2013_mac_pro

At Least The New Mac Pro is New

After last year’s non update update, the Mac Pro is getting some real attention. This year Apple has announced a very powerful, very small, and very strange new computer.

2013_mac_pro

Sure, it’s an “innovative” design. I don’t really even care that it looks like a trash can or a coffee maker. My editing computer is hidden away in a closet anyway. What’s important about this new computer is that it redefines the idea of expandability in a powerhouse computer.

Remember this?

Remember this?

In 1999 the blue-and-white G3s introduced a tab that you could pull to swing the computer open and mess with its guts. Variations of this idea persisted in the G4, G5, and cheese grater Mac Pros. Just like on a generic PC, you could install hard drives, upgrade the RAM, and most importantly, install cards in its expansion slots. Since then there have been a number of other Mac models that offered limited expandability in exchange for “just working.” Those were and are some great computers. I’m writing this on a lovely 27″ iMac in an office full of iMacs and I like it very much. But sometimes you want your computer to do something that can’t be handled without direct access to the brain. Historically expansion cards have provided that power. The new Mac Pro has no slots for expansion cards and no space for SATA drives. What it does have is lots of Thunderbolt ports.

Thunderbolt devices can theoretically handle most of the things that expansion cards always did, but here’s the problem: they don’t do it yet. There are Thunderbolt to PCIe boxes that fill in the gaps in functionality, but they are very expensive. This new computer isn’t coming out for several months, so the world will be a different place by then, but Thunderbolt has been around for over two years and I rarely see Thunderbolt devices in the wild. The absence of Thunderbolt on the old Mac Pros has held the technology back from wide adoption in the professional realm, but the price premium is also a problem. G-RAIDs with Thunderbolt are almost twice as expensive as comparable Firewire/eSATA/USB drives. Glyph doesn’t seem to make any drives with Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt version of the Blackmagic Intensity is $100 more than the PCIe card.

The only complaint I ever had about the Mac Pros when they were current was that their thick metal cases made them much too heavy. That was usually a problem once per computer: when I took it out of the box and installed it and never moved it again. I certainly opened them up to install cards and hard drives and RAM, but I didn’t have to move them to do it. I and most people I know who use Mac Pros would have been very happy with an upgraded processor, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, and I guess no Firewire since that seems to be the way things are going. If we’re lucky, this will be like getting rid of floppy drives. It seemed crazy at the time, but then everybody had a CD burner in their Macs and CD-R prices plummeted. Same thing happened with DVDs when Macs all had Superdrives. Now we don’t have any optical storage, and good riddance. Thunderbolt is a very complicated technology and the high prices are not arbitrary. Will removing the option to use anything but Thunderbolt make Thunderbolt devices inexpensive enough to use for everything? I hope so.

I guess the big question is how much this machine will cost. An 8-core Xeon E5 is around $1500 depending on the speed. An AMD FirePro with 6GB of VRAM is $2400. There will be two FirePros in these things. Prices will go down by the time the computer is released, but his will not be a cheap computer.

New Macbook Pro

2012 Mac Pro “Update” and the Creative Professional

There was no mention of it on stage at the WWDC yesterday, but the Mac Pro has finally been updated after almost two years. There is a slight increase in the clock speeds available, and there doesn’t seem to be a dual quad-core option available anymore. The processors are still last-generation Bloomfield & Westmere-EP Xeons. Newer Sandy Bridge-EP processors were released in March, which as I understood it was the main reason Apple had to wait so long for an update, and why there should have been an update this week. The Sandy Bridge-EP processors start at 6 and go up to 8 cores! Other things that would have been reasonable to expect include updated graphics cards, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports. Since FireWire is gone from the MacBook Pros, Thunderbolt & USB 3.0 are going to be available on a lot more drives in the near future and it would be great to have access to those ports on Mac Pros.

The Mac Pro is not exactly overpriced even with two-year-old technology. You would have a hard time putting together a computer with the same parts for much less money. But given the option, you would also be foolish to build that computer today. I happen to know that you can build a really great Sandy Bridge desktop computer for a lot less money because I did it last year with a Core i7-2600K-based system that cost me less than $1000 in parts. With the release of Ivy Bridge MacBooks you’ll soon be able to build your own Ivy Bridge desktops as well. I’ve been building hackintoshes since 2006, and it is much easier to set up now than it was in the early days. I’ve found that once the software is set up it’s as stable as any Mac Pro I’ve ever worked on and runs very fast.

