Filmmaking: Media Production for Indie Filmmakers

Posted by on Mar 21, 2014 in Blog, Filmmaking, Photography, Screenwriting
Filmmaking: Media Production for Indie Filmmakers


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Are you a screenwriter, photographer or indie filmmaker on a limited budget?  Well, good news, the cost-efficient tools you need are waiting for you to use.  There are many types of media production tools, but this post will focus on computer technology.

Screenwriting / Writing

Admittedly, the only screenwriting software I have ever used (since 2005) is Final Draft as that is what I used while studying screenwriting at film school.  It’s what I use because it’s what I know.  On the other hand, a couple of my screenwriting instructors had a preference for Movie Magic Screenwriter.  If not sure which one is best for you, take advantage of their free trials:

Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter are the most widely used screenwriting tools in the industry.  You’ll pay anywhere between $150-$200 for Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter on websites like or the Writer’s Store.  Never buy directly from the manufacturer to avoid paying the full retail price.

If you’re starting out as a screenwriter and want to save money, your best option is Celtx.  Why waste money on screenwriting software if you’re still learning and getting a handle of things?  Celtx is a free software that is also widely used in the movie industry and would finish off anyone’s list of top 3 screenwriting tools.  Plus, Celtx was always recommended by my instructors for anyone on a limited budget.

How many of you are accustomed to Microsoft Office?  A similar writing tool that some of you might not be aware of is OpenOffice.  It’s the open-source version of MS Office.  OpenOffice benefits:

  • Text Document (same basic features as Word)
  • Spreadsheet (like Excel)
  • Presentation (similar to PowerPoint)
  • Database Tool
  • PDF Conversion
  • You can save documents in MS Office file formats and share them w/ MS Office users (or open MS Office documents).

Check out this YouTube tutorial:

Alternative to Microsoft Office – Introduction to Apache OpenOffice

Why pay up to $400 for MS Office?  With OpenOffice, filmmakers can easily create cover letters, resumes, Call Sheets and more.  What’s not to like?  It’s free!


I think most people would agree that the best editing program available to photographers is Adobe Photoshop.  As you may know, Adobe has moved away from standalone software.  You now have to purchase a monthly subscription plan with cloud service.  Otherwise, buy Photoshop CS6 while you still can.  Personally, paying $20-$50 a month seems a bit steep for something you can’t keep.

If you only want something for basic color grading, you can save yourself a lot of money by purchasing Adobe Photoshop Elements.  For example, one of the best tools for color grading photos is the ‘Curves’ function, known as ‘Color Curves’ in Photoshop Elements.  A lot of times, that’s all you need to give your photos that extra pop.

If you are willing to pay a little more for additional features, your next best option is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  The standalone version of Lightroom is also available for a limited time before your only option is a monthly subscription plan at $10 a month.  Some benefits of Lightroom when compared to Photoshop:

  • It’s easier to use.
  • Photo metadata (camera model, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ISO, etc.) is imported and cataloged as EXIF data.  You can also tag photos w/ keywords, flags and star ratings (unlike Photoshop).
  • Your photos are saved in a set location where you can create folders and sub-folders.
  • You can restore edited photos to previous settings after saving (Photoshop only does this if you save layers for every single setting).
  • Photo editing is non-destructive (you won’t accidentally edit your master photos, which can happen in Photoshop when not careful).

Photoshop, on the other hand, has more advanced features.  For example, if you want to manipulate a photo by adding something or someone to it (or the opposite), you can’t do that with Photoshop Elements or Lightroom.  In the end, your choice all comes down to purpose and need.

Video Editing

The most popular editing platform for indie filmmakers is Apple Final Cut Pro X.  I have to admit, though, that I’m still using Final Cut Pro 7 as part of Final Cut Studio 3.  If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  Final Cut Pro X is the cheapest commercial editing platform on the market.  At $300, you can’t go wrong.  It’s also easy to use once you have a feel for it and there are plenty of online tutorials (e.g. YouTube).

Avid Media Composer is an industry standard, but not the best option for indie filmmakers because of the price tag.  You can purchase it for about $900.  Then again, if you’re a student, you can get it for about $300 just like Final Cut Pro X.  The other advantage is that Media Composer is available to PC users, unlike anything made by Apple.

If you want to use a free video editing platform, Wikipedia has a list of options:

Free and Open-Source Video Editing Software

Color Grading

A lot of professionals use DaVinci Resolve to color grade their movies.  It’s a great tool, but very expensive.  You can buy it with a Wave Panel for about $2300.  As an indie filmmaker, do you have that much money to burn?  You can buy the software for a little under 1K, but it’s somewhat useless as you need a video control panel to use it.  The other problem is you need the right kind of computer (e.g. motherboard, graphics card, etc.).  I once estimated that it would cost me at least 6K to be able to use DaVinci Resolve at home.  That figure includes $2300 for the software w/ Wave Panel and a custom-built computer.  Clearly, color grading is best done with your editing platform if you don’t have that kind of cash lying around.

However, you can download a free version of DaVinci Resolve:

Video Encoding

If you want to encode video with free and open-source software, I recommend you check out:

VideoHelp has tutorials for everything video-related, including editing, converting, authoring and capturing.  For encoding, you’ll need the following:

  • Encoder
  • GUI (Graphical User Interface)

Regarding the GUI, there are many to choose from.  The encoder link above recommends some GUI’s:

Some of you fellow Mac users might like using Apple Compressor to encode your videos, but you actually get better results from these open-source solutions.  By using them, you’ll encode higher quality videos with smaller file sizes (and lower bandwidths) than what you’d get from Apple Compressor.

Keep in mind that many post-production professionals use free and open-source technology as it’s not just something for those of us on a tight budget.

I hope you’ve found this post useful as I’ll be adding similar filmmaking posts to this blog.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a reply or tweet me.

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