So....how much does it cost to make a movie? Well, that's all relative. It depends on quite a few things: your budget, production needs, your budget, post-production needs, your budget, distribution and exhibition goals, your budget, and most important of all....your budget.
Wait I wrote "your budget" how many times? Believe me when I tell you it wasn't a typo (shocking, right?). Let me put it this way. You have direct control over how much your movie is going to cost. It's not like there is some magical formula out there on Pinterest that can show you how to calculate any of this. You decide how much it costs and you control the expeditures. Of course, this is if you are the independent filmmaker. If you're working for someone else, then obviously they have a say in how the budget will be structured.
Don't fall into the myth that good movies take a lot of money. Sure if you want to have all studio-grade equipment, A-list actors, tons of Special FX, elaborate costumes, and etc., then yeah....you're going to be looking at a few million. However, you can make a fantastic movie on a shoestring budget. My first feature-length documentary, for example, cost just under $13,000. That doesn't even pay for craft services on a Hollywood blockbuster film. I know guys that have done it for less and I know others who have done it for nothing. It all depends on how organized, resourceful, and skilled you are.
The first thing you do before you do anything else is work out a budget for your movie. You need to aim high and then try to undercut yourself by saving money where possible. You want to aim high as a measure of "preparing for the worst" should you need to purchase everything on your list. So, don't be afraid to inflate the figures a bit, but then when it comes to making actual purchases or paying for services, try to save money where possible so that you don't risk your movie running with a deficit. Plan big, start small.
You can search online for budget templates that can help you get started if needed. But one thing is for sure.....you must be dedicated and headstrong in keeping this budget to the penny. You can't just play this off like a New Year's resolution filled with good intentions of making promises (and then not keeping them). You really must be responsible and stalwart in your budget so that you don't jeopardize the success of your film. Remember back in the other post about getting started where I mentioned that most businesses fail because of poor planning, debt, or unable to manage finances? BINGO! You don't want to be one of those guys that starts something great and then declares bankruptcy 6 months later because you can't keep a budget. How embarrassing, right? You created your empire and you want it to stay around for a long time. Unfortunately, money is the sole element that can bring your movie or your business to it's knees. Don't make the horrible mistake of letting things get out of hand.
In order to formulate a good budget, you need to do some cost research and analysis. Get on the Internet and scope out equipment that you need to buy. Scout out people as potential help. Talk to other filmmakers about what their experiences have been. Go window shopping to price mundane things you might need. Be meticulous in note taking -writing down how much an item is and where it is being sold. It is a good idea to do this several months ahead of your filming schedule so that you can watch for sales or free shipping promos. Doing good research pays off big when planning your budget. Just hold yourself to it at all COSTS!
So......codecs. What the heck are they? Well, it's how your movie will be encoded in order to provide proper playback on the device or medium you want the video to be seen. There are certain codecs required for You Tube and Vimeo. There are certain codecs required for burning to a DVD or Blu-ray. There are also codecs that allow you to render uncompressed video footage which gives you the best picture quality available (along with an enormous file size to deal with).
There's a lot of talk going on nowadays about RAW, Pro Res 422, VXCAM 422, DnX 422, 2.5K, and 4K. Where do those file types come from? Your camera. Most DSLR, Consumer, and some Prosumer cameras record video data as AVCHD files (Advanced Video Codec High Definition) -which is a format owned by Sony and Panasonic. In order to get the higher quality RAW or uncompressed formats, your camera needs to have the capability to record data in that format. Cameras like the Blackmagic Design 2.5K/4K, the Blackmagic Pocket, Canon 60D, Canon 5D Mark III, Sony FS700, and etc. You cannot simply take an AVCHD file and upgrade it to 4K RAW. That just simply cannot happen primarily because the RAW format records tons more data and creates a picture size so much larger than standard AVCHD.
So, what's the big deal. Why can't you use just any codec and be happy with it? Well, again, it comes back to your end game. What will you be doing with this video? That will determine the quality you want to have. But, be wary. Some HD codecs can compress your video down so much, that it will have no difference between standard definition and high definition. It is important when choosing a codec to see how big the exported file size will be. The larger the file size (MB or GB), the better quality it has because it's not compressing the data so much. Most software programs will tell you what the file size will be after exporting is complete. If your software does not, then..............get a different software. Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, AVID, Sony Vegas....all let you see the file size before exporting.
