Simplify Your Filmmaking Life

I just read a post over at Zen Habits that outlines Ten Things You Can Do Today To Simplify Your Life, and was inspired. Filmmaking is a long, tough process and would be so much more enjoyable if much of the fat could be trimmed from the process. The following list is just a few ideas I had that might help us all to streamline our workload, make us more efficient, and better serve our creative creature. Less time being frustrated means more time in a positive, thought-provoking place.

Shoot Tapeless
I hate capturing and logging tape, and I think most others do as well. It's time consuming, it's boring, and nothing is worse than a hiccup on some captured shot that forces you to do the whole stupid process over again. Cameras exist right now that let you shoot video that is recorded directly to a file, eliminating the whole hassle. My favorite of these are cams that record to cheap SD cards, like the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2. It's very portable, it shoots in HD, has many manual features (including an external mic jack), and is less than $600. It's not a top of the line camera, but it appears to be good enough for the simplified shoot.

Use a Laptop
My desktop gave up the ghost awhile back, and I haven't missed it. My lappy is a go-anywhere filmmaking machine, and I've cut almost all my stuff on it, including a weekly TV show. Write, edit, render and upload! All from the small space on top of your legs. You can even use it to fulfill my first point of a tapeless dream, using any camera. Run your firewire cable from your camera right into your laptop and capture live! To avoid tethering yourself right next to your DP, get a long cable from Markertek.

Use Minimalist Lighting
Notice I didn't say NO lighting, or just available light. Even a bare bones light kit is a must, as you need light to capture video (especially with unforgiving low-end cameras). I'm a big fan of the noir directors of the 40's who were influenced by German expressionist cinema. The use of just a few lights (some used only one) can be very effective and affordable. Even basic three-point lighting (key, fill, back) is just that--three lights. Carry around a big poster board for a reflector, and your set. Of course it takes skill to use any lighting setup, so remember to practice, practice, practice!

Stick with a Small Core Crew
Instead of trying to rally a new group of volunteers each time you want to do something, how about using the same people over and over? Let them master a skill and keep using them to do it. Resist the urge to keep adding people to your staff, even if they are free. The more folks you have to get to a location at any given time only gives you a bigger headache to fret over. Make sure you treat your "family" with respect so they'll keep coming back, and don't forget to give them something for their efforts--like a decent meal.

Distribute in Cyberspace
With the explosion of online video sharing, it's obvious that the internet is the place to go to get people to see your work. I believe we are moving toward a media-less world anyway (note the iPod), and it costs nothing to distribute. DVDs will be around for awhile, and somebody will always want a hard copy, but the web is the present and the future of getting your stuff out there. Making money doing this is still a puzzle right now, but I'm betting these things will work themselves out in the next few years.

Remember that simplification doesn't have to mean a crappy end result. You should still use a tripod, hold auditions for casting, and use an external mic. The idea is that you get rid of the unnecessary, and focus. This blog is all about doing a lot with a little, and I think we can all benefit from a little organization and reassessment of what it will really take to get page to screen.

Any other ideas? Leave a comment!


Eric S. said…
Great post and video. One low budget and simple lighting-related tip I heard recently was about a filmmaker who always carried white and semi-transparent garbage bags and string. He'd use them both as diffusion and to reflect light.
Also, thanks for pointing me to ZenHabits. I posted an entry related to yours and ZenHabits over at my own blog:
Scott Eggleston said…
Glad to be of service, Eric! I can't take credit for the video, however, that goes to the wacky guys at They cover a lot of no-budget techniques that can come in handy, even if you don't embark in the over-the-top mayhem that is their trademark. Check the sidebar for the latest episode of Indy Mogul.