Part 3: How to Take Your Indie Film to the Next Level

In my previous posts on elevating indie films I discussed my take on strategies for development ( and the importance of proper preproduction ( I also discussed the creative side of preproduction and how critical it is for a successful production phase and smooth postproduction phase.


Today I’m going to talk pipelines. Pipelines are an integral part of organizing the flow of diverse elements in a film production. It’s the “road map” leading from development to deliverables. When you first gaze upon the flow chart that represents it, many of you may freak out.


Nevertheless, without it you may sail happily through principle photography occasionally spouting that oft heard phrase “We’ll fix it in post”. Only to discover you’ve sailed into post production hell; a dark, mind numbing experience, where you find new ways to express your favorite expletives.


You will push, pull, and shove your film across the finish line with a bright cheerful face. A face that masks the despair that haunts you, and in the deepest, darkest corners of that hell you find yourself singing Bob Marley’s classic “Everything’s Gonna be Alright”. Then you make a promise to yourself; “Never Again!”


To some, never again, will mean you never make another film. For others it may mean cherry picking that one thing you’re sure was the culprit; only to find, in your next film, you are right back in that same hell. The only difference is you’re fighting different demons. Still others, and these are unfortunately a minority, will recognize that every single element that goes into making a film is critical to its success. If any one thing doesn’t measure up the entire film can founder. These filmmakers realize that process is important too.


What I am revealing here is, hopefully, a fairly comprehensive pipeline. Remember we are talking about elevating indie films to a higher level. At first glance the flow chart representing the pipeline can be a confusing spider web. But, rather than gazing at it until your eyes glaze over, follow one line at a time. Follow them as they flow from development to deliverables. If they branch off follow one branch at a time. Notice how some flow in both directions; indicating collaborative ebb and flow, polishing elements into their final form. Notice too, in what phase of the production process each element is initiated, transforms, branches off, or merges together.

Production Pipeline_001
Film Production Pipeline (Click to Enlarge)


Every production starts at a single point and it’s the single most important aspect of a successful film, the concept. Every production also ends at a single point, the final film. As you proceed through each phase of production you may find sections of pipeline don’t apply to your film and that’s fine. What you want to avoid is discovering you need something too late in the process. Therefore each production requires an assessment of the production pipeline at the very early stages of preproduction.


However, a production pipeline is much more than a flow chart. Under the hood are functional parameters; file naming conventions, data storage and retrieval mechanisms, directory structures, process controls, procedural protocols, iteration and metadata management, as well as, crew relations and expectations, to name a few.


Right about now I bet I’m starting to loose a bunch of you. You’re thinking “I don’t need this; all I want to do is make movies”. If that’s you, then by all means run and gun it. But, I would wager you or the people trying to help you are already attempting in some, perhaps minute, way to better manage their filmmaking process; spurred on, no doubt, by some previous nightmare production experience.


Filmmaking is all about collaboration but collaboration without coordination creates chaos; wasting time, talent, and money. Every film, even big budget blockbusters are constrained by their budgets. They can’t afford to waste a dime and neither can you. Since you may also have people working for little to no monetary compensation, you can’t afford to waste good will either.


Think of film production pipelines like a wind up clock. The key that winds the clock in filmmaking is the story. Yet you have to build the clock before you wind it up. Once wound it intiates the turning of a complex arrangement all coordinated to yield consistent and precise results.


There is nothing that can guarantee your film will be successful; the audience is the true arbiter of that, however you can improve the process making it more effective, efficient, and less stressful. That’s where production pipelines can help.

Beyond Lights, Camera, Action – Understanding the Craft: Miniatures

Unfortunately locations are usually not a perfect match for a filmmaker’s vision. Big budget films “makeover” their locations to match their needs or build sets to accomplish their desires. Nevertheless, a particular location may not be available or may not even exist and building a full sized set may not be practical.

In the digital age we have seen the use of CGI models and animation to create convincing virtual sets. It allows for the completion of shots that would otherwise be too expensive, too dangerous, and or physically impossible to go to or build. However, we will save digital sets and models for another post.

