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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Tips on how to be a successful filmmaker during the recession.


What do you do when all the news is bad news? Layoffs, bank collapses, credit constriction. Gloom is the swine flu of our media ecosystem, and it’s hard to ward off infection and hysteria. Our economy’s become a dark, frigid sea that we’re supposed to distance swim without instruction or a shore in sight. So what does that mean for us as creative individuals?

First and foremost, we need to recognize that we have unique resources. The news may be bad, but we started adapting to murky economic realities long before most people ever dreamed of a financial crisis. We’ve evolved for this extreme environment, like those crazy deep-sea fish — the glow-in-the dark ones with lamps on their heads. We may not be pretty, but we know how to survive in dark waters — and now the whole ocean’s gone dark. Everyone else is panicking. They don’t know how to live like this. But those of us used to late-night edit rooms, 20-hour days, Red Bull, ramen and shoebox apartments… we already know how to swim in these waters. We’ve already developed our weird adaptations in order to find work, food and friends, and now we’re at an advantage. While everyone else slows down or stops, we can see clearly and keep creating. While others are blind in the dark, we can be proactive and fearless, and by taking some pretty simple steps we can make major leaps in our work and our careers.


1. Commit yourself to filmmaking.

First, stop equivocating and commit to the long-term goal of being a filmmaker. You’re either in or you’re out — decide. Then recognize that living day-to-day, throwing everything into the next project without regard for what follows may not work over the long term. It’s a question of pacing. If you still want to be doing this when you’re in your forties, fifties and eighties, then you need to construct a life that functions. Committing to being a filmmaker means making all parts of your life work well.

2. Dedicate yourself to a lifetime of making inventive, rigorous work that matters.

If you’re going to do this for the rest of your life, then you must ask yourself, “What am I making?” Is what you make the best possible thing it can be? Have you done the thinking to bring real artistry to your pursuit?

Commit to rigor over fluff and meaning over flash. The world does not need more predictable fare. The world needs films that share something about our moment; something that cannot be seen in any other way. To be a great filmmaker you must be inventive and rigorous. So swear to yourself that you will be as fearless as possible in pursuit of this goal.

3. Use your creative skills to build your future, not to deny your current situation.

We’ve all heard someone (maybe even ourselves?) spin fantasies about “how it’ll all work out.” That financier, that funder and even Mom, in a pinch. Someone’s coming to make it right. They’ll fix our financial mess for us, and we can ignore life’s harsher realities till that white knight arrives. But unless there is a trust fund on your horizon, this is creative fiction. And while your ability to weave creative fiction may serve you professionally, it will hold you back in your actual life. There is no buyer, funder or producer that is going to save you. You only have yourself. So decide to use your creative skills to build your way forward through the challenges. Instead of using your creative imagination to deny that things are hard or to ignore reality, learn from past mistakes and do not repeat them. You need to be able to look at your life, banish fear and say with unshakable confidence “I’ve got a new plan.”

4. Spend with clarity and save with purpose.

Why is it that when someone says, “You can’t make that movie,” you think, “Yes, I can,” and if they say, “You should have some savings,” you say, “There is no way.” Recognize that you are skilled at making a lot happen with little money and use that skill on your work and your life. You’re a filmmaker, you know how to build real things from no resources. With planning and forethought you can both make your movie and slowly build up savings.

Be ruthless about the difference between what you want and what you need. Track your money, making sure you’re spending it well and prioritizing things that really matter. The goal is to save. Set a target savings amount. If you can, buy only what you need and barter for whatever else you want. Use eBay and Craigslist for bargains on all those weird little things you cannot live without.

For your films, be clear that big movies need big partners. If deep-pocketed partners aren’t in your future, you need to change your “at any cost” strategy. Narrative filmmakers may need to embrace the era of the small movie: small containable scripts, few locations, small crew. You also may need to deepen and wield your knowledge about local and international tax credits. Both narrative and documentary filmmakers need to really research the grant landscape and be realistic about the odds of receiving funding.

Also don’t be afraid to slow down your schedule to benefit your work and your pocketbook (remember everyone is adjusting — no one will blink at a schedule change). A slower pace means you can fit your film around your money job and use the extra time to keep on solid financial footing and deepen the work. Keeping your money job allows you to move forward without falling too far behind. However if your film is topical in a way that means it must be shot right now, then you need to really know how much cash it will take to make it happen.

