Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What Camera?

Today I'd like to talk about cameras because obviously a film can't be made without one. I'm talking about live action films obviously since computer animation doesn't require a physical camera. Technology has improved vastly since the 80s when consumer camcorders started appearing on the market. A modern camera for a few hundred pounds can now record images in top quality and often in High Definition. The fact is, for £300 today you can get a camera that's better than a camera that cost £3000 a decade ago. So, for this post I have compiled a list of cameras which all have the potential to record films. Remember, it doesn't matter what camera you use. If you've got a great story to tell then potentially you can turn it into a great movie. The audience won't know what you used, they can't see the camera.

Yeah seriously. It's still a camera isn't it? Probably not the best idea since you're restricted to where you use it but if it's good enough then why not? It'll record straight to your computer's hard-drive which means you don't have to worry about SD cards or tapes. Of course if you have to film outside then you may find it a bit hard to use.
Benefits: Cheap and it records video.
Negatives: Small, restrictive and doesn't paint a professional image.
Cost: £10 for a cheap one to £50 for a better one
Rating: 3/10. Unless you're making videos for YouTube or your vlog, don't bother.

Let's face it. Almost every modern mobile phone can record video. I remember back in 2003 I was amazed when someone had a mobile phone which could shoot video. And today we have iPhones which record in 720p HD. If you're interested in making films and have a mobile phone then why not start now. Practise with your phone's camera and then plan your movie. I've seen many YouTube videos where users have made films using what looked liked their mobile phone's camera. Regardless of their image quality, they entertained me more than most of the stuff I see on TV. Of course there is a downside and you should consider this when your filmmaking becomes a serious hobby. You have to remember that a mobile phone's primary purpose is to make phone calls so don't expect to be able to attach it to a tripod. You could always drive a large stick into the ground then gaffer tape your mobile phone to it (N. B. Gaffer tape is the second most important tool in your filmmaking arsenal. I'll be writing a gaffer tape article sometime soon.)
Benefits: If you've got a phone in your pocket then you probably have a video camera. Yay!
Negatives: You can't attach it to things and the microphone probably sounds like a paper bag.
Cost: Most phones are cheap these days.
Rating: 4/10. Good to start off with but won't be suitable in the long term.

The best option for indie filmmakers is to use a modern consumer camcorder. I'm talking about Panasonic, Canon and Sony who all produce fine video cameras that cost less than a £1000. These modern cameras are small, lightweight and shoot in 1080 HD. Nowadays, you no longer have to worry about tapes because they all use SD cards which range from 4-32 gigabytes in size. I personally use a Panasonic HDC-SD9 and it has served me well for 3 years now. The size may put you off though because it may not look like it's up to the job.
Benefits: Great Image quality, High Definition and an easy to use format. Great for filmmakers.
Negatives: They seem to be getting smaller which means less space for attaching peripherals.
Cost: You probably won't have to spend more than £1000.
Rating: 7/10. If you don't mind the negatives then you should definitely consider this type.

Every digital picture camera has a video mode and if it doesn't then it shouldn't have been bought in the first place (unless you bought it in the 90s and it takes floppy discs). By turning that dial to movie mode you can capture excellent video and in high resolution. Still not convinced? Search for "Canon 7D" on YouTube and take a look at some of the films people have made with it. The 7D has a massive image sensor and the quality of video is comparable to film. Many filmmakers have actually stopped using their big bulky video cameras and switched to Digital SLRs for the aforementioned reasons. Since it's a dedicated camera, it'll have a threaded base for tripod mounting.
Benefits: Superb video quality, extensive manual control, High Definition, Removable lenses.
Negatives: If you shoot video handheld it may look odd and you'll definitely need an external mic.
Cost: From £100 for a simple digital camera all the way up to £1000 for a digital SLR.
Rating: 7/10. Definitely recommended.

Every indie filmmaker dreams of owning a high end camera made by Canon or Panasonic. These cameras are big, covered in buttons, dials and have a massive lens sticking out from the front. They look the business and anyone else who sees it will think the same. You can change the lens, plug in a microphone via XLR connector and there's so much manual control that it will confuse you for a long time. I have only ever used these cameras at university since I can't afford to buy one for myself.
Benefits: A lot of features, High Definition, Professional (and the list goes on...)
Negatives: The cost will put you off and you'll have to spend a lot of time getting used to it.
Cost: £3000 plus. If you can find one for cheaper then please let me know.
Rating: 8/10. It's safe to say that this is what you want and need.

