Cinematography : Indie Film Maker Kit by Aaron W. Miller

Aaron W. Miller

Indie Film Maker Kit

Gurus of the film making world I am in need of a sherpa who might guide me to and through the purchase of a film making "kit". I am planning on teaching film & video next year and would like to start saving & investing in the equipment necessary to shoot short films (these are high school students, on a high school budget). I know lighting is essential, already have stands & lamps & bulbs -- although a few more wouldn't hurt -- but I'd like to get an idea of what camera would best suit my circumstances. I'm a writer, makeup artist, acting coach, and I've done directing & production so those aren't where I currently need guidance (not say that won't change in the near future). What I do need some help with is the camera situation. I've come across the Canon Vixia HV30 and the Nikon D90, but I'm not certain either is a viable option. Your suggestions & wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Barry Gross

Where are you Aaron?

Aaron W. Miller

Barry, I am located near Nashville, TN.

Kristina Haton

If you plan on shooting on film, I know a super 8mm film kit. 1 roll of film, process and digital transfer) sounds like you don't plan on shooting with film though.

Cory Wess

You don't know this question, and you're going to teach film & video next year? You have a lot to learn. Vixias and Nikons are poor video cameras. Kristina is right, you should learn film. You should also learn photography with a still camera (preferably b&w film). Only then will you really have a foundation worthy of teaching. For video cameras I would stick to prosumer. Your school should buy some cameras and allow the kids to check them out. Panasonic hpx170, hvx200, Sony Ex1. Or some of the new DLSRs from canon (T2i, 7d, 5dm2, etc) or Panasonic (GH1, GH2), but not nikon. Cheaper cameras (esp handycam style) are crap and have too many problems to effectively learn with. You and your students need manual control to learn how to use a camera.

Joe Becker

DSLRs are good, but not for long clips, or live events. a well known problem with the DSLRs is that they overheat after 12 or 17 minutes. can't remember which. but, recording directly to a hard drive, like the FS 100, you could bypass the SD card, which is what overheats, and shoot continuously. with a large enough hard drive, and a power source, you could shoot all day. with Adobe OnLocation, which only shipped with the CS5 Master Collection, you could monitor with your laptop as well. as far as "learning film, preferably black and white"... how long is the class? teaching still photography, dark room, AND filmmaking is quite a feat. I think I'd stick to one thing at a time. if you have the luxury of time, all those things are great. but, you'll be teaching a myriad of movie terms and concepts. I wouldn't try to teach 12 subjects in one class. it's the student's responsibility to get the right education. you can make some prerequisites if you like. but, I certainly wouldn't try to teach everything there is to know about photography, video and filmmaking into one class. for a camera, I would recommend a canon DSLR, or something like a Panasonic HVX200 or Panasonic AF-100. the AF-100 has removable lenses. the HVX200 does not. it will depend mostly on your budget, your objective, and what you're familiar with. if you're more comfortable with a DSLR, they are good to learn with. if your objective is to give an overview of filmmaking, that will work fine.

Aaron W. Miller

Joe, thank you for the very helpful, very informative response. I have felt the same about using DSLRs and in doing research for this class (which all good teachers must do) I found that given the cost of the camera, it wouldn't be worth the investment given the probable outcome. My goal with the class is to expose students to something which currently does not exist in our curriculum: film making. It would be a basic introductory class with the goal of learning how to shoot with a digital camera, edit, put together a short film, as well as the acting & makeup side of things, and a healthy dose of script writing too. I know enough about photography to be dangerous, I know a lot more about acting, script writing and I can learn/teach myself what I need to know in regard to shooting with film. But part of the adventure for me is discovering these things with my students. I appreciate your response very much--gives me inspiration to take this thing on. I shall look into the cameras you've suggested--if all works well, I'll be teaching it a year from now. Thank you kindly, Aaron

Joe Becker

if you've got a full year, that's plenty of time to get your curriculum and gear together. and, if you're acting in film, you'll have plenty of opportunity to learn while on set. sounds like you have the right idea. hope all goes well

Aaron W. Miller

So 3 months later and the course has received approval. It's current official title is "Film & Media Production". I'm working on writing the course description and curriculum, I've sent out a call for assistance from the local college, and I'm compiling a list of equipment and tech for the school to purchase. Turns out that not only are there funds available for the gear but for training me as well. So anybody have a suggestion for a crash course film school training that a high school theatre arts teacher could take? I have a heavy schedule coming up with our Feb. production of The Great Gatsby and then April production of "The Wizard of Oz" so the class would have to be a summer or online deal. I've taken down the gear previously mentioned but I'd like your input on the tech, such as PC or Mac, Final Cut or Premiere? Thanks in advance for your advice & wisdom.

