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FILM MAKING: CHEAP or EXPENSIVE?

“Anyone who has seized the challenge of making a film, whether it be a short, feature, or something amazing to throw on YouTube…has had to meet the challenge of budget.”

Even when your budget is zero, and all you got is what you got…you’ll find this is the time you have the most fun at making a small film. You don’t have clients breathing down your neck, you don’t have butterflies in your stomach worrying about if people will like it. Or pay for it….your just making a film because that is what film makers do.

But being a ambitious film maker, can also be the most frustrating!

Even with free talent you get on Craigslist, Facebook, or film school poster board…you are still dealing with the budget of time and people’s charity.

Point! (I love when I have those!) Any production can get expensive real quick. In both time, money, and patients lol

The 10 Minute Film School Legend!

Robert Rodriguez Budget Filmmaking

Robert Rodriguez makes a full length movie called “El Mariachi” for 7000 dollars, and it was in Spanish! It got bought and remade into the infamous “Desperado” and launched his very successful film making career. And he shot that movie on 16mm film! Using only a few home depot lights. You could do the same now with a DSLR for thousands less!

Famous for his 10-minute film school’s, it was there he said something which definitely spoke to me as a film maker. You simply have to refuse to spend money, find a creative way to get away with not spending money. Reason is once you start using money to solve problems, you tend to just keep spending. Use what you have, tell your story with what you have available.

Film making can be cheap or relatively mind blowingly expensive at any level. On the cheap end you can rent a Cannon 5D mark II or III for about 150 bucks a day, and shoot a movie or short over a weekend. I love being able to do that. But renting ND filters, a few different lenses, and a light or two and your simple movie making quest just got a lot more pricy. Plus if your just starting out, I like the idea of owning because that gives you more freedom to learn and explore different ways of doing things. If that’s just not an option yet, you learn a ton more on a deadline. Plus it’s that get it done attitude that will carry your career.

The Robert Rodriguez: 10 Minute Film School (The 1st & Original)

The Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute Film School – Part 1 of 2

The Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute Film School – Part 2 of 2

For all 10-minte film school’s (From infamous Director Robert Rodriguez click on 10 minute film school)

Video Commentary: Robert shot this pre-digital age. He went digital right after, but here he was shooting film, burned his master to video tape! Edited himself which was a pain in the tailpipe way back when…today you have DSLR’s, you have Video Editing Suites like Premiere, Final Cut, & Avid! You have everything Robert Rodriguez would have killed to have back them. So be creative, you want to be a film maker, then you are a film maker. Go make some great movies!

Saving Money Tip:

Second hand will save your life! Craigs List and Ebay are major places to get used equipment for a lot less than buying new. You should never buy new equipment with your own money if used will do just as well. And if you can’t buy, rent!

Cheap Cameras:

Best cheap cheap camera that is good enough to get things done is the Cannon T2i or T3i, as they shoot 1080p video and give you a lot of bang for your buck for under 1000 clams. Color reproduction is good, but you really see productions sing when you jump up to the Cannon 7D or the Cannon 5D Mark II or III.  The 7D & 5D systems are really the starting point where you can get through the door of legitimately calling your work Professional. (Professional enough to put on TV, a Film Festival, Or on the big screen.)

Cheap Lighting:

…what cheap lighting? The hardest riddle to solve even today is how to get proper lighting for filming. Renting a lighting guy is much cheaper than buying equipment, but cheap means a lot of different things to different people. Cheap sometimes just means cheaper. On the flip side Arri Fresnel Lights cost $3000 for a basic kit with a few tungsten movie quality lights, problem here is they are too hot to touch, suck up enough power to blow a fuse-box if too many are plugged into the same outlet. HMI’s throw out a ton of light for less power but are still super hot to the touch and are not cheap. The cool to the touch, power efficient LED’s are the NEW next generation technology for lighting! So it upsets me to no end that they are also even more expensive than Arri Fresnel Lights! Kino flow florescent cost money too, so no matter where I look…movie quality lighting just plain costs! A lot! Vincent Laforet recommends the LED lights on his gear page, and it costs $2000 plus bucks for one! Without accessories like barn doors!

So the Home Depot Alternative! And the DLSR solution!

Still I have to give it to Vin, because what Vincent Laforet showed us all for the first time with the Cannon 5D Mark II is you could take great footage using a few small cheap key lights and going all available light for everything else! This was groundbreaking just a few years ago, and still holds true today. Using a DSLR you have the ability to shoot great looking footage in available light, that still doesn’t mean you don’t have to light your scenes. A small keylight from a china ball, or cheap home depot LED light can work wonders.

At home depot you can buy cheap florescent bulbs, they come in daylight and tungsten-sort-of. Daylight is around 5600+ kelvin and is blue, and tungsten-sort-of comes in at around 3000 to 3600 kelvin which is orange in color. Daylight bulbs blends with sunlight, but I always liked tungsten light for skin tones. Both will work, try not to mix lights, and if sun is shining in from the window you need to MATCH IT (daylight bulbs), CHANGE IT (tungsten gel over the window) or BLOCK IT ( Throw a black sheet over it, keep it outside of frame, or throw it out of focus)

Diffusion. The Answer To Cheap Lights!

The answer to home depot lights is diffusion! Shoot your light through a white sheet, silk, or any kind of diffusion material to make these hard lights into soft lights. China balls are great examples of diffusion! Diffusion softens the light and shadows, and makes everything a great deal more usable. Get some dimmers for the lights, get some high wattage lights which are used for industrial use and throw some diffusion on them. NOTE: Please take care to not let the fusion material catch fire from your hot home depot lights.

ps…home depot lights come in all colors, so be creative. It’s cheap here.

