Independent Filmmakers Manual

 

Independent Filmmakers Manual

Welcome to our very own independent filmmakers manual. We bang on about a lot of indie film related stuff on this site so we thought it was only right we put our money where our mouth is.

Luckily we know more than our fair share of independent producers and this has finally paid off! From this point onward we will be putting you in their more than capable hands as they take you through the basics of indie film production.

Beginning The Process

When sitting down to create your first masterpiece I can guarantee at least 99% of you will have the same thought:

This is a good thing – it means your head is screwed on correctly and you have a chance of succeeding in this business. If this thought has not already entered your head – start worrying!

Before we look at any sort of equipment we should first look at a couple of tools that reside inside you – creativity and dedication.

You see now more than ever you must be in diligent pursuit of your goal without letting your standards slip because anyone has the license to try this!

iPhone 4 cameraIf you have spent time on this site before you will have noticed that any Tom, Dick and Harry can make it big with something as simple as an iPhone 4 camera. Seriously – it has happened!

An entire feature-length picture can be shot on a simple Smart Phone that will rival the quality of expensive HD cams from the late 90s.

So this opens up the playing field a bit doesn’t it? The easier it gets the more competition you are going to face. You must believe in your story and work harder than the guy next to you ( at all times! )

If you are able to apply the correct amount of creativity and dedication you’ll be surprised at how relatively few resources you’re going to need…

The Sound

We are starting this independent filmmakers manual off on the subject of sound for a very good reason – it’s the most important tech requirement you are going to come across!

Yeah you read it correctly – it’s the most important tech requirement for indie filmmakers.

I can already hear the cogs turning in your head as you try and figure out where I’m coming from…

  • But what about my camera?
  • Surely filmmaking is a visual medium?
  • Is this guy on Day Release?

Well of course you’re right to think all these things – format, quality of picture and awesome camera angles are all incredibly important! But if you get these three right and get the sound wrong there is only one outcome ( and it ain’t good! ).

If your sound is bad you are making a very bold and unwanted claim to the film industry – I AM AN AMATEUR!

So lets take a look at the bare minimum tech you are going to need to capture quality sound for your project:

(1) Your Capture Device: Well you have two choices here but I would always recommend taking the first one ( if possible )

Using the audio inputs on your camera should only be considered if you are on a LOW budget project – it’s a ‘bare minimum’ choice!

(2) Shotgun Mic Kit: It’s important that you choose a Shotgun Mic Kit that comes equipped with a boom to hold the microphone.

(3) A Pair of Lavalier Mics: Love these tiny mics as they are perfect for clipping under folds or collars/sleeves on actors clothing. They are small clip on mics that are brilliant for capturing dialogue between two actors.

(4) A Decent Audio Mixer: Any audio engineer worth his/her salt will tell you that mixing your sound as it enters your capturing device is very important. A decent Audio Mixer will allow you to stream multiple sound inputs into your capture device.

(5) Headphones: Now I don’t mean the regular ‘cans’ you can pick up for about $20 at the local store – I mean a professional set of headphones. Luckily these Pro versions are a lot cheaper than they used to be – check out our personal recommendation here

The Picture

So we’ve covered the critical element of sound – now for the next step in our independent filmmakers manual!

Over the years movies have often been referred to as ‘pictures’ for a reason – it’s a visual thing baby!

As we touched on above it’s now getting a hell of a lot easier to capture quality images when filming in the digital domain…

(1) Your Camera: Seems a little obvious really doesn’t it? Well it is! The problem is that you will encounter many opinions along the route to your camera. Should I use a DSLR camera? Should I shoot the film in HD? The list goes on and on…

The truth of the matter is that any camera will do a job – period. I would stress that 99% of the opinions you will hear are based on personal preference – this is not necessarily going to be your preference!

If you are looking for a rule of thumb then consider this – you should be looking for something that captures at 24 frames per second in a widescreen aspect ratio.

The cameras we recommend looking at first can be located here

(2) The Lens: Well every camera is different so it’s pretty much down to your choice of purchase. I started out with a camera that was able to swap various lenses because I was advised a 35mm lens was essential. You may want to do the same?

