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#1 mindbender

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Posted 08 September 2006 - 07:31 AM

Greetings all. I am an absolute novice, with a ridiculously low budget, who is anxious to get her feet wet in the grand art of filmmaking and digital cinematography. My main stumbling block is not knowing where to start when I know next to nothing about the subject. Are there any beginner or overview books or DVDs that you would recommend to someone like me? My immediate goal is to familiarize myself the basics and to produce a few of my own shorts.

Another concern I have is buying the camera itself. Which one will give me the most bang (features and control) for my buck, while keeping in mind that my budget is virtually nonexistent? Obviously, the truly high-end products will not be within my price range, but any recommendations you may have for someone who is just starting out would be greatly appreciated. I have observed that the Canon XL2 and similar professional models have been getting rave reviews; however, I would need to save my money for a considerably long time to be able to afford one. On the other hand, if a reasonably priced consumer model mini-dv camcorder ($250-500) will do the job, I might be able to get one in a matter of a few months.

Other important questions: Will I need any additional equipment other than a tripod? Should I invest in a dolly or crane? What recommendations do you have for lighting? Is there any specific hardware or software I should buy? (I already have a capture card + Adobe Premiere Pro 2). How do I go about the casting process and picking locations to film? Do I need to draw up contracts and obtain licenses to shoot? How can I market my projects to people who might be willing invest money in them? Are there any other major considerations I've missed that you would like to offer input on?

Thanks in advance for all your help.

Sincerely,
Kristi
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#2 mindbender

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Posted 08 September 2006 - 01:32 PM

Is anyone here familiar with these DV books from O'Reilly? I am considering them.

DV Filmmaking
Digital Video Production Cookbook
Digital Video Hacks

Also, is a Panasonic PV-GS500 decent for an absolute beginner to work with? Obviously a professional HD camera like the Canon XLH1 would be ideal, but there is no way I can afford that. Maybe I can save up for a Panasonic AG-DVC7 though. Any thoughts? I am basically broke but eager to get started learning, hands on. A couple years ago, I purchased some books on screenwriting, and ever since I've been curious about filmmaking. I would like to produce my own movies with my own scripts.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 08 September 2006 - 02:17 PM

I would like to produce my own movies with my own scripts.


Kristi,

You've got a lot of specific questions, but if I'm reading in between the lines correctly, it sounds as if you have more interest in writing/directing than you do in cinematography or any of the technical crafts.

I don't know how old you are, but I remember when I was in High School and younger, a small group of friends and I would get together and "make" our own short movies and videos. Everybody contributed, no one was "the" Director, or "the" cameraman, or "the" anything. Everybody did everything and it worked because we were just having fun.

However, once someone decides to get more serious about this with the intention of trying to create an actual career, she needs to figure out exactly what part of the process is most interesting and enjoyable. On a low budget, you might talk to your Actors then grab the camera yourself and shoot the take. But if you want your hard work to look the very best it can, then it is beneficial to seek out others who want to specialize in the various crafts that it takes to make a professional looking production come to life.

So here's my advice for what it's worth. It sounds as if you're a writer or at least have an interest in that. I'd suggest concentrating on that for awhile first. Write a bunch of short subjects and then work on some feature length scripts. Only through practice will your writing get better. In time, you'll go back to your first efforts and cringe with the desire to redo them. As you're working through that process, find other people who live near you who are also interested in filmmaking. Check in the local High Schools and University's for aspiring filmmakers who are ready to get their hands dirty and "make a movie." Pick out one of your favorite and easiest to produce short scripts and gather up enough people to make it happen.

Because you asked about buying a camera with money you don't have, I'd suggest this instead. Look for a local professional cameraman who is interested in doing something a little different than his normal job. Because this is just a short you're doing, if all the guy has is a BetacamSP, then happily agree to have it shot in BetacamSP. Odds are, he'll also have lighting and grip equipment as well so you won't have to worry about that. He will also probably have an audio mixer who is willing to put in a few days for free along with his equipment. If the project seems worthy and exciting enough, you won't have much trouble attracting skilled and enthusiastic talent to help out on both sides of the camera.

The bottom line is, don't spend money that you don't have to if there are qualified people out there willing to donate their own time and resources for you. Figure out exactly what part of the process you want to work in and invest your time there. If you don't know yet, find others around you who are making movies and volunteer to work for them for a few days. You'll get to observe exactly what goes on and who does what.

Very soon my own book, What I Really Want to Do on set in Hollywood, will be available, but in the meantime, read everything else you can about the business and get some real world experience. My website has some links to additional resources which should help you get started.

