“How To Make Your First Short Film” (part 3 of 3)

We’re back, for the third and final piece in this short filmmaking series of articles. In the first two pieces, we discussed music, (some) audio, lighting, shooting, writing, and a bit of acting. This time around, we will dicuss the final pieces- sound recording, video editing, and audio editing.

Now, I’ve already gotten a lot of feedback about the “raunchy” and “nasty” and “disgusting” sound effects in our short film, “The Minute Glass” (found here). The sounds include a straight razor scraping against someone’s neck, and the razor actually cutting into the neck, with a bit of a blood squirt sound added here and there for effect. Let me explain how it is we did that:

Sound Recording (AKA, foley)

Foley is the art of recording sound effects for a film to recreate everything happening on screen, as these sounds are typically either not picked up while filming, or at least, not picked up very well during filming. After the edit is complete, a list of all required sound effects is built, then given to the foley artist to go out and reproduce. In our case on “The Minute Glass”, we required a phone ringing, a straight razor scraping a neck, a straight razor actually cutting the flesh on the neck, blood squirts, boots walking on hard tile, etc. Most of these are very easy to reproduce, and require very little work or thought.

However, the cutting of the throat is what we’ll refer to here. For this, it was very simple, yet it took a bit of creativity (and coincidence). The creativity part was a simple idea- record a watermelon being cut into, then subsequently, being ripped open in half. The lucky coincidence was it being summer, and we had just purchased some watermelon during the day of our shoot (specifically to eat, so we kind of got two birds with one stone!). Layered in with the edited video, this sound improved the scene drastially, though it needed a little bit more. For this, I added Video Copilot’s Action Essentials 2 blood squirt sounds, which I only peppered throughout a bit. To make things more intense, we recorded my heart-beat with our Zoom H4N. We added in the heartbeat, and, with some audio-editing techniques, made it speed up as he was cutting his throat, then come to a halt as he finished. Combined with music (see the first article here), the scene was tense, and I was very happy with the outcome. Audio editing and mixing is a vast subject, worth many articles of explanation on its own, so we’ll save the rest of this subject for another time.

Video Editing

Now on to the actual editing. You will need some sort of video editing software. We use Sony Vegas Pro 12 right now, but are trying out Avid Media Composer on our next project. Windows Movie Maker, or iMovie can be used to an extent, but I would reccomend something at least a little bit better. Sony Vegas Movie Studio starts at $49.95, and HitFilm 2 Express is in the $150 range. These have color correction and grading tools built in, so you will have everything you need to get started making professional-looking short films, and for a cheap price, as compared to the $600+ price range for programs like Vegas Pro, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or Avid.
Learn to use the editing software as best as you can. For this, there are tons of tutorials on YouTube that will show you how to do specific things in whichever program you need to learn in. Take your footage, and compile it in one folder, titled “Insert Film Title”, Footage. Provided you used an external audio recorder, do the same, but “Insert Film Title”, Audio. This is the setup we use, and it is very easy to simply drag from your card’s storage into these new folders. As soon as that is done, it is best to immediately backup this footage and audio, on either a flash drive, secondary SD card, or an external hard drive. You never know what can happen in the cyber-realm. Once that is completed, I usually open my video editor, and create my titles (which usually just starts out with “Vintage Image Films Presents”, and some sort of textual description). After that, I immediately begin dragging my footage into the program. Since I keep my camera’s built in audio turned on, it drags in an audio piece attached to the video. I keep this here so I can sync up my external audio later on. I take the first shots (not necessarilly the first clips we shot, but the first scene for the film, at least. We shoot out of order completely) and begin to trim them as I see fit.
This process will be further covered in our upcoming behind the scenes for the film.

Color Correcting The Footage

After I have at least one scene trimmed, chopped, and pieced together, I start my color correcting. Don’t confuse color correcting for color grading. We’ll get to that. The coloring process is where I take the visual color tones that I had decided upon (it is always best to decide what look you want before filming, so you can light and shoot for that particular look), and bring them out. I use a basic three-way color wheel. It has color tones for the highlights, mids, and shadows (in Vegas Pro, these are labelled “low” “mid”, & “high”). Typically, I balance the lows to the dark or light blue range. It gives a very subtle dark, psychological look to the footage, but it can make skin tones look too pink. To counter this, I take the mids into the yellow-green range, bringing back the skin tones, and not affecting much other aspects of the clip. Afterward, the highs are either put also into the blue range, or the green range, depending on what the background was, what lights I used, and what color of clothes the actors wore. In this color correcting plugin, I also have control of saturation, gamma and gain. I really enjoy what is called a bleach-bypass look. This was a technique used on film stock development where they would intentionally the bleaching of the negative. It has what could be called a very “filmish” look, and works for horror films, and psychological thrillers very well. To achieve this, I reduce some of the saturation and gamma, which removes some color and adds more contrast to the shadows, then I boost the gain, which blows out the whites and “over exposes” them. To me, it looks very pleasing when used in dark films with deep, psychological themes.