Then there are miniatures which have been used in film for nearly 100 years.  They can be cost effective and used to great effect. A quick Google search will provide a wealth of images and information regarding miniatures used in film. The American Cinematographer Manual and the VES Handbook of Visual Effects have extensive information about practices and procedures on this topic and many others, and are the primary references for this post.  As for miniatures there are essentially two types used in filmmaking; static miniatures and action miniatures.

Photo Credit: Adam Howarth – Creative Commons License

Static miniatures may be set extensions, or hanging foreground miniatures, forced perspective miniatures, or split scale miniatures (more on these later). Essentially static miniatures are models that will not be damaged or destroyed during filming and can be built at relatively small scales. If shot from a distance miniatures can be 1:48 to 1:96 scale, but if the camera is very close larger scale with more detail may be required (1:12 to 1:48 scale and possibly larger).

Static miniatures are within reach of most indie filmmakers and should be considered a viable approach to solving production needs. The primary consideration for static miniatures is how small it can be without sacrificing detail and compromising depth of field.

Photo Credit: Karen Roe – Creative Commons License

Action miniatures on the other hand are designed and built with destruction in mind. They are large scale models (1:8 to 1:2 scale) due to the fact that they are interacting with non-scalable elements like fire, explosions, smoke, and water; action miniatures benefit from real world physics which if done well, will look real on screen because they are real. While action miniatures can be costly and may be out of reach of most indie filmmakers, they are far safer and much more cost effective than their full sized counterparts and might be a consideration when a script has suitable action elements in it.

Nevertheless, there is much more involved in an action miniature shot than the model alone. Action miniatures are shot at higher frame rates so when slowed down to the projection frame rate it scales correctly. Motion control camera rigs may be needed as well as motion rigs for moving the action miniature at properly scaled speeds. Miniature destruction effects like their full size counterparts may require multiple cameras to effectively capture the action.

Photo Credit: Adam Howarth – Creative Commons License

The hobby industry provides a large selection of highly detailed models that can be useful to filmmakers particularly for static miniatures. They come in a variety of scales and for relatively low cost these models can be very effective. Using your imagination to repurpose all kinds of things is an equally important approach. Craft stores, hardware stores, recycling centers, and the proverbial junk drawer can be a treasure trove.

In addition a model can be designed in 3D software and used to create plans for the construction of a physical model. The benefit of this approach is you have both a physical and a CGI version of the model. Once the physical model is painted and finished, photos of it can be used to texture the CGI version. The now photorealistic CGI version can be used in the production as a seamless match to the physical model.

Perhaps even more exciting is the advent of 3D printing; miniatures can be built to virtually any spec and can be a feasible option for indie filmmakers as well. In this process a model is designed in 3D software and the parts are printed. These parts can be assembled into the final model or molds can be made from the printed parts and multiple copies of each part can be cast then assembled and finished as required. Depending on individual requirements it is even possible to 3D print the mold directly, eliminating the mold making step from the process.

While the material options for 3D printing are growing rapidly, action miniatures, which by definition are made to be damaged and destroyed, need to be built from materials that work well with the physics of the intended shot. The VES Handbook of Visual Effects contains a list of common full scale materials and their miniature scale counterparts. It seems likely these materials will always find a place in miniature construction. Nevertheless, the scalability of 3D printers from desktop to house-sized and their potential for printing a vast array of materials are likely to cause them to be employed more and more in all areas of human endeavor, including filmmaking.

So, even though technology will once again prove to be a valuable tool, the artistry and craftsmanship of model makers will continue to be an essential asset in filmmaking. For example, proper painting is critical so as not to give away the fact that the model is anything but full scale; as is aging and weathering to match real world conditions. It takes a good deal of planning, time and skill to build and use miniatures. Not only that, but testing everything along the way to ensure when its time to turn the cameras on there are no problems or surprises.

Hanging foreground miniatures, forced perspective miniatures, and split scale miniatures allow for the shooting of miniatures in combination with live action as an “in camera composite”. Which means the shot is completed during principle photography requiring no post production compositing, thus saving time and money in post. Camera movement however, is limited to locked off or nodal pans and tilts only.

They rely on a bit of visual trickery to achieve the illusion.  In a 2D image the camera as well as the human eye cannot perceive scale or depth in the absence of visual cues such as linear and atmospheric perspective, and focus. So, a small scale miniature carefully positioned can stand in for full sized set pieces and be completely believable.

By combining live action, miniatures, CGI and matte painting a shot can be built with high production value far beyond the limits that a physical location imposes on a filmmaker. These techniques can open up possibilities for indie filmmakers and free their imaginations to soar to new heights. If you’re a “run and gun” kind of filmmaker you might scoff at these techniques. However, if you are a filmmaker who believes in creating a great story well told, you will want your “tool bag” filled with options and break them out when needed.

Beyond Lights, Camera, Action – Understanding the Craft: Digital Matte Painting

How often have you felt trapped by the limits of your locations, or forced to alter your story to accommodate a location, or been limited to certain camera angles and movement? I’m always surprised when meeting indie filmmakers that many of them don’t know what a matte painting is. Matte paintings have been used in filmmaking for nearly 100 years and continue today. In fact, the digital age has made them even more effective storytelling tools.

A matte painting is a photorealistic representation allowing filmmakers to create the illusion of a location or set that either does not exist or is too expensive or impossible to go to or build. Matte painting is one of the most often used VFX techniques.

Originally matte paintings were painted on glass. One iconic example you’re sure to remember is from Raiders of the Lost Ark; the warehouse scene at the end of the film is one big matte painting with the only live action being the warehouseman pushing the cart along a small section of the floor.

Matte painting continues to be used today, for example it is being used extensively in Game of Thrones.  Matte paintings add a tremendous amount of production value while remaining extremely cost effective. They can create cities or destroy them, change summer into winter and day into night; they can extend a scene or stand on their own.

Matte paintings come in three “flavors” so to speak 2D, 2.5D, and 3D. Each one is increasingly complex, yet each yield successively greater opportunities.

A 2D matte painting is just what the name implies; a photorealistic painting is created in an application such as Photoshop as a two dimensional image. Camera movement on a 2D matte painting is limited to nodal pans and tilts where parallax does not come into play. Below is 2D matte painting I painted as an establishing shot. (Note the waterfall would be an animated element composited in post).

A 2D matte painting establishing shot.

2.5D matte paintings takes the 2D matte painting a bit further by breaking the image into separate layers, usually foreground, mid-ground, and background. These layers are brought into an application such as After Effects and each layer is a flat plane set into 3D space. Camera movement, in addition to the aforementioned pan and tilt, is extended to include movement which reveals parallax. Below is a 2.5D version of the 2D painting above.

3D matte paintings use 3D geometry and individual elements of the matte painting are projected onto the geometry much like a slide projector. The technique is referred to as camera mapping. A virtual camera is then “flown” through the scene. Multiple projections can be employed to extend the amount of movement available to the virtual camera. Below is a fairly simple example of a scene extension using camera mapping.

Integrating live action plates with matte paintings allows filmmakers to utilize specific parts of a location or just the number of set pieces to cover the live action and the remainder of the frame can be a photorealistic, yet fake, environment. The addition of a blue screen or green screen extends the possibilities even further.

The effectiveness of matte paintings has been proven time and again throughout the history of motion pictures. Thanks to the digital age, what once was only affordable in the realm of big budget films is available to almost any size production. In recent years, due in part to the more affordable digital techniques, matte painting has become increasingly used on TV. Indie filmmakers can make good use of matte painting techniques in their projects releasing them from the shackles that shooting on location often forces upon them.

Part 2: How to Take Your Indie Film to the Next Level

In Part 1 the Development Phase of production was discussed with thoughts on how indie filmmakers might better approach their film production efforts. Keep in mind that time is the one asset that indie filmmakers have over big budget films. Spent wisely an indie film can be elevated to a much higher level, even rivaling big budget films. Here in Part 2 the Preproduction Phase will be discussed along with thoughts on process and approaches.


Many indie filmmakers dread preproduction. Why is that? Perhaps they think preproduction is simply logistically based and as such is more tedious than exciting. Whatever the reason, it is misplaced. Preproduction is the opportunity to ensure your production comes off as flawlessly as possible. It is a creative process, as well as, logistical. The Production Phase, aka principle photography, is the execution of what is achieved in preproduction. If you give short shrift to preproduction you guarantee a lackluster production.

