Thursday, August 28, 2014

Camera Lens Bands

A couple of weekends ago, I was on the set of my short film Invader, and was able to test out some of my recent gear concoctions, including the pimped out Frugal Cage. One aspect of that rig was using the follow focus I reviewed, and how I was able to interface my vintage lenses using the focus gear from the Frugal Follow Focus.

In that setup I had all my prime lenses that were follow focus candidates, wrapped with a silicone wristband. This allowed the focus gear to attach properly and also improved the grip on the lens itself. It is a great non-permanent addition, whether shooting video or stills.

On the Invader shoot, my first AC (assistant camera) commented how all the lenses looked alike and how they were easily confused in the lens bag. That's when I had the idea that different color wristbands would be a better solution and could easily be chosen when needed.

The wristbands were cheap ($8 for ten) and gave the lenses a nice clean look and still serves the purpose of giving the focus gear somewhere to sit without actually touching the focus ring. There is another option for an even cooler (though more expensive) look that you may also want to consider. Consult the video for a more spendy approach.

Also, remember to measure your focus ring diameter so you know what size band(s) to get. I ended up choosing the "women's 18.5cm x 1.2cm" size and they fit my lenses perfectly. The stretchy silicone also allows them to work on a variety of barrel sizes. If you have to guess, guess smaller. A snug band will still work, where a loose one will not.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

160 LED Light for $20

After my review of the Fotodiox LED98A light, several people suggested that I compare it to the less expensive and brighter CN-160 light that has become very popular. At $28, it's also a pretty good deal, and most reviews seem positive.

Since I'm always on the lookout for the cheapest price and possible cheaper alternatives, I went looking. What I found on eBay is what appears to be a copy of the CN-160 without the extra Panasonic battery plate. This clone appears to run on Sony NP-F batteries (which I've been using to power my camera, my external monitor, as well as the Fotodiox light) and AA batteries, which is a great option in a pinch.

The clincher for me was the price--under $20 (it's $24 on Amazon). It seemed so comparable to the CN-160 and was ten dollars cheaper, that I had to bite. I went ahead and purchased one, which should be showing up later this week. If it pans out, this could mean a three-point lighting setup for $60. A smokin' deal. I'm sure it has its shortcomings, but at that price a lot can be forgiven.

Look for a full review in the coming weeks.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Poor Man's C-stand

C-stands are incredible pieces of grip equipment that have 1001 uses. They are mainly used for holding lights or light modifiers (flags, silks, screens, etc.), but are so heavy duty and strong they can be used for all kinds of support tasks. You'll see them on every professional film set and probably every student film set. They are industry standard and they have been around forever.

They are also expensive. C-stands can range in cost from $150 for the less expensive models to the $200 Avenger stands. Most of us probably don't have that kind of coin to spend on a grip stand when a camera upgrade could be had instead (though this is a thinking error, since a C-stand could conceivably outlive us and our cameras).

They are also very large and somewhat heavy. The biggest problem comes when you have to transport them without a truck of some kind. They are about 6' when full collapsed and trying to squeeze them into a car can be very tricky.

There is a sort-of alternative to the C-stand that can perform some similar tasks, is easy to load into a car and is much cheaper. This is the boom mic stand, commonly used by musicians. Like a regular mic stand they come up from the ground, but then have a boom arm that extends out and over (or straight up if need be).

These are very handy (see the video for details), start at around $20, and collapse into 3-4', which should fit into even the smallest of cars. Their weight is such that you could even sling the thing over your back and hike into a location with it. I wouldn't want to try that with a real C-stand.

Of course, these are not made to replace the real thing. That's impossible. There are some cool things you can do with a cheap alternatives, however. Three of these are outlined in the video. I'd love to hear some of your ideas. Please comment if you'd like to share.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What I Did Over the Weekend...

This  past weekend I embarked on shooting the short film Invader as part of a promotional effort for Triune Films (yep, the FilmRiot guys) new sound FX releases. The deal was they give me all of their FX packages (including some new scoring stuff) and I review them or make a film. Of course I decided to make a film!

Since I didn't have a lot of time to pull this off (the deadline is the first week in September) and the FX center around action, I had to make some quick choices. I booked an easy location to obtain (abandoned cement plant), grabbed a couple of actors I've been wanting to work with (Mindy Van Kuren and Kyle Wigginton), wrote a four page post-apocalyptic western, and I was off!

This was a Frugal Shoot, so no gear from school was allowed, only equipment that I owned and/or had made. You may recognize the Frugal Cage (complete with external monitor, follow focus and external power), Tripod Dolly, and the first sneak peek at the Frugal Crane 3.0!

Things went pretty well and I was glad to finally field test the crane and the cage. The cage got the heaviest workout, and it showed me that I need to implement several improvements in the future. Look for a video featuring these fixes as well as instructions on how to make the Frugal Crane 3 coming very soon.