But hackintoshes are only for individuals and small businesses willing to live on the edge. I’m teaching FCP editing classes at The New School this year, and they have hundreds of Mac Pros running FCP. I would be laughed out of the room if I suggested they replace those aging hulks (they are very heavy) with custom-built PCs hacked to run software that actively fights being installed on the computer. The lawyers might have something to say about it as well.

So what do you do as a creative professional who plays by the rules? You need power to run your fancy software. In my case I need flexibility. I need to monitor my video work on a video monitor. So I use a Blackmagic Intensity Pro PCIe card that costs less than $200 and does everything I need. I also have a nice computer monitor that I don’t want to replace every time I upgrade my computer. If you move up the chain a little, maybe you have a fibre channel network. Maybe you have an SDI video system that runs through your whole facility.

You could use iMacs. If you’re really dedicated to Macs and you want to upgrade now, the iMacs have Sandy Bridge processor options and better graphics cards than the Mac Pros. There also seems to be a number of 3rd party options for expanding your iMac using Thunderbolt. Similar to external hard drives, you can plug a box into your iMac’s Thunderbolt port and then plug a couple PCI cards into the box.

People are so clever!

That box is $979 though. Not exactly a bargain.

What I would recommend is looking at Windows. I know that makes a lot of people mad, but honestly as far as I’m concerned the only thing holding me back from Windows is all these HFS+ disks I have, and all the HFS+ disks I’ll work with in the future. I’m sure as hell not going to edit using MacDrive on Windows. I tried that once. After a couple years I’ll stop using FCP and both Avid & Premiere run great on Windows. FCP was the only reason I started using Mac OS in the first place. I like it. Snow Leopard is great. I also think Windows 7 is great. I’m not so sure about Windows 8 though. But I’m not so sure about Mountain Lion (or Lion). The rush to make the desktop more like mobile is not helping those of us who do fancy stuff on our computers.

In my New School classes I’ve spent much of the first class explaining to the students that things are changing very quickly and that many of the technical things they learn in the class will be obsolete soon. My advice is don’t get too comfortable in your workflows. And don’t buy a new Mac Pro. Your old one probably works fine.

FCP X: What do we do now?

So at the moment, FCP X is pretty much a disaster. Lots of people are saying that it will get better, but for now I could never make a movie with it. That’s not being elitist or anything, it’s just a tool that I can’t use. Maybe it will get to a point where we can use FCP X, but for now I’m working under the assumption that FCP 7 is the end of the line for me.

Now, I just upgraded to FCP 7 a couple weeks before the release of FCP X, and I’m feeling pretty clever about that. But it also points out an important thing. We don’t always have to use top-of-the-line software to edit. I tend not to work under crazy deadlines, so things like 32-bit rendering and lack of multicore support are more minor annoyance than workflow killer. If I can bring videos files in, convert them to a nice codec, edit them, and then export in several different ways, including OMF, then I’m very happy.

So I’m not here to complain about FCP X. Maybe it will end up being awesome. At the moment I worry about little things like having to trick it into doing audio and video transitions separately but maybe the world is changing and I won’t be the cool kid who know how all the software works anymore. I’ll be using FCP 7 until it stops being useful to me then I’ll try something else. I want to explore the other options I’ve ignored for so long because FCP was so good.

First up is Avid. Avid has really stepped up its game in the past few years. They’ve put out a ton of releases, and most importantly for me, they’ve started limited support for 3rd party I/O hardware. Cost has always been my biggest problem with Avid. I know it works great, but I just don’t have the money for a $5,000 Mojo DX. I’m using a $200 Blackmagic Intensity Pro right now, and it does absolutely everything I need. Avid doesn’t support any Blackmagic cards, but the $450 Matrox MXO2 Mini they currently support is a fair deal. The great thing about Avid is DNxHD, which is just as wonderfully simple as ProRes, and it’s freely available, which will become important as we look at other options.

I experimented with Adobe Premiere back in college, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It wasn’t quite as confusing as iMovie, but it immediately turned me off. In the meantime, Adobe has totally overhauled the program, and it is by many accounts a great program. I’ve always considered it a bit of a joke, but considering that it already comes with the Production Premium suite, a lot of places I work already own it. And it works with all the same hardware FCP does. I’m anxious to try a small project with it to see how things turn out. It seems like a poor-man’s FCP 7, but a very rich man’s FCP X. It’s written in modern code, and fully takes advantage of the power of our modern computers, but it also looks and feels like a regular editing program. What it doesn’t have is a ProRes or DNxHD. If you already have FCP on your computer, you can use ProRes, but that’s not something we can rely on indefinitely. It seems like DNxHD would be the best choice, since you’ve long been able to install Avid codecs on any computer separately from the Avid software.

