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Amateur shotgun

tech-reviews Updated: Apr 28, 2008 01:54 IST
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There must have been times when you have walked out of a theatre after having watched a really good movie and thought to yourself, ‘How cool would it be if I pulled off something of the sort!’ Well, with technology becoming cheaper and increasingly easy to access, you no longer have to worry about how you’ll get your hands on the equipment you need. Just find a story to tell, and choose your actors because here is our guide to the world of amateur filmmaking.

There are three stages to filmmaking, we take them one at a time.

Pre-production

This stage requires the most diligence on the part of the filmmaker. But don’t let that scare you; all it means is ensuring you have everything that is needed to begin filming.

Depending on the kind of movie you plan to make, you will need a camera, tapes and a good enough battery pack for the camera, something that guarantees you at least seven to eight hours of recording time. You could also need a tripod (to mount the camera), mics (boom, collar), mic stands and lights. You will need a laptop to record sound in case you are planning to use collar mics.

Cameras

MiniDV cameras are recommended for beginners as they produce good quality footage and make editing easier. Some good options for you could be:

* Sony Handycam DCR-HC28E (Rs 14,700) — Movies can be shot in a 2.5X, 4:3 wide aspect ratio LCD screen. With the press of the ‘Easy’ button, a number of advanced features are made easier.

* Samsung VP-D975Wi (Rs 18,900) — This one supports recording and playback in the 16:9 wide screen format as opposed to the regular 4:3. It also has a 6.8 cm wide LCD screen.

* Panasonic NV-GS57 (Rs 16,990) — This one has a 2.5-inch wide LCD monitor and is SD Memory Card compatible. It includes a help mode.

* JVC GR-D720 (Rs 13,990) – This supports the 16:9 playback Wide Mode and has a stick controller for easy operation.

Tapes

MiniDV cameras require MiniDV tapes. Camera stores might charge you anything from between Rs 100-130 for a single tape. Standard tapes have an hour of recording time. You can reuse a tape but it is always advisable to use a new one once you are through with your current one. Try and carry a head-cleaning tape for your camera as MiniDVs are not exactly meant for rough use and dust particles affect the camera’s head easily.

Sound

These days, many commercial filmmakers use sync sound which involves recording on-location sound with the help of high end mics and recording softwares.

For amateur filmmakers, dubbing proves to be cheaper and more effective. You can make do with the sound recorded on the camera if you are mostly shooting indoors.

Collar mics have a base unit that intercepts sound waves from within the frequency of the mic, which in turn, can be plugged into the mic jack of a desktop or laptop. Japanese brands like Sound Of Heaven can be purchased for a nominal amount of Rs 350 from Lamington Road. It is however advisable to chip in a little more money and go for branded ones like Shure, that will last longer.

Tripods

Local tripods can be purchased from ‘Photogalli’ (shops on the pavement, alongside the road leading to Flora Fountain), their prices ranging from Rs 800-2,000. The prices of branded tripods extend up to Rs 6,000. Before buying one, try mounting the camera on the tripod and check for any lapse in smooth movement.

Lights

A standard halogen light should do the trick. Keep some sheets of butter paper handy in case light is to be reflected. It is best to shoot in broad daylight as an artificial light produces shadows, which if caught by the camera, look horrid on screen. This pretty much wraps up the pre-production process.

Production

Production should be no problem as such, provided you have all the necessary permissions you require in case you’re shooting in a public place. Other things to keep in mind are:

* Keep the camera stable. Shaking the camera disturbs the concentration of the audience.

* Make the actors rehearse as many times as it takes to nail the scene as it helps save tape.

* Maintain a clapboard at all times during the filming as it helps keep track of the scenes you have okayed for the final edit.

* Ask the unit to ensure silence as soon as the camera starts rolling. Camera mics being sensitive, record a lot of unwanted ambient sound.

* Don’t ask the actors to perform any sort of stunts without proper supervision.

* Always carry an extension box and a couple of pencil batteries.

Filmmaking can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re prepared and have taken all necessary precautions.

“It is all about that feeling of being in control when you are standing behind the camera calling the shots. It’s incredible what one can come up with,” says Dhruv Shah, a Bachelors of Mass Media student and part-time filmmaker.

Post-production

Post-production is comparatively a lot less strenuous. First, you’ll need a fire-wire cable that goes into the fire-wire card of your computer (most laptops today are equipped with one; if you don’t have one, you can buy it easily) on one end and the camera on the other. The cable can be bought from any electronic shop on Lamington Road for about Rs 100.

Choose an editing software depending on the kind of movie you’re planning to make. These software are available on the streets of Fort, but as pirated copies. We recommend picking up the originals that are priced at Rs 1,000-3,000 each. Some good ones frequently used by amateurs are:

* Adobe Premiere Pro CS (all versions including CS3, the latest addition)

* Ulead Video Studio (9.0,10.0)

* Avid Xpress

* Final Cut Pro (designed only for the Apple Mac)

These software can also be downloaded using torrents. Websites like torrentz.com and mininova.org will give you a good number of seeders, which in turn make the downloads faster.

If for some reason working with these does not seem viable, you can use Windows Movie Maker provided free of cost with your operating software.

None of these software require training of any kind and are very easy to learn. All you have to do initially is drag and drop sequences in their order of occurrence. The timeline on the interface will tell you how the movie is progressing. Once you are done arranging the sequences, you can experiment with some transitions and effects:

* Fade in or fade out: The fade in effect allows the sequence to set in gradually. Consequently, the fade out effect allows the sequence to dissolve in a similar manner.

* Image mask: This effect will help you superimpose a still image on a scene.

* Paint splatter: Splotches of paint appear on the screen dissolving one scene gradually to the beginning of the next.

Other uber cool effects:

* Camera blur: Blurs the screen according to the level you set it at.

* Pixelate: Pixels in the video are shown prominently.

* Colour emboss: Everything significant has a slightly whitish outline.

You can also play around a lot with colours as software like Premiere and Final Cut Pro provide for an array options for colour correction. You can ask a musician friend to compose tracks for the movie, which eventually you could put together with the video.

Tejas Narayan, a student film editor, says “I love using the sparkle effect in Final Cut Pro and almost all my films have the effect. I think it makes my work distinctive from others.”

What next?

Make some popcorn, crash on a sofa with your friends, and watch your movie. Or you could put it online for the world to see. Websites like www.youtube.com, www.Ishare.rediff. com and www.metacafe.com are some free of cost options. You can also join online forums and other amateur filmmaking communities that help you share your experiences with others like yourself.

If you’re more serious about your creations, colleges like South Indian Education Society, Nerul (www.framesfilmfestival.com) and Wilson College, Marine Drive organise short film festivals each year. mam Movies, an organisation that supports independent filmmakers, could also be of help.

As French new-wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, “Photography is truth. And cinema is truth twenty-four times a second.” So relax, get together all that you might need, most importantly a tight script, and get started. If your fates are propitious enough, Yashraj or Shringar might want to release your next movie!