It not the size of the boat... its how good at sex you are

posted Jul 21, 2011, 8:43 AM by Steve N Bradford
There have been a number of people who have asked me what sort of camera they should get and what I would advise.  I also run into a lot of people who tell me they would love to do film, but its so expensive and they can't afford to get a camera.  While I understand how daunting the task of getting a whole big set up can be (all told what I have spent on film is probably swiftly closing in on 5 digits).  But my first films, bad as they were, did not require that much equipment.

The first thing you need to be doing if you want to make film is to have content to shoot.  Its not just about flashiness, effects, and perfect shots.  Those HELP but at the core you need a talented cast, a great script, and some hard work.  So what camera and equipment do you need to get?  Step one is to have SOMETHING to shoot on.  If you have the cash, I would suggest picking up a DSLR.  I started using one in March and I have been loving it.  I use a Canon Rebel t2i, and I still just use the kit lens for most of my shots.  The reason I went with the t2i instead of something else was for sound.  The t2i was the cheapest camera I could find that would shoot in full 1080p AND had an external mic input.  Its not an XLR input, but with the Sennheiser MKE 300 shotgun mic I have (which uses a mini output) it was just fine.  One of the problems I have found however is that I have no control over the sound levels, its all controlled automatically by the system.  So if you can, I suggest using a secondary sound recording system.

One of the reasons to step up from the Rebel t2i to a more advanced camera such as the 7D is that the 7D gives you more control over your sound levels.  As much as I like things which work automatically, I am a manual guy as much as I can be.  I don't trust the camera without my hand guiding it.

But what makes for good shots is not just the power and punch of my camera.  It helps sell the quality of my shots to an audience, but ultimately it is about the content I am providing in the film.  The writing, the acting, the story and the selection of shots.  I tell people all the time that if I gave Stephen Speilberg a camera phone and told him that was all he had to make a film with, that even if I had his equipment and studio space he would end up making the better film between us.

Someone recently alerted me to a short film that I think defines this fantastically.  It was shot entirely on cell phone, but the concept and choices made make it a pretty spectacular little film.  You can check it out here.

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

So the take away?  Get any camera that shoots video, and learn how to use it.  Then just play and produce what you can.  You will soon find out what things you really want and as you come to an effect or a shot that you realize you can't do, that is the time to buy the equipment for it.  This stuff is expensive, you can't afford to just start out with buying a Red Epic and a dolly and crane and a thousand lenses.  Master the basics of visual storytelling and build up around that.  Wait until the film you make that you say to yourself "man, I really need a slow even pan to make this shot work" before you invest in a dolly.  There is too much for you to learn to try to learn it all at once, let it come step by step and just do what you can with what you have before you think its time to funnel money into it.