Many indie filmmakers generally do little to no serious preproduction and certainly nothing like I will advocate here. Nonetheless, they tout the shear volume of pages they shoot in a day. As many as 10 – 15 pages or more a day are boasted about. They strut about as if it were a badge of honor, as if page count is a reflection of their filmmaking prowess. If your focus is on page count then you cannot possibly be focused on story, and story is everything.

Major motion pictures average 5 pages per day. They have big budgets, large crews and have done due diligence to preproduction. So, why would an indie filmmaker with comparatively no budget, a skeleton crew, and generally poor preproduction, think they are so at the top of their game awesome they can punch through 2 to 3 times that number of pages?

Preproduction is the process of designing a film, communicating the vision, and planning the logistics of a production. It goes well beyond hiring cast and crew, finding locations, renting equipment, and arranging for craft services. It goes beyond finding props, creating schedules and crafting shot lists.

By the time preproduction is complete everyone involved should know how the film will look, feel, and sound, as well as, how the process of making the film will proceed, and what will be needed to accomplish it. That’s not to say that things will not change or evolve. It is however critical that everyone is linked to a united vision. It is where collaboration and refinement conspire to make a great film possible.

You cannot rely on written or verbal communication alone and expect that others will unequivocally grasp the vision. Filmmaking is a visual medium, so communicating a vision must necessarily also be visual. Photography, sketches, concept paintings, sculptures, storyboards, previz, animatics, blueprints, models … any and every visual communication tool is viable. They help establish a unified understanding of the mood, emotion, and look of the film to inform choices in lenses, lighting, props, wardrobe, makeup, sets, locations… the list goes on.

Without “visualizing” the vision you are resorting to playing the children’s game of telephone, where the message is lost in translation from one person to the next until the result is nothing like the original intention. Not only does that set you up for uninspired story telling, but it wastes time on set trying to figure out what you are doing.

The emotionality of a film is not only expressed visually but also acoustically. Sound design is yet another critical element of preproduction. Sound design is the “symphony” of all things sound in a film. When sound is designed well, it will help tell the story and elevate the production. By not addressing it in preproduction you strip away cohesion between the visual and acoustic aspects of your film.

Accepting the premise that story is “everything” when developing a project and writing a screenplay; we must also accept that it transcends the written page and permeates every element of the production. Camera tells the story with lens choice, subject, focus, and movement. Lighting tells the story with direction, intensity, falloff, and shadow. Actors tell the story with emotion, movement, and dialogue.

Those are the obvious ones; yet everything from makeup, to wardrobe, from sets, to locations, to props… the list goes on and on, they all are important tellers of story. Not paying attention to any one of them diminishes the final film. They all work in synergy and it takes time to blend, and meld, and formulate the perfect chemistry; that time is preproduction.

If it’s seen or heard in the film, it must be designed and not left to chance on set. Both the design and logistics aspects of filmmaking influence each other directly and indirectly with overall consideration paid to the budget. You cannot roll cameras and expect that serendipity will rescue you and create a great film.

Regardless of actual crew size it is important to fill all production positions even if that means each crew person fulfills the duties of several jobs. By doing this you ensure all aspects of production are accounted for and a real person is accountable and reporting on progress.

In a production where each person is wearing multiple hats, longer preproduction time is required. Taking too long however, can cause interest level to decline which is especially true of low/no budget productions were crew motivation and moral are the only incentive for commitment.

Organization is critical to successful filmmaking and it’s the key to effective preproduction. Filmmaking requires a hierarchical structure to coordinate the production. Additionally there needs to be a production pipeline to manage the process. It is just as important to the indie filmmaker with limited resources as it is to a big budget production. Without them your production will bleed money, waste time and good will, and result in a film that fails to meet expectations.

There are two conflicting forces at work; financial management and creative expression, yet they are inextricably linked to one another. If you hope to have a successful film both artistically and commercially you must perform meaningful preproduction. From a financial point of view preproduction saves money and time in both the production and postproduction phases. From a creative expression point of view preproduction allows for greater creative freedom and exploration.

