Monday, September 26, 2016

Mad Props To You

By Katie Conlon

So often when I am shooting in a live setting, people who need to pass will attempt to duck under the camera lens or walk around me.  Unbeknownst to them, I've been locked and loaded waiting for someone to cross, gifting me with a nice camera wipe.
Just as you want your action to be natural, you must also ensure that your set (or setting) is natural, too.  

Set dressing and props serve several purposes:

1. Establish the tone and character of a setting
2. Provide context for and flesh out your human characters
3. Provide actors realistic elements with which to interplay during a scene
4. Provide lighting directors and cinematographers objects through which to shoot/light
5. Provide opportunities for cutaways
6. Create a natural sound environment -- absorbing or deflecting noise in a scene, as desired

It certainly seems like obvious advice to 'make your setting realistic', but it is surprising how often that gets overlooked. It can really show the difference between an amateur and professional production. Filmmakers often obsess about technical details -- camera operation, lighting, sound -- as well they should. But one must not overlook the nuance that a well-dressed set can offer.
ANECDOTE ALERT: One time, while shooting a television series episode (murder mystery), a plot hurdle arose.  A main character was meant to find her lost diary, which had been absconded for malicious purpose. Filming halted, while on set the director fretted about how to get to that discovery.  I discreetly approached him and mentioned that there was a letter opener in the desk drawer (set dressing), and that we had postal mail in the prop truck. I coyly suggested that the character could have just entered the house with said mail and gone to the desk drawer for said letter opener, when viola! the stolen diary.  The director was well pleased with this idea, and filming continued.

Your cinematographer will kiss you on the mouth if in a commercial kitchen scene you place a bunch of hanging utensils for her to shoot through while tracking. A gentle clanging of the utensils during the tracking could make an interest sound element. Of course, the sound person will punch you in the mouth if they move during dialogue.  So keep the lip balm handy, either way.  And who doesn't love a nice, long shadow that a strategically-placed item can cast -- whether for aesthetic interest or to imply something more mysterious (is it a plant, is it a person, is it Voldermort?).

Set dressing and props add much value to a scene, and can be achieved even on a small budget. After all, everyone has items in their own home, and also...thrift shops. Specialty props can be leased from a prop house or vintage/antique shop, if you have that nearby option.

A few tips:

1. Always, always make sure prop food is clean and edible. (If there is set dressing food -- such as bowl of fruit -- be sure to have fresh fruit on hand in case the actor wants to eat from that in a scene.) Many actors will actually eat and swallow the food take after take, while others will want to spit it out after each take. So, ready the spittoon and have plenty of fresh food on hand.  
ANECDOTE ALERT: Once on the set of "Matlock", Andy Griffith ate scrambled eggs for many takes -- even though he hated eggs. Method, man.

2. If actors bring props onto the set, be sure to confiscate them after shooting that scene, and then send the prop buyer out to buy it in triplicate.

3. The zippered, lockable bank money pouches make great storage for small, personal characters props (rings, watches, pens, badges, etc.). You can string them together and lock them up on set with a bicycle cable, if necessary. Label each pouch with the character's name, and always return those prop items to the bags immediately after removing them from the actor. Work out with the wardrobe folks which department will be responsible for managing those items.

4. Have a good variety of tapes on hand -- duct tape, camera tape, masking tape. Great for mending, masking, and securing. Have a hung photo kicking up an undesired reflection or flare?  Make a masking tape ball and place it behind the picture frame to adjust the glare.  

5. Never use guns on set of any kind without a trained weapons specialist, and never underestimate the danger of blank 'bullets' (see "The Crow"). Also, when using "danger sounds", be sure to inform law enforcement and local businesses/residents of your use and safety precautions beforehand.

6. Make surfaces washable. Sets and props suffer a lot of abuse during filming -- by equipment, crew, and scene action. Maintain control on continuity. You could quickly wipe down a soiled floor, but you won't have the luxury of waiting for paint to dry.  
ANECDOTE ALERT: On a feature film, we were shooting a fight scene in a scientific laboratory, where the floor was gray. Even after a single take, the floor was filthy dirty. For continuity, it needed to be pristine at the beginning of each take. (Sadly, this was noticed in dailies, and we had to re-shoot scenes.) Problem was that the set floor had merely been painted gray with water-based paint. Cleaning it with water wouldn't work, and there wasn't time to repaint it and let it dry. I used a light sandpaper to remove as much dirt as possible, and used a set of grayscale chalks (garden variety art supplies) to touch up nicks and scratches. Sharpies are great for touch ups, too. Have on hand at least one of every color you can find, including the metallic colors.

