10 Gifts for Filmmakers and Movie Lovers

The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes a surge of blog posts about finding the “perfect present.” For filmmakers, a Christmas wishlist tends to contain some pricey and potentially unattainable items (I would love for Santa to bring me a few Zeiss Prime Cine lenses… but it’s not in his budget). While a $4,000 lens is not a stocking-stuffer, there are a lot of cheap gifts filmmakers would love to receive or grab for themselves over the holidays. Whether you’re building your wish list, or buying for a friend, here are some suggestions to gear up over the holidays…

Full disclaimer: I have no stake in these products or the companies that sell them and I encourage you to shop around for the best fit. However, Amazon and Zazzle do give me a little referral bonus if you purchase something after using these links, which does not alter the item price, and in no way implies endorsement. That means if you use these links, you’ll be helping me out this holiday season, too! Maybe I can get that Zeiss lens after all…?

1. A slate/clapper

Not only does a slate make you look like you know what you’re doing, it’s also an extremely helpful tool for labeling footage and synchronizing multiple cameras in post.

2. Books

From production techniques to cinema history, any filmmaker will benefit from having vast information at their fingertips. I also think my private library dramatically improves the cool-factor of my editing workstation… here are a few I can’t live without:

3. Storyboard Dry Erase Board

This one is a shameless plug for a product I designed on Zazzle, but I think it’s a pretty practical choice. Great for sketching, but you can save them for later too by snapping photos on your mobile device. All of the 19×9 panels have small marks indicating where you should draw top and bottom crop marks for the CinemaScope aspect ratio. This one’s available in the medium size depicted here, and in a large size for really serious storyboarding.

4. Inspiration (other movies)

Although I’ve depicted a personal favorite here, James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), there are thousands of classic films to stimulate any budding or experienced filmmaker’s creative mind.

5. Painters Tape (All colors!)

There is very little Painters’ Tape cannot do on a film set. Marking actor and prop locations, labeling gear, holding equipment together without leaving a damaging residue, and attaching things to the “set” without damaging the walls are just a few examples. If you can find more colors besides the classic blue, that’s very helpful!

6. A Big Bag o’ Clamps

I love me some clamps. Hanging a backdrop, holding a reflector in place, pinching an ill-fitting costume, the uses are endless.

7. Magazine Subscription

This one delivers monthly joy throughout the year. Magazines I’ve found extremely useful include Videomaker, Filmmaker Magazine, and American Cinematographer Magazine. Although the content and level of skill expected for readers of each varies, there’s usually great inspiration and tips in these that will apply to everyone.

8. Sun Hat

If you read my post about the surprising burning capabilities of the sun, you’ll know why a wide-brimmed sun hat is in my toolkit. This not only shields your face, ears, and nose from the discomfort and dangers of a serious burn, it also blocks the LCD and black plastic of your camera while shooting. Straw hats are made from renewable natural materials, are lightweight, and breathe really well compared to many fabrics.

9. More Memory Cards

You can really never have too many memory cards. This is a very specific area though, and you’ll want to make sure you get the brand, size, type, and speed appropriate for your filmmaker’s needs. Personally, I only buy SanDisk brand and I find anything less than 60MB/sec. will have issues with some cameras I use. If you’re buying one as a surprise, get a peek at one of your filmmaker’s best cards and take a picture.

10. Donate to their crowdfunding campaign!

When all else fails, you can always donate to your favorite filmmaker’s crowdfunding campaign (if they don’t have one going yet, you know they’re about to start one). Indigogo and Kickstarter are popular platforms for raising money online, but some filmmakers do it the old fashioned way too: begging! Just ask if there’s a project they’re trying to get off the ground and see what you can do to help. Don’t forget to twist their arm a little and get that “Producer” credit.

Have you purchased or received an affordable filmmaking tool that you’d like to share? Do you sell handmade clapboards on Etsy? Share any suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them to my list for 2016!

Happy Shopping!

Advertisements

Freelance Filmmaker

It has been a few months since I’ve posted, but I have an explanation for you!

On a non-filmmaking note, I have gotten married, taken a couple trips, moved, worked extensively on house renovation and gardening tasks, and relaxed (sparingly) inbetween. However, those items are beyond the focus of this blog, so in the world of filmmaking…

I have also left my full-time job to devote my energy to freelancing full-time; my transition was motivated by personal goals to challenge myself, to work with a diverse group of clients, and above all, to create. This move required a lot of my time and creativity, especially in updating my portfolio and reels at www.aarondpate.com to provide clear examples of my work. All of this has kept me away from this blog, but I’m back!