Invader is scheduled to debut on September 4 of this year. Watch for it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Newwer CN-90F Follow Focus Fix

Not too long ago I reviewed a very affordable follow focus unit ($37), the Newwer CN-90F. It wasn't bad, but had too much play or "slop" in the knob that rotated the focus gear. It was wobbly and took too long to reverse direction. Comments on that video reported that others had used the product without the play I had experienced. After taking the unit apart and investigating, it turns out there is an easy fix for this problem.

First you must remove the rod clamp hardware found on the bottom rail of the unit. This is super easy, as all you have to do is remove the adjustment nut and screw and the rod hardware falls right off. Next, remove the three Philips head screws that attach the aluminum adjustment rail to the gearbox (see above).

Once the adjustment rail is gone, you'll have access to four more Philips head screws that are recessed inside the plastic gearbox (see above). Tighten all four of these and you're done! The play in the knob is now significantly reduced and you should have more precise control when pulling focus with this unit.

While this fix has no effect on the overall quality of the unit (it's still made of cheap plastic), it does affect performance. The feel is so much better now that it increases the value and makes the $37 spent that much more of a deal. If your unit was like mine, I highly encourage this fix. All you need is some precision screwdrivers and about five minutes and you're on your way.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Make a Scifi Grenade Prop

One prop that I needed for my thesis film, Collection Day, was a sonic grenade. The script called for a non-lethal weapon (though I think the non-lethal part got lost in translation) that would emit a sonic shockwave, knocking out everyone within the blast radius. I wanted something that was obviously a grenade, but looked more near-future than contemporary models.

Something I really wanted was real interactivity between the prop and actor. If you've watched any of my videos about using airsoft guns as movie props, you know how much I like gas blow back guns and the realism they add. No actor has to fake anything when the props they are using "act" like the real thing.

So it was with the grenade. Though I wanted it to look different, I wanted a pin to pull and a spoon (the thin piece of metal you release when you want the countdown to begin) to realistically fly off when let go. I also didn't want to have to build everything. I thought the futuristic body or shell could be easily created, but I wanted a mechanism that was pre-made. It may be simple, but it contains moving parts that I didn't have time to construct.

I discovered that you could find inert dummy grenade repair kits online. These contained the spring mechanism, pin and spoon. You can add these kits to almost anything and they will look like a grenade. A green spoon is an added bit of realism as the blue versions are to alert the user these are practice grenades and not live. Green is the real deal in the real world. Paint is another option.

For the body I used the old standby: PVC. I took a 1 1/2" PVC pipe coupler and plugged both ends with 1 1/2" PVC plugs. I drilled a 1/2" hole in one end and filed it out to accommodate the spring mechanism (which used a 6/10" hole).

I then added a 2x6" rectangle of 1" pyramid acoustical foam. This wrapped perfectly around the PVC coupler (attached with spray glue) and made the prop look like a futuristic pineapple grenade. The acoustic foam also lent to the effect of a sonic weapon. After spray painting it black and using epoxy to attach the spring section into the hole, it looked and worked great.

A secret to using custom props on screen is never to show too much. Unless you have a prop building master at your disposal, you might want to keep your cuts short and avoid closeups. This will hide your cheap concoction and carry the illusion to all but those who choose to freeze-frame your movie for closer scrutiny.

As always, alert local law enforcement and everyone else around if you are displaying prop weapons in public. They may look so realistic that someone gets very worried. Play it smart and let the neighbors and local authorities know what you are doing. Posting signs such as "Film Shoot in Progress" is other way to let people know that what you are doing is fake and not worthy of panic.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tip: Shooting Schedule with Google Calendar

Here's mystery that perplexed me for quite some time: how do I make a shooting schedule? The best ones are those that have your scenes laid out at just the right times of day, so you can tell people when to be there, preventing the "hurry up and wait" syndrome. The only thing I hate more than standing around waiting for a shot to happen is when I'm making other people wait around for a shot to happen.

Previously on this blog, Chris Henderson covered this topic with his guest post, but I'm a simple guy and like things boiled down to their essentials. I don't really need or want to buy expensive scheduling software, especially since my productions are pretty lean. I like to keep things concise and easy to manage.

As a result, I came up with this method using a hard copy calendar, penciling in cast and crew availability, then placing scenes at times of day when everyone in those scenes could be there. It worked well, but felt that an electronic, shareable version could not only be more liquid, but could allow for people to enter in their own availability. The above video goes into detail about this.

Also of note (and mentioned in the video) is, a free site that will take care of many of your scheduling needs (including call sheets, which I don't really address). It appears the site is no longer being updated, but it is useful once you get past the learning curve.


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