Saturday, January 31, 2015

Many Mics, One Location



Some common questions that seem to come across my computer for the Q&A show are about audio. What is the best mic to use? What is the cheapest mic? What is the best cheapest mic? Why don't you record into camera instead of external recorder? All these queries demanded their own video.

I thought the best way to answer a lot of these questions was to do some kind of sound demo. I pulled all the mics I had at my disposal (Radio Shack lav mic, Rode VideoMic Pro, and Sennheiser ME-66 shotgun mic) and ran them through various scenarios that would demonstrate how each of them sound in different positions (on-camera vs. on the end of a boom pole) and when going into your camera or external recorder. All situations would be in the exact same environment: my living room.

The above video is the result and I think it verifies a lot of things we already know. On camera mics suck. External recorders made to record quality audio (not just dictation) sound better than cheap preamps included in most video cameras. The most expensive mic should sound the best, but there are good, inexpensive mics that can sound better in the right situation.

This video just lays it all out there for your ears to judge. Of course, I only have three mics and two audio recorders to test here. There are a zillion of these devices out there of varying degrees of quality and mine are mostly low-end. There are some universal truths to be gleaned and I hope that this video can help if you've had some basic audio concerns about what sounds good and what can
sound better.


FEATURED EQUIPMENT
Radio Shack #33-3013 Clip-on Mic
Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Mic
Sennhesier ME-66 Shotgun Mic
Sign Video XLR-PRO adapter box
Zoom H1 Handy Recorder

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

R&D: Frugal Filmmaker Short Film Idea Deck


Here's a little something I've been working on that could be fun. I've been trying to work out the details of my next Frugal Short and have been hitting some writer's block. In an effort to help jog the ol' juices, I went looking around the web for some kind of idea generator that would help me with plot and characters.

The two items that interested me the most were Rory's Story Cubes and Storyteller Cards. I like the randomness of dice and the deck of face cards modded for story use, but felt that words were missing.Text can be just as much stimulating as imagery and I was looking for something that incorporated both. Story Forge was another option I looked at, but it seemed too complex for my purposes.

This led me to try to modify a cheap deck of regular playing cards (similar to the Storyteller deck), by just adding words with a Sharpie permanent marker. This was okay, but even the permanent ink was wearing off the slick cards very quickly, and I wanted interesting images as well as words.

So, I went poking around even further to look for way to create a custom card deck online. That's when I found PrinterStudio, which lets you create all kinds of custom items, including card decks in all sizes from mini to tarot. Their online creation tools give you as much creative leeway as you want. You can upload every aspect of your cards or use their simple toolset (and card styles) to create your stuff right on their website.


I opted for the second option. I uploaded free-to-use graphics from morguefile.com and used PrinterStudio's text creation tools to place the words I wanted on each card. The only drawbacks I could see are limited font options and no ability to add a drop shadow to the text. This makes text-over-graphics a bit more of a challenge as your only option for contrast is a text color change. That was okay, but a drop shadow (or outline) would be much better to make the text stand out over the image.

One of these custom decks (plus plastic storage box) cost $7.99 plus shipping, but they also run lots of coupon deals (right on the site) and I found a code that gave me $5 off, which almost eliminated the shipping price. The deck is supposed to arrive in ten working days from time of order and I'm kind of excited to see what the final result looks like.

If you're curious about the actual content of these cards, the Joker shows above are the parameters for each card and gives you a sense of what they will contain. I also plan on making these available to anyone who might want them, through the PrinterStudio site.

Watch for a video in the near future for more about these cards and how they may help you with the creation of a short film or story. They might not help at all, but I thought it was a cool idea that someone else (besides me) might be able to benefit from.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Tip: Marks for your Actors



As a gear-head filmmaker, it's very easy to get so wrapped up in the technical end of your film that you sometimes forget to go the extra mile for your actors. They want to do the best job possible, and sometimes you can greatly aid them with a little help.

Today's example concerns marks on the ground. These are points where you want your actor to stop or pause in your scene. You've composed the shot in such a way that your character needs to "hit their mark" for the composition to work. This can be a challenge if you are using whatever is lying around for this purpose. Environmental debris can often blend into the location making it tough on your actors, especially if they are depending on their peripheral vision.

One solution for this is to use something that really sticks out and is easy to see. I used field marker disks that I purchased at Wal-Mart. They are bright (easy to see), flimsy (won't cause injury) and cheap. They are also compact and several be easily toted in a small container.

I've provided some links below to some other things you can use, but the idea is the same.
Give your actors a highly visible mark, and the odds go way up that they will hit it in as few takes as possible.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Q&A: How Much Shoud I Charge for Client Work?



STUFF FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE

External Battery Camera Power 2
"Henchmen" on Indiegogo
Zoom H1 Handy Recorder
Sony F970 Clone Batteries
Anker Astro Pro2 Multi-Voltage (5v, 12v, 16v, 19v) Battery

Special thanks to our guest Connie Critchlow!

