Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Frugal Filmmaker Retail Resources

I've recently moved to a new town and the first thing I did was check for the stores that I use to help me build my DIY gear. In making this move I was worried that I would lose some of the brick-and-mortar supply houses that I've come to rely on. Sure, there's always the internet, but sometimes you need a quick part and it's nice to know you can just go down the street to pick it up.

Here are the top six stores that I've come to rely on. They are all pretty common (in the U.S.) and pricing is universal:

Home Depot. If you build a lot of DIY stuff, a good hardware store is a must. The Depot is a large chain that you can find everywhere and they have the best prices. They carry just about everything you'll need from light dimmers to PVC pipe--even gaffer's tape! Lowe's is the only place I could find PVC snap tees and I prefer the PVC plugs found at ACE (their octagonal shape makes for easy hole-centering), but Home Depot is king.

Harbor Freight Tools. This China importer has a lot of great deals on tools as well as a host of weird stuff you will find creeping it's way into your DIY curriculum. The most important tool found here is PVC ratcheting cutters, the simplest, cleanest and fastest way to slice through PVC pipe (and only $5!). I've also found countersink bits, cable ties, clamps, multimeters, and a host of other stuff at prices no one else can beat. Frequent sales drop the prices even lower.

Dollar Tree. Having any dollar store nearby is very important and The Tree is the most common. The Mini Camera Stabilizer was born here, but you'll find all kinds of useful cases, camera mounts and props that won't set you back more than a buck.

Best Buy. This place won me over when they dispensed with their rebate policy and instead passed the savings immediately on to the consumer (a probable reason Circuit City folded). I make all my computer-related purchases there (laptops, hard drives, mice). Just skip the extended warranties if you feel like you can.

Wal-Mart. While I haven't found Wally World to be indispensible, it's nice to have around just in case. Their prices are still some of the best and you'll find stuff there you can't find anywhere else, such as sandbag alternatives or counterweights for your Frugal Crane. Recently, Vincent Vasquez has been using a $15 Targus monopod found here for all kinds of things.

Radio Shack. While Rat Shack has moved away from it's DIY roots, it's still the only chain electronic parts store. They are everywhere and sell those much needed bits as well useful electronics. I'm still using the cheap lav mic on my web show that I purchased there. Watch for clearance sales to snag some really good deals.

Those are my top picks. Do you have any others?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekly Recap Link List 8-29-11

Saturday, August 27, 2011

500 Gig Hard Drives at Wal-Mart for $49

If you need a quick fix for video storage, you should check out your local Wally World. They are selling decent-sized external USB drives for a pretty good price. 500 gigs can hold a lot of video and you'll always need more space as you keep producing content.

Take two. Not only are they small, but a double-backup is a very smart idea.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Absolute Power Satisfies Absolutely

I had an entirely different blog post in mind for today. I had planned on writing something simple about moving to a new place and finding those retail resources that we all need to build our cheap gear. It will probably show up tomorrow. Today, something else.

I skim a lot of blogs with my RSS reader and at the very bottom of my list (unintentionally) is screenwriter John August's blog, a great resource. Today he linked to a Quora question which asks "What's it like to have your film flop at the box office?" All the responses are fascinating, but John highlights Sean Hood, a filmmaker and one of the script doctors on the recently released reboot, Conan 3D.

Hood's commentary is much what you'd expect, with the stings of weak receipts and a strong "just get back up on your horse" message and adds a great story about his dad's quest to become a professional trumpet player and his tenacity in doing so. Read the article and all of the other answers. It's a compelling peek into the professional filmmaking world and the potential devastation that waits for all who are moving in that direction.

It's no secret that I'm purposely moving away from the Hollywood model. I have no plans to move to L.A. (lived there already anyway) and try to make it big, competing with the literally millions of others trying to do the same. No, many of you reading this probably already know that I'm on another track. One that may seem irrational, crazy, stupid, unorthodox, misguided and doomed to failure. Or, it may just be completely rational, sane, smart, innovative, focused and primed for success.

This is the plan that ignores traditional models and ways that we've been programmed to accept over the years as the "only way" to succeed. This is the plan that eschews film festivals and distributors. This is the plan that puts all the power into our microbudget hands and lets us make all the decisions. This is the plan that says you build an audience first and your movie second. This is the plan that concentrates on the web as a distribution venue and not television or movie theaters.

It's the plan that can insulate you from the suffering that Hood mentions, caused by X-factors such as filmmaking by committee, focus groups, release dates and direct-to-DVD clearance bins. In this plan, YOU control everything. YOU make, market and release YOUR movie the way YOU see fit. YOU keep all the rights. YOU distribute all the profits. There will be no "what if they had done it my way" moments because you ARE doing it your way. This doesn't mean you ignore good advice, but the buck will stop with you.