Good luck!
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#4 mindbender

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 02:18 PM

Brian,

Thank you for your insightful suggestions. You do have a point in that I have more interest in writing/directing than I do in cinematography at this point in time; however, that could change. I am just as interested in learning how to produce the visual (and to a lesser extent, audio) output for my projects. I see filmmaking as a multi-tiered, multi-step process, and I feel that I should at least have a basic knowledge of each aspect of that process, even if I never attain a professional level at more than one or two - if any. For me, filmmaking is a hobby as well as a potential testing ground for a possible career change. Since I am a freelance web designer who spends most of her time making things look nice and flashy, I don't see why I can't translate that same mode of operation into movies.

Although writing and directing may have a strong appeal, my innate curiosity about any media that will enable me to express my creative vision will not rest. Special effects and post-production DV editing, at least at a glance, appear to be right up my alley as an artist. And there is also something about being behind a camera that gives one a unique sense of empowerment. As a kid, I used to enjoy taking my parents' VHS camcorder and parading around with it, shooting this and that (mostly the family dog for lack of willing subjects). Even though the finished products were never anything special, I will never forget how proud I was to show them off and to demonstrate, at that young age, that I knew how to operate a camera just as well any adult. Times are different now though. VHS is a thing of the past and the camcorders of today are even more consumer-friendly, which has made learning how to use your basic retail product about as easy as learning how to turn on and off a light switch for anyone but the most extreme cases of the technological impairment (ie. 99 year old blind, death, and dumb Amish farm-wifes or infant children with Down's Syndrome), but when it comes to camera angles, moving between shots, lighting, etc. the average person like me is lost. That's why I am interested in learning anything I can.

As far as buying a camera goes, I will eventually buy one whether I intend to study videography or not. It's just a matter of which one. If I intend to film my own movies for any kind of release, I'll save up for something a little pricier. Otherwise, I will be buying an economical MiniDV camcorder at my local Wal-Mart as soon as I have few hundred dollars to spare. It will surely come in handy for documenting family events, adding media to my websites, and video-blogging (I have a passionate disgust for the shoddy quality of webcams - but that's a different subject!).

Anyway, I do thank you! For now, I am going to stick to screenwriting and see if I can get a small crew of fellow hobbyists together via various Internet classifieds. We might at least be able to learn something from each other, and it would allow me to finally get my feet wet.

-Kristi

Edited by mindbender, 09 September 2006 - 02:22 PM.

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#5 Kevin Masuda

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 02:30 PM

If you don't mind me asking, where do you live? If you live in a big city such as San Francisco, you should be able to find some people who are interested in filmmaking. As far as books go you could check out Cinematography by Kris Malkiewicz and M. David Mullen(David is a sustaining member here), Story by Robert McKee(excellent read on screenwriting), On Filmmaking by Andrew MacKendrick, and Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez(made El Mariachi). Plus there's plenty of resources on the net, just do a search.


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#6 Patrick McGowan

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 02:39 PM

Do you know anyone who owns a camera? Maybe you can find yourself a cinematographer who owns their own camera.

I would not go near the Panasonic AG-DVC7, I don't know what a 1/4" CCD is, but it sounds terrible. It looks like a very strange camera.
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#7 Michael Collier

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 03:39 PM

DVX-100. imho best camera for learning digital cinema, and has one of the best images in its price range.
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#8 mindbender

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 04:19 PM

The Panasonic AG-DVX100B is actually one of the models I was considering, but it will likely be awhile before I can reasonably afford something in the vicinity of $4,000, which is why I was considering something cheaper. For now at least, I think I might have better luck trying to find someone with a camera since it appears that it would be a mistake to waste my money on something of lesser quality.

Unfortunately, I do not live in or near a major city. The closest metropolitan area to me would be Harrisburg, PA or Baltimore, MD, then Philadelphia, PA, or Washington DC. As far as I know, none of them are exactly bustling havens for filmmakers, or even wannabes like me. However, I will post on craigslist to see if I can find anyone interested in working together or loaning me equipment. Other than that, I suppose I'll just to stick with the screenwriting and reading what I can. Thanks for the suggestions.
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#9 Matt Workman

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 04:26 PM

The DVX100a is a great camera to start with. I always comment on how even someone who has no idea what they are doing can get great results, in 24p.

Obviously the more you know about photography the better it will be, but if you are just starting it can be as simple as iris, zoom, focus, shoot. And the DVX will look pretty good.

People here are selling the DVXs all the time. The new HVX craze has made them CRAZY! Heh, Good luck.

http://www.dvxuser.c...isplay.php?f=17

Matt

PS: As for your town or near by towns, there are always wanna be filmmakers. I can almost guarentee that there is someone in your area who has a DVX, they are everywhere.

Edited by Matt Workman, 09 September 2006 - 04:28 PM.

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#10 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 05:29 PM

Unfortunately, I do not live in or near a major city. The closest metropolitan area to me would be Harrisburg, PA or Baltimore, MD, then Philadelphia, PA, or Washington DC. As far as I know, none of them are exactly bustling havens for filmmakers, or even wannabes like me. However, I will post on craigslist to see if I can find anyone interested in working together or loaning me equipment. Other than that, I suppose I'll just to stick with the screenwriting and reading what I can. Thanks for the suggestions.