So be realistic and clear about how much your film will cost and which funding sources are likely and which are not. Make a plan for what you will do if none of the funding comes through. Next, make a plan for if half comes through. Your goal is to understand how much debt you can take on. Be realistic about this part and set a limit before you start shooting. It’s important to know the answer to this in advance because during the crunch you can easily lose sight and get into trouble. You need to be honest with yourself — you may not sell this film. The debt you are accruing is yours and yours alone. Having a clear sense of this in advance can really help you make strong choices during production and post and could mean the difference between long-term debt obligations and solvency.

5. Get your credit in order.

Remember that access to capital when you need it is good but bad debt can sink you. So if you have debt, commit to eliminating it: Figure out how much you owe, figure out what your upcoming costs will be and determine how much you can realistically spend each month to pay down your debt. Three good online debt resources are Snowball down your debt,  the smart money resources, and powerpay.

For those of you with no credit, you can establish credit by joining a local or national credit union and obtaining a debit card that you can then trade up for a credit union charge card.

Either way, dedicate yourself to raising your credit/FICO score. Use resources like the Filmmaker article from Spring 2009 to assist you so you have the credit resources you need when you need them.

6. Embrace multiple income streams.

Other forms of income make your work possible. Instead of fighting this, be grateful. It’s amazing how much energy you save if you stop fighting this paradigm. If you need more money, find new sources of income based on your odd skill-set and apply No. 3. If your job is demeaning or bad, commit to finding a new job and leaving your old one. But remember that this is a recession. Don’t just up and quit your day job. You might not find another one as easily. And frankly, your day job is keeping your movie happening even though it feels counterintuitive. Sure, you may need to make adjustments to keep your second (or third or fourth) job from interfering completely with your film, but it’s likely necessary to keep you moving ahead financially in these times. By first adjusting your attitude you greatly improve your chances of making the whole thing work.

7Create strength through community.

Your friends and colleagues are your greatest resources — they have skills, equipment, intelligence and savvy. Clues to survival reside with our peers and our community of fellow filmmakers and artists. The choices they make will help us solve our own problems and make better choices. Take colleagues you admire out to coffee, lunch or dinner, and ask questions about how they make it work. Also, do things that help you enjoy your community. Too often in the single-minded pursuit of filmmaking we forget to enjoy our friends. Movies get made by groups of people. Make sure that this group brings you joy. Communal dinners, caffeinated meet-ups, tequila. These are all tools to bring folks closer together, and the better we play together, the better we work together.

8Manage your goals and chart your progress.

Set your goals in writing. Studies show that writing down your goals drastically improves your chances of meeting them. Break down the steps. Any goal, even a big one, is achievable if you break it down into the smallest steps possible. Then share your goals. Make yourself accountable publicly so that you have an incentive to follow through on things like debt reduction. Also, track and share your success. Use the discipline of goal tracking to bring order to your life. Then use the lists to remind yourself that you are making progress. It’s too easy to think you aren’t moving forward if your goals are really big, but progress is progress, so make sure you can chart yours.

9Give more and participate in making the world a better place for all people.

When you focus on your own challenges it’s easy to forget that the world is a difficult and challenging place for those less fortunate than yourself. Don’t be a selfish artist, be a good citizen. Volunteer for a cause, a campaign or a soup kitchen. Help your friend or neighbor. Give advice, give your time, give your expertise. Especially do this when you’re afraid. It will banish the fear. It will also lead you to new and unexpected opportunities. And remember, even when it’s hard, we are blessed to be able to do what we love.

10Make the decision to make your best work and be good with money and enrich the world.

Now go out there and kick some cinema booty.



Article by  Esther B. Robinson






Digital wonders show no sign of ceasing or even slowing anytime soon. The trajectory of video over the last 10 or 15 years is a continuation of the 100-year quest that film cameras and emulsions have traveled to become smaller, sharper and more and more sensitive to light. But during its short life, the technology of film remained essentially the same. A Panaflex is really just a quieter, smaller Mitchell Camera and a Mitchell performs a similar function to that of a hand-cranked silent-movie camera, only automatically. What the Lumière brothers were unspooling at the turn of the last century is not so different from what Ethan and Joel load into their cameras today, except for color and the amount of light needed to get the shot.

