Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lighting Illness

OK. It may sound insane, but I (quickly) lit our holiday family iChat sessions.

First, frontal lighting is hard to do with the iChat camera. The camera is typically right next to the wall and monitor. I did a quick bounce off the wall, above and behind the monitor. The iChat camera seems to balance towards daylight, so the image was looking a little orange with the tungsten light. I corrected this with a very slight CTB and plus green on the light. The slightly elevated light also helps hide my turkey neck. I put a sider up on the monitor so I could see the image accurately on it and a sider on the light itself so there wasn't any direct spill on our faces from the side.

Then, I lit the background with a small fresnel (with a little CTB again) and a homemade cookie, making a nice background pattern.

Then, I added a specular spotlight to highlight a photo on the wall, knocking it down a couple of stops with scrims (CTB again).

To finish it, I wanted a little subtle color in the background. I wrapped a bicycle LED light in diffusion and taped off the some of the lights, to get the right illumination level. This gag didn't work very well. A bright red object would've probably achieved a better effect.

Looking at the image now, I think I would probably bounce a light into some Roscoflex for a nice silvery rim on both of us (on our left side). That would really add some life to the whole image.

Happy holidays to everyone. I hope that you all get to spend your days doing the things you love in the upcoming year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adobe's "Customer Care"

Am I the only person to notice how bad Adobe's "Customer Care" has gotten? I have been on the phone with them at least 5 times over a period of more than two months and still have not received my post-announcement upgrade for CS4 Production Premium Suite. The last time I called they told me it would be delivered today. What they didn't say was that it would would be delivered today to their warehouse in Georgia because they shipped it to the wrong address and FedEx was returning it as undeliverable. There is a serious disconnect between the quality of the product that they are shipping and the support they are providing for it. And don't even get me started on their update manager.

This ain't no Ricky Martin

One film that I hope gets at least a DVD release is a joint Spanish-French-Mexican production, "La Vida Loca." This is definitely a film to see. Claustrophobic and at times feeling like a fever dream, it shows that sometimes reality is so intense that you have no choice but to stand back and just film it (handheld).

The trailer can be seen here. It is worth watching. It conveys only a bit of the film's intensity. This film has the sustained intensity that I had hoped "Made in America" would have.

I felt as if I'd been hit in the head with a brick by the time I finished watching this film. It documents the life (it sounds strange calling it that in this instance) in El Salvador of members of the Mara 18 gang and their warfare with Mara Salvatrucha (13). Names sound familiar? That's because the gangs were formed in Los Angeles (18th Street and 13th Street) and exported in a big way back to El Salvador (and elsewhere in Central America) with the massive deportations of gang members from the U.S. in the past decade. It's a dubious cultural export, indeed. The cultural mirror created by this powerful film makes me ache for all the dead, the innocent victims and destroyed lives in both the U.S. and El Salvador. And, to wonder why we are willing to accept as normal the astonishingly high level of violence in our society.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good cinematography find

This Pentax digital spotmeter is the one that you're most likely to see being used on a set. It is extremely accurate and has some nice features on it. It also is no longer available and "new" ones on eBay sell for about $600. I recently found, and purchased one from Provantage (a reputable retailer) for $426, a lot less than it cost when they were still making them. Someone must have some sitting in a warehouse somewhere. If you have any interest in buying a spotmeter, I'd jump on this because when they're gone, they're gone. It takes about two weeks to get it.

Even if you don't have the slightest idea as to how to use it, you can always pull it out, point it at something and say, "knock that baby down a half stop" and everyone will think you have everything under control. It also adds a nice gunslinger effect if you wear it on your belt.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I attended the International Documentary Association's annual awards recently. Werner Herzog received a lifetime achievement award. His acceptance was brief, but to the point. Documentary filmmakers need to break out of "outdated" modes developed during the 1950's-60's (that would be direct cinema) in order to reach current audiences. The reception to that advice, to me anyway, seemed, um, subdued. It's been a hard year.

