Friday, September 16, 2016

Tip: Endoscopic Camera Fun!

I'm always on the lookout for weird, cheap stuff that can be used in interesting, filmmaking ways. My latest find was a $5 endoscopic USB camera on eBay. This small camera lives at the end of a USB cable that plugs into your computer. It's water-proof and has four tiny LEDs that flank the camera, and illuminate anything directly in front of the lens. Made for inspecting drains and other tight spaces, this thing has to have some good filmmaking applications, right?

Now to be totally fair, this is a very cheap camera. It shoots grainy, soft, jittery, 4:3, standard definition video, that uses an auto-iris, so video levels are all over the place. You also must be connected to a PC (or Android phone for a more portable setup), which limits what you can really do with this thing.

Aside from creating some strange POV stuff (see the video), one very practical application here is pre-visualization, or pre-viz. This is the process of creating a quick and dirty version of your film using action figures or toys to create a "living storyboard" of what your actual film is supposed to look like. It can also help show how you want to create a complicated sequence in the cheapest way possible.

Whatever you decide to do with this gizmo, your mileage may vary. It's a cheap tool that may come in more handy than you think. And you really can't go wrong for the price.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Where did I go?

It's been over a month since I created a new video or posted on this blog. I've had a really hard time getting in front of my camera to create new content, and I can't really explain why. I don't think I've lost interest or am suffering from burnout. It actually feels closer to stage fright, or fear of creation.

I think part of this is due to my waning numbers as of late. The channel and blog aren't as popular (relevant?) as they once seemed to be, and the amount of subscribers and views are way down. At my peak I was gaining 250 subscribers per day. Now I am down to 30-40 subs per day. Not super inspiring.

It has also been almost two years since I produced a short film. Not only has this affected me as a filmmaker (I can feel the rust forming), but it also hampers content-building. I always get my best ideas when working on a film, usually as solutions to problems. The rest of the time my stuff comes from untested, what if scenarios. The first source is probably the best.

Instead of just returning with a new DIY video, I felt pretty strongly that I should give some kind of explanation of what was going on with me. I've always pretty very grateful for all the viewers who have hung in with me, and this video is mostly for them, the die-hard subscribers. They'll be the only ones to watch anyway.

So, here I am getting back on the horse. I'm not sure this is going to be any easier than it has been, but for me, it's necessary.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Script Breakdown: Making a Frugal Short Film, Part 5

In the fifth part of my series on Making a Frugal Short Film, we take the script we wrote last month and break it down. It ain't rocket science, but this is an important part of chopping your script into digestible nuggets. If you are going to produce your script, you need to understand how all the pieces fit together and plan accordingly.

In the video I cover isolating (with colored pencils!) characters, props, locations and fx shots. Next up is writing camera shots in the margins, which is the inception of your storyboards and an eventual shot list. Finally, dividing your script into 1/8"-based scenes will tell you how each scene is for future planning.

This is basic pre-production and while it may seem trivial, it is very important toward comprehending how you are going to pull everything together. Next month we start thinking about critical crew positions!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tip: How to Edit Faster

When you have to crank out videos on a regular basis (or non-regular, as has been the case lately), you want to get it done as fast as possible, with as few errors as possible. I do have a process, but I've also learned a few tricks that have helped me to streamline my process even further and get finished with my edits, faster.

This video mostly covers the idea of limiting your range of motion while you edit, saving time in the process. The basic concept is similar to that of typing by feel instead of sight. If you can give yourself single-keypress commands and keep your hands in the same spot, you should be able to increase your edit speed.

With typing, you keep both hands on "home row". This system puts your left hand on home row, which gives you 12-25 other keys you can reach (which you can reprogram in your editor), while your right hand stays on your mouse.  It will take discipline to keep your hands in place, but with a little practice you should be able to cut down the time it takes to edit so you can spend the rest of your time doing something else.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Frugal Boom Tripod Clamp

Ever had a shoot, but no boom operator to record sound? I had this issue recently, which would normally be solved by using a boom mic stand, but alas, mine is long gone. Since I had no time to order a replacement and no resources to by locally, I had to make something from existing parts.