(3) The Tripod: There are many different uses for a decent tripod especially if you are on a tight budget. It’s best to use it as a secure camera stand ( of course ) but in the past I have been known to convert a tripod into a number of useful items ( a dolly, a crane and anything else I could manage – use your imagination 🙂 ).

The Light

Light is a again a very important element for a filmmaker to consider. For this independent filmmakers manual we would always recommend natural light first because it’s completely free.

keep in mind that there are a few downsides to the free version of lighting – the most obvious being it’s a little limited ( night and day yeah! ).

The second downfall is that natural light only lends to one look. You can use your artistic or creative streak to try and bend this rule but you are ultimately controlled by natural parameters.

Here are a few tech options that will help you through the filmmaking process:

(1) Utility Light Kit: You will probably come across a lot of specialized filmmaking light kits and these are usually very good. The problem is they are pretty pricey at times and a regular light kit will often be good enough for the job.

Every light kit will have their own bevy of configurations but most will include at least one of the following:

  • ​A Back Light
  • A Key
  • A Fill

We recommend checking out this Starter Lighting Kit if you are on a tight budget.

(2) Color Gels: For some reason I completely overlooked gels when ​I first started out – this was mainly down to the fact that I was sort of making it up as I went along!

Lighting gels are similar to the gels used for color correction and are VERY handy pieces of equipment. You want to capture the image you are after straight away if possible – you do not want to be messing about for hours editing in Post afterwards ( and there’s no guarantee you will get it right at this later stage! ).

By making use of a good set of gels you are giving yourself the ability to control the tone of your light. Like anything else ‘practice makes perfect’ but if used correctly they can drastically improve the look of a scene.

(3) Reflectors: Reflectors can become a very powerful tool in the filmmaking process as they provide you with the ability to manipulate natural light. You can go out and purchase professional level reflectors but we are not going to suggest you do this ( you’re on a budget after all! ).

Instead we are going to let you in on a little secret – White Foam Board!

I was introduced to this little trick about twelve months ago and I have used it in many a filming situation since. The more you can get hold of and the bigger the piece the better ( obviously! ).

The Post Production Process

Don’t believe the hype when it come to the post production process – a laptop and some editing software is all you need.

Please don’t listen to the affiliate marketers out there either – they will recommend you purchase a highly over-priced ( and over-complicated ) piece of software.

You don’t have to purchase any software! If you have a Mac you’ve got access to iMovie – if you have a PC you have access to Windows Movie Maker. Both of these are extremely powerful editing tools if used correctly ( again we are in the ‘practice makes perfect’ territory! ).

The Miscellaneous Items

The final part of our independent filmmakers manual is going to be covering the bits and pieces that can make your filming experience a lot easier…

  • Some Heavy Weights: For weights I would always recommend ​using sandbags. These are great for keeping lights and tripods stationary especially if the scene is outdoors.
  • A Box of Clothes Pegs ( Clothespin ): You more you have the merrier – believe me! You would not believe how useful these little babies are until you get on set!
  • Gaffer’s Tape: Again you will need as much of this as your budget allows. Gaffer’s Tape and Clothespin are awesome unsung heroes when it comes to indie productions ( they should get a mention in the ending credits! ).

This ​independent filmmakers manual is intended to help those of you that are starting out in the film industry. Please don’t leave over-blown comments below if you have been attending a film school for the last three years – we’ve heard it all before!

You see regardless of what many ‘so-called experts’ will tell you technology is getting to be lot more affordable. For every piece of equipment ‘they’ insist upon you will always find a budget version ( as long as it’s not a camera or a microphone ).

There is nothing wrong with starting small and building upon the quality of your equipment as you go along.

What are you waiting for?

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49 Comments

  1. I see so many films online and in the media that have been made by people and the idea facinates me how it can be done so cheaply. As you say you can actually film an entire feature on your mobile phone which is something in itself.

