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10 Apps That Will Make You a Better (or more effective) Director


Here I Go Again…

Recently I blogged about Hollywood Shot Designer app, a product I’ve come to know and love. And use – on every shoot. I went the next step, geekdom-wise, and even joined their beta team so now I’m one of the people testing new versions before the public gets them. It’s an app I really believe in because it does a few things supremely right:

  • It takes something I already do and makes it faster, easier, and readable by others.
  • It takes the shit work completely out of the equation. The majority of my thoughts while using it are about the creative work I’m doing.
  • It DOESN’T try to think ahead for me, rather it it lets me use it as much – or as little – as I want.
  • When I’m on a set, it’s right there in my pocket – helping me to get rid of my bulky, always-getting-lost binder of random crap.
  • The price ($20) is totally fair.

There are plenty of apps that I won’t list in this post because I’m really just interested here in helping people find stuff that works. Maybe I’ll do a blog later that craps on stuff that doesn’t. Also I should point out that I’m in the Apple universe (iPad, iPhone, Mac computer). I will try to let you know if these are available on other platforms, but I can’t attest to their usefulness outside of Apple’s walled garden.

But, Before I Start….

You coulda been a contender...

You coulda been a contender…

I want to highlight an app that by all rights should be on this list, if only it would let itself become as great as it could be. That app is Dropbox. Just about everyone I know has glommed onto dropbox over the last few years because it took everything that was utilitarian about FTP transferring and made it as easy as putting things in folders.

Every client I work with, every vendor, and yes – many apps use Dropbox to synch stuff across multiple devices. But for some reason in the development of the Drobox app itself, something went wrong. I can load anything onto dropbox from my computer, but even if I have the proper app on my iPad, I often can’t open a dropboxed file in that app. When I trick it into opening a file, I am confronted with a useless pageful of code. I have ZERO doubt that this will be fixed one day, but one day can’t come soon enough.

Please Dropbox, become Neo. Become The One. Be The Cloud.

With all of that in mind, I thought I’d run down some apps that I find actually useful in the real, actual world.

Hollywood Shot Designer (iPhone, iPad, Droid, Mac/PC)

Cost: Free to try, $20 for pro features (which you’ll want)

Hollywood Shot Designer

I put this at the top here, even after writing about it at the top of this post and blogging about it earlier. I do that because I’ve never been so enthusiastic about using an app to do something creative since the first time I saw a word processor. As I said in my blog, I’ve downloaded and played with about every storyboarding app I’ve ever found, and have come to a startling conclusion – if you want to storyboard, learn to draw. Or hire a storyboard artist. As for Previz, if you really need it (because you’re making “Star Wars Episode 7”), chances are that you’re going to work with a professional facility. What most of us really need is Shot Designer, not because it replaces the need for storyboards, but because it creates the information necessary to do them in the first place.

MagicPlan (iPhone, iPad… Maybe Droid some day)

Cost: Free (although if you want non-watermarked plans you’ll have to pay)

Magic Plan

This app falls into almost another realm of what an app can do than anything I’ve ever seen. Basically, center yourself in a room with your iPhone or iPad. Interactively show the app where corners, walls, doors, etc. are. Then it makes a schematic of the room for you. I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy one of the subscription-based plans, but you can pay just $2.50 for one plan and that might really be worth it if you’re planning a shoot of any complexity.

QRSlate (iPhone, iPad, Mac)

Cost: Free for iPad/iPhone slate, $49.99 for the desktop ingest utility (without which the iPad app is useless). So let’s call it $49.99

QRSlate

Since my iPhone 1 days, I’ve experimented with tablet-based slates. I’ve actually purchased a few of them, but most of them had an insurmountable task to overcome – how to be more usable and useful than a regular-old slate. You know, a dry-erase marker board with a clap stick on top, easily purchased for $20-$30? Most of the slate apps looked cooler but when I’m sitting in front of my NLE later, trying to synch material, they offered me NOTHING new.

QRSlate, however, did it VERY differently. When the camera assistant tapped the tablet to make a beep sound for later synching, it also threw up a QR code. That code contains all the metadata (scene/take/circle take, roll, etc.) as well as any script notes that can be input into it. So basically your script sup can input script notes into the slate app and on ingest they’re attached to all your footage via XML (for Premiere and Final Cut users) or whatever it is Avid uses.

Here’s the rub – you have to purchase a $49.99 desktop ingest utility to make the most out of this. And the utility is, shall we say, less-than-totally-elegant. If your QR code is obstructed in any way or is out of focus – or has a spot of glare on it, you’ll have to manually connect the take to your data (a reasonably quick process). The ingest utility is  also somewhat prone to crashes, and doesn’t let you save the session when it would be most useful. But I’d say 2/3 of the time it works flawlessly and the other 1/3 of the time it works pretty-well. Although they haven’t updated it in a while, I sincerely hope the makers of QRSLate update both utilities and turn this into a must-have item on every set.

