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-   -   Funding my own short - put money in camera or lights? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/techniques-independent-production/52149-funding-my-own-short-put-money-camera-lights.html)

Brian Andrews October 3rd, 2005 11:21 AM

Funding my own short - put money in camera or lights?
I'm making my first real short. I always planned on shooting this with my Panny GS400, Rode VideoMic, small bogen tripod. I call it high-end consumer equipment. I hope to make movies as a hobby.

Now I've found a few guys with XL2s or DVX100As who are willing to shoot my project for $100/day. We could probably shoot this in a weekend so to get an experinced DP and DVX100 for $200 sounds nice. If I need another weekend I guess I'd need more cash.

But, I kind of want to see what I can do and I want to see what results I can get with my consumer-level equipment. There is always time to move up to the DVX100 or XL2 but there is only one first movie, right?

I orginally planned on buying home depot work lights but then I found the Briteks for $279 at rostronics. That was going to be my big expense for the project. Again, this is just a fun/hobby type project so I can't spend too much. I'm not looking for a new career or to be famous. I just love making movies and want to do it for fun.

So, should I put the next $200-$300 into lighting, use my consumer cam and accomplish my original goal which was to do everything myself, learn and see how good we can get it to look? Or should I get an experienced DP and a great camera and focus on directing?

Renting lights is an option but if we need reshoots or another weekend the rental costs go up plus the hastle of returning them, etc.

Reid Bailey October 3rd, 2005 01:07 PM

Hey Brian,

First of all, best wishes on your upcoming short.

As far as I'm concerned the primary reason one would do a short is for what you will learn by doing it.

Also, try to take a realistic approach to what will happen with the final work. Chances are it may not be your "breaththrough" piece so I don't know if you need hired DP's at this stage.

I say rent the lights, use your current camera, and have a ball. Take notes of everything. Learn the hell out of the camera that you now have and push it to its limits. I think you'd learn more this way and ultimately get more out of the experience.

The first (yes, and only) award I've won to date was with a tiny little Sony palmcorder and halogen worklights.

Concentrate on the story, first, last and always.

Christopher C. Murphy October 3rd, 2005 01:32 PM

Go it alone dude.....look up the word "Auteur". That word means everything to me. It's better to go it alone and it be 100% you.

Getting other people involved complicates things so much. I'd wait until you can confidently tell them what to do. Otherwise, you'll have the DP and everyone else walking all over you...it happens. They're wanna-be directors...remember that everyone is! The trick is to have your sh*t together before they come on board. Have your script, storyboards and locations...after that you can tell everyone what to do and they can't argue.

Be an "Auteur" and make us proud.

Marco Leavitt October 3rd, 2005 02:07 PM

Buy or rent lights. It almost doesn't matter what camera you use.

Humby Valdes October 3rd, 2005 03:05 PM

The look of the DVX 24P cant be beat! I say go for the camera. More people on a project helps in my mind. 2 heads are better then one.

Evan C. King October 3rd, 2005 05:59 PM

The gs400 is a great cam. I'd say use that, get work lights and kill the hell out of that kit until you wanna move up. Save the rest of the money for a better camera in the future when your ready for it.

Plenty of indie productions unfornately don't even light at all, worklights will be good enough until you really need more advanced lights and sometimes you can just modify the worklights you already have. And when your ready keep that rode mic it's great and just get the vxlr adapter. That's what I did, now it's on my dvx.

gs400, awesome camera
videomic, awesome mic
worklights, good cheap kit

That's all you really need if your not trying to make money or get into a theatre, the gs400 is plenty camera enough. The only other thing you might want to invest in is a fig rig or something like that.

Let your talent do the rest.

Marco Leavitt October 3rd, 2005 07:38 PM

Nothing wrong with worklights if that's all you can afford, but real lights will be a lot more effective and controllable. You can't go wrong investing in quality lights and stands. I can't figure out why people skimp in this area. Lights last practically forever and are fairly cheap.

Glenn Chan October 3rd, 2005 09:09 PM

You should also get other lighting instruments. Go to an art supply store and see if they have black and white foamcore (black on white is more convenient). The white side is a reflector... very very soft light, but only useful for close ups.

Wrap it in tinfoil, it'll reflect more light. Crinkle the tinfoil if you don't want it to be like a mirror.

The black side can be used to block ambient light. If it's an overcast day, you can block light on one side of the face. It'll increase contrast on the face and make it less flat.

If you build a frame to hold diffusion material, you can use that to diffuse and lower the intensity of sunlight.
Diffusion material can be something like shower curtains.

The only other way to light outdoor scenes is with powerful lights (~1k incandescent to 18K HMIs). The incandescents aren't that efficient and probably need a color correction gel, which means they aren't too powerful outside. And they need power too, which you may not have outdoors.

2- As Marco pointed out, lights last a pretty long time. It's a pretty safe investment (unlike computers, software, or cameras which lose value pretty quickly).

