Friday, February 11, 2011

Clamp Light to Light Stand Adapter

OK, so you're on a shoot and your very cool, 250 watt reflector burns out.  The switch has gone bad and you can't get it to light back up.  It's 1 AM, there's no photo-supply within 50 miles and certainly none open.  What do you do?  What do you do, Hotshot!?

Fortunately, we live in a world of 24 hour stores that do exist in the middle of nowhere and many have hardware departments.  So, you up the ISO setting on your camera and go grab a couple of 100 watt clamp lights and the strongest CFL bulbs you can find or 100 watt standard bulb.  You've lost some wattage, per light, but at least you have light again.  You clamp it to your trusty light stand and it slides, wiggles and droops all over the place.  That smooth metal isn't very good for clamping too.  Carry a couple of these little widgets with  you  and you'll be ready.

Parts: scrap of wood (I used a 3 inch chunk of 1 x 1-1/2 I had laying around)
          1/2" plastic clamp for a pipe support system.  A half dozen of these cost me about $5.
          1/4" - 20 bolt, about 1/2" long should do it.
          Wood Screws appropriately sized to the clamps you buy.
          As with all builds, do this at your own risk.
Tools" Drill
           15/64th bit
           Screwdriver bit to match your screws.

So, you simply screw the plastic clamp to the piece of wood.  Once that's done, I think you'll find the finished product fits nicely over a standard sized 5/8th inch stud found on your light stand.  Just to add some stability, however, you'll drill a 15/64th inch hole in the rear center of the plastic clamp.  (Wear goggles and be careful, please.  And do not have it on your light stand at the time.  If you don't know how to drill get a more handy person to help you).  With that done the 1/4 inch bolt should fit nicely into the clamp.  Now, slide that over the stud on your light stand and clamp the light to your piece of wood.  It may take some doing, but when it closes you'll have a nice tight fit.  If you think you'll need to be ready for more light, make one with a longer piece of wood.  6 inches wide maybe, or 8.  This way you'll be able to clamp multiple clamp lights to it. 
It's not really much cheaper to use hardware store lights than it is to use a basic reflector from Impact or Smith Victor and the plastic sockets can't support much heat (thus the 100 watt limit), but in a pinch it pays to be ready, especially when you can be ready for about $8.  I travel with clamp lights for shoots because they're expendable, durable, versatile and easy to replace.  I'm hoping that this little piece (I've made 3) will make them more stable as well.  I'm going to make a multi-light one soon, so I haven't tested that yet, but the first small one I made held a Home Depot 300 Watt 12 inch reflector pretty solid.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reflecting - A Quick and Easy to Build Attachment for D-SLR Cameras

A little CYA, this is something I built for personal use.  Take and use the info at your own risk or leave it.  Your choice.  I'm not repsonsible for your camera or inability to use wire or tools safely.

OK, gang, I know most of the independent film world has embraced the Digital SLR for it's Hi-Def video and awesome ability to change lenses.  Full frame cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II are the best alternative under $10K (in my opinion) for shooting the best looking video.  The cameras have many, many strengths, but they come with some weaknesses too, especially for those of us brought up on more traditional video cameras.

The layout alone is an obstacle.  None of the obstacles of these cameras can't be overcome with add-ons, but the cost of those soon becomes an issue.  Audio monitoring, for example, can be added to a Canon 5D Mark II, but currently the best solutions for that which I've found cost in the neighborhood of $400.  That raises the cost of the camera by about 20%.  More on that in another blog.  Today I'm going to talk about how $3.00 or so worth of parts and tape can give you the ability to shoot at various angles.

Let me start by saying that I've only gotten as far as the prototype for this build, but it functions and I mostly used spare parts I had lying around the work shop.  Of course, I tend to always have 1/4inch bolts and washers on hand (and so should you).  You probably have Gaffer's tape or a reasonable equivalent and the 14 gauge wire I used could have been recycled from a wire clothes hanger instead of left over from a stop motion puppet build.  That means you'll have to buy a compact mirror.  I also bought a better quality mirror, but the compact is pre-hinged (you know, the folding make-up mirrors women carry) and it only cost $1.00.  In fact, it came with a hand mirror, so we can cal it 50 cents if I come up with a use for the other mirror and you know I will..

