You want to film an action movie, full of drama and with a zombie or two eating someone's brains. You've scribbled down a script of sorts, pencilled a couple of frames of storyboard, and your mates have agreed to have their heads chomped on by the living dead.
Okay, Mr Romero, what next? If you're thinking big but have limited means, there's no need to cut back on your vision, you just have to think smart. First of all you need a camera - but not any old camera. There are new HDV cameras coming on the market that will shoot in hi-def, usually in 1,080i (which means interlaced upper and lower frames containing 540 lines of information each, totalling 1,080 lines of information thanks to persistence of vision). Interlacing is old technology and is being replaced by progressive frames, where each frame is a single image and isn't split into two separate fields.
Why does this matter? If you're planning on doing any kind of post production or visual effects in After Effects, you'll quickly learn to love progressive frames. Thanks to a subtle difference in the upper and lower fields, fast movement in an interlaced frame can look 'combed', an artefacting that can become very annoying if you want to key out stuff shot on a green screen.
Luckily, there are cameras out there to help you. If you're feeling flush, consider the GY-HD251 camera from JVC. Its 720p output looks very clean, with few traces of the kinds of HDV compression artefacts found on lesser cameras. For the budget-conscious, the hot camera of the moment is the Canon HV20, a stunning consumer-level choice that produces cinematic footage by operating at 25fps (24fps in the US) rather than the less filmic 50/60fps that most consumer HDV cameras shoot at.
You're not alone
Perhaps the best news for budding filmmakers is that you're not alone. There's a whole community making high-production-value short films on low budgets. An excellent place to start is by picking up a copy of The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap by Stu Maschwitz. It's an easy read that packs an extraordinary amount of information between its covers. Having completed a short film called The Doll on a tiny budget, I consider myself a fully fledged DV Rebel.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Stu (opens in new tab) and asked him what the appeal of low-budget film making was. "Look at Robert Rodriguez," he said. "He keeps his budgets below a certain number because it allows him to maintain control. The less you spend, the more freedom you have."
On the downside to shooting cheap, Stu admits that not being able to treat your crew as well as you'd like is a definite disadvantage. "It's no big deal for a filmmaker to accept the creative limitations of a budget. But if you look at the modest budgets of some of my smaller projects, you'll see nothing but restaurant and grocery receipts. Showing some love to your crew goes a long way."
Head on over to www.rebelsguide.com and join the Rebel Alliance.