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I have about a decade of experience in low- and no-budget filmmaking, including 9 feature films and too many shorts to count. Technology is a wonderful thing, as is the fact that people are willing to pitch in and led equipment, talent, and locations for nothing. But...

a) if you work this way (with actors doubling up as crew and so on), then you say goodbye to QA. Although there are clear improvements from project to project the quality is...not good. I don't want to go through a laundry list of critcisms. But I suggest ditching the DV camera, getting a DSLR, and learning to shoot at 24p with a 1/50 shutter speed. The cost and time savings of not using DV tapes alone will cover the food bill for your shoot.

b) "I raised $2,000 using Kickstarter." That's a very small budget, but it's a hell of a lot bigger than $0, no? This sort of bait-and-switch marketing technique only works if you have a commercial release. Your budget is part of your marketing plan, and you can only use this trick once. OK, so the point is that the filmmaker did it with $0 of his own cash. There's a thin line between creatively financing your project on a shoestring, and coming off as a freeloader.

c) "If this is what I did with $2,000 imagine what I could do with $2,000,000." Production companies in Hollywood hear this pitch approximately weekly. The response (among themselves, not to you) is 'I'm perfectly capable of wasting my own money.' What you need to focus on now is leveraging the achievements so far into a $20,000 budget (enough to pay a minimum wage to a small crew and cast), and having a plan to generate a similar amount of revenue. That will open doors to larger things.

You worked on Voyeur. Cool! I know the band that did (some of) the soundtrack. (http://www.karmacoda.com)

I always wish I had time to be involved in other peoples' film productions, specifically on the acting and the sound side. This was a very inspiring read.

Ha, small world. Believe it or not, I haven't seen it - couldn't attend the screening for some reason, and never got a copy of the film on DVD. It happens, I've only seen about half the shorts I've worked on. Although I would kinda like to see voyeur because I have an action scene in it where a (fictional) cop grabs me and throws me up against a police car. I mean that literally - I had bruises for days.

As someone interested in making documentaries on a shoestring - I think it is an intereting educational and interview tool - are there specific products you would point me at, community film groups - are they any good? Just basic 'mistakes not to make' list would be very appreciated - top of the list is which camera to (not) get and whether OSS can handle non linear editing

edit : and, rude of me not to ask first time, do you have links to any of your 9(!) feature films - would be interested and the hackernewser links don't seem to take me there.

I would not recommend spending a lot of money on cameras, especially for a documentary. I made a feature-length documentary a few years ago (http://graceofgodmovie.com/) on an HDV camera that is primitive by today's standards (1080i) and of all the feedback I've ever gotten not a single person has ever said that the image quality isn't good enough. Even a bottom-of-the-line contemporary HD camera should be plenty good enough to shoot a movie. Heck, you could probably shoot a decent movie on an iPhone 4S.

The one thing that you can't do well on a cheap camera is capture sound. Sound was definitely the bane of my existence for the four years I was working on the film, particularly since I was shooting on the street. In a couple of cases I recorded sound using ipods that I put in my subject's pocket. My camera also had a bluetooth microphone that worked pretty well. If you're going to spend money, spend it on audio, not video.

The thing is, if you're shooting yourself then you need to own some sort of camera, be used to using it and be used to thinking like a photographer. Obviously if you hire someone to shoot for you the camera becomes their problem; but you can shoot digital video so cheaply now that you'd be crazy not to own one. I use a DSLR because I want a lot of control over the image, but something like a HTC hero will 'just work' and may be perfect for documentary work. An iPhone...possible, but painful.

Absolutely true on the sound. Bad sound will kill your production faster than anything else, and there's an art to getting good sound, just as much as there is to getting good images. Zoom's H4N recorder is not the most user friendly but it's small, cheap, and sounds very good. It also has surprisingly decent built-in microphones. It sounds as good as the military-style DAT recorder I used to lug around, even if it doesn't look as impressive.

Just to be clear, I wouldn't recommend making a film with an iPhone either. At the very least you want to be able to mount your camera on a tripod. But if you're going to spend $500 I'd recommend getting some good wireless mics over a DSLR.

Ok, I am defintiely interested in recording interviews (videoing them is a plus) - and at the risk of HN wrath, here goes with the hardware questions:

  what makes a good microphone, 

  why go wireless (I can guess) and 

  I would assume I just plug into the 3.5mm jack on the 
  side of my laptop - and hit record - why is that a bad   

> what makes a good microphone

That depends a lot on what kind of film you're making, but there are two that are particularly useful for documentaries: lapel mics and directional shotgun mics. Lapel mics give you better sound quality, but shotguns are good for impromptu situations where you don't have time to wire your subject.

Wireless is good for the obvious reasons. Wired mics are really good only for sit-down interviews unless you can also put a recorder on your subject (which is possible -- iPod nanos make dandy audio recorders). Don't worry too much about quality if all you're recording is people talking. I'd avoid mics that are selling for $1.99 on eBay, but you can find excellent lapel mics for low 10s of dollars. (Shotguns cost more.)

Yes, you can just plug a mic into the jack on your laptop. You'll even get decent quality. But 1) your laptop is probably much bigger and more power hungry than a dedicated recorder and 2) it probably only has one mic jack and you'll almost certainly want at least two no matter what you're doing.