What this device will do is allow you to see the fixed, non-swivelling screen (if you've got a Sony with a tilting a screen you won't need this) of your camera when you hold it at low angles.

Twist the wire around itself so you have a braid .  At one end open, or leave open, a loop that your 1/4 inch mounting bolt will fit through.  A washer goes on each side.  I good sized, say 1 to 2 inch washer should go on top.  About 2 inches back (you'll be able to adjust this because you're using tape for now) attach your compact mirror.  Screw the contraption into the tripod mount of your camera and flip open the mirror.  Hold the camera at waist level and adjust the bend in the wire until you can see the view screen fully in the back mirror.  At other angles you'll be able to see it in the front mirror.  Tape the back mirror to the wire.  When you're done, it should look like this.  I covered a bit of the wire at the end that was "sharp" with a generous amount of tape.
Pretend that the bolt on top there is your camera.  I admit, this version isn't pretty, but it works and with some twisting it can help you view your screen from all sorts of angles.  The image is upside down, but I find it gave me a clear enough reflection to focus the image and at waist level I could walk and keep the camera fairly steady.  If I get a chance I'll load video later.

Try this at your own risk.  The wrong size bolt will strip your camera's threads.  (Standard is 1/4"-20) and if it flops around you can scratch your camera's pretty body.  Like I said, this needs a cleaned up version, but I like the fact that this one can be made at 3 AM after a trip to Wal-Mart if you need it on the fly and if you untape it the mirror will close and pack up nicely.

I've got a clamp light-to-light stand adapter that I'll show you another time AND the paint is drying on the 3D/HD mount. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More on Scheduling

Scheduling shoots, edits and other production is always a bit tricky.  You want to keep schedules tight so as to get the most bang for your buck and actually stand a chance of earning a living in this world of $1.99 rentals and 2 tenths of a cent per view, but you also need to leave some flexibility for life's little surprises.

I went ahead and scheduled most of my shows to "air" on Wednesdays.  This is so I can keep bringing the internet the "Weird World of HFP" on a schedule and still make that schedule happen in one of several ways.  I can edit the show over the weekend if I have time, which lately it seems I don't.  I can also edit the show on Tuesday while Nancy is at work, which usually works great.  Finally, what I'll be doing today, I can edit and post it on Wednesday morning and afternoon and have it online in time for a Wednesday evening showing.  This can go wrong if there are server problems, which there often are.  I have a backlog of audio recordings and some photos ready to go, so the putting together of the show shouldn't be too much trouble.

Back up problem, I also have client work due tomorrow, which I'll be finishing up FIRST today (it's loading while I write this).  All of this would be fine if my regular life had stayed the same.  I generally take the middle of the week as my office week.  Build stuff up Monday and Tuesday, edit, phone calls and set up meetings Wednesday, meetings Thursday and Friday. clean up on the weekends if I have to and back to the cycle.

The problem comes in when you have so much work (and this a good problem to have) that your wiggle room is gone.  Normally today I would have a few hours of work and no social obligations.  Instead I have about 6 hours of edit work, a few hours of posting, some office work (most of that is done already) and a bit of shooting planned for later to stockpile shows for March because I'll be losing Wednesdays to the production of "File Error" for a couple of weeks.

Scheduling shows weekly to keep an audience is one thing.  I can always post one early, so long as it's there when people look for it, but production is another story.  Clients tend to actually want stuff early.  I give "real" dates.  The date I actually expect something to be done, not an early date I'll never hit to make them happy or a late date I won't need to make my life easier.  It might be a bit late to allow for things that crop up, but I do my best to give an actual date and then I hit that date.  Shooting a movie has to be scheduled to the hour.  The minute if possible.  Crossing 12 people's schedules is not easy and doing it when you can't pay them to take off from day jobs and need to finish on time because when the food budget runs out you're working with nothing tends to keep things a bit tight.  "File Error" is a revisit for me to the "weekend" movie, where we'll be shooting over several weeks to fit it into the schedules of the actors rather pumping the movie out in 4 or 5 days to get it done so I can move on to other stuff.  It has a lot of interiors, so unlike "Alien Vengeance" I don't have to worry about the seasons giving me away if it takes awhile to shoot.

