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!
If 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…
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!
(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
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 🙂 ).
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?