It’s true what they say; Time flies when you’re having fun. And make no mistake; filmmaking and video production is a heap of fun.
With the next generation of budding filmmakers recently graduated, it suddenly struck me that I started university ten years ago this year. For ten years I’ve been having fun learning my craft, making mistakes, dusting myself off and working at being a better filmmaker. And in that time I am amazed at how much video production has changed, particularly with regard to the accessibility to cinematic production values.
My first ever video camera was the Canon XM2 (see above), and what a little workhorse it was. Compact (at the time) with all the manual features I needed – including built in NDs – Yay! (Which ironically I am without ten years down the line shooting on DSLRs.) No XLR inputs which was a flaw, and of course it was standard definition and shot on MiniDV. Yuk! But I loved it. I saved the year before I started University to buy the camera, a Libec TH-650DV and a Rode NTG2. All in all setting me back the best part of £2000. The choice was quite limited; Canon XM2, XL1s, Sony PD150/170 then you were looking at betacams and shoulder mounted TV broadcast style ENG cams which were £15k upwards.
Fast forward to the present day and high quality production tools and cinematic production values have never been more accessible to the budding low budget filmmaker. Those stylistic tropes that became our measure of what made something cinematic or of a high production value are yours for the taking! From gorgeous super high definition cinema quality visuals with the URSA, rich in dynamic range and vibrant colour, sweeping aerial shots and endless dolly shots with the DJI Inspire, and buttery smooth ‘one take’ tracking shots with the assistance of handheld gimbal systems such as the Ronin.
Working on a low budget feature three years ago we were strapping Go Pro 2’s onto the bottom of a radio controlled plane to get our aerial shots. No visual feed and no telemetry, just guesswork and a lot of wobble from the prevailing wind. Now you can view your aerial visuals and telemetry in HD on your iPad while shooting 4K visuals on a shake free stabilised 3-axis brushless gimbal. And unless it’s blowing a gale your multi rotor will remain stable enough for you to nail every shot.
On that same production we were shooting in a school in some very tight spaces with lots of corridors. Hiding and fixing lighting was a headache to say the least. Low profile LED lighting has come on leaps and bounds over the past couple of years and it is now possible to light literally anywhere battery powered and cable free if needed.
The advancement in aerial video production with the combination of multi rotor systems and stabilised gimbal mounted cameras is for me one of the most exciting advancements in video production in recent years and the crazy thing is it is still in it’s absolute infancy. Consumer video enabled RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) have really only been around for the past couple of years and every six months there seems to be a giant step forward in quality. It’s quite nuts to think that DJI released the original Phantom 1 in January 2013 and it had no stabilisation and required videographers to attach a locked off Go Pro and any additional downlink / telemetry had to be added by the end user.
And it’s not just production gear that is more accessible to filmmakers. Adobe Story provides an all encompassing script development and screenplay writing application, and a condensed version (Adobe Story Free) is you guessed it, FREE with a free Adobe Creative Cloud membership.
Similarly the inclusion of a condensed version of Maxons Cinema 4D 3D design software (Cinema 4D Lite) in Adobe After Effects means high end CGI is at your finger tips, and blogs like videocopilot.net and greyscalegorilla.com offer filmmakers, and artists an invaluable resource and the knowledge to begin implementing these incredible technologies into their productions.
And this is all available from your laptop – wow. That’s worth a double take in itself. You can write, edit, deliver 3D visuals, grade and deliver for cinema all from a single laptop. What an amazing time for indie filmmakers.
There is one thing that hasn’t changed however and likely never will, and that’s financing your film. There’s no way around it, getting your movie, your short or passion project financed is hard, there’s no rule book and no equipment or software you can buy that will find you investors (but if such software exists, please let me know!) But with access to so many bells and whistles across the whole production process it’s never been a better time to get that high-end teaser produced to help you get it made.