Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What I Did Over the Weekend...

This  past weekend I embarked on shooting the short film Invader as part of a promotional effort for Triune Films (yep, the FilmRiot guys) new sound FX releases. The deal was they give me all of their FX packages (including some new scoring stuff) and I review them or make a film. Of course I decided to make a film!

Since I didn't have a lot of time to pull this off (the deadline is the first week in September) and the FX center around action, I had to make some quick choices. I booked an easy location to obtain (abandoned cement plant), grabbed a couple of actors I've been wanting to work with (Mindy Van Kuren and Kyle Wigginton), wrote a four page post-apocalyptic western, and I was off!

This was a Frugal Shoot, so no gear from school was allowed, only equipment that I owned and/or had made. You may recognize the Frugal Cage (complete with external monitor, follow focus and external power), Tripod Dolly, and the first sneak peek at the Frugal Crane 3.0!

Things went pretty well and I was glad to finally field test the crane and the cage. The cage got the heaviest workout, and it showed me that I need to implement several improvements in the future. Look for a video featuring these fixes as well as instructions on how to make the Frugal Crane 3 coming very soon.

Invader is scheduled to debut on September 4 of this year. Watch for it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Newwer CN-90F Follow Focus Fix

Not too long ago I reviewed a very affordable follow focus unit ($37), the Newwer CN-90F. It wasn't bad, but had too much play or "slop" in the knob that rotated the focus gear. It was wobbly and took too long to reverse direction. Comments on that video reported that others had used the product without the play I had experienced. After taking the unit apart and investigating, it turns out there is an easy fix for this problem.

First you must remove the rod clamp hardware found on the bottom rail of the unit. This is super easy, as all you have to do is remove the adjustment nut and screw and the rod hardware falls right off. Next, remove the three Philips head screws that attach the aluminum adjustment rail to the gearbox (see above).

Once the adjustment rail is gone, you'll have access to four more Philips head screws that are recessed inside the plastic gearbox (see above). Tighten all four of these and you're done! The play in the knob is now significantly reduced and you should have more precise control when pulling focus with this unit.

While this fix has no effect on the overall quality of the unit (it's still made of cheap plastic), it does affect performance. The feel is so much better now that it increases the value and makes the $37 spent that much more of a deal. If your unit was like mine, I highly encourage this fix. All you need is some precision screwdrivers and about five minutes and you're on your way.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Make a Scifi Grenade Prop

One prop that I needed for my thesis film, Collection Day, was a sonic grenade. The script called for a non-lethal weapon (though I think the non-lethal part got lost in translation) that would emit a sonic shockwave, knocking out everyone within the blast radius. I wanted something that was obviously a grenade, but looked more near-future than contemporary models.

Something I really wanted was real interactivity between the prop and actor. If you've watched any of my videos about using airsoft guns as movie props, you know how much I like gas blow back guns and the realism they add. No actor has to fake anything when the props they are using "act" like the real thing.

So it was with the grenade. Though I wanted it to look different, I wanted a pin to pull and a spoon (the thin piece of metal you release when you want the countdown to begin) to realistically fly off when let go. I also didn't want to have to build everything. I thought the futuristic body or shell could be easily created, but I wanted a mechanism that was pre-made. It may be simple, but it contains moving parts that I didn't have time to construct.

I discovered that you could find inert dummy grenade repair kits online. These contained the spring mechanism, pin and spoon. You can add these kits to almost anything and they will look like a grenade. A green spoon is an added bit of realism as the blue versions are to alert the user these are practice grenades and not live. Green is the real deal in the real world. Paint is another option.

For the body I used the old standby: PVC. I took a 1 1/2" PVC pipe coupler and plugged both ends with 1 1/2" PVC plugs. I drilled a 1/2" hole in one end and filed it out to accommodate the spring mechanism (which used a 6/10" hole).

I then added a 2x6" rectangle of 1" pyramid acoustical foam. This wrapped perfectly around the PVC coupler (attached with spray glue) and made the prop look like a futuristic pineapple grenade. The acoustic foam also lent to the effect of a sonic weapon. After spray painting it black and using epoxy to attach the spring section into the hole, it looked and worked great.

A secret to using custom props on screen is never to show too much. Unless you have a prop building master at your disposal, you might want to keep your cuts short and avoid closeups. This will hide your cheap concoction and carry the illusion to all but those who choose to freeze-frame your movie for closer scrutiny.

As always, alert local law enforcement and everyone else around if you are displaying prop weapons in public. They may look so realistic that someone gets very worried. Play it smart and let the neighbors and local authorities know what you are doing. Posting signs such as "Film Shoot in Progress" is other way to let people know that what you are doing is fake and not worthy of panic.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tip: Shooting Schedule with Google Calendar

Here's mystery that perplexed me for quite some time: how do I make a shooting schedule? The best ones are those that have your scenes laid out at just the right times of day, so you can tell people when to be there, preventing the "hurry up and wait" syndrome. The only thing I hate more than standing around waiting for a shot to happen is when I'm making other people wait around for a shot to happen.

Previously on this blog, Chris Henderson covered this topic with his guest post, but I'm a simple guy and like things boiled down to their essentials. I don't really need or want to buy expensive scheduling software, especially since my productions are pretty lean. I like to keep things concise and easy to manage.

As a result, I came up with this method using a hard copy calendar, penciling in cast and crew availability, then placing scenes at times of day when everyone in those scenes could be there. It worked well, but felt that an electronic, shareable version could not only be more liquid, but could allow for people to enter in their own availability. The above video goes into detail about this.

Also of note (and mentioned in the video) is MovieScheduling.com, a free site that will take care of many of your scheduling needs (including call sheets, which I don't really address). It appears the site is no longer being updated, but it is useful once you get past the learning curve.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sony Battery Cradle Switch Hack

Last week, my video was about how to use cheap, Sony-compatible external battery cradles to power your camera. At the end of that video I mentioned how I discovered that power was leeching from the batteries, even when the camera was off. I hacked a switch onto the cradle to disrupt the flow of power, so you could leave the batteries in place and not have to pull out the power cords every time.

Today's video is a detailed explanation about how to do this. It's an easy project, if you know how to solder things. If you don't, you're probably going to be lost. I'm no electronic engineer, but I understand the basics enough to pull off simple projects like this one. A basic search of the web should make you more familiar with the tools (listed below) and techniques I am using.

As always, since you are dealing with electricity and a hot iron, please be careful. Those irons are designed to melt solder and can burn you as well!


small Philips head screwdriver
key card/credit card/debit card/gift card
wire cutters
wire strippers
Soldering Iron
Rosin Core Solder
scrap of wire
electrical tape
flat head screwdriver
#8 combination wrench

TRIVIA: The actual length of the "how-to" section of the video was thirty-eight minutes. Cut down, it is eight minutes long.


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