Bob Costa October 4th, 2005 07:00 AM

You will learn a lot by working with someone that has experience. You will also learn different things by working on your own. But at $100 a day (less than the cost of a camera rental), I doubt your are getting MUCH experience (but some is more than none). And often, two heads are better than one. Working with somone, you need to be much more organized. And some people can be a PITA to work with. So do you want to learn shooting or management? Pick your partners well.

As far as lights, it depends on your locations and shot lists and what mood you are trying to set. I spent about $600 on my light kit. It is great for interviews, but not enough for larger group shots.

If you decide to shoot using your gs400, your first investment should be in good mics (do you need lavs?) and related equipment (boom, wireless, whatever...). THEN lights as needed. You can often borrow lights or rent them, especially if you want to rent worklights at the local contractor rental place.

Brian Andrews October 4th, 2005 07:07 AM


Thanks so much for your views. You've all set me straight in that my initial thoughts were "correct". I'm going to move forward with my GS400 and try to learn as much as possible. I'm putting together a good crew with a few recent grads who can help me out. I don't need/want to hire out a DP, there's no need on this project. I'm pretty confident that we can get good results from the GS400 with proper lighting.

I went ahead and ordered the beginner's 500W kit from Rostronics. This will give me two 250W lights, one umbrella, one softbox, stands and cases. I'm going to pick up or borrow a work light. If I continue to make movies I'll get a 650W Britek some time next year. That will give me the perfect low-end lighting kit.

Sean McHenry October 4th, 2005 07:57 AM

Pop up to all the threads on the DVCHallenge. If you read some of the posts from those of us making these shorts, you are going to learn an awful lot about how we did ours. You can watch them to see the results of that work and decide how you are going to get yours done.

There is a ton of information on shorts in those threads. Most of us who park there have done shorts by ourselves or in all the key behind the scenes rolls. Quite a few of us have appeared in our own shorts. (A few in their shorts but that's another story).

You might notice a great leap in quality for all of us between DVC2 videos and the DVC3 videos. That should give you an idea how valuable the experience has been for all of us.

Best of luck,

Sean McHenry

Don Donatello October 4th, 2005 09:29 PM

what is your lighting experience ?

if you basically have NONE then most of your time will be trying to get the lighting to look good = by the end of the day you will be worn out after adding in directing , operating camera etc.... if hiring a DP you would be able to learn from somebody with lighting experience plus focus on directing ...

you might want to pick up some black wrap to help with controlling the light.

Sean McHenry October 6th, 2005 04:03 PM

I saw something on TV once, years and years ago that dealt with something totally different but I think it has helped me quite a bit with all aspects of my life.

It seems there was a group of folks asked to throw a baseball at a target a certain distance away. These were average people with average skills and mental capacity, etc.

After an intial testing round to find every ones base score for hitting the target, they were split into 3 groups. One group practiced - a lot. One group never actually practiced but they did concentrate on the weight of the ball, the distance from the target, their own abilities and basically "visualizing" the experience. The 3rd group did both. Practiced moderatly and thought the process through.

The 3rd group did the best while the first and second groups were nearly tied.

Moral of the story, yes, absolutly practice will make you much better but, don't discount your own visual experiences for lighting, camera angles and positions.

Next time you see a well lit scene or real life situation, think through the positions of everything, especially the relationships of the direct lighting and the subjects. Next take into account the indirect (reflected) lighting bouncing around the area and the subjects.

Again, I agree nothing will take the place of doing it but, you can cut that learning time down significantly if you look, learn and plan.

I have done that for years on many subjects. Research and practice can make you better. Your imagination and your creative use of the subject can make you good or even great. Practice, read, learn and do.

Sean McHenry

Reid Bailey October 7th, 2005 06:53 AM

To follow up on Sean's post: Use that freeze button on the dvd remote. See how wide thru xcu shots are lit. And then if you're really ambitious you can try to replicate it in your basement with your light kit.

For some reason it's easier for me to study the technical elements of a scene on a smaller screen. The bigger the screen the more I get sucked in to what I'm watching.

Joshua Provost October 7th, 2005 11:22 AM

Brian, you can do a whole heck of a lot with the GS400. We've done a ton of short films with this camera, and won a ton of awards, including a number of cinematography awards competing against much more expensive cameras and lighting rigs.

We started out just controlling light using reflectors, moved up to worklights, then more worklights, and now we're lighting for mood, effect, etc. It's a progression.

If you can get by with your camera, lights, and your own ability to operate, there are a few other areas you might think about investing your money. How about a dolly or jib for some high quality camera moves? Even just one or two nice camera moves in a short film can really take the perceived prodcution value up tremendously. How about paying for some real actors? If you can connect with the local acting community, you'll find lots of talented people that will work for free, very talented people that will work for cheap, and even name actors don't cost that much for a day or two.

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