The Evolution Of Filming Video With Your Smartphone

More and more I am filming content on my smartphone and I am digging it. Let me start off by saying I am old enough to have been creating content before there were video cameras and desktop editing options. I am also young enough to have been an early adopter of that technology. When I started creating videos over 10 years ago all the working film people would give us video creators a hard time. Saying it’s less than, a toy and not legitimate. Well now that is no longer true and it was well worth my time to go on the journey. Recently hearing about phone filming technologies I scoffed at them. Then I had an uncomfortable realization. I was treating the idea of shooting video on the phone the same way the film people scoffed at video in my early days. I quickly started to learn about the new technologies this is what I found.

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To start you want to beef up your camera app and get a sound recording app. The two camera apps that I have been using are Filmic Pro at $14.99 and Movie Pro at $5.99. Right now for me, Filmic Pro is in the lead also the Film Riot Show did a great review tutorial on Filmic Pro here. For audio I have been using one app I’m very happy with called the Apogee Meta Recorder at $4.99. For a single person shooting I have been using a simple inexpensive phone lav, you can get ones like this on Amazon for $20.00. If you are shooting a scene with multiple people you can use a shotgun, Rhode has many phone friendly options.

For stabilization and framing there are many options as well. On a basic level I use a simple tripod phone mount and a basic flexible gorilla tripod. Here is a best of list. Recently I purchased a handheld rig from iographer for around $60.00.

Last I will say I have worked professionally as a video editor and when I import video captured on the phone into the editing program I am hard pressed to find any reasons for not capturing video images on the phone. All the gear to make a legitimate attempt at filming with your phone is under $100.00. That to me is amazing. I would highly recommend you explore the possibilities of shooting a short film or web series idea you’ve been kicking around as soon as possible. With gear under $100.00, it will only cost your time.

To put my money where mouth is so to speak, on my youtube “How To” channel I am doing a series called “How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film” So far all the episodes are shot on the phone and the short that I will be making at the end of the series will be shot on the smartphone.

I hope you found this simple hack useful. For more tips and shared experience visit and subscribe to my above-mentioned youtube channel Create Sci-Fi with plenty of informative videos on creating content.

Casting A Minor Celebrity Will Increase Interest In Your Short Film Or Web Series

One great way to elevate the status of your web series is to cast a known actor who has been off the radar. In film, Quentin Tarantino is the master of this. With our modest web series production budgets, we can scale this practice down. For example, if your web series is sci-fi you would try and cast a memorable day player who was in several episodes of the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise (2001–2005). If you are making a comedy perhaps you look for a lead actor from an 80’s TV show that you’ve not seen show up in anything in a while. Making a Thriller? Find that actor from that memorable X-Files episode, you get the idea. My colleagues and I are always trying to think of actors for our projects that people know, but don’t know they know, until you remind them. If your script and concept are solid and you are organized and persistent, you can land one of these actors for your show.

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Some examples of would be Beverly Owen (later re-placed by Pat Priest) as the teenage niece on, “The Munsters”. Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts who both replaced the Kate Jackson character in the original, “Charlie’s Angeles”. Jenilee Harrison and Priscilla Barnes who both replaced Suzanne Somers character in the 70’s & early 80’s TV Show,” Three’s Company”.

Some people may be skeptical but when you have invested all of your time and energy into a project you want to make sure you’ve done everything to ensure the success of your show. Securing an actor that resonates in the pop culture zeitgeist can go a long way in stimulating interest in your project. Consider casting a recognizable actor in a minor role as the Mom or Dad, the Boss, the Quirky Neighbor, the Spaceship Captain… I could go on.

Here is the Hack. Consider this type of an actor for a supporting role in which you can shoot their appearances across your entire season in one day. Once you have an actor in mind you need to consult IMDB Pro to learn who represents them. If they list an agent and manager the manager is preferable as they tend to have a more personal relationship with their clients. If it’s just an agent then use the agent.

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Your Video Production Music On A Budget Can be Royalty Free And Not Suck

I want to share with you some simple scoring solutions I’ve come across and use a few myself. Music is often not dealt with as part of pre-production in tight budget scenarios. A lot of time and effort goes into location scouting, production design, casting and the monumental task of simply scheduling everything. Editing becomes a priority immediately after shooting simply because you want to see what you got. But the score is often ignored by most filmmakers and becomes an afterthought. Not because of ignorance or poor planning mostly because they are the last steps and often fall under the proverb “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it”!