A film production is a work of art, but contrary to what many indie filmmakers may think, that art is created in preproduction. The Production Phase (aka principle photography) is the execution of the artistic vision, and the Postproduction Phase is the assembly, refinement and polishing of the artistic vision.

So, what should happen during preproduction? First, it cannot be thought of as a standalone process distinct from other phases of a production. None of the phases should be thought of as separate and distinct, but rather part of a continuum that is initiated as the first seed of an idea is germinated, and grows until the completed film is ready for distribution. The five phases of production are merely a way to organize the approach to making a film so that it is logical, economical, and efficient.

I’m going to focus just on the creative side of preproduction since that is where many opportunities to take filmmaking to a higher level reside. These elements are either under utilized, or worse not used at all in indie filmmaking.

Visual Development which is the process of designing the “look”, “mood”, and “feel” of the film. It is accomplished through the use of visual communication devices and is how the Director’s vision is “visualized” for all to see and understand. These efforts inform all other aspects of the production. They are not a luxury as some might be tempted to suggest; they are how you build high production value, continuity, and cohesion into your film. It incorporates everything that is seen on screen.

The digital age has provided great tools for filmmakers. This includes software for photo manipulation, sketching, painting, sculpting, drafting, compositing, 3D modeling and animation etc. They are as much a part of the indie filmmaker’s toolbox as cameras, lenses, tripods, jibs, dollies, lighting, nonlinear editing software, and sound editing software, etc.

Concept paintings, drawings, sketches, and photo manipulation can quickly yield renderings that represent the Director’s vision. Digital sculpting can provide 3D models of anything required, but also, when combined with 3D printing can “manufacture” real physical versions of a 3D model, such as props, maquettes, set designs, miniature set pieces etc. With today’s software, making changes on the fly is relatively easy and quick. The imagery is then used by other departments to inform their choices.

Indie filmmakers that apply visual development into their process can increase production value, maintain unity and cohesion, save time during principle photography, and reduce unanticipated postproduction issues.

Storyboards, Previz, and Animatics these three interrelated processes are another valuable set of tools to express the Director’s vision, identify needs, solve problems, and perhaps most importantly save time during principle photography. Storyboards are a strategic mechanism whereby the Director and Cinematographer can construct the look of each shot and develop shot lists.

Previz (short for previsualization), is created in a 3D application and is a huge help in identifying camera angles and movement in complicated scenes that are difficult to plan or visualize on traditional storyboards. They allow for a digital mock up of a scene with virtual cameras, actors, scenics, and props. The cameras and digital “puppets” can be animated to reveal what the shot will actually look like when shot.

An animatic is the cutting together of storyboards and previz to create an animated representation of the film. This is useful for developing the initial timing of the scenes and placement in the storyline. It helps identify problems, and suggest improvements, in advance of shooting saving money and time during principle photography. Temporary music and sound effects can be added, as well as, recorded dialogue from a table read. You can essentially experience the film before shooting it.

Blocking and Staging can be generated in preproduction using software and allows for experimentation and refinement prior to principle photography. This imagery can help inform shot lists, equipment requirements, placement of props, set pieces, camera movement, actor movement etc. Planning can be achieved without having cast and crew on hand, and later used as a solid starting point for working with cast and crew during rehearsals. It helps to reduce the number of set ups saving time and money on set.

Visual Effects (VFX) starts in preproduction and ultimately carries through production and into postproduction. Visual Effects have become an integral element in big budget filmmaking and can be used to great effect in indie films as well. They cover a wide array of possibilities far too many to include here.

Nevertheless, one that can be put to good affect by indie filmmakers is, matte painting techniques that include: set extensions, sky replacements, fully realized photorealistic backgrounds and more. The possibilities for VFX are nearly endless and should be considered when developing a film project. The potential is available to rival the quality of high end visual effects shots from big budget films. They can quickly elevate production value and save time and money.

Lighting Design for each set/location. On set lighting is not there to simply illuminate the scene so the camera works better. Lighting is an important story telling tool which requires manipulation and control. Lighting requirements are established by visual development where various renderings determine the look and mood of a scene. Lighting instruments are then selected and plots designed to match that look and mood.

