Archive for October, 2007

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Fund-Raising

October 29, 2007

Again, while perusing the articles on Microfilmmaker Magazine’s website, I discovered this article on fund-raising.  It was less creative than the other articles I’d found, being more a business aspect of filmmaking than a creative one, but I think that was a little bit the point of it.  Most people I know don’t realize the fund-raising part of filmmaking even exists.  It’s very glazed over or even just avoided completely in amateur projects especially.  I watched an interview once with Bruce Campbell where he said “You’ve gotta put on your businessman’s hat for just a few minutes and work out how your business is gonna work,” basically that the investors get a certain amount of money back, if you had investors to start with.  Essentially, the point was that money is used and hopefully made at the end of a project, and what happens with that money needs to be clear from the beginning and you, as the head of your project, need to be careful to abide by those rules you set out for yourself from the get-go.  It’s a very important part of filmmaking that I’ve barely even touched.  We did have to raise quite a bit of money for LATENT(CY), the feature I directed last year, but before that I’d not fund-raised for any project I’d worked on.  It was surprising how much effort went into just raising money and how much more work was added to the whole project when we began thinking about raising money.  Not only through donations and helpful family members and stuff bringing food or offering gas money and what have you, but screenings of our older films with non-free tickets and such.  Other things to do would be things like DVD pre-sales, or other merchandise you can easily make or acquire that’s related to your film and is legal for resale (T-shirts, coffee mugs, the memorabilia stuff that’s easy to get made in bulk or make yourself).

One thing I always wonder is why Hollywood movies cost so much money.  It’s obvious that lots of it goes toward transportation costs, as well as paying the actors ridiculous amounts of money, and the directors and producers as well.  They also have tons of people working on projects from the writer(s) all the way to the marketing department, comprised of most likely more than just a few people.  I would also think that some of it goes toward locations, lots toward costuming, props and sets, if there’s much of that in the film, depending on when the film takes place and what it’s about.

The interesting thing now to me, mostly, is that when more and more effects are involved in a movie, it seems like more and more money is called for, only us low-budget guys often prefer films with digital effects (simple ones, for the most part) that can enhance the film because they’re easy, cheap and accessible.  There are tons of people these days wanting to go into visual effects, 3D animation, graphic design, and all those fields, and often, filmmakers either double as effects artists or know enough about the technology and have friends or favors owed to them by people who work in the field that it’s often either free or super cheap to get some good effects on a low-budget film.  For example, I’m a filmmaker, much more of a storyteller and writer/director type, but I’m going to visual effects college starting in February to learn the Hollywood techniques using big-budget tolls and resources for basically learning how to work in a studio right out of the program.  All of that knowledge is mainly universal, in concept form, so it’ll be easy to go home and on my much lower budget machine figure out how to do what I’d learned that day in classes on my own stuff.  Not only will I have the capability to shoot, edit and finish a film all with my own equipment, I’ll have deep, professional-level post-production visual effects background and know-how for my projects as well.  It’s an incredibly useful “double-major,” as it were, to have in this day and age where digital is becoming so much cheaper, easier and more accessible to the average Joe.

The saddest things to me, really, is the fact not that the sets get torn down at the end of every movie, but oftentimes they just get thrown away, all the pieces and equipment and stuff that’s not going to get used by the crew anymore, since the film’s done, often just gets thrown away.  That’s like taking half the budget and flushing it down the toilet!  It’s incredible!  If I ever made a big-budget movie I’d at least sell as much as possible, if not to make back the money then to at least know that the stuff wasn’t just going to waste.  It’d be a wonderful way to make back the money that was used in the making of the film, and since ebay’s here, we can pretty much sell anything we have to anybody around the world.  If you’ve got something like a candlestick that was in a movie selling for 5 bucks, somebody would take it.  The huge wastefulness of Hollywood is just one more thing about the industry today that bugs the crap out of me.  It’s so illogical, so immoral and irrational that I don’t understand how they continue to get away with it, especially with the climate, social, economical and other crises we have in the world right now.  That money, if for some incredible reason the production company decided they didn’t want it, could be used for charities, could be used to help someone else make a movie, could be sent somewhere and put to good use.  Actors don’t need to get paid millions of dollars, that’s ridiculous.  Actors in low-budget movies are often just as good and don’t even get paid a quarter that much, and they’re probably plenty happy with their jobs.  If you could cut the salaries in a film’s production in half, use it all either for other stuff for the project just to sell the idea better (make it more believable) or even just cut the budget in half that way, there would be a lot of money to go around for other things, not to mention a ton of talk about the film cutting costs way, way down and still coming out great.  Because who ever heard of a film that’s super cheap making it into the Hollywood distribution circuit?  Oh wait… Rodriguez did it and it made his career.  Oh, right.  So why doesn’t anybody else?  I would love to see someone take a real, full budget for a big-time Hollywood movie, rework it and get it as cheap as it could go without sacrificing the quality of the project, and see what the ending difference would be.  I think it would be an incredible eye-opener into the wastefulness of Hollywood, the talent and creativity that needs to be in movies (yes, even in the business aspects of them, like fund-raising), and the fact that you can make something great from nothing and still be OK by the end.  I think it would be a wonderful realization, if somebody would actually do it.

