Horror Filmmaking: From Script to Scream

It’s that time of year, but this article is for all those filmmakers that believe Halloween lasts all year long. In past features we brought you 202 DIY Filmmaking Tutorials,” “202 Final Cut Pro Tutorials,” “202 Sony Vegas Tutorials,” among others. We now turn our attention to the dark art of Horror Filmmaking and there are just too many links to count. So, here’s the killer feature you’ve been waiting for, and don’t forget to leave you favorite links in the comments section.

Ghosts From the Past

The best way to learn the craft is by studying those that came before you. Below we have gathered some of the best interviews, documentaries and behind the scenes video from around the “web.”

Interviews & Documentaries

Dinner for Five: Rob Zombie, Bruce Campbell, Roger Corman
Monitor – Alfred Hitchcock
John Carpenter: Fear Is Just the Beginning
Clive Barker – A to Z of horror
David Cronenberg and the cinema of the extreme
A conversation with author Stephen King
John Carpenter Masters of Horror
Wes Craven Masters of Horror part 1
Wes Craven Masters of Horror part 2
John Landis and Rick Baker Masters of Horror pt. 1
John Landis and Rick Baker Masters of Horror pt. 2
George Romero Masters of Horror
Tobe Hooper “Masters of Horror” part 1
Tobe Hooper “Masters of Horror” part 2
Dario Argento “Masters of Horror”
Guillermo Del Toro “Masters of Horror”
Scream Greats: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects – Part 1
Scream Greats: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects – Part 2
Scream Greats: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects – Part 3
Scream Greats: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects – Part 4
Incredibly Strange Film Show – George Romero – Part 1
Incredibly Strange Film Show – George Romero – Part 2
Tom Savini Creepshow Interview
Make-Up FX Guru Greg Nicotero
How It’s Made – Special Effects Make-up

Behind the Scenes

The Making of THE SHINING (by Vivian Kubrick)
Nightmare on Elm Street: Behind-the-Scenes Playlist (11 videos)
Return to Crystal Lake: Making Friday the 13th – Pt. 1
Return to Crystal Lake: Making Friday the 13th – Pt. 2
Return to Crystal Lake: Making Friday the 13th – Pt. 3
Hollywood Assassin – Hellraiser 7-8 (Behind the Scenes)
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III Behind The Scenes

Crafting Your Killer Story

With any film creating an great story is the key to success. In the oversaturated horror market a well crafted screenplay is even more important to help separate you from the pack. We’ve gathered together some resources to help you resurrect that lifeless story. Whether it’s a original concept, a true story, a urban legend or even a remake of a public domain classic the links below will help you craft that killer screenplay.

Writing Articles

How to turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller…
StoryWeaving – Avoiding the Genre Trap
The Thriller
The Lure of the Dark Side
Seven Screenwriting Tricks From Horror Films10 Steps To Writing A Horror Screenplay
Horror Factor – Horror Writing Articles for the Serious Horror Writer
A Basic Primer on Writing Horror Screenplays
Horror Sub-Genres
Back to the Basics: Horror 101
The Killer Inside Us:Why serial killer novels continue to fascinate
The Perception and Psychology of the Horror Writer
(Edgar Allan) Poe & His Relevance Today
Sex and Horror
What Women Want…in Horror (PDF)
A Few Thoughts on the Horror Genre
What is the Difference between Horror and Dark Fantasy?
What is Dark Fantasy?
Giving Rein to Horror
Sculpting Horror
Horror Sub-Genres
The Other in Fiction: Creating Wonderfully Wicked Villains
Horror Fiction – Ten Cliches to Avoid
Top Ten Tips for Writing Good Horror Fiction
Elements of Aversion: What Makes Horror Horrifying?
Suspending Disbelief
The Bottleneck
Creating a Character for a Horror Story
Why Horror Scares Us
What Makes Horror Scary?

Online Screenplays

Scriptologist: Horror Screenplays
HorrorLair: Horror Screenplays
Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Scripts


truTV: Crime Library
About: Notorious Crimes and Criminals in History
Crime Magazine: An Encyclopedia of Crime
Urban Legends
Wikipedia:Urban Legends Urban Legends Reference Pages
About: Urban Legends
The AFU And Urban Legends Archive
Ghosts & Folklore
Over 2000 Free Horror Stories Organized Into Horror Themes…Ghosts, Vampires, Monsters, the Occult, etc.
Classic Horror Short Stories – The Greatest Horror Story Collection
Horror Writers Association – Horror Reading List
The Library of the Classics
Google Books: Scary Stories
Wikipedia: Ghost Stories
Horror Masters: Classic Ghost Stories
Halloween Ghost Stories
The Moonlit Road: Ghost stories and folktales of the American South
American Folklore: Spooky Stories
HowStuffWorks: Ghost Stories

Public Domain and Classical Horror Stories

Public Domain Horror Movies
Wikipedia: Public domain characters
Arthur’s Classic Novels
Works Referenced in Supernatural Horror in Literature
Literature of the Fantastic
Horror Masters Horror Library Library
Project Gutenberg
Litrix Horror Reading Room

It’s Alive!

