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Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


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Old April 20th, 2006, 05:18 AM   #1
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Shooting low budget feature

Anybody, everybody, all bodys straighten me out!

I need to sort through the issues of what's feasible to do in an attempt to shoot a feature-length film. I have a budget just over 13 k and I'm trying to squeeze all that I need into making this feature more than an amateur undertaking.

I am convinced that I need to spend at least a quarter to a half of that budget on sound, very nice shotgun mics, poles and I want an FR-2. I want to do double-system recording. I wanted to buy more lighting (Kino Flo diva-lites 200 or 400 and Chimera for more soft light) and use the rest for insurance and small amount on some craft services and those incidentals.

I have an XL1 with a 14x manuel lens ( I'd need to obtain a 3x for wide shots) and a GL1, and I thought with care I could massage a decent picture and use some aesthetics to create an interesting look ( i.e. using lighting to direct to points of interest instead of trying to acheive DOF) I wanted to use the middle optics of the lens rather than shoot wide open or use filters of any kind to maintain as much resolution as possible (is any of this making sense). I was also told that to white balance to 5600K when shooting under 3200K could perserve more resolution and it could be color corrected in post. The GL1 would be for some moving shots using a Steadicam Jr.

Although my dream would be to be more ambitious, hoping for a film out.. I realize it's a wild dream and a strectch shooting 60i. Trying to maintain a realistic outcome, I thinking I could just go direct to video, masking for 16:9 since XL1 does not have true 16:9 while perserving my options in 4:3 as well.

Okay, the question is, should I give up on the XL1 and the GL1 as unrealistic as far as achieving any true picture quality- would I be wasting my time and throwing money away behind a poor effort? (I guess I'm tyring to save the cost of cameras) But should I rethink my budget and forego the best sound for a better picture with a newer camera. Or can I succeed as I'm thinking? Beyond SD I would have to learn to operate in HDV or get someone who is more versed since the plans to go into production are months away.

I'm glad all of you are here because I don't know where I'd go for the answers at the risk of looking foolish!

Thanks
Aletha
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Old April 20th, 2006, 06:32 AM   #2
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Whats the story of the film? What sort of locations? How many actors? How many days shooting? These things will determine your budget as much as what kind of equipment you use. And what is your role in the film- director, producer, DP, writer?
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Old April 20th, 2006, 07:54 AM   #3
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Although you can't deny the GL1 and XL1 being older cams, if you put your budget in what's in front of the camera, the feature will look much more professional, and content is king!
You wouldn't be the first making a movie on mini dv!
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Old April 20th, 2006, 07:59 AM   #4
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My thought is, instead of spending the money on sound equipment, it might be cheaper to hire a soundman with gear. You then have a little extra money to put into production cost, and somebody that knows audio. Same goes for lighting. If you look, there are plenty of people with gear, who want to make movies too.
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Old April 21st, 2006, 10:27 AM   #5
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I personally would use either a Sony FX1, Panasonic DVX100, or a Canon XL2 if it is possible at all. Heck, I would probably use an HC1 + 35mm adaptor over an XL1 or GL1 unless those cameras were chosen for a specific reason. I have seen a movie shot with a DVX100 projected digitally on a full sized movie screen at Sundance and it looked outstanding. I own an FX1 and until recently a VX2000. On a larger screen in HDV, the FX1 just simply is in another class than the VX2000, which is comparable in quality to the XL1 or GL1.

If you are already set on using those cameras, then shoot 60i at 1/60th shutter and avoid using any "Frame modes" or shooting at 1/30th shutter speed. Hire a soundman if possible and use appropriate lighting. Avoid overly dark scenes whenever possible as DV doesn't handle it well.

The main thing is content. Good story, good acting, good sound and good cinematography are most important. But you need to have the movie look good enough so that it isn't distracting.

You will probably go the film festival route and submit your finished flick to various film festivals around the country (and world). Remember that most festivals want candidates for entry to be made on DVD, VHS, or DV. So the determination of whether you get accepted into the festival is usually made by watching it on a smaller digital screen or TV, not on film. If it is accepted for entry, then you may need a film print, which is quite expensive. More and more festivals are allowing entries to be in a digital format. Sundance allows its movies to be on either film or HDCAM. Others allow DV or DVD. So realistically, you may never even need a film print, and if you do, hopefully some else will pick up the tab.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend you read Robert Rodriguez's book "Rebel Without a Crew." It is not only an inspirational, entertaining read, it is full of useful how-to's and insight into how the festival business works. Hell, he shot El Mariachi silently and had the actors repeat their dialog into a tape recorder with no visual reference, after each scene. He then edited it USING TWO VCRS! That's right. Good old fashioned linear editing playing from one VCR and copying to the other. He also mixed in the sound during that process.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.
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Old April 21st, 2006, 10:55 AM   #6
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I just finished principal photography on a feature using an XL1s shot 30p slightly underexposed with a circular polarizer. I have low/no budget tips and tricks on my website. I'll be adding DIY build instructions and turnkey movie shoot instructional stuff as well (where to put the camera, where to put the actors, where to put the lights for complete beginners - not up yet though).
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Old April 21st, 2006, 04:43 PM   #7
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You can see what the XL1 is capable of with talent and lots of lighting gear (i.e. 4k HMIs):
http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=6281
Charles Papert (SOC) DPed that movie and he is very good at what he does.