In the end, it all comes down to planning and adding about 20% to any expected scenario.  You don't want to be left at the end cutting corners because you didn't schedule enough time, but you don't want to turn down outside work because you gave a production too much time.  What usually happens is the oil change on the car, some lawn work and pressure washing the driveway get put off because everyday life is where your wiggle room comes from.  Heck, I'm even behind on watching bad movies to review for the "Cheesey Movie Reviews"  <---yes, "cheesey" is mispelt, that's cheesy, don't ya think?

OK, gotta' go.  Running over schedule on today's blog.  I'll let you know how it all turns out tomorrow.

EDIT: I forgot to mention the reprieve you may get should a client push a date back for you.  I can start work on the show about 90 minutes sooner now, so that means I can eat lunch today.  Make it even.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Shooting Miniatures

I am in no way an expert when it comes to making or shooting miniatures, but I do a bit of it and plan on doing a lot more.  Especially for "Alien Vengeance III" and the ongoing web series, "The Simplest Things".  With "The Simplest Things" being a sci-fi comedy about a fish out water alien named Pratt, the cartoonish, childlike quality of the miniatures I make fits right into the look I'm going for with the show.  It says, "low budget retro sci-fi" when you can tell something is a miniature. 

Having done a bit of shooting in miniature, however, I have developed an eye for what I like and I'm going to share some of that with you in the hopes that it will help someone else who may be curious about trying this out.

For one thing, I like to shoot with a long or zoomed lens.  I like to throw the focus on one particular part of the miniature set, preferably the best looking piece.  I think having foreground objects in sharp focus and backgrounds in soft focus or vice verse helps to give the illusion of size.  It makes thing appear to be further apart than they actually are.

For example, in this picture, the plastic tree and the paper house are about 6 inches apart, but the focus makes it seem like we're looking at a horribly painted full scale house...sort of.

I chose to make the tree the in focus part because the house has no windows and is made of paper.  The grassy hill behind it is paper mache and plaster spray painted green.  It looks like toys, but it looks like toys that you know are supposed to look bigger.

Another thing I like is direct light.  Shadows and highlights can cover flaws and also add some scale.  I especially like to this for my spaceships , but it does make them harder to screen in at times.  Light coming from one direction helps make the curves show up and may obscure a lack of detail.  Plus, a single directional light just makes things look more ominous.

In the photo to the right, the spaceship is lit from one side, leaving the far side in shadow so it blends into the starry sky.  The foreground is an actual model green screened into the image of a CG landscape.

Using as many layers as possible, whether they be real or computer generated can help to add depth too.  Here I wish I had put some sort of skyline in the background, but that lumpy "rock" in the mid ground helps a bit.

Finally, if you're more skilled than I am, or know somebody who is (and you must), the more detail in your miniature, the less you have to try and hide.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've made a spaceship sliding door out of a cereal box and I have to figure out how to make me walk through it.

See ya' next time.

Meanwhile, watch "The Simplest Things" in the players in the right margin.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chocolate Covered Fairy Tale Film Competition

As an independent filmmaker it's sometimes very difficult to choose the best venues for getting your work in front of the public.  Film festivals are an obvious choice, but those $25, $50, and sometimes $100 entry fees can really add up.  Think about, how many shorts have you produced digitally for less than $180?

So, you want to look for unique opportunities well suited to your work.  For some of  you reading this, The Festival of Chocolate Film Fest (The Chocolate covered Fairy Tale Film Competition) will be just what you're looking for in terms of a creative outlet.  Better hurry though, there's not much time.

