By Max Houghton
Admit it, we've all thought about it. Anyone who has spent more than their fair share of time looking at life through a lens has at least toyed with the idea of making a film. The imaginative leap of faith isn't most people's stumbling block, however ... it's usually the thought of the huge amounts of cash that would inevitably be swallowed up in the name of art.

Until very recently, 'films' were either Hollywood blockbusters with a budget to match - or your brother's wedding video. Now, as digital video becomes more and more widely accepted as a credible broadcast medium, there's a third way. And what's more, it is affordable.

In an attempt to demystify the process, elucid8 spent a day with Brighton filmmakers Simon Wilkinson and Paul Dutnall who, as Junk TV, have been making and screening their own acclaimed lo-and-no-budget films for the last three years, as well as running 'make a film in a day' workshops.

"We've got where we are by just doing it, rather than sitting around talking about it," says Simon. "We're self taught like most people in this country ... by making a lot of terrible films, we learnt how to make good ones."

"I used to get pretty blanked by all the computer jargon which we now unfortnately speak," admits Paul. "It took me ages to figure out what a gigabyte was. But it's just like learning to read or write, you have to learn the language first."

Before we delve into the world of firewires and capture cards, let's first inspect the most important piece of kit: the camera. Paul and Simon chose a Canon XM1. A main factor in their choice was the high-quality fluorite 4.2-84mm lens, with its brilliant refracting quality and x20 zoom. With aperture settings f2.8 - f11 and shutter speeds 50-16000, the only flaw they've discovered so far is that it's not so great for very low light conditions, with a lux setting of 10. The XM1 cost about £1500; you don't have to spend that much, but although the recording mechanism on cheaper cameras is the same, the optic quality is inferior, using 1 chip instead of 3 to take in all the information.

The great advantage of digital over analogue is that it's a lossless format: "We film at a very high resolution and we capture it on our computer; it's transferred digitally through a firewire, edited digitally, then captured digitally again. It's as clean and sharp as whatever you shoot and the resolution is much higher than hi8."

"Mini dv is the way forward for the next five years; the whole concept of what is broadcast quality is changing. The consumer end of video is so good now, there's no reason why it shouldn't be broadcast."

Indeed, documentaries like Dispatches and programmes such as Trigger Happy TV are all using DV. The difference is apparent, even to an untrained eye: DV has a look of its own - very sharp, crisp colours, people very distinct from the background.

So, after filming, it's off to the edit suite, then? "Our computers are our edit suites, with exactly the same technology as the rooms with huge black leather sofas and even huger machines. DV is the best method for making independent movies because once you've got the system, it's free," explains Simon.

With DV, the rule is to get the biggest, fastest computer system you can afford. Editing video is probably the most complicated task a computer can perform: it's using 400,000 pixels for each frame, at 25 frames per second. To make it wieldy, the files have to be compressed: digital uses 5:1 compression. Every 5 minutes of video uses 1 gigabyte of hard drive space, so size matters: "We've got 20 gigabyte drives exclusively for video, and you can just keep adding."
Paul's system is DV only - a Pentium 550 megahertz with 35 gigabytes and a DV Raptor card. Simon's personally tailored computer is an AMDK6Z, 400 megabytes with a Matrox analogue capture card. A compatible capture card is essential for smooth, crash-free editing, and it's often a case of trial and error. The DV Raptor card uses a video overlay system, so that it doesn't rely on the cpu to put the images on screen. The camera has to be present throughout the editing process, connected via a firewire to the computer. The Matrox G400 card works by taking analogue information and converting it to DV.

Once the information is safely inside the hard drive, the editing process can be begin. A very simple (and cheap) programme is Avid Cinema, which was designed for making wedding videos. Simon and Paul use it in their 'do-it-in-a-day' workshops, but for Junk TV, they favour Adobe Premiere 5.1, which works a lot like Photoshop - in layers.

In Premiere, the basic cutting and chopping takes place, but it also allows for sound editing and effects. A step on from that is a
dedicated sound programme like Cool Edit Pro, used by radio stations for sound manipulation, and is incredibly precise. Adobe also make After Effects, which is like having a magnifying glass on the effects process, again rendering the end result ultra-precise. Says Paul, "You could use a hundred different programmes to edit your film, and get them all working together, or you could use one."

In Premiere, all effects have to be rendered before they can be viewed, which can be time consuming. Realtime editing is the solution, but again, cost has been a prohibitive factor. The new Matrox RT2000, however, looks set to revolutionise the process. It's a dual stream analogue/DV editing card, and at £938, it's just the right side of affordable.

Once edited, the complete film is captured on a GV300 mini dv walkman. This palm-sized machine is the only piece of equipment required for Junk TV screenings. It's connected to the projector and that's it - you're a broadcast filmmaker.

It's an exciting time for independent filmmakers. The end product is more disposable than film, so people are less precious about it, and because the quality remains the same, it can be copied and set out to hundreds of people. It's instant too. A 35mm film takes so long to make, that the rawness of ideas is often lost in translation. DV has a spontaneity that is very attractive. Says Paul, "We use the
Cartier Bresson approach ... he created some of the most beautiful and enduring pictures of the twentieth century by hanging around in doorways with his Leica set on 125, just waiting for that magic moment. That"s what we can do with DV. We have an idea, go and shoot it that afternoon, and show it that weekend at Junk TV."

Inclusivity is an integral part of the Junk TV ethos. Their maxim 'Anyone can make a film' has been put to the test recently, with the directorial debut of Willow Ritchie, with her twisted horror yarn 'Hello Pudding'. Willow is four years old.

Inspired? You should be: "What's happening now with DV now can be compared to what happened in music 10 years ago. Suddenly, people were able to make very high quality audio from their own homes, and the dance music scene was born. It was totally inaccessible before, because of the cost. And because of the cost implications, there was a hierarchy of elitism. There still is, but it's being broken down, and we're taking great pleasure in doing it!"

The Junk TV address is www.buckinfudgy.com
See also:
www.groovymovie.org
www.undercurrents.org.