If you haven't heard this enough already, here it is again. You build an audience through community, conversation and participation. You give them something they find indispensable. You exercise patience and let word of mouth spread. Use Kickstarter (effectively) to acquire a very modest budget. Make your film and release it for free on the web via YouTube, P2P networks and Netflix Streaming (if they'll let you). Ask your supporters to help spread the word. Track all the numbers.

Your first film should be all about exposure, not turning a profit (though that may happen). After a while, take your numbers to big sponsors and ask them if they want 5,000,000 eyeballs to see their product inserted into your next movie. That's the same movie that you reward all the volunteers who have helped you in the past with a paycheck this time out.

This process is not about the quick fix, but severe long-term thinking. It will take years, not months. It will take patience and tenacity, much like Hood's trumpet-playing father, who never stopped practicing and never gave up. It seems wild, but I believe anyone can do this and succeed. I'm in the process of proving it as you read this.

In three years, we'll see if I'm right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No Pay or Not to No Pay?

Guest post by an Anonymous Independent Filmmaker

It is a well-documented fact that all independent filmmakers are unimaginably wealthy. Their bank accounts are so full, just a few of them could have banded together to save our country from recession. Their pockets are so deep, they put the Grand Canyon to shame. They’re so flush, they beat four of a kind.

In fact, I once knew an independent filmmaker, living in a lavish mansion, who had a giant vault where he kept innumerable gold coins. Every day he would don a striped one-piece bathing suit and literally swim through his money.

Knowing this, we understand that the only reason an independent filmmaker would ask that a cast and crew work without pay is because that filmmaker is a shameless, greedy monster. There can be no other explanation.

So I speak to you today, my brothers and sisters, about this terrible travesty going on right under our noses. It is time that we band together and stand up to the Man (the independent filmmaker) and say, “Enough!”

Now, I don’t speak to those of you who have so much paid work that you just don’t have time for non-paid gigs; you’re just being practical. I speak to those of you who stand up on principle and say, “I deserve to be paid, and I will not work for free.” After all, you’ve been doing this stuff for well over a year (longer in some cases), and you shouldn’t have to volunteer your time anymore. You should be compensated.

“But,” you say, “I don’t have any paid work right now, shouldn’t I do some free gigs to continue to develop my craft?” And I say to you, my friend, is it better to continually work to develop your craft, or to stagnate with principles?

“But,” you say, “I don’t have anything better to do with my time, and this movie could be a lot of fun.” And I ask you, would you rather have a lot of fun with people you like or be bored and have principles?

“But,” you say, “it’s a really good script and while it might not make any money, I really think it’s something I will be proud of when it’s done.” My friend, which would rather have: pride in your work, or principles with nothing to show for them?

“But,” you say, “what if I pass on this film and the person who replaces me goes on to be famous as a result of this project?” I ask you, my friend, would you rather have fame and fortune and artistic freedom or well-reasoned principles?

And these are well-reasoned principles, based upon the idea that because you’ve been doing this for a while, you deserve to be paid; and because you deserve to be paid, the money will materialize.

$20 Lav Mic with 20' Cord!

Knoptop is sounding off in his current episode of Quick FX! Today he shares his usage of a very important element in filmmaking: the microphone. In this example, he's using the Audio-Technica ATR 3350, an unbalanced wired lavalier microphone with an insanely long cord--20 feet! This means you can mic your talent and have plenty of slack to stay far enough away to frame your shot properly.

I use the Radio Shack version of this mic (which keeps going up in price for some reason) for my video intros, which has a shorter cord and is probably better if you're going to body-mount a mic and recorder on the talent (a nice alternative to a wireless mic). If you need a longer cord suitable for interviews or what Dave is doing here, then I'd go with his recommendation.

Of course, you are not going to get the same kind of quality that you would with an XLR lav, but we're talking about $20 and web delivery here, so no worries.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekly Recap Link List 8-22-11

While the list may seem small this week (I've been out of town), you should be tuning into the Facebook group for the conversations. It's turning into a very active forum and lots of people are participating. The things we are learning from each other is beyond inspiring.