What I came up with actually worked pretty well. Dubbed the "Frugal Boom Clamp", I attached two friction arm clamps (which had 1/4-20" threads) on both ends of a straight, dual flash bracket. This would not only firmly hold a boom pole, but also had a threaded hole for a tripod quick release plate. Presto! Done!

Now I can mount the Frugal Boom Clamp onto a spare tripod, and easily grip the pole in two places. This solves my problem, and also allows my to gently pan and tilt the mic during a shoot if needed. The whole thing took minutes to make and only cost $15 (if parts are bought new). Not bad.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sony A7II inside the Frugal Cage

The Frugal Cage is an inexpensive camera cage made of flash brackets that can adjust to small or large interchangeable lens cameras. I really liked using it on my older camera (the Sony NEX 5n), and I was excited to try it out with my new cam, the Sony A7II.

As I had predicted, it works pretty well. The adjustable nature of the Frugal Cage means it can expand to handle the larger size of the camera, but not be so huge that it dwarfs it. One complaint I've had about cheap camera cages is that one size does not fit all. Aesthetics are still important, even in DIY builds.

As shown in the video, everything fits together pretty well with only one real issue. With the NEX 5n, the SD card was located in the battery bay and accessed the same way (by dropping out). The A7II has a little door that must be opened to get to the card, and this door is blocked by the side of the cage. I'm resolved to just leaving a large capacity card in the rig all day, but in the future, a better solution needs to be found.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Screenplay: How to make a frugal short film, part 4

The quality of your screenplay can really make or break your film. Not only does this apply to the final product, but also in attracting people to work on the project in the first place. One thing I've always appreciated about Pixar's films (and one reason they constantly produce hits) is that they obviously spend time on the script. It's that important.

So much has been written about screenwriting, that I'd be crazy to try to teach any kind of formal lesson in such as small space. What I can do is share some tips that have helped me bring a short outline to finished script.

While I go into more detail in the video, here's the gist of it:

Stick to format - use software that makes formatting easy and remember to show the audience what is happening instead of having characters tell the audience what is happening.

Keep it brief - use good, efficient writing instead of bloated prose. You're writing a screenplay, not a novel. Action blocks should be no longer than three or four sentences, and descriptions of any kind should only be one sentence. When something new happens, start a new block of action.

Write solid dialogue - your characters need to be realized enough so they say things those people would say. Get to know them so they can speak through you. Everything they do say should reveal character traits, move the story forward, or both.

Avoid camera angles - your script is not a literal shot list. Disguise camera angles in your writing so there is only one way to interpret the script visually. This will make for a better read, and make whomever directs your script think they came up with all the stellar imagery.

Keep it interesting - no one likes a dull story with dull people. Keep things lively and make your script a page turner. While you're not writing a novel, your screenplay should be just as engaging as one.

The film script is so important. It's the foundation upon which all aspects of your eventual movie is constructed upon, and needs to be given the time and respect that this responsibility commands. Nothing can save a bad screenplay, So go write a good one!

P.S. Screenplay archives are a great place to download the real thing and see how its done by professionals. Remember to get the real thing and avoid "transcripts" which are just summaries and not the writer's real work. Here are a few to get you started:

Simply Scripts
Drew's Script-O-Rama
Internet Movie Script Database

The How to Make a Frugal Short Film Series
Part 0: Cultivate an audience
Part 1: What is it?
Part 2: Reviewing resources
Part 3: Coming up with a story

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Q&A: Should I dump my SD cards to my laptop when shooting in the field?

Today I answer questions about Sony Vegas Pro, memory card backups, reviewing shavers, a dynamic mic on the end of a boom pole, and a summer chromakey shot.

Sony A7II mirrorless digital camera

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tip: Turn computers into external monitors

If you do any tabletop shooting, an external monitor is a must. No matter how well you mark your recording surface, your hands and other objects will wander unappealingly out of frame. After getting some permanent space and shooting everything on my computer desk, I discovered a much better external monitor than my previous 7" version.

