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The relationship between creative-types and their equipment has always been a complicated one. It’s human nature to drool over the shiniest, priciest things on the market, and yet common wisdom always seems to say that great artists can make great art with the bare minimum: Van Halen shredding on a cheap guitar, Scorsese shooting on an iPhone, so on and so forth. The truth of the matter seems to lie somewhere in the middle. When it comes to filmmaking, there’s no doubt that a great script, a good eye, and flawlessly coordinated production are at the heart of any great film, whether it’s shot on a RED or not. But, having the right toolkit can make it infinitely easier to bring your creative vision to life, and help the final result look, feel, and sound polished and professional.
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Here are nine things that today’s savvy filmmakers are relying on to let them do their best work without blowing their entire budget. Some are on the cutting edge, some are tried and true, but each of these nine tools, apps, and websites are worth having in your arsenal.
Screenwriting and storyboarding software
While there may be great scripts that never made it to the screen, there’s no great film without a strong script behind it. The first step in putting the scenes in your head to film is putting them to paper and, in a lot of ways, this is one of the most creatively demanding parts of the entire process. For years Final Draft was the only game in town when it came to screenwriting software. While it remains a powerful platform and the industry standard, screenwriters now have a choice of cheaper, online-based options like WriterDuet and Celtx that have everything you need to write, and allow for easy collaboration. If you’re looking to lay out your story visually, the free web app StoryBoard Fountain is another excellent tool – and you can’t beat the price.
Production management software
You can’t make a film all by yourself, and the only thing tougher than getting the perfect shot is organizing an entire team of actors and crew members so that you can shoot in the first place. StudioBinder is an incredibly popular option, and for good reason. It’s subscription based, and helps you with everything from shooting schedules, to shot lists, to contact management, and more. It’s a sort of all-in-one digital assistant that can take some of the pressure off throughout the entire production process.
To ease the pain of the oft-headache-inducing logistics of budgeting, something like Movie Magic Budgeting offers a time-tested solution for spending less time worrying about budget so that there’s plenty of time to worry about all of filmmaking’s other perils.
A hardy multi-tool
Let’s get a little more low-tech… a lot more low-tech, actually. When we set out to make a list of helpful filmmaking tools, we thought “tool” was more of a figure of speech, but this one’s a bit more literal. More often than not, filmmaking comes down to the nitty-gritty: adapting to unexpected obstacles and improvising to overcome them. If a Leatherman is good enough to help people survive out in the woods, it certainly deserves a place on set. You never know when you’re going to need to do a quick cut, snip, or screw to get a shoot back on track.
Sun tracking apps
There are so many variables to try and pin down during any given shoot, especially one taking place outdoors. As of yet, there aren’t any apps capable of staving off rain, but there are a few great ones that can tell you the sun’s exact path to help you nail that dusk or dawn shot. Sun Seeker and The Photographer’s Ephemeris are both available on iPhone and Android for less than $10, and use an augmented reality camera view to give you exhaustive information on the sun and moon’s paths, shadow length ratios, and more.
It’s every filmmaker’s rite of passage to learn a hard lesson about the importance of bringing plenty of extra camera batteries to every shoot. But, cameras aren’t the only thing on a set that need battery power, and they’re not the only one that can sabotage an entire day by dying. A portable battery for your laptop (like this) and phone (like this) can be a lifeline, considering the major role technology plays in a film shoot these days. Finding yourself without an outlet right when you need to pull footage off an SD card or send an important email about tomorrow’s location is far less than ideal.
Equipment rental sites
Now more than ever, independent filmmakers can have access to top-shelf equipment without having to win the lottery. The process of renting cameras, lenses, drones, and any other piece of filmmaking equipment you might need is incredibly streamlined and relatively affordable nowadays, thanks to the internet. There are a few different approaches to renting, depending on whose service you want to use. If you want to go with a well-established company with a massive catalog, LensRentals has served filmmakers for years. ShareGrid takes a more community-based approach, connecting renters and rentees based on location. Alternatively, something like Parachut uses a subscription model – a great way to save if you’re renting often.
Film is a visual artform, which makes it easy to forget that the impactfulness of your project doesn’t start and end with what your camera captures. In our article exploring how to tell the whole story with your films, we broke down some of the reasons why the right music is a filmmaker’s best friend. Finding pro-quality music that fits the exact tone of your project and won’t get you in copyright trouble sounds like a tall order, but it’s really one of the easiest things you can do to make a huge difference in your final cut. With a service like Jambox, an affordable monthly subscription earns you access to a massive, diverse library of music that can be dropped right in wherever you need it.
High quality headphones
This is another important piece that can fall to the wayside when you’re laser-focussed on camera gear. When you’re working on editing and sound-mixing your project, listening through bad headphones is akin to doing color work on a cheap computer monitor. You can grab a pair of headphones that professional musicians trust in the studio for a couple hundred bucks or less: the AudioTechnica ATHM50X’s and Sennheiser HD280PRO’s are both excellent choices.
Film-oriented social networks & festival submission sites
It’s obviously priority number one to focus your resources into the tools that are going to help you make the best film you possibly can. But, once it’s ready for the world to see, another kind of work is just beginning. Finding ways to get your work in front of audiences and into the hands of people that can help take it to new levels is paramount. Filmfreeway offers a platform to get your film seen by producers and scouts, while social networks like Stage 32 act as a sort of Facebook or LinkedIn especially for industry pros.
Whether you’re ready to invest heavily in your filmmaking career, or can’t afford to spare much other than your own ambition, the things on this list are all great sparks to make your films that much more electric. Anything we missed? Drop us a line on social media with your favorite filmmaking essentials.