External Battery Camera Power 2



I realize that it hasn’t been that long since I created an external battery attachment for the inexpensive Frugal Cage. I even modified to make it work a little better. After using it in the field while shooting Invader, felt like it could be even better.

In the last setup, the battery cradles were stacked vertically, which meant I could only use one of the higher-capacity Sony F970 battery clones, due to space limitations. Increasing the space between cradles helped a little (and made changing the smaller battery easier), but I still wanted to be able to use F970s simultaneously.

This video illustrates this change in design. Now the battery plates are firmly mounted next to each other on two points (up from the more wobbly one point) that attach to the cage. The side-by-side design eliminates the space issue, allowing me to use two F970 batteries at once. Now I can run my camera all day without a battery change and my monitor almost as long.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the previous version. If you’ve already spent the money and put that one together, you’ll be fine. This one is just the result of testing and improving and my desire to make an external power setup that much better. I look forward to testing this version on the next short film.


PARTS LIST
2x Sony F970 Battery Plate w/power cable
8x 4-40 machine screws, 1/2" in length
2x 1/4-20" machine screws 3/4" in length
Mounting plate (I used cutting board scrap)

2x Sony F970 Battery Clones

TOOLS NEEDED
Drill press (for straight pilot holes)
Drill w/various bits
Philips screwdriver
Precision Philips screwdriver

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Props & Squibs: "The Paperboy" and "Locus"

Just because I graduated doesn't mean I'm not working on student films! I'm actually pretty flattered when people ask me to work on their movies and hope I can bring something unique to their interesting projects. Though my commitments are usually short term (I can't be there for the full shoot), I can take a smaller job and make it big.



Both films I've committed to are completely different. Locus is a police detective drama, featuring Mindy Van Kuren from my short film Invader. She's really great to work with and was even game to shoot some B-roll for their Indiegogo video. My job in Locus is to make and operate the squibs that will be needed when certain characters get shot in the story. Squibs are small blood packets rigged with tiny firecracker-sized charges. When the actors get "shot" you detonate the charge and blood explodes through their clothing or prosthetic. It can look very realistic.



The Paperboy is giving me an entirely different challenge: making props. In this military-themed comedy, Our hero encounters weapons of various size and shape that use rolled-up newspapers as ammunition. This includes mortars, a mounted machine gun, a cannon, and a rocket launcher. The good news is they don't have to actually fire a newspaper, only look like they do.

I've had some experience making props for the thesis film Perfect Machine (futuristic stun-sticks and rifles), but making squibs is new for me. I know I have to be careful dealing with any amount of gunpowder, and also have to take into account safety for the actor (like putting a shield between their body and the charge). I don't way anyone getting hurt, including me.

I've embedded the Indiegogo videos from the two films I'm talking about, so you can get a better idea about what I'm getting into. The best news is that I can blog/make videos about what I learn, and hopefully share something that can benefit your movies, if you are attempting something similar.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Perfect Storm Lightning Simulator



Every year, the day after Halloween, I try to hit the local Halloween super store looking for half-off deals. While the costumes and props always interest me, what I end up walking away with is a steal on some kind of practical effects device. Last year is was a fog machine with timer and this year it was Perfect Storm.

When I first came across this device I didn't even know what I was looking at. A simple box with only one knob and a switch, it is pretty underwhelming. Upon second look, it seemed to be a way to create realistic looking lighting effects on set. The crummy way of doing this effect is to plug lights in to the wall or a switch and just turn them on or off, which looks terrible.

Perfect Storm will make up to 1000w of  lights flash and strobe, just light real lightning. It has built-in microphone that you are supposed to park in front of a speaker playing thunder (CD included) and give you that random flashing just like Mother Nature. Fortunately, you can also trigger the lights by blowing on the mic or rubbing it with your finger, making it perfect for on-set cues.

This box will set you back $40-50 online, but in a couple of weeks I'm going to show you how to make your own lightning box for around $20. It won't handle as much wattage (the max is 200w), but with LED bulbs becoming more affordable, that shouldn't stop you from getting lots of realistic looking lightning for an affordable price.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Giant 1/4-20" Knob



It's been a bit difficult to crank out videos during the holidays, but here's a simple one that may help you if you are a builder of bracket based rigs. In the past when I've built rigs like the Frugal Cage, Frugal Stabilizer II, and the Frugal Fattener, the weak link was always the cheap screw knobs that came with the brackets. They just don't work all that well.

These knobs are tiny and due to the large width of the bracket itself, are difficult to grip. The solution was to find a larger knob, and after poking around on eBay, I think I've found a good one. My video this week takes a look at these knobs and the satisfaction I've found using them. Sometimes the simplest solutions (get a bigger knob) are the best ones.

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