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8 Gadgets For Low-Budget Filmmaking at the National Association of Broadcasters

By Valentina I. Valentini | Indiewire April 16, 2013 at 9:49AM

With more than 1,600 exhibits at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, it's damn near impossible to hit all of them up. But Indiewire made sure to run the thousands of square footage at the Las Vegas Convention Center just so you’d have a few choice gadgets to choose from that could change your low-budget filmmaking life.
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Blackmagicdesign Cinema Pocket Camera
Blackmagicdesign Cinema Pocket Camera
With more than 1,600 exhibits at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, it's damn near impossible to hit all of them up. But Indiewire made sure to run the thousands of square footage at the Las Vegas Convention Center just so you’d have a few choice gadgets to choose from that could change your low-budget filmmaking life.

1: A cooler temperature and higher voltage battery for the Alexa

Okay, so batteries doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing to talk about, but let us assure you, when you’re running your Alexa for 15 percent longer, recharging for one-and-a-half hours and getting a lifespan of about five years, that’s exciting news for any indie camera operator and even producer. Boxx TV’s BlueCell 260 volt batteries (made out of a Manganese cell compound) for high-current cameras like the ARRI Alexa and Phantom are almost double the traditional 16 volts of Lithium Ion that is currently the industry standard.

"Running 26 volt cameras off 16 volt batteries is crazy," explains Scott Walker, co-founder of Boxx TV, "as the up-conversion of power is not particularly efficient and you are throwing around 10 percent of the power away in heat."

The price is still $500, but the accessories are cheaper and like above explains, it saves you money in the long run because you don’t have to replace batter every year.

2: A little Blackmagic in a camera

Upping the excitement quotient, Blackmagicdesign has brought us the Cinema Pocket Camera for $995. True to its name, it comes in just a little bigger than an iPhone (depending on the lens you put on it, of course) and has a Super 16mm sized 1080HD sensor, 13 stops of dynamic range, built in SD card recorder for Apple ProRes, loss-less compressed CinemaDNG RAW capture and MFT lens mount adaptors. For under a grand, that’s quite a profile for any indie filmmaker looking to make high-quality, low-budget films.

"Our goal was to have a high-res, high-dynamic range, easily available format-based camera with the Cinema Camera last year," says Dan May, President of BMD USA. "This time around we wanted all that but in a form factor that we can get in anywhere. We half-jokingly say, 'If anyone is going to make a better product than us, it’s going to be us.'"

The Cinema Pocket Camera will start delivering in July. And we eagerly wait to see if it’s the next GoPro, or if they better get back to the grindstone.

3: Cross your tripods and dot your heads

Now it’s probably not something you’d think about on set, but imagine the time you’ll save in the edit, or moreover the takes you’ll save when you don’t have to trash them due to jerky or unsmooth tilts and pans. Yeah, we thought it might be worth a mention then.

Davis & Sanford’s ProElite series tripod and head systems are a little less costly than others out there (around $550), but if you’re using a DSLR and/or on a run-and-gun shoot, these babies are going to give you the smoothest and the fastest results. The 5075-15 and 5100-25 support and counterbalance 15 pounds and 25 pounds respectively – lower-priced tripods do not have the same weight capacity. The head’s sealed fluid technology have 4-step drag and 5-step counterbalance – cheaper tripods do not offer these features, and sometimes use plastic components whereas the ProElites have an aluminum structure.

So go ahead and rent one (they come out next month), let’s see if your operator-just-out-of-film-school gets you a useable shot this time.

4: Run rampant with effects, not your wallet

You’re sitting in the edit watching your awesome short film get cut, but there’s a nagging thought in the back of your mind: ‘Gee, wish I had gotten that sun flare in-camera.’ Well, for under $100 (and allegedly they have sales all the time for up to 40 percent off) you can get a whole volume of light effects from Rampant Design Tools. Also: flare transitions, damage elements, soft lighting, glitch, color, title plates and tons more effects to choose from. Rampant gives Quicktime-based, drag-and-drop VFX elements for post-production professionals strapped for cash and time. And the best part – they’re authentic effects – i.e. all of them are organic shots created in-camera.