What I did was turn the large computer monitor already on my desk into a giant external monitor for my tabletop shoots. I did this by simply running my camera's composite video out into an external USB video capture box. This allowed me not only use my computer monitor as a video monitor, but also to flip the image to see what my upside-down camera was recording.

This idea could be put to use in many other situations as well. Use an even larger computer monitor in your studio. Use a laptop as an external monitor in the field. If you go the external USB capture box route (you can use an internal computer card as well), the whole setup is very portable.

Older computers can even be re-purposed for this task. Since all you are doing is displaying the image and not recording it, less computing resources are needed. In fact, the box really does most of the work outside of the computer itself. Evidence of this is the slight delay you'll see when viewing. These cards act as your basic analog-to-digital converter, dumping the new signal to your computer where you can do what you want with it.

My setup is simple and cheap. I found the ION Video 2 PC box, which is all over eBay for very little money (I picked up a used one for $18 total), and will work on both the PC and Mac. If you go this route, make sure you get the MkII version, which (supposedly) works better on modern systems. Also make sure you get your drivers from the included CD and not those found on ION's website. I could never get them to work, but the CD worked without a hitch.

For displaying on my monitor I used the free Bandicam software, which seemed to be one of the few programs that would correctly display the 16:9 widescreen output coming from my camcorder. I also used the free iRotate which allowed me to flip my computer image (with a keyboard shortcut) to correctly see the inverted image I was shooting. If Ctrl+Alt+arrow keys don't already do this for you in Windows, install iRotate. It will fix this oversight.

Of course, if you already have the appropriate composite or HDMI inputs on your monitor, this whole idea may seem moot. If you don't (or need to flip your camera image because your monitor can't), here is a cheap way to do it anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Q&A: Pull focus or autofocus? (and updates!)

Today we talk about pulling focus, camcorder zooming, my "new" editing computer, where my speakers went, and where I picked up my 7" monitor.


Sony A7ii mirrorless camera
Frugal Find: The Dumpster PC (Editor)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Frugal Find: The Dumpster PC (Editor)

Recently I both tweeted and and mentioned in the Q&A show, that I had found something quite spectacular in the dumpster just outside my apartment. Not one to typically dumpster dive, this model is so low to the ground (about waist-high for me) that I can't help but peer in and see what potential treasures await. Being an area of high turnover will often yield lots of good stuff in the trash, as people leave town and head for the airport (the only way out of town).

Even high expectations did not prepare me for what I was about to find. At the top of the mound of that day's trash was a huge aftermarket PC tower box, the kind that gamer's buy to set up custom rigs and populate with fast processors and high-end graphics cards. A quick look inside revealed the box did actually contain the tower, and the tower housed a motherboard and graphics card!

I snatched the box and its contents out of the dumpster and hauled it inside. It would be a a great find if all that worked was the tower itself. But what if the computer worked? I've been editing all my content for years on my laptop as I needed the portability. Now, I desktop could better fit my needs, especially if that graphics card was usable by my editor, Sony Vegas Pro. I seem to remember some settings that let Vegas playback and render faster and more efficiently when using certain GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) on specific graphics cards.

Cracking open the case led to some nice surprises. There was a motherboard by Gigabyte, a Radeon 6990 graphics card (with 5 video outputs!), 8 GB of RAM, a DVD writer, a fan controller, and an flash/USB interface on the front panel. No hard drives (to be expected from anyone dumping a computer), but all this stuff looked great for a potential editing machine.

I obtained a DVI to HDMI cable and adapter and plugged the machine into my TV, and the wall. Lights turned on and fans whirred, but no picture. Even with no hard drive I should still be able to get to the BIOS screen, but no luck. I checked all my connections and even re-inserted the graphics card, but nothing seemed to work.

Then I noticed something that led me to believe the graphic slot may have been damaged. The locking clip on the slot was broken off. Luckily, the Gigabyte motherboard had a second slot (I presume for a multi-monitor setup), so I relocated the Radeon 6990 to that second slot and fired up the machine again. Success! I saw the Gigabyte splash screen which allowed me to get to the BIOS screen.
The BIOS informed me as to what kind of processor I had: a 3GHZ Athlon II x4 (quad core) 640. I also did indeed have 8 gigs of RAM, just like my laptop.

