Archive for the ‘Tools/Equipment’ Category

DIY Catering Part I: 5 Essential Tools under $50 for Low-Budget Film Catering

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

As we take a short break from our Fresh Filmmakers interview series, I’d like to share some of my tips and tricks for catering even the most low-budget of film shoots. Preparing your own meals rather than hiring professional catering or eating out can mean BIG savings, not to mention healthier and more eco-friendly options. With a small investment in a few tools, this can also become a relatively easy thing to DIY.

Here are some essentials for the novice film set caterer (or micro-budget producer who is also caterer!) getting started:

Hot Beverage Airpots–At just $15-25 each, these are worth their weight in gold; industrial quality ones with glass interiors will keep coffee and water piping hot for 8 hours. I use three on set (2 for coffee, one for water for making tea) for a crew of 10-15. These are easily purchased at a nice discount compared to online stores at most big box grocery outlets, such as Costco or Sam’s Club.

Crock Pot–Whether it’s a soup-n-sandwich lunch, a roast dinner, or a hearty mac-n-cheese, crock pots make it easy to have a hot meal on even the most bare bones of sets/locations–all you need is a place to plug in! I recommend you get a big one; plan to spend between $30-50. For even more rugged shoots with no power source available, you can also consider a camping stove or single, kitchen-grade (portable) gas burner, combined with a large pot or skillet.

Rolling Cooler–While I use reusable water bottles on set (more on this in a future post), a cooler is essential for toting sodas and perishable food items or cold meals. Do yourself (and your back) a favor and get one with wheels for about $50.

Ziplocs, Post-It Labels & Sharpie–I find myself labeling bags of food for actors with special diets, repacking bulk food items into smaller containers to save money, etc. Also, after each shopping trip, I label all of the food in the fridge with the corresponding shoot day. This allows me to easily delegate food prep to other crew members or PAs on hectic shoot days.

Camping-Size, Adjustable Folding Table –This miniature version of the traditional folding table will pack up easily in the backseat of a small car or standard size trunk and can easily turn a parking lot space into a craft services area. Budget about $50 for one of these online.

I will often open the hatchback trunk of my small SUV, instantly turning the trunk into ongoing coffee/beverage area and provide snacks (all-day) and meals (every 5-6 hours) available on the folding table. I use a combination of the rolling cooler and a few $10 Ikea folding chairs as seats when the location is too small, when all or part of the set is “hot” and food poses a continuity danger/problem, or when locations aren’t able to accommodate our crew for this purpose. So, for a mere $150, you can ensure the ability to serve food on a film set most anywhere.

While craft services and good food might seems like a luxury for low and micro-budget filmmakers, I believe that providing quality food, beverages, and snacks on set keeps morale high–especially when folks aren’t being paid. From a producing standpoint, there’s simply no better cost-to-value line item in my budgets.

In upcoming installments, I’ll share more ideas for making greener, healthier, and relatively inexpensive menu and catering choices. Stay tuned!

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

A Dozen Useful, Low-Budget Camera-Related Items

Monday, November 7th, 2011

As you may have gathered from Ashley’s recent post about art department lifesavers we have been doing some filming lately. After several days on set, I’ve come to deeply appreciate some small, even seemingly minor, accessories and pieces of camera-related equipment — “kit” in industry parlance. I thought I’d discuss a few of these items, each of which is under $200.

We’re using a Sony FS100, a Red Rock Micro follow focus and low-rise baseplate, an assortment of Nikon lenses, and a Heliopan variable ND filter, but many of the items listed below would be at home on a DSLR-based shoot or a shoot with a more traditional video camera (Sony EX1, Panasonic HVX200, etc).

Zip tie lens gears.
Lenses that were designed for stills, not cinema, lack a gear that allows them to be used with a follow focus. One solution would have been to use the gear rings that we had from Red Rock Micro. These are functional, but they have a number of disadvantages: they’re large, they can be time consuming to put on/take off, and at $40 each, they’re overpriced. Zip tie lens gears are inexpensive and easy-to-add to every lens you own. Once on your lens, you can forget about them. $40 for 3. 

Zip tie lens gears from Wide Open Camera.

Wet Erase Markers
A good set of wet-erase markers will help you make marks on your follow focus ring. We like wet erase, not dry erase, markers because the dry erase ones will smear. $7.

Filter pouch.
Our Heliopan Variable ND filter comes in a less-than-ideal case. It’s a very tight fit, to the point of seeming like it could scratch or scuff the glass. We quickly bought a filter pouch to protect our investment. $9.

