A DIY State of Mind: Creating Bottomstock

Have-No-Funding Syndrome afflicts many indie filmmakers. The symptoms include, but are not limited to: having no money, not knowing how to make a film with no money, and crying deeply onto a wrinkled script. Some never recover, their scripts blowing in the wind, but others find a way.

Such is the case with Bottomstock, my newest short film and one which required the most behind-the-scenes finagling to achieve a “filmic” final product. With eight short films in the rear view, pre-production on Bottomstock required serious creativity to one-up the aesthetic and technical quality of past projects. Every short taught me something new and honed me closer to my artistic vision – and with Bottomstock I feel I’m the closest to achieving it. Here are some do-it-yourself tricks I’ve learned along the way and applied to Bottomstock to avoid contracting Have-No-Funding Syndrome.

1. Steadicam Smoothless

Every filmmaker at some point wants to accomplish a long tracking or dolly shot. Think of the iconic Goodfellas Copacabana scene or Danny wheeling around The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. This smooth motion might seem easy to outsiders, but filmmakers know it is impossible to achieve without the proper equipment. Bottomstock featured several tracking shots, the longest of which lasts 22 seconds, an eternity in short film terms. How did we achieve the smooth motion? Take a look at this behind-the-scenes clip:

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As you can see, using a wheelchair and steadicam alternative, we achieve extremely smooth motion. The camera is mounted to a weight-balanced stabilizer, an alternative option to a Steadicam systems which can cost thousands of dollars. I find it to be an essential tool and worth small price, in equipment terms ($60). Paired with any wheelchair, the results are astounding. I purchased this wheelchair for about $100, but these things are everywhere – local yard sales, a relative’s closet, they can be had for very cheap.

2. The Boom Pole

Audio is probably number one on the list of things no-budget/new filmmakers flub. Audio is the aspect of films you probably want people least to notice, but might take the most time in editing. For filmmakers who can’t afford the time to re-record actor’s voices, getting clean dialogue is absolutely essential. Your best friend will be a Rode Videomic, the consensus champion for its price and quality. For Bottomstock, instead of purchasing an expensive boom pole, I mounted the mic to the end of a ceiling lamp tool I found in the garage and used a male-to-female extension cord to connect it to our recorder. In reality, you could use a golf club, long shovel, anything just to be able to reach the mic as close as possible to the dialogue. Having a friend holding the pole at all times and focusing on pointing towards the actor’s mouth will make a world of difference.

3. Light’em Up

Lighting is a delicate art and trips up many short films. Some of my early projects fell victim to poor indoor lighting, which forced me to boost my camera’s ISO, and resulted in grainy footage. Lighting is also one of the most important aspects of a scene’s mood, but it can feel too expensive to execute properly. Fear not! Bottomstock, on several instances, was lit with only flood lights, desk lamps, and even car lights. Facing the task of lighting multiple exterior night scenes I immediately thought to use headlights. Facing a single car towards the actor perpendicular or angled, as needed, can result in surprisingly well-lit night footage. Purchasing several cheap Neewer LED lights can provide extraordinary flexibility as well. They are adjustable and battery operated.

Lit only by a perpendicular headlight with small backlighting from a dim street light.

Lit only by a perpendicular headlight with small backlighting from a dim street light.

When indoors, using tin foil or a reflector to catch natural light can suddenly invigorate a flat shot. Something always in my trunk are the aforementioned clip-on flood lights, which you can grab on Amazon for the price of an overpriced sandwich. Their clamping ability makes them extremely flexible – you can affix them to a tripod, a table, or the ceiling. Using a sheet to diffuse the light nicely softens their intensity (but if you burn your house down, I AM NOT LIABLE).

Professional camera movement, lighting, and sound are some of the most important elements of filmmaking and can be properly executed on miniscule budgets. Next to your writing and actors, they are vital to executing a vision. While there is some expense on the above methods, these tools will pay off time and time again on every production. Many of those solutions can be assembled with everyday household items! I hope this slice of Bottomstock behind-the-scenes can help anyone struggling with onset Have-No-Funding Syndrome – Fraternale Films cares.

Ben Fraternale