7. Take good continuity photos! Cannot be overstated.

Any set dressing or prop tips you'd like to share?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Revenue Streams for Videography

By Katie Conlon
Everyone who decides to pursue a career in film or video initially envisions themselves stepping onto the stage of the Kodak Theater in Hollywood to accept their Academy Award for Best Film in Human History. Obviously, only a select few will ever make it that far, but that doesn't mean you can't still have a lucrative career in videography and/or amateur film production. There are hundreds of ways to use your skills and training to work full-time in videography.

First and foremost, the terms video and film are not mutually exclusive in today's technologically advanced world. In fact, film is rarely used at all anymore, even in Hollywood. Today, being a trained videographer means you are also equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to produce amateur films. What it can also mean is that you are versatile and and flexible enough to make commercials, documentaries, YouTube videos, event videos, and much, much more. Here is a list of some of the more common revenue streams currently available to a trained videographer.

Online Content

No matter what kind of video you make, there's a place for it somewhere on the Internet. Whether you are creating instructional videos, documentaries, comedic skits, interviews, commentary on society or politics, self-help videos, etc., you can generate revenue if you know how to push your work to the right demographic. YouTube is the most popular online video hosting site in the world right now, although there are many, smaller competitors. Online videos generate income in a number of ways. Advertisements that play before your video (once it gets enough views) pay you a percentage from Google Adwords. YouTube (and some other hosting sites) also offers a fan-funding program allowing you to take donations from your fans. Some companies can be contacted directly in order to broker deals for merchandise and service inclusion in your videos. If you become popular enough, you may be approached by businesses wishing to sponsor your continued video productions in exchange for endorsements. Finally, you can set a fee for your video. If, for example, you have produced a series of instructional videos on guitar playing, you can offer the first few lessons for free and require a small fee for the viewing of subsequent lessons.


Unfortunately, most videographers look at wedding videos as the proverbial booby prize of the videography industry. However, weddings are just one of many types of events that require the services of professional videographers. Anniversaries, parties, seminars, business conferences, educational institution events, and live music performances are among the many types of events that could benefit from your services. Fees for professional event videographer services can be rather high depending on demand, experience, and client budgets. Many of these events can also generate a secondary income from copies of the video sold or broadcast in the future if you negotiate a percentage deal with your client(s).

Corporate Videos/Advertisements

All of those corporate training, safety, and harassment videos you've seen were put together by a video production company. Once you've completed enough projects to put together a nice demo reel of your work, you can begin to approach local businesses that may need your services. These types of videos usually come with strict instructions concerning the information that must be covered in the final video. This is especially true of any videos that involve the presentation of legal information. If you are hired to make a sexual harassment video, for example, you will be expected to cover all of the state/federal laws and corporate bylaws that pertain to sexual harassment. There isn't a lot of room for creativity in such videos, but the paycheck will be worth it. Businesses also need videographers to produce their advertisements. Car dealerships, local shops and restaurants, law firms, doctors' offices, tax preparers, wholesalers, and others typically spend a lot of money on local advertising. Cable providers offer advertising slots for local ads on every channel (even the big ones like TNT, USA, FX, MSNBC, etc.), so the income potential in advertising can be high.

Independent Movies

There are considerably more potential income opportunities for independent films today than ever before. Numerous streaming services, mobile device apps, film festivals, art houses, and YouTube series make it easy for an independent filmmaker to get their work to potential fans and generate an income. One YouTube series, called Marble Hornets, enjoyed viral success back in 2009 simply by producing dozens of short, fictional "found footage" videos of a filmmaker who came into contact with an ominous, supernatural creature called Slenderman. Some of these videos lasted less than a minute, others were over 20 minutes long, and the series was intensely suspenseful and utterly terrifying. The YouTube ad revenue and DVD/Blu-Ray sales resulted in a substantial profit for this extremely low-budget video series. Finally, there are numerous streaming services like Netflix, Pureflix, Shudder, and others that offer to include independent movies or documentaries on their service if the videos meet their requirements. Theatrical distribution is no longer necessary for a filmmaker's success. 

