Instead of going to costly rental companies, there are other ways of obtaining film equipment in a cheaper way. People constantly overlook hardware stores, garage sales and photographic stores. Below is a list of items you might need for your productions, as well as suggestions for finding them cheaper. Please feel free to e-mail us and we'll gladly add your suggestions to the equipment list.
LIGHTS - The place to find cheap reliable film lights is at any hardware store. There are dual 1000 watt work lights available with a tripod for less then 50 dollars US. Most of them have a wire mesh and safety glass in front of them. If you decide to buy the lights make sure the mesh can come off of them without damaging the safety glass. Don't worry, the glass is there to protect your eyes from potential UV rays and won't reduce the light intensity.
The major drawback with these lights is that they have no barn doors. So you won't be able to put gels or diffusion in front of the lights. You may want to add barn doors if you're good in the metal shop. But personally I find these lights great as general fill/flood lights. Another drawback is that their height is fixed.
If a 1000 watt light is too much power, you can purchase smaller 500 watt work lights that have no tripod. Their mesh may be too hard to remove but may add an interesting lighting effect. If you live in the United States or Canada you may want to go to Walmart to purchase these lights. They only cost $20 dollars and once again the dual tripod ones are only $45 dollars. In any other country go to your regular hardware store.
Salad Bowl Lights - The reason they're called salad bowl lights is because of the shape of their fixture. They are available at most professional photographic stores and may be bought with a decent tripod for approximately $100 dollars. Although these lights are also 500 watts, their bulbs are of a different type and will burn out faster. You may want to use these lights instead of the work lights because they look more professional. The hardware work lights mentioned above will make your film look great, but may embarrass you if you work with a production company. So keep that under consideration. The salad bowl lights are also good because they will allow you to mount gels, diffussion, etc to the front.
SILVER REFLECTORS - The cheapest possible way to make a useful silver reflector is with cardboard and aluminum foil. You can find these materials at your local supermarket. Pick up a large cardboard box and stick the aluminum foil to it. Use the shiney side of the aluminum foil as a hard light reflector and the dull side for a diffused reflector. Another cheap form of reflector is a sun shade. Sun shades are those things people put behind their windshields to help their car stay cool in the sun. Remember anything shiney and silver makes a good reflector.
WHITE REFLECTORS - If you're more interested in getting a white reflector the best solution is to get an old army/navy parachute. The quality of light you get by bouncing light off a parachute is exquisite. You can check local army surplus stores or conventions to see if they have one. If you would rather use something more practical you should get a table cloth or bed sheets. We aren't telling you to go to your mothers place and steal all her nice white cloth, she won't be too happy. You'll want to search at garage sales, that's where you'll get the cheapest price. Or even good will stores. You should bounce your lights at the white surface and use the reflected light as a fill light. You can also use it as the key, but it depends on what you shoot and what effect you're after. If your light is powerful enough you can shine it through the bed sheet and get a great diffused look to your film.
SUPER 16MM - Before you shoot your film, you'll need to know what format to shoot it in. Ask yourself this question, what is the final output of your film? If you're doing a film for a film festival, but don't have the money to produce something in 35mm, you should shoot in the super16mm film format. Super16mm cameras are good because they use the entire surface of a single perferated frame of 16mm film. However, these camera can be quite costly to rent. The reason you would shoot in super16 as opposed to regular 16mm is because you can blow the film up to 35mm a lot more cheaply then renting a costly 35mm camera and shooting your entire film at this format.
16MM - If super16 is too costly, then you can do a film in regular 16mm. The great thing about 16mm is that cameras can be found very easily and at an inexpensive price. There are many people that bought 16mm cameras in the 1970's to shoot their home movies on. It was realitively cheap because at that time television studios stopped shooting their footage on 16mm and began using video. Search pawn shops in your city, that's where you'll find these cameras. Garage sales also make a great place to find them. Many people don't know what they really have sitting in their garage. Pawn shops will probably charge you a fair price for their cameras but you should also definately check garage sale. Some people have been known to pick up $4000 dollar cameras for only $5. The greatest thing about 16mm is that if you transfer your processed negative directly to video, you will get great quality video. Robert Rodrigez did this for his film El Mariachi and it made him a success overnight. It's also a lot easier to edit on video.
SUPER 8MM - Super 8mm is a great format if you plan to do simple animations or films that will be transfered directly to video. The resolution quaility is comprable to the resolution on a television screen. This format is one of the least expensive formats out there. So if you're a film-maker that is just beginning you should use this format to learn on. Excellent Super8MM cameras can be picked up at a pawn shop for under $200 dollars. You might be able to pick one of these cameras up at a garage sale.