OK, you’ve completed your killer script and now it’s time to bring it to life. In our previous “202 DIY Filmmaking Tutorials” article, we highlighted “do it yourself” guides covering all aspects of production gear and methods. For this article we have we’ve listed those that fall into the horror category and added many new ones to help you slash that budget. Don’t forget to check out the original for even more tutorials.

DIY: Blood, Bullets & Stunts

Make yourself HIT by a CAR using Sony Vegas! (new)
Bullet HOLES & Muzzle Flash using Sony Vegas (new)
After Effects Blood Tutorial (new)
Realistic Gun Shots in After Effects (new)
Create an explosion behind a person After Effects tutorial (new)
After Effects Explosion Tutorial (new)
After Effects 101- Head Explosion Tutorial Part: 1 (new)
After Effects 101- Head Explosion Tutorial Part: 2 (new)
How to make a bloody head explosion in adobe after effects pt1 : Basic head … (new)
How to make a bloody head explosion in adobe after effects pt2 : Fixing it … (new)
Rip a leg off!!! (new)
Create a Hollywood Style Gunshot Wound
Proptastic – Prop Guns
Fake Blood Squibs
Squib Videos
Creating Bullet Hits with Paintball Shots
How to make a bullet hit
Blow your actor in Half
Realistic Knife Throw Effect
Break-Away Furniture
How to make Sugar Glass
Blood & Bullets for No-Budget movies
Breakaway Glass Windows, Bottles, Props, etc.
Fake Shards of Glass for Special Effects
Backyard FX: Stunt Dummy
How to make a Blood Shooter
Blood, the chemical way!
How To: Make Fake Blood ( 5 Blood Recipes)
Got Blood?
No-Cook Edible Fake Blood for Mouth Wounds
Fake Blood
Eejit’s Guide to Blood

DIY: Stage Effects/Green Screen/Digital Effects

Animate Rain Shadows in After Effects (new)
Crawl through a TV like in the Ring (new)
Sony vegas pro 8 Tutorial -Lightning and electricity (new)
Making FIRE in After Effects (new)
Force Lightning Tutorial in Adobe After Effects (new)
Adobe After Effects Lightning Tutorial (new)
Making a CG Rainstorm with After Effects (new)
How To Turn day into night in After Effects (new)
Best Fog Chiller (new)
$20 Fog Chiller (new)
Fog Machine Vortex (new)
Rain effect on Sony Vegas (new)
Green-Screen & Stop-Motion Special Effects
DIY Clapboard
Portable Greenscreen with PVC and Cloth
Large greenscreen (non-portable) for under $30.
DIY Blue (or Green) ScreenGreenscreens and Backdrop Stands
DIY special effects from “The Last Broadcast”
DIY Projector Screen
DIY Rear Projection Screen
Ghetto Matrix Bullet Time
Snow Machine
How to Make a Rain Machine
Thick and realistic movie fog
DIY Teleprompter

DIY: Make-Up/Costumes

Gatling Gun Arm Costume (new)
12 Great FX Makeup Articles (new)
DIY Costumes from (new)
Face-Casting (new)
Distressing Clothing Tutorial (new)
Mask making For Beginners (new)Planet of the Apes tunic (new)
Incredible feathered wings (new)
Build articulated wings (new)
Faux robot walker (new)
DIY Vampire Fangs (new)
SteamPunk Goggles for Less (new)
Iron Man: Build his mask and arc reactor How To’s
Studio tips and tricks
DIY Costumes
Costume Resource Links The Costume Page
Star Wars Costume and Prop Forum
The Dyeing Guide
The Arming Coat
Dress Making Guide
Zombies Revisited
Realistic Werewolf Costume
How to make a superhero costume
How to Make a Cyborg
How to Make a Mummy Costume
Mortal Kombat Cyborg Face
Realistic Demon Makeup
Aging Makeup
Swamp Monster
Samurai Armor
Realistic Two Face Make up
Dan Perez Resin Casting Workshop