With millions of videos now on TV, the Internet, in businesses, and elsewhere, we find ourselves living in a videographer-friendly society. Hard work and a good business sense can take your love of videography to a new, profitable level. You should devote yourself to learning everything you can about cameras, video equipment, non-linear editing software, scene direction, lighting, advertising, business, online services, and anything else that could possibly pertain to your field. If you put in enough work and enough study your efforts will not go unnoticed and your videography business will begin soaring towards success.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

We Can't All Be Winners...Or Can We?

By Katie Conlon
Contests seem to be big business these days. So many screenwriting and film/video contests popping up. Often with an entry fee that is fairly nominal to the entrant, but with volume means considerable profit for the contest producers. Knowing the ProAm USA team, as I do, I know that they have a genuine interest in fostering new talent. Let's not forget that every winner's school also received the same equipment prize package as their winner! So, I was excited to view the submissions for the first annual contest, the ProAm USA International Student Film Competition.
The competition had an impressive panel of judges, esteemed in the industry. The films that received top honors were very good, indeed. Several had won other competitions over the years. In my opinion, several (if not all) of those seemed professionally produced. Perhaps that is simply the greatest compliment paid to the amateur creators, or an unfortunate disparity. There is a big difference between a student project where the cast & crew are volunteers among fellow students, friends & family, and produced with borrowed equipment...and one where a student was hired professionally and given a budget to produce it.
That being said, I have been on a competition team (Orlando 36-hour video race) where our entry trumped every entry in our class -- winning every award. (It was an embarrassment of riches, and made me uncomfortable.) I also know that even though we were in the professional class, we used only our two personally-owned Panasonic AG-DVX100A cameras, tripods, natural light with the exception of a single key light. And, the results were dramatic. Of course, it all grew from a kickass script.


There were so many great entries in the ProAm USA International Student Film Competition! For different reasons and commentary, I wanted to highlight a few entries that did not place among the “winners” but that I liked for their own greatness. Projects that seemed true student productions or certainly could have been created with basic production resources. The mark of a good ‘film’, no matter the length, is a complete story. A beginning, middle, and end. You don’t need expensive equipment to deliver that. Some stories were told even without words.
The first one that I watched, on, was In The Blink of an Eye by Danielle Estevez of Husson University. It wasn’t polished, wasn’t high art, but it had heart. Tip #1: Heart is a good start. The concise story, told MOS, depicted what so many Americans know: just how easily your life can change -- for the worse and even for the better. (I might have preferred that it be left without a happy ending to evoke more emotion from the viewer, but it worked okay as was.) So, shout out, Danielle.
One of the simplest, in terms of ambition, was Stuart Becomes an Artist by Eugene Arai of University of California, Davis. Just a simple documentary. (Although, we all know that simplicity can be complicated to achieve.) So beautifully done, by a filmmaker with a good eye. A fantastic opener: a perfect mix of music and nat sound, lush natural light (the dust particles in the sun ray is everything!), and subtle camera movement. The editing was spot on with its use of L-cuts -- beginning answers (video) on the subject and then transitioning to cover shots. The story revealed a nice snippet about this artist...and why his mom is so awesome. (I must admit that I was frustrated to not see much of this artist's work in the piece. But, it paid off because my curiosity led me to his website, and I end up buying a print. Ha!)
(Another fantastic interview/documentary, a well-deserved prize winner, was Jenna by Jason Segal of Chapman University. Heartbreaking story, more so by how well the video was produced and edited.)
It's Okay To Make Them Laugh
Best mark of a memorable film is one that moves you. Makes you think, feel, or just laugh. [One of my all-time favorite commercial films for one particular scene — the “Hollywood is so fake” scene &em; is Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.] It doesn’t have to be fancy to do so, evidenced by: Who Likes Almond Joy? by Neema Sadeghi of University High School (Irvine, CA) and the nicely edited Maybe Next Time by Dylan Cuesta of Howard Community College. Go, get your giggle on.

Another tricky part about movie making is holding your audiences’ attention. Hidden Within by Gary Scott Tippin of Southern Illinois University was short on story, but I was fascinated. I loved the natural light only from the candles and only natural sound; the dialog-less acting was just right. I even liked the photographer’s misplaced comments/giggles. Mind you, I have no idea what actually happened in this little movie experiment (and I curse you for not holding longer on the last shot!), but you made me remember it.