In this century, progress is still towards less light, higher definition, less weight and lower cost. The board game is the same, but the pieces keep changing. And they do so with greater and greater frequency and efficiency. Some resourceful and well-informed filmmakers among us are making full-length fiction and non-fiction movies using single-lens reflex digital cameras (DSLRs). We’re talking still cameras. As in Nikon. As in Canon.

These are not avant-garde filmmakers experimenting with fuzzy pixilated images destined for exhibition in side street art galleries. Audiences will be viewing a 12 mega-pixel, 720p image with depth of field as shallow as anything shot by Roger Deakins or Bob Richardson. In plain English: high-definition video that looks like it was shot with film-camera lenses, but on a D90 Nikon you can hold in the palm of one hand while you write out a check for $1,300 with the other. And that same check will get you a zoom lens as well. It makes the $17,000 body-only Red Camera seem like a Hummer. And if Nikon doesn’t drive camera rental houses crazy or out of business, what about a 21 mega-pixel 1080p high-def image from Canon for $2,700? Even with the additional cost of a lens, this is still within the range of a graduation gift certificate to B&H or Samy’s Camera. And you can rent cameras and lenses at places like this for less than what it costs to gas up the Yugo you’ll be able to use as an equipment vehicle. In Allentown, Penn., for instance, a Nikon and zoom lens rents for $80 a week.


Lance Weiler, of the Workbook Project, is producing Radar, a series which will be screening on that focuses on the creative process. Tom Quinn, writer-director of The New Year Parade, was the d.p., and he says each episode focuses on “a totally unique art community ranging from comic collectives to improv musical groups.” It is, he says, “the kind of series that really inspires you to create, both for the audience and for those of us making it.”

Quinn adds the Nikon D90 was chosen for its unique look and because “it shoots in five-minute bursts and holds about 50 minutes per 8gb card. Used Nikon still lenses made it a very affordable way to get an HD camera with interchangeable lenses.” The production settled on a 28mm, a 50mm, and two zoom lenses.

Nikon and Canon’s incredible image quality is the result of their large image sensors. Typical compact cameras might have an image sensor measuring about 5mm by 7mm. The sensor on the Nikon D90 uses a 16mm by 24mm sensor. That is 11 times the area of a compact camera’s imaging chip. On the Canon EOS 5D Mark II the sensor is the same size as a standard film camera frame: 24mm by 36mm. That’s more than 24 times larger than a standard sensor.


It is the size of the CMOS chip and use of primes that results in a very shallow depth of field creating for Radar a cinematic image despite the Web format. Quinn feels this was used to their advantage often resulting in “expressionistic, soft-focus compositions.” Standard compact video cameras have very short focal-length lenses to match their small sensors. The laws of optics dictate that the small sensors on regular video cameras and their lenses will have a very broad depth of field.

And DSLR sensors permit each pixel to be larger, reducing the amount of noise in the image and increasing the amount of light each pixel is able to capture. The result: sharper images and the ability to shoot in lower light.

Andrew Disney is shooting a feature called Searching for Sonny in Fort Worth, Tex. with a Canon 5D. Anyone who has shot far from the big established film centers has experienced some difficulty in obtaining big lights and a variety of grip equipment, not to mention crew. But Disney says that “the size of the camera made our crew smaller, and we had nothing too big to lug around. The camera’s battery pack lasted all day. It felt easier and we weren’t as tired. Moving the camera and using the dolly was just so easy.


“But the big plus about the camera is the light sensitivity and the size of the image sensor. We were able to shoot in low light… That was the pain with the HVX and a 35mm adapter. You’d lose so much light and the blacks turned out so grainy.”

So what are the downsides to DSLR technology? For the D90, one is that the camera body will overheat after about 40 minutes of continuous shooting and then needs about 10 minutes to cool down. But the overriding thing that the filmmakers interviewed for this article all commented on was the lack of any image stabilization feature.

Disney: “I was very afraid about the sensitivity of the camera to movement. I’d read a lot about how the rolling shutter in the Canon 5D can sometimes give a jelly effect. If you look at the focus push at the second mark, (26 seconds into the trailer at you’ll see what a lot of people are having problems with. We stayed away from handheld shots, more as a stylistic choice. We did a test before the shoot with handheld, some parts were a little too shaky. I think it’ll be a new camera technique to master.