I was pretty pleased by all this. While not state of the art, this machine probably an above average gaming rig about five years ago (judging by the processor and the graphics card model) and was looking to be a great editing setup for Sony Vegas Pro. But would it?

Stay tuned to find out!

Monday, May 2, 2016

How to fix thrift store tripods

A common filmmaking item you'll often find in a thrift store is the second-hand tripod. These may be in good shape and complete, or they may be a total wreck. A common issue seems to be that the quick release plate (that attaches to your camera and locks onto the tripod) is often missing.

In the video I share some way to check the integrity of your bargain, as well as a fairly simple fix for the quick release problem (which will vary depending on the tripod, of course).

Metal camera quick release system
1/4" machine screw (length will depend on tripod head)
1/4" lock washer
1/4" fender washer (diameter will depend on tripod head)
"rubber padding" - taken from flash bracket (you can also use a neoprene fender washer if the tripod head will cover it)

Flat head screwdriver
Dremel rotary tool

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Writer Emergency Pack

I'm a big fan of game elements used to tell a story. At the most basic level, all games tell some kind of story already, but I really like it when gaming and storytelling go full throttle. RPGs are probably the extreme of this philosophy, but screenwriter John August's Writer Emergency Pack is a unique way a gaming aid can crossover into the real world and help storytellers.

The Writer Emergency Pack is a deck of cards designed to help with the age-old issue of writer's block, or just stale, predictable writing. It's a deck of cards broken into two types: illustrated cards and detail cards. The twenty-six illustrated cards have the same logo on one side and different picture and caption with on the other. The twenty-six detail cards have more details (on both sides) that go into depth about the topic covered on the illustrated card. Both cards, used in tandem, are supposed to help your story snags and help you get on with your life.

The idea is that you shuffle the illustrated cards and draw one, linking it with the corresponding detail card (see the video for an example). These cards give you pictures, scenarios, and challenges that force you to think and help you write your way out of a corner. It's a great spin on the writing exercise and I really like the possibilities it presents.

The cards are of high quality, and the layout and artwork are excellent. I especially love the logo of the drowning man. If you've ever been a writer, you'll know how he feels. This isn't just eye candy, however. The information and the way it's presented is also top notch. No one will lose using this on whatever story (or script) they are trying to write. Away with you, writer's block, away!

If I could change anything, it would be to get all the pertinent info on both sides of one card and double the number of them. This would provide fifty-two options instead of twenty-six. It would also do away with the split deck operation, which is a bit clunky when you draw one card and have to look up the other.


Writer Emergency Pack
$19 + shipping

Monday, April 18, 2016

MAFSF, Part 3: Coming Up with a Story

Last month, we talked about checking out our resources to help set parameters about what kind of film we could possibly make. This month, we literally lay out all of those resources and have a look, which hopefully will inspire what kind of story we'd like to tell.

A good story is crucial to a good film (do you like movies with dumb stories?), but there is no magic bullet for coming up with one. It will largely rely upon your ability to absorb information and processes it into something not only shootable, but interesting. "Information before inspiration" is the old adage, and that's what this video is about.

Hopefully all this brain-rattling will lead to a simple story outline featuring the following:

I. Setup, "kick in the pants" (see video)
II. Conflict Event 1
III. Conflict Event 2
IV. Conflict Event 3
V. Resolution

Next month, we'll take our outline and turn it into a short screenplay.

Friday, April 8, 2016

DIY: Add a tripod mount to anything!

I'm not sure when the 1/4-20" tripod mount became a standard, but there is no shortage of filmmaking accessories that use it. Whether you actually mount the thing (whatever it is) on a tripod, a camera rig or some other gizmo, that thread opens up a world of mounting possibilities.

Then there are the things that were not made to be attached anywhere, except for maybe a tabletop, where they just sit. How boring! What if I want to mount that widget on the Frugal Cage?