The Film and Media Studies Program
Johns Hopkins University
453 Gilman Hall
3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218-2685
410-516-5048 (voice)
http://web.jhu.edu/film_media


Drexel University
Program: Film and Video
Location: Philadelphia, PA
http://www.drexel.ed.../fmvd-index.htm


Temple University
Program: Film and Media Arts
Location: Philadelphia, PA
http://www.temple.edu/fma


Also, the very best book I've read for the BEGINNING screenwriter is called "Film Scriptwriting, A Practical Manual" by Dwight V. Swain with Joye R. Swain. ISBN number: 0-240-51190-5. After you use that for a while, then move on to more "broad" books like Robert McKee's "Story." For some reason, Syd Field's "Screenplay" is popular, but I never found it to be extremely useful myself. To each his own I guess. :)


As far as just generally looking for people to work with, you might have a hard time unless you have a project that you are ready to begin. Too many people have "plans" but never follow through. If you get something together for sure with an actual budget and schedule, you're more likely to attract interested cast and crew to your cause.
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#11 mindbender

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Posted 10 September 2006 - 05:18 AM

I actually have Syd Field's Screenplay as well as The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier and Crafty Screenwriting by Alex Epstein. So far The Screenwriter's Bible has been the biggest help to me. It's extremely well organized and no nonsense. My only criticism is that I personally have not gotten much use out of "Book II" (the workbook). I have found much more useful advice about the creative process from other sources.

I am currently writing a screenplay, and when I am finished with it, I will look into proceeding further.
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#12 Chris Durham

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 01:36 PM

Well I'm a newby too, but I decided to jump right in. I bought a book on screenwriting and got a $300 Canon ZR600 to play with. I did some exercizes out of the book. The last one was to write a 10 page short and film it. Even with a cheap $300 consumer camera. The thing is that it doesn't matter at all what you're shooting on because you need to learn how to tell a story first. Note that I don't mean just how to write, but how to tell the story using a visual media. It doesn't matter if it looks like crap - you'll have a learning experience. When you watch it back you'll see where you could light something better, or where another angle might have been better. It doesn't matter if you have a $10 budget or a $10M budget if you can't tell a story.

This means different things for different people. If you want to be a screenwriter, write story after story until you're good. If you want to direct, find a writer or just make stuff up and worry about composition and execution - making the thing believable. If you want to produce, round people up and organize a shoot. If you want to do multiple things, you'll need some time management skills.

Me, I want to write, direct, and produce; and hell, some day I'd like to act too. Producing my own thing is important because it allows a bit of independance. And Brian's right about actually having a project to get people motivated. I was all ready to shoot my 10-page comedy with my ZR600 and move on. But then my boss offered to do the camera work on his BetaCam that he had for doing car club videos. "Cool," I thought, "I won't have the widescreen view I was so happy to get in this camcorder, but I'll have a fairly high quality picture." And then I thought, "This is my first picture, and it's going to be crap, but should that keep me from learning everything I can about making a movie?" No way. So I bought more books. The Film Maker's Handbook" chief among them. I read everything I could on the internet. I went and legally registered the name of my production company, which cost $14 in Texas. Now all the money I spend is tax deductable. I ordered some photofloods for lighting, which after shipping cost me about $25. I started going to bars and looking for a place to shoot my bar scene. When I decided on a place, I talked to the owner, told him what I wanted to do and when - none of this nebulous "I've got a project." I put together some friends to act, and as they're not actors I've been rehearsing them like crazy. They love it because I've got something concrete that I'm doing and I know what I want. Sitting around and doing "something" can be fun, but having a sense of direction lets you have fun and a sense of accomplishment. One of my actors is so jazzed he offered to do all the administrative and organizational stuff on this and future projects. Score a PM. Your own motivation will motivate others.

The point is to figure out what you want to do and just do it. Use whatever resources you have to your best advantage. I'd love to be shooting with a DVX100, but I don't have it. What I do have I intend to squeeze every last ounce out of in terms of educating myself. That's what's really important in learning this, I think.

Who am I to be giving advice though? I haven't even started shooting yet. But I do Saturday at noon. And I've sent everybody a shooting schedule, and I've got my story board. and I'm working up a shot list. I guess the thing is to just make do with what you can and do everything you can with it. Robert Rodriguez is a great example of this. Rebel Without a Crew is just an example of how smart decisions can do amazing things for you.
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The Slider

CineTape

Glidecam

Paralinx LLC

Visual Products

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Aerial Filmworks

Metropolis Post

Technodolly

Rig Wheels Passport

Wooden Camera

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Ritter Battery

Tai Audio

FJS International, LLC

Willys Widgets

Abel Cine

rebotnix Technologies

Opal

CineLab