Quote:
I wanted to use the middle optics of the lens rather than shoot wide open or use filters of any kind to maintain as much resolution as possible (is any of this making sense). I was also told that to white balance to 5600K when shooting under 3200K could perserve more resolution and it could be color corrected in post.
I wouldn't worry about the first... the difference with DV is likely going to be neglible. You can always do a test for yourself... you can download a resolution test chart that you can print off john beale's trv900 website.
http://www.bealecorner.com/trv900/cats/cats.html

As for the second point, I wouldn't do that. Some editing programs don't fix white balance perfectly (i.e. Premiere Pro)... and I doubt you actually do gain increased resolution.

2- A very high level of technical quality may not be necessary for your film... i.e. 28 days later (big budget hollywood film) decided to shoot on the XL1 because they wanted that reality/documentary look. You may figure out that kind of look works for your film.

SD films do get theatrical releases (especially documentaries, but even drama like blair witch and 28 days).

3- Story and content are the most important by far. The biggest problem among low-budget films in my opinion is that the scripts aren't very good (i.e. 95% of student films, which have around that budget, have weak scripts).

4- Talent and experience do play a big part in how your film looks. Among Hollywood films, there is a very high level of talent and experience which is much less likely at the low-budget level. The films have people who know to write, act, direct, light, edit, do art direction, compose, etc. If you want to do something with Hollywood-style production values, then it takes a lot talent, experience, and money. It may be unrealistic unless you are well connected or your producer is very good at getting talent.

What I would do is try to make the most of what you have... or can get. Ideally you'd find someone who is talented at lighting and get them excited about your project (make them want to work on your project). They will hopefully know how to make the most of your resources.
If you tackle the lighting yourself, then I suggest you just get out there and start shooting stuff. These boards can give you some knowledge of what to do, but they won't give you experience. Once you have that, you'll know how to use your lighting equipment.
Finding someone else to do the lighting may be less effort, or more (because this may be hard). If you don't aim as high, then you can just tackle lighting yourself (i.e. Robert Rodriguez works with very small crews... it works for him).

5- You might want to tackle a short film before a feature-length one. Learn to walk before you run. If you really like your feature, I would do a short as sort of a pilot. You can then use that to get people interested in your feature.
Work on a smaller project so you can aim for quality over quantity. Also do it as a learning experience, because with a feature you will likely be in way over your head (i.e. some film school students take years to finish their thesis because they overextended themselves).
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Old April 21st, 2006, 05:01 PM   #8
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13k budget .. IMO get the MOST for 13k
1) SELL the XL & GL .. put $back into production =
2) rent a DVX 100 shoot 24pA - option to shoot with anamorphic lens
3) find a gaffer/rental house and make a deal with them on light rental
4) do not use double system sound .. rent/buy equipment or get a good sound person ( maybe mixer feeds camera)
5) find GOOD actors and pay them something
6) if you did buy camera/lights for shoot sell them at end and put $ into post ..
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Old April 21st, 2006, 05:33 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole McDonald
I just finished principal photography on a feature using an XL1s shot 30p slightly underexposed with a circular polarizer. I have low/no budget tips and tricks on my website. I'll be adding DIY build instructions and turnkey movie shoot instructional stuff as well (where to put the camera, where to put the actors, where to put the lights for complete beginners - not up yet though).
Looked up your site, looks very promising, be sure to do it, it's really good and informative to read!

ps: isn't this post a bit better suited in the Independant production board?
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Old April 21st, 2006, 09:20 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mathieu Ghekiere
ps: isn't this post a bit better suited in the Independant production board?
Unsure, I posted just in response to the initial question to which my howto section seems to apply, if you think should go elsewhere, please feel free to move it. :)
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Old April 22nd, 2006, 05:21 AM   #11
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I think there is a trap when people think about making a film in this range.

The tendency is to concetrate on spending the money on the equipment they want to own after the film is done, as opposed to be willing to spend money on things that are much more likley to affect the quality of the film, but evaporate afterwards.

Ive read the suggestion recently that if you want the film to be anything other than a home movie, 60i and especially 30p should be avoided in preference of 24p or 25p (Even 50i is better than 30p).
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Old April 22nd, 2006, 07:09 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole McDonald
Unsure, I posted just in response to the initial question to which my howto section seems to apply, if you think should go elsewhere, please feel free to move it. :)
I can't move it, I'm not a moderator, but maybe you could ask one of the moderators to move it. IF, of course, they agree with me, maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's better for the other board :-)
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