Joe Becker

I prefer Mac over PC. no matter what anyone says, the PC is still a cheap imitation of the Mac. the Mac OS is cleaner and simpler. it's true in some big things and a lot of little things, like using the command key instead of the control key. the command key is right next to the space bar and therefor much easier to reach. this is a simple thing that makes sense when you're doing simple tasks like copying and pasting. it's very minor, but it's still easier. the Mac was made for graphics. PCs are great for word processing and number crunching. they've come a long way, but Windows still has its problems and will never catch up with the Mac OS. as far as Final Cut or Premier, they are both very good programs and very good companies. I believe FCP X will catch on more and more as time goes on. it gets a bad rap because Apple made some mistakes, including releasing it before it was ready for prime time, cutting support for 7 immediately... but, the program has grown over the last couple years and is now a pro product. third party plug-ins add even more features. Adobe keeps upgrading, and they have After Effects, which is an industry standard. their audio software is good too. there are a ton of videos online on how to use both programs, as well as DVD training. the thing about FCP X is that they changed the way people edit. all other programs work basically the same. FCP X is a paradigm shift. and it's a good one. but, it takes some getting used to. once you do get the hang of it, you don't want to go back to the old way. the new way is faster and easier, and makes searching for specific clips a breeze. clip searching alone can save a ton of time. FCP doesn't use timelines or bins. it's just a new way of doing things. it's also 64 bit, which is great all around. for one, it can access much more RAM than FCP 7. 7 is limited to 4 GB of RAM at one time. so, even if you have 16GB of RAM, you're only accessing 4. I'm not sure X has a limit. and it can take advantage of multicore processors. the new Macs will be amazingly fast. so, with the fast hardware and the faster software, you should be able to burn through projects much more quickly than in the past. from what I've said so far, you can probably tell that I lean toward FCP. I've been keeping up on the buzz. the people who hate it looked at it when it came out, or heard what people were saying when it came out, and they won't listen to any new information. to them, that was the day FCP died. but, I've read many articles by pro editors who have fallen in love with the new FCP. including one from Walter Murch, one of the most respected editors in the business. Walter's credits include Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, and plenty more. anyway, you can't go wrong either way. both are very good programs. I will be using both personally just because so many of my friends and associates have Premier. some projects will be done on Premier, and some in FCP X. I can live with that. but, if I were you, I'd only teach one. in my mind, FCP X is the forward thinking program. eventually, they will all go that way. so, if I were teaching, I'd want to teach what's going to be the norm in the future.

Anthony Gutierrez

teach them both systems- Let them decide later which is a better editing system for them. Not everybody enjoys FCP- regardless of what it can do. You might even touch AVID, Smoke & others. Cameras are tough to choose

Thomas B Barker

I have been conducting a "Movie Camp" for the past 5 years. I began with my 2 grandsons and their friends when the ages were 4 to 9. They have made at least 2 movies each year and these are on YouTube. I made an introductory film on how to make movies. I have also worked with students in the Cook Islands and in India where they have made movies about themselves. (Also on Youtube.) My motivation is the same as yours - movies (film, video whatever you want call it) is the communication medium of the 21st Century and to be literate, we need to know how to do it. I use DSLRs and the problem with overheating due to long running times should NOT be a problem since a film is not shot that way (unless you are making photographed stage plays which went out the door with D. W. Griffith!). Actually any modern point and shoot camera does a rather good job of capturing video that is instructive enough for your classes. So, have them bring their own cameras (cell phones too) for the movie "machine." It's in the scripting and story telling that the real instruction is needed. It sounds like you have that already. Watch my video on how to make movies and let me know what you think.

Gary Henderson

When the Canon 5d surfaced it changed the the whole digital filming scene. It introduced a whole new way of filming and improved filming mainly in low light situations. A whole new industry grew out of this because to make them viable video cameras they need rigs and audio solutions. They have made a place in the videography world. That being said although they are being improved in many ways they are not a traditional video camera. I agree with Anthony if you teach both systems your students will be more aware of the possibilities they can use in their film making. Cameras are tools and you bring the tool that best helps tell the story. I took a course in Santa Monica Ca. and the instructor used the small Sony handy cams as the main cameras to teach with, they are a true video camera and are inexpensive. We were able to bring our own cameras to the Class .There were only two of us that had Dslr's at that time,now 2 years latter he has added teaching Dslr camera techniques to his curriculum. Producers often choose the camera system that best matches the flavor of their film. And the one thing they most agree upon is that content is still King. If your story is not compelling it doesn't matter what camera you use. If your content is strong you can film on an iPhone and still have an amazing film. Best to you in your endeavor .

Andre Hunt

Grab some of those great dimmable LED batteriy powered lights that come with filters on amazon for less than forty bucks. Made in China. Amazing deal, and they're big. Get a camera that has the most on line user experience...(advice, technical, etc.) Or are you budgeted for a few cameras? Don't forget to have drop in pros visit the class...I bet your local big camera store would love to showcase their gear with your students, perhaps on a remote. And don't let that tech zoid student dominate your class....

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