Posts Tagged ‘cinematographer’

Business Owners – What To Do When Times Are Slow

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

There are wonderful benefits to owning a company, but growing the business takes an incredible amount of work, dedication, and patience. The farmer doesn’t see the results of his labor as soon as the seed is planted. In like manner, the young entrepreneur can’t expect immediate returns on his investments. Times will be good. Times will be bad. In the years that I have been running my business I have experienced quite the roller coaster ride. During slow periods, it’s important to make good use of your time and plant sees from which future successes will grow.

  1. Don’t Be Negative. I place this one at the top of the list, because we have all experienced feelings of discouragement, despair, and hopelessness. However, it’s important to remain positive. Negativity will result in apathy, which will do nothing for your business.
  2. Attend Networking Events. When other projects consume most of your time, you can’t afford to attend social events. However, when business slows, take advantage of opportunities to get out and meet new people. The relationships you develop today will benefit you in the future.
  3. Follow Up On Existing Leads. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I like to use Gmail as my email client. It allows you to create labels to easily organize and archive your messages. I have an entire list of conversations labeled “Leads.” When I have a slow period, I go back through those contacts to see if there are any deals I can close. When things are busy, it can be easy to overlook an existing lead, so take the time to follow up.
  4. Brush Up On Local Business News. Keeping up to date on what’s happening in your market is a great way to find new leads. Subscribe to the local business journal, or follow blogs that provide local business content. Staying on top of current business events will help you to better understand how your products and services can help those around you.
  5. Improve Your Marketing Efforts. Re-examine your brand. How are you reaching out to others? Is it time for your website to be updated? Have you neglected your blog, or other social media profiles? Sometimes when business is slower I take a look at my demo reel to see how I might re-organize it and improve it. You might also consider creating and sending a free monthly e-newsletter (see my sign up form to the right of this page) or writing an informative article and submitting it to local publications. Think of anything that will help you get your name out in front of people.
  6. Practice Your Craft. If you are a photographer, cinematographer, writer, graphic designer, or web designer, you can take advantage of slow times by improving your skill set. Create some work on spec. Get out and shoot something. Update your portfolio. If you are an editor who really needs to learn more about using After Effects, sign up for a class and learn something new. Watch some tutorials. The quality of your work will only get better.

For a business owner, slow times can be frustrating, but staying busy and staying productive are the keys for staying successful. Invest in yourself and your business. Use your time wisely. The small seed planted today will grow into a strong plant, if properly cared for.

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    The Numbers Game – Part One

    Thursday, August 6th, 2009

    budgetI talk with many prospective clients who express interest in producing a video for their business. When all the discussions are over it’s time to sit down, fill out my budget, and submit the proposal to my contact. The cost of a video production is affected by several factors and so the budgeting process must be thought out very carefully. Otherwise, it can be easy to overlook certain items.

    I have created a spreadsheet that itemizes just about everything that one could possibly have on a shoot. Those items are divided into categories for easy reference (Creative Fees, Crew, Per Diems, Travel, Editing Fees, etc.) One column lists my estimated costs and another column lists my actual costs. That way, at the end of the shoot I can compare both columns to see how accurate my original estimate was.

    The main thing to do when budgeting a video shoot is to prioritize. In part one of this two-part series, I want to cover what I believe are your top priorities when creating a budget. In part two, I will go over those items in the bid that can easily be overlooked. Here are my suggestions:

    Estimate Your Time

    Start with yourself. Think about the amount of time that you will spend on this video project. Obviously you want to include the amount of time in production , but you never want to neglect the time you invest in the pre-production and post-production stages. Pre-Production includes conceptualization and scripting, scheduling the shoot, meeting with the client, scouting, meeting with the talent, and meeting with your crew. You’ll spend more time in pre-production than you might think, so budget accordingly. Post-production not only includes the time to edit, but it also includes your time to record the voice-over, meet with the client to go over the edit and make necessary changes. I always like to pad my post-production budget to account for revisions the client might ask for.

    Estimate For Your Crew

    After you ensure that your time is reflected in the budget, you want to allocate monies for your crew. Surround yourself with quality people and the entire project will turn out much better. Think about how many people you will need and how many days you will need them.

    • If you aren’t as confident in your skills behind the camera, consider hiring a DP to handle the technical aspects of lighting, framing, etc.
    • If you aren’t as confident in your abilities to manage the project and handle all the logistics of a production, consider hiring a producer.
    • If you have on-camera talent, you might consider hiring a hair/make-up artist.

    Aside from actual shooting days, will you need the crew to come in early for a tech scout? If so, make sure they are paid for their time. And don’t forget your post-production crew.

    • Will you need an assistant editor to help you with the final cut?
    • How about an audio engineer/mixer to record the voice-over?
    • Will you need to hire a graphic designer to create a custom disc label and DVD warp-around?
    • Will you need to hire a composer to write a custom music track?

    Estimate Your Equipment

    This is where you need to factor in the costs of any equipment rentals your shoot may require. Budgeting for a dolly or a camera jib will really increase the overall production quality of your video. In this category you also want to factor in the cost of your media:

    • tape stock or solid state media cards
    • hard drives
    • blank DVDs (for when you need to send your client copies of the video for review)

    Check back in on Monday, August 10 for part two on how to create a video production budget.

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    The Magic of China Balls

    Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

    china-ballUnderstanding as much as possible about the physics of light will greatly improve your skills as a cinematographer. I recommend reading Placing Shadows as a good reference. For my location work, I normally use an Arri kit consisting of one (1) 1000 watt lamp with chimera soft box, two (2) 650 watt lamps, and one (1) 350 watt lamp. The kit comes with stands, scrims, gels, and diffusion; each accessory giving me the flexibility to manipulate the light.

    The Arri kit provides great latitude in an easy-to-transport package. Recently I have also been utilizing china balls while on set. China balls are a great addition to your lighting package and they have several advantages. However, consideration must be given to the type of look you want to achieve before you decide to use them, because china balls aren’t right for every occasion.

    The first thing to consider is the fact that the light coming from a china ball is difficult to trim. You’re dealing with an even and diffused light source, so you will need flags and c-stands to control how the light spills onto the scene.

    Second, if you want to utilize a low-key lighting approach to your set, china balls are probably not the way to go. Since the light output is even, the contrast of the subject is reduced.

    Third, china balls are difficult to gel. You can always purchase daylight balanced bulbs or tungsten bulbs to match the color temperature of your scene, but trying to color correct with gel is more challenging than using lamps with barn doors.

    With these considerations in mind, china balls have some great advantages:

    Light Output

    China balls give you a nice, soft, diffused light source with little effort. If you want to achieve the same look with a lamp from an Arri kit, you would have to add a chimera, or diffusion, add some scrims, adjust the lens, etc. With a china ball, you can simply put it on the stand and plug it in.

    Quick & Efficient

    China balls are quick and easy to set up and use lower wattage bulbs. If you need to shoot a number of on-camera interviews during a grueling run-and-gun kind of day, a china ball is a great asset.


    Since China balls use lower wattage bulbs, they don’t give off nearly as much heat as other tungsten lamps. Therefore, your talent can work under them for longer periods of time without getting too hot.


    Not everyone can invest in a Kino-Flo or Arri kit, but China balls are great because of their pricing and availability. No-budget filmmakers can grab a few of these lights, get out with their cameras and their friends, and shoot some great looking footage.

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    Lessons Learned From No-Budget Filmmaking

    Monday, June 29th, 2009

    Last night marked the end of production for my latest short film If Only. I think everyone is relieved that we have finally wrapped. This particular project was plagued with delays and some unexpected problems, but I feel confident that we will make a solid film with high production values.

    I have made several short films over the years and I have learned a lot about no-budget independent filmmaking. So, for those who also share my passio, allow me to pass on a few lessons that will hopefully help you in your endeavors.

