Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

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 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.

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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.

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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: 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 fromcasting 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

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

Launched: The New Self-Reliant Film.

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.

Cinematography for Improvisation: Post-Panel Links

The Cinematography for Improvisation panel that I moderated was a blast -- and, while I felt like it was a success, the one hour we had to dig in flew by. I personally could have listened to Andrew Reed, Allison Bohl, and Justin Molotnikov talk shop for another couple of hours. There were easily 100 people in the crowd on a Monday afternoon and the feedback after the panel was very positive. Here are the links, as promised:

Justin Molotnikov

 

Crying With Laughter -- Justin showed clips from this film, which had its North American Premiere at SXSW.

Synchronicity Films is Claire Mundell and Justin Molotnikov's production company. For those of you that attended the panel, Claire sat near the front of the room and shared some thoughts from the audience.

Finally, the improv film webisodes from the Wickerman Music festival that Justin briefly mentioned can be found at www.wickerman.tv.

Allison Bohl

"Blessed Be, Honey Bee" -- This is the music video that we saw behind-the-scenes stills for, but which we didn't have a chance to screen during the panel. Allison directed and shot this video.

Allison's reel is also on Vimeo. The reel features, among other things, selected shots/scenes from "People of Earth" the feature that Allison showed a clip from on the panel.

I Always Do My Collars First - website for Allison's first documentary

Andrew Reed

Quiet City -- Andrew showed a clip from this film, which had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2007.

Cold Weather is the new film by Aaron Katz, shot by Andrew Reed. The trailer can be found here.

Paul Harrill (moderator)

Obviously, if you are here, you have found my blog. Information about my own work as a filmmaker can be found here.

For Memories' Sake, pt. 3: Organizing Content

Once I had completed the most basic research and transferred Angela's movies to video, I had to figure out how to keep track of the content of her collection. Though I only later learned about the importance of metadata and the availability of online archivist classes, I began simply and naively with a system that has served me well. I created a basic Filemaker Pro database with screengrabs from the home movies and just enough data to let me quickly find movies by persons featured, keywords, and/or their location on specific film reels or transfer tapes. I think this screen grab is somewhat self-explanatory:

As you can imagine, the keywords tend to be most useful. The beauty of using Filemaker Pro (as opposed to a library-designed data management software or, even worse, paper-based finding aid system) is that I can create ways to look for and quickly find what I want in a way that make sense to me. It's also one of the most affordable solutions I've found.

Of course, I quickly discovered I would need hard drives and backups of those hard drives for all the data and the video files, and when you're dealing with hundreds of hours of footage, it's quite an investment. I've found this brand to be especially reliable and affordable. As part of the "best practices" I've adopted, I always keep one copy of master tapes and hard drives with data in a separate, secure, climate-controlled location (e.g. not in a basement, attic, or anywhere subject to big temparture fluctuations or humidity). I also set alarms to remind myself to power up and spin the heads on the harddrives at least once every six months. Failing to do so can mean a total loss of data.

**

Even for filmmakers who aren't interesting in shooting small format or working with family archives, home movies have a lot to offer. As opposed to much archival footage that comes with hefty fees (my searches online yielded rates ranging from $25 per second to $350/second and up), home movies often come free for the taking (with attribution) or for a song at garage and rummage sales. More than that, I believe there's something inexplicably beautiful in these smaller than life versions of everyday scenes. Maybe it's because small things distill life to its essence...or maybe it's because the world seems so big and wonderful when things appear so small. Whatever the reason, if you come across orphan or neglected home movies, I hope you'll consider preserving and using these beautiful artifacts or donating them to an archive near you.

In the next making of For Memories' Sake post, I'll share how I scanned and catalogued 30,000+ photographs without taking too many years off my life.

Still from Angela Singers 8mm home movies.

For Memories' Sake, pt. 2: A Smattering of Super-8 Resources

Paul Harrill here. What follows below is Ashley Maynor's second post about For Memories' Sake, her forthcoming documentary. (I am the film's producer.) If you missed Ashley's first post, you can catch up with it here.

As you might guess if you read my first post, I soon found myself overwhelmed with the task of caring for Angela Singer's massive and chaotic collection. While this preservation project has finally come together in the form of a movie (more than three years since it began), I had to first learn to work with and care for her diverse and problematic assemblage of photos, films, and video. As a first generation college student, I majored in the not-so-versatile area of French Literature. I came to filmmaking late in my academic career, so it was without any formal photography training and during my first year of film school that I set out to learn best archival practices, digitization techniques, and the ins and outs of small format filmmaking.

While there's no substitute for learning hands-on through trial, error and frustration as I did, the following is a collection of websites and online resources that most helped me as I stumbled through the first phase of preservation:

Working with Home Movies

General Interest & Footage Sources

Home & Amateur - A blog about home movies and amateur film, whose contributors hail from the Center for Home Movies.

Lost in Light - The documentation of a (now complete) free home movie transfer project, including home movies, categorized by topic, many of them available for Creative Commons remixing.

