Author Archive

15 Essential (and Inexpensive) Tools for Wardrobe, Hair, & Make-Up

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Filmmakers love to talk about tools. The blog-o-sphere is rampant with posts about cameras, lights, and cinematography accessories, but despite all the attention on achieving great looking films from an equipment/technology standpoint, there is far less discussion about low-fi ways to make your film look like a million bucks via attention to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.

I’ve recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, catching up on the last four seasons. Whether you love or hate this show (a quick look at the Mad Men Wikipedia page will give a sense of the heated debates this show has provoked among critics), it’s hard not to be in awe of its production values, in general, and art direction, in particular. While probably no one reading this post has the budget that Mad Men does, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attend to art direction with the same care.

Both as a film festival programmer and as a university instructor, I have seen how, all too often, art direction (much like sound design!) is neglected in first films and student films. It’s easy to spot an amateur effort when gangsters are wearing Converse One-Stars (yep, I’ve actually seen this) or an MRI machine is made out of cardboard (After Last Season, anyone?).

A single post can’t address the complex and time-consuming process of art direction–how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it on a budget–but assuming art direction is receiving at least some of the attention it needs in your production, here are fifteen of my favorite inexpensive tools–none of them should run you more than $25–to help get you through the inevitable wardrobe, hair, and make-up emergencies:

  1. Fanny Pack — While these might conjure memories of bad ’80s fashion or annoying tourists, a good art director has essential tools on her at all times (without needing to run to find her tool bag) and needs her hands free. And, unlike decades past, you can find cute and functional fanny packs these days. Try Natural Life for styles with flair or Mountain Smith lumbar packs for a more muted look. All of the supplies/tools below should fit into your pack.
  2. Downy Wrinkle Releaser — Wrinkles are a continuity nightmare, and on a DIY set, lugging and plugging in a clothing steamer or iron isn’t practical. This spray works best on cotton or cotton blends; avoid using it on delicate fabrics (e.g. silk, satin).
  3. Mini Lint Roller — Keep hair, link, and other fuzzies off of clothing to help preserve continuity.
  4. Mini Sewing Kit, with needle/safety pins and mini scissors. — Fix rips, tears, or buttons right on set. In a pinch, borrow some gaffer’s tape to repair a seam–I’ve created makeshift curtains on set with fabric and gaff tape alone.
  5. Seam Ripper — If you have never used one of these before, prepare to be amazed! Seam rippers are specialized tools–something between a razor blade and scissors–with a very pointed tip and sharp base. Unlike scissors, the tiny point can be easily threaded under a stitch for easily cutting out seams without hurting the surrounding fabric or causing holes. Remove an annoying clothing tag, lengthen a hem, or deconstruct a garment in seconds!
  6. Flexible Body Measuring Tape— You’d be surprised how often you can use this, either for wardrobe measurements or on loan to the camera department for focus pulling and actor marks when they’ve forgotten or misplaced their measuring tape.
  7. Instant Stain Remover (such as Tide To-Go mini) — This really works on stains caused by foundation, lipstick, and coffee — three common art emergencies. I prefer the stain remover pens to the wipes, as they don’t rub the stain into the fabric.
  8. Clear Medical Tape (and/or double-sided Fashion Tape) — Medical tape is sweat-proof and nearly invisible on skin–great for taping lavs to bare skin or securing clothing straps. Fashion tape comes in pre-cut double-sided strips and is great for invisibly holding clothing in place.
  9. Mini First Aid Kit with Blister Cushions and assortment of travel size packs of Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Pepto Bismol/Bug Repellant/Sunscreen — The producer should have a full-blown first aid kit on set at all times, but I like to have supplies of my own for the unexpected emergency situation or when that kit is out of reach. Blister blocker band-aids are amazing for stopping blisters but can also be used to protect skin from irritation from mic packs or other costume nuisances. Having pain killers and stomach ache cures on hand is essential for keeping talent and crew happy. I also like to keep Hot Hands available for cold mornings on set.
  10. Assorted Bobby Pins — Having a few sizes and colors (gold for blonds, black for brunettes) will help hold stray hair in place, pin back clothing, etc.
  11. Sharpies — I use black to cover scuff marks, silver for writing on black gaffer tape, and red for when I need what I’m writing to be seen! You might want to get the mini sharpies that can be tied to lanyards for instant access around your neck.
  12. Concealer, such as Max Factor Pan Stick , to cover blemishes. This pan stick will also cover tattoos fairly well (if airbrushing isn’t in your budget–ha!) and the price is right. A shine reducing, translucent powder is also make-up’s best friend.
  13. Hand Sanitizer — Alcohol based ones double as stain removers and can take out ink stains fairly well.
  14. Breath Mints or Gum — Again, the talent will love you for this.
  15. Super Glue — I recommend a few of the mini tubes for situations where tape won’t do.