Color-Grading (not to be confused with correcting)

Now, the part about the bleach-bypass look technically fits into the grading category, and not the correcting. Color correcting is where you use the color wheels to match each clip’s color tones to each other, making a seamless transition between to different angles that probably had at least slightly different lighting, which in turn, creates at least, slightly different color ranges. Color grading is where a lot of the actual “look of the film” comes full circle. To do this, I open up several other plugins. Brightness & Contrast, Unsharpen Mask, Sharpening, and sometimes, Color Curves. I really don’t use the “brighten” tool inside Brightness & Contrast, instead, I only focus on the contrast. I add just a bit to make the colors, highlights, and shadows pop more vividly. After this, I add some sharpening, to bring out scars/marks on the actors faces, as well as to remove what might look “blurry”, or “fuzzy” to some. This results in a very sharp, slightly grainy (which I love) HD image that will surely pierce the hearts and minds of audiences. No? Okay then, moving on. Unsharpen mask is a tool that basically does the same thing as sharening, only, instead of focusing mostly on the image as a whole, it will, more or less, only sharpen the outlines of objects within the frame. After this I open up my Pan/Crop, unclick “maintain aspect ratio”, and drag the frame into each other a bit, which adds the faux widescreen bars (even though I am shooting in 23.976fps, 1080p, 16:9 widescreen, the bars do not show up on YouTube, which, for the time being, is the main place I am releasing my stuff). And below, you will see the before and after of a raw frame, to the corrected frame. Voila! And that is how it’s done!


Image16  before corrections & grading

Image15 after corrections & grading



Stay tuned for our upcoming making of, which will show the making of our film, interviews, and most importantly, will give you knowledge on how to make your own.

So if you feel I’ve shorthanded you on this article, don’t fret. There will be a long documentary to help you even further!

Written by Kyle Oliver, 7/16/2014

Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated filmmaker for his first short film Numb, which he wrote and directed. He is also the CEO/Owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver, and Vintage Image Films on Facebook at


How To Make Your First Short Film, (part 2 of 3)

Image3 screenshots from the film courtesy of Vintage Image Films, copyright 2014


Hello all! Yesterday, we (being us here at Vintage Image Films!) released our second official short film, “The Minute Glass”, about a man who must kill himself before the time on a minute glass runs out, or else his wife will be killed by the people who are robbing him. The film was shot for zero dollars and zero cents, and will be linked to at the end of this article. 


I emphasize the non-existent budget because I want my readers to understand the value of that statement. It isn’t a brag, or a flashy thing to show around, because sometimes, a zero-budget can actually be frowned upon. I am merely attempting to demonstrate that a film CAN be made for no money (minus equipment costs, which never count as part of the budget on a film, unless rented specifically for that film). Perhaps a zero budget film will not be the next Hollywood blockbuster, but it can be an artsy, well-crafted piece of cinema made with love, (fake) blood, sweat, stress and immense passion. The key ingredient we had for our film was a script, intentionally written to fit our circumstances. The script contained 4 characters, a minute glass, a cell phone, a straight-razor and some fake blood, which we already had lying around.

Now for the most part, I did everything myself, with a little bit of help from my great collaborator Vincent Diamond, a talented cinematographer and sound editor. To go into depth on our process would not take much time as it was very simple, quick, and to the point. And so I shall elaborate.

Writing The Script.

