Monday, 4 January 2016

THE ULTIMATE FILMMAKER TOOL : THE IPAD - THE FILMMAKERS BEST FRIEND



**PLEASE NOTE : I am not sponsored by Apple in any way to write this post , if I was, I would hope they'd send me something better than an outdated, refurbished iPad 2.
You should also note that I'm a Mac user so it made sense for me to go with the iPad, but I'm sure that a cheaper Android (or other) tablet can do just as good a job as this thing.

A decade or so ago, back when I was making short films on a camera the size of a small car (joking of course, but not by much) I remember the feeling of dread as I would stare at the boxes and boxes of equipment and paperwork that needed to be lugged along with me for even the smallest shoot.

Hell, even just doing a reccee (Location scout) would involve me having to load up a large rucksack or sometimes a car with a stills camera, video camera, pile of paper work, scripts, notepads, sketchpads and various other 'useful' items and that was just to look over  a suitable location.

When I started pre production on Legacy of Thorn (My 3rd feature) in 2013 I was looking for a solution for something completely different. For years I had used an old chalk slate to sync sound, but that always seemed a little cheap and we were trying to take a step up.

Looking into a new slate, I started to notice how expensive they were, for a piece of plastic that you write some stuff on they were fairly over priced and electronic ones were 100's of pounds out of our budget. Looking into low budget solutions I discovered that you could actually load one of these things onto an iPad via an app. The only problem was that an iPad cost about 4-8 times more than your standard chalk slate.

After some research I discovered that I could pick up a refurbished iPad 2 for £200 * (which was just over double what I would have paid for the plastic white board slate) and that would come with a decent 16gb memory, that seemed like a good deal if it could do what I needed it to do, but that wasn't quite enough for me to pull the trigger on it. I did some more research.

*You can get a much more up to date iPad for much less than paid for this one today.

To make the investment worth while it needed to be able to take over more than just just marking
duties, it would have to be able to do a whole lot more. It became obvious to me very quickly that not only would I be able to do a great deal of other things on using this little device that could slip in my shoulder bag, in fact, I could almost cover my entire creative process from start to finish.

So here is a list of of the apps I use throughout production from start to finish, some are free, some are cheap, But i've made a point to never spend more than a few pounds/bucks on anything to go with it. So lets get started.

PRE PRODUCTION :

CELTX (£7/$10)
Celtx is a paid app, it costs about £7($10) and although there are free apps out there that do a similar job, I use Celtx on my main laptop and desktop for writing when I'm at home so it made sense to have an app that would be compatible with the scripts I had already written.

The app itself is fairly similar to the desktop edition, with a few things tweaked to make it work with touch screen tech, but nothing major. Since I got the app I've actually written two features on it from start to finish, the small screen size makes navigation a bit more difficult, but its certainly possible to use the app to write your next film.

I paired it with an iMac keyboard to make typing more comfortable, but in a pinch its fine to use the touch screen keys if your out on the road. It doesn't feature then Prose setting that the desktop version has, but that seems tone all thats missing.


PAPER (Free)
Paper is probably the best app on the iPad in terms of sheer value and power, in the last 2 years I've watched it go from a fairly capable, if somewhat limited, tool to a powerhouse for tablet artists. The original version came with one pen tool and a limited colour set. I bought the extra art tools for about £5 and it really opened the app up for me.

The app now comes with all these tools as standard and its still free on IOS. I've used this app for everything from costume design, to storyboarding, to expressing ideas to cast and crew and plotting out movies. Its an extremely powerful tool and probably my favourite to use.

There is an official 'pencil' you can buy for about £50, but i've found that a basic Stylus from poundland (Comes in a pack of 2) works just as good :)


CAMERA (Free)
Your iPad comes with a camera app as standard and its improving all the time with updates and added features. Now instead of taking a whole bunch of gear to a location for reccee's I simply take the iPad and run off some pictures through there.

The biggest advantage of this is that I can send them to other crew members instantly via dropbox, or the cloud and of course I can skim back through them with ease to show team members what we found there.

Its exposure and focus is automatic so it not really any good for judging light levels or anything like that, for that I would take a smaller camera rig if needed, but for grabbing reference pictures its perfect and it means I have my notepad at the ready on the same device should I need to take notes.



VIDEO (Free)
Another app that comes as standard and another app that is extremely useful. Its really just a  functional extension of the camera app and comes with same exposure and focus draw backs, but it has a fair few uses.

There is an app called FilmicPro that costs about £3($5) but it does give you control over exposure/focus.

First of all, Videos of location can be more helpful than stills at times and if I can't make a scout, its amazing to be able to have a video sent over to me from the location. We never set foot in the location from Slasher House before shooting as it was essentially in another country on a small island. Our contact there sent us a video of the place and we could judge its suitability from that.

One of its more interesting uses is the ability to video storyboard. I'll quite often shoot a video storyboard of a scene during a scout to make sure that the location has all my desired angles and if it doesn't what do they have to be changed to. The best part about doing it on your tablet is that you can be cutting the video storyboard (I'll talk about that later) in the car on the way home, If you're not driving that is.

PRODUCTION :

MARKER SLATE (Free)
The main reason I invested in the tablet in the first place was that I was aware that I could use it as a Clapper board and it would look a little bit more professional than using the old skool chalk board that I'd use for the last few years. It was only researching all these other things that it could do that really sealed the deal for me.

If you're shooting sync audio, which we usually do, then you'll usually need to be marking each shot with a slate. The View Finder Marker Slate is free, its a pretty basic clapper, but its everything I need when it comes down to finding and syncing shots in the edit.

