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The White Knight, The Brass Ring, and the Red Camera

I end up talking about a subject in the forums quite often, but I never bring it up myself, so it always ends up hijacking another's thread

I don't post about this often for the same reason guys like Chill often intercept me. (no problem, I understand clearly why you are doing that, and I don't question your motives at all) Because kids starting out might get discouraged if they hear this type of talk, and of course, that's a bad thing.

Right here I'd like to say that this is an R rated thread, and not for the kids. Bad spoiler alerts for the plot-line of life.

A little history might help more than anything to explain my opinions (and that's all they are people)

On a clear and sunny day in late 2007, I stepped into best buy with a sparkle in my eye. I had figured it out, I had the magic formula. I proceeded directly to buy a Canon 30d for a couple grand. And a Sony HDR-1 for a grand and a half.

I went out that same day and began shooting. First I shot with the HDR-1. Even with zero experience, the footage was so bad that I knew I would never even watch a short made with this. I used it to do some SFX tests and then quickly discarded and sold it. The canon's still images were great. I shot a million great pictures with it, some were really good. I went to sell still images and uploaded them to several large sites, filling out dozens of pages of paperwork to do so. An email comes. Your footage is now for sale! I go to the site. There are 381,000 pages with 100 results each. I check through the first few pages, and it's not there. I do a search for the names of my clips. I look through 17 pages of results for the exact name of my clip. I find it, and locate it's category. I go to just that subcategory, and I search through pages until I fall asleep without finding it.

This isn't working. I ponder. Let's amp this up. I shoot time-lapse. Beautiful 6 hour sequences that watch evenings evolve in the city, an eclipse, famous landmarks. I send it in. Page 15. My clips are 10 pages back from the last clip making any money.

Ponder. Level up. I spend 8 months making a feature length film shot at 3k resolution in 4:4:4 color-space on the canon. People say its fantastic. I can't sell it. I end up making back the budget, my personal overhead has negated that 3x over in that time span. It opens some doors for me, get's people to listen. Some become real fans of the film. I make connections with others in the traction-less low end of the industry.

Ponder. Level up. I need more volume. Web advertising. Corporate backing. I go to Vuze. I establish the #1 show on the entire channel of 10 million daily viewers. Several times a week I put out a good 22 minute HD show reviewing just one game in a cinematic fashion. I get over a million ad sponsored HD downloads, I'm invited to corporate headquarters, I get the personal phone and email of the head of the network, we become friends, I'm promoted actively. In the final days I was on the start page of the corporation. I got a check for 400 dollars. One of the guys at vuze told me they all chipped in so the check wouldn't be so small. I'd lost about 30k in overhead in that time.

Ponder. I'm bleeding out now. Think hard Nate, you won't survive another year. I'm too broke to buy equipment now. I've sold my camera to stave off eviction. I switch to CGI. I find that I can sell CGI commercials for sometimes several thousand a piece. I start getting more regular work doing commercials, and target the content weak signage industry. I learn to create a website and custom art to strengthen my image and organizational skills.

I've had to move in a roommate now to make rent, but I'm becoming stable. My work is good, and there's little competition. I approach a larger company. I call the guy, and make friends with him. I take a strong stance and push my agenda, always pinging on the cash benefits to him. I'm in. I do the best work I can, but within a year I know corporate work will not help you build a film reel, or the money to fund a project.

I'm stuck. This isn't where I want to be, and despite a crazy amount of thought and effort, I'm so close to square 1 I can reach out and touch it.

I sit at a bar one day talking about film. A grizzled 55 year old man that still wears band t shirts is half drunk at 5 pm. Overhearing, he chimes in. "I've been doing film and video my whole life" He smiles at me, revealing several missing teeth. Just got the newest prosumer camera, gonna go out and film the art fair. 200 dollars, in the bank"

Please god no, I think, not me, I was supposed to be somebody. I buy him a drink, he doesn't realize it's a consolation prize for not winning at life.

I'm thinking harder than ever now, desperate, knowing that the rubick's cube does have a solution, but not seeing it yet.