In this age of modern digital technology what do you think they shoot films on? Yes, that's right. The Film Industry still use actual film and they'll continue to do so for many years to come. Currently, the quality of film is unmatched and they want to keep it that way. 35mm is the industry standard and that's the width of each film frame on a reel. The resolution is far greater than 1920x1080 HD and film handles very well in low light conditions which makes it perfect for directors to work with. So why can't people like myself use it? Well apart from a 35mm camera costing upward of £50,000 you'll have to pay a large amount of money for the film stock and for processing afterwards. Be prepared to waste a lot of film as well because you don't get to go back and see what you just recorded like you can with a video camera. Imagine having to do 5 takes for one shot because your actor kept forgetting his lines. For an average 90 minute movie you'll probably have to spend another £50,000 on film.
Benefits: Varies because it depends on how much money you've got.
Negatives: You'll get a lot of negatives out of using film because it needs processing before you can watch it. (bad joke, I know)
Cost: Probably £100,000 at the very least.
Rating: 10/10. If you can afford it or 1/10 if you're a low budget filmmaker like me.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Music Introduction

I always end up broadening my horizons and trying out new things. I discovered FL Studio a few years back and it's an amazing piece of software which allows you to create your own music tracks. There are so many plug-ins available to download and a quick YouTube search yields thousands of videos showcasing creations made my FL users. I fully recommend it to anyone because it's very easy to pick up and use. Download the demo here:
The demo is fantastic because it allows you to do everything that you can do in the full version. The only disadvantage being that you can't save your projects (But you can still export to WAV and MP3 format) The developers also have varying levels of cost associated with their product. The express edition will cost you £36 and the other versions feature less restrictions at a greater cost. I like to mess around occasionally and come up with random songs whenever a tune comes into my head. This particular one was made as a tribute to a friend and features his voice from a video we made:

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Prop guns, effects and the VCRA

Once upon a time you could freely purchase realistic replicas of firearms in the United Kingdom but since 2007 selling was restricted to certain people who qualified for exemption. Thankfully, purchase of replicas for the purpose of film making was preserved and this is what I'm going to write about today. Unfortunately, unless you happen to be a Film Production Company you'll find it very hard to purchase since merely saying "I'm going to use it in a film" isn't enough. So, you're filming the action movie of the year with your friends and suddenly you realise that your script requires an intense fire fight between two rival gangs. You all stand around scratching your heads wondering what to use as guns. Well, fear not because hopefully I can help! We'll start off with the easiest option then work our way up to the hardest.

Ask around:
You'll be surprised because thankfully the Violent Crimes Reduction Act grandfathers replicas bought before the 2007 date. Maybe someone you know owns a few and will lend them to you for the duration of your film shoot.

Make them:
Since film making was stated in the Act as an exemption you could always test your creative side and make replicas out of cardboard or wood. Print a 1:1 scale picture of a gun then use that as a template. You can probably make a few in a day and they should look okay on camera. Unless you're good at arts and craft chances are your gun wont look that realistic up close so try and be clever when you use this method. Have quick camera shots of your actor shooting and hopefully your audience wont notice it's a lump of cardboard.

Maybe if you're a wizz at computers you can film your actors "pretending" to hold guns and then create a 3D model on the computer where the firearm should be. Chances are it'll look too fake but it might be worth a shot (sorry, bad pun).

Buy what you can:
Good news is you can still buy non-realistic replicas. These are basically the exact same size but they come in bright happy colours like green, blue and orange. You'll ask "But how can these pass as real on camera??". Well, most editing software has a colour key effect which you can apply to your video clips. Say you've got a bright orange gun and you've just shot an action scene you apply the colour key filter then select orange for removal. And depending on your software, you should be able to desaturate and adjust brightness on the orange areas so the gun then becomes black. This method might be the most cost effective way of putting prop guns into your films. Search for cheap BB guns online and you can buy accurate replicas of modern firearms in bright colours. http://www.justbbguns.co.uk/ is a good place to purchase from.