Link: http://www.microfilmmaker.com/tipstrick/Issue17/FundRai1.html

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Micro-Budget Light Kit

October 29, 2007

Here’s an article written by Cinematographer Scott Spears about assembling a very thorough light kit with very little money, compared to a Hollywood or even some indie film budgets.  In the end it comes out to about 265 bucks, however, if you find deals and buy in a state where there’s little or no sales tax (like New Hampshire, as far as I know), then you’d cut down on some prices.  Light stands can be made (though I’d recommend having at least one professional one, used probably, since it’s much cheaper), and lots of diffusion and gels can be made or improvised for free as well.  I’d also like to point out that gels aren’t crucial anymore in this digital day and age where you can do almost anything with a computer and some decent software in post.  I’m not in anyway telling you to wait until post-production to think about your shots, that would be suicide, but plan out your production down to the last little snack break so you know everything about every shot and you can save time and money (if you’re paying cast or crew, heh) by not spending a lot of time on set fiddling with settings and angles of lights with gels and stuff.  While in one sense this can be useful, if you watch the extra feature on Robert Rodriguez’s DVD for Once Upon A Time In Mexico on working fast and cheaply but staying organized and in control, it’s most important to do just that – stay organized and in control so that you can move very quickly, cheaply and efficiently, but also get all the footage you need to the project before you wrap shooting.  It’s a bummer to have to go back and do reshoots, but it happens, and it’s best to be as organized as possible so you not only don’t have to, bu you can add easily and quickly to the shots you did get while in your super-productive phase of organized low-budget filmmaking.

Going back to the article, it describes quite a few different types of lights that can and should be used on sets and locations, many different ways of plugging things in, adapters, cables, diffusers and all types of stuff related to lights and getting you to light your stuff well so it looks good in the final edit.  It’s a very good read for anyone interested in lighting, or filmmaking at all, and it’s definitely a must read for those of you who are making a film or going to make a film soon.  Keep it all in mind for your next film and try to budget in a lot of the things on the list.  Search around for deals and tips for DIY solutions on the cheap or for free, since there are definitely some for some of the things on the list.

The thing that got me the most excited was the spirit of “We don’t have the money but we’ve got the creativity” that permeated this article.  It’s all over the place in independent filmmaking, since most indie films are low-budget, done quickly and with as much creativity as possible.  It’s not really a communal thing exactly, but it’s the fact that lack of money doesn’t stop people from doing what they love to do.  That’s the coolest part.  It’s so fun to read an article like this and watch low-budget indie movies because they represent, to me, what filmmaking should really be all about and what Hollywood’s been losing in the past years.  There are so many good low-profile movies coming out and so many huge-budget effects-driven trophies paraded around the marketing world that are just so obnoxious to me.  Spending as little money as possible, getting the utmost in results and solving any and all problems creatively is the best way to do things, I think.  This spirit is not completely lost in Hollywood, I know I’ve mentioned him before but I’ll do it again, Robert Rodriguez finished one of the Spy Kids movies in about six months, and can’t even keep track of the number of setups he does in a day.  That is cool, I think, because he’s working as quickly and efficiently as possible so he can get the most done in a short amount of time and still have fun and get some awesome movies out there when they’re done.  Typically, films take almost six months just to shoot, in Hollywood, but in the indie world, in my world, I took 4 months with cast and crew to make LATENT(CY), from concept to completion.  It was a hell of a ride, and incredibly stressful, but it was my first feature, and it was with a crew of five and cast of about four, with a lot of learning curves all going at once.  Next time, I’ll know a lot more about what I’m doing, and so will the rest of the people involved.  Hopefully that means a more productive, faster, better piece with high quality, low or no budget and some huge efforts on the parts of both cast and crew.

