… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1252: Essential Tips for an Indie Film

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Patience is the watch-word when working on low-budget films.

Alone, starring Stephanie Barkley. (Courtesy of NoFilmSchool.com)

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This article, written by William Hellmuth, first appeared in NoFilmSchool.com. This is a summary.

NOTE: This article – “Essential Tips for Filming Indie Sci-fi on a Tight Budget” – focuses on a sci-fi film. However, these tips apply to just about any low-budget film.

We only had $6,000 to produce a movie that was set almost entirely in outer space, with substantial production design and VFX challenges attached to it. In the end, we not only made our film, but we also got it distributed by Dust.

There’s a saying I’ve heard over and over: “Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.” I knew I needed Alone to be good and cheap. That meant I couldn’t have it fast. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, we had to wait until we could find the right designer and the right star, at the right price. It took almost a year before that happened.

I am terrible at VFX. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi films get stuck in post-production hell because the director bit off more than they could chew. To avoid that, I wanted to capture as many VFX shots in-camera as possible.

No matter where you’re at in your career, you always have a certain amount of social capital. You’re always better off working with people who want to be in the trenches with you, and the best way to do that is to make sure they know and trust you.

Above all, when you’re working with a shoestring-budget project, be patient. Try not to hover on specific deadlines, because if you want something good and cheap, it won’t come fast.


The article, linked above, has a trailer, more details and images from the production.

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… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1255: Criteria for Buying a Computer System

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The challenge is not the final export, but in assembling the pieces to create it.

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Just a couple of minutes ago, I got this email:

“I need a [newer] system to work with now [while waiting for the new Apple silicon systems to be released]. What are your thoughts about using an external SSD with a 2019 mid level iMac 27?”

So, I sent this response:

“Smile…. Until you give me a clue about what you want to do with this gear, it’s pretty darn hard to offer an opinion.”

They then responded:

“Majority of work is for YouTube.”

I replied:

“Key criteria for any hardware purchase are: the speed you need to get things done, the NLE you are using, the frame size you are working in, and the codecs you are using. The distribution format is trivial.

“If you are at 4K and below, not emphasizing HDR and have reasonable deadlines, the 2019 27″ iMac is an excellent choice.”

I mention this conversation because it is a question that I get almost every day – and it’s the wrong question. When buying new gear, we need to have a reasonable idea of what we are using it for. In almost all cases, the end result is not where the work is – it’s in assembling and combining all the pieces.

A sports car, pickup truck and school bus are all potentially excellent vehicles, but only one will do a good job transporting 40 people from Point A to Point B.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1256: What’s the “Ideal” Computer?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it simply needs to get the job done efficiently.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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My wife has a saying: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Nowhere is that more true than in technology; and it is driving us all nuts.

What this saying means is that we spend too much time looking for the perfect system, when a system that may be less than perfect is still more than adequate is enough. This is especially true when it comes to storage.

As an example, I’m in the process of upgrading my server for faster performance and greater capacity. However, last night, as I was exporting my weekly webinar, I measured how fast Final Cut creates a ProRes 4444 file: 85 MB/second. Even if I had storage that clocked in at NVMe speeds – 2500 MB/sec – my exports would not be any faster, because FCP X can only calculate these files so fast.

1080p media needs less than 40 MB/second to edit, while 4K media needs less than 70 MB/sec. Storage that goes 300 MB/second will edit at the same speed as storage that goes 2500 MB/second.

I’m not saying faster storage is a bad idea, clearly, multicam editing, HDR or larger frame rates require more horsepower than simple HD. However, what I am saying is that we need to ask ourselves a bigger question: Where will extra speed actually help? For example, if I only edit one project a week, spending a lot of money improving export speed is not meaningful compared to the time it takes to edit the project in the first place. Sadly, faster storage does not help me think any faster. I wish it did.

Another example was provided by Gloria. She owns a high-end 2019 Mac Pro. She’s worried that Thunderbolt 4, which hasn’t shipped yet, will make her system obsolete.