DIY: Props

Mechamo Crab & Halloween Hack (new)
Vintage Poison Labels (new)
Animatronic hand (new)
Low budget creature effects (new)
Realistic scar with stitches (new)
Titanium goggles (new)
Zombie Makeup from the Haunted Report (new)
The Scarecrow from Hell (new)
The 3D Television (new)
Aged LED Lantern (new)
Alien In A Jar (new)
Mourner grave statue (new)
Alien Capsule (new)
Ambush Prop Torso Project (new)
Animatronic Zombie (new)
Blood Transfusion Bottle (new)
Corpse Chandelier (new)
Corpsification Techniques (new)
Electric Chair (new)
Falling Chandelier (new)
Gargoyles (new)
Gargoyle Monument (new)
Haunted Books (new)
Jacobs Ladder (new)
Meteorite (new)
Possessed Dresser (new)
Quick Guillotine (new)
Rat Feast (new)
Sarcophiguy (new)
Skull Torches (new)
Smokey Joe (new)
Snot Rag Creations/Casting A Skull (new)
SpiderWeb Plans (new)
Statue (new)
Teleportation Pod (new)
DIY Flux Capacitor
Star Wars Lightsabres
How to make the Jigsaw’s puppet, Billy.
Flamethrower Prop
Build a Miniature Set for $10
Retro Ray Guns
Zero Budget SciFi props
Giant Laser Weapon
How to build a Jet Pack
Good Samaritan Hellboy Gun
Sweeney Todd’s Barber’s Chair

Prop Shops & FX Supplies – Special Effect Contacts
Custom Creatures
9mm SFX : Custom Contact Lenses
Mold Making, Mold Rubber and Casting Resins From Smooth-On
SPFXMasks – Original Silicone Masks
Special Effect Supply Home Page
Dapper Cadaver
Arsenic Fashions
The Scarefactory
Di Stefano Productions presents Corpses For Sale.
Post Mortem Studio Rentals – Medical Movie Sets, Horror Props, Tombstones
BJ Winslow -Prop Maker, Painter, Art Department, Prop Rentals.
Halloween Town Store

Scary Film Locations

Eastern State Penitentiary – Urban Ruins
Former West Virginia Penitentiary
Mansfield Reformatory
Kirkbride Buildings – Historic Insane Asylums
Forgotten NY
Metro-Detroit Urban Exploration
Urban Atrophy
Derelict London
London Cemeteries
Haunted Places Directory
Forgotten Ohio – Abandoned plants and factories, unfinished buildings, industrial sites
Modern Ruins Photographic Essays
Google Earth Horror Movie Locations
Grave Addiction
New England colonial cemeteries and gravestones
Top five Australian horror film locations
Kolmanskop: a ghost town in southern Namibia
Film Locations Travel Guide

Digging Up An Audience

You’ve survived the production now it’s time to avoid the distribution nightmare. It may seem easier to raise the dead then find distribution, but today there are more options then ever before.

Film Festivals can be a great place to start. Festival addresses and submission requirements frequently change. Dead Harvey and Unstoppable Pacific maintain a good updated list of Horror Festivals. Also, make sure to check out Without A Box to find an extensive list of all festivals and tools help you streamline the submission process.

There are a lot of small indie horror distributors out there, but make sure you do your research otherwise you can get murdered. Call around to the places mentioned below and get an idea of how much your film is worth in the marketplace. A good place to find phone numbers and other contact information is Everyone Who’s Anyone. Another great place to research distributors is Variety’s AFM (American Film Market) exhibitors list. Don’t let them scare you. Get on the phone and make a killing!

If all else fails you can try DIY Distribution. Check out the list of companies below and you may be surprised at some of the new options out there.

Horror Film Festivals

New York City Horror Film Festival
Brings the best independent horror films to New York.

Screamfest Los Angeles
Annual horror film festival.
Shriekfest Horror/SciFi Film Festival
Annual horror/sci-fi festival and screenplay competition held at Raleigh Studios.
Includes event and submissions information for the annual independent horror film festival and Gothic Pagan Halloween ball.
Cinema Wasteland
Annual movie and memorabilia expo held during October, celebrating the drive-in era of horror and sci-fi movies.
H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival
Film adaptations from student, amateur, and professional filmmakers.
Eerie Horror Film Festival
Contains event and programming information, entry forms, and photos from past entries and winners.
Dead By Dawn
Annual U.K. horror film festival held in Edinburgh.
Annual fantasy, horror, and science fiction festival held in Luxembourg.
Cinemuerte International Horror Film Festival
Includes news and event information for Western Canada’s largest annual genre festival.
Donostia Horror and Fantasy Film Festival
Held in San Sebastian, Spain.
Festival of Fantastic Films
Celebrating science fiction, fantasy, and horror films in Manchester, U.K.
Exofest International Horror Film Festival
Short and feature screenings, bands, and more.
Sacramento Horror Film Festival
Film festival from the horror and sci-fi genre held at the Colonial Theatre, Sacramento, CA.
After Dark Horrorfest
After Dark Horrorfest is a three-day horror film festival in 500 theaters across the country, featuring eight previously unreleased movies considered too graphic or disturbing for general audiences.