Waiting until the day you shoot to determine lighting wastes time, risks employing bad or improper lighting, and leads to uninspired storytelling. Designing and planning lighting in preproduction will pay huge dividends in production value and minimize issues in postproduction.

Sound Design; firstly to be clear, I am not a sound designer, but I have studied a bit of sound design and you don’t have to be an “audio guy” to know; most indie films not only suffer from poor quality sound but they also lack any sound design whatsoever. Why is that? Perhaps it’s due to the fact most indie filmmakers pay no attention to sound until postproduction.

Wait, what? Indie filmmakers have a sound recordist and boom operator on set, so how can I say they don’t pay attention to sound until post? Even though they do indeed have sound recorded on set it is almost never reviewed until post. For that matter neither is most footage; so all audio work tends to be mashed up in post. No design, just mix it, stick it in the timeline, sync it and forget it.

The soundtrack of a film incorporates several elements; production sound, wild sound, atmosphere/environment, sound effects, Foley, ADR, and score. They are the “clay” if you will that the soundtrack is sculpted from. Yet the design of the “sculpture” should take place in preproduction.

Why design sound? Sound evokes emotion, establishes mood, and feeling. It is telling the story acoustically and mostly in a subconscious way. It needs to flow, merge and intertwine with the visuals. It only makes sense to design it right alongside the visual design process.

There is of course much more involved in preproduction, too much to cover in this short article. Nevertheless, I hope you grasp the tremendous benefit of the creative side of preproduction and apply it to your indie film productions.

Part 1: How to Take Your Indie Film to the Next Level

Have you wondered why independent films suffer from a variety of maladies that seem pervasive in the indie film industry? Poor quality sound, poor quality effects, mundane and uninspired sets/locations, excessive exposition and unnecessary dialogue; these are but a few of the more obvious ones.


Most, if not all, are traceable to the very beginning steps of the filmmaking process. Those problems are compounded throughout preproduction and production, resulting in challenges and unforeseen issues during postproduction. In the end, in most cases, a film fails to reach expectations or worse is completely unwatchable.


A film production is broken down into 5 phases: Development, Preproduction, Production, Postproduction, and Distribution. Unfortunately most indie filmmakers place little or no emphasis on Development and Preproduction. Nevertheless, these are where the foundation for a successful film is constructed. So, with that in mind I offer my thoughts regarding the Development Phase in this article. In a future article I will discuss Preproduction, as well as, a process and pipeline for elevating indie films to the next level.




If you are a “Writer/Director/Producer” you cannot perform those functions simultaneously without a steadfast commitment to objectivity. As a Producer you must perform those tasks as if you the Writer and you the Director are different people with different perspectives on the production. As a Director your creative vision must not be clouded by you the Writer or you the Producer. As a Writer you must recognize and accept that the script will change based on the needs and expectations of you the Producer and you the Director. It is no simple task, and frankly, the story would likely be better served if these positions are filled by three separate people.


Regardless if you are starting from prewritten script or just story ideas, you should consider having 3-5 stories in development at one time. It allows you to develop each story until one rises to the top of the stack and wants to be told. This provides objectivity and focus on the best, most ready for production story, not simply pushing a story ahead because it’s the only one you have. They may all be very good stories but just not ready to be told by you at this time. Or they may be bad ideas that will go nowhere. They should speak to you, calling out in the middle of the night, imploring you, making you “feel”.


Story is everything! A huge budget and A-list talent will not guarantee a successful film. So, it should go without saying, no budget and local talent cannot guarantee one either. Starting with a great story is critical, not only will it be more likely to succeed, but it is more likely to attract the interest of named talent who might be willing to work on it. So, spend time on it, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite. Tease the story out of the idea; make it compelling, powerful, charged, and dripping with emotion.


In filmmaking, money and time can be considered inversely proportional to one another. Large budgets generally have tight schedules. So, time becomes an independent filmmaker’s friend. It is an almost limitless resource and allows one to proceed with limited financial backing. Nevertheless, be aware interest level declines over time so expend it well.


Avoid the three “crutches” that tend to find their way into nearly every indie film; gratuitous violence, gratuitous language, and gratuitous sex or sexual situations. That’s not to say violence, language and sex cannot be part of the story. However, if the story cannot stand on its own without them, then the story is probably not very good.