77mm step up rings and lens caps.
We use a 77mm variable ND filter on set, which at that size has the ability to cover all of our lenses when using step-up rings. After a few days of filming with one step-up ring per size needed (e.g., a 52-to-77, a 62-to-77, etc.) we found that we were being slowed down by having to unscrew the step-up rings from lens to lens, particularly when so many of our most-used lenses (e.g., 28, 35, 50) all had a 52mm threading. So we splurged and purchased the necessary step up rings for all of our lenses. Now all of our lenses have a 77mm “face” (and accompanying lens cap). Though step up rings seem like an inexpensive piece of kit, read the reviews and buy a reputable brand like B+W, Heliopan, etc. Lesser step up rings can seize up, making that expensive variable ND filter a big headache! Step-up rings: $25 – $45.  Lens caps: $5.

Lilliput 7" LCD

Lens cleaning tools. 
We switch lenses and filters often, which means more chance of dirtying them. We keep our glass clean with:
Nikon Lens Pen. $7
Kimwipes. $5
Purosol Lens Cleaner. $8

Lilliput 7″ 668GL On-camera HD Monitor
In 2010 I read about Lilliput’s small, inexpensive HD monitors. At the time, they only seemed to be sold on Ebay. I bought one off almost as a novelty, not expecting much from it since it was so much cheaper than other HD monitors on the market. While its picture is not as vivid or high resolution as that of other portable HD monitors I’ve used, it works, it’s lightweight, and it’s far more affordable. The one I bought over a year ago didn’t have a battery pack like the new ones they make, so I had to buy an Ikan battery AC/DC adapter plate, which allows me to use Sony batteries with it. The new models, which you can purchase through Amazon, now come with their own battery solution and component inputs. As for its application, I tend not to use it if I’m operating camera myself, but when working with a DP or camera operator I use it as my “director’s monitor.” It’s especially useful when filming in tight spaces (like a car — see below) where using your camera’s LCD monitor or viewfinder isn’t an option.  $170.

FilmTools Gripper 116XL

HDMI Cables It’s nice to have different lengths of HDMI cables to use with the Lilliput monitor. I’ve used these Insignia brand cables on set for a few weeks and haven’t had any problems. One’s a 9 footer, one’s a 3 footer. $10.

FilmTools Gripper 116 XL car mount.
Trying to shoot smooth car footage handheld , particularly with a CMOS sensor prone to “jell-o”, can be a test of one’s patience. This FilmTools car mount affixes to your car’s windows or windshield with a large suction cup and will support cameras up to 9 pounds. $110.

Coleman LED Quad Lantern
This ingenious LED lantern can be split into four smaller LED sections, which have a functionality similar to micro Litepanels at a fraction of the cost. We’ve used the “quads” for driving shots by hiding them on the ceiling, in the dashboard, and on the floor. Beyond driving, they’re useful for any situation where you might not have access to power and don’t need to light a large area. And if you need more light than one puts off, you can gaff tape them together. Though they’re not necessarily color corrected like a those designed for video use, they work great if you throw a gel on them or dial in the appropriate color balance setting on your camera. Plus, when you’re not filming, the lantern can be used for camping — you can’t say that about a micro Litepanel! $58.

Coleman LED Quad Lantern

Two-Way Radios
Or, as laymen call them, “walkie talkies.” I’m usually not working on a set that’s so large that we all need to be outfitted with professional two-way radios and headsets. That said, it’s nice to have an inexpensive set on hand for those occasions when your cast and/or crew is in different areas. I find them essential when shooting exterior car scenes (i.e., those in which the camera’s outside the car, filming actors driving). It’s the easiest way I know to cue talent or ask for another take. Roughly $35-$75, depending on features.

Canare breakaway cable
For the uninitiated, a breakaway cable consolidates multiple XLR and mini cables into one neat cable, which can be run from a location audio mixer to a camera (or audio recorder). Though it may seem overpriced for what is seemingly a bunch of XLR and mini plug cables wrapped together, if you’re using a mixer and feeding that audio into your camera the simplicity, organization, and mobility that a breakaway cable provides is well worth the cost. In addition to feeding your camera two tracks of audio with one cable, a good breakaway cable also give the sound mixer a means to listen to the “return” audio instead of the audio from the sound mixer. This is the best way to monitor the audio being mixed, so for me it’s worth the investment. $190.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

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?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

How to Build a Lens Collection

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Today I was reading a camera discussion forum in which someone asked how to build a lens collection on a budget. He was looking for Nikon lenses to use on a Sony NEX-FS100 camera. I could relate — I was in his position in 2006 when I started to look for Nikon glass to be used on video cameras with a Letus, on the Red One, and so on. I hadn’t purchased a lens since my senior year in high school (for my venerable Pentax K-1000), and I knew only the most basic things to look for.

