by Rob Robinson

Previously, I offered some general tips for downloading and working with free and open source software or FOSS. In this article, I'd like to demonstrate the creation of a "virtual" film studio and follow a typical production, from the initial story idea through to the final presentation using only free software. This is not intended as an all or nothing recipe forfilm production, but rather as a demonstration of the potential of FOSS. Feel free to use whatever you think may be helpful to supplement your own production pipeline.

Whenever possible the applications discussed are cross-platform. In cases where they aren't, I will note the operating system for which they are intended.


And your company should be no different. So let's say you've got a great idea, maybe something called "Alien Zombies Attack Poughkeepsie", and you want to turn it into a movie.

Even before beginning your research, you'll probably want to download CELTX. Started as a simple scriptwriting application based on the Mozilla source code used for the FIREFOX web browser, CELTX has become a popular ever-expanding pre-production tool allowing, among other things, a system to collect your notes on alien zombies and images of Poughkeepsie locations to be used for laterreference in writing and planning.

Another option for research notes which I find useful and fun is one of the desktop wiki notepads like ZULUPAD. Stream-of-consciousness is the operable word(s) when working with these applications who bill themselves as notepads on steroids which allow you to create web-like links to new pages from any word in the text.

If it's early in the game and you're still outlining the zombie action, you may want to explore some "mind mapping" or "outlining" software like the java-based FREEMIND or CMAP.

Once you commence writing, CELTX's built-in screenwriting application is probably all you need, but for those more comfortable with a traditional full-featured word processor like MS WORD, or who require more control over formatting, you might try OPENOFFICE's WRITER or ABIWORD. Rather than reinventing the wheel, you can download a screenplay template from the DEPENDENT FILMS TOOLS & UTILITIES FOR FILMMAKERS web page in .doc format and modify it to your liking.

Once the script is written...


Unless you're truly planning to do-it-yourself, you'll be bringing in people to help with various tasks which means managing partners, employees, and zombies, etc. Communication and collaboration is the key in any film making environment..

I like the idea of an Internet-based "virtual" office where all cast and crew members have access to important information related to the production. This should be a central clearing house for sharing information and planning for your production. For those with access to some sort of web hosting with PHP and MYSQL support, you may want to look into "groupware" like DOTPROJECT. While these applications are not designed specifically for film and video production, they afford plenty of tools for project management, including messaging, calender, to-do lists, contact lists, etc. You can try a demo of DOTPROJECT and other "groupware" at OPENSOURCECMS.COM.

Those without web hosting can look forward to services like ZOOCE.CO.UK and possibly CINEMATRIX INDUSTRIAL 5.0(WIN XP) both still in beta, which portend a future of online film budgeting services. In the meantime, you could cobble together simple services with Mozilla's THUNDERBIRD email client and calendar either as the stand-alone SUNBIRD or as the add-on LIGHTENING. Google also offers a web-based calendar called appropriately enough GOOGLE CALENDAR.

Once your office is up and running...


Budgeting, of course, is traditionally the work of spreadsheet application. If you've already installed the previously discussed OPENOFFICE, CALC, part of it's suite of programs, is probably the natural first place to turn. Again, simply download a spreadsheet template in .xls format from the DEPENDENT FILMS TOOLS & UTILITIES FOR FILMMAKERS page and you're off and running. Afterwards, upload your worksheets to the appropriate DOTPROJECT file folder on your server. You can also save these worksheets to the appropriate project folder in CELTX for upload and sharing.

Another approach for budgeting might be to try Google's web-based DOCS & SPREADSHEETS which are similar web-based applications hosted on Google's servers.

While spreadsheets are good for budgeting, you will probably want to use asmall-business financial-accounting program similar to QUICKBOOKS. One good open source solution available is TURBOCASH. Another promising, although not yet cross-platform and fully functioning application, is GNUCASH . Not only can these help with individual productions, but you could manage your whole studio with them. Including inventory and distribution.

Of course, film production requires a multitude of forms and agreements. You can find plenty to download at PAULZADIE.COM. as well as the previously mentioned DEPENDENT FILMS TOOLS & UTILITIES FOR FILMMAKERS. Windows users at this point may find PDF CREATER helpful to create .pdf versions to be sent as email attachments to cast and crew.

CELTX has plenty of colloraborative features for breaking down a script, etc. (If you didn't write the script in CELTX initially, look into importing your .doc or similar file for breakdown.) As each of the departments begin to breakdown the script, their work goes into the budget.