If you’ve got other art tools you can’t live without, please let me know in the comments!

Attending to wardrobe, hair, and make-up comes with less glory (and, perhaps, on the positive side, ego) than that of Cinematographer or Director, but it’s no less responsible for making the difference between a successful film and an unsuccessful one. It can make the story world credible or incredible, real or surreal. What’s more essential than that?

Photo Essay: The Souths, Part I

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

For Memories’ Sake, pt. 3: Organizing Content

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Once I had completed the most basic research and transferred Angela’s movies to video, I had to figure out how to keep track of the content of her collection. Though I only later learned about the importance of metadata and the availability of online archivist classes, I began simply and naively with a system that has served me well. I created a basic Filemaker Pro database with screengrabs from the home movies and just enough data to let me quickly find movies by persons featured, keywords, and/or their location on specific film reels or transfer tapes. I think this screen grab is somewhat self-explanatory:

As you can imagine, the keywords tend to be most useful. The beauty of using Filemaker Pro (as opposed to a library-designed data management software or, even worse, paper-based finding aid system) is that I can create ways to look for and quickly find what I want in a way that make sense to me. It’s also one of the most affordable solutions I’ve found.

Of course, I quickly discovered I would need hard drives and backups of those hard drives for all the data and the video files, and when you’re dealing with hundreds of hours of footage, it’s quite an investment. I’ve found this brand to be especially reliable and affordable. As part of the “best practices” I’ve adopted, I always keep one copy of master tapes and hard drives with data in a separate, secure, climate-controlled location (e.g. not in a basement, attic, or anywhere subject to big temparture fluctuations or humidity). I also set alarms to remind myself to power up and spin the heads on the harddrives at least once every six months. Failing to do so can mean a total loss of data.

**

Even for filmmakers who aren’t interesting in shooting small format or working with family archives, home movies have a lot to offer. As opposed to much archival footage that comes with hefty fees (my searches online yielded rates ranging from $25 per second to $350/second and up), home movies often come free for the taking (with attribution) or for a song at garage and rummage sales. More than that, I believe there’s something inexplicably beautiful in these smaller than life versions of everyday scenes. Maybe it’s because small things distill life to its essence…or maybe it’s because the world seems so big and wonderful when things appear so small. Whatever the reason, if you come across orphan or neglected home movies, I hope you’ll consider preserving and using these beautiful artifacts or donating them to an archive near you.

In the next making of For Memories’ Sake post, I’ll share how I scanned and catalogued 30,000+ photographs without taking too many years off my life.

Still from Angela Singers 8mm home movies.

Still from Angela Singer's 8mm home movies.

For Memories’ Sake, pt. 2: A Smattering of Super-8 Resources

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Paul Harrill here. What follows below is Ashley Maynor’s second post about For Memories’ Sake, her forthcoming documentary. (I am the film’s producer.) If you missed Ashley’s first post, you can catch up with it here.

As you might guess if you read my first post, I soon found myself overwhelmed with the task of caring for Angela Singer’s massive and chaotic collection. While this preservation project has finally come together in the form of a movie (more than three years since it began), I had to first learn to work with and care for her diverse and problematic assemblage of photos, films, and video. As a first generation college student, I majored in the not-so-versatile area of French Literature. I came to filmmaking late in my academic career, so it was without any formal photography training and during my first year of film school that I set out to learn best archival practices, digitization techniques, and the ins and outs of small format filmmaking.

While there’s no substitute for learning hands-on through trial, error and frustration as I did, the following is a collection of websites and online resources that most helped me as I stumbled through the first phase of preservation:

Working with Home Movies

General Interest & Footage Sources

Home & Amateur – A blog about home movies and amateur film, whose contributors hail from the Center for Home Movies.

