Five (more) Pieces of Equipment

LightIf all you use is a video camera in your production then it's going to look and sound like a home video: plain and simple. 

But if you can get your hands on just five more pieces of equipment, then you will immediately take yourself out of the beginner category.  These five items are a tripod, a shotgun microphone, a reflector, a television monitor, and black plastic.

Dont think that you have to buy, rent or borrow everything you see here. You dont.  But if you want your movie to look and sound good, work really hard to get the five pieces we just mentioned.

The Tripod:  Rock, Rock, Steady, Steady

We work a lot with students, and at first most of them absolutely hate using a tripod.  Instead, they go completely handheld, and it shows in a bad way.  Whild tiny rebellions fuel the creativity of filmmaking, this is one place where you want to gall into line.  Get a tripod and use it for every shot that does not have any movement.  This is probably the number one most preventable mistake that students make.

Good triods can cost hundreds of dollars, but you can actually get some decent ones fro around thinry bucks.  Used ones don't go much cheaper, but the same thirty bucks will get you more.

A salesperson is going to tell you that you need a super lightweithg, fluid-head, six-foot tripod with wheels that is made expecially for video.  You don't.  For your purposes, you just want a tripod that keeps your camera steady and pans smoothly.  Shteady means that the legs are solid an that it can hold the weight of your particular camera.  A smoothpan allows the camera to rotate back and forth without any jumps or jerks.  While a smooth pan is more likely with a video tripod, dont worry if you get a still-picture tripod.  Use what you have.

Shotgun Mic

Don't use the mic that your friend uses in his band.  These "dynamic mics" only pick up sounds that are close to them' they keep out the roar of the crowd.  Since thay have to be close to one's mouth, they won't work for making movies since you would always see the microphone in the frame.

Instead, you will want to look for a shotgun microphone.  These microphones are designed to pick up sounds from an actor and yet still remain out of rhe frame.  Shotgun mics are very directional, meaning that they pick up sound mainly where you point them, and then need power from a battery that is usually located in the microphone handle but can also come from the camera (called phantom power). While they can transmit their information to the camera wirelessly, they are usually connectied to your camera by a cable.

Reflectors

Reflectors allow you to bounce light back onto your scene, and as you will realize, they are a great substitute for electric lights.  Even if you are  using lights, reflectors are super helpful.  Professional-grade reflectors are actually not that expensive, but you can make your own really cheaply.  Craft stores sell a thing called foam core, and home improvement stores sell big sheets of lightweight material that has a silvery coating on it.  When cut into fourths, these home improvement reflectors are really great.  SOme students like to use the windshield reflectors off their cars.  The silvery ones are always better at reflecting than the foam board, but sometimes this reflection is too much, so it is good to have both on hand.

A Television Monitor

Have a television on the set to which you can connect your camera.  The diretor can then look at the shot framed just like it is framed in the camera.  You will need a long RCA (yellow, red, white) cord to attach your camera to the television.  Actually, you just need to run the yellow out from the camera to yellow in on your TV.  There is nothing special about yellow.  You just need a single lont RCA cord from Radio Shack of any color, as long as you connect the yellow OUT and the yellow IN.

Black Plastic an Blue Tape

When shooting inside, the sunlight from the windows looks much different than light from light bulbs.  Video is notorious for making ugly images when you combine the two.  So get rid of the sun.  In order to block out the windows, you can buy black plastic in rools from Home Depot or Loew's in the paint section, and then cut it to the size of the windows you are covering.  Use blue painters tape to hang the plastic as it is designed to be nice to the paint.  (Another way that the pros deal with this is to put gels in front of the lights that make the light the color of the sun.)