To start, I wrote the script by myself in about a day. I had planned some sort of home-invasion flick where a man and his wife would be intruded by some robbers who are neck deep in trouble from the mob, needing some quick cash to pay them back. So they would choose, at random, my character’s home, kidnap the wife, and hold her for ransom until they got the cash they needed from her husband. But I knew I didn’t have the necessary actors for this, so I decided against showing the actual invasion in-lieu for showing the aftermath. With that, I knew I had a minute glass and a cool straight-razor, so I wrote them into the story. The story we filmed is as follows: James McDermott (the husband) must kill himself within 60 seconds, so a second robber can safely come in and take the money out of his lockbox, and bring it back to the main robber, who has James’ wife, Stella. If James does not complete this in 60 seconds, they will all die, as bombs are triggered to every watch, clock, and glass, in the film. Of course, the robbers were not dumb enough (or smart enough) to set this elaborate plan up themselves. They would never put themselves in death’s reach. It has all been set up by the mob (who are never present on screen, and only mentioned vaguely), who the robbers owe money to. Well, long story short, James does not complete killing himself before the glass runs out, and right after he finishes slicing his own throat with the straight-razor, he hears his wife explode via speakerphone on a private cell phone call from the robber. The second robber comes inside and sees James. He checks the lockbox only to find there actually never was any money in it in the first place, but a vulgar note telling them to “eff off”. The robber finishes James off with a gun, then smokes a cigarette as his clock counts down until the room explodes……       FADE OUT.


Now when I wrote this, I knew I had CGI bomb effects, and explosion sound effects at my disposal, as well as muzzle flashes for guns, gun sounds, and a realistic-looking airsoft gun “prop” (I ended up not using the CGI explosion as I found cutting to black seemed more effective). Sometimes, I log information like this into my brain, and when I go to write a script, it comes out as needed. I always write for what I know I have, and my brain seems to actively help me do this on its own.

Image14 Video Copilot’s Action Essentials 2

Shooting The Film.

Before shooting, I planned out all of the shots via shot lists (free film paperwork can be found here). The shot lists comprise all of your angles, camera movements, and short descriptions of shots on an easily-readable document, so you can work as smoothly and quickly as possible on-set. The way to write your shot list is to know your script by heart, close your eyes, and watch your film in your head, cut for cut, shot for shot, and transcribe what you see into properly-formatted terms.

SHOT LIST-1 a sample shot list from “L.A. Confidential”, based on the novel by James Ellroy.

Once I had the shot list in place, it was time to make a list of all props, set decoration (like chairs, furniture, tables, etc), clothes that would be worn (wardrobe), the actual gear, and extra things like fake blood, clothes-pins, etc. Our gear comprises of a Nikon D3100 DSLR camera, two lenses (the 18mm-55mm kit lens, and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D), a Zoom H4N external audio-recorder, many PNY Professional-Grade SD cards, a fluid-head tripod, a pair of headphones for audio monitoring, “can” lights with fluorescent, halogen, and incandescent light-bulbs, white poster board to use as what’s called a “bounce” (for reflecting light to your subject when you don’t require the full light directly on it), and finally, miscellaneous items such as thick black construction paper to wrap around the lights, guiding their flow exactly where you want it, and a thousand or more clothes-pins to clip the construction paper onto the lights.

5-Portable H4n_slant the Nikon D3100 & Zoom H4N external audio recorder- just like we used on our film.

We set up our first angle, and filmed the entire scene in one take, three separate times, noting continuity things, such as, I pick up the straight-razor with my right hand, I use the phone on my right ear, etc. This is necessary in order to make sure each angle matches the next, because, contrary to popular belief, a lot of sets do not use multiple cameras filming at the same time, but instead, film the same scene several times from different angles, using one camera. This is where editing comes into play, but we’ll get to that. We filmed the same scene three times from one angle, moved the camera to a different angle, filmed the same exact thing three more times, switched the angle, did it three more times again, and so on, so forth. (I prefer to do this as a director to not only make sure I have all of the coverage I need, but to assure myself that at least some portion of each three takes per angle will be good enough for use)

After this, we filmed what are called insert shots. Insert shots are things that are not your main subject (which is usually the actor(s)), but sometimes need to be focused upon to establish certain elements, and if not for important reasons, to at least develop a bit of style in the film. Cases of insert shots in my film are closeups of my hand grabbing the straight-razor and/or cell phone, turning the minute glass over, and the final robber grabbing the candle to light his cigarette. These shots are great for establishing small portions of the location, as well as establishing important objects within the scene, which in my film’s case, the objects are almost characters in themselves.

Image12 screenshot from the film

Lighting The Scene.