The wild card I started thinking about this week is Lightworks. It has a long history, with long-time Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker being the most prominent of the fancy-pants editors who use it. I talked with her assistant about it a couple years ago and he was actually using FCP to do a lot of supplemental work, because Lightworks was missing some of the fancy new HD features FCP could handle at the time. It was recently turned in to open source software, although the full source code hasn’t been released yet. The price of $0 is hard to beat. They plan to update it with a lot of the things that I would like to see in an editing software, including support for the fancy codecs I like so much. I’m going to download it and try it out soon, and I will report back on my impressions. At the moment it only runs on Windows, which is a big scary thing for some people, but I for one would welcome a return to Windows. The only reason I switched to Mac OS was for FCP, but with that out of the picture, all the major programs are available for either platform.

I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson recently, that counting on a single company to supply all of our needs is foolish. I’ve even seen some rumblings online that Apple might abandon the Mac Pro. Without the expansion slots and huge processing power of the Mac Pro, you’re left with the future promise of Thunderbolt, which sounds pretty cool, but leaves out decades of legacy connectors only available through PCI Express slots, like Fiber, SCSI, SAS, etc. and we can’t all just go out and buy new storage solutions every couple years. What we can definitely be flexible about is software. Software is cheap, and the more of it we know, the better off we’ll be.

A New Twist on the Nigerian Scam Letter

I haven’t seen a good Nigerian 419 scam letter in a while, I think because Gmail filters them out. But this one was smart enough to target me as a filmmaker and it got through the filters. It’s a pitch for a film called “Bear Beer Dear.”

Dear Sir,

Unique thrilling movie script is the basis, movie Producer and Company need to make a breathtaking production.

Roger is a hard working husband and father but is addicted to alcoholism. What becomes of Douglas, Rogers’s second son who took to his brevity but a singular learnt habit of alcoholism has done him worst in life. Rogers’s companion billy his dog is more than a pet to him, not even his family can come in between him and billy. How many animals must die by barrel? billy saved the life of Rogers’ at the hunting expedition by maneuvering whisky, Rogers’s horse. billy was brilliant to have manipulated Ashley to drive Rogers home and thwarted Trevor’s pilfering plan on Rogers who is drunk to stupor. Georgiana’s manhandle by Rogers. Rogers’ scolded by Douglas at the birthday party of Mabel. Morris manipulated Douglas his friend to play hanky panky love game with Mabel. Trevor make comic of Douglas’s dad as Douglas reply lead to bloody fight at the night club. Ahmed chase of Douglas and Patton over an escaped accident. Roman, Douglas, Mabel and Patton mimic Roger’s their dad who is drunk as Georgiana got provoked. Roman shot. Douglas and Morris hunt the perpetrator to a death. Beer please let Rogers alone!

I like the ingenuity here, and the willingness to do the work to track down people actually involved in film, but nobody would want to even watch that movie, let alone invest in it. It’s hard enough to raise money for movies that aren’t completely incoherent. My advice: pitch classic films that might not be caught by the weak-minded people you’re trying to scam.

Dear Sir,

A unique movie script forms groundwork for your opportunity for riches. Seeking a Producer & production company to storm the gates of Hollywood.

Roger Coleman, his apprentice Douglas Hooker, and they endorsed Joe Huron’s latest swindle them sometime US$11,000, enough for an old Roger thought retiring from grifting. However, they are not aware that the money belongs to extortionist Trevor, whose thugs Roger in revenge killed. Before Roger’s death, he suggested that he contact George, his old friend in Chicago on the art of the great far to learn. Who after he had burned his last big con retired. George decided to assist retirement just to get back at Trevor for Roger’s murder. In the pull of the big con, and Douglas require the assistance of a number George’s old associates, as well as a number of small time grifters. The last group includes Huron, his small part to do in revenge Roger’s death. Beyond Trevor or anyone else to find out about the con, there are many potential obstacles to pull the stinger out as a controlling and overly cautious to things like Trevor his own way to do this, and some people run to George, including a crooked cop, the lower level thugs and a hired hit man. Through the process, George, who saw himself as a dealer Wheeler may have a better deal than that to him by Douglas come.

Special thanks to Google Translate for providing that authentic machine translation feel.

Why Are These People So Angry?