My top honor would have gone to Everything Was Beautiful by Emily Hiott of University of Texas, Austin. This movie was brilliant in its simplicity, but seemingly no detail was missed in its execution. The texturization/desaturation and use of (entirely) black & white was so effective. And, the solar flare effect (from camera?) made for such a subtle segue between time periods. The transitions were seamless without a cliche switching between b&w and color. The ethereal quality of the photography was mesmerizing. (Reportedly shot on HD 16mm.) Told entirely MOS, the story was carried expertly by the music, and punctuated with bits of natural sound. The natural sound at the end (credit roll) left a distinct impression. The editing was on point, and the acting pitch perfect. This was so well done as to seem professional; but, apparently it was produced exclusively for the ProAm USA 1st Annual International Film Competition. I believe that the judges erred in overlooking this one. Emily Hiott is a talented filmmaker and one to watch.
The one top accolade with which I wholeheartedly agree is Travis Grenier's Gum. The story was so clever and the execution brilliant. Shout out to his school, my hometown’s Full Sail University -- I knew you when. Read an interesting story about Travis and see another fine work by him here. He is definitely on the filmmaker radar.
With quality entries like this year’s batch, I can’t wait for the next ProAm USA International Student Film Competition!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

ProAm USA Honors the Winners of its 2014 International Student Film Competition

ProAmUSA, a manufacturer of production equipment for film and video enthusiasts and professionals, congratulates and honors the winners of its 2014 International Student Film Competition. Designed to encourage budding filmmakers, the competition was free to enter and open to students currently enrolled in accredited high schools, colleges and universities worldwide.

The winners were chosen and announced on April 4, 2014 by a Hollywood jury, including The Walking Dead writer Curtis Gwinn, Ash Christian (actor, The Good Wife, Law & Order) and Chicago International Film Festival jury organizer Bohus Blahut. Entries were judged on film narrative, originality and execution of chosen genre. “I really admire the level of professionalism in these entries,” says competition judge Bohus Blahut.

“These are exciting days for filmmakers. Just a few years ago, it was inconceivable that an affordable camera could produce such a beautiful image, or that low-cost production tools like what you see from ProAm USA put truly high end looks in the hands of nearly every filmmaker. Most importantly, it's great to see filmmakers go out and create. That’s the best classroom of all. Congratulations to all of the entrants for creating some amazing projects – and congratulations to the prize winners. We are all anxious to see your next amazing film projects!” -- Bohus Blahut


In addition to each student winning the noted prize, their school also was awarded the same prize equipment.

Grand Prize Winner: Matthew Krieg of University of North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking
Student filmmaker Matthew Krieg took home the grand prize for his short film Dudley Taft, winning $1,500 and the Orion Production Package.

Krieg started the project after he was referred to local musician Dudley Taft, who was looking for a music video to coincide with his album release. “I was thrilled to take on the challenge of creating a music video, a medium of film I hadn’t explored before,” Krieg says. “Dudley gave us the theme he wanted us to explore: Spaghetti Western.”

The Spaghetti Western is a genre of Western films created in the mid-1960s, aptly named for their primarily Italian directors. Krieg worked with the producer/production designer, Conner Sullivan, to come up with a narrative for the video that would work with their extremely limited budget of only $1,000.

“I come from a narrative film background, and I have noticed that modern American music videos typically lack any attempt to create a narrative at all. I wanted to make sure that the music video I made had a narrative as the backdrop,” Krieg says. “After throwing around ideas, we came across the idea of recreating Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Its main attraction at the time was that it could be pulled off with only two main actors, and I felt that it would fit well with the tone of the song.”

First Place Winner: Marvin Nuecklaus of University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Fachhochschule Dortmund, Filmwerkstatt
German student filmmaker Marvin Nuecklaus secured the first place honor with his film WASSER Werke, an animation starring a figure made entirely from water.

“My biggest dream is to move to the States to work for the American film industry,” Nuecklaus says. “So what could be greater than to enter an American film competition? It’s actually my second competition in the USA and it’s not going to be the last one! Of course, the prize was attractive as well, especially the fact that not only can I win film equipment, but also my university. I think this makes the ProAm USA International Student Contest very special.”