Well, ALL computers become obsolete at some point, but when it comes to performance, Thunderbolt 4 is the same as Thunderbolt 3. And, even when new gear is released, as it always is, all our current gear will still work exactly the same as it does now.

I get dozens of emails each week from editors happily editing on Mac Pro systems that are 10-12 years old. Clearly not state of the art, but fully capable of doing the work they need to get done – on time and on budget. I get even more emails from editors stressing over whether they need a 3.2 GHz or 3.3 GHz CPU.

My advice is stop trying for perfection – unless the search itself is something you enjoy. Instead find a system that meets your needs. Most of the time, good enough is also fast enough. And “future-proofing” is a fool’s errand.

Jan Frederickson, of WLS-TV, had a sign on her wall that I think about daily: “It’s better than perfect, it’s done.”

That is a reassuring statement.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1230: How to Use Insert Shots Effectively

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

An insert shot provides detail or information to move a story forward.

(Image courtesy of “The Imitation Game.”)

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This article, written by Jourdan Aldredge, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

An insert shot is not, necessarily, a close-up. Screenwriting.io defines the insert shot as “…a shot — often a close-up — that focuses on a specific detail.” It’s the “detail” focus that makes inserts so powerful. While inserts might seem simple and self-explanatory, they are actually one of the oldest tricks in the book to help you tell a story in your films or videos.

In more practical filmmaking terms, insert shots—sometimes also called cutaway shots—are all the shots you include to add additional visual information that helps with your cinematic storytelling needs. These are often closeups displaying specific information such as headlines of newspapers, items, weapons, or other small articles like door handles.

However, technically speaking, insert shots aren’t all close-ups. They can include any number of shot styles or techniques across all of the standard shot types. The key element is that they’re edited, or “inserted,” into a scene to help provide further thematic clarity.

The article includes four videos that illustrate different ways to shoot and use insert shots, along with links for more information.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1231: How to Break Down a Script

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Script breakdowns start the process of turning words into images.

(Image courtesy of PremiumBeat.com.)

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This article, written by Jason Boone, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

A script breakdown helps a film crew prepare for production. With a proper breakdown, a production team can isolate all the necessary elements, put together a shooting schedule, create a shot list, and generate script sides.

In the video tutorial that accompanies this article, the author uses StudioBinder to break down a script.

Line the Script. The first step in breaking down a script is to separate it into filmable scenes. This is called “lining the script,” and it’s quite easy when things are properly formatted. Since one page of a screenplay is generally translated as one minute of screen time, using eighths just provides extra precision.

Isolate the Production Elements. With the script properly broken into scenes and divided by eighths, tag them. Elements include anything that’s going to be on-screen, including cast members, props, VFX, makeup, set dressing, etc.

Create the Breakdown Summary Sheet. This could include shot lists and production schedule.

Once I have all of the elements isolated, I can now put together a breakdown sheet. With this step, I’m essentially categorizing and listing out all of the elements from the breakdown for each particular scene.

With my script breakdown in hand, I’m now ready to move on to the next stages of pre-production.


The article includes a five minute video tutorial along with more details and screen shots.

The StudioBinder website is here.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1232: What Should Be in Every Scene You Write?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Drama occurs from conflict. Spike Lee says the best drama is when both sides are right.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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This article, written by Jason Hellerman, first appeared in NoFilmSchool.com. This is a summary.

Scenes: they’re the backbone of every story, whether it be TV, film, or even on the stage. Scenes build on one another and create a world, a vision, and take people on a journey. But, what should be in every scene?

At the end of the day, every scene needs to have one thing: drama. Does your character have a goal in the scene? What’s standing in their way? That’s it. That’s the center of every scene.

Drama is the perils that your characters face in order to achieve their goal. Those perils can make us laugh, they can be thrilling, they can be emotional. But without drama, you’re not building a story. You’re just boring us.

The biggest pratfall I see from younger writers are scenes that have no conflict. People come in and out of doors and espouse facts, then go on their way. We need to see what stands in their way both tangibly and intangibly if we want to really be a part of the story.

This article includes a video on how to write a scene, along with more details.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1216: A Split-Screen Movie – that Works.