Of course, just because Thing X wasn't made to have a 1/4-20" thread, doesn't mean we can't give it one. There are lots of ways to affix that thread onto most objects (filmmaking or no), we just need how to figure out how.

While the video goes into more detail, here are five ways I've learned how to add this thread where there is none:

1. Knurled nuts from camera cold shoe adapter. The two nuts found on this adapter are perfect for lots of things, but their wide, flat nature makes them great for attaching to flat surfaces (in the video I stick one of these on a small remote). Secure them with epoxy or 3M VHB double stick tape.

2. Spring loaded cell phone mount. Found at the end of the selfie stick, these little grabbers (with a thread on the end) not only hold cell phones, but anything small with flat sides. This can include monitors, battery cradles, and a goPro camera. For larger items, try a tablet mount.

3. Pipe ground clamp. I first used these on my Eventpod Monopod, which gave me 1/4-20" mounting points up and down the tube. These can also be used on boom poles and painter's poles (just use padding when attaching). For the end of these poles (monopod excluded), use a 5/8" to 1/4" or my DIY painter's pole adapter.

4. Spring clamp with mini ball head. Found at any hardware store, these clamps usually have 1/4" holes underneath their insulated handles. Once removed, you can easily attach a mini ball head, giving you mounting options anywhere you can attach that clamp (table, shelf, door).

5. Drill and tap. The best way to add a 1/4-20" thread is to literally add a 1/4-20" thread! Drill the proper size hole in your target object, and cut the threads into it with a 1/4-20" tapping tool. These are also great for adding these threads into holes that don't have any.

I've used these techniques many times in the past when I really wanted to mount something to a tripod or rig. It gives me a sort of perverse satisfaction to repurpose something for mounting when the original intent was nothing of the sort. I'll stay out of that box, thank you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Q&A: How do I shoot out a street light?

Today we discuss the promo reel, simple masking FX, removing audio buzz, cutting down on room reverb, and why are those googly eyes over your speaker?

It's also Trivia Tuesday, so check the video to win one of two prizes!


Audacity audio editor w/noise reduction (free)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Tip: Backup Your Camera Remotes!

If you have several cameras, you probably have several infrared (IR) camera remotes to go with with them. These remotes can be very useful, but a pain to replace if you lose them. In the above video I found a cheap learning remote that allows you to learn your original (or several) remote's signals.

This allows you to compile your most important functions onto one remote, which you can toss into your camera bag. This is not only handy, but will give peace of mind. Take the cheap remote into the field and leave your originals at home!

Silver,  egg-shaped, 7 button learning remote
Yellow, egg-shaped, 7 button learning remote
Boring 11 button learning remote (similar price as above)

Nevo C2 home theater learning remote
Scott sez: These remotes found on eBay are at a very good price point ($15-17), but come with no box or instructions. Do your homework online before purchasing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Q&A: How do you make characters sympathetic?

Today I answer questions about motorized gimbals, pulling focus on Steadicam shots, long unbalanced mic cables, my tiny studio lighting, and simple ways to flesh out characters.


Stayblcam review
Lanparte motorized cell phone camera stabilizer
3.5mm to XLR adapter (Amazon : eBay)


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review: Stayblcam Camera Stabilizer

I have a love/hate relationship with gimballed camera stabilizers. You can get some really nice smooth shots, but boy are they touchy and require lots of practice to operate properly. Just balancing these things can be a headache, which also includes the one I built myself.

Electronic gimbals are all the rage right now, but the cost ($300 and up) will keep many frugal filmmakers from even trying them. That puts us back into the balancing ring, where we must adjust, pamper, and hold our breath to get smooth shots on successive takes.

When Stayblcam contacted me, I was intrigued--and then it showed up in the mail. I'd never seen a balanced gimbal-style rig in such a portable form factor before. In its collapsed state, it's only about 12" long, but pull it apart and it quickly becomes full size!

When expanded, you have a counterweight, the gimbal, and a cell phone mount. Yes, the Stayblcam is aimed at cell phone shooters, which is fine. I was curious, however, if this was a serious piece of gear I could use on a real shoot, or just a novelty for hobbyists?