The title "WASSER Werke" is German, meaning “water works”. The project was created to supplement Nuecklaus’s application to the university he now attends, the instructions to create a three minute video with the title Wasser Werk. Nuecklaus’s interpretation led him to create a film based on how water affects our earth and life. Nuecklaus says, “It’s just something special, and it was a big challenge for me because I’ve never done something like that before.”

When he won this first prize award, Nuecklaus was ecstatic.

“For a filmmaker, this is the best feedback you can get,” he says. “The industry is so hard and unpredictable. To find a good job is like winning a million dollars. I think every filmmaker who really wants to earn his or her money in this industry is worried about his or her future. You really need to believe in yourself, and winning the first prize in a film competition is really helpful!”

ProAm also awarded several other entries for their excellence in film narrative, originality and execution of chosen genre.

Additional awards included:

Second place prize of $400 and the Orion Jr. Crane to Adrià Olea Fernández’s Ana of TecnoCampus Mataró-Maresme:

Third place prize of $200 and the HD2 LCD Kit to Jason Segal’s Jenna of Chapman University:

Honorable mention to Álvaro Núñez's M is for Miracle of ****:

Honorable Mention to Travis Grenier's Gum of Full Sail University:

People’s Choice Award to Amr Kawji's Chicago Stands For Syrian Freedom of Columbia College, winning $1,500 and the Orion Production Package after receiving the most public votes.


Ora Dekornfeld's Sensei
Jack Martin's The Game of Life
Nick Alfieri's Treasure Hunt
Adam Thompson's Atom

We love to see how people use their ProAmUSA equipment. Send us a link to your ProAmUSA-enhanced videos, and we will post them on our Customer Page!

To view the winning films, as well as all entries, visit ProAmUSA Films.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Just Don’t Try to Act, Naturally

If it hasn’t happened already, there will likely come a time that you will shoot an interview, a commercial, or public-service announcement with non-actors. People who are unfamiliar with being in front of a camera.  Your saying “just act natural” will be of no comfort or use.  Ever tried it yourself? Tried non-acting acting? It isn’t as easy as one might think.

These are a few tips on how to get a better end result. They might seem overly simplistic, even obvious, but often are not considered.

Casual Conversation with On-camera Talent

While you are setting up your gear and the shot, casually converse with your on-camera  talent. Talk about sports, their hobbies, whatever -- something unrelated to the filmed subject matter.  Simply establish a rapport with them as a peer. This will put them at ease, and relieve any preconceived notion of roles and technical structure.

Always Roll...Video is Cheap

I find that non-actors are very intimidated by working from a script. They are nervous about saying every word, in the correct order, without messing up. They try too hard to act.

So, once you are framed, lit, and mic’ed with talent on mark, casually ask them to tell you about the subject of the video -- such as the product, while you roll camera. Even if you have a script, just conduct this phase as a casual inquiry, as if from your own curiosity. Since you were nonchalantly chatting with them before, it will seem a natural conversation.

The most important thing at this point is to establish a proper eyeline for them. Mind where you stand, while you speak to them!  Be sure that your eyes, which they should be looking at, will align with the direction you want them to look. If this is directly into the camera, you’ll need to stand far enough back from the camera to get this right. The tightness of your shot will affect their look, so be sure to check the viewfinder that all is well.

Case Scenario

Let’s use the example of a car dealership commercial. The sales rep is standing in position next to a vehicle, which is the subject of the commercial.  Pretend to still be tweaking the setup, while camera is rolling, and simply say something like: “My friend was raving about this car the other day. Why is it so popular, anyway?”

If they are passionate about the product, and/or a good salesperson, they will naturally provide detail.  You can just volley back and forth to get a complete narrative. You might follow up with something like, “Is it loaded? What all features does it have?”  As long as your tone is conversational, they won’t even realize that they are making their commercial!

After that, you look at them and smile: “Great, Jon, that was the commercial. You are a natural. Shall we do it a few more times for fun?”

At this point, you can work from your script, if you have one. But, it is often still better to keep the conversational Q&A volley going. You’ll edit out your audio parts, unless you were mic’ed and intend that style.  So, rather than the talent giving you a start to finish narration -- unless they truly have perfected that spiel, simply prompt them for lines by way of your specific questioning. Don’t just say, “So, tell me about this product.”  Prompt them with specific questions to keep their responses on track.  Use key words and phrases in your question that you want them to mimic. Using the same example, something like this:

You, Director: “I like this car, Jon, what is this?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “This is a 2013 Nissan Sentra.”

