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Julian Grant’s blog Cinema 2.0 is a new approach to film production, marketing and distribution working outside of the accepted mainstream cinema industry. In this edition he explains that no camera – no matter how good – can make someone a better filmmaker.

This article was provided by Raindance, the UK’s leading independent film festival and one of Europe’s top film training providers. Find more articles, videos and indie film-related content on their website, www.raindance.org

I will punch you in the fucking face if you tell me my new film looks good – and then ask me what camera I used. Cameras are just fucking tools – they all have good and bad features. The gear is second to the talent. The camera doesn’t design the lighting, block the shot, work with the actors and then put it all together in post production. I do – with the help of a bunch of really fucking talented collaborators and cohorts. Having a shit ton of gear doesn’t make you a filmmaker. There is no magic gear that will make you a better storyteller.


Yes, there are benefits to shooting in higher-resolution 4K formats, in 35mm film – hell, even in Super 8mm – but often these formats are beyond the means of the frugal microcinema filmmaker. How much money and experience do you have? Don’t waste your money trying to copy the pros. Do it a few times (make shorts, commercials, anything) to learn your cinema craft. Start small. Work your way into the craft. Just don’t give in and then proclaim the whole thing useless because you cannot get a RED Epic or Arri Alexa or any of the top-end digital platforms and the money to rent or buy them.

If all you’ve got is a smartphone, use that. Why not? Just start shooting your story based on what you have at hand or nearby. Jesus Christ, walk before you run! Shoot a fucking ten second story story and then repeat the process and work your way up to making longer-form or a web-series (I can’t tell you how many people I meet who tell me that shooting a web-series looks easy because it’s just a short film times six or eight. #facepalm) Just remember the cardinal rule:

The best gear is the gear that you have (and know).

It’s foolish to rent a big-girl camera and then drag along all the bits of gear to make it work if you don’t have time or money. It’s fucking idiotic to rent expensive kit when the lovely folks at Canon are practically giving away their consumer HD camera, the Vixia, at prices under $300. Hell, I shot my first nano-budget feature, The Defiled on a Canon Vixia I bought up the street in Chicagoland because it was all I could afford! I knew I couldn’t compete with Hollywood – but I could make a beautiful black and white love letter to Carnival Of Souls and Night Of The Living Dead with this gear. I spent additional money on a camera crane and made a poor-man’s Steadicam and got to work! This fabulous horror film has sold to distributors around the world, been showcased on various websites and even snagged a nice spot at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2010. The gear was secondary to the story and the execution. #shootnow

300 DPI FINAL Defiled Poster

As I continued to make cinema here in the USA, I upgraded to another bit of Canon gear in 2011, the Canon 7D, to shoot the first DSLR feature film in the Midwest – Fall Away. This was a film based on a story suggested by the leading man and I soon found myself shooting a full color gay urban cowboy picture in the frigid cold and down in Nashville, Tennessee. I took time to figure out what the camera could and couldn’t do and didn’t try and do anything too extravagant. I had a hell of a lot more crane shots in The Defiled because I could control the focus better on the humble Vixia. Now, a word of caution on using a DSLR (or as I have dubbed, a “Franken-Camera”). They offer a lot of pluses for microcinema but there are also a lot of minuses. Often you will have to add a great number of camera peripherals to make it work the way you want and this can cut down on your mobility and your shot flexibility. Battery power can be an issue on DSLR’s and the camera will shut down when too hot. You will have to go manual to get the best use of this gear and use prime lenses rather than the kit zoom lens for the best looking picture. But I knew all this BEFORE I started shooting.

The secret to using your gear is to practice with it. Every day. So it then becomes second nature where the buttons are and what they do! There is no ‘set it and forget it’ feature for this type of handmade DSLR cinema and I strongly suggest getting into the manual and then out into the damn street to diligently practice zooming, focus-pulling, moving and filming dialogue plus watching and reviewing your work before you ever step foot on set. You stretch before a run, right? Do warmups before exercise? Same idea and routine here. #practicerun


Camera gear and all of the associated peripherals can be slimmed down to a nice basic package that can be used on the street with minimal intrusion if you understand what you need. Don’t pimp out your camera with the biggest matte-box and add a video-tap if you don’t need it. Can you work with a monopod over a large tripod? If you’ve ever been on a big boy set, you will see lots of boxes and entire vehicles dedicated to hauling just the camera gear alone. How much gear do you need vs. how much you want? Do the math and let your story be the guide. Don’t bring it just because it looks cool. Bring it if you’ll use it. Practice. Repeat. Shoot tests. Experiment. Size doesn’t matter. #geardoesnotmakethefilm

This article was written by Julian Grant, award-winning filmmaker and tenured professor at Columbia College Chicago, and originally appeared on raindance.org.

Posted on May 4, 2015

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