Saving time and increasing creativity with plugins and templates.


Saving time and increasing creativity with plugins and templates.

I've been experimenting with ways of increasing creativity and saving time when making quick turnaround films. I mostly edit in final Cut Pro X, with some After Effects thrown in. I'm really interested in taking things on from the default FCPX plugins, text transitions and animations, and less interested in faffing with keyframes indefinitely until my thumbs fall off. This encourages me to be more creative in tackling some fun concepts that match the medium to the message in ways that stand out.

I've been doing text message and Facebook-style text animation using this free After Effects plug in from Rocket Stock (and they have other cool textures/plugins and background on their website). 

VideoHive has some cool Motion and After Effects templates, but you have to license them individually for each project (though often only $20 or so).

I used one template to create audio waveform visualisations and turn conversations into characters for this piece for BBC Radio4.

And this one to provide some football themed text animation for a social psychology explainer for the Human Zoo.

These plugins and templates are really good for letting you think creatively to fit your brief on a small budget. I haven't used this '3D' photo animation one, but could see how it might step a photo-based project up a few notches.

This place  - Pixel Film Studios has some Nice FCPX text animation, and effect plug ins and the like. Good if you don't have the skills/inclination to do After Effects wizardry but you want to take the default FCPX effects and animations on a level. 

These kinetic text animations are quite cool and are well worth $20

I have also put a list of cheap/free stock footage in a previous post.

This  Adobe Character Animator is really interesting, but looks a couple years off professional yet... 

How do you find plugins and templates? If anyone has any other favourite things like this and tips that might be handy, do let me know.

Happy making!



Budget stock footage options

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Budget stock footage options

I saw an email on the cool ECF charity forum about sources of free/low budget stock footage. Here are the places I've been using recently

Firstly and  Beachfront B-Roll. They aren't comprehensive at all but if you dig around, and think poetically, there is some lovely stuff. Mixture of public domain and creative commons.

If you can find a bit of money and need a volume of decent stock footage I'd seriously consider Videoblocks. They emailed me a link with an offer for $99 a year. You can access the discount here They have a lot of decent stuff, royalty free and with unlimited downloads. I think they make their money by also licensing premium content you pay extra for. But the archive of subscription stuff is pretty big and if you're going to use 2 clips in a year the $99 kind of pays for itself. 

Here's a film about chemsex I made recently and most of the B-Roll and green screen phone footage came from Videoblocks. 

Also NASA gives a load of their footage away for free CC use and they have a lot of cool stuff.

There is a lot of video on European Parliament Audiovisual Services for Media, but it's a slightly awkward website and takes a bit of digging -

If you have any other sites and go to places, drop me a note.

Follow @thomhoffman on twitter for more production tips and ramblings.


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How to work with freelance filmmakers


How to work with freelance filmmakers

I was asked to give a talk recently about how to work with freelancers, so I've done an edited version here. 

Firstly, should you even make a film? The easiest time to edit film is before you've shot anything, so pick an interesting topic. If you have a story about a blind skateboarder, then that needs to be a film. 

These things make for good films:

Action // human stories and emotion // convincing people of things (we are just showing you how it is...) // engaging new/different 'audiences' // setting tone

This handy flowchart by Adam Westbrook says it better than I can...

Here, he pushes the notion that story is key, and it is certainly a great way in. One person's story can draw you in to focussing on those more abstract ideas. Concepts that are often harder to engage with on their own. 

Make sure you are always noting down stories and characters that you come across in your work. People who tell the best tale of your discovery/product/service/intervention. If you have an interesting story and character, it is kind of difficult to make that boring. And rather than a production company spending time and money seeking out this person, you will be meeting them in your daily work, keep your eyes peeled and store them up!

Online film is a massively growing area. More people are using snapchat, gifs and emojis to communicate tapping into our increasing comfort in visual communication. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. So you need to be the answers to people's questions in that space. And you need to be more comfortable talking about the film medium.

I really encourage everyone to try and watch (good) films, like a producer. Why are they doing these things? How are they working on me... If you work in comms/media then you work in 'film' the video people are not going to be experts in... marketing, publishing, education whatever else. They need your input on that side of things, to make the best product. The more you can talk to them and have opinions on film things, the better.

The easiest way to make a value for money film is to bring all the skills in at the right time. Before you call up a filmmaker, I think you should get as close as you can to answering the following questions.

  • Who is target audience? - If you attempt to make the film for 'everyone', then it's pretty likely that 'no-one' will feel strongly connected to it.

  • What do you want the audience to think/feel/do after they've watched it?

  • Style - are there any existing examples of style and tone that you like?