In the meantime, the director and craftspeople should be busy "pre-visualizing" the film. One of the newest features of CELTX is storyboarding. Other stand alone options include STORYBOARD PRO and DIRECTOR'S BOARDS . I would imagine OPENOFFICE'S IMPRESS could also be used to create and present a storyboard presentation.

If you're looking for more complexity in your "pre-visualization" including animatics you may consider BLENDER 3D. First and foremost an animation tool, BLENDER 3D was used with some success in the planning of SPIDERMAN 2. I'll hope to have a chance to discuss BLENDER 3D in more depth in an upcoming article.

You will also find a number of online calculators like the SUNRISE/SUNSET CALCULATOR helpful during the pre-production phase. You can find a multitude of other calculators at HTTP://WWW.MARTINDALECENTER.COM/CALCULATORS.HTML.

Once planning is complete, and principle photography has begun...


This usually means at the very least a website viewable by the public. This can be as simple as a free membership page on MYSPACE.COM. Or, you could use Google's BLOGGER.

You could also build your own website from scratch using the DREAMWEAVER-type wysiwyg html editing application called NVU. Graphics can be easily added using the vector graphics program INKSCAPE and image manipulation program THE GIMP.

If you're really ambitious you may want to try one of the many "content management systems" or CMS available. For STUNTKITTYFILMS.COM we use DRUPAL whose source code was used for the successful 2004 Howard Dean Campaign. It's benefits include a large user base with many modules which can be added to supplement your site with almost any feature imaginable. Once again, you can try anyone of these at OPENSOURCECMS.COM

Additionally, you're going to want to start a mailing list for fans of film and company to push information about the production down the road. Of course you can manage addresses and post manually using the THUNDERBIRD email client. A better choice is to install a mailing list manager like PHPLIST, DADA MAIL or GNU MAILMAN. Installation is a bit involved, but once they're up and running they collect emails and broadcast newsletters with ease. There's even a MASSMAILER module for DRUPAL to work with the PHPLIST engine.

Once in post-production, software becomes really important again...


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest BLENDER 3D should be the central post-production node of your FOSS studio. Some of you are probably thinking that should be the position of an NLE. Unfortunately, there is no one great free cross-platform dedicated NLE to be the central node of post-production.

There is a long list of competitors, and different ways to go. JAHSHAKA seems to be trying the hardest, but frankly I've been unsuccessful installing it up to this point. A better option might be the simple cross-platform AVIDEMUX for the assembling of footage. You can view a list of other NLE applications broken down by platform at HTTP://TV.ISG.SI/.

While initially designed as a modelling and 3D Animation application, I find myself returning to BLENDER 3D for everything from titles, to effects, green screen, compositing and editing. I'll talk more about this in an upcoming article, but this one definitely belongs in your toolbox.

For projects requiring an After Effects-type photo manipulation over time application, you may look into ZS4 . This "free as in beer" (Their tagline, not mine) application seems to offer alot of the same features from titling, motion graphics, chroma keying and compositing.

Don't forget audio. AUDACITY is the hands down favorite cross-platform application for recording and mixing of audio.

Occasionally you may find you need to grab video from a DVD to include in your timeline. HANDBRAKE is the answer for ripping material from DVDs. Just make sure you have permission to use the footage.

Once your film is completed, you're going to think about presentation...


You may forget AVI and QUICKTIME are proprietary formats. Someday soon you will be able to choose OGG THEORA by XIPH. It's an open source format solution allowing you to create files comparable to MPG-4 for streaming.

If you plan to go to DVD, use AVIDEMUX to encode your video MPEG-2 and DVDSTYLER to create menus and an ISO image. You can test the disc image with the VIDEO LAN PLAYER, a FOSS player known for being able to play anything under the sun. If you already have a DVD menu you want to tweak, or just want to learn about their construction download PGCEDIT. When finished, it will call IMGBURN (WIN) to burn final DVD. Mac users can simply use DISK UTILITY (included with MAC OSX).

The future of distribution, or at least Hollywood's future, may be peer-to-peer file sharing by way of BIT TORRENT. I'm not sure how this will all play out but you can dip your toes in with the java-based client AZUREUS, or a FIREFOX add-on called FOXTORRENT and start sharing.


30 Must-Have Video Apps

Mohawke's Best of the Best Free and Open Source Software Collection

Toolshed @ filmmaker.net


ROB ROBINSON is a founding member of STUNT KITTY FILMS, an independent producer of no-budget entertainment.

Coming Soon: Part 3

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