You, Director: “That’s hot. Is it loaded? What does it come with?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “It is fully loaded with power steering, power locks & windows, a/c, cd player…”

You, Director: “Woah. Is it affordable? But how much is all that?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “All this for $19,999.”

You, Director: “What? How much?!”

Sales Rep, Talent: “Just $19,999.”

You, Director: “So, where do I see this car?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “Stevens Nissans is located just off of I-19, exit 276.”

You, Director: “What if I want to call or visit website?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “Give us a call at 310-555-1212. Or visit us on the web at”

And, scene.

Direct By Example

That first go round might have been a bit rough. But, at this point, your talent has gotten more comfortable with the material and the process. Be uber encouraging and congratulate them on a great job, and don’t give them too many notes. Do remind them to respond with complete sentences, and think about hitting their bullet points. Beyond that, simply let them know that you will do this all a few more times, at different angles, for options.

If you want them to say something differently, try to ask the prompting question differently using key words and phrases variations. If their response wasn’t quite what or how you wanted, repeat the same question immediately without disruption. They will likely pick up on what you are doing and take the direction well.


You, Director: “Are you telling me that I can finance this car even with bad credit?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “Yes.”

You, Director: “What if I have bad credit? How can I buy this car?”

Sales Rep, Talent: “We have finance plans for people with all credit levels. We can put you in this car today!”

Also, if you want more energy or enthusiasm from them, generate it from your side of the camera as you engage them.

For the finale, shoot at least a couple takes (masters) of them going through the whole thing uninterrupted, if they seem adept. They will have had a good warm up at this point. It might work, it might not. Video storage is cheap.

Wild Lines

Recitation as line readings typically fails with non-actors, and tends to get worse with each iteration. These should be used as a last resort.  But, do be sure to record wild lines as needed.  Just as you grab cover video shots, get cover audio shots. Using the car dealership example, record off-camera comments. Example:

Off-camera Patron: “Did you say $19,999?!”

Off-camera Patron: “All day, every day?!”

And, so on. Heck, you might even get an oops “Joann, you have a call on line 3.” come over the outside PA. Well, that is ambiance and realism. Use it!

Perhaps you won’t need or use your wild lines, but it gives you more options in editing.

Cover Shots

Finally, for the love of all that is good in editing, shoot video cover shots! Always, but especially with untrained on-air talent. You will likely be piecing together several takes, so don’t skimp on covers and alternate angles. As a good director (or director/editor), you will have a cover shot for all that is mentioned in the dialog, of course. Close-ups of features of a product, price sticker, business sign, for example. Sheesh, do cover shots of the sky, a line of cars, body parts, anything and everything. Trust, you will appreciate having the backup in editing.

Using non-professional talent for full-length movies is a whole other story. For that, you better pray they are a natural or it will be a very, very long shoot.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Got Moves, Too

One of the best ways to develop as a director, or even a cinematographer, is to edit. Or at least be sure to stay in the bay, so to speak. Enjoy the intimate experience of viewing every single frame of your footage...again, and again, and again. I can practically guarantee that you will never miss another cover shot during production, and you will learn so much about pace! Pace can be the difference between keeping or losing your audience.

When you are in post-production pondering your cinematic hard work, you might just find yourself saying: "This scene really wants for a nice, lyrical camera move." Camera moves help set the tone for a scene, build dramatic tension, or simply add beauty shots to your work. (See also the previous post about crane/jib shots, "I Got Moves".) A great editor can fake much in the editing bay, but why should she? Learn your craft. Get what you need on the day. There will be plenty for your editor to do, trust. (Yeah, I hear you laughing, Color Correction.)

For less money than you'd pay the editor for that fake-out, you could buy a crane/jib, slider, or tripod dolly. Moreover, you then will be replicating those beautiful camera moves with something you can reuse -- shoot after shoot after shoot. Can't say that about your editor's time spent.

"So what the heck can a slider or tripod dolly do for me, anyway?" The short answer is: tracking shots. But, unlike traditional dolly track & car, both of these camera accessories are incredibly portable; and, a slider can perform tracking at any angle from horizontal to vertical.

One advantage of a slider or tripod dolly is to effectuate a push-in or pull-back move without altering your depth-of-field, as you would by zooming the camera's lens. If you have a tripod fluid head, you can mount that to a slider to further enhance your travelling shots with simultaneous pans and tilts.