I go into more detail in the video, but suffice it to say, it is not something I could trust on set. Due to the fixed nature of the gimbal (it's a two-axis gimbal, not three), too much shake goes from my body right to the lens, when it should be eliminated by the rig. This results in a noticeable side-to-side jitter that makes the footage distracting and unusable. 

I really like the idea of the Stayblcam. If the kinks can be worked out it would be worth a second look. As is stands, I can't see myself purchasing one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Making a Frugal Short Film, Part 2: Reviewing Resources

Last month I talked about what the definition of "Frugal Short Film" actually was, and this month we take a first step into formulating short film ideas. There are many ways you can do this, of course, but the most frugal method is probably brainstorming from the inside out.

As mentioned by Mark Duplass at last year's SXSW film festival and pioneered by Roger Corman over fifty years ago, this method is the process of cataloging your resources and making a film within them. This is one of the best ways to help you wrap your head around ensuing production vs. the "outside in" method where you write whatever you want and start figuring out how you're going to pull it off. Using existing resources is a lot more frugal than going in blind and hoping you're going to somehow save money and time.

In the above video I share five resources that can give you basic pieces of story inspiration. These pieces include locations, props and costumes, makeup, actors, and money. Next month I'll share some ideas about forming this raw material into a story, but until then gathering info from list should keep you plenty busy.

Making the Frugal Short Film Series
Part 0: Planting the Audience Seed
Part 1: What is the Frugal Short Film?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Q&A: Any suggestions for a no dialogue short?

Today we talk about "silent" shorts, using the Zoom H1 with your camera, the Frugal Crane 2.0, a panoramic shot outside my window, and what the future holds for The Frugal Filmmaker and Alaska.


"Behind the Walls" (a great (almost) no dialogue short)
"the payoff" (my own no dialogue short)
"Hell in the Pacific" (1968, Hollywood (almost) no dialogue feature)
L-bracket with grip and cold shoes (eBay : Amazon)
The Frugal Fattener 2
The Frugal Cage Playlist
Frugal Crane 2.0


Friday, March 4, 2016

Tip: Keychain Tools

While I am an ardent user of my Leatherman Wingman as multi-tool of choice (whether I'm on a film set or not), there are always times when I can't use it and which I had something smaller. There are multi-tools that fit into your pocket, but I prefer sleek stuff that fits into your pocket and doesn't create a lot of bulk.

When viewer Aaron Villa sent me a tip about using a washer connected to your key chain (see video above) for attaching and detaching quick release plates, it got me thinking. What other useful tools would live happily on a key chain?

Besides the washer, I always carry a metal USB drive and a small knife that folds into a key-shaped sheath. These are very handy, don't take up much room, and are inexpensive. They work well for me.

 What about you? Do you have any that you always carry in your pocket living next to your keys? Please comment and share! I'd love to see what other people are using.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Q&A: Why do you write strong female characters?

Today we're talkin' handheld mic stabilization, filmmaking red tape, free soundrack help, jump cuts, and strong roles for women. And there's a trivia question!


Today's prize: BT-168D Battery Tester
PVC Stabilizer (now for microphones!)
PVC Microphone Shockmount
Creating an action heroine from the ground up

Monday, February 29, 2016

DIY: Macro Lighting

Macro shooting is cool stuff. It allows you to get ridiculously close to an object, yet retain focus. The camera ends up being so close, and the depth of field so shallow, the focus ring on the lens becomes useless. Focus is now achieved by moving the target object closer or farther away from the camera, or moving the camera closer or farther away (use can also use a macro focus rail for this purpose).

One problem that arises is that of lighting. Regular-conventional lights become to big to light your tiny subjects, though you can use them with a white macro tent. This will give you soft, even light, but what if you want something more stylish? What about three-point lighting?

What you end up needing is a small light kit which allows you point light in specific directions, just like a regular light kit. As mentioned in the video, I found some low-cost alternatives that will let you do just that. While not as flexible as "real" lights, these cheap alternatives can still do quite a bit.

