Producer Jessica Elbaum (Step Brothers), writer/director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), George Strompolos (Fullscreen), Franklin Leonard (The Blacklist), The Fine Brothers (YouTube) talk with The Hollywood Reporter about how they kicked off their film careers.
Wondering how to get into the film industry? This video is up your alley, then. These creators and key players engage in an interesting talk about their own journeys and how they handled the field. Now, most of them had one hand in the industry already, so The Fine Brothers are probably the best example of “making it” in that sense.
This video reminds me, instead of googling how to get YouTube famous — maybe I should just keep producing quality videos and just make my own path. My game plan for this year is to keep producing, keep making projects. Wanna collaborate? Drop me a line and we’ll talk.
You ever pour all of your time and effort into making a piece only to find out your audio sucks? Yeah, been there. Never fall into the “we’ll fix it in post!” mentality — be proactive!
If you have the cash to invest into proper sound equipment for your setup — you should. I personally just got myself a Rode VideoMic and a Zoom H1 Handy Recorder. The combination gives really clean, solid sound. While spending over $200 on sound equipment may not be feasible for you, consider that the price of higher end equipment. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck in this situation!
Here is a quick test clip of my current setup. In the first clip, the audio is flat and has a lot of background noise. In the second clip, the audio is rich and has dimension, but that DSLR hiss is still there. On the final clip, we have the Rode VideoMic plugged into the Zoom H1 and you get crisp, clear sounds.
There are work arounds, of course. If you’re really in a pinch and have a friend with a good phone or a tablet, use that with a dictation app. When the footage for my piece “A Dream Come True” had subpar audio, it turned out that my interviewer used her iPad to keep an audio recording of the interview. That audio actually improved the piece ten-fold.
Think about it — your audience will not only have to watch your work, they’ll have to hear it too. So make sure it’s as good as you can get it. How do you capture the perfect sound on a budget?
For years, when I would tell people I want to be a filmmaker, I never felt comfortable enough to say that I am one. I am cool with that now, so here’s some personal, filmmaking news from a filmmaker.
The most important news is that I have a camera now. I’ve been using my school’s camera (and my sister’s Nikon D5100, but I knew I had to invest in my own. So I did some research and decided the Canon 70D is the one for me. It is a beautiful piece of equipment. What I always hated about my old films was that I couldn’t take direct control of my image. Now I can — the 70D has tons of controls and pretty much allows me to control every aspect with an intuitive menu. The footage from it right out of the box is pretty much amazing. I also invested in a shotgun microphone, boom pole, sound recorder, fluid drag tripod, and some lens filters.
Here is a short clip of Pete that I made with it.
Additionally, I’ve been contemplating making my own light stands, but I realized you can just use an old tripod for one if you utilize the clamp light method. I already have one busted tripod, so I can probably get my hands on a few more of those pretty easily. Or at least, tripods missing heads and stuff. I am gonna also get some gels to change the light temperature when needed.
Also, I wrote a short with my cousin Josh and we’ll be pursuing that throughout this year. It’s first draft, so it needs a lot of work from here. We will call this Project SPIDR. The first draft will go into a few re-writes, and we’ll start planning out the hard stuff after that. I’m thinking of making The Wife crunch numbers, but I have no clue what that means.
A project I made last semester is now featured on this website: A Study in Homelessness. The short form documentary piece I made is called “Like A Dream Come True.”
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) I am taking a History of Latin America through Film course, and this was one of the films on the syllabus. This 1972 Werner Herzog picture comes up a lot in the discourse of film (at least for me), but I had never seen it. I was blown away by it, especially since it says a lot more about Vietnam, puppet dictators and guerrilla warfare against hegemonic powers.
The production is minimal and naturalistic and the dialogue is minimum. The film is carried by the amazing performance of Klaus Kinski, who emotes every line so that you won’t even need to be fluent in German to understand him. I definitely recommend this one, it is definitely on the must-see list for cinema fans. My only negatives with this picture is that it still maintains a Euro-centric view, strays a bit far from history, and presents almost no agency for the female characters. Other than that, solid film.