Since then I’ve built up a nice collection of Nikon lenses, which now work on a host of cameras. I love my Nikons and have no regrets!

So what follows are some very basic tips I’ve learned on how to build a lens collection. I make a few allusions to Nikons vis-a-vis the NEX-FS100 below, but my advice could just as easily be interpolated for someone buying Canon lenses for the Red Epic or a Panasonic AF-100.

Nikons © Csaveanu from Flickr

1) Determine your needs. Obviously, you need to think about what kind of coverage you want. Even if you primarily shoot wide angle footage, you probably also want a normal and a telephoto lens in your bag. But only you know your tastes.
Likewise, only you know your budget. You’re going to be keeping this in mind as you build a list and prioritize your needs.

But beyond these things, there are other considerations:

What cameras now and in the future, might you use these lenses on? Do your lenses need to be full-frame to be future-proof? Must they have aperture rings? I prefer having aperture rings on my lenses because I sometimes have to use “dumb” adapters (i.e., those that can’t control aperture).

Since I was working with a very limited budget, for me, the most important question when I began building my collection was whether to go for primes or zooms. I primarily would be using these lenses to shoot narrative work so I opted for primes; if I was shooting a documentary, I’d want a good zoom lens (if I was shooting with the NEX-FS100, would actually just get the Sony kit lens since autofocus is nice to have in a pinch).

The thing to remember about zooms intended for still lenses is that they are often not parfocal, which means that they don’t hold focus across the zoom. (Some are. You have to test to find out.) To me, a non-parfocal zoom negates at least part of the purpose of having a zoom, so that’s another reason I went with primes.

2) Familiarize yourself with the lenses that are out there. Researching Nikons, I visited sites like Photozone and those by Bjorn Rorslett (go to the LENSES page and then dig deep into his reviews, especially the “Best of” page) or Ken Rockwell. Different people trust different reviewers (some people HATE Ken Rockwell, for example). But the point is this: When all the websites praise a lens, that’s a pretty good sign of a winner.

I’m obsessive, so I prefer to make lists and tables of all the lenses I’m considering. It helps me keep track of what I’ve looked at, the (dis)advantages of each, and the price.

3) Read reviews, but with a grain of salt. Remember that if you’re only going to use lenses for video, you don’t have to fret about their resolving power nearly as much. A lens intended for full frame negative film or a 16MP digital camera must resolve far more detail than you’ll ever get out of HD or even 4K video. For example, many lens testers worry about blurring in the corners; you don’t have to worry about this quite as much since using a full frame lens on a Super35 sensor means you’re using the sweetest spot of the lens.

Having said all of this, I do think you should buy the best lenses you can afford. Like microphones, and unlike video cameras, they tend to hold their value for much longer. In 20 years we may be shooting with cameras that capture 8K footage… and it’s possible I could still be using my Nikons.

4) Test. Try out the lenses you’re considering, especially if they’re pricey. Assuming you don’t have a friend who happens to have all the Nikons ever made, your two best options for testing are a) visit a fantastic photo store in your area and try out the lenses or, if you don’t have a great photo store (I don’t), b) rent the lenses. I’ve saved a lot of money by spending a few bucks to rent a bunch of lenses and then buying the one that I actually like. (I have happily used and endorse LensRentals.com. I have received no promotional consideration for that endorsement.)

Your basic lens collection. These are Canons.

5) Buy used (if possible) and buy smartly (always).

Start by finding out the going price for a used lenses by visiting KEH and the going rate for a new version on B+H or Adorama.

If KEH has the lens, and you have the money, buy a lens from them — they grade their lenses very fairly and have a great return policy. (Again, I’ve received nothing from them for this endorsement.)

If they don’t have it, or it’s too pricey, go for one on buy on Ebay, keeping the KEH prices in mind. If you’re going for AI-S lenses you can get GREAT bargains on Ebay since many photographers, needing autofocus, consider these obsolete lenses. When buying on Ebay all the usual cautions apply. Make sure the seller has fantastic ratings and that the photos clearly show the quality of the lens. Only bid on the lenses that look pristine.

Whatever you do, don’t overpay! If a lens on Ebay starts approaching anything close to its price on KEH, just get it on KEH and be done with it. The return policy will be far better than the risks you take with an Ebay seller. Or wait for another auction.

