill lights) and a halogen spotlight (for the back light). The bulbs were mounted in clamp light fixtures attached to PVC light stands. All of the stills extracted below are from the original footage and have not been retouched, cropped or color corrected.

This interview with Carrie was done in the dance studio she works in. Since I had no way to match my lights with the room's florescent lighting, I went ahead and white balanced anyway (on Carrie's light) and it looked better than I originally thought. Notice the key light on the left and the weaker fill on the right. Both lights are 60 watt bulbs, with the fill being farther away than the key. The halogen spot (controlled by a dimmer) nicely illuminated Carrie's hair and shoulder on camera right.

Here was another location that was impossible for me to match color temperatures, but it worked well anyway. The room lights were again florescent, which turned the room blue when I white balanced on the subject using the 60w bulbs. It made everything look frigid, but when I only turned on the lights just in front of the stage, there was a nice buffer of dark between the subject and the stage (which DID have matching lighting). I like this distant blue opposed to the entire room looking like a meat locker. Very moody.

This shot was in front of the same stage seen in the previous example. We put show creator Janel in a cushy chair and lit her with the exact same setup as the others. I really like how the back light that nicely brings out her ponytail also helps show the arms of the chair. All stage lights were turned on (giving some blue lines to the lighter parts of the stage) so she wouldn't be in a black hole. Her glasses did reflect the two bulbs from time to time, but she didn't want to take them off, so we had to live with it.

Again, these examples are using two 60w soft white bulbs for key and fill lights (4 for under $1) and a halogen spotlight ($7) being controlled by a dimmer (made for around $7). All bulbs are in clamp light fixtures with scoops ($5-$7) attached to PVC light stands (under $5 each). I freely admit that I am no expert, but you can get some cool results without having to resort to a pricey light kit. I just showed you three of them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Compact Light Kit

This week I traveled to New Orleans on standby, so my family and could only take so much luggage and we couldn't check anything. I needed some lights to shoot a mini-doc that we are working on, but couldn't ship my entire plastic tote that I usually keep everything in. I decided to ship a priority mail box with just the essentials.

A large, flat rate, Priority Mail box is 12" x 12" x 5 1/2". You can ship it for $15 which is a lot better than the original $50 I was looking at to ship bare lighting stuff as well as homemade light stands. It also provided quite a challenge to jam as much stuff into that tiny box as possible. Here's what ended up making the trip via the postal system:

- 3 clamp light fixtures
- 75w halogen spotlight
- homemade dimmer
- 3 clamp light reflectors
- gaffer's tape
- 250w work light
- 2 large spring clamps
- 2 small spring clamps
- small tripod head
- dry erase pen and eraser
- 10' TRS to XLR cable
- 15' XLR cable
- ratcheting PVC cutters
- clothespins
- shotgun mic windscreen
- small tripod legs
- 3 6' light duty extension cords
- various outlet adapters

You may notice the lack of bulbs or light stands. The plan was to build some stands (hence the PVC cutters) and buy some cheap bulbs (the halogen isn't all that cheap, so I had to bring that). I ended up doing those exact things...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cell Phone Slate

A very cool app on the iPhone is Movie Slate, an animated clapper board that appears on your phone. You add all the scene information then hold it up in front of the lens to mark your shot. I wanted something similar without having to buy an iPhone or iPod Touch. Here's what I came up with.

And the Instructables version...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Make a Mic Shockmount for $1.20

This week we look at making a really affordable microphone shockmount for your boom pole. If a mic is mounted directly to the pole, any noise on that pole (such as hands moving back and forth) will be heard on the mic, polluting your audio recording. You need a shockmount which suspends the microphone away from the pole. The above video shows how.

Here's the Instructables version.

