The economics of digital filmmaking have certainly changed the game from the days of film. But now that we’ve significantly lowered the cost of entry for the independent filmmaker, the things to look for are ways to improve the degree of quality of what is in those films.
Of course, human talent will always be at the core of storytelling, whether it happens on film or in digital format. Even a technical guy like John Loughlin, the chair of the cinematography department at the New York Film Academy (www.nyfa.edu), will tell you that. But he also cites a few pieces of equipment that are making filmmaking easy on the independent producer’s budget and the director’s artistry.
“Everyone understands the value of the hand-held cam,” says Loughlin. “But the problem is when the weight of the camera causes the shot to be shaky.” The solution he cites is the Easyrig portable camera support system. It is sold as an ergonomic device, kind to the neck and shoulders of the cameraman because it distributes weight of the camera to other parts of the body through a back brace system. Because the burden is off the arms and shoulders (reducing load by about 75 percent), the cameraman’s arms and hands are steadier. It is made in Sweden and Loughlin notes it was used in the 2012 release, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Also popular at the New York film school is the range of lighting equipment that can travel more readily to location shoots. Loughlin cites in particular the ARRIMAX lens-less lighting system for the fact it can run off a wall socket instead of a special generator, while delivering a 1.8 kW output (previous wall-outlet capabilities peaked at 1.4kW). The implication should be clear: You can now provide better lighting at less cost in more locations, where and when needed.
Loughlin himself is tinkering with older lighting systems, most based in metallic tungsten filaments. “Older lights are coming down in price,” he says, attributable to the innovations such as the system discussed in the previous paragraph. “With a DIY overhaul of, say 6000w systems, breaking it down into three 2000w circuits, a lower-budget company can buy the older equipment, then divide and repurpose it. You have to know something about rewiring, but that’s what I do.”
Loughlin also encourages filmmakers to experiment with lenses, particularly in terms of depth of field. “There is an old guard that may consider this blasphemy,” he notes, “But I think we expand the ‘normal’ definition of lenses beyond what the human eye can do. It’s useful to understand the differences and capabilities of wide and long or telephoto lenses.”
There have been many low-budget-high-grossing success stories in the past. Examples: “The Blair Witch Project,” “Halloween,” the UK film “Monsters” among many others. With increasing quality, independent films can only get better as time goes on.