Independent Horror Distributors

Amazing Movies
American World Pictures
Anthem Pictures
Artist View
The Asylum
Brain Damage Films
Camp Motion Pictures
Dimension Extreme
Elite Entertainment
Indican Pictures
Mainline Releasing
Maverick Entertainment Group
Media Blasters
Shoreline Entertainment
Silverline Entertainment
Taurus Entertainment
Tempe Entertainment
TLA releasing
Troma Entertainment
Unearthed Films

DIY Distribution Companies

Breakthrough Distribution


70 Horror, Blood and Gore Photoshop Effects and Brushes
Horror Fonts
Classic Crime & Horror Covers
35 Photoshop Tutorials for Designing Your Own Posters
Design a Sin City Style Poster
Designing Cover Artwork for an Indie Film
Free CD / DVD Case Templates in PSD Format
CD and DVD Artwork Templates

The Article that Won’t Die

We could go on forever, but we have a deadline and the clock is about to strike midnight. We’ve skipped over some import aspects of filmmaking, but that’s what the rest of our site is for. Make sure you subscribe to our RSS Feed to insure your Filmmaking I.Q. always remains high, and of course be prepared for the inevitable horror sequel. Until next time kiddies, pleasant screams!
Dead Harvey
Indy Mogul
The Groovy Age of Horror
Old Time Radio at The Monster Club
All Things Zombie
The Horror Channel
Rue Morgue

Review: Synecdoche, New York

“Gospel John” tackles Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, the mind bending  Synecdoche, New York.

Synecdoche, New York on

MPAA Rating: R

Directed/Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Staring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis

Release: October 24th, 2008 (USA, limited)

Rating: Dim-witted (2/5)

Sony’s HVR-Z7U and HVR-S270U

An interview with Doug Jensen

By Jack Fettman

Doug Jensen is a 25-year veteran of the television and video production industry, with experience in all phases of production. He has worked extensively as a free-lance network cameraman and owns a video production company called Vortex Media. Vortex Media also manufactures production tools such as Warm Cards, Storm Jackets, MediaFiler 3.0, and VortexHD Stock Footage. Jensen has written, directed, and co-produced the HandsOnHD series of training videos for such cameras as the EX1, EX3, F350 and the Z1. As a member of Sony’s I.C.E. Team (Independent Certified Expert), he has been called upon by Sony to teach HD work flow classes at NAB and provide camera demonstrations for the press and selected customers. He wrote, produced and presented Vortex Media’s training DVD titled “Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1” and has just completed production on Vortex Media’s three-hour training DVD titled “Mastering the Sony HVR-Z7U and S270.”

Jensen owns several cameras, including a Sony PMW-EX3, Sony PMW-EX1, Sony HVR-Z7U, Sony PDW-F350 XDCAM HD, Sony HVR-Z1U, and an Ikegami HL59 Betacam. His credits and clients include: NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, CNN, PBS, BBC, NHK, EBU, TNT, Discovery, ESPN, E!, A&E, HGTV, WGBH, Food Network, NASCAR Images, MLB Productions, Travel Channel, Discovery, History Channel, Sundance Channel, and NBA Entertainment.

What is the Sony HVR-Z7U?

The HVR-Z7U and its bigger shoulder-mount brother, the HVR-S270U, are the latest models in Sony’s line of HDV camcorders. Both of them provide a very impressive evolution from previous Sony HDV cameras with many significant changes and improvements. I think Sony has obviously taken the feedback they got from owners of their earlier HDV camcorders and used that information to come up with a camera that better suits the needs of experienced professionals.

Sony HVR-Z7U

What are the differences between the Z7U and the S270?

On the inside they are basically the same camera. However, the S270 has a shoulder-mount design, it accepts longer-length tapes, it has HD-SDI output instead of HDMI, it uses different batteries, and it offers four channels of audio – but other than that, the cameras are pretty much identical.

What has been your previous experience with HDV camcorders?

Before Vortex Media switched to XDCAM as our primary acquisition format in 2006, the Z1 was our workhorse camera from the first day we got it in early 2005. At that time we had a couple of high-end Ikegami Betacams and a 2/3″ DVCAM camcorder that we could have continued to use for our own productions – but we didn’t want to—The images coming out of the Z1 simply looked better. And I’m not talking about comparing SD to HD because we didn’t really make the jump to HD until a few months later. I’ve been telling people for years that with the right Picture Profile settings the Z1 shooting in SD mode looked better than our $50,000 Betacam. We were willing to put up with the quirky exposure controls, non-shoulder mount, non-removable lens and other shortcomings in order to get a better final image on screen. Other than the Z1, and now the Z7U, I haven’t had any experience with Sony’s other HDV camcorders such as the A1U and V1U.

So, how does the Z7U compare to the Z1?

If you’re asking about picture quality, they are very close. I don’t know precisely which one looks better because I’ve never taken the time to set the two cameras up side-by-side and have a shootout. Why not? Because that kind of comparison doesn’t matter to me. The Z7U is the better camera in so many other ways that whether or not it offers slightly better picture quality doesn’t matter very much. Although the Z1 uses three 1/3″ CCD’s and the Z7U uses three 1/3″ CMOS sensors, any difference in picture quality is negligible to the casual viewer.