The lights that I ended up using were a small LED desk lamp with five LEDs, and a USB keyboard light with one LED. Used separately or together, these little devices can make for some cool effects. Be aware that these cheap lights have a very blue tint to them, but that can be fixed in post if you don't care for it.


4x AA USB power pack
2x AA USB power pack
Generic USB cell phone charger
Light socket to two prong power adapter
Light socket Y-adapter

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Q&A: How do I write simple dialogue?

Today we're talkin' dialogue, the film look, syncing audio, time-lapse tilting, and the c-stand.


Review: Saramonic SR-AX101 audio adapter/mixer
C-stand basics with Shane Hurlbut
Poor man's C-stand
Wanna buy a real C-stand? (Amazon : eBay)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: Saramonic SR-AX101 XLR adapter

The XLR audio standard is a great one for noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the microphones and cables for this standard are more expensive and may keep you out of the XLR loop. If you do get some of this gear, you may need help getting it into your consumer camera or audio recorder, many of which only have 1/8" unbalanced stereo inputs.

There are many products which help bridge this gap. I've been using the XLR-PRO for years, and it has outlasted my many camera upgrades. I'm always interested in what else may be out there and Saramonic has recently sent me several of their products to review, one being a direct competitor of the model I own.

The Saramonic SR-AX101 is an XLR audio interface, with line/mic switches, a mono/stereo switch, a ground loop switch, and an AUX input for those unbalanced mics you may already own. I go into more detail in the above video, but safe to say it's well-made (if you don't mind plastic) and is the most frugal item of its kind, costing $80 on Amazon and eBay.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Is a Frugal Short Film?

Last month I began a short series about making a short, frugal film. That episode dealt with audience creation, but today we're defining what I feel the term "frugal short" really means. This video is looking at things from a practical whole and less from artistic pieces. That will come later.

In the video I cover these points as the crux of the "ideal" short film:

1) How long should it be?
2) Where should I set it?
3) How many characters?
4) What about the script?
5) Number of shoot days?

I think the answers to these questions are a good jumping off point to getting your film production up and running. Next month will look into seeing what is available to you first, and hammering out a script idea second.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Q&A: Can I shoot on a hoverboard?

Today I attempt to answer questions about LED lights, walking and filming, hoverboards, green screens, and silicon bands!


Tip: Better Camera Slider Balance
Cheap 160 LED light
2 Wheel balancing scooter
Single wheel balancing scooter

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tip: Better Camera Slider Balance

It seems that one problem with a lot of camera devices is that there is only one point of contact to attach your camera. This is fine in most cases, but what if you have a front-heavy camera, due to an adapted vintage lens? I have several of these made of metal and while I love the image they produce, their forward tilt can cause problems.

In the case of both my Itsy Bitsy Slider and the Glide Gear DEV-1000 (both made from the same basic parts), my front-heavy camera was pulling the slider carriage forward, causing the bearing to bind on the track. This makes for less than adequate shots, as the slider now has a "start and stop" effect that doesn't look so good.

With the carriage only having one mounting point, the addition of one little piece of kit will greatly help you smooth this problem out. Viewer Dustin Miller suggested I add a macro focus rail to the top of my slider carriage and attach the camera to the macro rail.

This allows me to move the camera back and forth to disperse the weight of the camera and lens in such a way that it is no longer front-heavy. With the slider carriage and bearings now sitting evenly on the track, I can return to smooth sliding shots, even with an unconventional lens choice.

Do you have a tip you'd like featured in one of my videos? Please send me an email about it and if I choose your tip, I'll give you a shout out and the link love of your choice.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When Hard Drives Crash: My Story

Hard drives fail. It's a fact of life.

Everyone has either had (or will have) a horror story about losing valuable data. In this digital age, tangible media is going out the window and is being replaced by invisible bits of data that make up our hard work. These bits are fragile and can easily be lost. It is up to us to foresee this loss and to prepare for its inevitability.

I felt I had come to a pretty good place (after an initial quest) where my data could be safe. Using a "split" archive, I have two large 5TB drives will all my known video work, separated across my home network. Projects on my laptop were being archived to one external drive, which would then archive itself during the night (using Bvckup2) to a network-connected drive at the other end of my apartment. I felt pretty safe.

