Sunday, July 10, 2011

3 Essential Tools for DIY Filmmakers

I was always the last to jump on board with new "everyday"  technologies.  I'm still young, but I can be an old man when it comes to fitting new doohickies into my life.  I often think back to that Jimmy Buffett line, "yes I am a pirate, 200 years too late."  Can't we just keep life simple with the tried and true?  I'm all for breaking tradition, but damn it's hard to keep up sometimes!  Everytime I turn around there's some new contraption.  It claims to make life easier.  It usually doesn't.  The latest thing to change?  Now I'm the guy closely following trusted companies like Canon and Zacuto; eagerly awaiting their next new toy.

The truth is, I'm working in a field where the tried and true workflow has become antiquated.  Moreso, it's been revealed to be an incredibly more expensive process than it needs to be.  I understand that films cost a lot of money.  The big secret is: they don't have to.  The resources available to indie filmmakers are making it fantastically easier for them to produce their films.  That's good because it leads to more experimentation, which means more creative stories will follow.  It gives a voice to a whole new group of filmmakers that were previously stuck with dead end jobs while trying to find the cash for their dream project.  To Hell with being a suffering artist.  I want to make my films and spend time with my girlfriend on the beach, sipping margaritas.

The film industry is over-saturated with wannabe-rockstar filmmakers at the moment.  It's a tough fight to find honest work.  The good news?  It means there's a surge of interest in film.  Just like paddling out into a heavy surf with huge waves, you need stay focused and dig deep.  One by one those you started with will slip to the side.  Soon enough (well, at some point... eventually... I hope) you'll make it to the lineup and have the eyes of a booming industry looking at you (apologies to surfers for the business metaphor).

But, how do you make it that far?  The latest gadgets still come with a pricetag.  Indie and DIY filmmakers need to wisely choose which tools to invest their money in.  Here are three items that I think are at the top of the list:

1) Smartphone

If you don't already own one, buy one soon.  I've had mine for less than a year and I can't believe I didn't get it sooner.  I'm always on the go.   I think most DIY filmmakers are.  Most of my emailing and project research has to be done remotely.  The internet browser and Gmail app allow me to get my work done during normal business hours.  Goodbye cramming when I get to my home office - hello cooking a fresh dinner with my sweetheart.  The map and GPS features are perfect for finding my way around in new cities too.  Even this website is mostly maintained from my phone.  I'm typing this article on it now.

2) HD capable Canon DSLR

Yes, Canon.  Remember what I said about following trusted companies? Canon is certainly one of them.  Don't waste your time and money buying into a brand that is still playing catch-up.  Canon has helped revolutionize filmmaking and they continue to push the envelope.  Many people advise that it's financially best to just rent camera gear.  That may be true if you're a director, writer, or editor - in that case find a DP whom you can offer a rental rate to.  But, if you're a camera person, the price is right.  Buy one and experiment as much as you can.  Even though the body will be outmoded in a few years, you can still invest in quality lenses that will last a lifetime.  This isn't a piece on DSLRs.  If it was it would be much longer.  Simply put, they're the best cameras for the price, and then some.  Don't believe me?  Watch how they compare to more expensive camera systems in Zacuto's 2011 Great Camera Shootout.  Of course, if you're just beginning, any camera can be a good choice with proper planning.  In this case, I'm assuming most of the readers are at a certain level.

3) Gym, or any good place to workout

Filmmaking has a mental and physical toll.  Finding time to excersize can be hard, but belive me, it's worth it.  It makes you more physically able to endure long hours and heavy equipment loads.  It's also a great way to clear your head from the stress of the filmmaking process.  Think of a workout and shower like a "refresh" button you can hit.  Keep it up and you'll be pushing yourself harder in no time.  Not to mention you'll also look better and feel more confident.  The best part about it: you don't have to pay a thing.  Access to a gym is nice, but this is one of those areas where the tried and true methods will always be relevant.  Situps, pushups, running, swimming - that'll do it.  Expensive training machines aren't necessary. Just ask Rocky.  And, with the time and energy you've saved from your new smartphone and DSLR, you'll have more opportunities to workout too!


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