So.......software. Which one? There’s many. Too many. They all pretty much do about the same thing, right? Ummmm…..nope.
First of all, let’s make it perfectly clear that as a filmmaker you have absolutely no intention of using (and I shudder to even type them) Windows Live Movie Maker, iMovie or any other editing software that came free with your PC or Mac, something you got out of the bargain bin at Walmart, or anything that cost you less than $200. (Now pardon me while I go take a shower. I feel dirty for having even mentioned those. I may have also vomited a little in my mouth.)
The software I am discussing is actual video editing software. Free or poopie-cheap software will most certainly not give you the kind of professionalism that you want your videos to have. You must step into the realm of professional video editing software. I am talking about the all-powerful Adobe Creative Suite, AVID Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas Pro, and other comparable products. Adobe and AVID have the lion’s share of the market by far. Final Cut is starting to fade and Sony is picking up steam. All are good options for editing video.
That being said, there are differences between them. If you are into graphic design, animation, or love to use Adobe Photoshop, then you definitely want to go with Adobe Premiere Pro since you can link all your imported files. This is a feature Adobe calls “Dynamic Link”. So, if you make a change to your picture in Photoshop, it is automatically updated in Premiere Pro…without you having to do anything. The same goes for projects created in Illustrator, InDesign, and After Effects. Honestly, this is what gives Premiere Pro such an edge over other products. You get all of Adobe’s powerful line of products working simultaneously. You can’t go wrong.
I have also used Final Cut Pro and Sony Vegas Pro extensively and they are spectacular as well. I will say that I prefer Sony Vegas Pro over Final Cut Pro because the user interface and workflow is so much better. In fact, I use Sony Vegas for little projects or home movies because it is so easy and fluid to use. I use Adobe for large and complex projects because of all the needed resources.
The answer here, you really need to put some research into a software program that not only meets your needs, but also meets your level of computer proficiency. If you struggle to check email or pull up your bank account online, then you probably will go blind or have a mental breakdown from just looking at Premiere Pro or AVID. If you can navigate your way around a computer really well and catch on quick, then you are probably safe getting whatever software fits your needs.
In order to understand what software you need, you need to consider what the software offers. You need to find out answers to these questions:
There are many other things you should be asking about your potential software, but these are perhaps the most important and will give you a good starting point.
One thing is doubly important….make sure your computer can handle the software! Complex systems like Adobe and AVID require a ton of computing power. Meaning, they need fast processors, lots of RAM, a heavy-duty graphics card, and a lot of hard drive space. Please understand that the minimum requirements posted on product packaging is just that…..the MINIMUM. You should aim for a computer that exceeds the minimum requirements.
A computer that only meets the minimum requirements or doesn’t meet them at all will cause you way too much misery and will take years off your life. The program will not be able to handle large projects, it will lag while editing or playing back, it will constantly crash or error, it will take excruciatingly large amounts of time to export/render final projects……like hours and hours and hours….like start rendering before you go to bed and hopefully by the time you get up in the morning it will be finished….that’s how bad. It’s not good if you’re working with tight deadlines. You just don’t have that kind of time to waste rendering things that way. Be sure that you have figured purchasing a powerful computer into your business plan.
It is also important to note that your video editing computer should be just that….your editing computer. This should not be your main home computer that the kids play games on, the wife clutters with terabytes of photos, and unscrupulous internet browsing occurs. This machine needs to be solely dedicated to processing nothing more than video projects. This will help the machine stay uncluttered, virus and error free, and running smooth and fast.
When choosing a computer, consider the following hardware suggestions:
These configurations may not be available on all models of PC or MAC, so you may have to do some manual configuring on the product websites to see what can be upgraded. Please note that most laptops do not allow for extensive upgrades because they simply do not have the space for the larger, more powerful components. I would highly suggest looking at a desktop computer since more hardware options are available to you. I would also suggest looking at gaming computer brands like Alienware or HP ENVY since those models are already enhanced with more RAM, faster processors, and beefy graphics cards. MAC users beware. Any upgrades to your Mac Pro or iMac will be extremely costly. You should expect to spend $2000-$3000 more for a MAC than a PC.
