Now that we've established how to budget and finance a micro-budget film, I'll go over my methodology
for planning a production and also how we picked which equipment was required to achieve the vision of the project. It is important to strike a balance between want and need and to acknowledge what is practical within your budget. In our budgeting process, we sorted out all of the non-technical items first (locations, costumes, set dressing) and from that point, we established what our technical budget would be. When we had reached that stage, my co-director Andrew Dalton and I met with our director of photography Kyle Kliss to discuss the technical requirements of the film and what equipment would be necessary to support those.
One of the most important technical choices for any film is the capture medium and for digital filmmaking the camera platform you chose to shoot on. For our production, celluloid was not an option both for budgetary reasons, and also the expected shooting ratio for the film surpassed a comfortable ratio for even 16mm. Digital was an obvious choice in this case, so the discussion came down to which camera would convey the desired look of the film. A few of the requirements that I put forth was that our capture medium should be able to work well in low light without a lot of excess noise and that the sensor should
be Super35mm sized or larger. The topic of 4K acquisition was thrown around, but in the end, we decided an HD capture medium would suffice and would allow for a smoother post-production process. Ariel drone shots originated in 4K for reframing, but HD capture was used for all other production footage. So with those requirements laid out, Kyle and I decided on the Sony a7s as our primary capture medium supplemented by a Panasonic Gh3 as an occasional B-Camera. Kyle is a frequent user of the a7s, and after utilizing the camera on a few productions, I was swayed by the image capabilities in SLog2 and by sensor's capability for incredible depth of field. Although the a7s has a tremendous dynamic range, it has far more shadow detail than highlight detail and I was somewhat worried about how this would play out in the final image. After examining the script, I felt confident enough that the locations would lend themselves to the camera and that we wouldn't find ourselves burdened by a lack of highlight detail. We retained the Gh3 to supplement in situations where we needed extra highlight detail. The Gh3 has tremendous range and an incredible sensor that renders highlights very well with a pleasant soft clipping, so I felt confident that we would have our bases covered with the Gh3 if need be. The Gh3 was also used in conjunction with a DJI Ronin as we found the deeper depth of field was easier to pull focus on for tracking shots and also because the Gh3 filtered out the subtle vibrations of the Ronin, whereas the a7s was unable to do so. Both of these cameras we sourced either from our equipment or from equipment we had free access too, as this helped maximize budget for other technical items.
The other technical items that we rented were small but significant to the production. I wanted a monitor
so that I could have a clear idea of the image we were capturing and the performances that the actors were delivering. Andrew and I settled on the SmallHD AC7, which showed a clean output from the a7s with a 2.39:1 frame guideline overlaid on the image. It ended up being a great tool because it meant I was able to stay out of Kyle's way without losing control over the image and look of the film. Another piece of equipment we rented was a set of Rokinon Cine DS prime lenses, specifically a 28mm and an 85mm. We had access to an SLRMagic 50mm lens as well. Although I am a huge fan of Veydra lenses because of their build quality, soft contrast, and image characteristics, we settled on the Rokinons because we wanted a sharp and punchy look to the picture, and the Rokinons delivered that style with ease. Lastly, we rented a Kessler Pocket Dolly 3 to facilitate smooth implementation of camera movement to make shots more dynamic without resorting to attention-grabbing camera movements.
With our equipment, actors and locations set, it was time to create a production plan. We had five weeks allocated for our official period of pre-production and our actual production days. In the end, we scheduled two weeks of pre-production and prep and 12 days of shooting spread over the course of 2 and a half weeks. The first week was set aside to make last minute script changes, finalize scheduling and budgetary decisions, and complete locations for production. Week 2 would consist of locking the final shooting script, submitting final documents for grants and other fiscal matters and also we would begin pre-shoots of the TV news sections of the film. For the actual production period, the plan was to spend the first-week shooting chase scenes and stunt work, coordinating drone shots and beginning the apartment scenes at one of the locations we secured. Week 2 of production would start with filming at the mansion location that served as the presidential candidate's house and also shooting additional exterior scenes at locations around the North Shore area. The third and final week of production would be used to film the military encampment scenes, as well as any additional pickup shots and other material.
If you missed the last part of the series, click here for part two or click here for my latest article on great free filmmaking software. As always, if you enjoy these posts please share them on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn and remember to keep checking www.blakezlarson.com for more articles and how-to's on independent and micro-budget filmmaking!