Independent Digital
Feature Production

Creating Digital Movies

Production

by Malcolm Ferrier - Director of STOP

Locations

STOP - A Film by Malcolm Ferrier Steal them until you can afford to rent them. Just use common sense and donít get caught (e.g. film the gunplay away from the tourists).

Camera

Hi8 MiniDV - It's like the difference between a scooter and a BMW. Use whatever youíve got or can afford. I started STOP with an analog Hi-8 camera but the quality and the difficulty of converting the video to a digital format for editing made me go out and buy a Sony DCR-HC20 MiniDV camera. Iíd highly recommend the MiniDV format for those who donít have unlimited funds. It looks good, itís affordable, itís digital, and itís easy to manipulate in a digital editing environment.

Home-built Steadicam Home-built Steadicam Disassembled Iíd also recommend a tripod for steady shots and a home-built steadicam for camera movement. I adapted Johnny Chung Leeís design to make the steadicam I use in STOP.

Filming

I wonít say much about framing because this is where the art of filmmaking and the directorís individual taste and creativity comes to the fore, but make sure you capture the action you need to tell your story in a creative way.

Set your focus, exposure, and white balance to manual and learn how to use them. Experiment. Keep your image in focus (unless itís out of focus for a stylistic reason). A good trick is to zoom in close to the central character or object, focus, and then zoom out for the shot. Exposure should be altered until the image is dark enough to capture all the tonal detail (but not too dark). A good practice is to use the cameraís auto-exposure as an initial setting and then use your eye for a final adjustment. Bring a white piece of paper to help set your white balance. Have your on-camera character hold the white paper, zoom in until the paper fills the entire frame, then set the white balance. Zoom out for the shot.

Turn off your image stabilization for tripod shots as it degrades your image but turn it on for steadicam shots.

Lighting

For STOP I chose to light in a documentary style to make the film seem more real (and because we didnít have the time, freedom, or budget to set up large lighting rigs at borrowed locations). By this I mean the scenes used natural and existing lighting (i.e. turning on every light in the place) supplemented by a cheap hanging work lamp from Home Depot. Iíd put in the brightest bulb I could find and then use whatever was available for a diffuser (a piece of paper, gym socks, etc.) Iíd just need to make sure the diffuser didnít burst into flames.

Sound

Audio-Technica ATR55 Shotgun Microphone (Attached to Sony DCR-HC20 MiniDV Camera) Audio-Technica ATR55 Shotgun Microphone Getting good live sound is often harder than recording the corresponding video. The Sony HC20 cameraís onboard microphone did not provide great audio, so I bought a cheap Audio-Technica ATR55 Shotgun microphone that attaches to the top of the camera. Having a directional microphone like this can help to pick up the actorís lines more effectively in a noisy location.

Itís also a good idea to ask your cast and crew (if any) to be quiet for 30 seconds so you can record some ambient sound from the location. This will be invaluable if you have to plug any sound holes in post-production.

The better you can record the live sound of your actors on location the better your final product will turn out (and the less work youíll have to do after wrapping the production process.)

One Last Important Thing

Bring lots of fully charged spare batteries. Running out of power on location after the difficult process of bringing everyone together makes you a big idiot.

Post-Production

Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier