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Five Key Tips for Guerilla Filmmakers


Guest Post by Paul Thompson.

After 15 years working behind-the-scenes as a film technician on major motion pictures, Paul Thompson is looking to direct his own feature.  His proposed film, Starkers, is currently in the CineCoup competition and through crowdsourcing votes and completing the weekly missions, he hopes that his film will be one of the movies selected to win one million dollars to help get his film made.

Paul was kind enough to write an article for me about his five key tips for indie filmmakers:

1. Be Adaptable

Your shoot will have plenty of ups and downs, but you’ll come through with a better film in the end if you learn to adapt to the situations that arise. The CineCoup competition has different “missions” each week that entrants have to complete in order to move forward and gain more traction in the contest.

For our Speechless mission, our script called for a ground level entry in a motel with a stalker peeking through the window, but when our location, a working motel overbooked and gave us a different room at the last second, I had to either scrap the scene for the day or adapt. The result was a striking camera move that appears to transition through the motel room walls – a decision which received praise from our fans and viewers.

2. Less is More

For our teaser, I was forced to wear multiple hats – director, camera operator, on-the-spot writer, and the hardest one – cinematographer. With my basic understanding of three-point lighting, I used a mix of practical lights and a handful of other lights to make the most of our scenes.

It’s difficult to achieve great results with a lot of lights when you don’t have the technical background, so I decided that less was more – and our best shots confirmed it. If you aren’t pro, then sometimes it’s better to underdo than overdo. Our pitch video used a single light source and a black backdrop to achieve a striking effect.

3. Do a 180

When you are under the gun to complete scenes, the best thing to know is the axis (aka the 180 degree) rule.  I focus my attention on covering the action along the same side of the axis first so that if I have to rush a scene I know that the shots I have will cut. If I have extra time I can experiment, knowing that I already have the essentials if the extra shots don’t work out.

The only exception to keep in mind is if there is a shot you MUST have, get it first – no matter what. Another tip that a 2nd unit director once shared with me: every shot should have a beginning middle and end – figure out the “story” for each shot and you will get better results when putting it all together.

4. Go Wild

Always record wild tracks.  First of all, it goes without saying that you should always find a way to get sound right into the camera and use a boom mic. Getting sync sound will help you even as a guide track for post. Another thing that will save you time and again are wild tracks.

For Starkers, I used my iPhone  and the FiRe 2-Field Recorder app  to get wild tracks of every single line of dialogue with my actors. These extra tracks were invaluable during the edit, and I was able to focus on some subtleties of the lines to get even better performances when I recorded them.

If you are doing this, it’s important to find a quiet room that is pretty “dead” in terms of echo. You can always add reverb but it’s hard to remove it. Check out the Redux Starkers teaser for some examples

5. Get Social

Our team is completely dependent on free tools Dropbox and Celtx. With weekly missions it was often difficult to find time for meetings (we’re independent so we still have day jobs, and family commitments) but we could always collaborate using our Dropbox.

This included scripts, artwork for our web pages, even final cut project files and so we could share the editing load (note: a paid account may be required for larger media file sharing). Celtx is free screenwriting software with a host of useful features.

For me, the productions tools allowed me to break down the script and prepare call sheets for our cast and crew, which helped us seem pretty well organized even when I felt otherwise.

Visit http://cinecoup.com/starkers, to watch the Starkers trailer, missions and cast your vote to help make an indie filmmaker’s dreams come true.  Some of Paul’s other shorts and music videos can be viewed at http://martinimacguffin.com.

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