Kickstarting your indie filmmaking career

Cinematographer Tania Freimuth guides us through the process of producing an independent film, sharing practical tips about what to shoot, getting the most from your kit, and how to collaborate with others.
Cinematographer Tania Freimuth leans over a Canon EOS C70, which is attached to a tripod.

Cinematographer Tania Freimuth says that making a short, independent film is an excellent way to flex your creative muscles, and offers advice for making it a reality. "When shooting, make a plan A, a plan B and a plan C to cover any eventualities such as weather issues, and so that you can make the best use of your time," she advises as a starting point. © Tim Coleman

Canon Ambassador Tania Freimuth has come a long way since starting out in the film industry as a clapper loader, recently working on the critically acclaimed short drama Kid Pitfall; on Little Darlings, a live-action comedy-drama miniseries for Sky Kids, as DoP; and on Cyn, a short film about John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia. But despite working with large crews on big-budget productions, Tania continues to also invest her creative energy in personal indie film projects.

"You're going to need so much passion," says Tania, who is based in the UK. "Making a film in itself is tough. If you're going to make an independent film, it is a challenging journey personally. You are exposing a side of yourself. You're having to dig deep to really understand the truth behind what's motivating you to make the work. You're not doing it for any sort of corporate or commercial reasons. It's purely driven by your creativity and passion. That's key."

Here, Tania shares her tips on how to make a short film and explains why she believes the Canon EOS C70 is an ideal camera for indie filmmakers.

Filmmaker Tania Freimuth sits in a leather armchair in front of shelves filled with cameras, lenses and books.

1. A plan is essential

If you are fizzing with creative ideas, then these ideas need to be organised in order to play their part in producing a fully realised indie film. Many indie filmmakers will have experienced that moment of arriving on location and opening the kitbag, only to realise something important has been left behind. Whether it's props or camera kit, Tania recommends a checklist. "I would say check, and double check," she says. "Make sure you've got everything with you, because once you're a mile down the road, you really don't want to be turning around and coming back to get something."

Of course, there's more to planning than practical considerations. Tania pinpoints a shot list as fundamental to her process and the success of her indie film shoots. "The great thing about a shot list is that you've got a point of reference for what you've shot, so when you get to the logging process afterwards, they marry up with each other," Tania enthuses.

In a similar way to a shot list, a shot log acts as an early post-production edit. "It's the moment at which I review all my material and figure out which take is best," says Tania. "It's also instructive if, as was the case with my current project, I decide I need some additional pickups. I never would have been able to know that without my shot log."

A black and white photograph of a road intersection. There is a damaged Stop sign on the right, and many palm trees along the far edge of the road. There is no traffic visible.

In her current personal project that's yet to be named, Tania incorporates black and white photos taken during a road trip in the USA against videos shot using the Canon EOS C70 that are also converted to black and white. "It's a film based on my own feelings so I can juxtapose within the edit between stuff that could be a dreamscape, almost an imagined experience, with the material that has come out as photographs," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO320. © Tania Freimuth

A person holds a Canon EOS C70 camera down at the side of their body.

It is important to remember that each element plays a part in the final product. Tania says you must remember the fundamentals. "The location, the story you are telling, the kit you're going to use: these are things that you have to have in place to tell a story," she says. © Tim Coleman

2. Consider funding and kit

Indie filmmakers can often find themselves as a crew of just one. Resourcefulness and resilience are necessary throughout production, and all along the journey, if you want to see your initial idea making it all the way to the big screen.

It's a voyage that begins long before a film goes into production, of course. Crucially, there is the question of funding. The typical path for new indie filmmakers to fund their projects is through investors, crowdfunding, grants or loans. Tania's big break as a cinematographer came when she won the Kodak Student Commercial Awards, which saw her receive camera equipment and prize money. These plus her continued resourcefulness gave her a platform from which to build her career and keep creating for years to come.