Here are some options to consider for export codecs:
There are lots of tutorials out there to help you decide which codec is best for your project, but ultimately you will have to decide which one gives you the quality you are looking for. You also need to recognize that what ever device will be playing your video, it needs to have the proper codecs to decode the video format. DVD and Blu-ray players generally do not support Apple ProRes 422 or XDCAM 422 unless you author the video file onto a DVD or Blu-ray disc. Likewise, online streaming services generally do not accept uncompressed codecs because the file size is too large.
It's always a good idea once you have completed exporting your video to play the video on several different sources to make sure it works on a variety of things.
So….fundamental camera shots. There are a few basic things you need to master about types of camera shots. Really, when you think about it, there’s not actually a lot you can physically do with the camera. No matter what position you place your camera in, it will be doing one of these fundamental shots.
Wide Shot: Generally called an “establishing shot” because it is wide enough that we can visually identify the surroundings of the subject
Medium Shot: If a person, for example, usually from the chest up.
Close Up: If a person, just the head.
Pan Left: Turning the camera left
Pan Right: Turning the camera right
Tilt Up: Tipping the camera up
Tilt Down: Tipping the camera down.
Dolly: Moves camera to, away from, or parallel to the subject
Jib: Camera is mounted on a balanced crane that provides a wide range of motion in any direction
Zoom In: Use telephoto controls to make the image appear closer.
Zoom Out: Use telephoto controls to make the image appear farther away.
Trucking: Matching movement of the camera with the subject so that the subject stays in the same position on screen, but the background is changing.
Rack Focusing: Focusing between near and far objects. Helps to create depth-of-field.
Steadicam / Flycam: Handheld or harness devices that allow for POV or human-like movement.
Sliding: Camera is mounted on a slider which allows the camera to move from side to side.
These are pretty much the only things you can do with a camera, but how you employ them artistically is what makes your video look professional.
When deciding camera movement, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Everything that the camera does should be deliberate and help to visually tell the story of the script. Too much camera movement, movement at the wrong time, or highly-exaggerated movement will be a distraction. You don’t want to ever do anything to distract viewers from the message of the film. Don't create a camera movement just because you can. That comes across as gimmicky and unnecessary.
There are many video tutorials available online that can demonstrate these shots for you as well as show you ways to make them more creative.
So….let’s talk about framing. What is framing? Well, let’s go back to that family portrait from J.C. Penney that we talked about in a previous post about lighting. Pretend that the photographer actually took a decent picture. So, you decide to frame it and hang it up in your living room for everyone to see.
Ok…that doesn't really have anything to do with camera framing.
Framing is all about the “Rule of Thirds”. If you abide by this simple concept, you will never go wrong. Many amateur or inexperienced filmmakers make the big mistake of centering the subject directly in the middle of the screen. Makes sense right? Keeps things symmetrical with plenty of room on all four sides of it, right? Ummmm…..wrong. Why? It’s boring and in some cases, problematic. That’s why.
Unless you want all your films to look like DMV photos or your 8th grade school picture, you should offset the image that your camera is seeing to coincide with any action taking place or the direction that emphasis or action is coming from.
Take the image in the picture here, for example. See how it is offset? The road is not placed directly in the center of the shot. It is placed to the side which makes the image more pleasing to look at.
The red lines running across the image seen here depict the Rule of Thirds. Wait! It’s a Tic-Tac-Toe board! Yeah….but don’t call it that unless you want to see eyes roll in disgust. Simply, where the lines intersect is where you should frame the subject. Generally, you should always position people in the upper-left or upper-right quadrants where those lines intersect.
If you are doing a landscape, then position the main object of interest to one side –typically towards the side that has the lesser amount of light or the side that doesn’t have any action…like the back of a person’s head.
In order to keep framing consistent if having to shoot multiple takes of a scene, you should put Marks where your talent needs to stand, where the object needs to be placed, or where the camera needs to stop moving. This will get rid of any guess work and make filming go much smoother. That way your actors don’t keep standing or moving in different places and you don’t have to keep guessing where to frame the shot.