Then why would someone choose a Z7U over a Z1?

After having just finished a very detailed three-hour training DVD for the Z7U, I could probably make a list of a couple of dozen reasons why the Z7U is clearly the superior camera. The first three items on that list would be: 1) An interchangeable lens system; 2) native progressive shooting modes; and 3) tapeless recording on CompactFlash cards. If any one of those three features is important to someone shopping for a new camera, then the extra cost of stepping up to a Z7U is well worth it.

Can you tell us more about the tapeless recording system?

Every Z7U comes with an accessory called a HVR-MRC1 Memory Recording Unit (MRU). The MRU is one of the best things about the Z7U because it offers the option of recording HDV, DVCAM, or DV video onto standard CompactFlash memory cards while simultaneously recording to tape. You can even record HD on one and SD on the other if you want to. The MRU attaches directly to the back of the Z7U and thus eliminates the need for any cables or extra batteries of its own. Plus, the unit automatically synchronizes with the recording action of the camcorder so you can just turn it on and pretty much forget about it until you’re done shooting.


For anyone who is still shooting on tape, the MRU makes a good stepping stone into the world of a tapeless work flow because you can still record on tape at the same time. Except for the occasional use of my Z1, I’ve been shooting 99% tapeless for about two and half years – and I absolutely love it. You couldn’t pay me to go back to shooting on tape. Everyone will be going tapeless sometime in the future. Maybe not this year or next year, but soon — so you might as well get your feet wet now.

There are many advantages to keep in mind when going tapeless with the Z7U: Every time you press the record button you are creating a new, stand-alone video clip. Ingesting footage from a CompactFlash card to your hard drive is about 4 times faster than capturing in real-time from a tape. There are no more hassles with broken time code or batch capture errors. There is no chance of edge damage, dropouts, or other physical problems. You never have to waste time laying down bars and tone. And you’ll never spend money buying tape again – unless you want to record on tape simultaneously.

How does the Z7′s CompactFlash system compare to the EX1 and EX3′s SxS cards?

I don’t think anyone who has used both systems would say that the MRU is as sophisticated, or as easy to use as the SxS memory cards used on the EX camcorders. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the CF recording because it works great; it’s just that I’ve gotten spoiled by using XDCAM. However, when you factor in the ability to record simultaneously to videotape, and the much lower cost of the CompactFlash memory cards, then you can see the relative merits of the Z7U.

With Final Cut Pro, I just select the clips I want to import with the “Log and Transfer” function and they ingest at about 4x real time. In other words, 60 minutes of footage takes about 15 minutes to import. Apple has some work to do on this part of the work flow, and I’m looking forward to getting a software update whenever it is ready. Occasionally I had clips that didn’t want to import directly into FCP, but I was able to transfer them using a free program called “MPEG Streamclip” instead. I have never lost any footage on a CF card so I consider it 100% reliable so far.

Do you have to use special CompactFlash cards? How much time can you get on a card?

Any ordinary CF card that is at least 133x and has 2GB capacity will work. While I was putting the Z7U through its paces for Vortex Media’s training DVD, we tried several cards with different capacities, made by several brands, and they all worked well. A 16GB CompactFlash card holds about 75 minutes of footage. That’s 25% more than you can get on 60-minute HDV tape.

What I’ve been doing is recording HDV on both the CF card and tape at the same time. Then I’ve been ingesting and editing with clips from the CF card and putting the tape on the shelf as one of my two permanent archives and backups.

B&H: You mentioned the Z7U has progressive shooting modes. How does that differ from previous HDV camcorders?

Like other cameras in Sony’s HDV and XDCAM product lines, the Z7U offers quite a few options for recording modes. It can be switched between HDV, DVCAM, and DV recording modes – thus providing full flexibility to shoot either Standard-Definition or High-Definition video, depending on your production needs. In the SD modes you can even choose between 4 x 3 or 16 x 9. One thing the Z7U can’t do is any PAL modes.


As far as I know, the Z7U and S270 are Sony’s first HDV camcorders to offer native progressive recording modes so you can capture true 1080P. You can choose either 24P or 30P. Previously, Sony’s HDV cameras had what’s called “Progressive Scan” modes which were really just disguised interlaced modes. Now you can shoot HDV with true progressive. The Z7U still offers the “scan” modes if someone needs to remain backwards-compatible with other gear or work flows.

At Vortex Media, we own an M25U HDV deck that cannot play back the native progressive modes, so I’d have to use the camcorder itself if I wanted to capture footage from tape. Fortunately, this is a non-issue for me because I’m doing all my footage ingesting from the CF cards instead.


What can you tell us about the interchangeable lens system?

