Archive for the ‘Production’ Category

Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

It’s been a long time since we’ve done a post that wasn’t related to Something, Anything. Back in 2007 (!), I did a post on shareware for filmmakers. That’s still the first hit you get if you google the term. So I figured it was time to do an update.

Looking over this list, it’s kind of remarkable what kind of tools you can assemble for very, very little money.

Happy New Year!

 

AUDIO/VIDEO EDITORS

Audacity: Free. From the audacity website: “Easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems.”

Audio Hijack: $49. Allows you to record any streaming audio. Useful for all sorts of things — skype interviews, etc. Also, you may want to compare Fission (Rogue Amoeba’s $29 audio editor) against Audacity.

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DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve 12: Free and Paid versions. Resolve would be on this list alone because it’s an industry-standard color grading app. What’s equally amazing is that it’s now a very useable NLE. When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X and abandoned its venerable (but aging) Final Cut Pro 7, there was a seismic shift in the NLE landscape. Some people moved to Premiere Pro, others moved to Avid, and some adopted FCPX. I clung to FCP 7 in hopes that something would come along that was less buggy (and better supported) than Premiere, more intuitive than Avid, and more “traditional” (for lack of a better word) than FCP X. DaVinci Resolve is not perfect, but it’s elegantly designed, and the free version does 90% of what the paid version does. And of course, it’s a must have for the grading tools alone.

 

VIDEO CONVERTERS

Apple Compressor: $50. Apple’s venerable Compressor app (part of its old Final Cut Studio suite) got a make-over when FCP X was introduced a few years ago. Now an affordable standalone app, it’s $50 and works pretty well. Users of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Media Encoder) probably don’t have a use for this, but some people (I’m one) still prefer it. VLC, Handbrake, and MPEG Streamclip (all below) are other alternatives, but I tend to go with Compressor.

MPEG Streamclip: Free. In their own words, MPEG streamclip is a “free video converter, player, editor for Mac and Windows. It can play many movie files, not only MPEGs; it can convert MPEG files between muxed/demuxed formats for authoring; it can encode movies to many formats, including iPod; it can cut, trim and join movies. MPEG Streamclip can also download videos from YouTube and Google by entering the page URL.”

Handbrake: Free. From the Handbrake website: “HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs.”

 

SCREENWRITING, WORD PROCESSING, SPREADSHEETS, etc.

Celtx: Free (for scriptwriting app only; other features are paid). I teach first-time screenwriting students, and this is the app I always send them to because it’s free. There are paid upgrades if you want additional features (scheduling and so on). But I’ve not tried those, and I’d be reluctant to use them over Scenechronize (see below). My favorite screenwriting app is Fade In (see immediately below), but this gets the job done if you have absolutely no money.

Fade In

Fade In: $50. This isn’t shareware, but it’s affordably priced, especially considering the competition. The best, and simplest, screenwriting app I’ve ever encountered — and I’ve paid for Adobe Story, Final Draft (vers 6, 7, and 8) Movie Magic Screenwriter, and several other also-rans (plus Celtx). Fade In works with files from other screenwriting apps flawlessly, in my experience. You can import files from Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Adobe Story, Scrivener, PDF, and plain text, among others. The interface is just what I want: It looks good, it puts a focus on the words, and it’s easy to navigate through the script. I actually LIKE using it. There’s also an iPad app. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as solid.

Scrivener: $45. Like Fade In, this isn’t shareware. But it is an awesome tool for keeping notes, research, and drafts in order as you prep a project. The one downside is that the developer has been promising an iPad version for years, and during that time people have been leaving the app for other competitors (like Ulysses).

Libre Office and Open Office: Free. These are essentially open source versions of the applications you find in Microsoft Office. (Do I really need to explain what you’d use these for?) Anyway, some people prefer Libre Office, others prefer Open Office. My day job supplies me with a free copy of MS Office, so I don’t have much of an opinion. They’re both free — download them both and give each a spin. Of course, another option is to work in the cloud using Google Docs (see below).

 

MISCELLANEA

App Cleaner: Free. If you’re reading this, you probably like trying new apps. The problem is that when you install new software hidden files and folders often get installed all over your computer. App Cleaner the easiest way to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. I use this all the time.

Super Duper: Free / $28 and Carbon Copy Cloner: $40. Backups are essential, and these are two great backup and disk-cloning solutions. I far prefer either to Apple’s Time Machine (which is a different thing altogether). I use SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner is very good too.

Cyberduck: Donationware. As the website states, Cyberduck is a “FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, S3, Azure & OpenStack Swift browser for Mac and Windows.” My go-to app for FTP stuff.

Movie Thumbnails

Movie Thumbnails: $3.99. This is really one of the best-kept secrets on the list. Movie Thumbnails lets you “create an overview or contact sheet of a movie combined with metadata like resolution, codec details and so forth.” We used this app to create contact sheets for every video file shot on Something, Anything, which helped us check on the wardrobe continuity or lighting for a shot from previous days of filming. Invaluable!

