Fan Filmmaker's Primer

Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, Dec 9, 2010.

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    For some time I thought that it might be fun and useful to start a thread in which the discussion is not about a specific film or projects, but as a sort of primer for wanna-be fan filmmakers on various aspects of production.

    Basically, this is a place where you can share experiences and techniques you've tried and found working or wanting.

    To kick it off, a few thoughts on...

    LIGHTING
    Good studio type lights are expensive, large, and heady, requiring C-Stands and some pretty substantial capacity on your circuit breaker. They're great if you can afford them, but a lot of people can't.

    There are a number of other approaches. I'll toss out a simple one. One thing I like to use for simple shoots are paper/china ball lanterns. They're cheap, collapse flat for storage, come in different sizes, and you can load them with relatively inexpensive color-corrected bulbs. They put out a soft even light, which is great for ambient illumination or soft non contrasty light.

    [​IMG]
    Paper Lantern (aka China Ball) Lighting
    This above frame from a comedic music video I just did was lit entirely with four 16" paper lanters loaded with 150W.118V Halogen photo optic bulbs, and arrayed to hit the foreground and backround. The result is pretty good if you want nice even light without a lot of modeling. If you want something more dramatic, you'd need to mix in some other kinds of lights.

    [​IMG]

    Studio Lighting (on a small soundstage)

    This frame is from a different shoot location where we used more professional equipment but needed to maintain a consistent style with the shots made on a location. Here we bounced four studio lights off the white ceiling above the stage floor and off the top of the white cyclorama (above shot) to evenly light the cyc background. We then put a large bank of florescents to the right of the camera as a primary illumination, and another stage light reflected off a large white card to camera left to fill in the shadows.

    We did this for two reasons, both having to do with speed.
    1. Both lighting setups generally got sufficient illumination on anyone in shot no matter where they were, so we didn't have to worry about a lack of light that would affect setups and focus.
    2. By eliminating the need to change the lighting setup after setup, I was able to concentrate on getting as many takes and setups as possible in each place.

    Incidentally, this was shot with a digital SLR: a Canon T1i Rebel.
    Anyone else have a tip, or technique to share?
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  2. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Since you mentioned digital SLRs - someone should talk about them and cameras in general in some detail, but I'm not knowledgable enough to do so.

    I'll note that there are quite a few now that will record remarkable HD video for a fraction of what a standard definition prosumer camera cost a few years ago. If you're working on a very limited budget, as most fan film producers are, IMAO these are the cameras you should be seriously looking at.
     
  3. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Indeed. Every film project I've worked on in the past 366 days (Polaris, a short film and four music vidoes) have all been shot on Canon Digital SLRs of one stripe or another.
     
  4. Captain Robert April

    Captain Robert April Vice Admiral Admiral

    So, now would be a good time to retire that old Super 8?
     
  5. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Editing Super-8: I used to see sprocket holes every time I closed my eyes for at least a day...
     
  6. Hudson_uk

    Hudson_uk Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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  7. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Two things to really concentrate on: sound has to be good. I don't know the model numbers, but a good boom mic is something you really can't cheap out on. Off mic dialogue spoils the suspension of disbelief in a hurry. Another consideration is to really plan your shots around editing. With a tip of the tam o' shanter to Hudson UK and the rest of the Intrepid crew I would point to their latest vignette as an example of really smooth editing. Bumpy edits are the kind of thing that people may not notice consciously, but they definitely are a distraction.
     
  8. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Good points, MikeH92467. More on the subject of...

    SOUND

    A good mic is important, but it's not the only factor. Not just the mic is important. What you're recording to and the sound quality of the space you're in is also important.

    The Set
    I've in other threads mentioned using heavy blankets to deaden echos of set flats and walls not in shot. When we shot Stagecoach In the Sky we have to put a blanket over a flag to cover an open hatch on the plane because the echoing was nuts if we didn't.

    Number of Mics
    One mic often isn't enough. Sometimes you need two mics to get all the sound in a shot, particularly if you have a scene where actors are far apart in the frame and there's overlapping dialogue.