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Often times scoring falls to the editor by default and he or she will score with temp music that you do not have the rights to but helps with pace and tempo. That becomes a slippery slope, you can become married to a tempo and energy and then never get the rights to that track. Also if your picture cuts are married to the music once you change it out recutting is inevitable and that’s going to be double the work. Worst case scenario is your cut was better with music you cannot obtain, that will haunt you. My hack is simple, create a music library of the vibe you want for your project. I Would recommend 3 to 1, three song options for each scene or a moment you will be scoring. Make it clear these are the only options. That way the editor can audition the tracks from that group of preselections that are in your budget or already cleared.

The good news is great news actually, getting the rights to a piece of music to score your production has become very affordable and there are many free options. Filmmakers can get cheap or free scores by creating them through software programs like GarageBand or an online service like Filmstro that allows you to score your video with their library. Websites like Pond5 and Audiojungle have tracks you can get the rights to for around $20. If you consider the time investment of the free options $20 is a bargain. Also with the low-cost sites like AudioJungle and Pond5 you can download any track before you actually buy it. This makes it easy to fill up your projects music library. It will have an audio watermark but that is fine for trying out tracks in your edit. You can also find some free options too. I’ve used Free Stock Music quite a few times. And for free sound effects an excellent resource is Freesound.

GARAGE BAND
Creating your own scores with GarageBand can be rewarding, it’s not too difficult to learn and with the newer version you can import your video. GARAGE BAND TUTORIAL

FILMSTRO
Is a customizable music library that always you to control several aspects of a music track to customise it to your image. It is subscription based. FILMSTRO TUTORIALS

AUDIO JUNGLE
Is part of Envato Market. At AudioJungle you can buy royalty-free music and sound effects inexpensively. The site is home to a bustling community of audio composers and producers. They offer ‘Music Kits” to customise and rearrange music tracks without using complex software. Basically, they give you the separate elements of a track.

POND 5
Similar to AudioJungle, Pond5 is a New York-based online marketplace for royalty-free media. The company licenses stock footage, stock music, stock photography sound effects, after effects, images and 3-D models.

Free Stock Music
There are many free tracks on this site. They offer a 100% royalty free license that allows you to use the music in all types of productions, for worldwide distribution, forever. There are never any licensing fees.
FREESOUND
Freesound is a collaborative database of creative-commons licensed sound for musicians and filmmakers. They have just about any sound effect you are looking for.

There should be an option on this list to fit your creative and budgetary needs. I hope you found this article useful. For more tips and shared experience visit my youtube channel Create Sci-Fi with plenty of informative videos on creating content.

From Trash To Blast! How To Make A Sci-Fi Recycle Bin Laser Blaster Gun

Any good Sci-Fi project is going to need a Blaster, Laser Gun, Ray Gun, Photon Rifle, the list goes on. There are many ways to go about making these weapons for your sci-fi arsenal be it for a film, a cosplay or simply for display. In this article, I want to share with you an inexpensive and fun solution. I’ve come across a lot of craft builds with recycled plastic bottles lately and I thought hey, I have an overflowing recycle bin with a  bunch of material for some Blaster building so I figured I’d give it a try. Here I’m going to share with you what I came up with.

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First I dug into my recycle bin and found some bottles that were interesting and got out some tools.

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I roughly arranged some silhouettes for my recycle bin blaster and this was the winner.

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I start by cutting the bottom off of the water bottle.

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I merge it with a ridged chip container.

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I cut off the top of a cleaning bottle to make a hand grip. I saw that in some online video and it stuck in my head, it’s very clever and works nicely. I hot glue these parts together.

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What I learn here is that the hot glue melts this plastic bottle that is my barrel which was not what I wanted. I had to cut off the damaged excess and I decided to take this opportunity to add some more dimensions. I added a hand soap bottle as a collar that I slid over the damaged area and that cleaned it up and looked good. A happy accident as they say.

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Then I add the trigger. I simply repurposed the trigger from the cleaning bottle. To make it fit I rough out a hole in the handle with a Dremel tool to pressure fit this trigger in the handle. You could also cut a hole with an Exacto blade. It is not a practical trigger so I just secure it in place with glue.