Monday, March 15, 2010

(Smaller) Size Does Matter

Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut has another great post on his blog entitled "Keeping It Small". He emphasizes a more compact DSLR rig over a bloated monster that sometimes weighs in at 45-50 pounds. Even better, he makes a statement that can apply to any filmmaker with any camera:

"Do I need to make the camera look like an impressive movie camera for me to be taken seriously? The answer is NO! If we are going to embrace this new technology, everything has to change. The way we work will become more efficient; video village shrinks, people start to trust, re-invent, think out of the box, force their hands. If we want to achieve this we all have to NOT function like it is business as usual or the camera will blow up to what I see on all the web sites."

Image is everything. If you can make your project look and sound great, who cares what you shot it on? I love the reactions I get when people see my camcorder AFTER seeing the footage I shot with it. They are always surprised and impressed. It validates every frugal philosophy that I'm trying to live and work by. That's what matters.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Get "Fans, Friends & Followers" for Free!

Scott Kirsner's highly-acclaimed audience building manual Fans, Friends & Followers, is temporarily online as a free download. Scott is offering his free e-book version (which is complete) during the SXSW film festival. It's one I've been wanting to read for awhile and now there are no excuses. All he asks is that you don't post it to a file sharing network (but you can link back to him) and if you like it, consider a PayPal donation.

The book is chock full of testimonials of how others have successfully built a following on the web and the lessons they have learned. Normally a $12 purchase, this is one deal none of us should pass up. I plan on read the book and posting my findings. You should too. Spread the word!

If you don't already, be sure to read Scott's excellent blog, CinemaTech, which covers the democratization of digital content on the web. It's great information for those who want to harness the web for its full marketing potential, no matter what your budget.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What Kind of Metric Budget do You Have?

With the term "microbudget", we web filmmakers seem to be developing a relationship with the metric system. As such, I thought I would speculate about the remaining small metric measurements and how they would correlate to how much money we allot to our films.

Microbudget (up to $10,000). You've got some well-off relatives that throw you a bone. Your film is a modest science fiction or period piece with a small cast. You can afford to feed everyone on every shoot day and rent some specialty gear. Other local filmmakers are envious of your amazing financial skills.

Nanobudget (up to $1000). Friends and relatives pitch in. Your movie might be sci-fi but takes place in a contemporary setting. You can feed everyone on long shoot days. People think you're ambitious and cool.

Picobudget (up to $100) It's your money. Your college drama features every one of your friends. When you have food, it's candy and chips from Dollar Mart. People are annoyed you're shooting on their lawn.

Femtobudget (up to $10) You found the money in the street. Your entire film takes place in your living room. Cast and crew are permitted to raid your fridge. People think you're nerdy.

Attobudget (up to $1). You skip laundry day to fund your film. The story centers around one person (you) trapped in a bathtub. No one eats until shooting is over, then you send them home for dinner. People say "no" to you before you even say hello.

Zeptobudget (no money spent). You decide to make a movie due to boredom. It's a single, unbroken shot of your big toe. You get hungry before you run out of record space. No one wants to talk about your "body of work".

Yoctobudget (you spend money you don't have). You decide to bankroll your film with your credit card. Bankruptcy and insanity ensue.

Any questions?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Camcorder Roundup for "Student Filmmakers"

Camcorder Info just published an article about the best camcorders available that filmmakers would appreciate (student or not). They limit their list to 4 cameras that are the most current offerings from Canon, Panasonic and JVC (Canon actually gets two nods). These are all good devices, available for under $1500.

While I appreciate this list, it should be noted that that there are cameras out there that are not the most current offerings, but are great cameras for shooting. They are also way more frugal than the above selections, coming in at under $700.

The first camera I'd pick is the Canon VIXIA HFS100, which is the one I bought late last year. It's a great little HD cam that shoots to SD cards, making transferring video to your computer a snap. It also offers some nice pro features like manual audio control, zebra stripes and the ability to limit video gain. It's a nice all around camcorder that also puts out a nice picture. B&H is offering these little beauties with case and 8 gig SD card for $699--a sweet deal.

