Digital Filmmaking Tools: Mike Collins Toolbox.

Mike Collins is director and cinematographer at Cinema Mercantile. You can follow Mike on Twitter here: @Mikespins, and Cinema Mercantile here: @CineMercantile 

Mike Collins is director and cinematographer at Cinema Mercantile. You can follow Mike on Twitter here: @Mikespins, and Cinema Mercantile here: @CineMercantile 

Physical pieces of gear, such as cameras, lenses, lights, and stabilizers, are often spoken about when it comes to filmmaking. You know, this camera has the best low-light ability, this lens has beautiful bokeh, or this stabilizer will allow you to move your camera in ways previously unimaginable. And while it’s true, physical gear does play a big part in bringing films to life, there are so many more tools required in the filmmaking process.

Specifically we’re talking about digital tools—programs, apps, services—that make for a seamless creation and distribution process for all types of films. And just like there are a several 50mm lens options for you to choose from, there are often multiple options for each type of digital filmmaking tool.

To help filter through the options, we’ve started a series of blog posts we’re calling “Digital Toolbox,” where we’ll be enlisting the help of Story & Heart filmmakers to share the programs and apps they use day-in-day-out in their filmmaking process and business.

To kick this series of, we spoke with Mike Collins, Story & Heart filmmaker and fan of “getting the job done without a lot of drama or wasted time figuring things out.”

Here are 6 indispensable tools found in Mike Collins Digital Toolbox


1. DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit

Like many of my peers I really owe my start and early success stories to the Canon 5Dmk2. I don’t think we can overstate how important it was to an entire generation of filmmakers. In that spirit, my first essential piece of the toolkit is an IOS app called DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit. While I have moved on from using a 5D or any DSLR-style camera, this is an app that I will never take off of my phone as it has a ton of useful features that I still use, such as the viewfinder and slate.

For the viewfinder I select the Cinema EOS camera I am using and can switch focal lengths to check framing. I don’t have to have my camera with me on a site survey and I can capture images at various focal lengths for preproduction reference later.

Even though we have master audio running to the camera, with the wide shot it’s still helpful to the editor to have an audible and visible reference for slating. Which means you will never regret having a digital slate in your pocket.

DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit also has a Depth of Field Calculator, Sunrise/Sunset time for your location, and a shot log, which are all useful tools.

2. OffLoad by RedGiant

Once I’ve actually filmed my project the next thing I do is manage media. As a director and cinematographer I almost never took care of this—it was usually something the editor or producer did. But, personally, I enjoy having a guiding hand on the project throughout and have taken on those duties myself. I use OffLoad from RedGiant, which they refer to as “Director Proof,” but I’d also like to add that it’s “Mike Proof.” OffLoad has an incredibly simple interface that’s fast and reliable: You select your media source, you select your primary location and then a backup location to save to, and then you hit start—that’s it. You can watch the progress as it goes or just move on to something else as it does it’s thing.

When it comes to saving and backing up footage you don’t want to leave anything to chance, and OffLoad let’s me sleep easier on the road. I know it works and I know the footage is now in two places—it’s worth every penny.

3. EditReady by Divergent Media

I’m a big fan of playing with LUTS (look up tables) in the field. While a monitor would enable me to film with a LUT applied, and to check looks on location, I generally don’t use one. Instead, I like to do that when I am reviewing footage, which EditReady allows me to do (and more). When reviewing footage I can apply different LUTS to get an idea for which direction I may want to push color in. And if the project calls for it, I can also use EditReady to export into a different format quickly. It’s a super useful tool that I have on multiple machines.

I don’t spend money wildly on tools but I do try to spend smartly. And a bit part of that is using digital tools that make life easier and allow me to do multiple things within one program—which EditReady does perfectly.

4. Spaces by Hightail

With Spaces I take cuts (and other files, such as logos, LUTS, etc) and upload them to share with my team and with clients.

Working with our friends JANE Motorcycles in Brooklyn, we were able to view the final cut of their film in near real time together from different locations and comment. They would make a note from their Space in Brooklyn and I would get an immediate notification. I would read their comment and reply. They then got a notification and we were able to review their piece and make notes on their requested changes without having to go to them or for them to come to me.

Hightail also has a massive file transfer application as well. We’ve used that a ton to send footage back to the editors we work with in Brooklyn and Jersey City. I remember being in Chicago and uploading footage to Hightail that our editors could then download and begin cutting. That’s a timesaver when I’m not scheduled to get back until the following week and they need to get started. I don’t have to put a drive into FedEx and send it overnight at great cost to the client. This means I don’t need to have yet another drive with me on the road to protect against damage or loss in shipping.

5. Squarespace

While I am certainly a creative guy, my talents don’t run to web design or coding. I can articulate what I like, but that doesn’t mean I can create it, which is why I use Squarespace. It’s a turnkey web design and hosting service, wrapped in a beautiful and affordable package. Squarespace took the design out of my hands by providing clean, contemporary designs that I can customize to match my brand perfectly. I now have an easy to use site that, most importantly, is beautiful and visual.

I’ve always been a fan of the way fellow cinematographer James Miller has colored his work, and he’s been building custom LUTS for his own projects for a while. I was stoked then when I found out he was releasing different sets of his own custom LUTS for purchase. I now have every set James has released and use them with everything. Like web design, I can tell you what I like when it comes to color but I’m in no way a colorist and couldn’t begin to build, for instance, a fashion color grade. With Deluts I have an arsenal of LUTS to choose from and apply. Then I can go in and tweak them to taste and appropriateness for the project. It’s yet another tool that I use on pretty much everything.

If there is one overriding theme in all of these tools, it’s that they all make life easier for Mike which allows him to focus on doing what he loves — making awesome films.

We’d love to hear from you. What are some of the digital tools in your kit that help you bring your films to life?