Ask the filmmaker

Every issue, our filmmaking professionals take some time out to answer a few of your questions…

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We’re giving away a Samsung Pro Plus SDXC 64GB card each issue worth £87.99 for your best filmmaking query. Simply send your question to the Editor, who will pick a winner from the entries received. 

Take a look at a few example questions from readers…

Big break
I am creating a TV pilot, but before we shoot, I am looking into distribution. The big channels seem to only accept ideas from established production companies and so I’m not sure where to go from here! We don’t want it to just sit in a dusty corner online, we want to give the series as big of an audience that we can!
Sophie Heppell, Lytham, Lancashire

SJV  The TV channels commission pilots based on screenplays that have been ‘green-lit’, and then they engage a production company to produce it… it’s not very often the other way around. But… there have been a few web series that have been picked up by TV channels, so there is hope. Your best bet is to start a publicity campaign before production and then drive as much traffic as possible to the online location of your pilot. I know it’s a gamble, but without a successful track record, it’s probably the best bet. If the pilot could also work as standalone piece of work, like a short, then you could enter it into festivals for more exposure.

Wild wheelswheels
I’m currently working on a short film and want to get some decent footage on a rollercoaster. However, having experimented with the idea a couple of times, using a GoPro, I’m finding that the footage is often very rough and ready. In fact, I’m not even sure that it is going to be usable for a project that I want to be taken seriously. Would a cheap gimbal help me get the smooth effect I’m after using a Panasonic GH4 perhaps?Andy Harris, Crewkerne

SJV  I’ve actually shot on fast moving fairground rides for a music video. It wasn’t easy, but I did use a GoPro for some of it. The trick is to mount it using a cage so that you can completely eradicate the wobble in the GoPro bracke, which causes all the nasty ‘jello’ footage. Using a gimbal with a GH4 is good plan, but you will need to rig it very carefully. Don’t just hold it… you’ll risk dropping it and that could be very dangerous. Whatever route you take, make sure you clear it with the owners and operators of the ride and make sure you’re insured.

On the uptripod
I’m 12-years-old and have been making shorts for a couple of years now. When I grow up I hope to become a director. After winning a few competitions and upgrading my kit I want to take my filmmaking down a more professional path. I have made a few shorts with my friends and, despite trying our best, they don’t look that professional. I’m thinking of going down the SFX road and have started experimenting with HitFilm. I just wondered if you had any tips and tricks for making films look more professional.
Hedydd Loan, Penygroes, North Wales

SJV  Hitfilm is great piece of software and SFX isn’t going away, so the more you learn about it, the better. For a more professional look, just stick to the rules for now. Move the camera with purpose… don’t use handheld footage all the time. Use lighting to give shots as much dynamic range as possible and make sure you white balance properly. It sounds like you’ve achieved a lot at a very young age already, so keep going… the more films you make, the better you will get. Obviously, reading DFM every month will teach you a lot.

Short and sweetclapper
I’m a video editor and was wondering what is the best way to convert 25 frames per second footage to 50 frames per second without having repeated frames? Many thanks.
Kasra Karimi

SJV  If you’ve got 25 frames of footage for each second and you need 50, I’m afraid you don’t have many choices. If you need to keep it progressive and you’re just trying to match some other 50fps footage, you should interpolate the footage. After Effects and FCPX can do this by putting the footage on a 50fps timeline and then using either TimeWarp in AE or Re-Time with frame blending in FCPX.

Music makermusic
A couple of friends of mine have written a song. Once it has been recorded, myself and another friend may well be producing a music video for it. The song is quite calm and low and smooth and has a slightly digital feel to it. We will probably be shooting on a Canon 600D and a 700D, and the song will be pre-recorded, so I was wondering if there are any specific techniques you could suggest for shooting a professional looking music video?
Eban Lewis

SJV  Firstly, use plenty of lighting and make everyone in the video look as good as possible. Next, shoot lots and lots of takes, making sure you capture the audio playback on the camera for sync purposes in the edit. To get that dreamy slow-motion, but in perfect sync look you always see in music videos is easy. Make a version of the audio that plays at exactly twice the speed. You can do this using QuickTime player. Then, get the band to mime at this double speed for a few takes while you shoot using 50fps rather than the usual 25fps. Then, in the edit, slow these takes down by 50 per cent and they will sync perfectly with the song and look like slow-motion at the same time… Instant music video!