One of the reasons many people will probably choose the Z7U over other HDV camcorders is that it has a removable lens. But fortunately, the 12x Zeiss lens that comes with the camera isn’t too bad, so replacing the lens should be viewed solely as an “option” because it certainly isn’t mandatory for shooting excellent video. The stock lens is very sharp, fast, and has a decent zoom range on it. For many people, it will suit their needs just fine.

A nice thing about the Z7U and S270 is that that they have a standard 1/3″ bayonet mount — and there are plenty of existing options available from manufacturers such as Fujinon and Canon available right now. Fujinon was kind enough to lend me a 13 x 3.5 wide-angle lens that we demonstrate in the training DVD and it really made a difference in the “feel” of the whole camcorder. Even though the stock Zeiss lens is pretty good, there’s just no substitute for having a real, honest-to-goodness broadcast lens that feels just like all the other Fujinon lenses I’ve been shooting with for nearly 30 years.

There are also optional adapters available for mounting ½” lenses, 2/3″ lenses, and even SLR lenses to the camera. Of course, a side effect with any lens that isn’t built for a 1/3″ sensor will be an apparent focal length magnification factor. My ½” Fujinon HSs18 x 5.5 increases the focal length by 1.3x — which is great for sports and wildlife.

One thing to keep in mind for anyone who likes to use autofocus and/or SteadyShot — only the stock lens and the optional wide-angle Zeiss lens are likely to offer those features.

You said earlier that there at least a couple dozen reasons the Z7U is better than other HDV camcorders. What are some of the others you haven’t mentioned yet?

For one thing, the lens isn’t servo-driven like the lens on the Z1, so you are in direct physical control of the focus, zoom, and iris adjustments. The Z7U’s iris ring is located right on the barrel of the lens where it ought to be, and you can adjust the iris “live” without any of the stepping effects you see on the Z1. In fact, all of the exposure controls are now easier to change manually. The Z1 always seemed like a camera that was designed for running on automatic control, and switching to manual was a hassle. It’s not that way on the Z7U. In auto-exposure mode you can even customize the metering pattern.

Light sensitivity is very much improved on the Z7U, probably because of the CMOS sensors. Like I said, I haven’t done any side-by-side testing of the Z1 and Z7U, but my general impression is that the Z7U is perhaps 4-5 stops faster. That is a huge difference! I’ve been shooting everything with the Z7U, even in some nighttime locations, at -3db gain.

You can now use both zebra and peaking simultaneously. There’s a new bubble indicator shown on the viewfinder to let you know if the camera isn’t level. There are a couple of histogram options available, plus a brand new feature for follow-focus called Focus Marking. There’s an HDMI output connector (the S270 has HD-SDI) which makes HD monitoring easier. The LCD panel has four times as many pixels as the Z1, and the regular viewfinder is greatly improved. The small servo zoom control on top of the handle has a variable speed option. One thing that hasn’t changed is the batteries. Any battery that works on the Z1 will also fit the Z7U.

Can the Z7U do time-lapse, slow-motion, or slow shutter like the EX1?

Yes and no. The Z7U can do slow-shutter effects with exposures down to ¼ second, but it doesn’t do slow-motion and time-lapse quite like the EX cameras.

The Z7U has a mode that Sony calls “interval recording,” and that’s a good term for it. The slowest interval between captures is 30 seconds, and 15 frames per capture is the shortest duration. Those limitations just don’t allow you to get high-end smooth flowing time-lapse effects as can be done with the EX1 and EX3.

The camera doesn’t have true under/over cranking like the XDCAM camcorders. What it has is a mode called “Smooth Slow Recording” that captures 240 fields per second for a few seconds into an internal buffer, and then lays the effect down to tape. The effect is incredibly smooth and can slow things down to ¼ speed or less. However, it only works in brief bursts, and the resolution of the picture is diminished a little.

Even though both of these special-effects modes have some limitations, they are still useful tools to have in your bag of tricks.

How does the Z7U change your work flow?

I’ve already had a tapeless work flow with XDCAM for two and half years so the Z7U’s CompactFlash recording hasn’t changed it very much. Once you go tapeless, there’s no looking back. HDV footage can be easily integrated into any HD post-production work flow. Once you get the footage from the card and into your computer, it’s just like any other footage. Whatever works for you now will work for you with the Z7U. Even if you’re still editing SD productions, the Z7U fits in fine. I’ve been shooting 100% HD footage for almost three years, and yet 90% of my post-production work is still done on SD timelines. It’s no big deal working with HD clips. In fact, I’ll miss the days of SD editing when it comes to an end because of the advantages I get with scan/pan effects and cropping HD footage in an SD sequence. My advice is to shoot everything in HD now, whether you need it or not today, so you future-proof your footage!

It seems the closest competitor to the Z7U is the EX1. Why would someone choose one over the other?