Now we come to lighting, which probably should have been mentioned before filming, but I wanted to save it for last, as it can be the most tricky aspect. My philosophy on lighting, and my cinematographer Vincent Diamond’s views on it as well, are to walk on set, hook up a light in the one location you know for a fact you want one. In our case, we wanted a sort of quazi-noir look, so we placed the first light directly above the actor (me) and table, which gave off a sort of “interrogation scene” vibe, and I liked it. But if you know anything about filmmaking, you’ll know that one light is never enough. I knew I wanted an immense amount of shadowing on the right side of my face, so we placed another light at about the same level I was sitting, directly facing me, to the left, which gave the intended effect. Looking through the camera, I was fairly happy, but I needed a bit more. Suddenly, we got the wild idea to place a third light underneath the glass table I was sitting at, which shined up through, lit my chin up, and gave a sort of supernatural-surreal look to the scene, as light would never normally pour out from under the table in real life. Looking through the camera, I saw that it wasn’t too obvious (because you never want viewers to really notice what you’re doing, where lights are, what’s a dubbed sound and what’s not). I was really happy with the overall look, so we used it.

Image11 the look of the film is dark, with deep contrasted shadows, and semi-washed-out highlights.

That’s my, and Vincent’s, ideology on lighting a scene. Walk in, set your camera up at the particular angle you like, start with one light, make sure it looks good through the camera’s lens (because what might look good with your eyes might look bad through a lens), and continue building upon it, one light at a time, because one light is never enough (unless your one light is the Sun, then you might actually need something to diffuse it!).


That’s all for this part. Next (and final) volume, I shall discuss the entire editing, color correcting, and color-grading process, as well as sound effects, and sound editing.

Don’t forget that we are doing an in-depth “behind the scenes” documentary which will teach you all you need to know to make your first short film for nothing (as well as being overloaded with my own cinematic opinions).

And finally, don’t forget to watch the actual short film you just read so much about! You can find it here.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for watching! Feel free to leave comments, criticism and concerns in the comments section.

written by Kyle Oliver, 7/10/2014

Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated filmmaker for his first short film Numb, which he wrote and directed. He is also the CEO/Owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver, and Vintage Image Films on Facebook at 

“How To Make Your First Short Film”, (part 1 of 3)


a screen grab from our upcoming film, “The Minute Glass”.

Howdy there, partners! I’m blazing hot off the trail of finishing my first (official) feature-length screenplay, a western, entitled “The Legende Immortal”. Now I know I’ve been talking a lot about this film in particular, so I thought I’d move to more refreshing subject matter. The matter of the short film.
As you may know, my first official short film, “Numb” –a story about the inner monologues (thoughts) of a man that take place while he is killing his wife, then subsequently chopping up her body, and putting it into a body bag, before contemplating his own suicide– was nominated for a Best Short Film award. The film was completed for a budget right under $5. A lot of people have asked how it was done, and my last article sort of, kind of, perhaps possibly maybe, covered that. In short, the article spoke of writing scripts for the assets you already know you have. In my case, I had a couple of friends, a gigantic trash bag, a saw, and some fake blood. These were things that I already had lying around, and so I put them to the best use I could. This usage got me my first nomination, 4 out of 4 review, and even an interview.

So how do you go about making your first short film? I am now onto my official second short film, called “The Minute Glass”, and I’m going to use it as a vehicle to help you all out with your own short film project, including a soon to come, in depth, behind the scenes video that will cover our process from start to finish. In our case, I have amassed a large array of cool objects to be used as props. But even if you, personally, do not own a bunch of cool items, don’t fret. Just find things you DO have and put them to the best use. One problem I have that is of ill-fortune is that, typically, I will never know your particular circumstances, therefore, I cannot write your script for you. But with ingenuity and creativity, you should be able to pull off something great. Find some friends (or A friend) willing to help you, either behind, or in front of the camera, and use your script and adapt that to the screen as best as you can. Keep in mind that equipment isn’t particularly the most important of matters. In fact, on your first several shorts, you will usually be forgiven for bad video/audio quality as long as the actual story quality is there.

A few things you should know, whether you are shooting on a home video camera with no external microphone (meaning, you are using only the built in camera microphone, and not an audio recorder or other recording source), or filming on a cell phone, or even if you have the latest high tech, prosumer gear like the Canon C300, with the highest-end Sennheiser shotgun and lavalier microphones, one of the most important things to ever remember is called room noise.

Room Noise.