Really Cheap Video Lighting Part 1:

Really Cheap Video Lighting Part 2: More Power

How-to: Powerful DIY video light (800 watt equivalent)

Top 5 Film Lighting Tutorials : Friday Favorites

Gear: Buy, Rent, or Build:

Another reason film making can be costly is we are such gear nerds. And for good reason. Sliders, Cranes and Jibs, Camera Rigs, and all the related gear can be essential to a smooth production. The question here again is buy, rent, or build. I’ve done all three and I’m a big fan of each!  For building there is nothing better than this book, Killer Camera Rigs. I’ve built 4 builds from this book verbatim, I want to build the Aluminum crane next because I love fabricating things. Through no expert, I’m not in the least bit afraid of tools and this book has opened my eyes to what’s possible to build yourself. Which is pretty much anything, a metal shop, a drill press, and Ban Saw and you are good to go for everything. Sky’s the limit!

Build:

KillerCameraRigs

Killer Camera Rigs That You Can Build: How to Build Your Own Camera Cranes, Car Mounts, Stabilizers, Dollies, and More!
by Dan Selakovich

Building the rigs found in this book, taught me a few simple things. How to drill into aluminum, fabricate shoulder camera mounts, dollies, and after a few created projects you become a different kind of film maker. The kind that knows if you don’t have it, can’t afford it, then you make it. And it’s addictive. I walked around home depot for years, and never cared about tools until I got this book. I want to build an aluminum crane, so when I see drill presses, claps! (you can never have too many claps), and tools in general I just get excited because before you just saw tools, and now you see what you can build with them. FILM EQUIPMENT, on the cheap!

Renting:

Camera Rental By Mail

http://www.borrowlenses.com

http://www.borrowlenses.com/product/Canon_5DIII

This is a great place to rent your equipment from, there prices are competitive, but that’s not why I use them.  I lived near LA my whole life, and you can get anything there and camera rental houses are numerous. However, after moving to Fresno for a year….you kinda in a bind. These guys ship you your camera rental, and do it pretty economically. So I assume you can be feeding polar bears in Alaska,  and if you can still receive mail via plane or horseback….then you can still rent camera gear! So no more excuses.

Buying!

I love ebay, craigslist is ok too( and beware of cons and weirdos), but for a lot less cash I’ll risk both! B & H is a great place to buy, as they have absolutely everything. You pay retail prices but you know if something is wrong, broken, or under warranty then you have the security from buying from a real company. With a quality customer service department with people who answer the phone.  And when its high priced camera equipment, sometimes it’s great piece of mind to be dealing with someone reputable not to mention reachable.

 

Making The Movie:

Having never gone to film school, I’m at a disadvantage of having a wealth of young film making contacts enthusiastic and desperate enough to want to work for free. My pro colleges are more than willing to trade favors for favors, but more often than not I am always hearing “so what’s our budget.”(Our budget?) Favors often times makes people feel like a collaborator and then they like to be involved in making decisions.

Or better yet make them without you. Which is great when you have a loose idea and aren’t die hard about needing to have everything dialed into a specific way. But an absolute nightmare when peoples feelings get hurt, and there goes your B camera, camera man, and a bunch of lights he decided to bring over just because he’s an awesome guy!

So do yourself a solid, pay people something because that makes you the boss. Paying anyone $50 or more bucks buys me the right to be a unappreciative jerk, want things a certain way, makes using a megaphone cool, and gives you the power to say the word and just have your crew get things done. Paying gives you more power to be a director.

The other side of the coin, free productions are the absolute opposite. You are an ambassador of your movie,  you are never upset, you are always smiling, you are the peace keeping political force behind getting your movie made. People get tired, need water, coffee, need to feel appreciated and included, actors need to have a high self esteem on set and its your job to make them feel the camera LOVES them.

All problems are to be dealt with a delicate hand, because that guy holding your boom pole for sound may feel it’s getting late and his wife is already pissed he stayed out past 10pm. Your leading actress is sick of getting hit on by the leading actor between takes, not to mention all your young single male friends who keep making up nice reasons to interrupt and talk to her. Your lighting DP keeps falling asleep, don’t think these things don’t happen.  You have to be downright charming when you giving your crew “corrective direction”.  You are the piped piper hypnotizing and leading your production to the finish line. Personally I have to let insults, anger, complaining, criticism, and every bit of pride slide right off my back to be a good leader. Not weak, but a meek one. Doing everything you can to make the best out of every situation, and encouraging everyone forward.

You want a clear picture of that attitude, watch the movie “ED WOOD” with Johnny Depp. It’s a story about a horror movie director, who made movies with nothing and had everything imaginable goes wrong, and he was always upbeat. Just had no other personality, always happy, always smiling, even then the world is crumbling around you. That’s a director :)

Ed Wood Film Maker And Director Played By Johnny Depp

Action! You Never Get Tired Of Saying It :)

 

A good director needs to have both sides of this coin. So the You have to really be for your people, because you want them to be for you too. Besides that, its your responsibly to make sure you bring your team through on time and on budget.

In Conclusion,

Film Making can be cheap or expensive, there is no amount of money you can’t waste on making a movie or short. Whatever your budget, if you are committed to the story you have to tell there is nothing stopping you from film making. If we can’t buy, we rent, use whatever lights we have available, and don’t worry there is plenty of free talent who want to be your actors, be recognized, and be in your film. So go make some excellent movies!

Welcome to the end,

take it away Kevin Smith!

 Kevin Smith – Great Filmmaking Advice

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