When choosing a software program, be sure to research what types of codecs come with the program and if it’s possible to install additional rendering codecs. In a nutshell, codecs are video formats that your software will compress your final project to for viewing online or burning to a DVD. Codecs are covered in another post. Make sure that your software can render using high-quality codecs.
There are literally thousands of online tutorial videos demonstrating different editing software programs. It would be wise to check them out on YouTube or the product websites to learn more about them before making a final purchase. They also come in handy for learning more about your software by teaching things like animations and special effects.
So.....if you are like most beginning filmmakers, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of equipment that you need to purchase and….the cost. No lies, video equipment is expensive. Why? Because you get what you pay for. Do you want your camera to have control over exposure, saturation, audio levels, frame rate, aspect ratio, white balance, and focusing? Do you want better control of your lighting? Do you want sturdy tripods and rigs? Do you want audio equipment that is dependable? Do you want editing software that will produce the kind of content you wish to create? Then as sure as heck, you will have to spend money to get them.
I suggest doing extensive research online looking at reviews and reading forums about the equipment you plan to purchase. Learn the pro and cons and be prepared to deal with the cons if you purchase the product. This is especially critical when looking at video editing software. Most high-end software (like Adobe CC or AVID) requires a beefy computer to handle all the processing and graphics. Software is covered in a different post.
The first thing you need to look at is a camera. There are several types of video cameras available and they all have different functions. Again, this is where you need to stop and ask yourself: “What kind of filmmaker do I want to be?” Knowing what you want to do will determine what kind of camera you will most likely need.
Digital Video Cameras are grouped into the following categories. (Some sources argue that there are more than just these, but whatever.)
Amateur: Smart phones, tablets, webcams. Not suitable for serious/professional filmmaking.
Consumer: These include your normal run of the mill camcorders like the Sony Handycam, Canon Vixia, Panasonic V550, and etc. These types of cameras generally do not give you much control (if any) over exposure, focusing, audio, frame rate, aspect ratio, and saturation. They generally cost between $300-$600. More money means you can buy more controllable features. Are these recommended for filmmakers? Ummm…….no.
Prosumer: These are hybrid cameras that are more-or-less an affordable crossover between professional-grade equipment and consumer-grade equipment. These include cameras such as Sony NEX-VG30, Canon XA20, JVC GY-HM150, Blackmagic Cinema, and etc. These cameras will give you control over most everything. Most models allow for interchangeable lenses and XLR audio inputs. They generally cost between $1000-$2000. These cameras are recommended for beginning filmmakers. These cameras are nice enough that you could film actual movie footage with them. They offer great image quality, full HD, and can do pretty much everything that you will need them to.
Professional: If you are absolutely serious and have the financial fortitude to afford these beasts, then go for it. These cameras give you complete control over everything and will give you the utmost in picture quality. These are cameras used in broadcast studios, movie sets, sports events, and etc. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $20,000 to over $100,000 for these monsters. Some will obviously require additional equipment to make them functional. But there are models you can get that have everything you need packed into the camera itself. Again, if you have the budget, go ahead and get one or a few. You won’t be disappointed with the images!!
Full-Sensor and RAW: These cameras are actually considered Prosumer devices, but have special capabilities that their counterparts don’t have -principally a full 35mm sensor. What does that mean? Well…(cough)…size does matter. The bigger the sensor your camera has, the better images it can produce. Cameras with a full 35mm sensor will give you images equivalent to 35mm film. RAW cameras give you absolute, unlimited control over picture quality. Yeah….that’s awesome. They range from $4000-$20,000, but make a worthwhile investment if you want to be a serious filmmaker. These cameras include the Sony FS100 and FS700, Blackmagic Cinema 4K, RED, and etc.