6) Watch for warning signs and, if necessary, seek help. I say this jokingly, but building a lens collection can be addictive fun — and can distract you from the real purpose of building a collection, which is to go out and film! Don’t say you weren’t warned.

If you have other tips or disagree with any of the above, share in the comments below.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Adobe, Avid and FCP X: Resources for Switching

Friday, July 1st, 2011

If you currently use Final Cut Studio you’re going to have to switch to something different at some point. That might mean “upgrading” to FCP X, or moving to a competitor’s product, like Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer.

To aid this, I’ve included links to demo versions and free/paid tutorials.

Demo Software
Final Cut Pro X
Demo download link: No demo version available. A 30-day demo version is now available here.
Cost of full application: $299, plus $49 for Compressor and $49 for Motion.

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5: Production Premium
Demo download link:Adobe CS 5.5 Production Premium 30-day Trial Version Includes Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Encore, Audition, Illustrator, On Location and more.
Cost of full application: 50% off ($849.50) thanks to a limited time “switch” promotion! Regularly $1650 for the suite of applications; $440 for the same suite in its “student/teacher” edition. (PremierePro can also be bought separately, but this is not nearly the same value as the bundle, which includes After Effects, Audition, Encore, etc.)

Avid Media Composer
Demo download link:Avid Media Composer 5 Free 30-day Trial
Cost of full application: $995 thanks to a limited time “switch” promotion. Regularly $2295; $295 for educational edition.

Lightworks
Finally, it should be noted that Lightworks — a professional editing application used to cut such films as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, and The King’s Speech — has gone open source for Windows and is slated for a late-2011 release on the Mac. If you currently have a dual-boot Mac, this is definitely a no-risk option to consider.

 

Tutorials
Final Cut Pro X

IzzyVideo: Final Cut Pro X Tutorial
Cost: Free!
Notes: Over 2.5 hours of training videos, plus project files. I don’t expect this to go into a ton of detail, but what I’ve watched so far seems pretty good, and you can’t beat the price.

Ripple Training: FCP X
Cost: $40
Notes: I’ve used Ripple Training tutorials for earlier editions of Final Cut Pro, and I find them very efficient ways of getting up to speed on the application. These download to your iPad or computer through the iTunes store.

Larry Jordan: FCP X
Cost: $99 for the entire set of tutorials. Or chapters for $15 each.
Notes: Larry Jordan’s previous FCP tutorials have been very good, but I can’t say whether these are worth the extra cost over the Ripple tutorials. Jordan’s tutorials have a little more personality than Ripple’s, which is a pro or con depending on your taste.

 

***
Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe: Editing With Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 If You’re an Final Cut Pro user
Cost: Free!
Notes: A PDF that lays it all out — straight from Adobe. Clearly they are in it to win it.

Adobe: Switching to Adobe Premiere Pro 5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Covers same info as above, but in video form. About 80 minutes of tutorials to help you make the switch from FCP to Premiere Pro. Probably not enough to train you completely, but enough to let you reassure you that switching to Adobe would be a simple transition.

Adobe: Adobe TV – Learn Premiere Pro CS5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Excerpts from the Lynda.com training listed below. Probably not a solution for advanced training.

Adobe: Learn Premiere Pro CS5 and CS 5.5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Mostly text-based tutorials.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS5 Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 5 hours of training videos on Premiere Pro.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS 5.5 New Features
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 27min of tutorials about new features in PP 5.5. You would want to watch this after the tutorials listed above.

Lynda.com: Encore CS 5 – Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 4hrs of tutorials on Adobe’s DVD authoring application.

Lynda.com: Audition 3 Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 6.5 hrs on Adobe’s audio editing application. Doesn’t appear to be fully up-to-date for CS5.5 version of the application.

Lynda.com: After Effects (various)
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: Hours upon hours of tutorials for Adobe’s acclaimed effects and post-production application. Newcomers should start with After Effects Apprentice, which is 14 hours over 7 lessons.

 

***
Avid Media Composer

Avid: Avid Media Composer 5: Getting Started
Cost: Free!
Notes: 3 hours of tutorials from Avid to get you started on Media Composer.

Lynda.com: Avid Media Composer 5 – Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: Nearly 6 hours of tutorials on Avid. This appears to replicate some of the free training Avid provides, but at twice the length, one assumes it also goes into more depth.

Avid: Avid for FCP Users
Cost: $50
Notes: DVD-based tutorial. Does not appear to be available online.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS