How To Pick The Best Tools For Your Low Budget Film
American psychologist Barry Schwartz argued in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, that too many choices increase anxiety for shoppers. The book starts with an interesting dialogue between him and a salesperson. It goes like this:
“I want a pair of jeans – 32-28,” I said. “Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?” she replied. “Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular” —quoted from the Prologue, The Paradox of Choice, 2004
You may wonder how this relates to making a low budget film?
Quite a lot!
Think of the hours, days, and sleepless nights filmmakers spend reading, researching, consulting and trying to figure out if they should edit on a Mac or a PC? After endless deliberations he or she finally decides for Final Cut, but what about the plugins? Which ones are better? Which one does she need? Then the whole process starts again to pick the “right camera.” Which one is “the best”? There are so many choices: SLR, HD, 4K, whatever!
New mindset = New results
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do any research at all, but make the decisions quickly and move on. There is no reason to obsess over every single feature a product may or may not have, because the fact is that you’ll never use or need many of those features. But the biggest issue with too many choices, besides of elevating anxiety, is that it negates creativity by over-relying on technology.
So which tool are the best for your low budget film?
The ones with the fewer features, fewer buttons and fewer options. For example, all you need from a camera is this:
- Manual exposure of some kind
- HD or higher
- Input for a mike (any kind!)
- A telephoto/zoom lens
- A viewfinder to monitor the action
- A “Record” button
Noise ratio, SLR, filters, etc. are all conversations that only distract you from your main purpose: To make a compelling movie, and that can be done with an iPhone. Yes, you can. So how about the the 5d? Excellent! But stop there. No need to get wrapped up into the arguments of Mark I vs Mark II vs Mark whatever. They’re all good.
Don’t buy into the advertising, or the “paid” reviews, or whatever your geek friends are telling you. A good movie at the end is the one that connects with the audience at an emotional level. If you can’t achieve that with your story and your actors, a pile of tech-toys won’t help you.
Think outside the box… actually get rid of the box!
During the production, especially during the actual shooting and post, the less options you have the better because you’ll concentrate on shooting and not experimenting with features, buttons and options. No special feature in any camera beats your own creativity to make something unique.
Same principle applies for the editing. Forget plugins and stick to the basics of editing as opposed to playing around with plugins that everybody else uses (or do you think we don’t know you’re using a plugin?). Even the iMovie app can do a good job.
Think minimal. This will allow for your creativity to take over rather than relying on something pre-made and generic.
All the research shows that limited choices reduces anxiety and stress, and when you’re shooting a movie you want less stress and less anxiety. Instead you want full control and the ability to move fast.
Step 1: Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Go through your script and write down a list of the basic tools you’ll need for “your” story. During this first step just write down what comes to mind. You need a jibe for scene number 10? Sure. A crane? Why not? A helicopter? Easy! Don’t think of the budget. Just write whatever you think you need.
Step 2: Now go through every every single choice you wrote down and figure out how much it’ll cost, including rental or purchase, setup time, crew you need, etc. Be realistic. Are you starting to get the picture?
Step 3: Simplify. Eliminate every single tool that will slow down your production or requires more than one crew member to setup. Maybe for one scene you think you need a jibe. Why? Eliminate it. Do it quickly. Don’t think about it. Jibe shots are too complicated for a low budget film. Come up with a more creative alternative. Think about your story. What emotions are you trying to convey? What is a better alternative? Think story! Not tools!
In summary, do not to worry about the tools and concentrate on the story. With limited choices your creativity will be fired up and you’ll achieve your goal faster and better.
Brainstorm a compelling scene you could shoot in a couple of hours. Maybe it’s about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend a day before their wedding, or a son telling his mom he just robbed a bank, or a prank, or a little scary situation, anything. Think of something “explosive”. No need to be timid in this process.
Pick any camera you have at your disposal, including your iPhone or Android. Get an adapter for the mike, and connect any mike; you want some decent sound.
Use no lights other then available lights. If you’re using props, just use something you already own.
Maybe you have a motorcycle or a turtle, so incorporate them into the story.
Whatever you do don’t over complicate it. Rehearse the action and then shoot it. Be creative, think of clever angles and cinematic movements that can enhance the story. Concentrate only on the story.
Edit it in the afternoon, and yes you can edit it in your iPhone.
Once finished upload it to YouTube. Who knows, maybe it goes viral!
Maybe you feel you should submit it to festivals? Go for it!
You just made a film with very few options and you put all the effort on the story.
Congratulations and stay focused!