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


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