  • Emotion/humour - is there some emotional punch, how can we include that effectively?

  • Volume of Information. 3-5 key takeaways - How much do we need to get across in the film, vs engaging them, and setting people up to go on to look at a report, website, or an event?

  • Alternative? - Does it really need to be a 'film'? Could it be a photo gallery, audio slideshow, or a 20 second film clip in a written article?

  • Budget - how much do we want to invest in this piece?

  • Defining success - so that everyone's expectations are out on the table.

Some food for thought...

Check out what is effectively an advert for some email software... Not expensive to make (because it's a great idea, admittedly had by a huge ad agency) , all done in screen recordings! But it tells a very captivating story. If your 'thing' is more interesting than email, then you can probably tell a great story about it.

In terms of style I just love this film about John Baldessari, going to be expensive/impossible to replicate. And you shouldn't, but if you like the irreverent style, tone, and collage of images. Note that stuff down! Examples of tone/style will come in handy when you speak to creatives in the future. Use these examples to spark a discussion, about feel, style, ambition of production value. 

Buzzfeed films have an interesting tone. They seem to ask the question. 'What does the internet want 'Buzzfeed's opinion/take on?'... Then they push out a lot of video content in a huge variety of styles, all in the voice of Buzzfeed.

What is your equivalent 'voice' what do people want your take on?

Of course if you really like something someone has made, just get in touch with them and see if there's a way you can collaborate, they've proved they have the skills already.

When approaching freelancers/production companies:

  • Pick a budget that you have in mind, set your expectations to that (Be ambitiously realistic).

  • Make it as interesting a proposal as possible. Aim to feed their soul and their showreel. Good people want to make interesting work.

  • Give clarity over the things you want to control.

  • Freedom via boundaries. You give them all the information listed above and let them focus on how to creatively join the elements together to achieve your objectives. To focus on making something cool, striking and creative. That's the best use of their time.

  • Have an opinion on multimedia, start cultivating this now. But also, if you don't feel strongly about something, go with their ideas, focus on the important things you do have thought out opinions on.

My rule of thumb is that typically, on non-major issues, whoever feels stronger is right. 

Google 'freelance filmmaker' and you'll find lots of great filmmakers out there for a range of budgets, have a chat with them, they all want to make cool fun stuff, and so do you.

Seek inspiration from things like the Vimeo Weekend Challenge (make a film in a weekend) and the 24 hour radio race, (yes you guessed it) and go and make something yourself. If film seems scary, that's a cue to go make something and see what you learn. If, for your next team building exercise you make a film, it will be 800 times better than that other terrible team-building exercise thing you did last time. And you will have learnt some valuable technical skills too.

And if you are in an organisation, support those who are interested in film. There are many gaps in the market here. These are core skills in the modern publishing/comms game and it's such a bonus to have people who get multimedia. It's not going away, it's expanding, so encourage people to experiment. They will be slow to start off with, but once they are over the hurdles, they'll have some extremely in-demand skills, that your competitors didn't invest in.

Keep in touch:

Twitter - @thomhoffman

Website -

YouTube - producerthom

I also do consultancy about multimedia things, so if you want me to come and give a talk to your organisation, get in touch.







Thom Hoffman's 2014 in review.

A highlight of the year was getting my first film fest 'Official Selection'. I would thoroughly recommend the wonderful Isle of Man Film Festival it’s a great event. The film was Mars Diffracts, a 12 minute look at how we’re searching for life on Mars.

I had the highly unnerving privilege of watching my film on a cinema screen sat next to Mark Kermode. The standard of films was fantastic, and the people involved were so lovely. A real personal highlight of my year was hanging out on the island, marinating in the friendliness, enjoying stunning countryside and trying to befriend seals. I really want to make it back there next year.

I also blogged here about where to apply for awards, grants and festivals.

I made a couple of short teaser trailers for the movie. Should we send humans to Mars and How do you design an instrument to work on Mars to tell a bit of the story; and hopefully inspire a few more viewers for the full film.


The stop motion skills I developed in that film ended up in a collaboration with the fun people at Nature. Proving that Smarties do have the answer when it comes to intergenerational co-operative economics.

I made a music video with uber-talented, genre defying T.J Owusu. Practicing my slider skills and hopefully doing justice to a fantastic interpretation of Beethoven played on slide guitar.

I made this film about one of my favourite events of the year. 120 mile overnight bike ride the Dunwich Dynamo. Hopefully this film might inspire a few more people to join us in 2015.

