Money is, by definition, always a difficult issue for the low budget filmmaker. The challenge is in getting as much of your meagre budget up on the screen as possible. With that being the case do you really have the money to throw around on overpriced software packages?
Luckily, by the wonders of open source development, just about every £500 software package has its freebie equivalent.
These packages give you an entire office set up for every stage of the filmmaking process, from drawing up budgets and schedules, writing your script right through to advanced editing and special effects. All for a most reasonable price. Free.
For The Office
Open Office – Equivalent to Microsoft Office
Word and Excel, absolutely essential in running your office but at an annoyingly high price. Not to mention the need to buy it all over again to run on a Mac. So why bother? Open Office has all the features of the Office package in a nicely familiar layout. As a bonus it’s compatible with Mac and PC and can work with Microsoft files. So long Bill Gates.
Celtx – Equivalent to Final Draft
If you’re going to get anywhere as a writer then you’re going to have to make sure your scripts are properly formatted. Final Draft’s £200+ price tag mocks the penniless writer, whereas Celtx welcomes him with open arms. Celtx’s range of features is very impressive, functioning perfectly as an intuitive screenwriting package and also offers a complete scheduling and scene breakdown solution.
An impressive collection of software, the KOffice project is similar to Open Office in many respects but has a couple of extras thrown in too.
Skype – Equivalent to expensive international calls
It’s a wonder anyone is paying the extortionate rates of international phone charges anymore. Get Skype, talk cheap.
For Video Editing
An incredibly powerful editing package that is head and shouldes above all other freebie editing packages. Lightworks has features that even some of the big packages don’t have without the addition of expensive plugins. With a strong community supporting it, this is only going to get better.
HyperEngine-AV – Equivalent to Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro
A decent editing package. A step up from the likes of imovie though still not up to the professional standards of the pricey packages. For simple edits though, you could do a lot worse.
One of the best free editing packages out there. Avidemux allows you to do basic cutting, apply filters and work with a wide variety of different file types. It gets better with each release.
Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Videospin
These lightweight freebie editors should not be overlooked entirely. For quick edits and changes there’s no need for the big guns.
Avid Free DV
This was a great idea but has sadly been discontinued by Avid. Avid Free DV is a free version of their high end editing software, preserving the interface but removing many of the advanced features. Great for simple editing whilst also learning your way around Avid. Copies are still floating around online, though now it’s unsupported it is just going to get more out of date with time. Get it while it’s still useful.
Another powerful, professional encoding and conversion tool. It accepts even the most obscure video formats and can even download YouTube videos.
A powerful encoding tool that can read and convert just about any video file format.
DCP Builder – Equivalent to taking your project to an expensive post house
Want to screen your film at the utmost quality? Modern digital projectors require something called a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). Most post houses will charge you several thousands for the privilege, even for a short. DCP Builder is free.
Magic Bullet Quick Looks Free 1.4
The video equivalent of photoshop. Worth every penny…
For Image Editing
Gimp – Equivalent to Photoshop
Photoshop is the worlds most pirated piece of software and for good reason. It mixes an essential, practical and intuitive set of tools with an obscenely high price tag. So if piracy is not your thing, then try out this brilliant, yet strangely named, free alternative. Gimp’s impressive set of features rivals that of Photoshop and is expanding all the time. The ability to open and save photoshop files also makes it very easy to jump back and forth.
Inkscape – Equivalent to Adobe Illustrator
When creating titles and logos, you are going to need to use vector graphics. Once upon a time that meant the man from Adobe ransacking your pockets. Not anymore. Inkscape does it all.
Lighter on features than Gimp but a lot less clunky. If you just want to do a basic image touch up then give this a shot.
Audacity – Equivalent to Pro Tools
Your film is going to need a great sound mix if it’s going to stand up to the professionals. To get this done you are going to need the powerful tools that Audacity provides.
The perfect way to compose a score for your movie. Frinika offers MIDI sequencing, audio recording and mixing.
For Animation and Effects
Blender – Equivalent to Maya, 3DS Max
The big 3D modelling and animating packages will set you back thousands of pounds, a price that sets a solid barrier against the beginning 3D modeller. How are people able to learn to use it? The answer is Blender. The results that Blender has produced are truly stunning and it has already been used to create effects for feature films as well as animated shorts. There is a heavy reliance on shortcut keys which makes it a very steep learning curve for beginners.
This animation package takes a lot of the pain out of creating 3D animations, allowing you to construct environments and characters with ease out of thousands of customisable templates. Perfect for practising animation or for creating previz for your film.
Synfig – Equivalent to Flash
Whether you’re looking to create simple web animations or looking for a program to animate film quality images then Synfig is for you. Offering much of Flash’s feature set as well as tools entirely of it’s own making, Synfig provides an outlet for the budding 2D animator.
Jahshaka – Equivalent to After Effects
You’re heading into complex territory here. Recently renamed CineFX, Jahshaka aims to be a one stop visual effects suite. While Jahshaka does have an impressive feature set, it is possibly too unreliable and glitchy for use on larger projects, but for simple effects you can’t go wrong.
Perfect for finalising your film. Cinepaint allows you to do a careful retouch of your footage, frame by frame, or just clean up still images.
For Website Creation
Compozer – Equivalent to Dreamweaver
You are going to need a website and you are probably going to want to put your own one together rather than relying on well worn template tools like wordpress. Kompozer can do it all.
An FTP management tool for your website. Sure, it’s not fun, but it is important.
Other Useful Tools
You may already have this one without even knowing it. I did. Try doing a search on your Mac’s hard disk. This little utility can shrink PDF files down to minuscule sizes with very little drop in quality. Ideal when sending out screenplays, press kits etc.
A simple DVD authoring solution that allows you to work with multiple formats, add subtitle streams and create menus easily.
Rip DVDs at high quality. A simple design and workflow gets the job done in a couple of clicks.
I only just discovered this one and am now not entirely sure how I coped without it. Mediainfo opens any video file and tells you exactly what codecs and settings were used to create it. Essential.
The video player that plays everything. Essential.