Friday, 3 July 2015

What's a matte box? (and what is it used for)

To put it simply, a matte box is the square thing that you see on the end of movie/video cameras. They have three uses.

1. It prevents lens flare
Unless you want it in your shot, a matte box is designed to cut out lens flare. Usually, a matte box will have adjustable fins on the top and sides. This is its main purpose.

2. It holds filters
More expensive matte boxes allow you to slot filters, like neutral density filters, in front of your lens. This allows you to replace filters faster than the ones that screw directly onto your lenses. Obviously this doesn't really work well if you're using a zoom lens that extends in and out since the matte box is usually fixed to rails beneath the camera.

3. It looks pro
You put a matte box in front of your camera and it automatically looks 100% cooler. Yeah, I know this isn't a proper reason for having one but it does make a DSLR look less like a photography camera and more like a proper movie camera. Image is everything and you should do everything you can to disguise your DSLR when you take it to a video shoot.

8 ways to make money as a filmmaker or videographer

As an independent filmmaker, making money and funding your films can be a challenge. You might have to get a job that you don't like to save up or you might be lucky enough to get funding off someone. Either way, there are a number of ways you can make some cash so I wrote this guide to help you out.

1. Make videos for other people 
This should be fairly obvious but you need to spend a bit of time networking and making contacts. The good thing is, once you get the ball rolling and you end up producing high quality content for people, they're likely to recommend you and soon enough, you've got your own video production business. You've got the equipment, you just need the work. Start with shooting wedding videos for family members or friends. You might not be interested in making wedding videos but you get to put into practice all you know about cinematography and editing. People spend a lot of money on weddings and they want their special day preserved forever. Plus, with many guests, weddings are a perfect place to network and make new contacts. You never know who you might meet and what opportunities they could have waiting for you. Don't restrict yourself to wedding videos either. Music videos, artists and bands are a perfect way to make money shooting video. Videos are a great way for musicians to get noticed and many are willing to hire someone to shoot a video for them. Many music videos have a narrative which means they're basically short films and provide you with an opportunity to be creative. 

2. Edit videos for other people 
You might be the sort of person who prefers editing to going out and shooting. If that's the case, why not offer your services as an editor? There could be people out there who shoot so much video on a regular basis that they have very little time to sit down and edit. They might be earning enough money from their shoots to allow them to hire someone else to do the editing for them. You can then spends hours in the comfort of your own home doing something creative and film related. If you're good enough, you might be hired by the same person again or even get recommended. Also, with services like Dropbox and WeTransfer, you might not even have to travel to collect footage. Your client simply uploads their raw files, you download, you edit and then you upload it for them to download.

3. Take photos for other people
While at University, the DSLR revolution happened. Loads of people (including me) bought DSLRs and lenses but used them for filmmaking and video production instead of photography. I've mentioned in the past the reasons why (interchangeable lenses, large sensor, shallow depth of field etc). The thing is, the same principles for cinematography (composition, lighting etc) can be applied to photography. Many people from my film course at university ended up taking up photography and offered their services as a photographer as well as videographer. You've got a DSLR, you can do both! From my experience, there are more opportunities for taking photographs than there are for creating videos. Shooting video then spending hours editing it can be stressful. Taking pictures and then working on them a bit in Photoshop can be easier and you might actually prefer it. It's just a suggestion but I recommend becoming a photographer if you have a DSLR and currently use it for filmmaking/videos. 

4. Make videos for YouTube
Let's face it. YouTube has changed things for filmmakers. Thanks to the internet, many people have become famous and their work has more chance of getting noticed. There are plenty of YouTubers out there with hundreds of thousands and even millions of subscribers. With so many views per video, these people have started to make a living through AdSense. Unfortunately, it will be a struggle and it requires a lot of work and dedication. It might be years before you get regular money and it might never happen. Still, you only have to look at popular vloggers and their videos to become optimistic and imagine one day being in the same situation. It's all about regular content. Just create lots of original videos. If you've got the video production skills and are capable of creating high quality content but you're not getting regular work then do it! You've got nothing to lose but a lot to gain. Start with creating and uploading at least one video per week. After a few months, if you start getting more subscribers or loads of views, try increasing your uploads to two videos per week. I've seen videos with a million or so views but very few subscribers on the channel. Even if you don't get the subscribers you hoped for, you're still getting revenue for each and every view. You're only limited by your imagination. Create vlogs, short films, product reviews or even tutorials. Be inspired. Learn from successful YouTubers and see what attracts millions of viewers. 

