Sunday, February 28, 2010

PVC Monitor Mount Attaches Right to Tripod

Over on the DVXuser forums I came across a cool post from user rlrydeen. He has crafted an "arm" made from PVC pipe that rides directly between his tripod head and legs that holds his 7" HD monitor. Not only does it work as a monitor stand, but when swung around the screen also serves as a teleprompter when fed by a computer. Nice!

You'll need to register to see all the photos, but it's worth it. There is a wealth of knowledge over at DVXuser. It's one of the best video camera forums on the web.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Build a Dimmer Switch for $7.25



In an effort to spread the Frugal word, I've started a YouTube Channel and will posting videos there every week or so. I realize there is a ton of similar content out there, but this is a great way to build an audience (which will take time) as well as share my own unique spin on things. The videos will be lean and to the point, sharing things that I have learned that others may want to use in their productions.

Episode 1 is a simple construction project: making an inline dimmer. These are very handy on set and are easy to build for a paltry sum. When I went to build mine (with instructions from the web), I discovered a few things I knew I had to share in more than just the blog format. Hey, what kind of filmmaker would I be if I didn't make films? Even simple ones?

Here is the Instructables version.

I'm always open to suggestions, so please comment with your feedback. I'd love to hear your opinion and/or ideas for projects you would like to see built for a frugal amount.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheap Tripod has Perfect Custom Rig Mount

If you are planning an building a special rig for your next camcorder feature, have I got a deal for you. There is an inexpensive tripod out there that not only has a removable plate for quick release, but also fits onto 1/2" PVC pipe, the most frugal material in which to build a rig out of.

These tripods can be found in abundance on eBay. Just search for 50" tripod and you'll get a ton of hits. The most affordable is a "Buy It Now" that sells for $11.49 with free shipping! They even ship from the U.S. so you won't have the typical two week wait that cheap gear from China usually takes.

When you get your tripod, all you have to do is loosen the plastic wing nut that connects the head to the legs and remove. You can then insert your 1/2" PVC into the hole where the legs used to be for any configuration you can come up with. It may be snug and take some force, but it works.

I have two rigs (one already built) that uses this head that I will feature on The Frugal Filmmaker in the near future. I've just been on the lookout for a readily available source for these tripod heads and now I've found them. I just wanted to pass it on in case someone else was looking for the same thing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Frugal Find: Canon HFS100 Drops to $699

If you're in the market for a nice camcorder with some pro features, you may want to check out the Canon HFS100. It shoots HD to an SD card, allows manual audio control, zebra striping and the ability to regulate video gain. It has a huge 58mm lens (previously found on the GL2) and can shoot some nice video. It's one of the best camcorders out there.

B&H is selling this beauty for $699. You can read an in-depth review at Camcorder Info. The manual is available online from Canon. There are a ton of video samples on YouTube and Vimeo.

If you need a nice camera but can't afford prosumer, this may be the deal you are looking for. It's currently the camera of choice for The Frugal Filmmaker. I brought this camera to a shoot once and the talent exclaimed, "That's the smallest camera I've ever seen." I replied, "Yeah, but it puts out a big picture."

Friday, February 19, 2010

'The Hush': A Camcorder Feature



[via PrepShootPost] Vincent Cortez is a Frugal Filmmaker. He has taken what he has, snazzed it up with some inexpensive technology and made a feature. The Hush looks like a hybrid thriller than incorporates multiple genres and a classic look. What caught my eye, however, was how his film was made "all within a budget that wouldn’t even cover the catering charges for a mid-sized film." Right on.

If you examine Vincent's picture, you'll notice that he's using a camcorder to shoot his movie. The hook here is that he capturing directly into his computer through the HDMI port of a Blackmagic card (which is why he's featured on their site). This allows uncompressed video acquisition for an affordable price ($199). If you don't mind lugging around a desktop computer, it's a very cool idea.

If you are going for a web release, I think the Blackmagic card is overkill. If you are going to project onto a big screen, it's an interesting way to do boost resolution with affordable HD cameras. I applaud Vincent for his ingenuity and determination to be creative without breaking the bank. I just wish The Hush was available online. Right now we just have to be satisfied with the trailer.

You can read more from Vincent on his blog, Filmmaker Cortez, or check out more material on The Hush through the Mitchell Street Pictures Vimeo channel and their official site.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tom Antos Shares Great Lighting Techniques



Just when I think I know a little something about filmmaking, I realize I don't. Today I was perusing Indy Mogul's blog and was turned onto some excellent lighting tutorials by cinematographer Tom Antos. He's a working professional who really knows his craft.

The first video I found was part 5 (shooting with powerful HMI lights) which was so good that I watched everything back to part 1, which I have embedded here. This is a great lesson for us frugal types as he make a very good argument for the skill of shot design, opposed to camera "quality". Watch at the end of the video where he compares something shot with the Red One against the prosumer Canon XH-A1. It's an eye-opener.

Once again, it's not the tools but how you use them. You could very easily make the same comparison with the same XH-A1 (a $3500 camera) and my Canon HFS100 (an $800 camcorder). I recommend you watch all of Tom's instructional videos. I learned a ton just watching these five and hope I can apply the techniques used here on my next shoot.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is the Canon Rebel T2i the Perfect Frugal Cam?

People interested in video production are buzzing about Canon's latest DSLR, the EOS Rebel T2i. It seems that this little camera has many of the features as its cousin, the 7D, but with enhanced video modes and half the price tag. It will sell for $799 for the body only or $899 with a standard lens. Considering I recently purchased Canon's VIXIA HFS100 video camera for $899 (now available for $799), I have to ask myself if I made the right decision.