I performed some poetry this year at Rhymes with Orange. Played around with some digital publishing platforms like CowBird and Medium (Shipwreck). I won the open mic in July and was asked to do a ten minute set. The result was my analysis of careers lows and internet culture - Work History.

I directed several Bandstand Busks again this year. I think Tom Brosseau was probably my favourite. Check the website for the rest of them.

I took part in a couple of competitions, which I would highly recommend. Really helpful to have deadlines and boundaries to experiment with some new things. The 24 Hour Radio Race was a fun project, you have 24 hours to make a 4 minute radio piece. My piece got bought by the Public Radio Exchange Network! Definitely up for trying this again next year. Safe to say it's as tough as it is rewarding...

I did the Vimeo Weekend Challenge - slightly less insane deadlines, but a great test, to make a film over a weekend. Mine involved making a scary film for Halloween. ‘Are you Afraid of the Dark?’ was poetic fiction, both things I want to play around with more in 2015.

I continued my part time work with the awesome team at the British Medical Journal. Mostly working on strategy,  educational films, and trying to make novel digital things. Our YouTube channel has been a real success this year.

The silliest film I made this year was a reaction to the insane trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. I couldn’t help but think it looked like The Apprentice, and so I made my homage ‘50 Spoons of Sugar'.

It got retweeted by Lord Sir Alan Sugar himself, which was one of my most confusing highlights of the year. 

I finally put together a little showreel of my science and documentary work from recent years.


Please join me on the social medias (usually @thomhoffman) and subscribe to my YouTube channel if you haven’t already.

I reviewed the year in things other people have made here, and I’m lining up my next projects to work on in 2015. I want to keep making films about science, art, education, and weird life. Both fiction and non-fiction, using comedy, poetry, documentary, film, sound and photography. If you are interested in collaborating or commissioning me, or just want a chat about digital things, get in touch, it’s going to be a big, bold, 2015.

Thanks to everyone who helped, and pushed things forward, you’re the best, let’s go again.



Festivals/awards/grants/screenings for people like us


I was looking to see what sort of opportunities are out there for filmmakers like us who are in to a bit of everything. I do mostly short documentary pieces, but with one eye on science, narrative, comedy and music. I’ve gathered together a few short film festivals/awards/grants, screenings and stuff that are particularly relevant to people like me; but hopefully interesting and relevant to others. Please email me or leave a comment if you have anything else I could add to this list, as sadly, I couldn’t find that much stuff, and I've got to believe there's more out there... right...?

First things first if, like me, you haven't won any awards yet (apart from that Wii Tennis tournament in 2011). You can still easily get some of those nice leaves around your name by using this leaves award meme generator.

OK, on with the show...


Sheffield Doc Fest (and interactive)

'Brings the international documentary family together to celebrate the art and business of documentary making for six intense days in June'

Not taking any more submissions but there are a couple of pitching sessions where you can pitch shorter ideas for exposure or some funding. One for 2015 perhaps...

Encounters - Bristol

Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, is the UK's longest running competitive short film and animation event.

Deadline - 16th May 2014

Also includes: DepicT! - 90 second film competition - £2500 prize (as part of Encounters) any style/genre, from documentary to narrative. It's fun to work within the constraints of time limits.

7th July 2014 - free entry


Imagine Science Festival - New York

‘The Imagine Science Film Festival exists to promote new dialogues between art and science, between specialists and the public, and even between fact and fiction in portrayal of scientific information.’

Submission deadline August 1st


Expression - Dublin

UCD Science Expression is Ireland's first and only dedicated science film festival; a dynamic public engagement programme invigorating conversation around science, technology, research and innovation through film and new media

Likely to be in October 2014, no submission date yet

The International Festival of Science Documentary Films Academia Film Olomouc

next round - April 2015

has a category for - 

The Best International Science Documentary Film Award

The Best Science Documentary Short Film Award


Wellcome Trust

Needs a biomedical angle, but around that there seems to be a lot of flexibility, well worth a look if that’s your area of interest.

Interesting Channel 4 collaboration - BritDoc

The Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund

Strategic outreach campaigns for completed or almost completed films - See more at:


Feature Journalism fund - 5-50K

The Bertha BRITDOC Fund for Journalism is an international film fund dedicated to supporting long form feature documentaries of a journalistic nature. We are looking for films that break the important stories of our time, expose injustice, bring attention to unreported issues and cameras into regions previously unseen


Arts Council England don’t fund films unless they are very specifically about an artist/art - what they do support is listed here

Other things of potential interest

US TV Screenings on Independent TV, could be interesting extra avenue for showing your work -

Film nights - Doc Heads, - I’ve been to this in East London, very nice people, good fun night, always good films, they take submissions for anything from 2 - 30 minutes.