I’ve seen a couple videos making the rounds among the film nerd websites this week that seem to be made by what I can only describe as disgruntled old farts. First was the “Cinematographer vs. Producer” video in which a comically clueless producer has the ABSOLUTELY INSANE plan to shoot a feature film on a Canon 7D.

Frankly, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. What’s so special about “Feature Films” anyway? People used to shoot feature films on DV cameras for God’s sake! And depending on the look you’re going for, you might not need a lot of lights. I’m in pre-production on a feature right now that will be shot on a 7D and I have absolutely no qualms about it. This imaginary producer is an idiot, but clearly this is the wrong DP for the job. Maybe they should give Shane Hurlbut a call.

The one that really drove me nuts was a little closer to home. “So, you’re an editor…”

It’s another straw man talking with a professional editor who apparently can’t figure out how to use Final Cut Pro. I’ve certainly never had the problems he describes. This one is upsetting on a couple levels. First, why should anyone expect the average person to understand what an editor does? It’s a specialized and confusing job. I don’t know what middle managers do all day either. And as a lifelong freelancer, I still fundamentally don’t understand how vacation/sick/personal days work. Mocking people who don’t know about editing and don’t need to know about editing is just petty.

Second, of course is the attitude about Final Cut Pro. Like the 7D video, it takes a fear-based approach to things that are outside the comfort zone of the author. Rather than take the time to learn how to use the extremely flexible and powerful Final Cut Pro software, the author calls it a piece of prosumer crap and repeats a bunch of scary myths about how it works. With the 7D the author is on better ground, since all of the things he says about the 7D are true, but they are less of a problem than he makes them out to be.

My point is, I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I’m perfectly happy to round you people up to toil in the 7D’s underground sugar caves.

Do it Yourself

I have a never-ending need to understand the tools I work with, and the new tools that might help me make movies in better and less expensive ways. It’s why I continue to build my own computers and insist on understanding how to run the Mac OS on those computers. It would be a lot easier, and potentially cheaper to just buy a Mac Pro and be done with it, but for me it’s no fun unless I can get under the hood and tinker with it.

I’ve written before about inexpensive production equipment, but today I’m thinking about something I know a little more about; do-it-yourself post production.

At this point, picture editing is wide open. You can do it any way you want and you don’t have to pay a lot for equipment. To really get the most of your gear though, you should have a good, expandable desktop. iMacs and laptops can hold you back when it comes to finishing a film. Obviously the Mac Pro is the simple choice. I built a system around a quad core Core 2 Duo a few years ago and overclocked it from 2.4 to 3 GHz. It’s served me well, but it’s due for an upgrade. Rendering HD is one of the most processor intensive things you can do, and working on 8 core Nehalems makes me jealous.

The best piece of equipment I have is a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card, which you can get for less than $200. It outputs almost any kind of HD or SD video you could want. I have it attached via component cables to my trusty 37-inch Panasonic 9UK plasma. It will take any video the Intensity throws at it, including 25 fps formats. Blackmagic has also just released a USB 3.0 Intensity Shuttle which will be great if Apple & Intel get on board with USB 3.0. It would allow laptop or iMac-based video outputs. For now, unless you’re editing on Premiere in Windows 7 and have USB 3.0, stick with the card.

I haven’t worked on a tape-based project in at least a year. If a film is shot on a tapeless format I can take the camera originals, convert them to ProRes, edit the picture, and color correct, all without bringing in an outside vendor. Now, I can tell you that the Panasonic plasma is far from a reference monitor. But there’s perfect, and there’s good enough. If the budget allows, I always go to a professional colorist, but if you’re making an indie film for a few grand, you can’t afford perfect. And if you’re doing the color correct yourself, you can futz around all you want for weeks if that’s something you want to spend your time on. The great thing about Color is that even when I go to a professional colorist (who also uses Color) I can still make a tweak here and there if I see something I don’t like a few weeks later.

Now, what about sound? If you’re making anything you plan to distribute beyond YouTube, you better believe you need a 5.1 mix. You can’t do that in FCP, but you can do it in Soundtrack Pro. You’ll need 6 audio outputs. I’m just starting to investigate the “home 5.1 mix” angle, but I like the look of the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra, which is less than $300, has 8 in and 8 out, and works with Pro Tools M-Powered.

Audio is another situation where you want a good room, and the professional mixers with dedicated equipment have a real edge. But in the do-it-yourself “good enough” range, you can run those 6 outputs to a consumer 5.1 receiver and speaker set. Reducing noise in the room becomes crucial here. You don’t want to find yourself in a quiet theater and hear things that were masked by fan noise in your improvised mixing room.