Between jobs, I'm studying hard. Finding the answer. I've gotten so much experience now, but every case study I look at where someone is profitable in film is miles above my financial range. My next area of study is financial range. I watch Buffalo 66. A guy that looks and thinks like a gas station attendant has thrown together 1.5 million dollars. Scratch head.

First I clarify the final motive. Blade Runner, LA Confidential, Casino, Predator, Avatar, Star Wars, Minority Report. I know already that I won't be truly happy until I'm there. The Brass ring. A movie that exits to entertain an entire world of people, a movie that audiences love and watch over and over.

Second I look at where I'm at, where we're all at. A crusader for the underdog, a guy that wants to say yes because they know how tough it is when everyone is saying no regardless of your effort. The White Night is optimistic, kind, accepting, a person that wants to believe in himself, and others in the same situation. But I'm looking over on box office mojo, and imdb, and there aren't any stories about people that made a great film and money with my 250 dollar a month budget. I study what cameras, lighting, actors, financial setups, investment scenarios, workspaces, editing decks, matte boxes, filters, plot devices, scene blocking, foley elements and everything else that the people that are winning are using. I dont see any information about friends in my back yard and a camera from best buy.

I work crazy hours on any job I get and buy the Red Epic. I get a pro lighting guy, a famous author, 2 famous artists, a sytheyes guy, several investors, and then ally with another production company that has put together similar resources and has also made a feature. I get famous directors on the phone and befriend them. We start seeing the possibility for a large joint studio emerge from the excel spreadsheets.

The epic is a big deal to me. It means I have a siege gun capable of hitting the brass ring if I can learn to aim it well enough (metaphor). But it turns out the camera is even a bigger deal to others. With my name attached to a real movie camera, more people start listening. The camera is sort of like an A-lister you can buy, and put in your passenger seat. It gets me into meetings with people that wouldn't otherwise listen. I get immediate respect and a callback from other filmmakers. It's a bargaining chip with crew as well. The footage is breathtaking. Not "perfectly good" like a DSLR, but breathtaking. You can just aim it at a fountain at night and hit 300fps, and it's instantly the best footage you ever produced.

My ultimate conclusion was that the White Knight had to be left behind to reach the brass ring via the red camera. A good attitude and cheap equipment, letting in every friend I met at the bar, saying yes to everyone, walking into an investors office with that naive happy look in my eye, none of it would work. I wanted to be that guy, but the choice became mutually exclusive.

Today We have 3 Reds coming in, a set of Ziess super primes, some angenuix zooms, and a crew of over 25 coming in over the next 2 years. We're lobbying for filmmaker tax incentives, building a real studio, and connecting to great people across the world.

They say if you're not a rebel at 20 you have no heart, but if you're not establishment by 30, you've got no brain. So I'm doing things their way now. Using their cameras, submitting scripts in their format, and talking to bankers about the bottom line. And there's a light at the end of the tunnel now. Flickering in the distance.

In 2007 she called me, and I would have called back, Just a little more money, just enough that I didn't have to draw someone into my financial quicksand. Just enough to support a family. I'd call her back as soon as I had it. As soon as I wasn't a bum anymore. She was so intelligent and beautiful, she deserved better than, "can I borrow some money"

I bought into the DSLR hype, I bought in to the web show hype, I bought into hope, and last year she got knocked up by some guy that keeps getting arrested for beating her.

Things could have been different. Thanks DSLR hype. Thanks web idiots that tell each other there's money out there. Thanks optimistic knights of the people that shout down anyone saying you have to spend a lot, or work super hard to get this. I listened to all of you, once. But time ran out for me, as I listened to 100 versions of "you can make it with nothing"

If anyone posts, "story is whats most important", I swear to god, I swear to F&*&&*&g god. I've spent 5 grand licensing a bestseller from a world famous author. So Im growing a bit weary of this uninformed kneejerk response every time I mention wanting to get some screen resolution. (anyone that talks screen qualtiy has forgotten story? WTF?)

If you were me, and had gone through what I've gone through, you'd be a little offended too.

So that, is why I talk to people about better equipment, about borrowing money, about not doing small scale projects with no payoff. To help them avoid loosing those years of life that I lost.