Final Draft Writer (iPad)

Cost: $39.99

final draft writer

I know there are a lot of other screenwriting apps out there nowadays that get the job done quite well and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to cut the chord to the tried-and-true, sometimes-bloated screenwriting juggernaut that is Final Draft. And sure, the desktop version is overpriced ($250), but at $39.99 you really do get a desktop-worthy app on your iPad. And a huge benefit is that your work is all compatible with anything you’ve ever done without having to port it over to another app and risk having to reformat lots of stuff. They’ve even added some new things – like coloring revised pages and Dropbox synch. My biggest question now is this: how does Final Draft for desktop computers remain at $250 when one can get a full, functioning version for $39.99?

iBooks (iPad, iPhone)

Cost: Free

iBooks

There are a LOT of PDF readers out there, and I’ve tried a bunch of them. But honestly, nothing beats this free reader that comes with the iPad. Why? Feature creep, that’s why. Each PDF reader I’ve encountered has had a horrible need to add ways to annotate, etc. Honestly, I want a simple way to have my script on my iPad at all times, and I want to be able to access it quickly without printing it out. That’s literally ALL I want. If I want to annotate it, I’ll get it in Final Draft format and bring it into Final Draft Writer.

Artemis Director’s Viewfinder (iPhone, Droid)

Cost: $29.99

artemis

Probably the first “expensive” app I ever bought for my iPhone, Artemis falls into the “find one thing and do that exceptionally well” category of apps. For directors, it’s always tricky to visualize the shot before you’re really there doing it. You have to find your lens, then find your frame. And with the tossed salad of formats (full-frame, S35, micro 4/3, 2/3″ CCD, etc.) that filmmakers might be dealing with from show to show, Artemis does all the math to figure out what each lens will see on each camera. And they’re really good about updating it as new cameras come out. I think I could do a separate blog about apps for cameramen (and I won’t at the moment), but this app really helps on set when no other app will do.

Panascout (iPhone)

Cost: Free (“Lite” version), $9.99 (the actual version you will use)

panascout

I use this app on every professional scout I ever do now. It allows you to take a picture and the app uses all the of the guts of the iPhone to record the GPs coordinates of the shot, the magnetometer reading of the exact direction the camera is facing on a compass, when sunrise and sunset is as the location, and emails it off to the production office without a fuss. And although you can crop the shot to your aspect ratio, make no mistake – it’s no Artemis when it comes to lenses and it isn’t trying to be.

ShotList (iPhone, iPad)

$11.99 – and you have to buy it individually for each device

shotlist

Although Hollywood Shot Designer has taken a bit of this functionality, I’ve used Shotlist quite a bit. Functioning as an aesthetically-pleasing database app, it allows the user to build shot lists with as much or as little detail as they want. Storyboards (or photos from the iPhone or any source) can be attached for reference, and then each shot is reduced to a strip. For users of products like Movie Magic Scheduling (or even old-timey scheduling strip boards… Oy), this should be the most obvious exercise in moving strips around to get the best schedule. It’s really smart, and if you get it for both the iPhone and iPad (as I did) you can share the databases across the two devices.

Vimeo (iPhone, iPad, Droid, Mac/PC)

Cost: Free

vimeo

Possibly the most uncontroversial thing I could say is this – I use Vimeo constantly to show people my reel. This is not a knock against YouTube – but Vimeo is a cleaner interface, and its app is an extension of that. And increasingly clients want material password-encoded on an idiot-proof online format that they can watch anywhere. Seriously, this is it.

Pinterest (iPhone, iPad, Droid, Mac/PC)

Cost: Free

pinterest_badge_red

Pinterest? Really? Yes. Here’s why Pinterest is great for filmmakers – We’re constantly compiling reference material. We’re going online and finding shots, paintings, insects, examples of wardrobe, etc. Sound like great topics for Pinboards? It does. I’ve been known to build reference pinboards for makeup FX, set design, and camera. My only wish is that I could make them private so I could go into more detail about why I was pulling these references, but still it’s a great resource and about the fastest way to organize online references that I’ve ever seen.

What apps do you use? I really REALLY want to know.

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One comment on “10 Apps That Will Make You a Better (or more effective) Director

  1. […] Here I Go Again… Recently I blogged about Hollywood Shot Designer app, a product I’ve come to know and love. And use – on every shoot. I went the next step, geekdom-wise, and even…  […]

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