These elements, when used, should be organic, seamless, and not call attention to themselves. If you make a film that is rife with any or all of these elements, as crutches, such that it appeals only to adolescent boys, yet by virtue of those crutches garners an R rating or higher; then you have rendered your film unwatchable by the very audience it appeals to.


There are reasons why most major motion pictures are rated PG13. One reason; they can be seen by, and appeal to, the widest demographic, which translates into broader distribution, which further translates into a greater chance for a return on investment.


Here is a test for you; go through your script, remove or adjust any visuals and dialogue that would trigger an R rating then read the script again. Is the story compelling? Are the characters dynamic? If not then the success of the project is questionable.


Not only that, but depending on the violence, language, and sexual situations employed in the film, you may also reduce opportunities for television distribution. Now you’re probably thinking I’ve seen plenty of films presented on TV where they alter, bleep out, blur or cut out questionable content; so what’s the problem?


Think about that for just a second. Are you, as an audience member, not taken out of the experience every time those techniques are employed? Does it not negatively impact your perception of the film? I know it does for me.


Create a generalized, yet real, budget for the film; so you know what you’re not paying for when you ask people to help for free or at reduced rates. You owe it to your cast and crew, and yourself to determine the actual costs of the entire production so you gain a real appreciation for what it takes to make the film. Keep the budget fluid, slowly solidifying as the development process proceeds.


Take the time to identify all personnel involved in a production not just the ones you think you need. Additionally take the time to determine when each position is activated in the process. It makes no sense to bring a person on board without anything for them to do; however, it does make sense to establish a commitment from personnel in advance of when you will require them. Consider carefully the number of jobs any one individual will perform. Make sure any job overlap doesn’t diminish objectivity within the process.


Create a rough marketing plan. Make sure it’s realistic and doable. There are a lot of ways to market at little to no cost but that doesn’t change the need for a solid, powerful marketing campaign.


Develop a financing plan. Once you have a realistic budget the responsibility is yours to properly finance the film. You should not ask cast or crew to work for free or reduced rates until you have acquired as much financing as you can. Which includes your own contributions to the project; after all if you aren’t willing to support the project how can you expect others to. Potential financiers need to know the project is not just a great story worth telling but that a system is in place that guarantees completion of the project and the product has a sound, viable marketing plan. Their principle interest is in return on investment and as a producer it should be yours as well.


Don’t move beyond the development stage until you have financing or in kind offerings in place that support the entire production. Although there are numerous avenues for financing, none of them are particularly easy approaches to acquiring the funding necessary, the exception being self financing.


A word of caution on self financing; if you hope to achieve a return on your investment make sure that you are not the only one enamored with the story and make sure the feedback you get is real. As gratifying as it may be to have everyone love your idea, don’t surround yourself with sycophants. Cast and crew that have a vested interest in the project are not necessarily objective.


Crowd funding has tremendous potential for financing a film. Nevertheless, very few crowd funded film projects receive the funding they request. Why is that? Well, I’ve seen quite a few pitches on crowd funding sites and they all seem to suffer from the same issue; they’re dreadful. If they have a video component it’s usually comprised of a talking head begging for help. I don’t know about you but it turns me off.


Just like a good story, a pitch for crowd funding must be compelling, hold the audience, and make them feel something, which in turn helps them to want to see the film made. They need to feel as much passion for the story as you do. At the risk of stating the obvious, films are visual so your crowd funding campaign should be as visual as possible. Don’t have endless copy strewn across the page; few people will take the time to read it.


Produce a teaser that has high production value, the same you will employ in the final project. Obviously you should target potential investors from those that are attracted to your type of story and genre. Find your audience and reach out to them. The shotgun approach may work for family and friends but will probably be less successful beyond that.


If you want people, other than friends and family, to invest in a project, they’ll be more willing if you are taking risk right along with them. That means putting up money or in-kind offerings yourself. Don’t expect the incentives you offer to hold much power of persuasion. They are niceties not the deciding factor for investors.


