Friday, June 17, 2016

Frugal Boom Tripod Clamp

Ever had a shoot, but no boom operator to record sound? I had this issue recently, which would normally be solved by using a boom mic stand, but alas, mine is long gone. Since I had no time to order a replacement and no resources to by locally, I had to make something from existing parts.

What I came up with actually worked pretty well. Dubbed the "Frugal Boom Clamp", I attached two friction arm clamps (which had 1/4-20" threads) on both ends of a straight, dual flash bracket. This would not only firmly hold a boom pole, but also had a threaded hole for a tripod quick release plate. Presto! Done!

Now I can mount the Frugal Boom Clamp onto a spare tripod, and easily grip the pole in two places. This solves my problem, and also allows my to gently pan and tilt the mic during a shoot if needed. The whole thing took minutes to make and only cost $15 (if parts are bought new). Not bad.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sony A7II inside the Frugal Cage

The Frugal Cage is an inexpensive camera cage made of flash brackets that can adjust to small or large interchangeable lens cameras. I really liked using it on my older camera (the Sony NEX 5n), and I was excited to try it out with my new cam, the Sony A7II.

As I had predicted, it works pretty well. The adjustable nature of the Frugal Cage means it can expand to handle the larger size of the camera, but not be so huge that it dwarfs it. One complaint I've had about cheap camera cages is that one size does not fit all. Aesthetics are still important, even in DIY builds.

As shown in the video, everything fits together pretty well with only one real issue. With the NEX 5n, the SD card was located in the battery bay and accessed the same way (by dropping out). The A7II has a little door that must be opened to get to the card, and this door is blocked by the side of the cage. I'm resolved to just leaving a large capacity card in the rig all day, but in the future, a better solution needs to be found.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Screenplay: How to make a frugal short film, part 4

The quality of your screenplay can really make or break your film. Not only does this apply to the final product, but also in attracting people to work on the project in the first place. One thing I've always appreciated about Pixar's films (and one reason they constantly produce hits) is that they obviously spend time on the script. It's that important.

So much has been written about screenwriting, that I'd be crazy to try to teach any kind of formal lesson in such as small space. What I can do is share some tips that have helped me bring a short outline to finished script.

While I go into more detail in the video, here's the gist of it:

Stick to format - use software that makes formatting easy and remember to show the audience what is happening instead of having characters tell the audience what is happening.

Keep it brief - use good, efficient writing instead of bloated prose. You're writing a screenplay, not a novel. Action blocks should be no longer than three or four sentences, and descriptions of any kind should only be one sentence. When something new happens, start a new block of action.

Write solid dialogue - your characters need to be realized enough so they say things those people would say. Get to know them so they can speak through you. Everything they do say should reveal character traits, move the story forward, or both.

Avoid camera angles - your script is not a literal shot list. Disguise camera angles in your writing so there is only one way to interpret the script visually. This will make for a better read, and make whomever directs your script think they came up with all the stellar imagery.

Keep it interesting - no one likes a dull story with dull people. Keep things lively and make your script a page turner. While you're not writing a novel, your screenplay should be just as engaging as one.

The film script is so important. It's the foundation upon which all aspects of your eventual movie is constructed upon, and needs to be given the time and respect that this responsibility commands. Nothing can save a bad screenplay, So go write a good one!

P.S. Screenplay archives are a great place to download the real thing and see how its done by professionals. Remember to get the real thing and avoid "transcripts" which are just summaries and not the writer's real work. Here are a few to get you started:

Simply Scripts
Drew's Script-O-Rama
Internet Movie Script Database

The How to Make a Frugal Short Film Series
Part 0: Cultivate an audience
Part 1: What is it?
Part 2: Reviewing resources
Part 3: Coming up with a story

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Q&A: Should I dump my SD cards to my laptop when shooting in the field?

Today I answer questions about Sony Vegas Pro, memory card backups, reviewing shavers, a dynamic mic on the end of a boom pole, and a summer chromakey shot.

Sony A7II mirrorless digital camera

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tip: Turn computers into external monitors

If you do any tabletop shooting, an external monitor is a must. No matter how well you mark your recording surface, your hands and other objects will wander unappealingly out of frame. After getting some permanent space and shooting everything on my computer desk, I discovered a much better external monitor than my previous 7" version.

What I did was turn the large computer monitor already on my desk into a giant external monitor for my tabletop shoots. I did this by simply running my camera's composite video out into an external USB video capture box. This allowed me not only use my computer monitor as a video monitor, but also to flip the image to see what my upside-down camera was recording.

This idea could be put to use in many other situations as well. Use an even larger computer monitor in your studio. Use a laptop as an external monitor in the field. If you go the external USB capture box route (you can use an internal computer card as well), the whole setup is very portable.

Older computers can even be re-purposed for this task. Since all you are doing is displaying the image and not recording it, less computing resources are needed. In fact, the box really does most of the work outside of the computer itself. Evidence of this is the slight delay you'll see when viewing. These cards act as your basic analog-to-digital converter, dumping the new signal to your computer where you can do what you want with it.

My setup is simple and cheap. I found the ION Video 2 PC box, which is all over eBay for very little money (I picked up a used one for $18 total), and will work on both the PC and Mac. If you go this route, make sure you get the MkII version, which (supposedly) works better on modern systems. Also make sure you get your drivers from the included CD and not those found on ION's website. I could never get them to work, but the CD worked without a hitch.

For displaying on my monitor I used the free Bandicam software, which seemed to be one of the few programs that would correctly display the 16:9 widescreen output coming from my camcorder. I also used the free iRotate which allowed me to flip my computer image (with a keyboard shortcut) to correctly see the inverted image I was shooting. If Ctrl+Alt+arrow keys don't already do this for you in Windows, install iRotate. It will fix this oversight.

Of course, if you already have the appropriate composite or HDMI inputs on your monitor, this whole idea may seem moot. If you don't (or need to flip your camera image because your monitor can't), here is a cheap way to do it anyway.


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