“On the dolly, we used sandbags to weigh down the tripod. But even with a nice dolly with good track, we had to rehearse the shot over and over again. Every little bump could be seen on camera.”

Tom Quinn had similar concerns. “These cameras are really meant to be operated on a tripod — the handheld has a few issues. For one, there is no optical image stabilizer for the video, so the small vibrations that a video camera would neutralize are present. Also the CMOS sensor creates a slight waver to the image on fast horizontal movement when shooting telephoto. For these two reasons we’ve been using a mix of monopods and tripods.”



But Zak Forsman, producer and director of the D90 feature Eloquent Graffiti and its prelude Model/Photographer(which won Third Place at DVX Fest this year), thinks it is possible to get around this problem. “The D90 is very comfortable for handheld shooting given its DSLR form factor,” he says. “I hold it securely with my right hand while cradling it and pulling focus with my left. The camera’s sensor does have a slow read/reset, which results in skewing of the image when panning left and right. But this effect is minimized in much the same way you soften handheld camerawork — with wide lenses and stabilization. I won’t shoot with anything longer than my 28mm without a tripod. Even so, it takes a good amount of familiarity with the D90 to work within its technical limitations.” I have seen Forsman’s work at and it is very accomplished. The look is amazing, as is his production value in general.

None of these filmmakers use internal sound recording with their DSLRs. Forsman feels that “the D90’s built-in mic is nearly worthless. The 11khz mono track is good only for a scratch track to sync up a double-system recording. There is no auxiliary input for sound so we use a variety of double-system solutions. For ambience a Zoom H2 provides a four-channel surround recording for building a 5.1 mix. For dialogue we stick with a Sennheiser 416 to a Sound Devices 702 compact flash recorder. When necessary, we use a wireless kit.”

Forsman’s goal for post is to get the captured media into a form where the image quality is protected from subsequent renders and the format meets broadcast specifications. “This means two things: transcoding to Apple ProRes and retiming the frame rate from 24 fps to 23.98 fps. I have created a droplet in Compressor that does both. As with any double-system shoot, dailies need to be synced in post. There is no time code here to automate the process so my editor, Jamie Cobb, uses the slate or an alternate means of a sync mark such as clapping hands.”

Wow. Just like the good old days.







Seven Nation Army” is the first track on the album  Elephant by American alternative rock band  The White Stripes. It was released as a single in 2003. Seven Nation Army reached #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks for three weeks and won 2004’s Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. The song is known for its underlying riff, which plays throughout most of the song. Although it sounds like a bass guitar (an instrument the group had famously never previously used), the sound is actually created by running Jack White‘s semi-acoustic guitar (a 1950s style Kay Hollowbody) through a Digitech Whammy pedal set down an octave. The riff was composed at a sound check before a show at the Corner Hotel in MelbourneAustralia, according to the set notes in the booklet which accompanied the Under Blackpool Lights DVD. This riff was inspired by the main theme of Anton Bruckner‘s Fifth symphony.

According to White, “Seven Nation Army” is what he used to call the  Salvation Army as a child.

In March 2005, Q magazine placed “Seven Nation Army” at number 8 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In September 2005, NME placed “Seven Nation Army” at number 5 in its list of the 50 Greatest Tracks Of The Decade. It was also called the 75th greatest hard rock song by VH1. In May 2008,Rolling Stone placed this song at number 21 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. The song was named the 75th best hard rock song of all time by VH1. “Seven Nation Army” also earned 20th place in Triple J‘s Hottest 100 of All Time in 2009. The song was also listed at #30 on Pitchfork Media‘s top 500 songs of the 2000s, and at number 2 in Observer Music Monthly‘s top 75 songs of the decade, behind Beyoncé‘s “Crazy in Love“. It also came in second on Channel V Australia’s top 1000 songs of the 00s. In 2009, US website Consequence of Sound named this as their top rock track of the 2000s, as did Boston’sWFNX Radio. On Rolling Stone’s updated version of their The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “Seven Nation Army” was listed at number 286. It was also ranked #1 onRhapsody‘s list of the Top 100 Tracks of the Decade.

The song is also very popular in European football stadiums even becoming the anthem of the the Italians’ world cup win in 2006 and of the Euro 2008.5

Directed by Alex & Martin