Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Budget Film Making (or Buy Your Own Damn Camera)

Recently I have seen alot of press about crowd-funding and alternative ways for film makers to generate funds to finance their film projects. I'm sorry- I but don't get it. What do these people need all this money for? Can they make films with virtually "No Budget." Yes indeed they can. In this modern age- the less you spend to make something the easier it is to turn a profit. This is obvious economics. If you have no initial investment to recoup then the first dollar you get from a DVD sale or VOD play is the first dollar in your pocket.

My first film, Hot Rod Girls Save The World, cost less than $3,000 to make. That was spread out over four years of production. Most of this expense was pizza for the cast and crew, blank DV tapes, gas money for actors and location fees. It would have been much less (as is the case with my new film Rat Rod Rockers!) had it not taken four years to film. Understand that I am NOT including in this "$3,000" my camera or video editing system. The reason quite simply is- I use my gear with other client's in money making projects. It would be impossible to calculate what percentage of my equipment costs are directly related to my films. Obviously if I didn't have a camera or a way to edit my films, I couldn't make the films at all. This leads us to-

Buy your own camera! Like a guitarist without a guitar a film maker without a camera is a sad sight indeed. Worse are the film makers who know nothing about using a camera and hire "cinematographers" to film their movie for them. This is extremely old school and an unnecessary film expense (sorry cinematographers). It may have been necessary when cameras were behemoth $200,000 beasts that took two people to lift, but not now. To truly understand the language of film making, you really need to know how to work a camera, to find the angles yourself and to feel the mechanics of making a movie first hand. You should know all the settings of your camera, how it reacts to no light, low light or sunlight. How to set your white balance, how to set your filming modes, etc. I run a Panasonic AG-DVX100 (cost was $3,200 in 2004). I love my camera! In the 24P mode (24 frames per second, progressive) it looks almost exactly like 16mm film. It is unreal! The other thing about owning your own camera (and editing equipment) is you can film events, weddings, TV commercials and make real money. Money you can use for your next film project! But still you need to...

Own your editing equipment! It's not enough in this modern high tech age to own a camera. You need a way to edit your images together, you need an editing suite! Now there a a zillion ways to go with editing gear. Rather than get into all that, I'll tell you what I use. I own an older Mac 733 G4 running Final Cut Pro 5 (around $1,000). Works great. I bought my Mac new for $3,000 but 733s currently go for $200-300 on Craigslist. Learning to edit can take some time. I taught myself FCP in around six months, by doing various projects and learning as I went. I do have an unfair learning advantage, as I was very familiar with music programs like Pro Tools and Cubase. I have been using computers to make music since the early 1980's (remember Atari?). You may be saying- "I don't want to learn how to edit or work a camera!" Then my friend you definitely will need some serious crowd-funding to pay your cinematographers, editors and of course buy some cheese pizza for your cast and crew. Me I'm in post with my second feature, in production with a Documentary about horses, setting up my next music video and scripting my third feature length film. You keep looking for the money, I'll keep making movies!

More about paying (or not paying) actors and crew next time.


Kid Sis said...

Good stuff! Yeah, I've gotten rid of the whole crew. Back to just me and my camera and editing, this time upgraded to the Canon 5d and final cut. Beats the hell out of my old Super 8 and manual splicing! There are a lot of asshats running around LA calling themselves directors who have no idea what to do with a camera.

David said...

Right on the mark! As an indie producer I meet a lot of would be film makers who are preoccupied with getting moolah together to shoot the script that has been sitting on their shelf for the past handful of years. Ultimately their faces go a bit blank when I tell 'em "Look if you're only job is getting financing than you're not a film maker. Film makers shoot film." It doesn't matter what it is, what the cost, you gotta be making your own images. Thanks for the confirmation.