Sunday, December 17, 2006

Creativity First, Money Last

Okay, look, here's the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we're into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.

- Tom Cruise as Vincent in COLLATERAL

Not that I'm a huge authority on the matter, but I do get the occasional request on what tips I can offer those starting out in low low budget production. I always end up telling them the same thing.

1. Remember, you control the camera.
2. Creativity First, Money Last.

You Control The Camera.

The one mistake I do see often with ultra low budget and amateur videos is the lack of camera control. Somehow people just lose control of the camera. The shots are too shakey or just not steady enough, and not on purpose either. With my movie, The Midnight Special, it's shakey on purpose, because we were going for that reality TV type, COPS feel. All the shakes were intentional, in fact looking back at it now, I think we had too many steady shots.

It's always the signal of a first time camera guy when the camera shakes. And there are different kinds too. One of my favorites is one I like to call the, "We Didn't Buy A Tripod Shake". They hold the camera handheld and try there best to hold it steady. This hardly ever works. Unless you're intention is to get that handheld NYPD Blue, Paul Greengrass, effect. But most times you can tell they were trying to keep it steady, battling the fact that human's can't help but twitch every so often. Even worse when it's a small light weight camera. Even even worse when the shot is zoomed all the way in on something, in which case every centimeter you shift looks like a bad swish pan from one mile to the next.

The solution of course is to buy a tripod. Which brings us to the, "I Have A Tripod But I Keep Touching The Camera Shakes." This may be even worse than the first. Because on a tripod the shot is static. But then all of a sudden the shot twitches because you got all itchy about the shot and felt the need to mess with it. Solution, set your shot on the tripod, and then leave it alone. There is no need for you to have your hands on the camera and tripod at all times, espescially when it's not a particularily heavy camera. If it's windy, or the shot is supposed to pan or tilt, fine grab hold, but if you're trying to get a steady shot, DON'T TOUCH THE CAMERA.

The point is you have to realize you control the camera. If the shot shakes it has to be because you wanted it to and you felt it would be good for telling the story at hand. If the shot needs to be steady, then keep the camera steady, either on a tripod or not. Which brings me to the next piece of advice.

Creativity First, Money Last.

You've gotta learn that creativity will solve a problem much faster than money. What if you can't afford a tripod? Then get a stool and some duct tape. What if I can't afford duct tape? Then set your camera on a table, a nearby chair, how about the ground. I don't know how many great shots I got just by setting the damn camera on the ground, and then propping the lens up with my wallet. Hey look at that, a nice steady shot with no money.

Now I'm not saying you don't ever need money. Eventually the bigger movies you make you're going to need some funding. Movies do indeed cost money. Cameras and computers to edit on cost money, of course. But nowadays those things are much easier to come by if you're working that day job, which you should be. After that, if you can shoot it, and cut it, then you've got all the power in the world. No need for you to spend thousands on a fancy crane, special fx, or expensive locations. Use what you've got. Shoot in your apartment, use your car, a park, a parking lot. I mean, come on. It's a lesson taught over and over again, haven't we heard about this a billion times. Clerks, Evil Dead, Night Of The Living Dead, the frickin Blair Witch. And get on youtube and triggerstreet, you'll see some real gems for no money.

No money is the motto of the world and the backbone of civilization. Some truely creative and powerful things have arisen from the poor, the penniless, and the desperate. It's the very roots of rock, country, blues, and hip hop. It's learning to make music with a washboard and a jug. It's figuring out how to make big sounds with two turntables and some old records. It's the days of the early street performers all the way to Vaudeville, when the most creative acts came from the slums, the ghettos, and the poor houses. It's the very soul of Martial Arts. Using your limbs as weapons, or making weapons out of those thing around you, all in the name of defending yourself because you had to. You needed to.

True talent has always come out of desperation. True creativity has always risen out of the very rock bottom of down and out. If they can figure out how to build pyramids without machines, if they can make music with nothing but their hands and mouths, if they can make hit performances out of sticks and brooms, then you should be able to come up with a creative masterpiece with out fancy FX or an expensive tripod. You've got the camera, you've got the editing software, shut up and make a movie.

It's the very essence of the true guerilla filmmaker. Do the very best with what you've got. Adapt, improvise. If you really look at it you have the opportunity to create something the big Hollywood machine cannot. A movie from your specific point of view. Think about it, they would have to spend 3 hundred grand if they needed to put together an authentic set that looked like someone's apartment or house. And you don't have to. Use your supposed weaknesses as your strengths. Do the very best with what you've got, and often you'll find it's exactly what you needed in the first place. I believe there's a life lesson in there somewhere.

Here's an example. Out of the millions of dollars some people spend on putting together music videos, the fancy filters, the hot dancers, the expensive sets, cars, etc. Here's one of the coolest, most popular, most creative music videos EVER!

The band is OK GO. And if you haven't seen the awesomeness of their videos, check em out now, and tell me if you couldn't have come up with that yourself for no money.

You know in guerilla warfare, you try to use your weaknesses as strengths. If they're big and you're small, you're mobile and they're slow. You're hidden and they're exposed. Only fight battles you know you can win. You capture their weapons and you use them against them the next time. That way they're supplying you. You grow stronger as they grow weaker.

- Gene Hackman as Brill in ENEMY OF THE STATE

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