Janice Glesser's Trolley Dolly

and her test footage

10 realizations of a DSLR newbie

DIY compact boompole

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weekly Recap Link List 8-15-11

Out of focus foreground framing

The YouTube Snowball

Brian Calilung's PVC stabilizer rig at San Diego Comic Con (2:46)

Mark Wilhelm's ghetto camera rig

Learning to love to engage with the crowd

Flexible arm clamps

IKEA camera shoulder mount / rig

Android DSLR controller

Cinestyle for better images and better export on the web

Canon 550d and Leadstar 1088 monitor

Dawris Desing's Trolley Dolly (camera slider)

Jean-Martin Phan's slider attempt

Aaron Hebert's camera rig

$1 green screen

DIY steadicam tutorial

DIY steadicam - $20 filmmaker

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flexible Arm Clamps

This week on Quick FX: poseable clamps! Knoptop shows us how to build these multi-purpose grabbers (basically two spring clamps connected by a bendable neck) for use in our productions. This idea came from his need to see himself while shooting. He's recording with an iPod Touch which has a fixed LCD. A small mirror (held by the bendy clamp) lets him check his shot from in front of the camera. Problem solved!

Dave also talks about using his Apple device as his entire production studio. This episode was shot, edited and uploaded from said device. He promises a behind-the-scenes video of this process. He's experimented with all kinds of cameras and workflows to streamline production, so I look forward to seeing his results this time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The YouTube Snowball

I should hit 4,000 subscribers today on YouTube. I'm not bragging and I'm not saying this is a huge number, because it's not. What I have noticed, however, is that this number that has been increasing exponentially and it demands a little attention.

The Frugal Filmmaker channel officially started on February 7, 2010. I worked hard, uploaded (what I felt) was good content, tagged appropriately and tried to spread the word on forums about each new video I made and how it could benefit filmmakers with only a little cash to work with. It paid off, and I met my one year goal of getting 1,000 subscribers. Sure, I wasn't Freddie Wong who scored a mind-blowing one million subs in one year, but it was a modest success and a goal met.

What happened next shocked me. Three months later, I had another 1,000 subscribers. Two months after that, another 1,000. I am now on the cusp of one more thousand (for a total of 4,000 subs), which as taken under a month. This phenomenon is very exciting and can be repeated by anyone.

The continued increase in attention (which is showing no signs of stopping, but has to plateau sooner or later) reminds me of the "snowball rolling downhill" or even compound interest. Once initiated, you can't stop it. The snowball will continue to get bigger (as long as the hill exists) and interest will always accrue (as long as there is money in your account). It's the same with web viewership.

I have learned a few things that may help you if you decide to embark on the same path that I have, and just want to get started. I'm no expert, but some things seem abundantly clear and need to be shared.

Create content people are literally looking for. I can't stress this enough. YouTube is the #2 search engine on the internet (behind it's owner, Google). Make videos that you would search for. One reason I started the channel was that I couldn't find a cheap alternative to a $20 retail light stand on YouTube. So I built one, and posted the video. Even if I chose not to make any more videos, content that people invariably search for will get hits. You can't stop it.

Tag appropriately. Obviously you want your title to completely explain what your video is about, but tagging with proper search terms (you do this when you upload) is critical. These terms are what you are hoping people are searching for. On top of specific phrases (light stand) you should also come up with a generic phrase that brings people to your videos, no matter what the subject. I use the tags "how to make build cheap diy camera" on every video I post. Use YouTube's Keyword Tool to see what people are searching for in your category.

Contribute regularly. The general rule of thumb is that you create a consistent release schedule (weekly, bi-monthly) and stick to it. Make your viewer expect content on a certain day of the week or month and reward them when they show up to consume it. My life is such that I can't seem to pull this off, but people are still watching. I seem to churn something out every three weeks. And not on the same day (though Wednesdays seem to be working best). If you can, do the regular release thing. If you're like me, make sure something comes out regularly (even every three weeks). Reward your faithful fans with something they want. Remember, subscribers can choose to be alerted by email when you post a new show.

Work your butt off. Creating a web show with any level of success is like having a second job. Making videos takes time and effort and starting from scratch with no fan base means it will take time to let people know you exist and have something to show them. I'm a big believer in technical quality, but the truth is that the material needs to be quality. Whatever you are making needs to be worthwhile. Make sure your instructional videos teach people something. Make sure your comedy makes them laugh. Make your videos something you would want to watch. Set a standard for yourself and work hard to meet that standard with every video. Then raise the bar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and is solely YouTube centered. There are lots of ways to market your show (even if you have no marketing budget) to get attention, but that's another article. Remember Dori from Finding Nemo? Her adage of "just keep swimming" totally applies here. You "just keep posting" and posting right and the numbers will come. Don't stop. Create a good snowball and you won't be able to hinder its growth. Ever.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Weekly Recap Link List 8-8-11

Setting up DIY studio lighting

If it doesn't spread it's dead

Tripod tricks

Cowboys & Aliens wrist blaster prop

Camera techniques for better filmmaking

12 DIY projects for camera assistants

YouTube releases 'Creator Playbook', guide for building an audience online

Backyard FX alternatives

The microbudget conversation: script v. story

David Stembridge's PVC table dolly

Trolley dolly (camera slider)

Do you really need an EVF for your DSLR?

