The creative side of filmmaking is hard enough, so tackling the logistical nightmare of the process can seem near impossible. That’s why we wanted to recommend a few tools for filmmakers that will make your process more efficient.
We know, we know, a list of tools for filmmakers doesn’t seem like a normal Musicbed article. While we generally focus on the creative side, we think there’s also something to be said for using tools to leave more room for creativity. Essentially, isn’t that what a good tool is supposed to do anyway?
We reached out to some of our filmmaking friends to ask them about what they use to simplify and make their processes more efficient. From a certain perspective, this post is about community, which is quite possibly the most underutilized tool of all. You never know what you’ll get until you ask for it, and by picking the brain of your talented peers, you’re sure to get some gems. Take a note from these filmmakers and be sure to pass your own information and insider “secrets” to up-and-comers.
You may be using many of these tools, or you may not. But, if you find one thing that will make your film life a bit easier, then we think this post was worth it. So, without further ado, here are 10 essential tools for filmmakers—along with a few quotes from the people who recommended them.
Quick note: Neither Musicbed nor the filmmakers in this article have been paid to endorse these products. We just like them.
As filmmakers, sometimes the screen is our enemy. Attention spans are in short supply and distractions are certainly not, so finding a focusing app is a great way to make sure you’re staying on-task. Pomodoro apps (The Pomodoro Technique is essentially a 25-minute focus timing technique) are simple ways to make sure you’re making the most of your time and staying on task. Essentially, it’s a distilled task manager you can manage by yourself.
With several options (check out Be Focused, PomoDoneApp, Focus Booster) these tools are one of the simplest ways to improve your workflow. Here’s Evolve’s Executive Vice President Jesse Edwards on why he loves them:
“Pomodoro apps are a fantastic time management tool that are perfect for optimizing development, writing, and production tasks done on a desktop. In a world of over-complicated apps, it’s refreshing to see something that I can actually use.”
Director Cole Sax recently completed his award-winning (and partially Musicbed-funded) documentary Second Sight after three years of hard work and determination. The process involved pitching to non-profits, location scouting in multiple countries, casting from a remote location, and, of course, all of the normal stuff that needs to be done in productions. To keep his sanity, he recommended StudioBinder:
“I like to use StudioBinder to format my shot list. They make it very simple and user-friendly.”
There aren’t many pieces of efficiency software that are built specifically for the filmmaking process—especially those that are done well. But StudioBinder’s team obviously knows the ins and outs, because they’ve developed a tool that seems to predict what a filmmaker needs when they need it. It can help you tackle call sheets, script breakdowns, shooting schedules, storyboards, and much more.
There’s a handful of communication apps out there, but in our book (and in our office) Slack is far-and-away the go-to option. Communication throughout the film process, from pre-production all the way to distribution, is absolutely key—and Slack is the perfect example of everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Do you tackle client work on a regular basis? Temporarily add clients to a new workspace to communicate quickly and effectively. Create channels dedicated to different parts of your team’s process, divided by department (an editing channel, coloring channel, etc.). There are dozens of helpful options with this app and almost all of them are going to make you, your team, and your process more efficient.
Artemis Prime Viewfinder (+ Artemis Pro App)
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the on-set side of things. Recommended by DP Kendall Rittenour, the Artemis Prime Digital Viewfinder is a bit of investment but also a game-changer for anyone behind the camera or directing on-set.
The beauty of this tool is that it takes the guesswork and unpredictability out of the visual planning for a film. With Artemis Prime, you can use the viewfinder to mount any lens and digitally view a recreation of the image on your smartphone or tablet. For location scouts, this gives you the ability to accurately visualize what the film will look like in a certain location without needing to haul a production’s-worth of gear along. For directors, you can get a real-time view of what their DP is seeing as the film is being shot.
Chemical Wedding, who developed the companion app that works alongside the viewfinder, actually won an Emmy for it in 2018. Want further proof? It’s also been used regularly by Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki, so there’s that. You can download the app on the iOS store and find the viewfinder on Chemical Wedding’s website.
I Love PDF
Sometimes it seems like the production process is simply a series of emails, many of which involve sending incredible large PDF files. The solution? Here’s Producer Rachel Leach:
“ilovepdf.com! Once you start compressing, you’ll never go back. There’s rarely ever any quality loss, and your file sizes get reduced by like 98% every time. And it’s free.”