Prelinger Archives/Archive.Org - A collection of home movies includes amateur films and videotapes from the collections of the Center for Home Movies, the Prelinger archives, other home movie aficionados. Many of the movies are public domain or available for use under Creative Commons guidelines.

Supplies & Small Format Filmmaking Resources

Film Shooting - A great online source for news about all things home movies and small format filmmaking based in Norway. Given that two major print publications (Super8Today and SmallFormat) have shut down their presses in the last year, this online news pool is essential.

On Super 8 - This site bills itself as "impartial and comprehensive resources for today's Super 8 and 8mm small gauge film makers." It's all that and more; based in the UK.

Pro8mm- The only movie house I know of in the US that specifically specializes in Super-8 film stocks and transfers. In 2008, they added a Milliennium II Scanner with daVinci 2K color corrector to their transfer menu, capable of SD or HD scans. It's the premier scanning system for small  gauge film.

Super 8 Site - A German Super8 site. The "links and addresses" page is worth a look.

Urbanski Film - Though the website screams 1990s, I've ordered and been very pleased with film cleaning supplies, projector bulbs, and other hard-to-find small format equipment.

And though it goes without saying, eBay is an immense (if risky) resource for finding old Super 8 cameras and projectors, as well as professional VHS decks for digitizing old videocasettes.  Before purchasing the unknown, I've found the folks on the AMIA Small Gauge/Amateur Film Interest Group listserve to be incredibly helpful and willing to share their expertise.

Preservation & Care Information

Brodsky & Treadway -The transfer house for rare, valuable, and fragile home movies. Their companion site, Little Film, contains detailed, downloadable tips and instructions for caring for home movies.

Home Movie Day - A major project of the Center for Home Movies, Home Movie Day is an international celebration of home movies. The site contains lots of information about film handling and care as well as links to home movie day events across the country and the globe. Home Movie Day also keeps a running list of home movie transfer houses.

National Film Preservation Foundation - A clearinghouse of film care basics and resources for more advanced users. Be sure to download their extensive film preservation guide.

It started with a tattered box...the making for FOR MEMORIES' SAKE

Today begins the first postings by Ashley Maynor on our film For Memories' Sake. (She's the director; I'm the producer.) Take it, Ashley.... It's Christmas 2005 and I've begun the crazy whirlwind of travel that results from being part of a Southern, Catholic family and a child of divorce. My grandmother, Angela Singer, who always gives the most unique (if utterly bizarre) gifts, often salvaged from garage sales or Dollar Store specials, surprises me with a tattered cardboard box. Within the box is a ratty paper bag, and within the bag a treasure trove: 79 3-inch reels of 8mm and Super8 home movies.

I had begged Angela for months to see if she could find her home movie collection, which I knew must have been buried in her house in Cheatham County Tennessee. What once housed nine children and all their things (most memorably for me: potato guns, slingshots, and dirt bike helmets) is now a cluttered mess of papers, mementos, newspaper clippings, and photographs that document time gone by and its slow, continual creep.

Having deciphered Angela's handwritten labels, organized the reels as best I could, and researched home movie transfer houses, I sent the films off in late 2006 for a low-cost telecine transfer. The films came back to me in digital form and I began to cut up and reconfigure these celluloid relics of time immemorial using a Macintosh Powerbook and Final Cut Pro.

After expressing such a fervent interest in the home movies, Angela keep digging and presented me, piecemeal over the next year, with more and more documents: over 130 VHS-C tapes of home video, dozens of photo albums from the 1990s, her latest photographs on CD-rom, baby books, photo collages, and so on. In sum, what began as a modest attempt to preserve a few precious films turned into an unexpected discovery of the immensity of Angela's film and photo stockpile and an involved (if unintended) campaign to protect and preserve as much of her archive as possible.

My next post will discuss how I learned (taught myself, really) to preserve Angela's "archive" and how I began shaping this raw material into something that I could use to create For Memories' Sake.

pCAM for iPhone

David Eubank's pCAM and pCINE were great applications for the Palm OS. They helped you compute depth of field, hyperfocal distance, angle of view.... Together, they were like a computerized version of all those charts in the American Cinematographer's Manual that you always referred to on set. Now, Eubank has outdone himself with pCAM for iPhone, which combines the pCAM and pCINE applications in a new interface. If you have an iPhone and you shoot film or video, this is a supremely useful tool. At $39.99 it may seem pricey for an iPhone app, but in my opinion it's well worth the price.

pCAM for iPhone [iTunes store link]

Production Boards and EP Scheduling with Chris Cobb

Assistant Director Chris Cobb has two sets of tutorials up on Expert Village that are worth a look. The first is a tutorial on setting up a script production board. If you've never done a script breakdown, you'll want to check it out.

The other tutorial demonstrates how to use EP Scheduling, the industry standard software for film shoot scheduling. Granted, EP Scheduling is not cheap ($499 msrp), but film school students may have access to it or may be able to afford the academic version (around $145 online), hence the linkage.