Film Like a Professional on an Amateur's Budget

You may not expect your moviemaking efforts to wind up onscreen at the local theater, but cinematic aspirations can lead to hours of fun—and some genuinely hard work—putting together a production that becomes part of family lore. Before you start planning sequels to your masterpiece of a low-budget film, dig in to the preproduction planning and preparation as well as the fun of experimenting with your camcorder.

Budget

A lack of funds doesn't mean that you have no filmmaking budget. To approach moviemaking with a pro's mindset, you need a line-item accounting of your expected expenses. Your spreadsheet software provides the ideal means of calculating your costs and itemizing your needs. If you plan to shoot with your existing camcorder, you can eliminate one category of equipment costs from your budget, but you still need memory cards, lighting equipment and other types of technology, including a tripod to stabilize your shots. Even a small filmmaking budget offers you greater flexibility than no budget at all.

Lighting

Shooting a movie requires more than just room lighting. Even a well-lit room with energy-efficient LED bulbs may not present the appearance you want when you shoot footage in it. Lighting serves two purposes in a movie: making a scene and its actors visible and creating or enhancing a mood. You may not have the budget for Hollywood lights, light stands and reflectors, but you can shoot test footage to see how your interior locations look on your HDTV and make strategic decisions about how to correct your lighting. Reducing the number of white walls and eliminating white garments from your actors' wardrobe simplifies the task of obtaining proper white balance in your footage, avoiding the loss of detail that shows up when highlights "blow out" to pure white.

Audio Technology

Sound quality forms one of the criteria that set professional productions apart from amateur efforts. If you own or can rent a pro-quality microphone to plug in to your camcorder and capture live sound, you can improve on the limitations of most built-in equipment. Some camcorders don't include a microphone jack. In these cases, you must rely on a separate audio recorder and use a sharp pop of sound to provide a reference point you can use to sync up sound and picture in the editing stages. The clapper you see in on-set documentaries about moviemaking serves this purpose on pro productions.

Script

Every movie needs a script, whether it is a documentary, space-travel opus, romantic comedy or undercover expose. In a work of filmed fiction, the script details every spoken word and describes every scene. For a documentary production, the script lays out the progression of the movie and provides its narrative dialog. If you plan to improvise your production, your script provides an outline of the plot and character developments you want to occur over the course of the film. You can create and revise your script in word processing software or invest in a screenwriting application that formats the page layouts typical of these specialized documents.

Actors

Your cast may draw from the ranks of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues and even people you attract through a free listing on an online classified-ad website. You'll find the job of director becomes much easier if you're lucky enough to attract professional actors than if you work with an all-amateur group, but amateurs can provide compelling performances, too. If you're considering a range of people for the same part, use your digital camera or smartphone to shoot close-ups of each person's full face and profiles, along with head-to-toe shots, and capture a screen test of each individual reading the relevant character's dialog. You can evaluate these tests on your HDTV or tablet device.

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