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Next up is a spent deodorant bottle added to the top as some sort of scope. Also, I add the ball from the deodorant model to the bottom of the handle and this interesting sports bottle cap finishes off the profile nicely.

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Everything gets a light sanding so it will better accept the paint.I base coat it with a flat black primer and just dusted it a little bronze over that.

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Painting is done with a dry brush technique. Using a metallic paint with a very light amount on the brush that is further lightened by brushing onto a paper towel. The paint is applied by just lightly brushing the surface and a brushed metallic look is achieved. To add some dimensionality I add some gold metallic by extra lightly brushing the high points and that gives it a nice glow. The final touch is introducing sparse green metallic highlights in places that might be buttons or decorative just to give it a little more life.

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To make the Blaster look real and to give it some character a weathering pass is needed. That is simply some watered down brown and black paint that is washed over the entire piece. It is then quickly wiped off with a paper towel.  The dark wash remains in the low points, cracks and crevices, this gives it the illusion of being an actual object.

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Who knew space blaster hiding out right in my recycling bin! Now if I was doing a sci-fi project and I wanted to suspend your disbelief make you believe it was a real future or a parallel universe I probably wouldn’t use this prop Blaster. However, if I was doing a sci-fi fantasy like a Barbarella or a comedy this is exactly what I would use.

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The Look: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

This week I want to talk about the look of my web series Galactic Galaxy. What really makes Galactic Galaxy unique and frankly me proud is the graphic novel treatment. Most often it is compared to The 80’s epic cartoon Heavy Metal. Which is a happy accident or maybe not I actually saw that movie in the theatres? I’m pretty sure we snuck out of The Great Muppet Caper and into another time and space… I digress. Many of my SciFi influences for the show are from The early 80’s Heavy Metal Comics or Metal Hurlant when it was first released and featured Mobius and my favorite Philippe Druillett, so though it was unintentional, it certainly makes sense.

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I did lots of research on how to technically turn live action into illustration, the most obvious was Rotoscoping. Rotoscoping is an animation technique used by animators to trace over footage, frame by frame. The most influential for me was 1977 Wizards by Ralph Bakshi but that was very basic and more of a Broll filler. But like Heavy Metal an indispensable influence. I would not exist without those movies. More recently were the beautiful movies from Richard Linklater, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly which are beautiful. Bob Sabiston is the man responsible for that work and it is stunning. So much so that it is the other end of the spectrum, the time money and sheer artistry behind that method was well beyond my means

maxresdefaultI used to say back to the drawing board but what is more accurate these days is, back down the google rabbit hole. I started looking into DIY desktop solutions from great resources like Red Giant and Video Co-Pilot. Shout out to Andrew Kramer, once you start to learn about SciFi DIY you can probably trace 80% of it to his tutorials. I was not able to find exactly what I needed so I started to cobble together bits and pieces from various resources until I came up with something that might work in theory. After some initial tests, I was able to come up with something that would work for my budget and not compromise my vision.

The basic process I came up with was a combination of online tutorials, some basic software and a year of trial and error. In essence, I Shoot on green screen and then key out the live action (remove the green). Then I apply a series of filters that turn the actors into an illustration. To add depth and movement a virtual film camera is introduced via Adobe After Effects to combine the 2D live action with a 3D background. To really sell this look I add very subtle camera moves and a few other subtle tweaks with film grain and lens flares.

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In the end, it is a lot of work for a primarily DIY production. Many long hours were put into the creation of this show and I cannot wait to show you the end result. Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

Proof Of Concept: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

This week I want to talk about the proof of concept short I made for My web series Galactic Galaxy. Once I decided on the unique “tooned” look of the series I knew I had to figure out the ins and outs of how exactly it was going to work? I went through the original script and selected three scenes that showcased the most characters and major locations. The thought is this way I can get a very good idea of how to make this work and what it was going to look like.

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On a very basic level in my apartment, I did a super basic, very rough test of the skull warrior. I shot very rough poorly lit footage. A worst case example if you will. I did a test of the process I planned to use and for a test, it looked pretty decent. I was relieved, this could work. From this, I was motivated and excited.