Her current solo project – a road-trip film – has been drawn out, with initial photographs and videos shot pre-pandemic using the Canon EOS R. When it came to filming pickup shots, Tania shot some on the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, but more recently began using the Canon EOS C70. Tania asks herself a few questions before she uses a camera, and the EOS C70 checked all the boxes. "It's about the portability and the weight of it," she says. "Can I use my existing lenses with it? How manageable is it overall? The EOS C70 was brilliant and so straightforward. I've already got EF lenses and the Canon Mount Adaptor EF-EOS R 0.71x was great for maintaining the field of vision that I'm accustomed to with full-frame lenses. It has the added bonus of an additional stop of light, so the lenses become faster too."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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As one of Canon's smallest cinema cameras, packing professional Cinema EOS features into a mirrorless camera form factor, the EOS C70 is designed with solo operators in mind. Firmware update strengthens the EOS C70's offering for indie filmmakers, introducing Eye Tracking AF as a key feature. Canon Europe Product Marketing Specialist, Ram Sarup, says: "Eye tracking AF builds upon the existing EOS iTR AF X (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) system, which already offers quick and accurate subject and head tracking. Now with the addition of Eye detection and tracking, you can rest assured knowing your subjects' eyes are always in focus, which is critical especially when capturing 4K content. Face Detection AF and Eye Detection AF are now possible in Slow & Fast shooting modes too, covering 24fps to 120fps."

Cinematographer Tania Freimuth crouches down to arrange colourful flowers on a gravel road. A Canon EOS C70 camera is set up on a tripod to film the flowers.

Firmware update on the Canon EOS C70 expands the support for XF-AVC Intra-Frame recording, offering a selection of high efficiency 4K ALL-I formats up to 60p at 600Mbps, giving you greater options and flexibility when capturing 4K footage.

A black and white photograph of a telegraph pole strung with wires, on the border between a road and a ploughed field.

"Exposure can be a bit of trial and error, but I can check the waveform monitor and toggle between different ND settings to get an exposure that is correct for my personal tastes," says Tania of her shooting preferences. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO200. © Tania Freimuth

3. Employ creative tricks

In the scaled-down world of indie film, with crew and full lighting typically absent from the picture, filmmakers like Tania often turn to cinematographic tricks in order to create a look that they are happy with. "Consider your camera position in relation to light and where you want to put your exposure, as well as focusing the viewers' attention on where you want it," she says. "And in the absence of [cine] filters, depth of field can add texture to an image. I shoot in Canon Log and the highest bit depth and colour spacing available, too, for the flexibility it provides when grading the images.

"The Canon EOS C70's built-in ND filters were crucial to me to get a good exposure," Tania says of her current solo film, discussed in the video above. "Finding a balance of the exposure was tricky at times, but the camera's accessibility was just brilliant in enabling me to check the waveform monitor to toggle between different ND settings and get an exposure that was correct for my personal tastes."

A consistent look also matters, which has been possible because the Canon EOS C300 III and the Canon EOS C70 have the same image sensor. Tania shoots her footage in Log colour profile for a flatter tonality to edit from, accentuating colour and contrast afterwards.

A black and white photograph of tracks filled with water leading through an overgrown field, surrounded by bare trees.

Tania began her latest project prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, shooting initial photographs and videos to help gather her creative ideas. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/500 sec, f/5 and ISO200. © Tania Freimuth

A black and white photograph looking up into the air, showing a 'V' of birds moving right, above several tall palm trees.

For her personal project, Tania tried to capture pictures that reflected and allowed her to put beats into the film. Personality and individuality are crucial to her film. "You need to be your authentic self. You'll get more recognition than when you're being a parody of somebody you don't know," she muses. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/160 sec, f/22 and ISO200. © Tania Freimuth

4. Collaborate with other professionals

Tania believes that filmmaking is a collaborative process and each role is a craft in its own right. She highlights the importance of the role that composers and editors can play. "When I'm making my own films, I find it really important to work with an editor," she says. "They bring something to the process that I find invaluable; another perspective. Having that person to work with allows me to further develop some ideas that are buried within what I've shot, and bring them to the front.

"Finding somebody to watch the film is the next step," Tania continues. "Sometimes I don't have many ideas around how that might happen, but the person I'm working with on this road trip film has plenty of ideas, and we'll go on that journey together, which will mean submitting it to various film festivals. It is a companion piece to some photographs, so I'm now reimagining how I exhibit those photographs to incorporate into the film, too, so that's another journey."

In the end, Tania simply stresses the importance of being an individual and facing the challenges head-on. "If it feels good and you want to, do it," she says. "I think it's important to do your own work. It also tests your resilience because being a filmmaker is challenging. There's a lot of focus on 'Why should I do it if nobody's going to see it?' and I've asked myself this question as well. I think the point is that everybody has a way of expressing themselves, and it's important to do that."

n image shot by Roxy Furman of a puffin with its wings outstretched in sharp focus, while the plants in the foreground and sky in the background are blurred.

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