Pacifist: $20 shareware. This is one of those apps that you may only use once or twice, but you’ll be so glad it exists when you need it. Basically it allows you to drill down into Mac software packages to extract a single file from an installer. You may think you have no need for it, but like I said, it’s great at what it does.

QuickTime Movie NoteTaker: Free. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is still supported, and I confess I’ve not needed to use it in years.But this made the list last time and it might help someone out, so I’m listing putting here.

Self-Control: Free. The internet is a factory of distractions. If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on that screenplay, use Self-Control to shut off the internet for a while. It works.

Transcriva: $30. Transcription software for the Mac. I’ve not used this in a while, and some folks are using their NLE’s voice recognition software, but it’s still useful. While looking at Transcriva again I ran across Express Scribe — never used it, but it also worth a look if you need something like this.

White Noise Free: Free. I get distracted if I can hear random conversations, music, etc. while doing deep dive work (e.g., writing or editing). Listening to white noise and a pair of good headphones helps me stay focused.

VLC Media Player: Free. From the website: “VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.” Plays almost anything you throw at it. We use this to cue up trailers at Public Cinema screenings.

 

CLOUD/WEB APPS:

This could be a really long list, but here are a few that I use.

Scenechronize

Scenechronize: Free and Paid versions. I used to use a very old academic edition of Movie Magic/EP Scheduling, which is really expensive, to do stripboards and scheduling. Then a few years ago we discovered this. We used the free version of Scenechronize on Something, Anything, and it was amazing. It’s so amazing that I’ve bumped it to the top of this section, out of alphabetical order. The paid version allows teams to collaborate.

Dropbox and Copy: Free and Paid versions. You know what Dropbox is. Copy is pretty much the same thing. There are lots of other web apps out there that do what these two do. When Something, Anything started being invited to festivals, each one would ask for their own set of (sometimes unique) deliverables. Instead of using Dropbox (which I use for tons of other things) I created a new Copy account and created files for each festival. This kept things clean and organized. Again, you could do this with one service (like Dropbox) but with so many players in the free cloud storage area, why not use a few?

Google Apps: Sheets and Forms. Free. I’m ambivalent about cloud computing (as in, it really sucks if you lose internet service), but I use Google’s Spreadsheet and Survey apps quite a bit. We used the spreadsheet app to keep track of everything from casting information to festival submissions to publications to approach for reviews or other coverage. Google Surveys are great, too. We used them one, for example, at the beginning of Something, Anything to poll our crew about dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and so on.

WordPress: Free. Many a great website was built on the back of WordPress. (In case you’re interested, this site is built on WP; Something, Anything‘s site is SquareSpace. SquareSpace will cost you money, maybe too much money, but it’s appealingly no fuss.)

STUFF I DON’T USE, BUT SOME PEOPLE SWEAR BY:

Blender: Free. Blender is used for, as the website says, “3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games.” If you’ve ever seen my films you might suspect I know virtually nothing about this stuff. And you’d be right.

Lightworks: Free and Pro (Paid) Versions Lightworks was one of the first non-linear editors, and it’s been used to edit films like The Wolf of Wall Street, LA Confidential, Pulp Fiction, Heat, and Road to Perdition. You can compare the free and paid versions here. After Apple’s FCP debacle in 2011, I was curious about exploring this, but by the time the Mac version of Lightworks was released Resolve had emerged as a NLE candidate.

Evernote: Free and Paid versions. I’ve never been a convert, but some people — especially writers — are almost cultish in their devotion to Evernote.

 

Hopefully this post introduced you to one or more apps that helps you be more creative and productive. If you like something that I’ve not listed, or have thoughts on any of the above, let me know in the comments, via email, on Twitter, etc.

Something, Anything – By the Numbers

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

A year ago today, Something, Anything had its world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Today, the film is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vimeo, and Netflix. To commemorate an incredible, and exhausting, year of sharing the film with audiences here are some fun facts.

Something, Anything… by the numbers

22,474: miles traveled screening the film from April 2014 (premiere) to February 2015 (end of fest travel)

3333: days between emailing inquiry to Abbey of Gethsemani (first day of research for script) to world premiere (Wisconsin Film Festival)

961: gigabytes of original footage (AVCHD codec, in case you’re interested)

371: days between first day of principal photography and last day of principal photography (August 14, 2011 – August 20, 2012)

159: runtime of the film’s first assembly edit

127: scenes in final draft of screenplay

100+: actresses seen during casting for role of Margaret

88: runtime of film’s final cut

71: dollars paid on Ebay for the main lens used to shoot the film (Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E)

58: locations filmed

57: Facebook posts on since April 2014.