There are probably much better slate apps out there, in fact, I know there are, but they cost a fair chunk for an app and the free one I use works just fine.


SIDE BOOKS (Free/£1.50 unlimited docs) 
The days of having dozens of paper copies of the script littering the set are over. We can now take our script in the same slimline package as everything else and share it out with the rest of the cast and crew to read on their phone or tablet.

Side Books is another free app, I just transfer the script onto it before we go to the shoot and then I have instant access to it when we need to check anything or run dialogue. It really cuts down on having a lot of extra paper to carry around etc. Now we can even use it to have people sign releases etc.

I believe there is an extra charge to store more documents of about £1.50, but it stores half a dozen documents as standard as far as I remember.

Note : we usually do have one hard copy just in case. 


LENS+ (Free)
As I've said before, you could easily shoot a decent looking movie on a phone or an iPad now (especially with the quality of the camera in the newer iPhones which now shoot in 4k), whilst the camera app built in to the iPad is pretty basic, Lens+ allows you to emulate some cool, old skool film stocks in the camera itself and it leads to some fun results.

It is by no means professional looking, but its fairly useful for specific tasks. I used it to shoot some old style movie footage on the go a while ago for a prospective project that came out great and I tend to use it for shooting some pretentious behind the scenes on music videos which is pretty awesome if you're a hipster.


PLAY MEMORIES & PANASONIC IMAGE APP (Free)
This a quite app specific, but as I currently use Panasonic Lumix and Sony Action cams these two apps respectively let me use the iPad as a monitor for those awkward shots, such as crane shots, high shots where I can't get a good look at the LCD.

Sometimes I will just use it as general monitor, although being self shooter that doesn't come into play too much, but it is incredibly useful for the action cam that does have an onboard monitor and the Panasonic app even allows you to control the camera remotely.




INSTAGRAM (Free)
Instagram is one of those apps that everyone uses these days. The main reason I find it so useful is that I can take, edit and share pictures directly to our Facebook/Twitter etc from it in seconds and thats very helpful when you're out on set.

Usually we're shooting in some abandoned school, factory, prison, wasteland etc and so wifi access on our sets is usually impossible. If we're shooting for 14 days, that could mean 14 days blackout on social media pages, which as a growing company is not good.

Instagram gives me the ability to send picture updates from set quickly and efficiently using my data plan. It also means that I can snap a picture, upload and then be back to shooting in seconds. You can do it with other social media apps these days, but this my favourite.

POST PRODUCTION :

IMOVIE (£3/$5)
IMovie for IOS is a touch screen, stripped down version of the app that comes pre loaded on Apple machines. This is by no means a pro grade editor, but for cutting quick pre vis stuff on set, its an absolute godsend.

Its does cost about £3/$5 or something like that. but its well worth the money if your looking for something that can do basic edits on the run. That said, with enough storage space on an modern iPad, i'm convinced you could cut at least a short film on one of these things.

I don't use this one as often as I should, but its nice to know its available to me should I need to do editing on the move. Like the desktop version its a very powerful tool, even if its missing one or two of the apps features.



GARAGE BAND (£3/$5)
This is probably my favourite app. Its a touch screen version of the program that comes free with any Apple System although this version will only set you back around £3/$5, it lacks some of the desktops editions functionality, but it more than makes up from it with touch screen keyboards, drums and things like Smart Guitar and Bass and even a full Orchestra at the end of your fingers.

This is one of those programs that I couldn't do without. I've written entire scores and albums using this thing, as well as it being useful for creating general ambience for projects, trailers etc. For about £10 you can also pick up an 'Irig' that will let you plug in mics, guitars and even a full mixing desk should you want to.

I use it as is and its full array of instruments is really incredible and the best part is that you can export your projects to the larger desktop version if needed to take advantage of the mastering tools, a larger array of sounds and of course in my case, auto tune ;)


PHOTOSHOP TOUCH (£7/$10)
This is about £7 and the most expensive app I own I think. Its another stripped down touch screen version of a desktop program, this time its Adobe Photoshop, but it has a lot of the functionality that the full program has, albeit a lite version. It is a bit of fuss to get your head around but its extremely useful for doing any graphic design work on the go.

I use it mainly for colouring as that seems to be its strong point, I can use the Paper app to sketch something out, do some quick, decent quality colouring in the Photoshop app and then message it straight over to cast and crew so they have an idea of whatever it I'm talking about in terms of colour for sets, costumes in my designs. It also has some cool features and filters that are similar to the ones found in the full version.


BLOGGER (Free)
If, like me, you keep online production diaries and write for blogs such as this one, then the FREE Blogger app is perfect. Almost 90% of the posts on this blog were at least drafted via the app. Its almost as fully functional as the full browser version, which of course you can still use via the tablets web app if needs be.

I use it all the time and its super handy to have on set or at home. I'm working on this blog write now using it and I figured it was good app to end on.

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I've been using this outdated, refurb now for over 2 years and I've never felt the need to replace it. I use it day in day out across the entire creative process and beyond it. Its not just a tool I take on set, its a tool that I use all day every day to help me keep on top of all my film related tasks.

It really is the most impressive tool in my whole kit and even though my screen is cracked and its grubby from its time spent in warehouses and abandoned buildings it comes with me everywhere and beyond its filmmaking uses, it serves as a great way to watch movies if I find myself at a loose end and that to me is what makes it a filmmakers best friend.


MJ

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