I didn’t know what to expect with this, because I had heard so many conflicting things — it’s a good rental, though. It was enjoyable, mostly in its monotony. Where I kept expecting dramatic things to happen, they did not (save for drunk, abusive step-dads). It was sentimental and bittersweet and enjoyable, yadda yadda. It did weird me out how the Mason kid looked a bit like Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites at times. Let’s make a sequel called Manhood, and it can be about college through kids and what not.
After watching the film, I spent some time researching and I was impressed with the amount of work they put into this (other than 12 years, obviously). Planning is everything, people! Linklater actually told Ethan Hawke that he’d have to carryout the rest of the filming if Linklater died. Impressive! The biggest shortfall this film has is that you keep expecting things to happen — things that dramatic movies love, something like a boy dies while they’re goofing off, or they crash by texting and driving. But this never happens. There are some scenes that build anxiety and then end, without a payoff. While that can be seen as a huge problem, it kind of says a lot about the American childhood. Enough that I give it a pass, at least.
22 Jump Street (2014)
While most comedy sequels give you exactly what you expect, 22 Jump Street takes that a step further by giving you exactly what you expect — and telling you that it is doing it the whole time. I respect it for that. It wasn’t as funny as the original, but the two leads are just too damn good together. The end is as funny as everyone says, but the resolution to the film could have been a lot stronger. It’s just anti-climactic and a bit ham-fisted, which is silly for me to gripe about.
For the next 28 days, I will be doing the Engine 2 challenge! Yeah, I know this post isn’t about film. But I did warn you that I’ll do “slice of life” posts every now and then.
So yeah, for the next month I will only eat plant-based foods. You can find details here, but I will say that this is a way for me to clean up my eating habits in a nice competitive package. I have been a vegetarian before, and I enjoyed it. I spent like half of 2013 without eating any red meat, but that was a while ago. I had a pretty good 2014, but I didn’t lose as much weight as I was aiming to. Also, I want to finish my college career in good health. Diabetes is a curse upon my house, and I’d like to break those chains for myself early.
So The Wife kept pushing me to do this. She’s really subtle, she’s like “Do you want to do the Engine 2 Challenge?” I kept responding back with “YOU should do it!” After a few pouty faces, I agreed to do it.
Today was our first official day. Some of my coworkers have already started, but we needed a launch day. For breakfast, The Wife made some oatmeal with a lot of fruit and a bit of maple syrup. It was tasty! I felt full throughout most of my morning. For lunch I had a fruit salad and unsalted mixed nuts. It was stressful finding the mixed nuts on the UNC Charlotte campus. You see, most of their cafes and coffee shops have plenty of pastries, and not a lot of great items diet wise. So my lunch was well deserved, and I’m surprised that I felt well enough with that sustenance. But by about 5pm, I felt famished. It will become easier, for sure. I just have to get used to eating at a healthier pace.
We did a big ole grocery run tonight, so our fridge is full of greenery. It’s nice. After the challenge, I’ll probably bring some dairy back into my diet. We’ll see what I do with meats. I am not going to drink alcohol during the challenge, but I am still gonna stick with coffee. Just not as much, and I’ll skip the sweeteners and dairy creamers, obviously.
Yo, vegans, hit me up with some recipes and suggestions!
One thing I didn’t touch on my last post was why writing a script (as well as your shot list and schedule) helps you keep your production cheap. This is because you can utilize your time better, and therefore you can focus on the best possible image quality. When you start out making your own productions, you’ll most likely have people working multiple jobs. You’ll probably run camera and direct. Knowing what you’re gonna shoot saves you a lot of time, and time IS money!