Then, the second drive (the backup of the backup) wigged out and was empty. Attempting to re-copy the first drive proved futile. Something was amiss and I couldn't even low-level format (writing a zero to every single byte) to try to start over. Fortunately, it was still under warranty.

Then the panic set in. I only had one drive that contained all my stuff. Sure, there was some on my laptop, but those were only current projects. All the archived stuff was now only in one place. My "redundant" system had failed me. If this second drive (the same model) failed, I was screwed.

I immediately purchased another (different brand) drive, but I'm in a remote place and had to have it shipped. It would take at least two weeks to get here. Would that first drive hold up?

The good news is, it did hold up. My new drive came in the mail and I immediately copied everything from the first drive to it. I then made the new drive my primary backup and the older one the new secondary backup.

The failed drive was sent back to the manufacturer for a replacement, and is on its way back to me as we speak. When it returns, it will be my third backup, which will travel off-site (my work cubicle) and come back to be refreshed monthly.

I guess the moral of this story is that two backups aren't enough, you need three. If one fails, you'll still have the peace of mind of two in reserve. The odds of those two failing before the other comes back are pretty slim, though you may want to take one off-site until the third returns.

Q&A: Frugal underwater camera rig?

Today we're talkin' new intros, the Eventpod, underwater rigs, duplicating a long and fake single take, and lighting a dark lounge. Oh, and there's a trivia question!


The Prize: BT-168D Battery Tester
The Frugal Fattener 2 (Camera Grip)
Eventpod Monopod Mod
Original PVC Camera Stabilizer

Saturday, January 30, 2016

DIY: Frugal Fattener 2 (Camera Grip)

If you've got big gorilla hands like me, you have probably become frustrated with modern super-small digital cameras. Sure, they produce great images, but they are like a toy in your hands. If they are not in a rig, they can be hard to just hold, to say the least.

This problem led me to create the original Frugal Fattener, which gave my tiny camera some much needed girth and added a nice soft foam handle as well. The problem with that version was that I had issues changing the SD card and battery (forcing me to remove the camera from the Fattener), and setting the rig down meant resting the lens on something.

The Frugal Fattener 2 addresses these problems by raising up the camera for better battery and SD card access, and placing a metal stand that juts out in the same direction as the lens. Assembly is a very easy and requires no drilling or cutting.

I really like the Fattener and it allows me to easily and comfortably use my camera for shooting stills. I now have firm grip on the thing, can change out needed parts easily, and can set it down without worry.

Metal flash bracket
Angled piece from C-bracket (a second flash bracket could also be used)
2x Manfrotto clone quick release systems
Foam handle camera grip (blue/black)
2x Large 1/4-20" knobs  (knobs from the flash bracket(s) could also be used)
small 1/4-20" knob (taken from flash bracket)
Cold shoe mount (or use one from the flash bracket)
2x rubber or neoprene washers (hardware store)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Q&A: Do you actually use all this DIY stuff?

Today we talk about a frugal blooper reel, my next short film, a pvc camera rig flashback, PVC shame, and whether or not I was hit by the Alaskan earthquake.

My Director's Reel
Original PVC camera rig video
PVC ratcheting cutters (Amazon : eBay)
Flash brackets are the new PVC
Review: cheap light stand


Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Director's Reel (Trailer?)

A few weeks ago I had a question on the Q&A show asking about how to create a better reel to show off your work. Sometimes called a "sizzle reel", this trailer-esque presentation puts all the best of your stuff into one quick and yummy snack.

I know that reels are not supposed to exceed three minutes, but mine came in way under that.  I feel like I have a decent amount of material, but also didn't want to overstay my welcome. As a result, the clips are very brief and the whole affair lasts just over a minute.

I also broke the tone up into two parts, drama and action. The first half has a somber piano for a soundtrack, while the back half is throbbing drums, with clips matched accordingly. I'm hoping this shows the range of what I can produce (though comedy isn't represented very well) and brings enough "sizzle" for those watching.


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