Does a beginner need this advice? No, absolutely not. But for some of you out there, this is a good talk about the nature of reality. I lost a lot through my mistakes, and try to help others avoid them.
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"You've argued that it's a waste of time to make significant filmmaking efforts, if you don't have the top gear. It was a waste of time for you, but it hasn't been a waste of time for me, and it hasn't been a waste of time for the great number of small-time filmmakers I personally know, who are working through their own struggles."

First of all, thanks for that well thought out reply,

I think I under-explained my base topic in a way that gives a different slant to my meanings. I'm always talking from within the context of self sustaining film efforts. To me if a film doesn't pay for itself and it's crew's salary, it's a failure. Free crew and untrained friends working spare time will only get you so far.

That said, I'm definitely not condescending to the poor. I'm poor. How is that possible with all this I have going on. Simple, I spend everything I have, literally, on providing advantages to the film. Large sums of the money come from the creation of outside offsets through other businesses. I recruit, and the recruits recruit. I'm a lot more "guerrilla" than my posts make me sound. I think I have 68 dollars of spending money left for the next 30 days, but I have my film bases covered. Even when we start filming the demo, I'll only be paying myself as much as the grips, which is below the poverty line in my town.

the first thing to understand is that you shouldn't have to spend your own money. You think many directors bankroll their own 50 million dollar films? Investor relations is a huge part of the process. Maybe not a fun forum discussion, but huge nonetheless.

Part of the strategy here is to embrace the economy of scale. When you go for marketing investments, the rule of thumb for those investors is to add in the budget of your film again in marketing dollars. This varies of course, but if you have a solid film it's around an even split. It's like buying additional sides of a dice you're about to bet on. The other aspect is what I call "driving up the minimum bet". I just started by saving up 10k, and then went out talking about investment in that denomination. "I've put 10k into this, do you want to put 10k in?", that sort of thing. It gets angel investors to see what you've personally invested in the film as a denomination relative to that deal. The marketers later see the total as a new denomination.

If you're making films only for fun, then basically none of what I say applies to you, even though I also find films a fun community experience. So no offense intended towards recreational filmmakers.

@walter, yes, it was a timelapse film like Chronos, using all still frames at around 3k, and often 3 frame HDR.

Thanks for the reply. I didn't mean to say that I thought your post was condescending. I only meant to say that sometimes what we're working with, equipment-wise, is just the reality of the situation.

You mentioned investors -- I would LOVE IT, if we'd have a conversation about that. Filmmaking, I'm kinda good at that. Finding investors -- I'm at a complete loss, no clue where I should even start. If you'd like to start a thread on that subject, I'll definitely join the conversation.

Cheers! :)
Thanks for the post - really useful and really appreciated.

However, the question I would have is about minimum levels. You are talking about Reds but I am wondering if instead I said 'Sony F3L' or Sony F3K - if these options would be industry acceptable?

Or does an aspiring film maker have to bite the bullet and go Red?
Yeah it's really about the story, and solar radiation affecting people's pineal glands at certain times of the day.

Haha, but I got a sony hdr-hc1 also, so possibly I too will be ramping up the road to success.

edit: but the op is right about like achievement in general being a decision that comes to fruition through determination. After a couple years of crapshoots I'd consider allowing myself to have that kind of vision, if I'm still around... There's just a lot of momentum because of the end of the world happening, the film industry is the right place to be.
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Thanks for the post - really useful and really appreciated.

However, the question I would have is about minimum levels. You are talking about Reds but I am wondering if instead I said 'Sony F3L' or Sony F3K - if these options would be industry acceptable?

Or does an aspiring film maker have to bite the bullet and go Red?

I think you could produce an NBC television show or an independent film on the F3L with the 3k S-log addition.

There are a bunch of reasons I'm buying a RED instead of an F3L (don't buy the f3k, it comes with 5 grand of sears lenses). One is that the red will shoot 300fps, which is useful to me as an SFX artist. Also it shoots RAW, which is useful to me as a colorist.

For someone on a budget that wanted a real movie look, I doubt you could do better for cheaper than the F3L with S-Log and a couple decent cine lenses.

Check out the S-log demos at sony