Emilio Espinosa's super-compressed table dolly / trolley

Our obligation to share

Best DSLRs for the student filmmaker

Sima Quickonnect back in stock at Amazon

Why you should use your lens' hood

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sima Quickonnect Back in Stock at Amazon

I'm not sure if it was because of me, but after featuring Sima's inexpensive quick-release system in a recent episode, they were soon sold out. Amazon is carrying them again, albeit at a slightly higher price than before. These were a smokin' deal at $8.65 and now can be had for slightly less frugal $10.20.

The Quickonnect is a hard plastic plate that you can attach to any device with 1/4" 20 threads, the standard tripod mount. The plate then locks into a puck-looking device (which has metal threads) with a great spring lock system. Once inside, the plate stays put. I really like these and have equipped all of my camera rigs with them. I'm glad they are available once more. I'd love to see them drop to $5 for the ultimate deal.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Do You Really Need an EVF on Your DSLR?

The DSLR Film Noob asks a very good question this time out. Are Electronic Viewfinders really necessary? Deejay has a good argument about why you don't really need one and how your camera already provides you with magnified picture information. It's easy to get caught up in the latest gear, but sometimes you can get by without it and save or spend your money elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trolley Dolly (Camera Slider)

Request time! Lots of folks have asked me to create a camera slider, so I came up with this gizmo. It's actually more like a traditional dolly than a rail slider, but the end result is hopefully the same. What I've created is basically a minimalist version of the table dolly that rides on its own rails. The rails are also portable and can attach to a tripod, so you can take them anywhere without having to worry if a flat surface is available.


camera trolley
4 x rollerblade wheels (used)
4 x 1/4" bolts, 2" long (if your wheel bearing doesn't have a spacer use 5/16" instead)
8 x 1/4" nuts (or 5/16" nuts if the above bolt is also 5/16")
5 x 3/4" PVC plugs
3 x 3/4" PVC tee joints
2 x 3/4" PVC pipe 1 1/2 - 2" long

camera mount
1/4" bolt 1" long
1/4" lock washer
Mini ball head
Sima Quikconnect (optional)

trolley track
cutting board (I used a black one)
4 x 1/4" countersink screws 1 1/4" long
5 x 1/4" washers
5 x 1/4" lock washers
your tripod's quick release plate
1/4" fender washer
1/4" screw 1 1/4" long
10' roll of 1/2" magnetic tape
4 x 1" PVC elbow joints
2 x 1" PVC pipe 3-4" long
Real Organized black shelf rail, 70"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Wrist Blaster Prop

On Quick FX this week, Knoptop shows his resourcefulness by taking a promotional item and turning it into a movie prop (or Halloween accessory) with a little destructive effort. The promotional item is a Slurpee cup wrapped in a replica of Daniel Craig's arm gadget from the film. Dave "simply" removed the cup and slapped the thing around his arm with the help of some padding.

The coolest thing about this is that it looks pretty good! There is already a decent amount of detail and it lights up thanks to some included LEDs in the end. If you can't find one of these at your local 7-Eleven or eBay, you might be able to win this one. Knoptop is giving it away as a promotion for his YouTube channel. Subscribe and and it could be yours!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Weekly Recap Link List 8-1-11

From the files of Facebook and Twitter:

Kristi Barnett's experience with the Twitter production Karen Barley

The fundamentals of color grading

"X-Men First Class" dialogue editing techniques

Cheap variable ND filter test

Donnie Patterson's DIY camera slider

Peel and stick blood splatters on a dollar store budget

Dual light and sound hot shoe bracket

Arrange your photo gear in a cutlery tray

Twitter movie advice if you want it

Backyard FX: Game Over

Zoom H1 belt pouch for body mounting costs $1

How to test the back focus of film and video cameras

Has Apple abandoned the pro market?

Build your own camera table dolly for under $20 with PVC pipes

Easy DSLR audio setup for a crew of one

Keith Campbell's DIY greenscreen with Frugal Filmmaker stands

My rig mounting secrets, 1/4 20 threads anywhere

Magic Bullet Mojo for 75% off

Luis Vasquez' PVC shoulder rig

Color dyeing PVC

Cord curling

Sanyo CG20 HD camera at Radio Shack for $86

Donnie Patterson's DIY shoulder rig

Hrvoje Milicevic's DIY clapperboard

Can you spot the HDSLR shots in Lucasfilm's "Red Tails" trailer?

Canon 5DMkII vs. Canon T2i

"It will be good exposure"

iPhone clamp


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