For many no-budget filmmakers, the post-production effects included in all consumer grade video editing software are usually the only options. I remember when I first began learning how to edit, the version of iMovie that I was using had only ten or so effect options ranging from fake film grain, fog, rain and a lens flare option which almost never appeared realistic no matter how you used it. Yet, I settled because I had no other choice.
After exhausting all of these options, and then diving into Final Cut Pro, I found myself falling into the same problem. I was becoming too dependent on the effects being offered instead of thinking of another solution to create the effect I really wanted for my project. I would go to an independent film festival and the same effects I used in my amateur video would appear in almost everyone’s films. Even though it was a wake-up call that I certainly wasn’t the only aspiring filmmaker hoping to make their work appear to have been shot on grainy 8mm, it was disheartening to say the least. I stopped using effects provided via the selected software and instead, began editing with a Dogme95-ish viewpoint on consumer CGI effects: i.e. the film would simply look how it looks on whatever camera I shot it on.
While sequence editing one night, I happened to notice a shot of snow falling down from the sky, directly towards the lens, which I had aimed upwards. Just to experiment, I sped up the sequence by almost 500 percent and pushed the contrast up as far as it could go. I was instantly struck. I placed said shot over another shot, lowered the opacity to about 50 percent and by the grace of God, I had developed my own authentic, unique video filter. This discovery became important because now I didn’t have to waste anything; I could use my scrap footage specifically to craft texture.
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I became obsessed with this process, making filter after filter, eventually compiling an entire folder of homemade video effects on my hard drive, labeled by texture; i.e. old wallpaper, brick, shingles, leaves, etc.. I noticed that textures such as wood could function as a unique substitute for a film grain effect when shot in black and white, with the camera moving rapidly about, as close as possible without the image becoming blurry or going out of focus. In fact, I was even able to make Stan Brakhage-inspired shorts with these simple filters.
After screening work that employed this new technique, people began to ask me if the filters were a part of an exclusive package I had purchased or if they simply hadn’t discovered the folder in their software. When I told them how I crafted them myself, they were stunned — which was not unlike my own reaction upon the initial discovery. The beauty of this discovery for me was that it opened up the opportunity for me to create an original looking project without having to spend a dime. Amazingly, I realized I wouldn’t have to waste anything and I’d be reducing production costs.
At the top of the page, you can take a look at five examples from my catalogue of homemade filters. I hope this inspires you to take out your disposable camera and begin shooting textured effects, as well as your entire feature. Happy filming!
Courtney Fathom Sell is an independent filmmaker, artist and writer who specializes in no-budget productions. His work, which has all been shot on disposable, consumer grade equipment all over the country, spans multiple genres; among them, the documentary “The Hole,” based around a mysterious neighborhood on the Brooklyn-Queens border; “My Dying Day,” about his father’s final days as he struggled with an aggressive form of cancer; and “Down Orchard Street,” which documented the rise of gentrification and the evictions of many long-term residents and businesses on the Lower East Side over the course of four years. Sell is currently in post-production on his newest feature documentary “Tracking Issues.”