DSLR: Now this is where great filmmaking gets cheap! DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex”. You can Google that phrase to learn more about what it means. The explanation is too long to post here. These cameras are principally designed for photography first and foremost, but have the capability to record incredible HD video. DSLR filmmaking has revolutionized the filmmaking industry. There are many models available from Canon, Sony, Nikon, and Panasonic that have this capability. All have interchangeable lenses which provide for unlimited flexibility in creating depth-of-field. However, they have major limitations –like virtually no control over audio levels (some don’t even have audio inputs), and they are all limited to a 12-15 minute record time. This isn’t ideal if you need to film long continuous shots like an interview, concert, and etc. These cameras typically cost around $600-$800 for good entry-level models and can go as high as $6000. However, be aware that most models do not come with lenses. If they do come with a lens, it generally isn’t a very good one. You typically have to purchase lenses separately….and they’re not cheap. You will also need to purchase an external audio recorder and microphone to capture high-fidelity sound. Lenses and audio are covered in another post.
Obviously purchasing a camera with lots of control, flexibility, and features will give you the better image, but consider what you will be filming. If you are just filming commercials for local television or websites, then you probably don’t need Professional-grade or Full-Sensor cameras. A Prosumer or DSLR device would be exceptional in that area. If you want to produce documentaries and features films, then you need to look above those.
So, ask yourself: “What will I be filming and what camera will give me the functionality that I need for that purpose?” Having said that, don’t purchase a camera that is going to create limitations either immediately or down the road. Remember to keep your business plan in mind and think of future needs.
So…you want to be a filmmaker? Get in line. Literally. Because of the increasing affordability of high-definition cameras, everyone and their dog can make videos. Good heavens, you can even make movies with your smart phone or tablet nowadays.
So, the real question you need to ask yourself is: “What KIND of filmmaker do I want to be?” Do you want to be that “go-to” guy that produces incredible media in the utmost quality? Or do you want to be stuck filming weddings, dance recitals, parties, and etc. just like most freelancers out there? I tell you what… you will be more in-demand, you will obtain more high-profile clientele, and you be noticed by industry professionals by being the “go-to” guy.
If all you want to do is film weddings and such, then please stop reading and go back to your Facebook stalking or continue watching stupid cat videos on YouTube. This website is for those who want to go beyond that and actually make a name and reputation for themselves.
Now that we have separated the wheat from the tares, let’s take a look at what you need to do to get started. You may think that you need to go purchase a whole bunch of expensive equipment right away. Big mistake. You may think that you need to go find an office space to rent. Nix that. You may think that you need to spend hours and hours creating logos and branding for yourself. Umm….no.
The most important thing you can do right now is to formulate a plan. In the professional world, this is called a “business model”. In a nutshell, you need to think of what type of business you want to create, how you intend to carry your plan out, and how you will generate consistent income. (I highly suggest an entry-level college course in Business Management for this purpose.)
Once you have a business model in place, then you need to go through all the legal formalities to establish your business. Contact your city and state government offices to obtain the necessary permits to make your business legit. Once you do that, then you can open a business checking account and apply for loans if needed.
Having a business model in place will save so much stress and heartburn in starting up. Keep in mind that most businesses fail because they didn’t have a good plan to begin with, couldn’t manage their finances, or had too much debt. Make a plan and stick to it. A good rule of thumb is to plan big and then start small. You can implement new phases of expansion as your business grows. So, start small (with a bigger picture in mind) and then expand as circumstances permit. The last thing you want to do is create an enormous start-up business that is too unwieldy and unsustainable.
Once you have established yourself legally and ideally, then go to work. Assuming that you have done cost analysis research for necessary equipment and other expenses, you can start to implement your plan. You should adhere to a very strict budget and only purchase equipment and other things that you absolutely need. Avoid the temptation to purchase more than you need or can afford. Another post will deal with basic equipment needs.
Be aware that it might (and should) take you several weeks to get everything put together before you can actually start functioning. Taking time to do things right will have untold benefits in the future.
Copyright 2018 Steven Vest. All rights reserved.
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