The spirit of do-it-yourself(-with-no-money) in my version of filmmaking I think is what makes it so exciting for me.  I spend as little money as possible making as good a product as possible, and when it’s you and your friends who all love to make a movie, that’s easy, and it’s even fun.  I don’t understand the Hollywood way of thinking they can solve problems by slapping money on the budget for some enhanced effects work in post or something when they could have just organized or done it right on set and not had to worry about it at all.  Also, one thing I think is kind of funny, and this is very unrelated, in the fact that a lot of indie actors are often, I’ve found, as good as or better then big-time Hollywood actors who get all the attention, and the indie actors don’t get anywhere near as many jobs.  Doesn’t really make sense to me but hey, it keeps them available to the small-timer who wants a good movie made with barely any money… like me.  Bruce Campbell said something once, comparing indie filmmaking to Hollywood filmmaking, “indies can always slow down with more money, but Hollywood can’t speed up with less money,” and I think that’s perfect that he said it, but really, really stupid that it’s true.  How sad is it that Hollywood can’t creatively solve their problems in production on a movie and save tons of money while indie filmmakers do it all the time, creating just as good of a final product, but they don’t get even half the distribution deal at the end.  I guess now it’s just name recognition, but that’s a pretty depressing world then.  If we depend on names to watch a movie, that’s pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s nice to see a familiar face in a new role, or even a sort of familiar role, since actors nowadays are becoming more and more typecasted, but I’d personally rather see someone I’ve never heard of before pull off the performance the character they’re playing deserves.  When that happens, it’s awesome to watch a film, even if I don’t know about anybody involved in the movie, it’s worth it.  I think it’s the talent and the effort that counts, the final film doesn’t matter if there’s no point, if there’s no value in the story or there’s just a lot of flashy effects with a really weak storyline to it.  If it’s got even the simplest of plots, like Cashback or The Big Bad Swim, it can be told in a way that makes you just love the entire thing, simply because of the obvious effort that went into the whole project.

As for the article, it’s definitely worth reading and thinking about and remembering on your next project, for all you filmmakers out there, definitely read it and keep it in mind.  Best of luck, and keep on making things nobody’s ever heard of, that’s when it gets cool.

Link: http://www.microfilmmaker.com/tipstrick/Issue1/lighting.html

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Self Distribution

October 29, 2007

It’s been quite a while since my last post and I apologize, things have gotten quite busy around here from school and work to doing my best to keep up with some smaller-scale films coming out in the video store I work at now (I will briefly recommend The Insatiable, Still Life, The Postcard Bandit, Stephanie Daley and The Big Bad Swim as good ones to start with).  I was told for my English independent study to find some articles on the school library’s site related to film and read and react to them.  However, since I wasn’t allowed access to the articles themselves for some reason, I turned to the next best thing – Microfilmmaker Magazine’s articles.  These are usually great articles filled with useful tips from people who typically use a budget of next-to-nothing for their films, and the write of this article just happens to have been on the crew for Still Life, a low-budget indie film I watched just the other night.

This article caught my eye a long time ago and has been taking up browser tab space for a while, as do lots of things I catch interest in and save for later.  This morning I sat down and read through it, though, and am very glad I did.  I’ve been trying to get into the film festival circuit with my short feature LATENT(CY).  It’s for rent at the local video store now, but I wanted an even wider audience.  I’ve sent it in to a festival and have been looking into even more, and if you know about Withoutabox then you’ll know it’s pretty easy to find festivals that will accept your project.  This article addresses not only the often misguided optimism of low-budget filmmakers when they enter festivals but the solution to such a problem: self-distribution.  There was one recommendation that was to order in bulk copies of your own film, authored with labels and cover art and packaged nicely and the whole thing being very professional, in order to sell yourself through a website or booth or whatever.  That’s handy, but it’s expensive, and right now, I can’t do expensive.  The next suggestion was to find a website like IndieFlix or CustomFlix that will help sell your DVDs at little cost to you, and both of you gets cuts of the revenue from the product.  These sound like much more solid options, since I’m not losing any money I currently have, I’m only gaining, and my films can be listen on Amazon.com.  The only catch here is promotion and advertising.  Of course, when you’re on a nothing-budget, you don’t have an advertising or marketing department and you don’t have any sales reps laying around wanting work.  However, you do have the internet, word of mouth and film festivals.  Festivals get a wide audience; being listed on Amazon and big distributors like that give that audience easy access to your film; and finally, being partnered with a company like IndieFlix or CustomFlix (though not contractually – you’re completely free to pursue other distribution deals) provides easy actual distribution of your film to your wide audience acquired through festivals.  It’s a great start-up guide for self-distribution, and even for those who’ve been having trouble getting their projects out there for a while, I’d recommend reading it.