There are so many factors to consider when evaluating which camera to buy that I would never presume to recommend one camera over another. Everybody’s needs are different. That’s why Sony has dozens of HD camcorders ranging in price from a couple thousand dollars up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for an F35. However, with that said, if you want to keep shooting on tape while transitioning to a tapeless work flow, if you want to be able to change lenses, if you still need to shoot SD sometimes, if you need to stay compatible with an existing HDV workflow, or if you want a camera that is more comfortable for hand-held shooting, then the Z7U might make the best choice.

Jensen’s training DVD, “Mastering the Sony HVR-Z7U and S270,” is available at the B&H SuperStore.

For a list of all products highlighted in this article, click here

A Close Look at an Invisible Microphone

By Ken Hamberg

Boundary microphones as a class are often overlooked – literally. Flat-lying and inconspicuous by design, they lack the glamorous appearance and prestige of their conventional large-diaphragm counterparts, which are often photographed in the company of the world’s best-known and culturally iconic singers, entertainers and public servants. Boundary microphones in fact enjoy a ubiquitous if highly discreet presence in recording studios, concert halls, installations, public address systems, conference and meeting rooms, and houses of worship. Regardless of their humble, vaguely bug-like appearance, boundary microphones represent some of the most versatile, functional, and reliable mics ever made, and we’d like to take a brief look at how they work and what they can do for you.

On Reflection

Born and bred in the U.S.A., boundary microphones are a relatively recent innovation invented in 1978 by talented audio consultant Ed Long and veteran recording engineer Ron Wickersham. The first marketable prototype was built by Ken Wahrenbrock, an audio design whiz with a gift for the entrepreneurial, and quickly licensed by Crown for manufacture in 1980. The prototype was known as a PZM® (Pressure Zone Microphone) based on the Pressure Recording Process™ developed by its inventors.

PZM’s are radically different in design from conventional microphones. Their tiny condenser capsules, which were originally omnidirectional (360° polar pattern), are usually encased in low-profile metal housing designed for placement on hard, flat surfaces like walls, floors, tables and piano lids. They respond best when surface-mounted, and are ineffective when stand-mounted or hand-held.

Crown PZM Microphone

The diaphragm is mounted face-down in the pressure zone directly above and parallel to a reflective boundary plate, secured by a capsule holder. The pressure zone is the area next to the boundary where the direct and reflected sound waves arrive at the same time, in phase. The in-phase signal as it’s reflected off the boundary plate surface and picked up by the capsule is doubled in Sound Pressure Level (SPL), showing a 6dB increase in amplitude. The result is high natural gain without increased self-noise, a smooth, flat frequency reproduction with minimal off-axis coloration, and high sensitivity.

Boundary mics by design have very low mass and highly-damped diaphragms, thereby showing great resistance to mechanical vibrations such as surface thump or rumble. They also reproduce room ambience with great natural clarity and brightness while exhibiting consistent frequency response regardless of the direction of the source signal, particularly the omnidirectional capsules.

The sensitivity of a boundary mic may be naturally increased by placing it between multiple boundaries. When positioned in the corner of a room, for example, where the floor and two walls converge at right angles, the mics sensitivity will increase by 18dB, or 6dB per surface without any increase in noise. That’s a pretty significant boost of natural gain without touching a knob on the mixer.

As we mentioned earlier, the original PZM’s were configured with omnidirectional polar patterns. They’re now available in tighter cardioid, hemispherical (half-omni) and supercardioid versions while still exhibiting the same flat off-axis response along with a minimized low-end proximity effect that’s common to conventional mics. In the PCC (Phase Coherent Cardioid) boundary design a supercardioid capsule is mounted perpendicular to the boundary plate, aiming forward, as opposed to the parallel placement of the omnidirectional PZM capsule. Technically they’re not PZM’s, but their attributes are very similar.

Apart from the acoustic benefits of a boundary microphone, you can’t overemphasize its discreet appearance and innocuous character. Interviewees, focus groups, lecturers, and even musicians who might otherwise be intimidated by a conventional mic pointed at their faces or instruments often either forget about or are unaware of the presence of a boundary mic while speaking or performing.

Boundaries are easily hidden and are practically invisible on-camera, so they’re often used in theatre sets, opera stages, and in television studios. In conference rooms and on the podium boundaries present a clean, unintimidating alternative to a microphone forest, providing greater coverage with fewer mics and fewer distractions. Boundary microphones are available in wireless versions as well, further diminishing cable clutter.

Shure MX690 Wireless Boundary Microphone


Boundary mics often exhibit better reach, or the ability to reproduce quieter, more distant sounds (including speech) than conventional microphones do. This is because of their sensitivity and higher gain achieved by surface mounting, the wider, smoother frequency response achieved by their remarkable phase coherency, and their greater high- frequency reproduction of reverberant sound.