    Don’t let the lack of money prohibit you from getting out and making films. If you have something to say, then say it. But also remember that low-budget

    1. Low budget doesn’t mean low production value. The fact that you have little or no money doesn’t autmatically mean that your film will look horrible. But you have to study the ins and outs of cinematography. Ask questions. Practice your craft. Learn by watching what others are doing. Solid execution will give the impression that you spent more than you actually did.
    2. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. In 2004 I wanted to produce a short comedy. However, I was just getting back into production full-time and I didn’t know too many local filmmakers. So I decided to take on every behind-the-scenes role myself. I was the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer… I did everything, and as a result the quality of the film suffered. When you make it a goal to direct your film, recruit others to work in key positions. For example, having a talented DP on set to light the scene and run the camera will give you much-needed time to rehearse and direct your actors. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and neglect the performances from your talent, unless you have others working with you on set.
    3. Things will not go as planned. This is true of even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, but even more so on low-budget short films. Expect the unexpected. A location will not be available when you need it to be available. An actor will have to reschedule at the last minute because of a conflict with his or her day job. You will get rained out. The police will tell you to shut the whole thing down. You will be forced to eliminate certain camera set-ups (or perhaps entire scenes) due to uncontrollable circumstances. That’s just the way it goes.
    4. Always have a plan “B.” This point is a direct result of point #3. When things go wrong, you need to have a contingency plan in place. If it rains and you have to be outside, how can you re-work the story to incorporate the rain? When the owner of a location needs to pull the plug on you for some unforeseen reason, what can you do to complete the scene? A good producer will help you think through these potential problems before they even happen, so it’s important to go over these issues in pre-production.
    5. Maintain a comfortable pace while in production. When everyone is getting paid thousands (or even millions) of dollars to be involved with a movie, you can afford to work everyone for 16 hours a day, six days a week. However, when you’re on a low-budget short and everyone is working for free, it’s important to remember that they are doing you a tremendous favor by being involved with your film. Pad out the shooting schedule so it isn’t too demanding. At the same time, be up front with those involved and remind them that filmmaking is a time intensive process. You can’t shoot a five-minute film in thirty minutes. Be respectful of their time, and be honest about expectations.

    In my experiences as an independent filmmaker living in Birmingham, I have met a lot of gracious, wonderful people who are eager to see the production industry thrive in this region. And I’m certain that in your own film projects, you will be just as fortunate. Be professional, prepared, courteous, and respectful, and people will want to work with you again and again.

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    Checking Continuity a Breeze When Using P2

    Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009


    In film production continuity is incredibly important. In short, continuity refers to the consistency of actors, props, plot points, locations, events, etc. seen by the viewer. Filmmakers must make sure that if an actor opens a door with his or her left hand on one shot, he/she must do it the same way in subsequent takes. There are people on set whose job is to watch out for these visual errors. It can be very difficult to keep track of all the details within a particular shot, but careful consideration of continuity will make the film seamless.

    Last weekend while shooting a scene for my upcoming short film “If Only,” we ran into a situation that demanded we pay careful attention to the light falling onto the set. That particular day we began filming around 6pm while it was still daylight. It was an interior scene staged against a large window. I wanted the scene to take place in the late afternoon, but I knew that we would never get the coverage we needed before sunset. It was up to our cinematographer to match the lighting in subsequent close-ups with the daylight we saw in the establishing shots.

    Fortunately, we were shooting 720p/24p on a Panasonic HVX-200a. All of our footage was on our P2 cards. The beauty of P2 is that every take it itemized as a separate file. Therefore, users have the ability to go back to any take without the need for rewinding tape. Rewinding tape to review footage can be risky due to possible time code breaks and the potential for recording over important footage. However, with P2, my cinematographer and I were able to review our wide shots from earlier in the day, examine the way the light was falling onto our actors, then match the close-ups accordingly. I think the results were excellent. This is another reason why I am a big fan of solid-state recording.

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