I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m pretty much broke. I haven’t always been this way, and I won’t always. But for now, I’m broke. So saving money on projects is THE WAY to go. Plus, as you build your success, the more you can stretch a budget, the better your production could be. That’s why we’ll talk about cheap film lighting techniques and why your camera choice doesn’t matter as much right now in this post.
So when it comes to camera choice, you obviously want something nice, but you maybe can’t afford it. Your smart phone is probably more than capable of making a film. And if you don’t have a great phone, sweet talk a friend into using theirs. I’m lucky in having access to a couple of Canons at school and a Nikon D5100. This month, I will be getting my hands on a Canon 70D, I believe. If you don’t have access to a DSLR or a camera, use your phone. It’s fine. The key will be to make sure you stabilize whatever you use as a camera (preferably a tripod, but use a coffee table and a book, whatever who cares?). If you’re going for a handheld look, your smart phone will work fine. In Sammy’s Tape, the shots of Pete the Schnoodle were done with my iPhone on the fly, while the rest was the D5100.
Now we get to more difficult stuff. If you want to make films on a budget that look nice, you need lighting. Lighting is expensive, though. Even if you go outside and shoot with natural light, you will need to take some measures to make it work right. IF you have access to a camera with image control, take this by the reigns. Learn about ISO, f-stops, etc. I am still learning these details myself, but learn the basics and you should be okay.
From there, your ideal is 3 point lighting. That would be a key light, fill light, and a back light. Here’s a really basic explanation. If you do not have access to a light kit, you can make a cheap one using PVC pipes and clamp lights. I will make some of those soon, and do a review of them.
If you’re just gonna wing it and use household lighting, be aware that you will run into a lot of issues. I suggest buying as much bounce boards as you can (use white poster board, white curtains, white sheets, a thousand white t-shirts stitched together). Set up your lamps with bounce to at least illuminate your subject with a key light. If you can get any fill after that, you’ll be okay for small projects. Not great, but okay. You can always toss diffusion over the lights you’re using if they are too harsh. I’ve also heard inserting paper lamps (Chinese lamps?) into shots can help illuminate subjects.
Regardless of what you do, make sure you take control. To reiterate, learn your lighting, implement it. If you have to wing your lighting, make sure you bring bounce and reflectors with you. Learn your camera settings, and adjust as needed. And when it comes down to it — edit whatever you get to look okay. We ended up with a few harsh shadows on some of our green screen work in Sammy’s Tape, but I was able to blend that noise into the VHS grain we were going for.
What are your cheap film lighting tricks? Do you have equipment or do you have to be creative to light your shots?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before — the only way to be a filmmaker is to say “I’m a filmmaker,” and not “I want to be a filmmaker.” Cliche, but it’s true. I used to justify my not being in college by telling people I want to go back to college, but I was never back until I actually WENT back. So if you want to be a filmmaker, tell people you’re a filmmaker — and then make films!
As I said in my previous post, I am going to delve into more low budget filmmaking tips. I’m going to be honest, my first experiences with filmmaking were usually written the hour before we filmed. There was a charming chaos to that, but most of the projects we made were just for our own enjoyment. This is fine to get you familiar with the basics, but once you learn those you need to write your films. Now you’re worried because you don’t know how to write a screenplay, you say?
If you aren’t a writer, befriend someone who is. You can focus your career on directing or editing, but you will have a hard time doing that without a good writer. Or just develop an ego, and tell everyone you’re a good writer. They won’t question you if you say it with enough conviction!
My best advice for screenwriters who are just starting is to watch movies, read scripts, and then write scripts! Yeah, you’ve heard this one a lot too, eh? We both know you watch movies all the time (unless you do yoga – sorry, inside joke), so start analyzing what works and what doesn’t. After that, seek out some scripts. The easiest way to get ahold of scripts is to google “[movie name] screenplay.” Or just google “screenplay database,” or anything like that. Look at the format, look at how they write. Learn it. Then download Celtx. This free program is a great way to write without worrying about formatting.