There’s not a whole lot to say about this one, but it doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly valuable. Save time while uploading your treatments and pitches—and save your collaborators’ sanity by reducing large file sizes while not sacrificing resolution.
There are also more than a dozen other free, PDF-related tools on their site, including PDF split and merge, file conversions, watermarks, and more.
Clearance & Copyright
Absolutely no one gets into filmmaking to deal with paperwork and legal issues—at least, we’ve never met that person. But, there’s nothing that can crush your dreams faster than a copyright infringement suit or some other sort of litigation. So, when we asked MinusL Producer Craig DiBiase about what he recommends, he gave this answer:
“While this probably isn’t the sexist answer, the book, Clearance & Copyright helped us immensely with our first documentary as we navigated through the world of fair use in film.”
He and his took recently took on their first feature-length documentary (Tough Guys, which recently got picked up by Showtime) and they were able to pull of the production by being scrappy and self-sufficient. And books like Clearance & Copyright were a big part of it.
We can’t do a tools for filmmakers post without adding ourselves, right? The entire reason we’re here is to make filmmakers’ processes (and lives) better, and we believe in our product so much that we’re just going to drop ourselves here. But, don’t take it from us, here’s Stink Studios’ Executive Producer Omid Fatemi talking about working with us on the TUMI campaign with Chris Pratt:
“This process in projects like this, especially the music, can be pretty difficult. We had a lot of constraints, but working with Musicbed made it really easy. It’s fundamental to why I like to work with you guys—you see the bigger picture, which is helpful.”
Beyond 700+ incredible artists handpicked for filmmakers, our platform is built with your process in mind. You can track down your song with intuitive filters like BPM, Build, Key, and dozens more. You can explore 100+ playlists curated for filmmakers and creatives. It’s all there to make your process simple, easy, and, dare we say, fun. You can create a free account here.
A quick shoutout to our freelance friends out there! For those living in the wild west of the film world, you know that freelance filmmaking is more than creative work—you also have to run a small business. For us, that seems like a daunting prospect, but this helpful program from Quickbooks is a game-changer.
It’s the perfect way to keep track of the nuts and bolts of your business in a simple, easy-to-use dashboard. You can send invoices, track expenses and profits, and even record miles automatically for those pitch meetings.
Quickbooks’ bread and butter is taxes, and they’ve taken a lot of mystery out of that process, too. Their program will give you an accurate prediction of quarterly taxes you owe and also recommend ways to save on taxes by filing deductions you may not have even known about.
Ryan Trommer, Senior VFX artist at Evolve, knows a thing or two about collaborating with teams clients, and he said Frame.io is essential: “It’s a great tool for internal and client reviews.”
Their interface is simple and intuitive, allowing you to navigate files and film versions quickly. You and your team can leave comments and mark frames on video files, and their software plays friendly with Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and After Effects. It’s great for treatment reviews too, with the ability to mark up stills.
Our good friends at Frame.io never rest when it comes to improving their platform, and their cloud-based service is the epitome of convenience for filmmakers. There’s no better way to review rough cuts and drafts with your team and clients than with Frame.io. Also, sidenote: they have a pretty incredible blog, too, featuring exhaustive articles with high-level editors and filmmakers.
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about our editing friends. Recommended by a few different post-production professionals we’ve spoken with over the years, EDL Hacker is a hidden gem that does one thing and does it very well.
With this simple, straight-forward site, you can convert your EDL files into spreadsheets quickly and easily. It’s one of the fastest ways to track down individual events and data in the post-production process. It’s completely free, but you can donate to it’s creators on the site if you feel so inclined.
We reached out to a lot of filmmakers and they had a lot of great recommendations. We couldn’t put them all in this list, but here’s a rapid-fire rundown of a few of them:
Mocha Pro / Mocha AE
Red Giant Pluraleyes
Beat Sheet by Blake Synder
StoryMaps by Daniel P Calvisi
Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
Coffee (recommended four separate times)
Grass-fed beef sticks
Stumptown Nitro Cold Brew, also known as coffee
Stand-up desk with a treadmill
Espresso machine, which produces a form of coffee
This is not a complete list of tools for filmmakers because that post is probably impossible to write. No one can know the tools that make your life better unless you tell them, so if you’re inspired to do anything by the article, we hope it’s that you share something helpful with one of your own peers.
Filmmaking can be a lonely game, but it doesn’t have to be. So, help out a filmmaker and share any tools for filmmakers that you recommend on our Facebook page.