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I went to work and did a casting for the scene and was planning on just doing it quickly and inexpensively as a test. Well, the good news was I did, in fact, figure out how the process would work and that in fact, it would work. However, that test footage took one year to finish. It was so exciting but so much to work out. But once I had the systems in place and the kinks ironed out it went much quicker with the web series. Still took one year but that was for six times more content.

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As an afterthought, I filmed the Queen character doing a monologue I wrote to give some exposition to the random scenes so I could show it at festivals as a short film, and use it for promotional material. I was fortunate enough to get into the Dances With Films Festival which resulted in a Screening at the Historic Manns Chinese Theatre which was both exciting and motivating. the short also won a silver medal at The Stann Lee Comic Con. Not bad for a proof of concept film with no plot.

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Motivated by the interest shown in the proof of concept film, I was more excited than ever to get to work on the series.  A valuable function of that was early short film was I knew the original script was not going to work and some of the characters while wonderfully acted were not working quite right within the story. Also as I mentioned I love the process and I was looking forward to refining my vision. From the short, it was clear I would have to go back to the drawing board and start the dreaded … rewrite.
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The Re-Write: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

In my first version of Galactic Galaxy, I closely followed the Hero’s Journey structure as laid out by the late great Joseph Campbell. I was 100%  committed to following that narrative structure. It was an exercise for me, my own hero’s journey in a way. I was so motivated that I wrote a twelve episode arc. That original script was 12 episodes and they were 20 to 30 minutes long. I can’t even Imagine what that budget would have been, but it would have been unrealistic. The value of that process was I was world-building, creating my characters and the foundation of the show.

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It was important for me with this project to collaborate with as many people as possible. In all my projects prior, I was a one-man show and although I got good at that, I wanted to break the habit. The first draft of Galactic Galaxy was too spread out. I enlisted the help of another writer, John Plunkett to take my first draft and wrench it into a tighter script format. It was imperative to get perspective and focus.

Early on when I was floating the script out to friends and colleagues to read and give first impressions I could tell right away people were not reading past the first episode. It was too exhausting for them. This was a problem, a major problem. I knew the story was interesting and there was lots of humor but clearly, something was not working. It was just too dense.

The decision to scrap that script and start over was a big move for me as a creator and as a human. I scrapped that whole script, almost a year’s worth of work and went back to the drawing board. The positives have I had my characters, locations, and a basic storyline. I just needed to rework it. Also, it’s much easier to take away content then to add it.

I’ve always been curious about the mythical “writers room” that just sounded to me like an amazing thing to be part of. It occurred to me I could… create one? So I did that. I rented a big production office for a week and put an ad on craigslist, I should mention I’m in Los Angeles so the talent is around. I simply said upfront, I have a limited budget for five full days and we will write six 5min scripts. I got a lot of great responses to the add,  some from crazy town but that’s part of the process. I was able to narrow the people interested down to ones that seemed like a good fit and after a few very brief phone interviews I had a writers room.

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Through that straightforward process, I was able to get three very talented writers. Among them was Charles Horn who was a writer on the Robot Chicken Star Wars Show. That was one great aspect of being in Los Angeles. He simply was not working that week on anything else and agreed to work within my limited budget. Myself and the other two writers dove right in. Day one I introduced the world and characters and my basic plot outline to them and we roughed out the outline for the season. We then proceed as a group to write 2 episodes a day and on the final day did a few rounds or rewrites. The writer’s room did not disappoint, not only was it very effective but it was an experience I hope to one-day repeat.

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We came away with a very strong script that I was proud of and excited to make. The reactions from friends and colleagues to this version were a stark contrast to their original response. The reactions were all positive and I know they were sincere because it was as a weight was lifted and they could tell me how much they were confused and uninterested in the first draft, its a process. One that not only works but is essential.

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Concept Art: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

From the very first moment I had the idea for my Sci-Fi web series Galactic Galaxy, I was more passionate and driven to make it a reality than any other project I’d conceived. I’d talk to anyone who would listen to keep the momentum going. The thing you learn quickly with sci-fi is it’s hard to explain it to someone. They really need to see it. To convince people to work with me on my idea and to generate any real interest, I realized I needed some concept art.