5. Hire your equipment out
If you're serious about filmmaking, you've probably got loads of equipment in storage just sitting there, collecting dust. If you're not getting regular work, what's the point of just leaving it all there? It could still earn you money even if you're not the one using it. This is also why networking is important. You might own certain pieces of equipment that one of your contacts requires for a job. If they're not prepared to buy their own, why not offer to lend it to them for a reasonable price? You're effectively earning money for doing nothing. Just be warned, you might want to start with hiring equipment out to friends and people you know. Unless you have insurance that covers the hiring out of equipment, you might end up losing money if someone breaks or loses it. However, there are companies (such as All Out Hire ) that provide a service for those who want to hire their equipment out and this includes insurance cover. If you're happy with sitting back while someone else uses your equipment then fine but chances are there'll be times when they want to hire you as well. 

6. Sell your equipment 
Okay, you might not want to do this but sometimes you really need to stop and think. Is the £500 lens that sits on my shelf for 90% of the year really worth keeping? Am I likely to get much more use out of it? Will the price depreciate by next year? If you're asking yourself these questions then why not sell it? You probably won't get what you paid for it but is it really worth keeping if you hardly use it? What seemed like a good investment a few years back might have been a bad decision. Sell now and get more money for it than you'll end up getting if you leave it any longer. 

7. Crowdfunding
Remember earlier in this post when I talked about the power of the internet? It's not just YouTube but popular crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo exist to help people like you raise money for projects and that includes film projects. It's no guarantee but it's still worth a shot. You simply create a campaign for your project, set a target, offer incentives/rewards for each pledge and if you're lucky, you might end up raising thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars etc. Take the movie "Kung Fury" for example. Originally, the goal was to raise $200,000 but the Kickstarter campaign ended up raising $600,000! That's three times the target amount! Just think, that could happen to you. If you've got a great idea but very little money to make it happen, you might as well.     

8. Enter competitions
Again, there's no guarantee of making money out of this but you should be constantly making films if you want to get noticed. Competitions are great for getting exposure plus there's the chance that you might win a cash prize. With the internet there's no excuse. The competition can be anywhere in the world but you can still enter it. Even if you get no money out of it, you've at least produced something original. You can then do what I suggested above and upload it to your YouTube channel.

If you can't see it, you don't need it

This is kind of an obvious one but it's easy to overlook. Say you're making a film and you've got a fairly low budget (or no budget) you're going to have to make a few sacrifices. With regard to set design, does it really matter if you've got a ceiling if the camera can't see it? Do your actors even need trousers if they're shown from the waist up? Okay, that's taking it to the extreme but you get the point. It's not just low budget productions though. A while back, I read about the costume design for period dramas. Very often, the designers would make parts of the costume as a one piece item. For example, the shirt part of a character's costume, underneath their jacket, might only be the part that can be seen. The reason is simple. With the same amount of material it takes to make a full shirt, you could probably make 3 or 4 other "fake" shirts which saves money. Obviously, this only matters on a large scale where you have many actors/extras who require costumes. Chances are, if you're producing a low budget movie, you wouldn't hire a costume designer. You'd just buy the required clothing items since it would be more practical than getting someone else to design/make them.

For my upcoming Vietnam War movie, I need to save as much money as possible. I simply can't afford full costumes for every single character so chances are, some costume items will be shared. I want every helmet to be a genuine Vietnam War era US Army helmet but I'll probably only buy four. However, if ten characters require a helmet, there won't be enough. The solution? Share the helmets and only give them to characters who appear in the current shot. The same strategy can be used for prop guns as well. Supplying ten characters with M16 rifles would cost me in the region of £3000. This is money that could be spent on others things so I'm better off having two M16s and sharing them between the characters in different shots. Storyboarding and previsualisation can be utilised to plan what needs to appear on camera for each shot.   

Furthermore, do you really need genuine and authentic props/costume? Does the US Army helmet need to be a genuine 1960s era one? A genuine one would cost you upwards of £100 but for the same price, you can make two replica ones. A few years ago, I bought an Austrian issue M1 Helmet, replica cover and modern scrim band which ended up costing me less than £50. I intend to do this for the remaining three helmets that I require which means it will only cost me £200 instead of £400. Spend a lot of time on planning and pre-production and you'll save money.