Room noise is that particular background frequency you will pick up, no matter how great your microphone is or isn’t. The better the mic, the less background noise, of course, but never fear. If you’ve cut some footage, and noticed a very clear and obvious difference between audio recorded from one cut to the next, there is a fix. Even if you filmed in the same room, just different angles for different actors, there will ALWAYS be a noticeable difference in background frequency. Here is how to fix it:
Take your microphone (or camera with built in audio), and sit it stationary, either on the tripod, table, etc. Let the camera or audio device record for a while, without moving it, touching it, or even making a sound. Leave the room if you can. This is what you will layer under all of the audio shot in that particular location. If you are outside, do the same thing. Take at least one minute’s worth of blank audio in EVERY SINGLE LOCATION!!! Even if the scene is longer than one minute, you can always loop the same track multiple times in post-production. This technique is used on every film you’ve ever seen, and will help your audio out tremendously, in-lieu with good audio mixing skills. “But we’re talking about film, not audio.” Keep in mind that audio is either just as important, or more important, than video, depending on who you ask. The best looking footage in the world will look like crap if the audio sounds like crap. It is not always necessarily the same when the roles are vice versa. Bad video can only be improved by great audio, as long as the video isn’t “that bad”, whatever that may mean.

Shot Lists.

When you’re finished with your script, one of the most basic things you can do is to write out a shot list that is easily interpreted by your cast, crew, and most importantly, yourself. A great, and typical way of labelling the shots for your slate, is to assign a letter to each scene, and a number to each shot within that scene. Therefore, the first scene, hypothetically taking place in “Billy’s Room”, would be “Scene A”. The first shot of “Billy typing on his computer”, would be “Shot 1”. So you would label the shot as “1A”, and so forth. Scene 2 would be “Scene B”, and you would start over again at “Shot 1” for that scene. “1B”, “5C”, “8D”, so on and so forth. Other things to include in your shot list might be your actual shots, like if you plan to film Billy with an extreme close up, you would label it as “ECU”, and then specify if there are any camera movements, such as an upward pan, left pan, or a simple static shot, labelled “static”. Then, if you wish, place a description of the shot next to the other information.


Another thing that helps the entire film tremendously is music. In my case, I happen to be a long-term musician (going on 8 years), so I know how to compose the scores for any type of film I do. Perhaps that is not your case. If you can’t compose your own music, there are plenty of websites where you can either buy, or get music for free. And they have large libraries of music to choose from, so you’ll be in a good position to find the music that’s right for your film.
Other finishing touches (aside from the edit, which you control), are sound effects. As afforementioned, there are also websites where you can either buy, or find for free, great stock sound effects, ranging from gun shots, punches, blood squirts, cars zooming by, tires squealing, and much, much more. The sound depends on your project, as does the music. If it is horror, blood squirts and gun shots might be exactly what you need.


This is the end of this article, but there will be much more to come as we move forward on our short film in the forthcoming days, and I will share our behind the scenes in-depth video, as well as the actual short film, on July 9th. I hope these tips have been of help! If there are any topics you would like for me to cover, don’t be afraid to speak out in the comments section!

Written by Kyle Oliver, 6-23-14

Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated filmmaker for his first short film Numb, which he wrote and directed. He is also the CEO/Owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver, and Vintage Image Films on Facebook at

“How To Write Great Original Screenplays, Part 2 of 3

224 (1 of 1)

Hello, all! We’re back again with some more story-telling-talk. As of this writing on 6/14/2014, I have finished my full length supernatural/western-thriller screenplay, “The Legende Immortal”, a currently untitled horror short film script, three more articles, and one subtextual film criticism. The reason I speak of this is not to gloat (okay, perhaps a bit of gloating), but to further explain how much I have already learned since I wrote part 1 of this “how to”, just two months back.

With that said, one of the most major differences in my writing (and filmmaking) from just two months back, is that now I have learned to not be so picky about things. You know, the way some people want to write, or make movies, or do this and that, that and this, so bad, but they never do, almost as if they are waiting and waiting for the perfect idea to come to them first? Yeah, that was me. In two months of making myself stick to my guns and JUST WRITE, I have learned that’s all it takes.


In theory, this might seem easier said than done, but if you want to write, there is no other way to do it than just doing it, just like a guitar player cannot learn to play guitar by simply wanting to learn to play guitar. As I want to work my way up to the status of Quentin Tarantino, a guitarist might want to work his way up to the status of Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen, but he cannot simply get there by just wanting to get there. He must practice every day, and bleed for his art, and sweat for his art. He must become frustrated, and weep for his art. There is simply no other way around it.