The moral here is not that you necessarily should do any of this stuff. But you can. You’re not required to make a perfect mix or a perfect color correct. If it looks good to you, it looks good to your audience. A lot of dialogue-driven films will be just fine with a 5.1 mix that puts 90% of the audio in the Center speaker. Some films look fine without any post-production color grading beyond a basic legalization process.

In order to pull this off though, you need good source material. You need a well-shot film with well-recorded audio. You can do a lot with these tools, but don’t force yourself to. Make it easy on yourself by getting it right on set.

And of course, you need to know how to operate all this software to get what you want out of it. You might consider hiring someone like me to do that.

How Much Info Should be in a Job Post?

I have RSS feeds for the Mandy & Craigslist job posts for editors. (http://newyork.craigslist.org/search/tfr?query=editor&format=rss is a good start) They’re almost universally garbage, but I have gotten two good gigs out of Craigslist over the past 5 years, although the last one was 2 years ago. Of course there’s the usual crop of producers who are looking for super-experienced editors who are willing to work for “DVD copy of film & IMDb credit.” First of all, who do you think is going to make those DVD copies? Second of all, I understand that there are good reasons to work on a film without getting paid. I’m doing it on one film now because I was looking for something to keep myself occupied, and a friend had just shot a film. But IMDb credit is not a form of compensation. When I read that it makes me think that the filmmakers’ main goal is getting on IMDb, which is not a good reason to make a movie.

Anyway, my real beef with these ads is the lack of information. A common advertisement reads like this: “Feature film shot on the Red camera with name talent & award-winning director seeking editor.” The people who place these ads will be inundated with resumes from all kinds of people who are all wrong for the project. If they gave more information, the responses would be higher quality. Give us the name of the movie, the names of the actors, the name of the director. Maybe a logline or a link to your website. Is there some reason this information should be a secret?

Film Futures Exchanges

So this might end up being a moot point if Congress bans them, but I’m seeing a lot of FUD going on about Film Futures Exchanges and not a lot of discussion about what we can reasonably expect to happen with them. As I understand it, traders would be able to purchase contracts with prices that are related to the opening weekend theatrical box office numbers. They would also be able to do short sales, betting that a film will fail to live up to the expectations of the market.

So, let’s put a few things aside first. Yes, this turns an artistic pursuit into a commodity like cattle. I don’t care about that. If you don’t consider filmmaking a business then you should move to Europe. Another big complaint I’m hearing is the possibility of rampant insider trading. Um, sure. If you think you can judge a film’s success on opening weekend just by, you know, watching it, then by all means give that a shot.

I am concerned that the entire market seems to be based on opening weekend box office numbers. I really dislike the rampant fascination with these numbers. And for a futures market, I wonder how they could take into account a slow-rollout theatrical release where you start in one theater in NY on the first weekend but eventually open in a few hundred theaters over several weeks. The obvious answer is that nobody cares about these movies. All the trading will be concentrated on the super-giant films that will dominate the box office by opening on 7000 screens in 4D with ticket prices running $25. And these box office numbers have only a tangential relationship to the money coming back to the producers of the film. The numbers are only reporting the amount of money that theaters charged for admission to the films, with no accounting of the deals they’ve made with the distributor, and what deals the distributor has with the producers. They are big fun numbers for everyone to look at in handy chart form in The USA Today.

My main interest in this debate is the claim I have seen that a film futures market would increase the money available to film producers. That perked me up. But I’ve never seen a good example of how this will work. Let’s take an imaginary investor who wants to give an indie producer money to make a movie. This investor is dumb. He will never get his money back. He would be better off buying some CDOs from Lehman Brothers. But let’s say he goes ahead anyway for his own reasons. Maybe he likes movies or something. So he invests $1 million in this great little film. And the movie is really great. So he goes to a futures exchange and buys a bunch of contracts. (Would that be legal?) If the movie does really well on its opening weekend, he’ll make a bunch of money. But the odds are this $1 million movie won’t make much money on its opening weekend. He’d be better off shorting the film if he could get some sucker to go to bat for the film (if you’re selling short, somebody else has to go long). Is this what Lionsgate’s chairman means when he says it will “substantially widen the number and breadth of financing sources available to the motion picture industry by lowering the risk inherent in such financing.” This is what’s known as hedging, right? Otherwise it seems like just an additional investment in the success of your film, which is increasing your risk if it doesn’t succeed (or at least make a bunch of money at the box office on its opening weekend).