    Myself and my son are very much into this area and we will definately be sharing some of your tips and try to put them in to practise.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Yeah Andy – that’s the beauty of the Found Footage genre in particular! Low overheads and general production costs means that ANYONE can give filmmaking a go! Hope you and your son see some success in this area – don’t forget to pop back and contact us if you need any help with your project 🙂

  2. Interesting! First off, nice photography there at the beginning 🙂 i think your totally right about an Iphone, because I’ve shot plenty of good stuff with a iphone 4s and 6, so I know tthey’re worth the investment (and the savings). I’m not a filmmaker so when I make videos (unless their music videos, which have the song in the background anyway) I dont mind the sound kinda weird.

    Great article!

    Matt TheDopestMatrix

    • LOL, glad you enjoyed the image we used!
      There is actually a Found Footage film that has been filmed entirely on an iPhone – it’s not a bad effort either ( I forget the name but we have reviewed it here…I think it’s called ‘Hooked Up’ ).

  3. Wow this is a cool way to create a video on your own without having to use all those expensive equipments
    You have really done well to present in this article what can be done by any one to produce a top quality video with a simple phone and a few gadgets

    • Cheers Fidel!
      You don’t need to go overboard to create a half decent film these days – equipment is getting cheaper and cheaper by the day!
      Glad you liked the options we covered above – good luck with your filming project 🙂

  4. Hi Chris,
    I enjoyed reading your independent filmmakers manual, very interesting! Having done some local crew work for concerts in my area in the 1990’s I was a little bit familiar with some of the terms. I just had no idea that camera quality on an IPhone is suitable for film making! I was also surprised to learn the premium you put on sound is so high. As we said in the ’90s this site is “Way Cool” , and I’ll be back for more. Thanks for posting the Independent Filmakers Manual!

    • Hi Marant,
      Yeah the iPhone’s general media capacity these days is pretty impressive – I use an Android phone but I’m continually nicking my girlfriend’s iPhone to grab a bit of footage 🙂
      Sound tends to be even more important than the shot these days – if you ‘cock up’ the audio people will notice and switch off before the film really gets started!!!!

  5. I have been wanting to get into making short films for so long (primarily to put on YouTube at some point), but between equipment and processes and everything else, my head has only spun. It surprises me just how many people actually use their smart phone to make high quality films without forking out extra money for a video camera. Thank you for making me feel better about slowly working up into better quality. 🙂

  6. Wow! What an interesting concept. I would have never thought making movies would be as easy as you make it seem.

    Technology has come so far in recent years. I know very few people these days who actually own a camera or camcorder for that matter. Everything can be done on your iphone.

    Have you made many movies?

    Regards,

    Paula

    • Yes Paula, I was involved with several indie productions ( all horror! ) when I was younger. Don’t seem to have so much time these days…

  7. I didn’t realise there was so much equipment involved in making a film, and so much to think about! It just goes to show, you really need to be serious about making films before you get into it, because there’s a lot to spend money on and organise.

    But I suppose it depends on what type of movie you are going to be making. If you want to make something professional looking, then you really are going to need to invest in a lot of professional kit.

    On the other hand, if you are going to be making the “found footage” style of film, like the title of your website suggests, then cheaper equipment would do fine because you don’t want it to look too professional anyway.

  8. I know absolutely nothing about the technical side of film making. I really enjoyed reading that it is not impossible for me to do. I was surprised to learn that film making can be done using an iPhone. Your explanations of the various equipment were clear. I have a sense you know what you are talking about. Great website.

    • Making movies has never been easier Marilyn – get out there and get that iPhone camera switched on 🙂

  9. Hello,
    The first thing which pops in my mind when i read your post is that film making is not so much different than creating your own business. You have to have a good imagination and work harder then every body else all the time ! I would love to see how a iphone 4 movie looks like. Some popular movies have been shot with not songood equipment. The blair witch project ? Wasn’t that made with a old camera ? Or it was made to look like that ?
    Thank for your intresting post and keep on delivering relevant content to us.

    • Yep Momo – The Blair Witch Project is probably the most successful Found Footage effort of all time. Read our full review on it HERE

  10. Great breakdown of starting an independent film.

    My friends and I did some independent films back in college, and I will have to agree with you about the sound. IT IS IMPERATIVE!
    Not even bad picture quality makes you seem like an amateur as much as bad sound.
    Having done films before, I would second your list of necessary materials to anyone else reading through, it is spot on.

