Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

Dimmer Boxes

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

When I was looking through the new edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook, I noticed a lot of little changes and additions. An example: In a list of equipment to bring to the set, in the lighting category I noticed one addition: “dimmer boxes.” I can’t argue with that — dimmer boxes help one light with finesse, and they’re fairly easy to come by.

I went to the trouble of making a couple dimmers (aka “hand squeezers”) myself about a year and a half ago. I made a couple of 600 watt boxes, as well as a 1000 watt box. The supplies I got from the local home improvement store, though I remember that the 1000w dimmer was not widely available. If I remember correctly, I built all three dimmer for about $100 in supplies. They would have been cheaper, but the 1000w dimmer was considerably more expensive than the 600w.

In retrospect, instead of making those boxes, I would have been better off simply purchasing one of the many dimmer boxes or router speed controls (which can be used as a dimmer box) that are commercially available. They’re cheaper, they’re probably more reliable than anything I could build, and the heavy duty router speed controls can handle more power than the ones I built. Plus, the router speed controls have a safety fuse, which my self-built dimmers lack.

Shopping for some last week, I ran across lots of varieties. Here are some:

Dimmer Boxes:

Ikea Dimma – 300 Watts and under – $7.95
Note: Not useful for most motion picture lights, but if you just need something for practicals, these are nice and cheap.

Smith Victor – DC-1 Dimmer Control – 600 Watts and under – $23.95

Router Speed Controls:

Harbor Freight Tools – 15 Amps and lower – $19.99

MLCS Router Speed Control – 15 Amps and lower – $20.95 and $28.95, respectively, for the “home” and “industrial/commercial” use boxes

Grizzly G3555 Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $31.50

Rockler Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $39.99

If, however, you wish to build your own, you can find instructions in Blain Brown’s Motion Picture and Video Lighting, 2nd Edition (p. 241) and, of course, there are plans aplenty on the ‘net.

Filmmaking and the Environment

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

As you probably heard yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. I’ve not always been a big supporter of Al’s, but I was definitely feeling some pride for the local boy done good (the second native Tennesseean to be awarded the Peace Prize, actually.).

Though the press reports usually got it wrong, as AJ Schnack reminded everyone yesterday, Gore did not win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (because he didn’t direct it), but I have little doubt that the film — because of how it drew attention to the cause of global warming, and because it drew attention to Gore’s advocacy in the process — was a factor in Gore sharing this year’s Peace Prize. Looking over the list of previous Peace Prize winners, I couldn’t think of another instance in which cinema played such a central role in the awardee’s recognition.

Anyway, in the spirit of the announcement, I thought I would share some links and notes on environmentally-friendly filmmaking for those folks out there that, whether or not they like Al Gore, accept the findings of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world that shared the Peace Prize for their work on man-made climate change research…


Review: The Filmmaker’s Handbook, 3rd Edition

Monday, October 8th, 2007

My earlier post on the 3rd edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was written in anticipation of receiving it. Now I’ve got it in hand, and had a chance to look it over.

A lot of people simply want to learn from a review whether or not they should own a book or not. If that’s why you’re reading, the answer is that, generally speaking, if you are a novice-to-intermediate filmmaker, this is an essential book.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some quickly-jotted observations:

There are lots of changes, but few surprises. And that’s probably a good thing. There’s only one new chapter, at the beginning, which lays out basic questions that filmmakers should consider before beginning their work. Aside from that, the changes are all revisions. The biggest change, because it’s something of a philosophical shift, is that the chapters on Video now take precedence over the chapters on Film. And, of course, the video chapters have been (predictably) overhauled and expanded. The film chapters have largely gone (predictably) untouched.

It’s still essential. I don’t know of any single technical manual related to filmmaking that collects so much information in one place. None of its chapters can compete with my favorite books on sound, lighting, etc. but this is a great place for novices to begin and it’s a great single reference book for the rest of us, particularly on the things that won’t change as quickly as video (sound, lighting, film).

