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.

9960169657897e67927986dba6e844e59c636f44

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.

2e648b788aeff625e9e1c682e850b5289f659e79_1_690x287

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.

8ffb3be46ef6c4edeac7912c304f7aec29506400

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”!

d2927169d21b72c55c32a6d36b15ff5cc3f393f5_1_690x388

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.

The Storyboard, Basic Storyboard Creation & Script Breakdown: Step 4 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my process of creating storyboards with an artist. This is the fourth video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking giddy-up.

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.

FenHerroBlast_GG

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.

skulltest

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.

GG_TOON_FV_v1.pct

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.

Silver

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.
Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

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.

Hero

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.

WriterRoom3

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.

titlepage

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.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film: Step 1 The Script, A No Frills DIY Script Writing Approach

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my no frills, basic approach to writing a script. This is the first video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking giddy-up.

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.

GGGroup

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.

Farton.Still003
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.

Kuzarvolve

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

IF3Evolve
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.  

QueenEvo

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.

snail skull

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.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

Green Screen Keying And Compositing Tutorial Video Without After Effects

In this VFX tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I take you step by step through the process of keying and compositing green screen footage without using After Effects. We achieve this effect right in your editing software.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking giddy-up.

Why I Am Filming More And More Video Content With My Smartphone, An Honest Non-Technical Answer

I wanted to talk a bit about the idea of shooting video content on a smartphone. 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. A funny thing happened to me recently that made me think about that.

smartphone-technology-camera-gadget-mobile-phone-rear-view-mirror-179896-pxhere.com

When I first started shooting video in the early days, fueled by Dogme 95, I was making Mumblecore films before that name existed. Shooting video was liberating. My experience with filmmaking had been shooting music videos on Super 16 as a job. The group I was involved with would make sure to do what was known as a weekend rental. We’d shoot the band on Friday with the equipment rented on the budget provided by the record company.  Because the rental houses were closed on the weekend we would have the equipment over the weekend so we could make our personal films as long as we bought our own filmstock and had the rental back by Monday. We’d piggyback all the laborious tasks and expenses on the back of the music video budget. I remember lighting a set for hours and never really knowing if the shots were any good until almost a week later. Editing was an event. We’d rent a suite with an operator, they would provide lunch and we’d sit on a huge couch in the back of a room while an editor operated a console that looked like it belonged on the Starship Enterprise.

Then very shortly in my foray into filmmaking, these digital cameras started showing up, the Sony VX2000 and the Cannon XL1. I worked at a production house that had one coveted AVID editing system. I was low man on the pole but they were kind enough to let me edit my own projects. The catch was, I had to come in after midnight. One day they said, we just got this new thing is called, Final Cut. It was Apple’s Final Cut, version one in fact. You can use that if you want, they said. Cue Hallelujah music and sound effects. Between the new cameras and desktop editing, I was off on an adventure, one I continue to this day.

It was a rough time back then. People were very divided on the subject of film versus video. Mostly the established working people would tell you video would never look like film and how it’s not the same, and less than. And all the unestablished hard working people trying to get ahead would say, content is king and I am a storyteller and every six months the technology would get better and better. It was an exciting time. I imagine it was what it was like for kids hearing punk rock music for the first time and thinking, I can do this and starting bands with their friends.  

My long journey and commitment paid off when the DSLR cameras appeared. It all worked out fine, I could proceed to tell my stories and not have anyone undermine them because of the filmic quality. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the DSLR. Remember the tsunami of over-cranked footage, it was so beautiful we could not get enough. Then the slider, ah perfection. And now the drone shots … a dream come true.

What is my point you might be asking yourself? Recently I have been hearing about festival films shot on a smartphone. Reading about 4K resolution recording with a phone. Giant Billboards touting, shot with the phone. My knee-jerk reaction was, why on earth would you want to make a film on your phone? It’s a phone! I remember the yellow plastic phone on the kitchen wall with a 10-foot cord. The Motorola bricks, the Razor! Shoot a film on your phone ?!?! Ah ha! There’s the rub, I realized I was reacting just like the film veterans were reacting to me and my video punk friends back in the day. Actually, I realized that after I shot a bunch of footage on my phone that looked great.

I was somewhere with an unexpected opportunity to shoot some footage and I had no camera. I used my phone out of necessity. Once I got home and saw the results I immediately adopted it into my workflow. I did some research and downloaded a camera app that was a bit beefier than the stock one on my phone. Did some more research an purchased an audio recording app for another five bucks. And I have to say, it works quite well. I am now planning to shoot my next short film with my camera.

The last thing I’ll say is I intentionally wanted to not make this a technical comparison. However, I edit video for a living and without going into boring detail, in laymen’s terms, the video looked and sounded just fine. And for a ten dollar investment? I’d upgrade that comment to, it looked and sounded amazing.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more filmmaking How To.