Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Budget (or how to fund your film (or how to spend as little money as possible making your film))

Ambition is a good thing but being an ambitious filmmaker can cost you a lot of money. If I want to make a film, I don't feel satisfied enough making one with available resources. I often get told to just make loads of films, keep that ball rolling but it's not that easy for me. I can't motivate myself to do something just for the sake of it. For me, there has to be specific purpose. I won't just go for a drive unless I need to be somewhere, for example, so I won't just make a film spontaneously. I wasn't always like that though. When I was younger, I would randomly make a film, as an activity with friends, with a senseless plot and random tomfoolery. These shorts that we used to make are a source of great embarrassment for my friends who don't take kindly to me talking about them. But still, I could learn a lot from my younger self, during those awkward times growing up. For me, "experimenting" as a teenager meant filming anything with a camera. The main difference these days is, if I start a project I have to finish it, meaning, I have to be sure that I will finish it before I attempt it. Used to, I would just start something without the end goal in mind and often the project would remain incomplete. Naturally, I now do fewer projects these days since the recent compulsion to finish what I started has taken over my life and guided me. 

Anyway, I digress. It's easy to forget that you're not just spending money on props and equipment. You have to pay actors and crew. Okay, so you can get people to work on your film for expenses and food only but this still costs you money. Personally, I would not make a film without paying my cast and crew. I know how frustrating it is to work for experience and exposure so the philanthropist in me feels obliged to help people out. In my first year at university, the lecturer showed us this triangle where each point was labelled with "Good idea, time and money". He then said, if you have two of these points then you can make a great film. Okay, so it's probably more complicated than that but it's a good starting point. So, for me, money is a major constraint which means I have to make do with good idea and time. The two complement each other, somewhat. If you have a lot of time, no looming deadline for example, then you can formulate your idea and write a great story. With all that time, you can also save up money and gradually build your film up from scratch. Patience and commitment is important under these circumstances and it becomes very easy to give up. You spend a little bit of money here and there, while working your day job (or jobs) then it all adds up. 

So what I am going to do over the next few months, is share my methodology for producing a movie and saving money wherever possible, hopefully helping other people in a similar situation. I have numerous documents on my computer where I have attempted to write up a proposal to use for a indie go go or kick starter campaign but I thought screw it. It won't work for me if I have a load of money suddenly thrown at me. Granted, it might be different for other people but part of me likes the challenge, the struggle and the uncertainty. As some people tell me, "beg, borrow and steal" basically do whatever is necessary to get something done. Obviously, don't steal but you get what I mean. Why not take on the role of DOP as well as director? Why pay someone to make music for your film when you can learn to do it yourself? Think of the satisfaction! There's no excuse not to these days with the internet and its ever expanding well of resources. Can't afford certain equipment? Buy second hand or borrow. Again, use the internet to find cheaper alternatives. For example, with YouTube, you can assess the suitability of certain equipment by watching reviews or examples of someone else's work and then make your mind up about a camera that shoots pro looking footage and is cheaper than the camera you originally considered. But remember, as long as you have your great idea and time then it'll be fine.     

Monday, 4 September 2017

My time at university as a film student

I started university at a very interesting time for film/video technology. It was 2009 and I had only been using a solid state video camera for 9 months. This was around the time when 35mm DOF adapters were the craze and the must have accessory for getting that coveted "film look". Many people were still using mini-DV camcorders, the same format that many of the early high def camcorders used. There were no separate tapes for high definition, HDV was a format that simply recorded high definition footage onto a standard mini-DV tape. My only experience using HDV was in sixth form that year when the school bought an entry level "professional" Sony camera to use for the newly founded (and short lived) school television channel. At the time, I had just about forgotten how awkward and annoying tapes were, since I had transitioned to the SD card format only three months prior.

However, when I started my film technology course at university, September 2009, they were still issuing first years Canon XL1 cameras. This camera was used extensively in Danny Boyle's 2002 movie 28 Days Later so it was interesting to make use of the same technology. The footage from the camera was okay with decent colour thanks to the 3CCD spec but the picture was 4:3 only. Its saving grace was the ability to changes lenses, something that was quite rare for the format. Despite this, we only ever used or had access to the default lens. Another interesting implication was when our lecturer told us not to use Sony brand DV tapes...Even though these were the only brand sold in the Student Shop. So there we were, a class full of students, eagerly waiting to take these cameras home for testing but unable to do so because of dodgy tapes. Thankfully, I had an unused Panasonic tape knocking about in storage at home so didn't have any issues. However, I believe some students took a chance and used the Sony tapes but later encountered problems with corrupt video/missing audio. 

In second semester, we had the opportunity to use a slightly better video camera, whose name escapes me. After first year, we never touched tape again and it wasn't missed. We now had access to the infinitely superior solid state high definition Panasonic HMC-151. During 2011, the DSLR revolution had begun, and my fellow third years were spending their students loans and grants on Canon DSLRs and lenses. That coveted film look was now a doddle with a T2i and 50mm 1.4 lens. Because it was now so easy, our lecturers sighed at the sudden influx of shallow depth of field films that saturated assignment submissions that year. Apparently a poor narrative could be forgiven when the background (and actors' ears) was out of focus. Gone were the days of complex, cumbersome, expensive and exposure darkening depth of field adapters. You could now make nice looking films using equipment worth only a few hundred pounds.  

I'm no stranger to the DSLR craze. I used borrowed ones for assignments before finally getting my own in 2012 and made good use of it for my Final Year Project film. I still use it to this day, for corporate videos with a shoulder rig to make up for that fact that it's not a proper video camera. It seems many of the major camera manufacturers became aware of the DSLR's popularity and subsequently released dedicated video cameras that offer the same large sensor and interchangeable lens capability as their DSLRs. The DSLR video revolution may be over soon but it's still a preferred solution among many film makers. Will it head the same way as mini-DV? A few years ago, I felt nostalgic about the tape format and dug out my venerable JVC camcorder. I thought it would be quite interesting to apply my current cinematography and tech knowledge to try and make something with this camera again, hopefully producing something better than my 12 year old self.