Deciphering Craigslist Creative/Crew Ads

I've been trawling through the Creative and Crew Ads on Craigslist for the last couple of months trying to get attached to a cool project. Even though I'll work for free for a project I believe in the signal to noise ratio is massive. I'm starting to understand how to filter out some of that noise; if you're in the same boat here's how I've learnt to translate the various ads so far:

  • Producer wanted = need someone to get money for us
  • Good for student, recent grad or enthusiast = you won't get paid
  • Credit & copy = you won't get paid
  • We don't have much of a budget but this gig could lead to more lucrative work = you get paid now or in future
  • Wanted: camera operator with own gear = director/DP just found out how much camera package rental is and think they can get both you and your gear for next to, or absolutely, nothing
  • Wanted, editor to complete this project: 75% complete = we thought we could do it ourselves with a pirated copy of FCP but we've messed it up so bad we'll never get it done
  • Ground floor opportunity = you won't get paid
  • High profile festival potential = we're submitting it to Sundance along with 25,000 others - they'll accept it right?
  • Will be a great addition to your portfolio = you won't get paid
  • Deferred Payment = you won't get paid
  • Simple gig, 30 minutes tops = we'll pay you for 30 minutes work, not your traveling time, prep-time, setup time, break down time, waiting around time - pencil in the day, here's your $30 - now you will be editing that for us won't you?
  • Experienced director = I've read The Idiot's Guide and watched Extras
Your mileage may vary but I've sent out countless emails, for which I've only received a handful of replies, none of which have led anywhere. Bitter much? Yes sir, I am.

Hulu Resources for Filmmakers

If you've been paying attention this week you can't help but have noticed the hullabaloo about the Criterion Collection abandoning Netflix and moving to Hulu. As a subscriber to both Netflix on demand and Hulu Plus the only difference to me is the portal I use to get to this great resource. If you're not a Hulu Plus subscriber but you are a movie lover, the Criterion might be a good impetus to subscribe for a couple of months. If you're a filmmaker you don't even have to subscribe to Hulu to get a little education and entertainment - mostly not as high-brow as Criterion's movies but fun none-the-less. If there's nothing on TV here are a few suggestions from Hulu and, if you're a film student either in a real school of through your own invention, you can even count this as studying:

DIY Photography: Ikea Macro Lighting

Ikea JansjoI was in Ikea the other day when I stumbled across the JANSJĂ– desk light for a laughably cheap $10. Sometimes Ikea's pricing is just weird: this version of the lamp is $10 but the same lamp with a clamp base, or a wall mount instead of a weighted one is $30. It's basically the same light for a third of the price.

Once I got over the bargain price I realized how useful the Jansjo might me for table top studio photography. The Jansjo is a 4watt LED bulb at the end of a very long, thin goose neck. It produces a very clean, focused light source while remaining relatively cool. We think of LEDs being a very efficient, cold light source but when one is producing this much light there is some heat loss and, although to can comfortably take hold of the lamp and position it even when it has been lit for some time, it is warm to the touch.

In my table top photography I've found that it is a relatively simple matter to light that high-key, floating on white look. Basically, you stick the item in a softbox and then flood it with light and you end up with something like this:

Portrait of George Taylor
Example of flat white light in a softbox
If you want something a little more controlled to bring out modelling in your subject you need to be able to control the position, direction and relative strength of your light sources. The Jansjo lights are perfect for playing with this kind of setup. Not are they cheap but their long, thin goose-neck supports and heavy bases make them simple to position and adjust. The next picture is a similar subject to the previous soft box shot but this time I used 3 point lighting for the subject and a couple of broader lights for the background:

F-86 Sabre Pilot, Col. Walker "Bud" Mahurin
Example of directional light from the Ikea LED lights

Table Top Portrait Studio
Ikea Jansjo lights being used to create
the above action figure portrait
Both kinds of lighting setups have their place but the little Jansjos are now a favorite of mine for macro and table top photography. During the work week the 4 lights I have have the life of standard task lights on my desk but some evenings and weekends they can quickly be re-purposed for use in my desk top studio. Just remember to manually set your white balance with these lights - they're a little warmer than you might expect.

