OK – so the first hurdle in zero dollar filmmaking is equipment. This is where the beg or borrow aspect may come into play unless you have dollars to spend on a good camera (or RED rental!) and lighting kit and tripod/crane/steadicam and audio gear – in a perfect world, right? But most of us do not have access to the latest and greatest gear, but almost all of us have access to basic equipment that will get the job done rather nicely, thank you. Where is this equipment? Friends and family – someone should have a camera that could be borrowed for a short time (or better yet, have them be the camera operator!) And today, almost any camera sold at the local audio/video store is of a good enough quality to produce a film. A visit to the latest school function or game and you will see dozens of these in use by moms and dads – and the quality of the picture they shoot is simply amazing for the cost of the camera. In fact, most mobile phones these days shoot excellent HD quality video. There is no reason why a film could not be shot on one of these phones. There is at least one film festival that panders to this crowd, too – only accepts films shot on mobile devices. (http://www.mobilfilmfestival.com/) For a quick comparison, check out my film “There’s Something in the Basement” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi_XtvP7afA) Most of the film was shot on a Canon AH-X1 which produces excellent HDV quality video. (I borrowed it from the school where I am employed.) At 1 minute 38 seconds in the film, I switched to a handheld device for the “Black Hawk Down” look I wanted. (Also look for my nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid just before that… 🙂 The quality of this camera is just fine. (And yep – it was made for zero dollars.)

Lighting kit: Another good thing about these inexpensive and high-quality cameras is that they shoot extremely well with existing light. Now I’m all for experimenting and creating special lighting for the tone and mood necessary, but for zero dollars (and foresight and planning), you can make good use of existing lighting. Exterior lighting in the shade of trees works very well, too, and is a good reason to think about shooting your film outdoors, but we’ll get into Zero Dollar Locations in a later post… For little dollars, I have used droplights that can be picked up at little cost from the local hardware store. I also always carry those half-dome aluminum clip-on lights that have given many of my scenes that necessary extra boost, and the clip-on function is just brilliant. Make sure to carry light bulbs of differing wattage, and you can further tweak on the necessary lighting for the mood and tone of your film.

Tripod: Who needs tripods these days? Everything is handheld and shaky (please note the sarcasm here…) but these little cameras are actually harder to stabilize than a larger camera. Fortunately, most people who would loan you their camera already have a small tripod that goes with it. If not, they can be picked up cheaply at the local store (or keep your eye open at garage sales and find one or two for a dollar – cheap!) Cranes and Steadicams will probably not be in our zero-dollar budgeting, but a little creativity in the field can create shots that have the look and feel of these high dollar shots. (Shoot off of a ladder. Climb a tree. Get on the roof. Get in a ditch. Use a skateboard. Use a wheelchair. Use a remote controlled car or plane! It’s do-able! More on this in a later post.)

Audio: One of the best keep secrets from the real world: this is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. Bad audio is easy to get and hard to fix. And take my word for it: there will be someone weed eating or cutting grass or an ambulance going by – and don’t forget all the airplanes – this invariably happens whenever you yell “Action!” It’s a given. It’s going to happen. Every time. Believe me.

You’ll probably be forced to use the camera mic, and that is too bad, but it can be useable. You’ll just need to watch the outside element noises and keep everyone and everything as quiet as possible. And make sure the actors speak up as needed. Again, I’ll spend a whole blog post on this in the near future.

So now that we have our equipment, what’s next? More later…

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