ANALOG VIDEO - There are so many video formats but which ones should you choose? Consumer cameras are great if you intend to digitize your films for the web. In a few years it won't really matter what you shoot a film on, what will matter is the medium you choose to screen it in. The best example of this is The Blair Witch Project. Converting video to film won't give you the best quality and we don't recommend that you try doing this in your productions.
DIGITAL VIDEO - If you are interested in producing a film that will go directly to video, dvd or the internet, then you're best option is to use DVC or DVC PRO. These digital cameras have great quality and they aren't that expensive to rent. They are definately cheaper then Betacam SP or D-Beta. The great thing about digital video is that it never degrades in quality as the tapes get older. You can also convert Digital video to film directly. However, remember that the cost of doing so is $400 dollars for ever minute you transfer. A full length feature would cost you well over thirty thousand dollars to convert to film. But it's easier to find a sponsor for your films when you shoot it on DVC. That's because when people have your finished product in their hand they can they know if it's worth funding you to finish your project. So make a great film in DVC Pro and your chance to transfer it to film, just may happen.
CAMERA QUALITY - CAMERA QUALITY IS SOMETHING FILM-MAKERS SHOULDN'T GET TOO STINGY ON. IF YOU SPEND GOOD MONEY PRODUCING A FILM, SPEND AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ON THE CAMERA. THAT'S WHERE ALL YOUR EFFORTS COME TOGEATHER AND MAKE OR BREAK THE FILM.
Filters - If you rub vasoline on the front of the your camera lens then you can soften the cameras focus into a dreamy effect. The drawback of this effect is that you will have to clean your lens after you do it. We recommend that you apply the vasoline to a skylight or UV filter. This is done to avoid scratching the camera lens. Another way you can get a similar effect is if you stretch pantyhose over the lens. This too will soften the image, but in it's own special way.
EXPENDABLES - Before you go to a film supply shop, go back to your local hardware store or Walmart. Much of the expendable equipment you require is right there. You'll need clothes pins or what they call C-47 in film the industry. C-47 is used to clip your gels and diffusion etc. to the front of a light on it's barn doors. You should pick up the wooden kind because the plastic ones will melt to your lights. If you pay more than two or three dollars for a pack of 100 you're getting ripped off. A good pair of electrical gloves should be picked up so that hot lights can be adjusted without burning your hands. Also a toolbox, extension cords (gauge 12 or higher), pony spring clamps and a good cutting instrument can be picked up in the hardware deptartment at Walmart. However, gaffers tape, gels/diffusion etc will have to be bought at a production supplier such as William F. Whites or Panavision. We've heard many people complain that when they buy their gels they have a hard time finding an efficient storage method. The easiest way to store them is to go to a liqour store and get empty wine boxes. You can easily roll up your gels and put them in the empty slots. just paint the cardboard box and slap some stickers on it and you'll look like a professional in no time.
TRIPODS - A good tripod is the second most important thing next to having a good camera. Our advice to you is not to run out a buy a tripod because the really good fluid head ones cost a small fortune. Instead, our company has found that garage sales are the most effective place to find them. People don't realise that good photographic tripods can easily be used for independent film-makers. They can easily support a decent sized video camera or 16MM film camera. You should be able to find one, if not then your best bet is to rent them, especially if you shoot in super16MM or 35MM. Garage sales are the only real way to find a cheap tripod.
PORTABLE POWER - There's a great way to power your lights using regular car batteries. You can use new or old ones depending on your budget. They key to this is to tie a group of car batteries into one circuit and use their combined voltage to power your lights. This should only be considered as a last option. If you do choose to shoot using these batteries you will have to turn your lights off after every take to conserve power. You also have to be careful exposing your film because as the light's voltage drops the film will get a red glowing tinge to it.
WHEELCHAIR DOLLY - A great way to do moving shots is through the use of a dolly. But motion picture dollies can cost you a pretty penny. So what do you do? Well a wheelchair can make a great dolly and it isn't too hard to find. However there are problems that will be encountered when using this makeshift device. If you handhold the camera shots while being pushed by someone, your shots will usually be trembling and unsteady. Below are three steps to ensure that your shots will be as steady as possible.
1) SMOOTH AND EVEN GROUND - Professional cinematographers use tracks to allow the smooth motion of their dollies. You can duplicate this by putting plywood or flattened cardboard under your wheelchair dolly.
2) A STEADY, STEADY - Professionals use camera mounts on their dollies. So you should make a camera mount for your wheel chair. An effective way to do this is to tape down your camera tripod to a piece of flat plywood and mount it to the seat of the wheelchair.
3) SMOOTH SAILING - Getting a good grip to your wheelchair with smooth start and stopping skills is required to get a professional looking tracking shot. This can only be done with practice and rehearsal.
If you need additional no-budget ways to get steady shots then we recommend that you use either a baby carriage, automobile or wheel chair with really big wheels. If you have any additional suggestions please e-mail us.