Lost in Light – The documentation of a (now complete) free home movie transfer project, including home movies, categorized by topic, many of them available for Creative Commons remixing.

Prelinger Archives/Archive.Org – A collection of home movies includes amateur films and videotapes from the collections of the Center for Home Movies, the Prelinger archives, other home movie aficionados. Many of the movies are public domain or available for use under Creative Commons guidelines.

Supplies & Small Format Filmmaking Resources

Film Shooting – A great online source for news about all things home movies and small format filmmaking based in Norway. Given that two major print publications (Super8Today and SmallFormat) have shut down their presses in the last year, this online news pool is essential.

On Super 8 – This site bills itself as “impartial and comprehensive resources for today’s Super 8 and 8mm small gauge film makers.” It’s all that and more; based in the UK.

Pro8mm– The only movie house I know of in the US that specifically specializes in Super-8 film stocks and transfers. In 2008, they added a Milliennium II Scanner with daVinci 2K color corrector to their transfer menu, capable of SD or HD scans. It’s the premier scanning system for small¬† gauge film.

Super 8 Site – A German Super8 site. The “links and addresses” page is worth a look.

Urbanski Film – Though the website screams 1990s, I’ve ordered and been very pleased with film cleaning supplies, projector bulbs, and other hard-to-find small format equipment.

And though it goes without saying, eBay is an immense (if risky) resource for finding old Super 8 cameras and projectors, as well as professional VHS decks for digitizing old videocasettes.¬† Before purchasing the unknown, I’ve found the folks on the AMIA Small Gauge/Amateur Film Interest Group listserve to be incredibly helpful and willing to share their expertise.

Preservation & Care Information

Brodsky & TreadwayThe transfer house for rare, valuable, and fragile home movies. Their companion site, Little Film, contains detailed, downloadable tips and instructions for caring for home movies.

Home Movie Day – A major project of the Center for Home Movies, Home Movie Day is an international celebration of home movies. The site contains lots of information about film handling and care as well as links to home movie day events across the country and the globe. Home Movie Day also keeps a running list of home movie transfer houses.

National Film Preservation Foundation – A clearinghouse of film care basics and resources for more advanced users. Be sure to download their extensive film preservation guide.

It started with a tattered box…the making for FOR MEMORIES’ SAKE

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Today begins the first postings by Ashley Maynor on our film For Memories’ Sake. (She’s the director; I’m the producer.) Take it, Ashley….

It’s Christmas 2005 and I’ve begun the crazy whirlwind of travel that results from being part of a Southern, Catholic family and a child of divorce. My grandmother, Angela Singer, who always gives the most unique (if utterly bizarre) gifts, often salvaged from garage sales or Dollar Store specials, surprises me with a tattered cardboard box. Within the box is a ratty paper bag, and within the bag a treasure trove: 79 3-inch reels of 8mm and Super8 home movies.

I had begged Angela for months to see if she could find her home movie collection, which I knew must have been buried in her house in Cheatham County Tennessee. What once housed nine children and all their things (most memorably for me: potato guns, slingshots, and dirt bike helmets) is now a cluttered mess of papers, mementos, newspaper clippings, and photographs that document time gone by and its slow, continual creep.

Having deciphered Angela’s handwritten labels, organized the reels as best I could, and researched home movie transfer houses, I sent the films off in late 2006 for a low-cost telecine transfer. The films came back to me in digital form and I began to cut up and reconfigure these celluloid relics of time immemorial using a Macintosh Powerbook and Final Cut Pro.

After expressing such a fervent interest in the home movies, Angela keep digging and presented me, piecemeal over the next year, with more and more documents: over 130 VHS-C tapes of home video, dozens of photo albums from the 1990s, her latest photographs on CD-rom, baby books, photo collages, and so on. In sum, what began as a modest attempt to preserve a few precious films turned into an unexpected discovery of the immensity of Angela’s film and photo stockpile and an involved (if unintended) campaign to protect and preserve as much of her archive as possible.

My next post will discuss how I learned (taught myself, really) to preserve Angela’s “archive” and how I began shaping this raw material into something that I could use to create For Memories’ Sake.