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

80 minutes – two separate locations – both shot in real-time at the same time.

Screen shot from the film “Last Call.”

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When does film become theater… and when does theater become film?

This article first appeared in NoFilmSchool.com. This is a summary.

The film, “Last Call” is about a suicidal alcoholic (played by the film’s co-writer Daved Wilkins) on the anniversary of his son’s death. When he attempts to call a crisis hotline, a mis-dial connects him with Beth, a single mother working as the night janitor (Sarah Booth) at a local community college. The split screen feature showcases both characters in real-time as they navigate a life-changing conversation.

80 minutes – two separate locations – both shot in real-time at the same time. 10 days of rehearsal, 4 days to shoot, 5 good takes.

“We were either going to get it or not,” director/co-writer Gavin Michael Booth says. “We filmed every rehearsal and watched it back to see if a particular section was getting boring and therefore to try something visually to spice it up. I was like an NFL coach being able to watch the game plays back to perfect the technical aspects of the performance.”

Not content with shooting both takes simultaneously in realtime, they shot in locations several blocks away from each other. The crew for each was a camera operator and a sound operator. Cinematographer Seth Wessel-Estes was in charge of Daved’s storyline, while Booth took charge of the other storyline featuring his wife. They shot with a part of RED Helium cameras in 8K.

Shot almost exactly two years ago, the film picked up 25 awards on the festival circuit including the Founders Award at Napa Valley and Best Feature at Hamilton, eventually landing a theatrical release with Mutiny Pictures and a streaming distribution deal with Apple TV+ with more to follow.

The article provides lots more details, plus a trailer and production shots.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1217: Create Loglines that Sell Movies

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Taglines intrigue audiences. Loglines sell films to investers.

Screen shot of “Back to the Future” (Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.)

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This article, written by Darin Bradley, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

Every creative medium uses some version of the elevator pitch to condense a project into a simple, memorable description — in the movie business, it’s the logline. Agents and producers of all stripes across the entertainment industry use these one-liners when jockeying scripts, books, or games between the creators they represent and the buyers they’re trying to convince.

A logline is a simple descriptive sentence that identifies the inciting incident (motivation and/or risks), the protagonist, the primary action, and the antagonist. This straightforward sentence reduces all the complexity and nuance of your script into a digestible takeaway that makes it simpler for the various brokers who bring movies to life to move big, beautiful, ungainly scripts around.

Here are the “Rules:”

  1. Create Strong Protagonists
  2. Specific About Character Actions
  3. The Unexpected Is Your Friend

The article then provides almost a dozen examples of both successful and unsuccessful loglines, with an analysis of each.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1207: I Need Your Help

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The Inside Tips encourages reader-contributed tips. Please share yours with us.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we learn it from someone else.

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I want to encourage you to submit a tip or two for “The Inside Tips.” We all benefit when we take the time to share what we know.

Random Weirdness about Media is a Tip Letter focused on media production. Production is a vast topic, far more than any single person can master.

Each of us, during our career, has benefited by learning from others – sometimes in a formal setting, more often in the course of daily work.

For this reason, it would be great if you could contribute a tip or two from your own experience. The Inside Tips are read in every state in the US, as well as 50 countries around the world.

Even the “simple things” only seem simple after we learn them.

Click this link to submit a tip…. And thanks!

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1198: 6 Tips to Improve Audio Quality

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Please, for the love of humanity, stop using the camera mic for dialog!

Not a camera mic. (Image courtesy of Pexels.com)

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This article first appeared in MotionArray.com. This is a summary.

Not much is more distracting than bad audio in an otherwise good film or video.

Great sound typically goes unnoticed by the viewer. It stays in the subconscious, but as soon as you bring it to the conscious, that’s when you start hearing words like amateur, low budget, B-movie, and student film.

In this article, the author looks at how to improve audio recordings:

  1. Use a Dedicated Microphone
  2. Get Your Microphone Close to Your Subject
  3. Don’t Clip Your Audio
  4. Location
  5. Get a Dead Cat
  6. Capture Room Tone

It includes a details on each subject, along with a seven-minute tutorial video.