“We’re like your assistant graphics team,” says Sean Mullen, CEO of Rampant Design, “except a lot cheaper. If you hired me personally it’d be a quite a bit pricier.”

5: Shoot video and send it to the cloud? There’s an app for that

From Playboy and UFC comes VidLasso. Well, not exactly, but the two women whose career highlights include the two mega-brands are now bringing their Digital Asset Management experience into the App-tastic world with a program that captures video on a mobile device and stores it in the Cloud, ready for editing, disbursement, whatehaveyou. At $1 per file, pay-as-you-go model, for the indie filmmaker we’re confident there are tons of possibilities for this little guy that we haven’t even thought of yet. (One indie filmmaker at NAB commented that he could use it for satellite casting sessions.)

VidLasso was created initially with brand fans, attendees, partners and employees in mind, but we know your indie filmmaking brains can reach beyond that. Each video is automatically encoded, tagged, organized and stored in a secure Cloud location, enabling content editors to quickly find and review video before it is pushed out to social media platforms, edit platforms, or asset management systems, making the content relevant to the moment as well as valuable for future use.

6: Bullet-proofing your deliverables

Who’s the best person to make a simple data management workflow? Super nerdy, strapped-for-cash filmmakers. That’s who makes up the team at Red Giant. And for a mere $199 (that’s less than catering for a day) they’re offering you what SNL Digital Shorts DP Alex Buono calls “the workflow tool we’ve been dreaming of.” (He was brought on for beta testing.)

Red Giant found there was no good solution and people on set were doing really strange things for backing up. Their mantra for this product is: Backup, Organize, Review, Color, Deliver. The name ‘BulletProof’ is not just about backing up, but it refers to the ability to know exactly what you got by previewing it and then sending it out to an editor and/or clients, with options like having temp color correction or burning it in.

Bridging the gap between camera and editor, BulletProof combines all backup, organization, color and delivery tasks while handling footage from multiple cameras and media cards. Although they only support DSLRs and GoPro, they’re working on getting to the higher-end cameras ASAP. Expect a public beta on the market in about a month and a full package this summer.

7: LIGHTS, camera, action

The new Fill-Lite (shown by BandPro at the show) lends extreme portability and low profile to indie productions. The LED soft light panel is about an inch thick and uses about 1/10th of the power a soft light box uses to deliver the same amount of light. Buh-bye generator. Also, because they’re low-power LED-based, multiple Fill-Lites can be powered by a standard photographer’s battery pack and the brightness can be regulated manually with a dimmer knob or with a remote control via an iPad/iPhone. 

They cost just under $3K to buy outright, but that should put you somewhere in the $50-per-day range with the rental houses (who are set to get these late summer). And when you’re ditching the genie it’s more than affordable for the quality of soft light the Fill-Lite gives you, sans the glare that some LEDs give off, requiring boxing with bulky scrims to diffuse the light. 

8: Creativity in the clouds

Remember "C.O.G." from Sundance? We do. And so does Adobe. Kyle Patrick Alvarez almost exclusively used Adobe’s Creative Cloud™ – a $49.99 per month fee for the entire collection of their digital media tools (all the video, graphic design and web development stuff) and constant updates.

“As a filmmaker and an editor,” Alvarez told us “for me to be able to go within minutes and start putting together the footage, on my lunch break even, that’s what I always wanted. I thought it was too good to be true and tested it before we started shooting. But I was astonished that I could be stringing together some 5K footage in real-time without any lag, so that I could make sure I got everything I needed from a particular scene.”

At the show they announced they’re offering it at $29.99 a month for their first year, and with all updates and upgrades free of charge that are coming down the pipeline. Better hurry though – this price is only going on through April 19, 2013. (For more information, visit here.) Although, we still think that 50 bucks a month for all they’re offering is pretty fantastic.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, Filmmaker Toolkit: Post-Production, Filmmaker Toolkit: Technology





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