If you're using an audio recorder that's separate from your camera, don't forget to put an audio marker on each clip so you can synchronize the sound later in post. You don't need a slate. You can just clap your hands (make sure you're in front of the camera and in range of all the mics). It looks goofy, but it works.

I must differ with Lisper on a few things.

First, rent your microphones, you get what you pay for, and cheap microphones sound cheap. Better yet, hire a sound guy, who will know what he's doing. At the no budget level you can basically hire someone for the price of their gear rental, which is about 5% of the book value per day. To put that in perspective, I used to turn up to a shoot with $4-5000 worth of gear. My shotgun alone costs about $1500 to buy. If you do do it yourself - and that's more acceptable for documentary because nobody minds seeing a microphone - at least buy a book and do some practice in your spare time. You'd be amazed how noisy a refrigerator sounds when you're trying to record someone, or how loud a typical city street it.

PLugging into your laptop - don't, the a/d converters are usually awful and you'll pick up a ton of electrical noise. Get something like this: http://us.focusrite.com/news/introducing-scarlett-2i4 (for a laptop) or http://us.focusrite.com/news/announcing-two-exciting-new-int... (for iPad). these are about $150 each and the quality is grreat. Whatever you buy, make sure it can output Phantom Power, a 48v power source for condenser microphones.

But the reason I praise the Zoom above is because it's no larger than a typical camcorder. It fits in your pocket, won't attract attention on the street, and you can record up to 4 tracks with it. You won't always have a table for a laptop.

> you get what you pay for... cheap microphones sound cheap

That is certainly true. But a cheap sound today is a lot better than a cheap sound ten years ago, and it might be good enough for you. The only way to tell is to try it. On which note...

+1 on doing practice runs. Much more important than mic quality is placement and setting your levels properly. A cheap mic well placed will get you much better results than the best mic in a bad location.

True, though I think converters are the key difference there. The analog side of mic technology hasn't changed a whole lot recently.

On the OSS side of things you could take a look at Blender: http://www.blender.org/

While Blender is known primarily for the 3D modelling/animation side it also has a non-linear editor and compositing capability.

The most recent versions have focused on the motion-tracking and compositing needed for their most recent live action+CGI film which is due for release shortly: http://www.tearsofsteel.org/

are there specific products you would point me at, community film groups - are they any good? Just basic 'mistakes not to make' list would be very appreciated - top of the list is which camera to (not) get and whether OSS can handle non linear editing

I personally like Canon DSLRs. The current Digital Rebel series produce nice images in combination with a tool like Magic Lantern for well under $100. If you can afford a 7D or %d the image quality is marginally better, the ergonomics significantly so. But products from Nikon are also good, as are the Micro 4:3 units from Panasonic. Sony's I'm not familiar with, but have heard others speak highly of them.

Certainly check out film production courses at commnity colleges in your area - you may be able to learn a great deal for relatively few $, not to mention making food contacts. Online, good resources are http://prolost.com/ and http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/ are two of the best resources, but also check http://rebelsguide.com/forum/. Stu Maschwitz's 'Rebel's Guide' is a really excellent starting point in book form, I wish I'd had it when I got started: http://astore.amazon.com/prolost-20/detail/0321413644 The Guerilla Filmmaker's handbook is also excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Guerilla-Makers-Handbook-American-Edit... Join a film library or filmmaker society if you are a decent sized city, as you'll save a fortune on seeking out and buying books on technique, financing, contracts, etc.

I personally don't rate open source audio/video editing products very highly. If you're on Mac, then you have to seriously consider final Cut, but Adobe sells the most comprehensive suite of tools. (Disclosure: I test for them.)

You need to understand something about motion graphics even if all you're doing is putting up titles and evening out lighting/color disparities in your footage. You can pick up books on Adobe Premiere and After Effects for pennies - no need for the most current version, learn the basics from a book that's a version or two out of date. You can get demo versions of the Creative Suite software for free, and get full working versions quite cheap if you are enrolled somewhere as a student (same is true for competitors of course). If you have a budget then treat them as a line-item expense. If not, then you can go looking for an, ah, evaluation copy. Don't try to become expert in everything, but become conversant with the basics so you can have meaningful conversations with people who are more experienced.

BTW, as you're in the UK, shoot 25p rather than 24p. It's easy to convert later for other markets if necessary, but naturally you want something that works with your local TV standards. The Guerilla film guide has more of a UK focus, which may be helpful for you.

edit : and, rude of me not to ask first time, do you have links to any of your 9(!) feature films - would be interested and the hackernewser links don't seem to take me there.

Sure, here's a few. Please note that they're not 'my' films; they're films on which I worked as crew or cast, and/or in which I had a silent producer role. Most of them are pretty bad :-)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0491095/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460985/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0968738/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0834904/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0860837/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1762380/

Ooops, that should read 'for well under $1000' - for a camera like the T3i or somesuch, plus a few SD cards.

That's a shame :-). But thanks for the great overview - will see how we go!

I found this to be a quite good resource:


Philip Bloom has become kind of the Paul Graham of the "DSLR video shooting" movement.

I've never done any type of film making. I suspect from my attempts at photography and writing (and my reading about them), that the first, most cost effective investment would be hiring a professional editor to put the final film together.

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