33: speaking roles

24: music cues

14: festivals and cinematheque selections (as of April 5, 2015)

8: number of times Paul Harrill and Ashley Maynor moved from pre-production through post-production

7: average number of crew members (largest crew size was 14; smallest was 1).

6: different camera models used on various occasions through production

5: attempts made to film synchronized fireflies before succeeding

4: babies born to crew and cast members during the film’s production, post, and distribution

3 and 1/2: stars (out of 4) given to film by critic Michal Oleszczyk in his review on RogerEbert.com

2: number of weeks Something, Anything was in Netflix’s Top 50 streaming movies according to website InstantWatcher.com

1: scenes in which the character of Peggy/Margaret (Ashley Shelton) does not appear in the film

DIY Catering Part II: 4 Easy Ways to Go Green(er)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

A few posts ago, I shared the first part of this series of tips on DIY Film Catering. (To read about 5 Essential Catering Tools under $50, go here.) This time, I focus on the seemingly impossible task of making a film with a small environmental footprint–there always seem to be compromises for the sake of convenience, time, or the other kind of green (money). While it’s not always easiest or cheapest to take the eco-option, I have found four simple ways to keep our film catering a little bit greener without taking up too much time or cash:

1. Use Recycled Paper Plates + Compostable or Metal Flatwear: When faced with on-the-go shooting days, rustic or outdoor locations, recycled compostable plates and compostable corn-based flatware make clean-up easy and more affordable than you might think. Even Sam’s carries 100% recycled, chlorine-free plates these days, so this “green” step can be nearly as cheap and convenient as using their plastic and styrofoam counterparts.

When we find ourselves in a semi-equipped location (i.e. an indoor location, especially one with a kitchen), I’ll bring metal flatware, which cast and crew place in a plastic bin at the end of meals and I throw into a dishwasher that night for the next day. Caterer style stainless steel flatware sets can be had for cheap — and, in the long run, are much more cost-effective than the environmentally-friendly disposable kind: They will last a lifetime!

Finally, if disposable coffee cups are a must for your set, opt for something like Chinet’s Comfort Cups or Dixie’s Vanity Fair Cups which paper-based and have recyclable plastic lids. Again, these are found at most major retailers and are less evil than their styrofoam versions.

 

2. Require BYO-Bottles &  Provide A Refill Station: Our film sets are BYO-water bottle for all crew. I also keep a few extra stainless steel bottles on hand for talent, PAs, and the inevitable forgotten bottles. Having designated, labeled bottles helps to cut down on waste–no more unidentified, half-drunk plastic bottles lying around! And I’ve found that many crew will keep their bottles attached to their belt loops with a carabiner. This constant access equals more hydration and less fatigue on set.

I recommend stainless steel over plastic since (a) you can avoid the whole BPA issue, (b) they are less likely to develop odors/bacteria, and (c) they can go through the dishwasher. You could even have some specially printed for your crew to keep as mementos from the shoot! (If you really want to go all out, you can get hot/cold insulated ones that will keep water cold and coffee hot and that don’t “sweat” with condensation.)

Secondly, part of our BYOB system includes a refillable 2-gallon Brita Filter water dispenser to provide fresh, tasty water on set, using any available tap, without contributing at all to the world’s bottled water dilemma.

 

3. Use Aluminum Food Prep Containers: Any Costco or Sam’s can set you up with the industrial strength, catering style disposable aluminum pans. Because they are so heavy duty, you can actually use them several times (but don’t put them in the dishwasher–they will turn brown!). Unlike glass casseroles, they won’t break and unlike plastic they won’t retain odor from other foods. They are great for transporting and storing cold food or you can also use them to heat hot food, either in the oven or using a sterno-catering setup on set. Best of all, you can recycle them at the end!

 

4. Keep Trash & Recycling Bins on Set: It can be a pain, at times, to provide both trash AND recycling bins but I just can’t stand the waste on film sets. Even with our BYO-Bottle system, caffeine can create lots of waste on set. So, I make an effort to buy all sodas in aluminum (since it can be recycled many more times than plastic and without the toxicity) and recycle those at the end of each shoot day. If this seems like too much of a hassle, try using something like the Flings pop-up recycle bin and trash can–these are reusable, much more portable than traditional bins, and they might just make it easy enough for you and your crew to go greener!

 

At Self-Reliant Film, we believe that the way you make something shapes what that thing is. So, while recycling on set or using biodegradable products might seem like a low priority, especially when working with budgets where every cent counts, we think even these small decisions can shape the work we’re making. We want the stories in our films to be responsible (i.e. to tell uncommon stories with integrity and respect for the region where we make and set our work) and we believe a big part of that responsibility begins with how we treat the set, our crew, and the environment that makes it all possible in the first place.

If you have other easy ways to keep film sets more eco-conscious, we’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments!

 

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!

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.