And just like a guy who wants to learn metal guitar might have to start out with something more simplistic, like an “A Minor” chord, an aspiring writer may have to start out with something more simplistic also, before he may work his way up to innovation. Most won’t have the skillset to write a new screenplay every single friggen’ day, at the beginning, and sometimes even at the most advanced stages. That is not the point. The point is to find things to excersise your muscles with, to grind your teeth on. Take film criticism, or even more specifically, as aforementioned, subtextual film criticism. Subtextual film criticism is something you might have to do in a college-leve film appreciation class, and to some (or most), it might not be fun. It is the practice of noting, and critiquing, underlying and intrinsic themes in a film. Sometimes, these are not things the averge film-goer will notice is actually there. For instance, story elements, particular shots, angles, camera movements. Why a particular event in the story might effect the character in a certain way.
A good place to go for things like this is straight to the classics; Homer, Shakespeare, and even into classic cinema like “Taxi Driver”, “Rear Window”, “I Bury The Living”, and “Once Upon A Time In The West”. These types of films, plays, and stories are filled with deep, underlying subtexts that can bring light to the characters motives, emotions, and roles in the story. To write a subtextual film criticism, you simply have to notice, take note, and then critique whether or not you think the creator(s) did a good job at conveying said subtexts. Another fun part is that, as a critic of such things, these can all be your opinion, because in most cases, we will never truly know if it was “all in Travis Bickle’s head”, or if he was just lonely (Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, played by a young Robert DeNiro). The subtext is as you see it and feel it, and it doesn’t even necessarily have to make sense to anybody but you, as long as it works in context of your critique.

Now, I know this headline was “How To Write Great Original Screenplays”, not “How To Write Great Subtextual Film Criticism”, but I wouldn’t suggest anything I didn’t think would truly improve your overall writing capabilities. That aside, there are other alternatives to flexing your writer’s biceps on the daily, such as short stories, which can span from a paragraph to many pages. Monologues, dialogues, shorts bios of persons you might be obsessed with (like my love for all things Tarantino and Sergio Leone). Essays (yeah, like those annoying things they force you to do in college), can really help, especially in an out-of-school setting where you pick the topic and write in any format you feel comfortable. I despised being forced to write my essays (and sometimes, other’s essays :P) in college, because it was a narrow topic, with bland subject material, but now, out of college, I occasionally like to diverge myself into random essays over topics I actually don’t mind writing about.

So, in the end, it all comes down to you and how bad you want to do it. If you want to become a great writer or screenwriter, start writing scripts, articles, and anything else you can dream up. All it takes is actually sitting down and doing, and you’d be surprised by how many non-film-related writings can directly help you become stronger at your particular craft.

That ends part two of this series. Next time, I will discuss thematic elements, and how they can add intrigue to your script!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter, @ThatKyleOliver, and subscribe to my production company on YouTube, VintageImageFilms.

Written by Kyle Oliver, 6/14/14

copyright by Kyle Oliver

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated writer/director/editor, & the owner/CEO of Vintage Image Films. You can find Vintage Image Films on Facebook:

“How to Build An Essential Filmmaker’s Kit Under $1,000”


A lot of people these days are wanting to make movies, videos, short films, music videos, vlogs, and all sort of other things, and with good reason. Current technology has made it easier and more affordable than ever to get your hands on the gear you need. Be weary though, and prepare to be thrust into an ocean of decisions. There’s lots of equipment to choose from, so where do you start? That’s where I’ll hop in. I’ll go through the different types of affordable cameras and break down the pros and cons, as well as with microphones. I’ll even explain my own setup for you, but in the end, I am only giving you my own opinions. You must decide what works best for you.

1. Cameras- We’ll obviously start here, since this is a “movie maker’s” reference. There are TONS of different cameras to pick from! Where to start? To give you a short course, there are two main types of cameras used for low/no-budget film these days: camcorders & DSLR’s. A camcorder is your typical home video camera, but in the higher price range, these things can shoot some high quality video! A nice one to look into is the Sony HDR-FX1 HD Professional Camcorder.                                                                                          Image

Here is a nice quality test video of this camera, courtesy of habitatskater89 from YouTube: This camera is in the $900 range- not too bad, but still kind of expensive for some low-budget filmmakers. Another good option is the Panasonic HC-V520 for under $400, which actually has exceptional HD quality for its price. The pitfall with camcorders for filmmaking is that they look too much like video, and require a bit more coaxing in the editing room to give that extra “film look” it needs, but it can be done quite successfully. Another disadvantage is the deep depth of field. Depth of field can be very briefly explained with a physical test. Put your hand about one foot away from your eyes. Look at your hand, notice everything behind it is blurry. Now avert your eyes behind your hand. Notice everything behind is now clear, and your hand is blurry. This is a similar effect that can be acheived with more expensive cinema cameras with interchangeable lenses (meaning, you can buy extra lenses for your camera and use them, which you can’t do with a camcorder), and a very large internal sensor that offers a shallow depth of field.