It’s already starting to become obsolete. Steven Ascher notes this in the preface: “Right now, the pace of change in video and computer technology is so rapid, some things in this book could be dated before you get to the end of this sentence.” There is a small, one sentence mention of the Red Camera (bottom of p. 34). I expect there will be more on 4K and RAW imaging in later editions.

There will be new editions, and probably sooner than later. The cover of this edition conspicuously notes that this not the “3rd Edition”, but instead the “2008 Edition.” Aside from noting that, well, it’s still 2007, I have to imagine that this is a hint that we’ll see this tome updated more regularly. And it is a tome.

Readability is reduced. The Handbook has been such a staple of film education because of its (relative) readability. Ascher and Pincus do a fine job of making complex technical concepts understandable for novices. But as the book has grown (see below) it has sacrificed some of its readability. There is simply so much stuff in this new edition that it can be a little difficult to navigate through it to find what you need. Luckily the index is above-average for this type of book.

It’s big. Really big. I remember a film professor of mine once waxing nostalgic about how the precursor to the first edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was a small pocket-sized book by Ed Pincus called Guide to Filmmaking. That book, my professor argued, was superior in some ways to editions of The Filmmaker’s Handbook because you could stash it in your back pocket while you filmed. He had a point. This is a “handbook” in name only — it has 830 pages and weighs nearly 3 pounds! (Here’s a similarly sized work of fiction, as a point of comparison.) I wouldn’t recommend eliminating anything, but I do wonder if perhaps the next edition shouldn’t be called The Filmmaker’s Desk Reference.

In sum, while this isn’t my favorite film book, if you are new to filmmaking, or if you are beyond the basics but need a single desk (or on-set) reference for tons of technical stuff, this is probably about the best $16.50 you could spend.

Two Hands are Better Than One: LevelCam and “RebelCam”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Earlier this month, Matt over at FresHDV posted some photos of a new, fairly inexpensive ($50) gizmo called the LevelCam, which helps stabilize camcorder footage. This is no Steadicam — there’s no counterweight, no spring-loaded arm, no gimble. It’s just a small horizontal mounting surface that allows a camera operator to hold a camera level with two hands instead of just one. The LevelCam looks throw-it-in-your-backpack small, which is an added bonus.

Of course, if you’re too cheap to spring for something like the LevelCam — of if you just want to see how such a thing works — you could build a similar contraption. Stu Maschwitz’s DV Rebel’s Guide has instructions for building what he calls a “ghetto cam.” (Note to Stu: Not to get too PC on you, but I think “StuCam” or “RebelCam” would be a better name for it.) What is it? Basically a 2×4 and a couple of 1″ dowels.

I just built a “RebelCam” to see just how much it helps stabilize the image, and I have to say that it works better than I expected. The materials cost less than $10; building it took about an hour. The two downsides are that a) it’s kinda bulky and b) getting the camera mounted with a thumbscrew is a pain. For $40 more (and no effort) you can get a smaller, possibly more convenient version.

Of course, you can just try to hold the camera steady with one hand. People have done it for years. Or at least tried.

21 Mac Shareware Applications for Filmmakers

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Back in July, I linked to a post that recommended 15 “must have” Freeware programs for filmmakers. Though it favored Windows users, it was still an interesting list of applications.

At the end of that post in July I mentioned that I’d try to add to that list, so here it is. Listed below are 21 freeware and shareware applications that I use regularly or which have, at the very least, really saved my butt a couple of times. There are only two duplicates betwen the FreekGeekery list and the one below.

Granted, some of these applications are, at best, only tangentially related to filmmaking. While it may not be as sexy as editing your latest masterpiece simple stuff like email, writing treatments, doing budgets, taking notes, and – yes – simply maintaining your computer probably constitute at least some of your time as a filmmaker. At least, I know it does mine. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s all part of the same process.

So on with the list. If you see a favorite application of yours missing from this list, by all means say so in the comments.