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 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?


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.

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

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


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