It’s hard out here for an indie music artist. Without a label to back you, you have to create the promotional materials to sell your work yourself. Luckily, the new wave of DSR cameras give people access to quality images at a fraction of the price of using film. Hell, even iPhone cameras create pretty good looking video, right?
While there are many examples of compelling, low/no-budget videos, no matter what the tools are, the fundamental principles of creating a quality moving picture remain the same, regardless of the medium.
I was compelled to write this post because Bobby Brown’s latest video for the song “Don’t Let Me Die” made me think of the conversations I have with my fellow Free Film Collective members. FFC is a collective of media artists that are dedicated to one idea: Work Well, Work Often, Work Together. We try to create as many short projects as we can, as quickly as we can, without the luxury of budget or extensive resources.
We have more than talent and enthusiasm on our side though. When doing any short project, whether it be a promo for an event, business, or a music video, we know that there are a few things that will define the different between low-budget and amateur, and that one does not excuse the other.
1) Lighting, Lighting, Lighting: Even if you are going for a cinéma vérité feel, we need to see what you subject looks like. Furthermore, we need to see the details on your subject. Hard blacks and lost details are key signs of a video with inadequate or *gasp* NO lighting design. We know lighting is expensive, so that why we use a collapsible reflector for our outdoor shoots. At about $35, it’s possibly the best investment we’ve made for our productions.
2) Concept: If we take on a FFC project for an outside organization or person, while we listen to suggestions or feedback, ultimately we pick the concept. Why? Because people who don’t produce media are never good at estimating what it will take to make. If you’ve every had to photograph someone’s wedding, create a website for a small business, or create a dress for someone, you and I both know that most people’s expectations are higher than their budgets. When the creative professional determines the concept, they can create one that can be completed within the project’s time and budget constraints.
3) To Act… Or Not To Act?: Acting is a craft. Unless you are in a city/school that is swarming with talented, exposure-hungry actors, don’t develop a concept that is very character-drive, comedic or dramatic. Why, do you ask? Because nothing says low-budget like badly-delivered lines, unmotivated gestures, or obvious self-consciousness. Stick to creating dazzling visuals.
4) Color: Whether it’s the native color corrector in Final Cut Pro, Final Cut X or another application, coloring a video is not just about playing with the contrast and saturation. It creates visual continuity, so that each frame has a theme, and parts that were shot in the same time and space LOOK like they were. It also helps create a visual mood. Is the feeling of the picture warm or cool? Sharp or muted? Whatever it is, it should look intentional. For example, when creating the concept for the video for “The One” by Mojo Green, I knew I wanted it to feel vintage and warm, like it was shot on film in the 70s.
We all have to cut corners at times. With video or any craft, you can do so without sacrificing quality, if you stick to the fundamentals.
For more work by my crew, the Free Film Collective and its members, check out our Vimeo channel.
Mojo Green- “The One.” NOTE: This was shot for less than $200, including lights, a thank you gift to the location owners, and food for the artists and the crew of five. I work with really amazing professionals, who waived their compensation for the day to create something cool 🙂 We shot this on two Canon 7Ds, owned by crew members.
Bobby Brown’s video for “Don’t Let Me Die.” I have no idea what the budget was, but it looks like it was shot on a mobile phone camera.