    • Hi Sean, glad you agree with us about the sound – the number one downfall for up-and-coming indie directors ( unfortunately! ).

  11. Right? Actually, I’ve create a music video on youtube with my iphone! (Fly So High- TheDopestMatrix on youtube)
    But the thing is people don’t realize is they’re so caught up in getting a nice video camera, they never actually get any work done! It doesn’t really matter if you make good videos- hence half of the famous videomakers these days on facebook and vine.

    Thanks again for replying to me.

    Matt TheDopestMatrix

  12. Wow, I don’t understand much about what it’s needed to make a movie, but it seems to me you have put together a very complete manual for making a film. You took a lot of the complicated stuff and made “fuss free”. If you could make a movie with an iPhone four imagine iPhone6 and editing with Windows? Really amazing! I guess what you’re saying here is that you don’t have to give up your goals thinking you need loads of money to accomplish them, isn’t it? Start somewhwere, start small and grow from there.

    • Yes that’s exactly it Ana – just start somewhere…you’d be surprised at the amount of indie horrors that have made millions through near enough no backing whatsoever. If you don’t pick up a camera and aim it – you ain’t gonna make it 🙂

  13. Excellent article, you can tell you put a lot of effort into your website. Great use of images in the beginning, which you could probably carry on with more as you read through the article. As someone with little experience in this field, I would love to learn more about putting it all together and maybe more detail on how the pieces of equipment would be utilized altogether. This could probably be a whole other page. I learned a lot from your article and am looking forward to reading more of your expertise on the subject.

    • LOL cheers for the lowdown Matt – felt like I was in school again 🙂
      No seriously, thanks for stopping by and giving us all the positive vibes – glad you enjoyed your visit here!

  14. So, my inner director in me has always wanted to surface and direct the best movie there ever was! This sounds cliche but I have saved your page, and will be using it to create some great home movies of my two identical twin baby girls, they are 7 months old. I can’t help but want to record every minute they are awake because it seems at this age, they are hitting milestone after milestone. When one hasn’t the other has, and vice versa so I’ve got my hands full to say the least, in order to really sit back and watch the miracles in front of me. So, I’ll be using your site to teach me how I can create some truly amazing movies right from my phone, and maybe in a year or two i’ll sit back and enjoy the miracles that folded before my very eyes, until then I’m wiping up spit up and synchronizing their sleeping times, so I can work on here 🙂 haha. Thank you for the great information on your site. I look forward to reading and learning more.

    • No problem – sounds like you’ve got your hands full with that pair but they’ll work great on camera 🙂
      Good luck with your filmmaking!

  15. Hey, I really like this page. This can come very useful for someone who plans to make a movie, I really had no idea about all the things you need to make a movie. Very interesting reading i must say. Post is braked down nicely and explained in detail. I’m sure many readers will find this post useful. Thanks for sharing this post.
    Cheers and good luck

  16. I have been trying to make Training Videos for Baseball Players and your thoughts on sound could not have been anymore true.

    The first problem we ran into (we were working outside) was interference from wind. You could barely hear what anyone was saying during the instruction.

    We had to re-shoot over and over before deciding to go get mic’s.. The small investment paid off greatly though.

    I do have a question though, you stated that high quality videos could be shot from an Iphone, is there any equipment or apps that would make this process easier even without sound issues?

    • High Chris,

      I know of quite a few apps on Android phones that will do the job for you but not so many on Apple products. Apple tend to be much too ‘in-house’ with it’s products leaving app designers no choice but to jump into Android territory. I’m not the biggest fan of Apple these days – I feel Microsoft/Android way outclass them!

  17. This is very interesting website, something as simple as a smartphone and how to capture the world around it which makes it unique and original, the world if full of film makers so something you site most people will look into, a few minutes of filming could make the world of difference when starting and it,s those few minutes is all it takes to get the ball rolling

  18. I love the content you put on your website! It looks amazing and I learned a lot of new information that I didn’t know before. I love the layout and the theme you have for your website and I think that it is well organized! I love the colors too! Good job and I hope you have a good day!

    • Well thank you Tempest! I hope you have a good day yourself 🙂

      Thanks for the positive feedback on the site, glad you enjoyed your visit so much!