The clarity and rich high-frequency content of the ambient sound reproduced by boundary mics is also enhanced by the fact that the incoherent and more random reverberant sound is boosted only half as much (a 3dB per surface average) as is the phase-coherent direct sound. Not only does this allow for effective use in studio or concert hall-installed sound applications, it also introduces a bit of wiggle room for less obtrusive placement on the conference room table or the live panel discussion in the meeting room.

Below you’ll find a selection of useful tips for using boundary mics in recording and sound-reinforcement applications. Treat them as suggested points of departure – they’re microphones, and like all microphones a bit of trial-and-error is always involved for proper positioning.

  • Conference Rooms: These rooms usually are, or should unreflective and minimally reverberant in order to achieve maximum clarity (carpeted, draped, acoustic ceiling tiles, etc.). A single PZM in the center of the table will work well. For longer tables with larger groups, a PZM in the midst of groups of 4-6 people, with no person farther than 3′ from the nearest mic should do the trick. An automatic mixer is highly recommended to diminish the noise and signal degradation caused by multiple open mics. Ceiling mounting of the boundary mic is often effective as well.
  • Shure SCM410 Automatic Mixer

  • Lecterns and Podiums: A cardioid or supercardioid boundary on the lecterns top shelf, with the capsule facing the speaker works well. If the lectern has a raised edge, the general rule is position the mic twice as far from the edge as the edge is high. You can also tape an omni to the inside corner wall of the lectern for a bit of that high-gain boundary boost.
  • Altars: Cardioid or supercardioid on the table surface aimed at the speaker, 2-3′ away
  • Courtrooms: Cardioid or supercardioid mounted on the bench or witness stand offers intelligibility, freedom of movement, and won’t intimidate the witness. Again 2-3′ is a workable distance from the subject, centered.
  • The Stage: 2-3 cardioids depending on the size of the stage, a foot from the lip of the stage. 2 mics should be spaced 20′ apart, 3 mics around 15′. To reduce pickup from the pit, a 2′ piece of 4″ thick foam placed roughly an inch behind each mic is recommended. For extra reinforcement, overhead or rear-wall mounted omnis are often used. Omnis at the front of the stage roughly 4′ apart often work well as audience mics.
  • Grand Piano: Tape 1 or 2 omnis to the underside of the lid, spaced 8-10″ horizontally from the hammers and about 24″ from each other. For a different stereo spread, tape 2 omnis under the lid, one over the treble strings close to the hammers, the other over the bass strings well away from the hammers. One will emphasize the hammer attack; the other will reproduce more of the piano’s string and body resonance. Use the lids short stick and a sound-proofing blanket or close it entirely to reduce leakage and feedback.
  • Kick Drum: A cardioid inside the drum, positioned on a pillow or other cushion 2-6″ from the batter head and aimed at the beater will often sound stupendous, both live and in the studio.
  • Ambient Mics for the Studio: A pair of opposite wall-mounted omnis facing the drum kit, brass and string ensemble, or solo instrument will often impart a pleasing natural room ambience to a recording without the reflective boom often encountered using conventional mics. Placement at or near the corners of two walls can create the illusion of greater size and breadth to the space than actually exists.
  • Small Acoustic or Vocal Ensembles in the Studio: A pair of omnis on the floor 3-5′ apart at a distance of 4-8′ from the performers.
  • Sporting Events: It’s open season for this application. To give you an idea, you’ll find omnis mounted on the backboard under the hoop or on the floor at center court at a basketball game, taped to a corner post in the boxing ring or the goal post at a hockey game, and on the back wall at a bowling alley. In fact, there are few sporting events that don’t involve boundary mics. Who knew?
  • As you can see, boundary mics are quite versatile and may be used in many more situations than we’ve covered here, but the list above should give you a good idea of their range and practicality. We should also mention the common use of what are known as PZM boundary panels, which are usually made of plexiglass or other rigid, reflective materials.

    These panels, the design of which was pioneered by Ken Wahrenbrock, the builder of the original PZM prototype, may be used to modify and tailor the directionality and frequency response of a boundary mic. By building single or multiple panel structures, permanent or portable, you can emulate the floor or wall surface and corner boundaries that induce the high natural gain and flat frequency reproduction boundary mics are capable of in their unique way.

    Whether you’re involved in conference or courtroom recording, ENG or focus group interviews, studio recording, or stage and studio set production, boundary mics offer an excellent microphone alternative meant to be heard, not seen.

    Below we feature a selection of wired and wireless boundary mics available at B&H, arranged by price from high to low.

Crown PZM30D

Crown PCC-160

Shure MX690

Shure MX393O

Shure Beta91

Audio-Technica U841A

Shure EZB/O

Shure MX391O

Audio-Technica U851CW

Samson CM11B

Audio-Technica Pro44

Crown Sound Grabber 2

Revolabs Solo Series

Shure SLX Wireless Series

    For a list of all products highlighted in this article, click here.

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