How to make a Hollywood blockbuster movie – with your DSLR

The best camera kit plus expert tips from Gareth Thomas, director of next year’s Godzilla reboot

Video on DSLRs is so good that even top professional directors are turning to these cameras for their movies: recently Black Swan, The Avengers and 127 Hours have all made use of affordable DSLRs (note, though, that the lenses fixed to these cameras are not always so affordable), which combine portability with excellent HD video capture.

So you want to be the next Scorsese, Tarantino or Boyle? Here’s what you need, as recommended by Gareth Thomas, writer/director of 2011 indie hit Monsters and currently helming the new Godzilla reboot due to crash onto cinema screens next year.

Image credit: Chris Jagers on Flickr

Canon 5D Mk II/Mk III

Gareth Thomas used Canon’s evergreen 5D Mk II when filming Monsters, and is full of praise for the “pro-sumer” DSLR: “Considering it shoots ‘cinema resolution’ with a narrow depth-of-field, this is amazing – like owning your own 35mm movie camera for the price of an exotic holiday.”

The Mk II is now discontinued, but you can still scour the web and pick up new examples for around $2,800 a pop. It has been replaced in Canon’s line-up by the 5D Mk III ($4,699 for the body alone), which offers more options and features.

Viewfinder – Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 3x

Whack this optical viewfinder ($565, cathayphoto.com.sg) on the back of your DSLR for a much clearer picture of exactly what you’re filming: “It features 3x magnification and makes focussing much easier, which won’t seem too important – until you show your film on the big screen.”

More after the break...

Lighting – Litepanels Micro

“Modern camera chips are already strong in low light,” says Thomas. “But if you need some extra illumination these dimmable lights are so portable you’ll forget you’re carrying them.”

The Micro (Litepanels MicroPro) can be placed on a camera hot-shoe and runs off four AA batteries or an optional mains adapter.

Support – Cinekinetic Cinesaddle

“More versatile than a tripod, this stabilising cushion lets you keep your camera steady either on the ground or hanging out of a car window. A great alternative to a dolly.”

You can buy the Minisaddle (a smaller version, more suited to the Canon 5D) at Cinekinetic.com.

Editing – Adobe CS6 Production Premium

Adobe’s post-production suite (US$49.99/month from adobe.com/sea) gives you that step-up from the cheaper programs that’s required for a real professional feel. Says Thomas: “With Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere, this is a complete post-production facility in one. For real film-making, it’s practically essential.”

This interview with Gareth Thomas was originally published in Stuff magazine’s September 2011 issue.

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