  19. Hey there, i just check out your page entitled the ‘Independent Filmmakers Manual’, was pretty informative stuff! Great coverage of the basics. My friend is an amateur film maker and i’ll definitely be sharing this with them – maybe he’s missing a few bits from the tool kit :).

    Thanks again for the really interesting stuff,

    Tyler

  20. Great article. These are all little things that I had never considered. Its all very well and good to suddenly rise to fame with a phone camera but if you don’t get all the peripherals nailed, its no good.

    Always wanted to get a group of people together and make something awesome. If you’re clever enough, all the tension can be built around something you never see. Like the Blair Witch Project. There was also a film made by someone near me in Wales called ‘Colin’. All about zombies and the bloke who made that is now a big time director!

    • Hi Nick – I’m actually Welsh myself ( I live in Cardiff! ),

      I know the film Colin very well – an excellent independent horror flick! 🙂

  21. Very detailed article about all we need to know to succeed in making a first movie! I didn’t know that a good sound was that important in the process of film making… and that a full-length movie could be shot with an iPhone! Refreshing to hear that almost anyone can make his own movie…if the talent (that can’t be bought) is here of course!

    • Thanks David, glad you enjoyed the guide! Look forward to seeing you here again soon! 🙂

  22. Hi,

    Your content is really well put out here! Kind of feels like it’s a professional article about film making.
    The fact that you can succeed by making a movie with just a smartphone is mind blowing. It gives people motivation. It’s also a great and clear list of the things that are reccommended to use.
    Keep up the good work and good luck!

  23. Incredible details on this. It definitely makes it a lot easier for someone to start doing these films on their own. I am not a film maker, but I definitely know where to send my friends or family that want to get involved in this. I know my little sister is big on making videos lately, like most children these days, and with your explanation I believe even she could make a good film.

    I agree about the Iphone because I took some great pictures and videos when I had one and I am seriously considering going back to an Iphone. Not sure why I even changed.

    What would you suggest to someone who can be creative, but has hit a block in that department?

    • Watch movies – as many as you can fit in! Always try and get inspiration off the professionals that have come before you. There are a MOUNTAIN of possible ideas just waiting for you to climb ( just pick a online film streaming site and start learning! )

  24. I’m working on a found footage film & I was wondering about sound. Since it is found footage doesn’t it make sense to only use the cameras sound? Everything will need to found like it is coming from the camera or does it make sense to have lavs at least just in case? I keep going back & forth on this question. The camera is a Sony NEX-VG30 with a very good on camera mic.

    • Hi Gabe,
      Well it all depends on your budget really – if you can afford to throw a shotgun mic in there it’s bound to help in the long run. Separating the audio tracks as much as possible is always a bonus. BUT….I know of plenty of Found Footage efforts that have relied on the camera mic alone!
      There is a Found Footage director that is a regular to this site named Brandon. Would you like me to contact him for you and see if I can hook you up with his opinion?

      • Absolutely, that would be incredible! I’d feel better going into the process knowing sound is good to go! Thanks again.

        • Hi Gabe, I had a chat with Brandon and he’s a big fan of using the camera mics as they give the film more authenticity. He even leaves the broken audio and clicks in there for realism. At the end of the day you want the whole thing to seem as real as possible after all. In some cases he’s used three different cameras with their three different mics!

          • Fantastic, that makes me feel infinitely better. Thanks so much Chris. Truly appreciated!

          • No problem Gabe, don’t forget to pop back here if you need any further help and let us know when the title is finished!!! We need to have a look at the finished product….

  25. My nephew (who has Aspberger Syndrome) simply didn’t do well academically at school. He left and went to college doing a film course. He has recently been given distinctions and merits in his exams and his tutor said that his work was of ‘industry standard’. Of course, it looks and sounds quite amateurish because it is. But the settings, lighting, characters, plot… and potential… it’s all there. And the sound was good too 🙂 I’m going to pass this link onto him because I know he’d be interested in not only this post but the whole site. In fact, he’ll love it 🙂 Thanks 🙂

    • That’s great news Jyl – tell him to contact us directly if he ever needs any sort of help 🙂

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