Remember that several key elements are working together to create your artistic vision. You have the lighting which sets the look and feel of the shot, you have the camera angle which provides perspective within the scene, and you have the framing which is what the camera will actually, physically capture. If your framing is off, the lighting may not look right or you may have to adjust the camera angle. This is why Marks are so important in regards to framing. Keeping movement or position consistent will lessen the chances of a continuity error occurring or the lighting and camera angle getting off.
Remember that you cannot really adjust framing during editing. You can make subtle changes in position or even zoom in a little, but there are limits on what you can accomplish. It is best to set up the shot and frame while Blocking a scene. Once the right camera angle has been found and the lighting adjusted for that position, place a Mark on the floor for the talent to remember the position and also mark any camera movements so everything stays consistent and fluid throughout filming –especially when filming multiple takes of the same scene.
To help you, most prosumer, DSLR, Full Senor, and Professional video cameras have built in overlays that will show the Rule of Thirds grid on the camera monitor. This will help you frame your shots better and keep talent where they are supposed to be on screen during camera movement. In addition, if you can connect your camera to an external monitor, these monitors generally have the ability to place the grid over the image. Don’t worry, whether you have the grid displayed on your camera or an external monitor, it will not actually be recorded.
Now, are there times when you want to center your subject? Sure…if your artistic direction calls for something specific like that. There is no problem there at all. However, you should not consistently center everything in every shot of your film. It will look strange.
My challenge here is for you to put on your favorite movie and sit down with a pad of paper and a pencil. Take note of how the main subject in the scene is framed. Think of how things are framed when someone is walking or running. How are they framed when talking to someone? How are they framed when looking at something? How is the landscape framed? How is the airplane or the car framed in relation to the direction it is travelling?
I think you will be surprised to note that most things are never centered. Even things you think are centered are usually positioned in the upper-center quadrant –not the dead center….like a center shot of a person. They may be centered in the shot, but their face (the area of emphasis) is actually located towards the upper-center area. You may think that the shot of a sunrise or the ocean is centered, but the horizon is actually positioned in either the upper or lower thirds of the screen. Go ahead. Give it a shot and see what you find out. Another post deals with different camera shots. Be sure to check it out.
So……audio formats. You are probably already familiar with the two most common formats: MP3 and WAV. MP3 is a compressed file that is standard for anything on a CD album, Apple iTunes, and most internet digital download services –basically anything for the average consumer. WAV files are usually not as compressed (or not compressed at all) and gives you a better audio quality. However, when it comes to the world of film, there are LOTS of different formats.
Most portable field recording devices (such as Zoom or Tascam -as mentioned in another post) record in WAV formats and you generally have control over how much it is compressed. It might be good to stop and Google “WAV” at this point to learn more about the intricacies of this format. Basically, if you capture sound at 96kHz in 24-bit, you would have really good, relatively uncompressed audio. Anything less than that and you start to lose quality.
More sophisticated devices and even some prosumer cameras can capture Linear PCM audio. What’s that? It’s purely uncompressed audio. Think of it as the same as RAW for video. In fact, DVDs and Blu-rays use Linear PCM audio. Given the option, you should always choose LPCM over anything else your camera or recording device has to offer. It will give you the highest fidelity –of course the quality also greatly depends upon your recording equipment.
Most video editing software available (stay away from the free or cheap versions…we’re talking pro stuff here) accepts LPCM just fine. You don’t even have to worry about it. There’s no need to convert it into WAV (unless you have a lousy software program). You should avoid using any audio on your film that is MP3 format since it is highly compressed. Sound effects and music should always be in at least a WAV format.
Once you have finished editing your video, you must now edit your audio. Keep in mind that your video editing software is just that….VIDEO editing software. Your program may give you tools to add effects or correct audio, but they generally are just bandaids and shouldn’t be relied upon. To give your video truly professional sound, you must export your audio into an audio editing software program. There are many of them out there and most professional video editing software programs have audio software included with the product. Here’s a list of audio editing programs that come bundled with video editing software:
Adobe Premier – Adobe Audition
AVID Media Composer – AVID Pro Tools
Sony Vegas Pro – Sony Sound Forge
Final Cut Pro – Audio Essentials
There’s also numerous other programs out there for professionals like Steinberg Nuendo that can do much, much more –but have a pretty stiff price tag associated with them.
Another post will deal with how to export and mix good audio.
Learning how to capture and mix good audio is just as essential as learning how to capture and edit good video. Both work together and either one can take the whole project down if not done right.
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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