Pre-1870 designs:
Also, replicas based on a design from before 1870 (not 1970) are allowed to be purchased by anyone which is good news if your film's going to be a western.

Become an air-softer:
Alternatively, join an Airsoft skirmishing site and by running around a forest and getting dirty for a few times a year you'll qualify for VCRA exemption! This means you can purchase as many realistic replicas as you want.

Start a Film Company:
If you don't want to run around a forest and get dirty a few times a year then consider setting yourself up as a film company. This really only makes logical sense if you're serious about filmmaking (Like me). Set up a business account with your bank then visit http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/ to register your company. Hire some friends as employees then fill out the necessary paperwork and so on. You might need public liability insurance though so do your research and ask around first. Once you get past the headache of setting up a business you can purchase replica guns online. I suggest buying off http://www.plugfirecapgunsuk.com/ because they stock a large range of blank firing replicas which provide extra realism on set.

(Pictures coming soon)

And now for a bit of advice. If you use anything that looks like a firearm please don't wave it around in public and ensure that everyone around you knows that it's a fake gun. Next post I make will be a tutorial showing you how to add gun effects like smoke, muzzle flashes and shell casings to enhance your action scenes.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Blood Squib Effect

Chances are you've seen this effect in action or war films. A Character gets shot and their chest rips open spraying blood everywhere. In Hollywood, this effect is almost always done using a small explosive charge called a 'squib'. Basically, the actor has a metal plate fixed to their body and the explosive charge is attached to this plate and then a bag (or condom) filled with fake blood is taped on top. Detonation is done electronically and when the time comes for actor to get shot up, a special FX technician would flick a switch and BANG. Blood everywhere.

This effect is very impressive but has a number of problems. Firstly, using explosives requires a certain degree of expertise and might cause serious injury if done wrong. They're also very expensive and complicated. Unless you've got a 5 figure budget don't consider using explosives to simulate bullet hits. I've seen countless YouTube videos where people have taped firecrackers to their chest with a blood pack on top and then lit the fuse. First of all, you'll see the smoke and sparks through the shirt as it burns down and second you can't judge how long it'll take before the thing goes off. This method just doesn't work well and if you live in an area where fire crackers are illegal then you can't do it anyway. The method I use is cheap, safe, simple and best of all looks great if done correctly.

5 years ago I watched Peter Jackson's Bad Taste and was amazed. Peter Jackson (the very same guy who directed Lord of the Rings) worked on this film for four years and on a shoestring budget. It contained a lot of impressive special effects including dozens of blood splatter. I spent a lot of time trying out blood effects and I found this brilliant website showing you how to do a blood spray effect using a compressed air pump. Unfortunately this website no longer exists but there are plenty of tutorials around which explain this effect in greater detail.

You basically purchase one of those pump up insecticide sprays. If you're serious about film making you'd pay for a new one instead of using an old one that might be contaminated with nasty insecticide and could kill your actor. You then use a length of PVC hose that has one end sealed and a hole made on the side. This tube is then taped to your actor and the little hole is aligned with a cut in the item of clothing which they'll be wearing. Stuff the hole with small pieces of sponge to prevent the fake blood from coming out prematurely.

You then pump up the sprayer and I recommend you do it 150-200 times to get enough pressure. High pressure will ensure the blood sprays out like a cloud instead of just leaking out like a tap. You then attach the tube to the sprayer like the picture above and when you're ready press the trigger down and the air will be released and spray fake blood everywhere. I've tried this out several times with varying levels of success. The trick is to keep experimenting until you find the best combination of fake blood, pumps and tube position.

And here's the finished effect which I did for a university task. Thanks to my brother for allowing me to shoot him.

Life as a Film Maker

I've been making films for several years now. I'm actually studying film at university and it's something I'm considering as a career. Before University, most of my knowledge evolved out of curiosity. I would learn about certain techniques and watch films then attempt to replicate them using what I had available. These days it has become so much easier thanks to the internet and high quality consumer technology. I urge all those who have a keen interest in film making to pick up a camera and get creative. I hope to make regular posts on this blog that will share film making tips, information on current projects and general film making ideas.