MovieMaker is reintroducing the We Makes Movies (Better) blog from our friends over at We Make Movies! Look for their brilliant, practical advice straight from the front lines of film – now coming at you every other Monday (all DIY, all day). In this first installment, Ethan Kogan builds his own computer. You know, just your average weekday.


On some low-budget sets, they have what is called a “skeleton crew,” which is defined as: “The minimum number of personnel needed to operate and maintain an item at its most simple operating requirements, and to keep vital functions operating.”

On the set of Problem of Evil, Jessica Silvetti and I had only each other. We embarked on a journey to shoot a feature film over a 14-day shooting schedule, and filled the key positions of Writer, Director, Cinematographer and Editor ourselves. We decided it would be most efficient and budget conscious to purchase the necessary equipment and teach ourselves to use it rather than renting and dealing with insurance. Using personal funds (read: debt), we purchased a Canon DSLR and three professional Canon L-Series lenses. We built and designed a custom shoulder rig out of parts from Home Depot based on a few tutorials on sites like,, and We used nothing but practical lights found on location throughout the entire production, which proved difficult at some times and a blessing at others. Shooting a feature that was predominantly improvised, dramatic scenes were feats in and of themselves. Owning all of our equipment allowed us great flexibility during shooting, and we wanted to experience that same freedom during postproduction while keeping costs down. The decision was made to build a PC based editing bay from scratch, and to utilize an Avid NLE to edit the film. We did all the research. Here’s our setup:

EQUIPMENT – Yes we all want blazing fast speeds, and we all want every  available feature, the “turkey with all the trimmings” philosophy of life. But,  when cost is a factor, you need to be realistic about what you need right now,  and where you might be going with your system. Compatibility among all  parts is key. See the REFERENCE section for good links.

-Case – Cooler Master HAF 932 (Full tower)

-Motherboard – Asus P8P67

-RAM – 2 x 4b G Skill DDR3 PC3-12800, 2 x 4gb Patriot Systems DDR3 PC3-10700

-Processor – Intel i7 2600K 3.4Ghz

-Processor Cooling Fan – Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo

-Graphics –Nvidia Quadro 600

-Hard Drives – 4x  HGST Deskstar, 3.5”, 2TB, 7200RPM, SATAIII, 6Gbps, 64MB Cach

-Backup – OWC Mercury Elite Pro (We purchased hard drives separately; It’s cheaper)

-Power Supply – Corsair TX850W

-Case Fans – 3 fans come with Cooler Master case. For additional units go to Newegg or Best Buy to find a compatible fan or to upgrade within your case.

-Optical Drives – (DVD) Asus Drw-24B1ST, (Blu-Ray) Sony Optiarc BDRW BD-5300S

-Monitor – Asus VE228H, 21.5” LED (Decent color representation)

-Keyboard – Bella USA Pro Series 3.0 keyboard for Avid Media Composer

-Mouse – Logitech Trackman Marble

-Speakers – M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 professional monitors

-Miscellaneous wires, screws, etc. –

COMPATIBILITY – Be certain to do all your research on each and every part and ensure that it’s compatible with your motherboard, RAM, Hard drives, etc. It’s a Jenga puzzle and you don’t want to put in or pull out the wrong piece.

CONSTRUCTION – You’re going to need someone with a bit of technical knowhow. If it’s not you, you’ll just need to learn. Here is a good Lifehacker guide for assembly.

TROUBLESHOOTING – Problems arise, even after doing the appropriate research. Be detail-oriented and logical in your approach to solving a problem. Backtrack, step by step, the building process. It could be something as simple as your RAM needing to be switched from one slot to another (a problem I ran into).

SOFTWARE- Here is a list of software companies I use.

-I was lucky enough to discover the academic version of Avid Media Composer (subtitled Interplay Edition) while I was taking a Hebrew Language course at SMCC. A purchase through MacMall required only a course schedule. For $295.00, I will get free Media Composer upgrades for 4 years in addition to Avid FX, Sorenson Squeeze, and Avid DVD upgrades. Nice.

-Windows 7 Ultimate, System Builder software.

-Other great free software which I highly recommend and can be immensely useful:

VLC Media Player 

Audacity Sound Editor

Handbrake Video Transcoder

Mpeg Streamclip Video Converter

IMGBurn Dvd/Blu-ray/Image Burner 

CPU-Z – (Great for Keeping tabs on your system specs)


Newegg – Pay attention to user reviews. People here know their stuff.

Cyberguys – Equipment/gear finder

My Cable Mart – Cable finder

Storage Review – Hard drive research

After Dawn: Guides – Features tons of training guides to search through.

Lynda – This is where I taught myself to edit on Avid.

Extreme Tech – A great source for DIY articles.

MAINTENANCE – Be aware of the environment your tower is in. Heat, dust, pets and heavy foot traffic can all bring unwanted wear and tear to your precious baby. Clean around it often. Open it up once a month and clean it out. Always have spare parts to switch out if need be, and keep an extra hard drive handy in case one decides to go bonkers (which it will).

SANITY – It’s a long road, yes, and while you may find yourself roaming the streets at night, possibly naked and howling at the moon, you will complete your journey if you stay focused. What follows is confidence, satisfaction and a firmer grasp on movie making. Basically, what I’m saying is that you can do it. You’re just going to have to want to do it.

QUESTIONS? Like the film’s page and feel free to ask me any questions by posting on the film’s wall. I’d love to open up the conversation.

To subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.