• Viknesh Silvalingam

Filmmaking essentials for independent filmmakers


There is an abundance of filmmaking essentials (from hardware to software) for independent filmmakers to help bring our movie ideas to life. Well, of course, the basics of what is required to make a film have not changed for the last 8 to 9 decades, such as the need for a camera, lens, audio recording equipment, tripods, and editing capabilities. With that equipment, you can still make a Sundance-winning film similar to what Robert Rodriguez did with El Mariachi.(1*) Sadly I feel that those days of a one-man, low to no budget feature film are behind us as the audience's taste has changed. Now, if you want to make a film with multiple locations and cast, car chases ending in explosions, that actually people want to watch you will need a decent crew. As I had mentioned in my previous blog, filmmaking is a collaborative effort. As with all tasks in the 21st century, no matter how minuscule they are, there is software you can count on to help you to do the job more efficiently. Unfortunately, the software does not come cheap and we all recognize that money has always been an issue for the low budget filmmaker.  The goal is to spend your money wisely, not all of them have to be visible on the screen. Luckily, for $300/ year software subscription fee, there is a free or relatively cheap option solution. As an independent filmmaker myself with no studio backing, I had relied on cheap software to get both my feature films produced (2*) Below are some of my recommended essentials for cheap software to get your film through the various phases:


1. Development


It is common for an independent film to have a director that wrote the actual screenplay or with a team of writers. Which makes sense to get cloud-based screenwriting software that allows you to share your ideas with your co-writers. Luckily there are a bunch of free screenwriting tools (3*) for you to write your screenplay but the free option does not have the option for you to collaborate with a team, for that you can use The Martini.




Managing a film budget is one of the most integral parts of the filmmaking process. A well-executed budget and your ability to adhere to the budget can spell the disaster or the success of your film or television show. Unfortunately, most film budgeting software comes with a cost, but if you are an aspiring Producer you should be somewhat decent with Excel as there are free budget template downloads (4*) that are just as good.


2. Pre Production


The production office is run by the Unit Production Manager (UPM) which is in charge of the planning alongside the Producer has to oversee the various departments to make sure that they are on track to meet the respective deadlines. There are a variety of low-cost project management platforms (5*) you can utilize, however, all of the platforms are very generic in nature and don't cater to a film making specific needs at times.


The storyboard (6*) is a very important part of the pre-production process because it will convey clearly how the story will flow, and allow the Director and Cinematographer to see how the will shots work together. It will also allow spotting of potential problems that would not go unnoticed, ultimately saving the production time and money


During location scouting, paying attention to the east-west orientation, the Cinematographer along with the Assistant Director (AD) will schedule specific shots based on the sun's position relative to the subject. Using a sun position app (7*), the cinematographer will be able to pinpoint the position of the sun and be able to visualize how the shots will actually look like on the day of the shoot.


The Assistant Director will take the shot list created by the director, taking into consideration the prep time required for all departments, and create a realistic shooting schedule. This is a very important element of the AD's prep work as this will be the blueprint the entire production will follow to ensure that they can finish the film on time and on budget. Most scheduling software does not come cheap as they have a bunch of automation to make the AD's job easier. However, there are free downloadable excel templates (8*) that have the primary functionalities that you can utilize if you are not too keen on the automation.


Grip and Electric (G&E) have very few resources to actually educate them on the types of equipment they need on set and how it works. There is the Grip App (9*) which is an online directory/instruction manual that will prove useful when coming up with the equipment list.

One other important member that attends the location scout is the Sound Recordist. For them, online mapping tools, Google and Bing are a great time saver that will provide satellite or bird's eye view of the major and minor streets, businesses like manufacturing facilities, trucking companies, hospitals, and airports, all of them with potent potential to create sound issues for the recordist.


3. Production


When on set, the Director and the Cinematographer will often refer to their shot list to make sure that they are making the day's requirements or if they are not, having to make changes to the shot list. I recall having a paper folder with all my scribbles on the shot list moving the order of the shots but a virtual shot list (10*) that you can operate on your tablet will be a convenient and useful tool.


Now with almost all films being shot on digital cameras, the Data Wrangler or 2nd Assistant Camera has replaced the traditional film loader. A data wrangler supports the camera department by managing, transferring, and securing all the digital data acquired on-set. The Data Wrangler will take the cards containing the raw files (known as 'rushes') from the cameras and sound recorders. Transferring and backing up data onto the memory drives. They check the data, label, and log them, making sure there's no data loss or corruption. Thus he/she will need a data calculation app (11*) to inform him based on the format ( RAW, ProRes) and resolution (1080, 4K) the amount of data storage (GB or TB) required.


On set a Sound Recordist with a recorder with a timecode will need a smart slate (12*) that allows the sound recorder to sync with the timecode. This way, when the slate is shown in front of the camera before a take, the recorder’s and slate’s timecode will be in sync. This will help a lot in post-production , that way the editor can line up the video and audio takes of the corresponding production shoot without error.



4. Post Production

During post-production is where most of the creative collaboration takes place alas as everyone is usually not in the same room a platform for collaboration to share video files and get feedback (13*) to the editor quickly and seamlessly is a must. Instead of getting a ton of emails from everyone, a simple platform to get approval comments and further direction in one place is a must.


For Editors, who play with LUTs ( applying color to grade footage), when reviewing the raw footage, there is a need to try out different color grades on it, ideally without committing to any color style in particular. Eventually, when the editor has a couple of color grade samples to show to the director, a plug in app (14*) in the editing tool will allow the editor to export the clips to the director.




There is countless software out in the market for filmmakers and my recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg. However, most of the software are standalone apps. They are designed to be used on their own and often do not integrate well with other standalone software products. This can make it difficult for the crew to compare and correlate information across the various departments as you may need to export your work into a different software or export a PDF or Excel file and email it over. Not only is this time-consuming but it also leaves a wide-open gap for human error.


The film industry is craving for a single management solution that will allow all the data from the departments to be stored in one program. The different integrated aspects, add-ons, and plugins of the program are all designed to work together seamlessly. This will prevent the silo effect and generate reports to allow the producers a full overview of the state of the production at any particular point in time or over a specified time period. Film producers will appreciate the simplicity and ease of use that a single business management solution provides which functions and reports they need without weighing them down with too many extraneous needs.


The Martini is a free screenwriting app that aides filmmakers in the early stage of their development to gather feedback from their team members. Please do subscribe to my newsletter and my social media accounts, Twitter, and Instagram to follow me on my team's journey in the development of our filmmaking tool.


Author’s Notes/References

  1. https://www.raindance.org/el-mariachi-35-facts/#:~:text=El%20Mariachi%20was%20made%20by,in%20less%20than%20a%20month

  2. https://tubitv.com/movies/468898/cold-pressed

  3. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/screenwriting-software/

  4. https://www.wordtemplatesonline.net/free-film-budget-templates/

  5. https://toggl.com/blog/10-low-cost-project-management-tools

  6. https://wonderunit.com/storyboarder/

  7. https://appfelstrudel.com/q-helios-sun-position-calculator

  8. https://setheroapp.com/film-production-templates/stripboard-schedule-template-free-download/

  9. https://profilmmakerapps.com/app/thegripapp/

  10. https://www.shotlister.com/

  11. https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/8-must-have-cinematography-apps/

  12. https://profilmmakerapps.com/app/movieslate/

  13. https://www.divergentmedia.com/editready

© 2020 by A Viknesh Island Production, California, USA

viknesh.silvalingam@gmail.com

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