Saw this amazing film at Doc Heads, really worth a watch. Let's not let it put us off applying for stuff though!

Dir: Alex Nicholson


My London - film competition as part of the East London Film Festival -

What films are we looking for?
All sorts. There are two main rules: all entries have to be no more than three minutes long, and all entries have to fit the brief ‘My London’.

Deadline for submission Midnight May 16th 2014

Thanks, hope that was useful. I found it interesting, but a bit depressing that there isn't more support out there. If anyone has any smaller festivals, competitions, grants, screenings, please do get in touch.

I'm on Twitter @thomhoffman

Speaking of which, here are some interesting twitter people to keep an eye on:











Live Streaming/recording onto YouTube.

Live Streaming/recording onto YouTube.

PC - may wish to add decent webcam and USB microphone

Mac - may need to rejig settings to use external camera and mic, but would recommend a USB microphone

If you need a relatively simple way to livestream broadcast to people who are not in the room then YouTube offers a good solution. It also records this stream and places it in your youtube channel (associated with your gmail address) after the event so you can watch it back in your own time. This can be public, broadcast to anyone, or private, just for select group of people.

This is probably the easiest way to record, and have your video ready for sharing all in one swoop.

Sign in to youtube (your gmail account has a youtube account automatically) and go to ‘video manager’ if you click on live events you will see this option, you must click ‘Enable live streaming’

You may need to verify your account by getting a code sent to your phone

Type the code in and you should be good to go.

Now in the ‘Live Events’ window you should be able to ‘Create live event’

Add a title for your live event/video and you can schedule it for a future date or start one now. Add a description so people know what it’s about, and whether there are any documents they need, or instructions if you want them to comment. etc.

Also importantly, you need to choose if the event will be public, private, or unlisted. Public means anyone can find and watch it, private means you need to invite people directly (through gmail) and unlisted means that it’s hidden from youtube, but if anyone from any organisation has that link (because someone forwarded it to them) they can watch it.

You must Agree to t’s and c’s 

If you click on the Advanced settings tab, you will find some more, important, options

If private, or unlisted, I’d recommend unchecking the boxes in the Promotions tab, and also make sure to tick the recording made private option (you can make it unlisted, or public later in the video manager window) 

There are lots of settings that should be changed depending on whether it’s a ‘public facing, look at us! Ask Questions!’ event, or a private predominantly ‘broadcast-based’ event. 

click - go live now when you are ready to live stream….

you will see this menu pop up as it launches a new google hangouts window to host the live stream

it will take a bit of time to load up 

Your hangout screen will look like this

Here you can test the sound is working (the little green dots on the bottom of the screen), change the white balance, to get the look as nice as possible

changing to warm, makes me look slightly less pasty and ill, for example, as you can see.

You can use the yellow ‘effects’ tab to add a funny hat, or put yourself onto a beach background. It works seamlessly…

You should be able to change the sound/ video input to an external microphone and external webcam, by changing the settings (clicking the little cog at the top) in your Google Hangout window. 

{if this fails}. depending on whether you have a mac or PC, this is easier or harder. (you may need to change your headphone jack on your laptop, to a sound input, OR, you may have to select the external USB microphone in your computer’s sound preferences menu). Ask a geeky person to have a play around. The inbuilt webcam on a new computer is probably tolerable, the inbuilt mic, probably isn’t great, ipads seem to pretty good. Test it out.

Sound is super important, so if you plan on doing these regularly a good USB microphone is a no-brainer

something like this one

You can find the links to the viewing page at the bottom right of the screen, click on links. You can also embed this on another website, if you’d prefer - 

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 19.32.51.png

You will not be ‘live’ yet, you need to click on Start Broadcast at the bottom of your hangout window

You are now live, and the youtube page will look like this

You can share this link around and people can comment under the video, etc. 

It’s worth having a ‘moderator’ who is keeping an eye on the comments, which may highlight problems with sound, video, or you can ask the audience to post questions. There is a time delay, so planning is important for a good interactive experience.

Once finished, just click the ‘stop broadcast’ button on your google hangout window.

There is no coming back from this though by the way. If you stop the recording, you can't re-invite everyone to the same event. Harsh but fair.

The video will be processed a bit by youtube, and then be available to watch on demand

In video manager within YouTube, the live stream will shortly be in your uploads folder

Click edit, to change the settings

You may want to trim the start and end, try and fix the audio or video (these settings are not great yet, but one day will probably be really decent) Play around, see what works. Be careful not to trim too far, as you might lose that data…

Any questions, give us a shout. Happy  budget livestreaming!