This is where you get your free software, and then you write. What should you write? Well, the basic thing to write is a story. Don’t complicate things — just have a beginning, middle and end. Have a CHARACTER with a NEED who faces an OBSTACLE. Take this character to a point where they need to CHOOSE. Make the choice, show us the CONSEQUENCE. It can be as simple as Jimmy is late to work, and ends up losing his keys. Or it can be Frodo has some stupid ring he has to get rid of, I don’t care. Just try and write a screenplay. Send it to me, and I’ll tell you what I think. Speaking of…
I’ve had to teach myself to share my work with people, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself as a writer. Expand upon this concept by shooting your script and becoming a bonafide, certified, funkdafied filmmaker!
So this is where we move on to our production stage. Stay tuned for the next post where we’ll talk details about lighting and effects on a budget. For the mean time, enjoy my short film Trunk Space, the script that we used as well as the shot list.
Let’s talk about low budget filmmaking, and some tips and equipment involved. Making films with little to no budget is an exercise in creativity, sometimes requiring you to alter your concepts on the spot. And if you’re wondering how to make a short film, get a camera or an iPhone and just start filming. That’s step one!
Back in the day, my family used to create short videos to send to a cousin’s in-laws in Ohio. This was pretty low tech stuff, usually just a quick video done on the spot. One time, my brother and I rigged two VCRs together with a CD player to clean up the editing. Every time we paused the receiving VCR, we had to pause the CD player overriding the audio, as well. Like I said, low tech. But this is the very basic of low budget, so let’s embrace the memory.
This year, my cousin Josh was Ohio bound to see his wife’s family, so he decided he’d meet up with the extended family and show his own video. Josh and Heather hit me up with their concept — they wanted to include some puppet work, and an anthology of short scenes. The premise would be Josh and one of his puppets watching TV, switching through channels.
I helped script out one or two of the skits, the ones we found the funniest. Having read my scripts before, Josh knew to separate action and dialogue as he wrote, and I just cleaned it all up and gave it some flow. Some of the notes were voice memos, which works great as well.
Writing is key when it comes to making films on a budget. You want to make the most of your time, and knowing what you’re going to film makes all the difference. On a big budget set, you would have only one role, but low budget filmmakers have to wear many hats. So together, Josh, Heather and I were in charge of audio, set design, costumes, lighting, etc. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about some of the troubles you run into and the tricks you learn in the process.
Two of our skits required a green screen, which is a tricky beast to work with. I have had a few experiences, but knew we would be at a disadvantage with our lighting. We were using a mix of daylight and house lights at this point, and we were suffering a few harsh shadows. You can write as many great scripts as you want, but no one will take your work too serious without good lighting and audio. We took precautions to record our audio, but the lighting is always a hard task. Especially when you’re filmmaking with no budget!
We decided then to be creative — these skits are now found footage from an old VHS tape. That way the noise from the green screen could blend in with any VHS noise we create. I used the sixteen point garbage matte and ultrakey to key the background in. As for backgrounds, I used as much stock footage as I could (and some found footage) — the key was to have it look dated, simple and cheesy. I think we accomplished it. It is important to take control of your image — that’s one of the biggest tips I can give you as a filmmaker. Even if the image quality isn’t what you were going for, make it work for you. As for the entire look of the piece, I used several filters and tricks to try my best to make it look like a VHS tape converted to digital. We will go into specifics on a future post!
My cousin was happy with the final product, and I have to admit that I was, as well. Even though this was a family favor, I treated it like Josh hired me for a project. Josh was my client, and I wanted to deliver. On the same note, any request for graphics and music I sent to Josh, he sent back within the hour. He’s a graphic designer, so he did the graphics for the video. Ideal conditions, really. I don’t see every job being as easy to work, but it is nice to take a project for someone else from start to finish. And best of all, our budget stayed minimal. I am going to delve into specifics on an upcoming post, but what specifics would you like to learn about? Any advice on achieving an aged, VHS look? Leave a comment and let me know!