Writing

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.

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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 http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm 

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

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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.

JUST WRITE!!!

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: http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm

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

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHobpf6ajGs. 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.

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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.

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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. http://www.celtx.com for a free download.

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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.

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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”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKwC76zTYok

Coming soon is part 2 of “How To Write Great Original Screenplays”. Here is the first one if you missed it: https://kyleoliverblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/how-to-write-great-original-screenplays-part-1-of-3/

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: http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm

 

 

© Kyle Oliver, 2014