Archive for the ‘DIY Filmmaking’ Category

An Oscar Antidote for Documentaries

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Today, Thom Powers, Documentary Programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, and AJ Schnack (filmmaker of Kurt Cobain: About a Son and blogger of All These Wonderful Things) announced the launch a new award for nonfiction filmmaking, to be held in March at the IFC Center in New York.

Nominees in eight categories will be announced in Park City on January 20.

The new awards are a direct response to the Oscars. From recent debates over confusing (and shifting) eligibility guidelines, to its long history of jaw-dropping omissions (e.g., neither Hoop Dreams nor The Thin Blue Line were even nominated their respective years), the Academy’s treatment of the genre has long been a source of consternation and disappointment for many within the documentary community. That’s not to say that many worthy films haven’t been nominated and awarded over the years… but clearly the AMPAS doesn’t give documentary the attention that it does to fictional feature films.

Hats off to AJ and the others behind this initiative.

indieWIRE has the first report.

Fundraising Tips: Money Trees and House Parties

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

I was speaking with a fellow filmmaker the other day who was asking me for tips on finding grants for fiction films. I’ve been successful at finding grant-based funding for my work (“Gina, An Actress, Age 29” was supported by the sadly now-defunct Aperture Film Grant), but I had to break the disappointing news that those sources are few and far between for fiction work these days.

Having said that, if you’re developing a not-for-profit film/video project — say, a social-issue documentary or a youth video project — there is money out there. A great introduction to finding money is Morrie Warshawski’s Shaking The Money Tree, 2nd Edition.

I read Shaking the Money Tree years ago when it was still in its first edition. Since then I’ve probably raised close to $100,000 in grant monies for various projects (my own and others’) since reading it. Documentarians will probably benefit from it the most, but I strongly recommend it to filmmakers that need help raising funds for their films, or fund-raisers new to film and video production, regardless of film genre.

One fundraising strategy that’s discussed briefly in Shaking The Money Tree is given its own extended treatment in Warshawski’s newly revised The Fundraising Houseparty, 2nd Edition.

As Warshawski points out in this slim volume’s introduction, individual donors account for 87% of all non-profit endeavors. Fundraising houseparties are a way to bring such individuals together and introduce them to a project that might deserve their support.

I’ve never hosted a houseparty (nor had one hosted for my work), but I have attended a couple, so I have a decent grasp of what works and what doesn’t. Warshawski’s guide is the best I’ve seen on what can be an intimidating process for the uninitiated. The basics are spelled out in easy-to-read prose, with straightforward diagrams and illustrations helping to walk you through the process. The appendix even includes sample invitation letters and a worksheet. Yes, some of this stuff is common sense (“Thank People as They Leave” states one heading), but other topics aren’t (“taxes”).

As the saying goes, you gotta spend money to make money. At $20 (or less) each, these books are a pretty good investment for anyone considering or pursuing the not-for-profit realm of moviemaking. If you have other tips or reading suggestions, share them in the comments below.

HD-DVD Burning with an “SD” Mac

Friday, December 14th, 2007

This may be old news to some of you, but it was news to me: You can burn HD-DVDs (not Blu-Ray) on a Mac using a standard DVD burner, Final Cut Pro, Compressor, and DVD Studio Pro. I tried it last night. It works.

The limitations?

– Standard single-layer DVD media storage limits mean that you’re limited to burning shorter projects (under 60 min).
– The article states you can’t play these on an HD-DVD player. I don’t have an HD-DVD player, so I haven’t verified this. You can, however, play them on a Mac.

Hooking up my MacBook Pro to a television and screening the DVD played flawlessly. And it looked a lot better than a standard definition DVD.

The trade-off? As anyone who’s done it before can tell you, encoding a project to H.264 takes a long, long time.

Gels, and their Proper Care

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Gels are useful, but pricey. Any budget-minded filmmaker should take good care of them. Here’s a helpful post from David Tames at Kino-Eye that details some simple ways to organize your gels so that they last longer.

How to Send Big Files

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Over the last month or so I’ve needed to send and receive a lot of large files (Final Cut project files, songs in AIFF format, DVD burn files, and so on). By “large” I mean in the 20mb – 4gb range. These files are usually too large to be sent via email because of file size limits, using an FTP site can be a hassle (as David Pogue has noted), and sending files via DVD-Rom via mail or FedEx is (comparatively) slow and pricey.

For me, the solution has been to share these large files via a few of the several services that exist online. I have used YouSendIt, FileFactory, and Pando. All have worked just fine.

The first two are file-hosting sites; Pando, on the other hand, is a stand-alone application. It requires a (free) download, but it also allows for the sharing of much larger files.

If you find yourself needing to share large files and don’t know where to start, a fairly comprehensive listing of file hosting sites is available on Wikipedia. You can also check out this article, which surveys some of the main services.