The entry fee is $30 and the due date for entries is Feb 21, 2011.  The thing that makes the festival so interesting is just how specific the guidelines are.  Chances are you'll need to make something specifically for this festival.  That's an advantage, in my mind, over spending a fee for a festival that  your horror, drama or comedy may or may not fit into.  Another plus, if you're an impatient person such as myself, is the date of the festival itself.  The Orlando Festival of Chocolate is being held, March 5th and 6th, so not a lot of wait time to find out which films will be screening.  Heck in just about 5 weeks the festival will be happening.  That's stupendous in my book.  No waiting around 6 months to find out what happened with your gem.

The movie must relate to chocolate and involve a known or original fairy tale.  I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to have time to make one myself.  Depends on how the miniatures shoot for "The Simplest Things" goes this weekend.  For more details and to print the entry form go to

Oh, one more cool thing for you newer filmmakers, the festival entry form ALSO includes release forms for talent, music and locations.  Read them carefully to know what you're having people sign.  Also take into account that you need these types of releases for any and all films you plan to use for festivals.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Life vs Work

Every so often I look at the title of my blog and realize that I'm not giving you guys as much "production" as just plain "diary".  For that, I apologize, but I'll address the reasons behind that today.

I currently work as a "lone wolf".  I'm self employed.  My own boss.  Make my own hours.  King of my a point.  This all sounds great, but in reality it creates problems most of the employed population doesn't have to deal with in their every day lives.  In ways, we all set our own deadlines, but at work, most of the time, someone else sets them for us.  Even in life deadlines are set for us.  This sale ends today or the kids (I have none and that does simplify things) have a project due next Monday.  Whatever it is, 80% of the time I set my own deadlines.  Even with recent clients it's more when I can fit the work into my schedule than when they need things done.   That should be great, but it carries a need for balance.

When you make your own work decisions how do you balance it with life in general.  I need to finish an edit on this short that is long overdue for my own self-imposed deadline.  Sometimes, putting the finish off on a film is important to keep in line with upcoming film festivals.  If you won't be ready for this year's maybe don't finish for another month so it will fit into the timeline requirements for next year.  Junk like that.  I've got the shows and I need to reschedule the shoot for the "File Error" and post a new webpage to raise funds for "Alien Vengeance III-D".  All of that would be easy enough if I was a bachelor, with an apartment and a new car that some dealership takes care of for me.  However, I'm a married guy, approaching very early middle age, with a 12 year old house, a 6 year old work SUV, and a 16 year old daily driver that I try to maintain myself.  I'm trying to get back into the sleep pattern of a normal human being, lose some weight, and do some repairs on the house.  Some I'm doing myself and some we're hiring people to do for us.

So, my schedule goes something like, work, house, work, personal, work, car, work, work, sleep, eat, exercise, work.  During "File Error" sleep, exercise and house will suffer.  No two ways around it.  The movie will dominate my life for 3-4 weekends.  In between props will need preparing and cards will need archiving. The key is to find a time when my work will least disrupt Nancy's life and the lives of other people around us so that I have a structure to drop back into when the dust settles.

Honestly, I don't know how my friends with kids do it.  There's also the waiting game, while I try to schedule stuff, but it takes days to get pieces of information.  My off work schedule has had me playing phone tag with two friends since the weekend.

Today, the termite inspectors come, so they'll be disrupting my afternoon.  I'm uploading the show for tomorrow (CGM-TV) and I thought while the computers work I'd do some yard work.  Then, if after they're gone Nancy has some time to shoot a quick episode of "The Simplest Things" we'll get that done.  Afterwards, we'll have lunch and she'll head to the Pharmacy for a few hours.  I'll probably do grunt work then.  Process some photos for a client I'm undercharging and hopefully (if I have any energy left) shoot some F/X sequences.  Stop motion and miniature stuff, which is terribly time consuming, but I absolutely LOVE.

Thanks for reading.  I may fire off another of these theraputic entries later today.  Been up for about 4 hours now.  That sleep cycle thing isn't going real well.