    What You're Recording To
    Furthermore, a lot of cameras, and particularly DSLRs, have crappy audio, so on such cameras you definitely want to be recording second sound to another device of higher quality.

    The Slate Clap
    A lot of people don't realize how important this is. That clap sound helps you sync or resync audio to picture if you don't have a slate that generates timecode. It's particularly important if you're shooting separate sound, as you don't want to be manually trying to sync sound to picture in post...trust me.

    Audio Levels
    One trick a DP I worked with taught me is to always use a stereo mic and to set the levels so that the left channel is "ideal" and the right is maybe 10-15% lower. The right channel ends up being the safety track if the sound on the left channel spikes and distorts or pops. On more than one occasion it's saved me from having to go back later and loop lines.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  9. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    LIGHTING REDUX

    Back to Lighting for a moment, here's a photo from another shoot I did in the same small stage I mentioned previously, but wherein you can actually see how much lighting we were using:


    Basically, there are four banks of florescents (the large flat black boxes) arrayed to get the greenscreen lit evenly: two above, one to the left one to the right. There are five additional barn-doored stage lights on C-stands to illuminate the players.

    Also note the black sound blankets (EDIT: basically, quilted shipping blankets) hanging from the ceiling to help deaden echoes.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  10. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Love the sound blankets! In my bedroom/recording studio, I'm using comforters nailed to the wall! :)
     
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^^Whatever works. The result is what matters.

    Anyone else have things to share? Given the number of fan filmmakers here I'd thought there'd be more activity in this thread.
     
  12. DestinyCaptain

    DestinyCaptain Commander Red Shirt

    This is all good stuff.
     
  13. FalTorPan

    FalTorPan Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Having only made one movie so far, I have far more questions than answers. Maybe a questions thread would be a good idea.

    By the way thank you immensely for contributing to this thread. This info is much appreciated.
     
  14. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    Sounds like blankets would be very useful to us. We have the most annoying echo in the theatre we use for greenscreen shoots.
     
  15. CaptainSerek

    CaptainSerek Commander Red Shirt

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    This thread is a good idea, helping both veteran and new film makers with basic issues as well as giving pointers.
     
  16. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Pretty much any heavy blanket will help somewhat. That's what C-47s (aka wooden clothespins) are for holding up. lol
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  17. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    My suggestions would be uselessly general: plan, plan, plan. No matter how much you plan out, it's less than half of what you should. The simplest and most effective way to solve problems is to write them out of the script.
     
  18. Start Wreck

    Start Wreck Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Sound was the main problem we had with our film. Our set was built in a very echoey hall (it was all we could get) and much of the dialogue reverbed too much to be usable. We ended up dubbing the whole thing! :lol:

    I'd second the notion to do as much planning as possible. Plan every shot, every angle, visualise the whole thing before you shoot it. We didn't do enough of this, and we found we wasted a lot of time just trying to work out where the camera should go for every shot. A bit of a pain, that was.
     
  19. Melonpool

    Melonpool Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I've rewritten the script no less than 26 times since we started the project. That's the one good thing about it taking so long to build the sets (and the puppets) it affords a lot of time to focus on the script and storyboarding process. If there's anything in your script that you feel is "good enough" I say address it before you start shooting -- otherwise, it's going to be the one thing you focus on when the entire project's finished because it will get a groan every time you watch it (probably from you!).
     
  20. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The main problems with both of the low-budget films I've worked on - "The Tressaurian Intersection" and Polaris - were ultimate script issues. So far Polaris is less problematic than TTI, so maybe I'm learning something.

    Allowing enough time - particularly preproduction and shooting schedule - is the other big planning factor. Assuming that you can meet a shooting schedule "if all goes well" is a big mistake. We only finished the Fort Washington phase of Polaris successfully with some very long days (although I'm told that we had nothing on some other productions our folks had worked on) and because a non-shooting/construction day had been built into the schedule. Needless to say we shot all day on the non-shooting day.
     

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