This Photo Demonstrates Shallow Depth of Field.

The second option for cameras is the DSLR, which I highly recommend. The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflux) is primarily a still image camera, but can work like a conventional digital cinema camera (like an ultra-cheap version of the RED One camera), allowing you to change lenses, shoot 24fps in 1080p HD, manual shutter speed, and full control over ISO, exposure, and aperture. The sensor in these things let you capture a look that is closer to being “film-like” than a that of a traditional camcorder, but, when it comes to DSLR cameras, you have many options to choose from. For reference, we’ll start with the two most iconic brands, Canon & Nikon. Both companies offer cameras from entry-level to professional flagship cameras. Since the pro cameras are above $1,000, we’ll steer clear of them for now. Instead, I’ll reference the two best entry-level models of the crop. You have the Canon T3i (or 600D in Europe), which is amazing! It features a completely moveable LCD screen (trust me, this comes in handy, and is a rare luxury in the entry-level DSLR world), and an external microphone port, allowing you to just plug and go with an external microphone, which we’ll cover next. It has superb image quality, and is an overall great camera! I would also recommend the Nikon D3200, which features everything I just noted from the Canon, besides the LCD screen, which is static and non-moveable. I have extensively used both cameras and can say from experience that you should really look into them if you are thinking about buying a camera for high quality video and/or photo. Both cameras can be afforded for just under $600 a piece.


Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i

2. Audio- There are only two affordable recorders I would suggest you pick from, personally: The Rode Video Mic ($150), which can be plugged straight into any camera or sound recorder that has an external 3.5mm microphone input, and the Zoom H4N ($230), which is its own recording device with two insanely amazing adjustable microphones built in, and 3 extra inputs for more mics (I own and LOVE this device!). All cameras I listed prior have built-in, internal microphones you can use, but they are of horrible quality, and sound is just as important, if not more important, than video, which is why an external recorder of some sort HAS to be in your kit as soon as you can afford it!

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3. Lights- I would never recommend going all-out on lights. Stay simple. There’s no reason to splurge on them when you can go to your local harware store and buy “can lights” for $10 a piece. Buy 3 or more, and go grab some incandescent, halogen, or even fluorescent flood lightbulbs (make sure your camera’s white balance is set according to the bulb you’re using, and never combine two different types of bulbs in the same scene!)

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4. Software- Once you buy your setup, and assuming you already have a computer that can handle HD video and fairly intense rendering, you’ll want some software. On a budget, I would highly suggest Sony Movie Studio Suite ($140), or Hitfilm 2 Express ($150). Hitfilm 2 Express is amazing, as it is a video editing and special effects package all in one. For screenwriting software, I use Celtx, and haven’t found a reason to switch to something else in the 3 years I’ve used it. for a free download.


Last but not least, don’t forget plenty of memory card space, and a decent tripod! For HD video, you need cards with a fast transfer (look for Class 10, 20mbps and up, though 50mbps is optimal for perfect video capture). You can get professional-grade 32gb cards from PNY for $20 online. You can get decent fluid head tripods for $60, and trust me, you won’t regret getting one!

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That does it for this article! I hope this was informative and helpful. This is an easy way to spend less than $1,000 for AMAZING quality. Before I leave off, here is a full rundown of my current gear, which I’ll follow with a link to my short film, so you can see the gear in action.
I shoot on a Nikon D3100 (now $380), a Zoom H4N (I got a nice package kit for $250), 3 can lights ($30), tripod ($60), 4 misc. memory cards for under $50, and my editing software for $150 (I now use software that costs well over $600 now, though). That comes out to $980 as my initial investment, and the quality of my first short is definitely worth that much to me. If you have the drive to make high quality video, save up the money to invest in a similar setup to mine, if you like what you see, that is.


My current setup being put to the test


To know what you can do on a $5 budget with gear that cost less than $1,000, here is a link to my short film, “Numb”:

Coming soon is part 2 of “How To Write Great Original Screenplays”. Here is the first one if you missed it:

written by Kyle Oliver, 5/2/2014

If you liked this article, share it and follow me on Twitter, @ThatKyleOliver

      Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated writer/director/editor,
& the owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find Vintage
Image Films on Facebook:



© Kyle Oliver, 2014

“How To Write Great Original Screenplays” (Part 1 of 3)



Ever wanted to write a screenplay? Many have, but a lot don’t know where to start. It was frustrating for me at first, having to learn the format, structure, and “rules”. So, we’ll start simple. What is a screenplay? Screenplays are written documents, professionally formatted and prepared specifically for the medium of film. A simple rule of thumb is that one page of a properly formatted script should equal approximately one minute of actual screentime. If you do not intend to learn the proper format for screenwriting, I suggest you stop reading now and save yourself some time. I am not going to cover formatting here, but instead, I’m going to cover the next step beyond that. The most crucial step, which cannot be learned or taught; storytelling. Without the vital gift of storytelling ability, it won’t matter how well you can format a script, you have to have the creativity to actually create a quality piece (well, I guess in some places, quality doesn’t matter, and bad quality is actually sometimes embraced! Take “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for example).