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Initially, I would say to potential collaborators, “There are These Snail Warriors and a Wizard” every time they would smile uncomfortably and nod.  But, once I had the concept art, they would get visibly excited. For me, armed with the concept art, one: the ball was rolling two: in a very basic way, I was beginning the process of creating the show. I teamed up with a great local artist in LA named Farron Kerzner and he started bringing my imagination to life.

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We started with the Space Wizard and the Dar Kuzar who was simply called the Dark Lord then. Some of the early designs changed and some stayed the same.

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The IF3 or Interplanetary Federation Female Force,  went through several stages of development before the final look was achieved.

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The Queen originally in my mind was Cher from the 1986 Oscars and Faron drew these beautiful Costumes. In the end, she went another direction but the art was key to set things in motion.  

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My beloved Snail Warriors (sigh) My original Idea was for snail warriors as the Dar Kuzars army. But that was another practical use of the concept art. Once I shopped around the drawing of the costume I soon learned I would never ever on a low budget be able to afford the costume build. Which lead me to rethink the characters and I came up with the skull warriors. However, creating those Skull Warriors was vital in getting me to the next step. It was my first of many creative solutions.

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The concept art was key in starting my journey to realizing my show. When you have an idea for a show no one can stop you from writing it, that costs your time. Before you have the budget to make your project if you are passionate enough about the idea you can spend a few hundred dollars out of your own pocket to tease it into the world. In my experience when you’re emailing or having lunch with potential collaborators or investors they begin to take you seriously when you start showing them concept art.

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My Three Year Journey Into Creating Sci-Fi Has Only Just Begun

I have been working on my sci-fi series Galactic Galaxy for almost three years now. It’s funny to say that because I clearly remember the circumstances in which I got started. It was only supposed to be a one-month time investment.

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I have been a storyteller for almost thirty years now. I started in theatre and later transitioned into film. I have always gravitated to Art House type offerings and as I became more serious about my craft it became harder and harder to make a living with my chosen genre. I was initially trying to emulate Jim Jarmusch. I think a few of my films came close and I’m proud of them all but none of them broke out. It was not my authentic voice.

A few years ago it occurred to me the while I was trying to make films like Jim Jarmusch and follow in the footsteps of Dogme 95 that fact was in my downtime all I ever watched was SciFi and Fantasy. If it involved swords or Laser Blasters I was riveted. I decided to go back to square one and just start making what I enjoyed. It was thrilling. I was bursting with ideas and had the benefit of 20 years of experience to have some pretty clear ideas of how to bring these ideas to life on a budget. I always work on a tight budget.

Which brings me back to that moment when I started Galactic Galaxy. I remember sitting down in a coffee shop to write. My intention was to write a sci-fi web series, something funny and short. Six episodes a few minutes each. I was surprised by the number of ideas and the deep understanding of this genre that was inside me right under the surface. The dam broke and I just kept writing and writing. It was thrilling because it was effortless. Well, almost, it is a grind to write for sure but, I was being swept up in it.

That spark generated a 120-page script, not quite the short I had in mind. Later I worked with a team of writers I organized to reduce it to its essence. I ended up with six short webisodes. Prior to filming, I wrote a short film from the 120-page script to shoot as a proof of concept. That was supposed to take a few months, it ended up taking one year to finish. During that year I set to work raising the funds for the series. I spent the following year producing and filming the series. Then another full year in post-production.

At the writing of this I am finished and yet the journey of educating myself about distribution has just begun. I am reaching out to traditional networks, streaming networks, online networks and constantly emailing teasers to film festivals that can potentially help me move forward. I  suspect this will take another year.

What I have come to discover is that while I am immersed in the creation of my show I am immersed in a mild satisfaction. I say mild because I’m always striving to be better but it’s satisfying to be on a journey of your own invention. I certainly have stressful moments but stressing out about if you can really afford to shoot for 4 days instead of 3 is much different then stressing out about what are you doing with your life.

If you ever meet me I am that guy who makes sci-fi. I am that guy because three years ago I sat down in a coffee shop and decided to make something and be that guy. People do that every day, the difference is when you wake up the next day and start. For me, it was Sci-Fi for you maybe Fantasy or Horror the trick is to just work toward it every day and realize it could take 3 years and for your sake I hope it does. Because during that time you will become your imagined self.

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