Apart from a visual effect, another fantastic benefit of a tripod dolly is a purely utilitarian use of easily moving your entire camera setup from one spot to another. (Be careful moving on uneven surfaces!) This is particularly good when shooting in a crowd, where you want the advantage of stabilization but also mobility.

Let's say you are covering a wedding reception, class reunion, or school dance. And, you know that you will at some point in your life...We all do. You don't want to be lifting and carrying your fully-mounted camera & sticks, trying to navigate the crowded room. That is a recipe for disaster. But, with your tripod mounted to a dolly spreader, you can simply nudge yourself through the crowd whispering "Yeah, this is how I roll." Well, okay, that last part is entirely optional. But, for less than $100, having a tripod dolly is worth it for this reason alone. Of course, having a mounted tripod dolly assist in moving your whole crane/jib setup...priceless. Uh, actually, price is right here.

Tell us about your creative uses of slider or tripod dolly. Better yet, show us! Send us video of your projects or even camera tests so that we can see if you've got moves. We'll feature them on our Customer's Page, with your permission.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Got Moves!

What is the difference between a crane and a jib, and why do I need one? As with other industry terms, these are often used interchangeably. Although, if you were being precise, you’d likely refer to a crane as a piece of equipment that has a boom arm (jib) but also a seat for an operator to ride along with the camera. Whereas a standalone jib is a boom arm that can operate from a tripod and be directed from a field monitor attached at the level of operation. The camera maneuver is commonly referred to as a “crane shot”.

In any case, the cinematic effect is the same: Lyrical movement.

With a DSLR or standard video camera mounted on the end of the cantilevered arm, the operator manually (or with a remote control device) moves the jib arm vertically to or from an overhead shot, or horizontally for a panning effect, or even toward or away from the subject like a zoom shot. A crane/jib offers tremendous versatility for visual effect, and pays off in high production value.

Often crane shots are used for “beauty shots”, such as opening scenes with a musical score or transition shots. Remember how the idyllic town is introduced in “Pleasantville”, or the how the magnificent mountain ranges could have been revealed in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music” had they shot it with a crane. (I mean, who has budget for a helicopter?!) Or even simply the way camera movement establishes pace, as it carries the viewer through a scene. Some nice examples can be seen in Blue And Gold Studios short camera tests of their ProAm USA DC210 camera jib.

But, crane shots can be much more than just beauty shots. Camera movement engages the audience -- visually pushing or pulling them through a scene, flying them through the air, plummeting them to the ground, or spinning them 360 degrees.

Such a simple piece of equipment can add so much drama or tone to a scene. Think of the dramatic effect of beginning a scene on a closeup of someone in a cemetery at a gravesite marked by a simple white cross, and then booming up slowly to reveal acres of identical white crosses. In that one brief camera move, the filmmaker reveals so much information -- one of individual loss and sadness, to mass destruction and sadness of a nation.

Imagine a crane shot choreographed to give the impression of someone flying -- a slow upward lift, with an orchestrated music bed. And, then a startling scream cues a sudden boom downward. Imagine being the audience member and feeling your own stomach drop. That’s immersive storytelling!

Filmmaker Jeff Lampo of LampoFilm provides a fantastic camera move tip, in his review video of the ProAm USA DC200 crane/jib. He gives the jib arm a gentle horizontal swing and has his actor walk in the direction of the camera, for an easy and effective 360-degree follow shot. He achieves a high-end camera move with only minutes of setup time, a crew of 1, and for an investment of less than $300. (Check out his other trick of using his truck for even easier setup.)

The jib isn’t only about producing impressive shots. It also can serve a purely utilitarian role. Consider the convenience of using a small jib in a confined location, such as a kitchen when shooting a cooking show. You definitely will want overhead shots of food preparation for instructional purposes, along with front-facing shots of the host and over-the-shoulder shots. You can easily achieve such variation by simply moving the jib arm into position.

It certainly is true that filmmakers enthusiastically buy gear that only ends up collecting dust in a garage. The jib is one to break out and use. The cinematographic payoff is worth it! ProAm USA has jibs of various sizes, for all type cameras, and each with easy, 1-person setup.

Tell us about your favorite crane shots. Heck, send us a link to your footage using a ProAm crane and we will add it on our Customers page.