If I didn't own the Canon, I think I'd pick up the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A. It's a small, "pistol grip" style camera that has also has a nice picture and records HD to an SD card, but doesn't have as many features as the Canon. It's also $200 less, so if the HFS100 is too much for your wallet, the HD2000A might be a better choice. I think it's the perfect "fast cam" that you could carry at all times, making you ready for that perfect viral YouTube moment. With a good picture no less!

Whatever you pick, a camera is the most important tool in your video arsenal. We are in the business of creating pictures and any of these cameras do that rather well for this price point. I just want to make everyone aware that you don't have to spend $1500 for a good camcorder. Half that will suffice.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

One Setup, Four Shots

In this episode I look at how I solved the problem of getting two actors off of a bus at separate times of the story. The location was the same, but the bus was only coming hourly. I found a way maximize my time as well as the resource of the city bus.

Press play!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Werner Herzog is a Frugal Filmmaker

[via Macphilia on DVXuser]

DGA Quarterly: How does your frugality affect your cast and crew?

Herzog: Hollywood has a tendency to throw five new crew members at everything that comes as a slight problem. So I say, 'No, stop! We have to sort things out. We have to be intelligent.' More people just makes everything clumsier. For example, on Bad Lieutenant, Eva Mendes asked for a fairly large entourage. I told her that I had waived my right to a trailer, a personal assistant, a chauffeur, even a director's chair. (The director's chair saved the production 65 bucks, but I despise them anyway and have never had one.) After all that, I told her, 'It would be nice if you wouldn't show up on my set with a psychiatrist for your dog.' She laughed so hard, and then, all of a sudden, she arrived with just a very essential makeup artist and a security guard. Actors know I want to take them where they have not been before and make them the best that they can be. I said to Eva, 'Nobody in my movies shows up on my set as a star. But whoever is on my screen, down to the smallest, shortest moment of an extra, will be treated like royalty.'

Read the entire interview

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Make Your Movie Production Go Green

Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut recently posted an entry on his blog entitled Responsible Filmmaking. The gist of the article is that HDSLR technology is cheap and green and should be embraced. Much of what Shane speaks can also apply to us frugal types using AVCHD camcorders:

The [AVCHD] technology recycles, it is small, it requires less space, less crew, less light, less power, less fuel, and less food. I can go on and on for a long time about how this technology produces less waste. The most important point is that with less waste also comes the power for infinite creativity. I have coined the phrase “small footprint, big vision.”

I concur.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Make Your Frugal Film an Event

Filmmaker Mike Vogel has posted 5 steps to better "four-walling" over at Hope for Film >> Truly Free Film and his own blog. I think we would all like to see our film on the big screen being reacted to by a crowd of people. It's the very venue that encouraged us all to make movies, right?

Mike shares five very valuable steps to get the word out and make the experience a good one. They are:

1. Running free "slides" before the film
2. Q&A before the screening
3. Have a raffle
4. Walk in music ideas
5. Have an online presence

Since I tend to be totally focused on an internet release model, I haven't really thought about a traditional one-nighter. It's a great way to reward your cast, crew and contributors as well as one more way to promote your work. And it's just plain cool.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's DIY Moviemaking Month over at Make

Make Magazine's Blog is devoting the month of March to something near and dear: DIY Movie Making. Make always has great content and I'm looking forward to see what they come up with on my favorite of topics. The best part is that they are asking for input from readers.

If you have a cinematic masterpiece you'd like us to see, or have used some technique of animation, stop-motion, claymation, digital compositing, etc. that you'd like to share with us, please email me ( or post to the Comments below. And please share some of your favorite no-budget wonders and movie making-related how-tos.

And there it is. See if you can get yourself some exposure by emailing Gareth (I already have). Subscribe to Make's RSS feed to make sure you don't miss any updates in the Movie Making Month of March and hopefully well take away some golden nuggets of how to Make our movies better (and for less money).


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