Archive for the ‘Production’ Category

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?

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.

Launched: The New Self-Reliant Film.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

The new and improved SRF.

If you’re looking at this website in anything other than an RSS reader you can probably tell that we’ve completely overhauled the website. Thanks to our wonderful designer friends at Nathanna, we’ve both expanded and simplified the Self-Reliant Film website.

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, our new look is based on some new directions for the website.

Today, with the launch of the new site you can do a few things that you couldn’t do before:

 

Sign up for the email list. Our new email newsletter will have exclusive content we don’t put on the blog. We’ll share tips on great films we’ve recently discovered, we’ll provide some extra filmmaking tips, and you’ll get access to see our films for free. The newsletter is only sent once a month, we never sell or share others’ email addresses, and it’s ad-free. Subscribe!

 

Watch our films: Some folks that visit this site do so because they’re fans of our films. Others visit the site because of the blog. If you’ve not seen our work, or you want to see our films again, or you want to see more of them… we’ve spelled out all the ways to watch.

The easiest and least expensive way is to sign up for the email list. But there are other ways, too. Find out more here.

Must reads: Look to the sidebar on the left. These are a few of the most popular posts on the site. Check them out if you’re new here or if you’ve not read these. The Declaration of Principles was the first post on the blog, and it’s still pretty much as relevant today as it was when it was drafted in November 2005.

 

Resources: If you click on “Resources” (look to the upper left of this page) you’ll see some of the more helpful pages we’ve assembled for filmmakers (and everyone) since beginning the site. Over the coming weeks we’ll be updating and expanding these pages.

 

Submission guidelines: We’ve always received emails from readers wanting us to watch and/or review our films. This has been done pretty much catch-as-catch-can in the past. We finally drew up some ideas about how to do this, as seen in the sidebar on the left. We want to review and put a spotlight on great films more than we’ve been able to recently. This is a way to encourage this. Click on the Submission Guidelines and and let us know if you’ve got a film you want us to watch.

 

What hasn’t changed?

 

Our blog still features all the same stuff that we’ve championed and discussed from the beginning — DIY, regional, and personal filmmaking. We’ve moved it to selfreliantfilm.com/blog, so update your bookmarks.

(If you bookmarked an old page from the blog it should automatically redirect to the new permalink structure, but if you encounter a broken link, let us know!)
 

Finally, one other thing that hasn’t changed: This site is still ad-free.

For us, self-reliance has always gone hand in hand with the idea of simplicity. While filmmaking is a vocation that often resists even our attempts to simplify the process of making movies, we feel the least we can do, sometimes at least, is keep our tiny corner of the internet quiet from flashing banners, pop-ups, and google ads buried within our own reflections. This website, like our films, continues to be a labor of love.

We hope you like the new site, and the things to come. If you do, spread the word by sharing with a friend by using facebook, twitter or, you know, by actually telling someone about it face-to-face.

The Panasonic GH2: Some thoughts.

Friday, February 4th, 2011

I have made no secret of my frustration with DSLRs for making motion pictures. I’ve wanted to love them, sure. In my quest to find a small camera I could love, I’ve bought and sold (or returned) a Canon 7D, Panasonic GH1, and a Nikon D7000. The Canon and Nikon were each impressive in their own ways, but I gave them both up because I could never fully trust the image that I saw in their LCDs. After being burned a few times by outrageous moire that only appeared once I could view footage on a real monitor, I gave up trying to shoot with those cameras.

The GH1, which I tested last summer after my frustrations with the Canon cameras, was more promising, especially with the ballyhooed firmware hack that surfaced last year. That camera didn’t have problems with moire or aliasing, and its mirrorless design (the GH1 is not, technically speaking a DSLR at all) opened up the opportunity for using several different types of lenses (PL-mount cine lenses, Nikons, Canons, and many more).

Unfortunately, the camera clearly felt like the product of a “consumer” division of a large electronics company. Parts of the camera felt shoddily put together, there were reports of design issues with the lugs that held the neck strap and, worst of all, the camera exhibited a nasty fixed pattern noise problem that made any dim area in a shot have strange vertical blue streaks. Hacked or not, the camera didn’t seem ready for prime time. Hope springs eternal, though. I thought, Panasonic might be onto something if only they would fix some of these glaring problems.

In December, I managed to get my hands on the GH1’s successor, the still-hard-to-find Panasonic GH2, shortly after they arrived in the US. A month or so later, here are my thoughts on the camera as a tool for filmmakers.

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DSLRs, “Democratic Technology” and The Cost of Bokeh: Part 2

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

This is the second of two posts considering the rewards and challenges of using DSLRs for cinema work. If you’ve not read the first post, start there.

At the end of the last post we had assembled a Canon 7D camera, a Canon 17-55 f/2.8 lens with Image Stabilizer, a Zoom H4N audio recorder, and PluralEyes software to help us sync the picture and sound in Final Cut Pro. The cost: $3230. I hesitate to call this a “bare bones” package since it doesn’t even include a tripod or microphones. It does, however, get you picture and sound.

But you get picture and sound with a pixelvision camera. My intention with these posts is to compare DSLRs to a more traditional prosumer camcorder. And we still have a ways to go before it’s a fair comparison. So let’s continue…

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