It made me think a bit about the “new” technology of the internet and the ease of getting a name and a work out in the world for people to see.  Everything’s just so easily accessible now that it seems we’re over-cluttering the net and sites like YouTube with stuff that’s really not important.  Chick fights and nasty sports crashes get old real fast, and yet they’re probably the most widely watched videos online.  I was thinking about the ease of distribution and how simple it seems now, especially after finding these sites and ones like OurStage, to get a film out to the public.  The clutter of video on the web now prevents us from being able to sell our films, from effectively using the technology we have at our disposal for any and every use possible.

All in all, this was a very useful and interesting article about a guy who’s been around the loop for a while and found some ways to get around the problems often faced with trying to get a name out in the world.  He’s got a nice sense of humor and even though he points himself out as cynical or a “Simon Cowell of the group,” he has a very valid point.  You can’t depend on film festivals to get your name out, and you really can’t depend on those like Cannes or Sundance who once hosted Indie flicks and now invite Hollywood and huge-budget films to show at their venues to get your name out there either.  Optimism isn’t bad, is his point, it’s the placement and use of it that can be the downfall of an indie filmmaker.  Get out there and do your homework, make your product sell, and use the resources available, but be careful and active about it.  Best of luck.

Link: http://www.microfilmmaker.com/tipstrick/Issue18/selfdist.html

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Complete 4K Workflow Video

October 21, 2007

Well, Studio Daily delivers again with this really cool short video about 4K, the new technology that’s been taking the place of 2K, HD’s cinematic rival.  Essentially, they say that they don’t want digital to be a compromise for filmmakers who want as crisp an image as films that were shot in the 30s on film, because we always have the capability to go softer on the film, but not sharper, unless we then compromise the image.  For me, it’s not a big deal, since I’m still a super low-budget MiniDV filmmaker in part-time college and soon to be starting at VFX school.  However, for the big-hitters and even the local theaters in your area, the emergence of 4K (ant not only that but cheap 4K workflow solutions – including projectors) means that the theater experience could very well be livened up a bit from its current state and that the quality of a cinematic, big-budget motion picture could very well build up some strength with enhanced quality of image.  The new format is still pretty much unknown to me, and I do know that I love the digital format of filmmaking, simply because when you know what you or others can do, you can make so many quick decisions on set that you don’t waste time and money (if you’re paying people on set hehe) by wondering what to do or reshooting multiple versions of the same take so you can experiment with it afterwards.  Robert Rodriguez does a great short video on this on the DVD for Once Upon A Time In Mexico, where he talks about the necessity of knowing technology and special/visual effects so that you can be quick and efficient and in control on set at all times.  This is the huge gift of digital for me, because if a shot is slightly shaky but it works otherwise, I don’t have to worry about reshooting it because it can be stabilized later on.  I don’t have to go overboard with makeup because I can add some creepy color correction and a bit more distortion to people’s faces if needed in post.  I can do background explosions, liven up whole sequences that may have been shot in a short hour with someone running around by putting all sorts of crazy action behind them just to sell the shot.  There are some good examples in the extra features of the newly-released Planet Terror DVD that talk about Rodriguez’s shooting quickly on a low budget and then enhancing the experience with digital tehcnology and visual effects guys who just know what they’re doing.  This is the gift of digital, and it’s nice to know that not only do we now as filmmakers have this ultimate flexibility to utilize on our productions, but that the quality of image and the undeniable progress in the quality of the technology is coming along for the ride as well, giving us basically the best possible stuff to use while making a big budget film so that it can be the ultimate entertainment experience.  The only problem now is that it’s still way beyond the price range of any low- or no-budget filmmaker, and probably lots of indies out there too.  However, if there’s a good story, lots can be forgiven.  Oh, and sound, that’s pretty crucial too.

Just a note for readers, sorry I haven’t been posting that often, things have gotten quite busy around here, and I know I mentioned that page for my films a while back and.. where is it?  Well no fear, there’s a film in the edit bay right now and another being worked on in the writing and casting stage at the moment, so those two hopefully will be done by January and online and sent out to festivals, but right now I’ve got school, work and some of my own things I’m dealing with and working on.  However, you can look forward to updates on the progress of those films as well as a stabilization device that I’ve been planning and working out the details of so I can have a vest-mounted rig that’s easily detatchable but used springs and whatnot to stabilize a camera with the weight of an XL-1.  More info on that once it’s in the works, but for now, keep your heads on and bear with me.  Enjoy the video below and go check out some low-profile movies at your local video store.  I watched The Insatiable the other night and loved it.  It’s a cross between a Vampire drama and The Office.  Yea, pretty brilliant, huh?  Best of luck, and happy filmmaking.

Link: http://www.studiodaily.com/main/videosplash

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AnimiVirtus Collaborates on short film!

October 13, 2007

Here’s some good news: my first internet filmmaking collaboration that
is completed is finally released on the internet after months of
production and post, and I’m happy to say I’m in the credits.  It’s a
great short film, made by people all over the world, and I had a great
time working on it.  Ryan, the film’s director, had this to say about
it:

It was a great collaborative film, with the script coming from the UK,
music coming from the west coast of America and Canada, color
correction from the east coast of America, and stabilizing coming from
mid-America. Not to mention filming and acting with students from 2
rival schools working together on it.”

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EbI92fxDvU

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Toon Boom's Storyboard Pro

October 10, 2007

I never would have thought that a storyboarding application would need to be this complex or capable, I never really would have even thought that I’d want a separate application just for storyboarding needs.  However, after watching this video about Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro, I am blown away by the capability and usefulness of this program.  It can do things I wouldn’t have thought necessary, but end up being incredibly useful, like drawing huge pictures and then animating a complex camera move around that picture at different zoom levels and it’s all 100% quality because it’s a vector-based program, so you don’t lose quality of image and you get a whole lot more value and specificity in your storyboarding without using up tons and tons of paper and an expensive artist to communicate the thoughts clearly.  I think this is an awesome tool for any cartoonist, director or even playwright to figure out how their script translates visually into an exciting and effective (or not) piece of visual entertainment so they can best suit the needs of both themselves and the audience.  It’s a great tool and a fascinating video click-through tutorial.  I will warn you though, the narrator has a pretty heavy French accent and an obvious skill with a stylus pen and drawing talent, so the accent can be hard to understand and if you’re discouraged for some reason by awesome artwork, then this might not be for you (as well this profession might not be quiet for you either, you might just want to take another peek around the ol’ world for something intriguing, heh).  Enjoy the video, link’s below, leave comments or questions and I’d be happy to hear from you.

Link: http://www.studiodaily.com/main/training/8501.html

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Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro

October 10, 2007

I never would have thought that a storyboarding application would need to be this complex or capable, I never really would have even thought that I’d want a separate application just for storyboarding needs.  However, after watching this video about Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro, I am blown away by the capability and usefulness of this program.  It can do things I wouldn’t have thought necessary, but end up being incredibly useful, like drawing huge pictures and then animating a complex camera move around that picture at different zoom levels and it’s all 100% quality because it’s a vector-based program, so you don’t lose quality of image and you get a whole lot more value and specificity in your storyboarding without using up tons and tons of paper and an expensive artist to communicate the thoughts clearly.  I think this is an awesome tool for any cartoonist, director or even playwright to figure out how their script translates visually into an exciting and effective (or not) piece of visual entertainment so they can best suit the needs of both themselves and the audience.  It’s a great tool and a fascinating video click-through tutorial.  I will warn you though, the narrator has a pretty heavy French accent and an obvious skill with a stylus pen and drawing talent, so the accent can be hard to understand and if you’re discouraged for some reason by awesome artwork, then this might not be for you (as well this profession might not be quiet for you either, you might just want to take another peek around the ol’ world for something intriguing, heh).  Enjoy the video, link’s below, leave comments or questions and I’d be happy to hear from you.

Link: http://www.studiodaily.com/main/training/8501.html