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DIY Filmmaking: Building Your Film Kit

Let’s say you’ve just graduated film school. You’ve managed to convince investors (AKA your parents) to give you $5000 to start your career. What equipment should you buy for your film kit?

Camera

There is really no right answer in this category, it all depends on what you’ll be shooting and your personal preference. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a camera unless you’re sure it will pay for itself. While REDs and other high-end cameras may be alluring, going the DSLR route is definitely a much better choice for beginners.

Good Choices:
  • Panasonic AF100A: $2000
  • Panasonic GH4: $1700
  • Canon 7Dii: $1500
  • Canon 70D: $1000
  • Olympus E-M5 II: $1000

Lenses

If you know what to look for and are comfortable going second hand, this is the area to do it, but don’t cheap out! Your glass is honestly more important than the camera behind it. The focal lengths you choose will depend on the sensor size of your camera, but I would recommend getting a couple good zooms and 24mm and 50mm equivalent primes.

Tripod

A good set of sticks with a fluid head is another essential for any filmmaker. Manfrotto is the standard but can get quite pricey so shop around. Pay attention to the load capacity and make sure you’re not going to exceed it. The Manfrotto 190X3 is great if you have a DSLR, but put a video camera on it and you’ll quickly pass the 8 lb. limit. Expect to pay $300-$500 for a decent set of legs. I also keep a cheap photo tripod for use in sand, mud and other environments that might be damaging.

Audio Equipment

You’ll need at least a shotgun mic for shooting with a DSLR, but a couple of lavalieres are a good investment as well. If you’ll be doing dramatic shooting you’ll probably need wireless lavs, but for interviews I love my Sony ECM-77s. The good thing with mics is that if you treat them right, they’ll last forever, so don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money here. Don’t forget to budget for a recorder and some cables as well.

Accessories

Lighting, shoulder rigs, extra batteries, data storage… you could easily spend your entire budget again on accessories and specialized equipment. Ask yourself what you’ll be shooting the most and prioritizemy_collections-0012-WEB your shopping list based on that. Will you be doing a lot of corporate work? Then you’ll probably want a good lighting kit. Dramatic projects? Maybe you can get away with homemade lighting and some C-stands and a field monitor are a better choice. Get what you need before getting what you want.

Dylan’s Kit:

Here’s what I would buy. As most of my experience is with Canon, that’s what I’m sticking with. I do more doc projects than drama, so I kept that in mind, and built a kit that works for corporate jobs as well.

Keep in mind there are always rebates and other deals that you can find. With those I might be able to knock another couple hundred off my final price.

Camera and Lenses
  • Canon 7Dii w/ kit lens: $1800
  • Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6: Included
  • Canon 24-70 2.8 (Used): $1000
  • Canon 50 1.8 (Used): $80
  • Canon 28 1.8 (Used): $350
Tripod
  • Manfrotto 190X3: $300
Audio
  • Røde NTG2 Shotgun Kit: $250
  •  Shock Mount: Included
  •  1.5’ XLR: Included
  • Sony ECM-77 Lav: $280
  • Zoom H4N: $200
  • 20’ XLR: $15
Extras
  • Lowel Pro-Visions Light Kit: $450
  • Extra LP-E6 Battery: $35
  • 32GB SD Card (x2): $60
  • Pelican 1510 Hard Case: $165

Total cost: $4985

Go shoot some films and make your parents investors proud!

Indie Filmmaking 101: Casting Without A Casting Director

One of the most daunting aspects of indie filmmaking is casting. You might have a great script and crew – but your cast will make or break your film.

A casting director acts as a bridge between actor and director, and their expertise should not be underestimated. But you don’t have a budget for one. Now what?

Casting-Call-2-470x260 Before The Audition

Actors need to work with the character’s raw material. This can include the script sample (sides) that the actor performs during the audition, character bios, and story synopses if available. A well-prepared actor will absorb this information resulting in an informed and truthful performance.

Remember that when a director assumes the role of casting director, it’s important to create an environment where the actor can flourish. You are a facilitator and collaborator not a gatekeeper; enable their full potential rather than intimidate.

Choosing The Scene

Choosing an audition scene is a key decision. It should be a high stakes, dialogue driven, one-on-one interaction. Actors love tension because it gives them the best opportunity to showcase their abilities.

Dialogue is the easiest way to observe the choices the actor is making. Action-based scenes are harder to manage without a set and camera movement. One-on-one moments or monologues allow the character to be the point of focus.

The Setup

A simple setup is best – use a single camera on a tripod to capture the audition. Make sure the actor knows how the shot is framed so they can freely use movement without worrying about being out of frame.

If you already have an actor cast, use them as your reader. If not, the writer or producer will work. Just be sure the reader you do choose is sitting out of frame. It’s also important that your reader has an understanding of the script and context of the scene being read. The director should be solely focused on observing performances.

On audition day, your preparation will pay off. When the actor enters, introduce yourself and ask if they have any questions. Show them their mark, have them slate (say their name and role they’re reading for) into the camera and let the audition begin!

The Audition: Expect The Unexpected

This is where it starts to get interesting…

Why are they playing this character with a lisp?

This character would never be that harsh!

And really…do they need to be doing a headstand?

Directors often experience moments of terror when actors make unexpected choices. While it may look like the actor is just trying to stand out, any choices they make are ones they believe in.

Greet seemingly odd choices with an open mind. They give you the chance to gauge the actor’s range and ability to take direction. If a character is being played too harshly, see how they adjust to a request for a tender approach. Explain why the character would act in this way so the actor can rationalize the adjustment. Then run the scene again.

If you want to dig deeper with a promising actor or if you’re on the fence, a great exercise to try is interviewing or just chatting with the actor ‘in character’. Actors who have come prepared will relish the opportunity to explore their character. Improv exercises like this can be as valuable a tool as the scene being read.

We’ve only touched on a few aspects of casting. If you give actors the best opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and inform your vision for the film, you’ve made the most of the casting process.