Brief encountervine
A few of my friends have been getting really into Vine, which does seem like quite a good idea and a handy way of attracting interest or producing virals, but I was wondering what you think of it. Is Vine any good for producing proper videos or is it just a bit of a gimmick? In addition, do you have any hints and tips that would allow me to exploit the short playback time of Vine footage?
Amy Andrews
St Albans

SJV  Vine is an interesting app that allows you to record very short video clips and then post them online… it’s certainly a different way to look at storytelling. I’ve seen people using this and the video clip function on Instagram to promote films and videos… it’s perfect for that. I’ve even seen a comedy series, which is entirely made of Vine clips. So it is possible. It’s all about getting creative. Maybe come up with a story that can be told in very small chunks and release a new one every day?

Money shotpanny
I’m thinking about buying a new camera with video capability but do not want the bulk that seems to come with a lot of the DSLR models. So can you suggest a camera that will deliver top-notch video but is still reasonably portable? I tend to shoot quite a lot of stills too, so anything that can do both well is going to be even more appealing. I’d be looking to spend around £1,500 so it’s not going to be particularly high-end but I’m assuming this is enough to keep me busy. Finally, do you think kit bundles are the way to go or am I better off updating my lenses independently. I have been primarily a Canon person up to now but am not brand loyal.
Eric Feltz, Enfield

SJV  There’s so many questions I’d need to ask you to narrow it down to something that would suit your specific needs, but based on what you’ve said, I’d have to recommend either the Lumix GH4, a Sony A7S or possibly the Canon 6D might be good bet, especially as you’ve already got some Canon lenses. You need to weigh up the importance of having 4K in camera (only the GH4) or maybe having a look and lens compatibility with what you already own (the 6D), or maybe low-light shooting is going to be essential to you? (the A7S). Try and find a shop that lets you try them out. How they physically feel to work with is important.

Car chaos
We’re currently filming a short and have a segment of the action that takes place in a moving vehicle. We’d like to shoot from a car or van in front of the actors who will be driving behind. What’s the best advice in terms of getting this right and having usable footage while also keeping an eye on the safety aspect. Watching Top Gear and those other motoring shows it looks like filming takes place on public roads, so is this even legal or do we have to get special permission?
Mark Walters, Bath

SJV  The car or van in front with the film crew, camera and so on needs to be driven by someone who is concentrating on only driving and the car behind with the actors needs to be driven safely with nothing distracting the driver. The law basically says that you need to be sensible and not put any road users or pedestrians at any risk. You should work out a risk assessment and get insurance to cover yourselves for working on the public highway and it would be good idea to inform the Police about where you will be filming. From a practical point of view, a gimbal would be really useful and you will need to use a polarizing filter so that you can film through the windscreen without reflections getting in the way.

Wise wordsclapper2
We’re a collection of keen filmmakers who have a reasonable amount of kit and a little bit of experience to go with it. With a few projects in the pipeline we’re looking to get some help with the production side of things and a friend of ours has recommended someone who he thinks is au fait with the processes involved in making a shoot go smoothly. So, do you have any advice for using a producer, who we don’t know. Is that going to be a good idea or a band one? At this stage in the game he’s happy to work for a share of the profits, if there are any. Advice please!
Eric Schultz, London

SJV  My first thought is that any producer who is happy to work for a share of the profits on an independent film clearly hasn’t made one before! It’s a long process and a producer is responsible for everything from the preparation and financing to the actual shoot and then all the marketing and post-production. The producer will be working on the project longer than anyone else. Producers generally are paid a percentage of the film’s budget in advance and are then on a healthy percentage of the ‘back end’ as well. If someone is offering to only take a back-end percentage, I would check them out thoroughly and make sure they can really help you. A good producer with a great set of contacts can be the difference between success and failure, so it’s definitely great to work with one, but if they don’t have the knowledge and background network to make it worthwhile, you might be better off producing yourselves.