Highly recommended

Sketchup WIP: Valley Forge

I love Sketchup and am an unpaid evangelist for Google's free, 3D, conceptual design tool. I do, however, get bored of seeing the same old subjects: houses, kitchens, Google Earth buildings - Sketchup has the potential to be a much more creative tool than that. Marry my love of Sketchup with my love of models and props from Sci-Fi movies and you get something like this.

This is a model of the Valley Forge spaceship from the 70's movie, Silent Running. I've been working on and off on this model for years: for many months I won't touch it and then I'll spend a couple of days trying to make headway. This weekend I pushed on trying to make some progress by adding the main living section and the fuel pods at the back. It's still nowhere near finished but I couldn't wait to show it off.

There's something amazingly satisfying about creating something from nothing even if that something is just virtual. Once it's finished I'll post it to the 3D Warehouse where I hope it will remain the most accurate rendition of this ship available. By now you should know how geeky I really am - this is just another side to my nerdom.

Pocket Cinema: Is That a Movie Studio in Your Pocket or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?

Pocket Cinema RigThe promise of the HDSLR is the democratization of video and film making. The idea that, that new DSLR you just bought for stills can make amazing HD video files so why don't you just start making a movie?

The reality is, before you begin you need to buy a new tripod and head, rail system, matte box, follow focus, video monitor, viewfinder, shoulder mount, sound recorder, microphones, lights, computer and software if you want to take it seriously. And that's just the gear: there are new technical skills to learn and you can't man all that gear yourself so you need help, plus you need something to work on worthy of all that expense and hassle and suddenly that promise of anyone being able to make a movie get's paralyzed by the work and expense involved.

Which is why I was inspired when a friend suggested I listen to a BBC radio program on Pocket Cinema. Sadly the show isn't available for you to listen to anymore but the nub of the show is what creative filmmaking people are achieving with the the most modest of gear; a Flip or their cell phone or, at the very most, a consumer camcorder. Little in the way of crew or gear or hassle - filmmaking in its loosest, cheapest most accessible form.

Visiting the French Pocket Film Festival mentioned in the BBC Radio piece shows a diverse representation of what Pocket Cinema is. Viewing the prize winners, Pocket Films are pretty avant-garde but I wouldn't expect any less from the French. A couple worth viewing as a taster are Turbo 2008, Home and Much Ado but you can loose a lot of time exploring the entries. This led me to The Disposable Film Festival for an American point of view. Again, exploring the entries and winners is inspiring and redefines what filmmaking is.

It's hard to be inconspicuous
carrying all this gear
We live in interesting times. Blockbusters cost more than ever to make. More 'films' than ever are being made as the cost of making an indie comes down. The opportunities to make a living making film or video are fewer and harder than ever to break in to. We watch fewer movies in a theater, we watch less live TV but we spend more screen time than ever before. Video on demand is almost ready for prime time. We can watch more stuff for free. We watch 'movies' on our phones although the average maximum time anyone one can concentrate on a phone movie is 9 minutes. The short of it is, times for low/no budget filmmakers are changing at a rapid pace.

We've had the best camera is the one that's with you movement for stills so why not have the same thing for filmmaking? Looking at all those pocket film festival entries you see people not waiting for creative or practical permission to make movies. You see creative people making art, narrative and documentary movies with the closest tool to hand: their cell phone. A device so ubiquitous than no one will blink an eye if you take it out and start shooting footage. This was the promise of the HDSLR but, in my experience, even the lightest run and gun HDSLR rig attracts all sorts of attention when you take it out in public.

It is liberating not to have to consider exposure, white balance or even pulling focus - the iPhone won't let to adjust any of those things so you can just get down to the business of capturing footage. That's not to say that you should forget all you have learned, you just need to apply it differently. Just because it's acell phone doesn't mean that footage has to be shaky and badly framed. In fact, the easiest way to make your pocket film footage stand out is to use some support. Mounting you iPhone on a massive fluid head may be over kill but a cheap tabletop tripod for locked down shots is useful and you can use it as a handle when you're moving around so that you don't have to hold your iPhone in the double finger pinch grip.

I'm inspired enough to start shooting more video with my iPhone. If that results in something that's great but if it doesn't I have lost nothing. I already have the iPhone with me so why not use it? I can only learn more by doing even if I don't have permission from anyone yet to call myself a filmmaker.