Post Processing 3D Prints: Removing Build Lines

As anyone who has a 3D printer can attest, there are visible build lines on printed objects. This is, of course, simply the nature of a machine that builds things layer by layer. A search of the web reveals a few options for removing build lines. With ABS, acetone can be used to “melt” a print smooth. However acetone if not handled properly can be disastrous. For PLA, chemical solutions are even more dangerous than acetone and probably should not be considered.

Methods that cause dissolving of a piece equates to loss of detail.  Sanding is an option but also causes loss of detail. Filler primer combined with sanding, Spot putty and even Bondo have been used. These all require proper ventilation and protective gear.


I have another technique you may want to try. It harkens back to my traditional painting  days. Since I now paint in Photoshop my painting tools have languished unused for some time.

I grabbed a palette knife and a jar of acrylic modeling paste and set about applying it to a part printed at .3mm layer height. I applied it much like one applies joint compound to drywall. You can also use a damp paper towel when applying it to uneven surfaces. I’ve used it on resolutions of .1mm to .3mm with excellent results.

I lay on a thin coat filling in the tiny spaces between the build lines and let it dry then sand it smooth. It adheres well to PLA (I have not yet tried it with ABS ) and is a great base for painting with acrylic media. You can colorize the modeling paste before using it by adding acrylic paint . Probably the best part is its non toxic, relatively inexpensive and cleans up with water.

Two identical parts printed in PLA at .3mm.

In the image above the top and bottom objects were both printed at .3mm (300 microns) the bottom one has been left just as it came from the printer; the top one had modeling paste applied and then hand sanded with 220 grit sandpaper. It is extremely smooth to the touch and with the naked eye its almost impossible to notice any flaws.

Although I have not tested them yet, additional acrylic paint mediums may also prove useful. There are several Gel Mediums that should prove just as viable. They all can be colored to a desired color by adding acrylic paint before use or painted after.

ZBrush Rope Making Technique

This is one technique for making braided rope in ZBrush. I posted this on Vimeo a couple years back but thought I would post it here as well. I’ve also included a step by step description.

Tutorial: Braided Rope or Cable using the CurveLineTube brush and a Cylinder Primitive.

Draw out a Cylinder3D and make the following adjustments
In Tool>Initialize subpallet:
Set X and Y size to 5; Set HDivide to 36 and VDivide to 128.

In Tool>Masking:
Click the MaskAll button; Set Select Count to 2 and Skip Count to 1; Click the Column button.

In Tool>Deformation:
Inflate to 8 on X and Y axis only.

In Tool>Masking:
Clear the mask.

Make this object a PolyMesh3D.

Now in Tool>Geometry:
Divide one time.

In Tool>Masking:
Click the Mask By Cavity button; Click the GrowMask button one time.

In Tool>Deformation:
Inflate to 8 on X and Y axis only; Inflate Ballon to 1 on X and Y axis only.

In Tool>Masking:
Clear the mask.

In Tool>Deformation:
Twist to 100 on the Z axis only and repeat up to 10 times. Rename the tool to something like: Twist_Base.

Now in Tool>Geometry: Delete Lower Subdivisions.

Select the CurveLineTube brush.

In Brush>Modifiers:
Click on MeshInsert Preview and select the Twist_Base tool. Now the CurveLineTube brush is set to draw out a curve using the Twist_Base tool.

Now draw out a new primitive Cylinder3D and make the following adjustments in Tool>Initialize subpallet: Set X and Y Size to 5; Set HDivide to the number of strands you want the braided rope to be (i.e. 3 or 4).

Make this a PolyMesh3D and snap it in position by holding Shift while rotating the tool.

In the Transform pallet:
Click the Activate Symmetry button and select the Z axis; Turn on Radial Symmetry; Set Radial Count set to match the number of sides on the PolyMesh (i.e. 3 or 4).

Set a fairly large brush size and draw out a curve along the length of the PolyMesh. Adjust the brush size and click on one of the curve end points until the instances of the curve tube touch one another without overlapping or leaving a gap.

In Tool>Deformation:
Twist to 100 on the Z axis only and repeat up to10 times. Rename the tool to something like RopeBraid_Base.

In Tool>Subtool:
Click the Group Split button to separate the braided rope from the PolyMesh used to support the Curve Tubes. You can delete the support mesh leaving the braided rope.