The T2i shoots HD video at 1080p in 30, 25 and 24 frames per second. It also shoots 720p at those same rates, and adds 50 and 60 frames per second, which should create some silky smooth slow motion. It allows for full control of exposure, shallow depth of field and interchangeable lenses. Not to mention the fact you get an amazing 18 megapixel still camera. Full details can be found here.

So what's not to like? Well, there is no autofocus, which comes in pretty handy in run-and-gun situations. There is an external mic input, but no headphone jack and no manual audio control. This means you can't monitor the sound coming into the camera and once it's there, the camera runs the level. It's the return of the dreaded AGC (Automatic Gain Control). Yuck!

While no one has seen any test footage yet, my guess is we have another DSLR that will shoot some very pretty pictures (at the most affordable price point), but be very lacking in the audio arena. If you want to use this camera for any kind of real shoot, it means double system sound, or recording audio on a separate recorder. This isn't horrible, but means one more piece of gear and the annoyance of capturing and syncing in post.

To me, this is a deal breaker. While my HFS100 won't produce an image as sweet as the T2i, it can record audio through an external mic (via an XLR adapter) using a level that I can control. Manual audio will always sound better than AGC. And it has autofocus!

Maybe next time Canon.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Film Flap Morphs into The Frugal Filmmaker

In an effort to narrow the focus of this blog a bit, it has been renamed to "The Frugal Filmmaker". While I like all types of filmmaking from micro to big budget, I'm more passionate about creating with what I have around me or what I can easily obtain at little or no cost. This forces creativity, and I get very excited about coming up with inexpensive solutions to filmmaking problems.

An example of this is a DIY light kit that I have been putting together. I want to improve as a cinematographer and I need more control of the light entering the lens. This meant I needed a light kit, but knew that I could not afford to spend around $1,000 for a nice one or even $200 for a cheap one. So, I did my homework and assembled a pretty versatile kit for about $100. It fits right into the new philosophy of this blog and fills a very real need. I'll be detailing it here in the near future.

There is so much you can do if you just think outside the box a little. You don't need the latest peice of fancy gear to make good movies. You need a good script, a good cast and good crew and the rest will fall in line. With these elements it doesn't matter if you shoot on a cell phone or a RED camera. What matters is that you work hard and get your vision in the can. No more excuses. Use your brain.

Remember in Apollo 13 when the CO2 scrubbers failed? The engineers on earth had to build one using only a box of parts available to the astronauts. And they did it! So it is with us. We have lots of things we have access to that can help us succeed. It won't always be free, but it will be affordable. And it will work.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Free Production Slate

Everyone needs to be slating during their production, no matter how inexpensive. To the unaware, slating is the practice of recording basic scene information at the beginning or end (the "tail slate" is always shot upside down) of each take. We have all seen clapperboard type slates that slap two wooden sticks together for an audio marker, even if we've never been on a film set.

Those sticks are great for syncing sound, but most of us just need a simple marking system, so we can identify our footage in post. Writing a on a sheet of paper works (and is very microbudget), but is a little TOO ghetto. Dry erase slates are the nicest, and an a nice acrylic one can be found at B&H for 8 bucks. Not bad.

A slightly better and more informative slate (meaning there are more boxes of info to fill out) is the EasySlate, which comes with an interview and production version, a back focus chart, and a version for notes. Throw in markers, an eraser and a nice bag and you have it all. Sadly, the EasySlate will set you back 60 clams, which is way too much for a laminated card with no clapper sticks.

As suspected, someone else has already created a free version of these very same slates that you can print out and laminate yourself, putting you in in dry erase slating heaven. Dubbed the "Cheap Slate", this is a great low-budget answer to a very important need. I just wish I could find the creator's name somewhere on his simple website. He deserves credit for putting time into this.

UPDATE! I went to a FedEx/Kinko's and had them print the production and interview slates on both sides of heavy card stock. I used landscaped versions of the slates, so they'd be bigger. I then trimmed the the card, laminated and trimmed again. I now have a handy double-sided, multipurpose dry erase slate for a total cost of $4.51. I could have saved about a dollar if I printed in black and white, but the color gives it a more pro feel. It was worth the splurge.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Light Meters and Shades of Gray (or Grey)

I went on an odyssey of sorts yesterday. It started when I was reading a chapter in one of my favorite lighting books, Lighting for Digital Video and Television by John Jackman. There's a chapter about calibrating a light meter for use in your video productions that I found very intriguing. While a very good light meter like the Sekonic L-758Cine is very expensive, there are many older or lesser models (even digital ones) that you can pick up used for a song.

This led me to several useful video tutorials on the web. The first was aptly named "Calibrating a Light Meter for Digital Video" over at FreshDV. Another good one I found was "How to Use a Light Meter" from Izzy Video. Both were very good and helped answer some of the questions I had from reading Jackman's book.

This led me to wonder about gray cards (well-detailed in another Izzy Video called "Getting a Good Exposure with an 18% Gray Card". Always looking for ways to improve my image, the idea of zooming in and setting exposure to a card like this (and white balancing on the same card) sounded great.

To top all this off, I found a great post in a blog called Knick Knack that was the ultimate microbudget post entitled "Cheap Color Balance Card". It should have been called "Free Color Balance Card" as it gives direct links to a company that will send you free laminate squares in white, black and gray (or grey) that are totally suitable for video purposes. You can choose from one of three sizes and shipping is even free bringing your total cost to ZERO! I quickly ordered some of the 8x10" versions. It's a great find.

I am still debating on whether I really need a light meter or not, but I am leaning toward getting one. It seems well suited to spot checking portions of your shot, since your camera's built-in meter probably checks the whole image (some offer spot checking, but a meter is just plain handier). I also like the idea of giving classic gear of home instead of letting it hit the scrap heap. It deserves better and we could be better filmmakers because of it.

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