Easy hacks for technical filmmaking components

Hey filmmakers! In our last blog, we discussed tips for staying within a 5-10 minute short time frame (especially handy to be eligible for our short film competition 😉 ) and this week we have some tips on technical filmmaking components on a budget. Keep reading to find out more!

Sound

Sound is one of the most vital aspects in film. Sound effects intensely captivate scenes by making the viewer feel a certain emotion, sentiment, or call to action when watching the film. Not only that, but sound can impact mood and also enhance realism to make it seem as if the viewer is experiencing the character’s point of view (Source).

Making sound doesn’t have to come with a huge budget or have to be purchased from professionally recorded sound effects. Common materials in your home may come of use, such as brooms, pans, pillows, or fabrics. For more detailed list of household substitutes for real-life sound effects, click here. To record the effects, a camcorder, VCR (Hi-fi stereo model) or traditional audio recorder can be used. Pro tip: always remember to monitor the recording with headphones to ensure that the audio is clean on tape.

The filmmaker of ‘Sal Tran’ – Kim Huynh – says, ‘I once attended a festival screening that included a Q&A with Academy Award-winning documentary director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Best of Enemies). I asked him what advice he had for an aspiring filmmaker such as myself and he said this: “Get good sound.” I’ve heard this echoed by many pros before. You can shoot a film with any video tools at your disposal— even iPhones can shoot 4K now, and some very successful indie films like ‘Tangerine‘ were shot with iPhones— but you HAVE to get quality audio. Decent mics don’t have to cost a fortune – especially if you’re renting – but that’s where you shouldn’t skimp. Terrible sound makes a visually beautiful film painful to watch.’ Watch Kim Huynh’s film below to see examples of great use of audio: 

Lighting

Kim Huynh also notes that ‘as far as lighting on a budget, I haven’t needed to do this in a long time, but cheap work lights from the hardware store can be surprisingly effective. I once covered one with a baking sheet to soften it a bit and used that to light a sit-down interview.’ Good lighting is an essential for memorable cinematic visuals. If you are on a low budget, there are ways to create good lighting by yourself with materials you can easily find! Halogen work lights paired with colour correction gels are cheap and effective at giving out a fair amount of light. Polyboard or foam core are also inexpensive and can be used to bounce light for soft light and shadow filling.

Abby Thompson – filmmaker of ‘When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’ – says, “natural light and golden hour are free. I use a white foam poster board as a bounce card/reflector. I also have some good relationships with local equipment rental places and have built up my personal equipment inventory over the years. Sometimes working somewhere that houses equipment can provide discounted or free access too.” View Abby’s film below for examples of her use of lighting. Gaffer tape should be kept as an essential to mount unusually shaped objects in places that light stands are inaccessible or to create french flags to avoid lens flare. The uses of materials for lighting such as tin foil, baking paper, spring clamps, china ball lanterns, or tarpaulin, be found here.

Creating different moods for lighting

Lighting in film a powerful tool that it can alter moods during certain scenes. By simply adding a coloured gel or altering the placement of lights, the entire atmosphere can change. Here are some more simple tips on this:

  • To create a more ominous mood, flickering lights can go a long way in creating an eerie atmosphere.
  • Simple household dimmers to reveal different sides of a character’s face can also add a sci-fi effect.
  • Rainy windows add a certain sadness to the scene and can be expressed through wet plexiglass sheets to create a cool rain effect.

Head here for more examples of lighting techniques to show scenes such as artificial intelligence, portrait, or film noir. Testing out new techniques for moods can be fun and valuable for developing your film – there is no right or wrong way to explore!

Music

Music is a major component in any film and can alter the way viewers psychologically react to scenes. Not only that, but different music can change the meaning of the story and enhance the film by changing the mood. For example, filmmaker Ryan Connolly thinks of music as being “another character – or more aptly, the narrator” in a film. Fortunately, there are tons of great free music archives or inexpensive royalty-free music sites. Some of our faves are FreeMusicArchive or AudioBlocks. If you’re unsure about music licensing in your film, this site is a great resource.

Eric Bass, filmmaker of ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ reminds us that especially in a short film, “the visuals pull you into the world, but the sound pulls you into the character. You can use your lighting and production design to set the scene and tell the audience what’s going on, but you should use your sound design in order to cue your audience subconsciously about how to FEEL about what they are seeing. Remember, tension can be created without music if you know how to use tones to make the audience uncomfortable with the scene.” See how Eric illustrates that in his own short film below:

What filmmaking hacks have worked for you? Let us know in the section below, or connect with us on social media! Ready to submit your short film? Do so here!


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