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Novice film maker looking for some your wisdom

Lee Friesen

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Hi everyone, this is my first post to the forum.


I have been contracted by the school that I work for (as an English teacher) to create a short film (7-10 mins) about 20 Mexican students that will be studying with us for the better part of a month. The idea I have is:

- student walks into a coffee shop and tries to order a coffee, but the barrista can't understand him.

- student goes to the school, and a montage of studying, field trips and dramatic music starts.

- montage ends and the student is back at the coffee shop ordering a complicated drink like a pro.

- next there will be some comments by the students about their adventure to Canada.


1. What do you think of this story line?

2. I currently have a t3i + kit lens +50mm 1.4 +  40mm 2.8. I don't have any microphones aside from the one in the camera. Also, I am thinking of purchasing a Tonika 11-16 to aide with the shots,  or some quality lighting equipment. I have a budget of about $700 so I can't get all 3. Do you think it would be the most beneficial for this project to buy a nice shotgun/ stereo mike or the wide angle lens or some pro lighting? Which choice would really pump up the quality of the video to resemble something that is nice for the students and their parents?

3. Has anyone had experience with a DIY stedicam? can you point me in the direction of one that worked for you?


Although I the school won't be using the video for marketing purposes, it is intended to be a passive form of marketing, where if it turns out well, the students will show their friends and it will be passed around that way.


Thanks so much for your time!

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I agree with @Mondo.  You should really try to get a proper microphone to record this with.  I really don't have much experience with production audio, so maybe others can chime in on this, but if you're able to get a decent mic that you can place close to the actors (i.e. not attached to the camera, but operated by someone else) then you should greatly improve the quality of this film.

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Simple story, but with a lot of possibilities. Write a good dialogue (not too many words), make the order a little love story. He instantly falls in love with her, which makes his frustration even more funny and gives him a better motivation to learn intensively. Keep the learning sequence short, you could superimpose floating english words that fade in and out. His ambition could be funny again. When the day comes, he is surprised (as she is and we are) that he asks her to have coffee with him (or something more witty, english is not my native language). Happy end, a classic.


For a beginner, it's perhaps best not to move the camera too much. Find a classic, conservative framing, capture clean dialogue (use at least a good directional mike, mono), you better mix atmo and music in post.


Biggest challenge is direction. Wise directors said, there is no bad acting, only bad directing. Meaning: Don't teach your talents how to act. Take your time. Change the script, change the story on set. Don't rehearse, just start over with the changes. Tailor dialogue and action so that your character fits to the actor, never conversely. Don't cut a dialogue scene into one-sentence-takes during the shoot. Repeat the scene in complete length from other POVs. Let them repeat often. Don't praise or criticize too much. Stay serious and NEVER lose your nerve. Cater (softdrinks, coffee and sandwiches, don't start with beer and pizza, both demoralize).


Overacting is not funny. It's the situation that must be funny. 


Please post your finished work in our 'screening room'.

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You could buy a zoom H1 for about $100 bucks. That alone will get you get good sound if you place it right. Pay another $20 for a cheap lavalier mic and that will give you very clear dialogue. That leaves you enough money to buy a lens if you don't mind paying used. Thats probably what I would do


I like the story. Simple, not cheesy or over complicated 

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Filmmaking is a process, that, all other processes, never ends. We're all novices.



Go for audio first. Your lenses cover a good range so you should be fine with that for what you're shooting. Audio can make or break anything so that should be your first priority. 






1. Since it is indoors, it would be a good idea, to get, another, fast lens. You already have a good 50mm 1.4, so, you could get something wider (for close-ups). An old Canon or even a second hand Samyang 35mm f1.4 would be great. It would save you the effort of lighting the place up, like a studio.Check e-bay. They have some good lenses, which are pretty cheap.



2. Pick up an onboard (shotgun) mic instead of an external recorder, unless you are alright with the idea of syncing in post. Though a lot of people are unhappy with the hissing noise on Canon cameras, I have used quite a few canon cameras, with onboard sound, and I haven't been too unhappy. You could get this, its a cheap and good mic (about $70):



3. You could use Chinese Lanterns (in white), with soft white lights (non-LED), for the Fill. Use 2-4 of those, for the fill lighting. Use bright bulbs (100 watts). 4 lanterns will be more than you need. Dirt Cheap. Maybe (I am guessing), within $20.