The real thingprops
We’re assuming that as a filmmaker you quite often have to call upon the services of props in order to get the right look and feel for a project. Do you tend to use a professional firm for this or is it just as feasible to buy stuff off eBay and suchlike? We’re moving into videography in a big way with my new company, but often have challenging projects that could look a lot better if sets are dressed more convincingly. Of course, the other issue is that we might not need some of these props again, so is it perhaps best to hire them? If so, any places you can recommend?
Susan Willis, Tunbridge Wells

SJV  Props and production design are vital to getting a film to look and feel right. I tend to use a mixture of prop houses and eBay to cover most of the things we use. Anything that has to be built needs to be designed and tested on camera to make sure it’s what you need and I’m lucky that I’ve got a friend who does a lot of this work (cheers Ian). For very specific props, a prop house can hire you things which are hard to find, and obviously, eBay has a lot of scope for weird things. We try to keep everything that isn’t hired and often things are re-used or sometimes butchered to make new props. Transporting and caring for props is quite tricky sometimes, so try to come up with a plan for that too. Check out and

Pro powerEOS 80D EF-S 18-55 IS STM FRT
I’ve got the chance to buy an ex-rental Sony FS7 and it’s going for a song. However, might this be because the camera is going to come with a stack of faults and present me with a lot of headaches? What kind of servicing costs are associated with high-end cameras? Also, I’m conscious of the need for additional lenses and so on, so is this so-called ‘bargain’ going to end up costing me dearly in the long run? I shoot with a Canon DSLR at the moment but wonder if the move to a professional Sony might help me up my game. What do you think?
Terry Higgs, Hull

SJV  The FS7 is a great 4K camera and very popular at the moment. There’s not much in the way of moving parts, and the FS7 hasn’t been around very long, so an ex-rental one should be fine. Ask if there’s any kind of warranty and make sure it works as it should. Check for water damage, as this is one of the few things that can ruin a digital cinema camera these days. Your Canon lenses will work fine with the FS7 as long as you get yourself an adaptor, which will allow you to adjust the iris of your Canon lenses. Servicing is usually just a sensor clean and a thorough cleaning of the external body… sometimes the lens mount needs replacing if it has been well used, but an FS7 is unlikely to have this problem for a few years yet.

Lens painlens
I bought a handful of lenses off eBay recently and one of them seems to have a mark on the glass that shows up on footage. I got these optics for peanuts so don’t really have the heart to go back to the seller and ask for my money back. So, what I’d like to know is if there is any way of getting inside the lens to clean the glass or does this have to be done by a professional? All the lenses are made by Sigma, which is a decent enough brand, but I don’t want to pay a small fortune for something that was a bargain in the first place.
Alex Robson, Stoke

SJV  Taking a lens apart is possible, but it’s very difficult and requires a lot of patience. I’ve often dissembled my older manual lenses to clean them, but it’s less easy on modern electronic lenses. If you Google the exact model, someone, somewhere will have tried it before and hopefully you’ll find some guidelines. Generally I’d offer this advice: Work in a very well lit area on a flat surface. Keep track of where each screw, spring and anything else comes from… (take photos as you work) and be very careful to use cleaning tools that are not going to make things worse. A small piece of lint from a duster will ruin a lens if trapped inside… use specialised cleaning wipes and a good quality compressed air blower (cheap compressed air cans as found in places like pound shops and will spray liquid onto your lenses just before the air comes out).

Action manaction
I’m toying with buying myself an action camera and putting the results up on a YouTube channel. But, there seems to be a huge range of these out there on the market and I’m looking to get great results. So GoPro seems to be the brand of the moment, but having heard about their recent troubles and decision to reduce the models in their range, would I be better off going for another make and model. Any ideas?
Natalie Kitchen, Cannock

SJV  I’ve tried all kinds of action cameras and love them or loathe them. The GoPros are pretty much the best for the money. It’s becoming quite a cliché though to see GoPro footage in action scenes, but that’s only because they have a very distinctive look. For YouTube footage, I think a GoPro is still probably the best bet. Their recent business troubles look like they stem from having possibly too many models available, but there are some very cheap GoPro copies out there which aren’t half bad either…


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