First thing’s first, if you want to write a script, you’re going to have to learn the format. There are plenty of resources online to quickly decipher the hardly-complex filmmaker’s code. Secondly, you’ll want some software, as formatting in standard word processors can be quite tedious. There are plenty of great programs I would recommend, like Final Draft and Adobe Story. If you want something for free, I would suggest Celtx, a free screenwriting software for Mac or Windows that does most of the hard work for you. for a free download.

Okay, so you know the format, you have the tools to write, but where do you start? The daunting task of staring the blank page straight down the face is all too overwhelming. You need a story. But not just a story. A story. Not just vague characters and dull plotlines, but vibrant characters, witty dialogue, and a rollercoaster plot. But where do you find the inspiration for that? Well, you could steal, borrow, or “homage”, or, you could simply pay more attention to life. Life is the ultimate rollercoaster ride, why not try to incorporate some pieces of your life into your story and characters? You’d be surprised by how many famous writers take everyday pieces of their own lives and weave them into cinematic gold. Pieces of conversations you either have or hear can be a great starting point for natural, coherent dialogue.

Here comes some theory. Basic screenwriting formula can be applied to any story, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The standard formula that you’ve seen over and over again. The romantic comedies, action films and blockbusters that all seem the same. But once you understand the elements of these basic Hollywood formulas, you can manipulate them as you please. You have to know the rules to break the rules. Some of the key rules are as follows: “show, don’t tell”, simply meaning, film is a visual medium, try and keep it that way. Of course, this rule is broken all the time, most notably by filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Martin Scorsese, who’s films are driven almost entirely by dialogue. In other cases, the rule of showing, not telling, is applied well, in such films like “Drive” and “Carnival of Souls”. The dialogue and character development is pushed to a minimum in these films, focusing more on ambience and story.

Formula is slightly different, as you can go pretty much any direction. That said, the most basic and heavily used formula, the “3-Act Structure”, can be seen countless times, and summed up pretty quickly. Basically, in this formula, you have a protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist wants or needs something, and his goal in the story is to achieve his desire. The antagonist is meant to make the protagonist’s goal harder to achieve, but typically, by the end of the stoy, the good guy always wins. This formula can (and does) apply to many films, you just have to watch and pay attention. “Star Wars”, “Superbad”, and “Machete” all use this formula. In “Superbad”, Seth and Evan want to buy liquor for girlsso they can party, and hopefully get laid. This seems easy, as they walk right down to the liquor store, but their plans are thwarted by two cops who want their friend McLovin to know, not all cops are assholes. By the end of the film, they make it to the party with most of the liquor in tact, and the story resolves. Conflict is key. Conflict creates interest, and you want people to be interested.

Other films, such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Slacker”, follow completely different formulas. “Pulp Fiction” takes three narrative stories, and intertwines them in a completely mixed up format, feeding different parts of the story to you at different times. “Slacker” starts off on one conversation, and then proceeds to jump from the next one to the next one, following a large town of people in Texas as they go through their average day. This type of structure has no clear narrative, but is a good experiment if you want to write a script full of opinions, viewpoints, and even messages.

The formula is up to you. Keep in mind, formula is NOT your story, but merely the way in which you tell your story. Don’t fret too much if you can’t come up with a formula that isn’t “fresh”, “new”, or “different”. The story should always be the most important focus. Finding the way in which to tell your story should come afterward. So when trying to find inspiration for your story, characters, and even dialogue, start with real life, then exaggerate. Blow things out of proportion, and make them interesting and entertaining, with enough drama to satisfy a teenage girl in a courtroom, enough action to put sports stars to shame, and enough story to make people have to watch it again and again…

written by Kyle Oliver, 4/26/2014

Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated
film writer, director and editor.
You can follow him on Twitter @ThatKyleOliver

© Copyright 2014 by Kyle Oliver