4. For the spot, you could use one of these. Get the mobile package (L-Shaped bracket, since the Rail Mount is, apparently, not in stock). It costs about $200. If you find a cheaper alternative, you could use that. But, for LEDs, make sure the colour temperature isn't the exact opposite of the bulbs:




If you don't wanna get into the whole 3-point lighting thing, and yet don't want Flat lighting, you could use String Lights in daylight colours/ soft white (either 1 very long wire, or 2-3 sets of atleast 5 feet each). You can mount them on anything, from hard metal (uncoated) wire to plastic piping, or something even more ingenious. You'll need to go to a hardware store, to get the plugs in order. They will have you save enough money, for the afterparty ....  :P


5. Get some cheap tripod. Its not a good idea to use a steadycam, for a cafe scene. It doesn't really require movement. Also, you could pick up some basic conversation shot break-down. You could try this, for the tripods:




or (My favourite):





6. For the narration, you could watch the Brit Sitcom 'Mind Your Language'. It presents some great satire on the communication gap, created by different languages, and outlines problems faced by people, trying to learn the English language. Make it a comedy. You can't go wrong.


Best of Luck

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audio first, since its about language you'll want to get that bit nice and clean. good audio with crappy lens and lighting will be better than crappy audio with a gazillion dollar lens/lighting setup.


depending on the cafe and its design, you might be able to get away with natural light and some diy reflectors. 


i'd spend the day scoping out the cafe you want to use, see how the light changes through out the day and pick a time when it looks brilliant.

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I disagree with the above post suggesting a a shotgun mic with the canons onboard preamp. I used that solution for over a year and the hissing audio is often times unusable. I strongly encourage you to buy a portable recorder and sync the sound in picture in post. It really should take no longer than 5 minutes

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Get an external recorder (Sony pcm m10, zoom h4n, etc..). If you get a recorder, make sure you understand how the power works. Some recorders won't have enough juice to power mics. In which case you would want to buy a powered mic (like a Rode NTg2) or you would need an additional power supply (like a juicedlink unit). Filmmakers go crazy over the Zoom H4n, but if you go on any audio forum, you will see that many people prefer other recorders to the H4n. Also, you will want to protect it from wind, even indoors. Personally, I think wiring the people with some lavs is the way to go. Lastly, shooting indoors can make shotguns sound unappealing, in which case you might want a less aggressive polar pattern.


If you want good audio for your projects, then I think spending 700 on a decent set up is a good thing to do. It will make your work stand out. 


Also, I would want to have something wider than 40mm for interior work. Tough decision!

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Firstly, you've got a Canon so put Magic Lantern on it - it opens up your camera to a whole new world (zebras, sound, fps override etc...) & don't worry as the last build is stable.




Now ML does have an audio section, which could mean that you could just plug in a mic directly into the camera now & get a pretty good sound out of it (look on the forums @ ML to see what people say about your particular model). If ML helps the in-camera audio then you could buy yourself a Rode Video Mic Pro or something similar & save yourself some cash.

If you were going to spend some cash on an external recorder the Zoom or Sony (mentioned above are fine), but if you can pick up a cheap SH Marantz PMD 661 you will be in a whole different world!


Also, experiment with different Picture Styles - there are a ton of free ones out there & a few good paid ones (IMO VisionColor do the best ones at the moment). 




Your lenses seem just fine, but yes the Tokina might be a good choice. Also, don't forget that there are a lot of great old lenses out there, which you can pick up for peanuts & give your film a more vintage look i.e. less video looking.

And don't forget the golden rule - you CAN always move your tripod backwards or forwards to get the shot that you want.

Which reminds me get a half decent tripod - one that is stable.


As far as narrative goes, your idea is just fine - keep it simple & then you can go crazy with your shot selection. Also, you're working with kids, so check with the school about how far you can push it - i liked the idea by Axel to introduce the Girl aspect into your original idea, but as you're a teacher it might not go down well (hence check first).


good luck

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i second the lavs,... unless you're shooting really close to your subjects you'll get much much more room noise from a camera mounted shotgunmic than you will from lavs.


working a shotgun is an artform in itself, and the cheaper ones sound like crap indoors, whereas with lavs you can just place them as close to your source as possible, out of view of the camera and you'll get pretty decent audio. 


syncing in post is as easy as pressing record on camera and recorder, have your subject clap their hands in full view of the camera, and then lining up in your NLE.

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Wow, thank you guys so much for your suggestions!

Based on what you have told me, I have put in an order for a Rode shotgun mic (based on some reviews, it seems to be a pretty good deal), I like the idea for the lanterns for some soft indoor lighting, I will definitely be stealing it from you  :P, I have also invested in a tripod, and will be renting a wide angle lens (tokina 12-24) and a Samyang 35 1.4.


I like your idea for the love story as well, so I'll be making 2 videos now... 1 of the older students, where I will stick to the present story line, and 1 of the kids having (supervised) fun in the Canadian wilderness, eating interesting food, and kayaking. I'm going to make the latter video into a sort of video journal, filming everything and including the best parts. The former will be more scripted and acted out with a storyline. 


I promise to post any of the work I do on this site so you can ridicule my noobness :D 

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