But let’s say our imaginary investor doesn’t feel comfortable shorting his own film. Wouldn’t he be better off investing additional money in the marketing and distribution of our little indie that could? He’s in this for the long haul. He may be dumb, but I hope he knows nobody makes their money back in the theatrical market. He can make a lot more over the years on DVD, television, the Internet, etc. So given the choice between a one-weekend contract on a product that will last for many years or an increased investment in the film itself, the answer seems obvious.

This is probably not the kind of investor anyone is talking about. They’re probably talking about hedge funds and banks who would invest in slates of films. I suppose the opportunity to mitigate their risk via futures contracts could entice them to invest in more films, but basing their hedging on opening weekend box offices seems even more risky. I would hope that anyone putting up big bucks would know better than that.

UPDATE: The A.K.A. Indie Film Blog gives a much better explanation of the reality of Film Futures Exchanges. It explains how in certain situations an investor might mitigate their risk. What it also explains is that only films opening on a lot of screens are going to be listed on this exchange and as I suspected, small indie films are not going to get anything out of this.

Barriers to Entry

The cost of making movies that look good has been plummeting steadily over the past few years. Way back in the beginning of the century, there was basically just DV, which everyone pretended looked good because there were no viable alternatives. Now we have a plethora of amazing HD options. I am a complete believer in shooting movies with DSLRs. Shane Hurlbut (who you may remember as the “fucking distracting” DP of Terminator: Salvation) brought the Canon 5D to my attention when he suggested using it to shoot portions of the Cheech & Chong concert movie (coming out 4/20 of this year!). At the time they had to do all kinds of crazy things to trick the automatic sensors into making the right exposure, and of course there was the totally boneheaded 30.0 fps. A year later we have full manual control on the 5D, which still has the best sensor around, but what’s exciting me today is the newly-announced $800 Rebel T2i. It seems to have all the video functions of the 7D with a significantly reduced price. Just like the 7D, you can shoot 23.98 fps. Sure, the sensor is smaller on both the 7D and T2i, but the beauty of a real lens is going to go a long way towards making up for the “small” sensor. Of course, you’ll have to get a lens for the thing too. $800 is just for the body.

I’m also a big believer in double-system sound. The sound recording on these DSLRs is suspect, but it’s just always a good idea to have a person on set whose job it is to monitor the machine that records your sound. When it’s going into your camera things start to get crowded. It also limits your camera’s mobility. Something like the Tascam DR-100 is very appealing to me. B&H is selling it for a mere $300! It’s small, portable, and records to the same SD cards the T2i records to. It’s basically the modern version of the DA-P1 DAT recorders I used in film school. And again this is only for the recording device. You’ll need a nice microphone or two.

As exciting as all this cheap gear is (and it is very exciting) you still need something to happen in front of the camera. First off you need a good story. It’s hard to write a good story. If you’ve seen any movies, plays, or read books you know this. Lately I’ve been disillusioned with the quality of films being made on shoestring budgets, but I saw the excellent Humpday recently and it really lifted my spirits. Anyone could make that movie from a technical point of view. It was shot on quite inexpensive HVX-200s. The barrier to making a good movie at this point is talent, and not access to money.

Even with the cost of recording devices heading towards $0, and your own talent being essentially free, you have some costs that aren’t going away. If you know enough people you can probably get a crew to work for free or deferred salaries. If you’re smart about the writing, you can keep the location costs low (access fees, transportation, and art department) but you still have to feed all those people. Lunch is necessary, and breakfast is a good idea to keep people happy. Food can easily be the most expensive part of a micro-budget movie.

And then there’s the big question of what to do with your movie when it’s finished. Yes, feel free to submit it to the big film festivals and hope that somebody picks you. There were 3,724 feature-length films submitted to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so good luck with that. And even if your film is shown at Sundance, the days of Miramax picking up your film for $10 million are long gone (as is Miramax). You’re very likely to leave Sundance in the same penniless state you were when you started. Do not fall for the myth of “If you build it they will come.” If everyone in the world is building a baseball field in their corn field, heaven runs out of dead baseball players pretty fast.

Your film might be great, but the marketplace for films is terrible. Indie films struggle in theaters, and most people are still locked in a mindset that direct-to-home-video=failure. You certainly can’t make any money by selling downloads on the Internet. I don’t think I have any answers for someone making a movie on their own. It seems like a terrible idea financially. But if you can keep your costs down, you don’t need TWC or IFC Films. The less money you spend, the less money you have to earn back.