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three_point_lightingLighting for film is critical, not only for exposure but also to create a mood that best tells your story. In low-budget filmmaking, you may not be able to afford all the fancy lighting tools out there—a basic Arri kit can cost you close to $2,000 to purchase. So how do you go about lighting your small project effectively and artistically on a shoestring budget?

Learn Your Camera’s Settings

Before you even think about how to light, take the time to learn what your camera is capable of doing. Most low-budget filmmakers are now using HDSLR cameras such as the Canon 7D or the Blackmagic Cinema cameras which offer great picture quality at a relatively low cost. These cameras allow you to change all sorts of settings—F-stop, shutter speed, ISO, and even color schemes. Take some time to play around with these settings and see what your particular camera can do for you.

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screenwriterA good script is the foundation of a good film. If you’re still scribbling notes and snippets of dialogue on Starbucks napkins because you’re afraid to shell out for proper screenwriting software, I can assure you there’s a better way.

While the defacto screenwriting software is Final Draft, it’s currently going for $249. That can be a bit discouraging for those of you who haven’t used screenwriting software before and want to invest in the industry standard. The good news is, you really don’t have to buy Final Draft at all to get started writing on your computer.

Here are some less expensive, or even free software alternatives that can be just as effective as Final Draft.

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Despite a low indy budget, it’s possible to make films that get picked up by festivals (the ones that aren’t run by your friends) and that get word-of-mouth (other than your own social media).

So, why didn’t your film get into any festivals or get any buzz? Why did the programming panel reject your film after watching 10 minutes of your feature or two minutes of your short? You know the answer: poor execution. Execution and craft transform your concept so that the story gets out of your head and into the heads of the audience.

Here are the top four poor execution problems. Any of these issues will stop your film from advancing at important festivals.

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audioYou’ve written an incredible screenplay. Your actors brought the characters to life in unexpected ways. Your cinematographer captured the image through breathtaking compositions and lighting. There is only one hitch—

Sound. Dialogue is garbled, wind and background noise obscures the vocals, levels are all over the place—your masterpiece is ruined. Here are some tips that could help.
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outlineIIn my artistic process, procrastination has always reigned supreme. I am the writer that mulls over her ideas for many moons before bothering to put pen to paper. I often wander aimlessly about the Internet looking for creative ways to break myself of this habit, but as any indie filmmaker worth their mettle knows, magic bullets aren’t common in filmmaking.

But hark, I think I’m onto something, or at least something that works for me. Last year, I decided to lock myself away for my birthday and commit to a single idea that needed some serious plot work. First, I set a schedule. I would write in two-hour bursts and allow for “office hours” in between each session so that friends could come wish me happy birthday, feed me cake, and fluff my ego. Second, I identified a goal. In this instance, it was to end the day with an outline for my first feature, a zombie comedy based on a short film I’d already done well with.

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storyboardI have been active in Scary for two years both on other crews as well as producing and directing my own film Behind The Cow. I am looking for productions that will facilitate my goal to learn how the pros really do things and why. So I look for projects run professionally to set examples for me. I am also applying my new skills to my next film, Last Note, and I am already seeing better results and more levels of creativity.

In my time in the herd, one lesson keeps standing out for me: Pre-production is everything.  The action on set may be sexy, but it’s the least creative part of the process.  Post-production is also highly creative, but that is not what I am emphasizing here.  However post-production is limited by both what pre-production and production accomplish so we cycle right back to the most important phase: pre-production.

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san francisco film festival

Scary Cow Productions, the San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker cooperative, commemorates its fifth year by hosting the Prime Cuts Indie Film Festival—a one-night only special movie screening at the Castro Theatre.

“The 5th Anniversary of the Scary Cow Indie Film Festival is proof of Scary Cow’s dedication to growing and supporting the independent film community in San Francisco.” - Susannah Greason Robbins, Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Commission

 The Director’s job is insane.  Let’s face it, you have to be a little bit insane to even attempt it, and when you look at the list of things for which a Director is responsible you could easily talk yourself out of trying.  The following is a list of four things to focus on as you enter production.  If you can’t do it all, you can at least do these:
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I have been with Scary Cow for a year and prior to that I led and worked with many volunteer groups for a variety of projects and fundraising. I have developed some strong and highly successful attitudes and tactics for building volunteer teams and for assessing what team leader is a good one for me to follow as well.

There is no free lunch. You are going to have to give to get. All negotiations whether they are social or professional, artistic or intellectual need to work from that fact.  If you are not skilled at fair negotiating, it will show in your film as well as bring you a million headaches while in production and make it very hard to attract crew or get invited on crews.  Here in Scary Cow we are a cooperative.  You want your negotiating tactics to be cooperative, not entitled or sloppy.

In low budget filmmaking we tend to have no or very little money to use as a motivation and/or compensation for goods and services. So we make choices to work without the things that will only be traded for with cash or we use what little cash we have for the things and people that will not accept anything else. Learn what your choices are as well as other the forms of compensation you have to entice people to work with you.  There are many ways to compensate another person for their services, time and goods. Money is the most versatile and therefore most popular, but it is still only one. I personally find it thrilling to troubleshoot all this and find it a fun way to build lasting personal and professional relationships.

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Production Assistants wanted!Maybe you’re new to filmmaking.  Maybe you don’t know which aspect to explore first.  Maybe you’re dying to get involved, but are embarrassed because you don’t know the first thing about making a movie.

Can you walk and talk?  If the answer is yes, we’re not only willing to have you on our crew, we need you.

From the crew’s point of view, Production Assistants are the main source of information on a film set.  It’s an entry-level job, but an important one.  Each day, good PA’s arm themselves with as much information as they can get their hands on – call sheets and shooting schedules, the moment-to-moment whereabouts of every key crew member and the cast,  where the bathrooms are, and where and at what time the crew will be eating lunch – and each day they are relied upon to convey that information to everyone who asks.  Despite being at the bottom of the film industry food chain, they are expected to know everything and if you do, it can pay off in all kinds of opportunities to learn and network your way to a better job.
Read on to see the PA Checklist…
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