So, what does this mean for you?

First, I hope to continue to find time to post here, but I may begin to talk more about specific projects. This should make for more interesting and useful information!

Second, I am available to collaborate. If I have your contact information, I can reach out to you when I need extra cast/crew or when my plate is too full to accept a potential gig. I hope you’ll reach out to me as well.

Third, I am available for hire. We form a tight network in this small community, and I am grateful for all of the referrals, job leads, and creative opportunities my friends have sent my way over the years. Please get in touch with me, or share my information anytime I might be an asset to someone else.

I have worked from a P.A. to a camera operator; no role is too big or small. I am primarily advertising my skills in commercial video production, live event recording, cinematography, camera operation, visual effects, animation/motion graphics, photo editing/restoration/manipulation, and video editing.

I look forward to working together with new people. Contact me through http://www.aarondpate.com for questions about my availability and rates, or just to chat. If you’re a crew-member near the upstate of South Carolina, send me your contact information, availability, skillset, and proficiency. A link to your portfolio or reels would be excellent.

Get Books, Make Movies

FilmBooks

Today I’m updating my resources page to include a few more book suggestions. With the vast amount of information online for filmmakers, it’s likely rare that most reach for a book before searching the web. Maybe you visit a blog (*cough* “Filmmaking: Unedited” *cough*) or scour YouTube for tutorials. The challenge with all of this information is to pick out the best stuff, to curate it, and make sure you’re learning the right information in a timely manner. Then we have to keep from getting distracted. Worst of all, sometimes we go back months later looking for that really helpful tutorial or post and can’t find it (one reason I keep a list of websites on my resources page.) These are a few areas where I really love books. In addition to making your editing workstation look pretty legitimate, keeping a truly helpful book on hand is a great way to focus, to track the information you absorb, and to curate your own collection of learning resources.

Of course, book choices can be overwhelming too. With all of the free information we’re now accustomed to, it’s hard for a filmmaker to commit to buying a book without knowing whether the purchase will be worth the cash. Some of these I bought for college and continue to reference, some I discovered on my own, but all of these are staples on my bookshelf and I can recommend them to you:

  • Voice and Vision by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
    • This is my never-leave-home-without-it guide to every step of the filmmaking process. Whether you’re shooting a fictional story or a documentary, need help with writing your script or lighting a dramatic scene, this book has it all. On top of that, it’s one of the few books from college I’m not trying desperately to sell on Amazon. Because it’s a more recently published book, the anecdotes and tips are relevant to filmmakers working on digital formats with small equipment loads.
  • The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide by Jon M. Garon
    • Even the smallest scale film projects should consider or be aware of legal issues related to location shooting, copyright infringement, and actor release forms. For the more advanced, Garon touches on business structures and taxes, getting music rights, and handling ownership of your film when the time comes to distribute or sell.
  • 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider
    • If you’ve ever wondered where to begin, this is it. A chronological collection of 1,001 film essays describing each film’s back story, cultural impact, influences, and innovations, Schneider’s carefully curated list is as much fun to “check off” as the movies are to watch.
  • Color Correction Handbook by Alexis Van Hurkman
    • After weeks and hours of online research I finally turned to an actual book to teach myself the dark art of color correction. I spent a summer teaching myself the craft, and Van Hurkman’s book was the best written and most thorough of anything I found.
  • Painting With Light by John Alton
    • Originally released in 1949, this thorough guide from one of Hollywood’s master cinematographers is the first book of its kind to be published. While some of the camera technology is outdated, the basic principles of shooting are the same now as they were when Alton wrote his informative, and occasionally humorous, guide to lighting and cinematography. This one can be rare to find at a good price, but you might check a library near you to borrow it.

Now get a book, and make a movie!

What books have you found to be really helpful as a filmmaker?

Ten Adobe Premiere Shortcuts for Faster Editing in 2015

Adobe Premiere Timeline

Editing can be tedious, but it doesn’t have to be slow. If your New Year’s Resolution is to improve your editing skills, learning your software’s keyboard shortcuts for repetitive tasks will allow you finish projects faster with less clicking, searching through menus, and aiming for tiny buttons. Here are ten shortcuts for beginners and advanced users of Adobe Premiere to add to their arsenal in 2015:

  1. Ctrl + S (Cmd + S Mac)
    • Save – This one’s obvious, but must be said. My left hand hovers over this side of the keyboard throughout the editing process and I save every time I make an edit I wouldn’t want to repeat in the event of a crash.
  2. Page Down / Page Up
    • Go to Next Cut / Previous Cut – This is a fast way to get your playhead exactly on a cut, or to fly through the timeline without zooming in and out so much. This command will ignore clips on video and audio layers that aren’t highlighted; click on the layer name (e.g. “Video 1”) to highlight or unselect a layer.
  3. Ctrl + M (Cmd + M Mac)
    • Export – This quick keystroke saves you several clicks every time you need to export, especially useful when queuing several short timelines from one project.
  4. ~ (Tilde a.k.a. “the squiggly worm key”)
    • Maximize Panel – At first glance, there is no “full screen” option in Premiere. In fact, you can maximize any panel by selecting that panel and pressing the “~” key. Use this to get a closer look at a cluttered bin or timeline on complex projects.
  5. J / K
    • Fast Forward / Rewind – When you’re scrubbing quickly through a timeline using the space bar to start and stop playback, many users reach for the mouse to drag the playhead back a few seconds to watch an edit again. Just hit rewind, then play again to accomplish the same with two quick keystrokes. Press these multiple times to increase the speed.
  6. I / O
    • In Point / Out Point – If you set in and out points on source clips, try these handy keys. I keep my hand ready on the “I” while playing through source clips looking for good material, then switch to “O” as I wait for the moment to end. If you aren’t setting in and out points to isolate a clip before putting it on your timeline, give it a try! That’s another blog post…
  7. * (asterisk on number pad)
    • Set Marker – Using markers is a great way to mark your timeline and find your place later, but mousing into menus to find this command is tedious and will stop playback. Just reach for the asterisk!
  8. Ctrl + D (Cmd + D Mac)
    • Video Transition – Hover near a cut to apply a transition on selected layers (see tip #2 about selecting layers). This is a personal favorite of mine, as it saves me many repetitious click-and-drag operations. In combination with tip #2, this is my secret weapon for slideshows. By default this applies “cross dissolve,” but you can right-click any video transition and “set as default.”
  9. Ctrl + Shift + D (Cmd + Shift + D Mac)
    • Audio Transition – Same as #8, but on audio layers.
  10. Backspace / Delete
    • This one is self-explanatory, but I’ve seen a lot of users right-clicking clips and choosing “clear” to remove items from the timeline. Just hit backspace as you would when typing. On that note, be careful not to hit backspace accidentally while a clip is selected, thinking you’re typing in another window.

Do you have any favorite tips or shortcuts? Share here, the list doesn’t have to stop at ten!

New Template: Prop & Equipment List

Two of my biggest fears on a film shoot are leaving props or equipment on location when we pack up, or forgetting to bring something in the first place. If you have an elaborate shooting day ahead with a lot to keep track of, then this Prop & Equipment list is for you.

Prop and Equipment List

Download my Prop and Equipment List

The purpose of this list is pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve ever made a packing list for a vacation, you’ll know what to do with this template. I’ve included space for equipment, wardrobe items, makeup, props, as well as food and beverage, but you can modify this template in MS Excel as needed. To the left of every item, there are two check-boxes – one for packing-in and one for packing-out. Familiarize your crew with the items on the list, and make enough copies of this sheet to share with everyone who helps you pack up the equipment. If you have a lot of extra hands on set, put someone in charge of checking off each item as it goes back to your vehicle.

Some expendable items, such as food and drink, may not need to be packed up when you’re through, but in many cases you may be responsible for packing out the trash associated with these items. Ensuring you take everything home with you is a great way to maintain your inventory and your relationship with the owner of your shooting location.

I’ve added this template to the Templates and Freebies page, where you’ll also find storyboard templates and other production essentials.

New Page: Textures!

I’ve reorganized the site a little bit today, and added some more filmmaking freebies to accompany the templates and other film resources. I create textures compulsively, because I always prefer to use my own material whenever possible. Now I’m sharing some of my favorite textures with you! All of the images on the new texture page are free to use under a Creative Commons 0 license, however you cannot sell or redistribute them as your own. If there is enough interest, I may create larger packs of textures for sale in the future.

What are textures for? Textures and photos can be used in a variety of creative ways, but I primarily use them for graphic design, motion graphics, and VFX. A title screen, for example, can be blended with a grungy concrete to go from bland to epic:

Texture Example

I mostly use this technique in Photoshop or After Effects, but you can also blend textures in video editing software. To achieve something like the title above, place the texture on a layer above your title and change the texture’s blending/transfer mode to “overlay.” I have also included elements such as clouds and facades that I would use for sky replacements, chroma keying, etc.

I’ll keep adding to the free texture page, so check back periodically to get some fresh ones!