I've been somewhat disappointed to discover that there are still a significant number of documentary filmmakers who consider other modes of storytelling as not being "real" documentary. Or, that many are still wedded to the idea of the documentary filmmaker as the noble underdog reporter of facts that represent the "Truth." Personally, I find it offensive that we live in a society where basic reporting of current events and issues (essential to maintaining a functioning democracy) has been abdicated to essentially poorly funded volunteers. Worse, those poorly funded volunteers have been made to feel like they have to limit their creativity to "objective" journalistic standards that many of the established for-profit media sources even no longer feel compelled to follow.

What is true is that while the number of documentary films being made are multiplying, the audience does not seem to be there for this explosion of films. The host Morgan Spurlock, who has a better handle on popular storytelling than most, mocked himself by pointing out that "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" grossed $384K domestically, while "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" grossed $92M. I should point out that I know several intelligent people who would, without question, rather watch a talking animal movie rather than any documentary.

Happily, both of the feature award winners offered less than "traditional" storytelling. "Man on a Wire" uses extensive re-enactments, which seems to be controversial with a surprising number of people 20 years after the "Thin Blue Line" and 80 years after "Nanook."

More interestingly, the co-winner "Waltz with Bashir," is an animated documentary. I highly recommend seeking it out. The opening put me off a little but by the end of the film I was completely engaged. The animation creates a distance from the actual people involved in the events while at the same time, it also draws the viewer in. I still cannot explain exactly why. Maybe our defenses are lower with animation than with actual video of conflict and atrocities. Maybe we don't judge animated "characters" as hard as actual participants and are more receptive to their story. Perhaps the participants themselves were able to be more uncertain and real, less defensive, knowing that their actual image wouldn't be used. As a result, the filmmaker is able to subtly communicate many traumatic truths and the nature of memory when trying to recall these types of events.

My point is that filmmakers must become more creative in their stories and their storytelling. Audiences have become more sophisticated and jaded, whether we like it or not. If we want to reach them, and quite possibly even make a living doing it (remember that the people who created direct cinema all made a living doing their work--if we want to survive, we need to make money to film another day), we need to talk to them and not at them. I don't think that it's an accident that some of the most consistently successful documentary filmmakers of the last 25 years, Moore, Morris, Herzog are among the most non-traditional and innovative. If an intelligent effort is made, people will watch (although Iraq burnout seemed to sink "Standard Operating Procedure"--it grossed $229K domestically). There will always be a place for the direct cinema type of documentary; see my post about "La Vida Loca." It would just be a lot more interesting for it not to be nearly the only storytelling model used by filmmakers.

Other notable films that innovate with their storytelling?? "Bus 174" (in my opinion, one of the most important films of the past 20 years) and "Stevie" are two outstanding examples. I would even propose looking at some of Chris Marker's work, even his fiction work ("Sans Soleil"), for potentially innovative documentary storytelling models.

Buy this film.

These are hard times for filmmakers, just like the rest of the world. Funding and distribution seem to be more distant than ever. I know many people who have barely worked since August, and before that there was the writer's strike. The economy is in complete turmoil, class divisions are greater than at any point in recent history and we seem to have burned our bridges to many possible solutions in the past 8 years. As creative people, it seems like we have nothing to lose. We are funding ourselves, donating equipment and time....why aren't we telling our stories in our own way? It seems like this is the perfect time to innovate and be free to actually have a vision.

Here is one definition of documentary film: A non-fiction film that uses a minimal amount of re-enactments or fictionalization in order to present some kind of truth about its subject.
Non-fiction is defined as: the events portrayed in the film are/were in some sense "real." Truth: not necessarily based on facts; reveals some detail or experience that can be understood as "true" to someone. I like a lot about this definition. The one area that I still think about, and question, is how much fictionalization (and of what type) and recreation is acceptable for a film to still be considered a documentary. I come down more on the side of more as opposed to less, as long as it effectively communicates truths, personal, perceived, impressionistic or otherwise. I think that I'd rather have less facts and more truth, as opposed to the shovels of facts, with little truth, that we are fed every day by the mainstream media.

So, What Would Werner Do? This is an extract from an August 19, 2005 interview with the Austin Chronicle:

AC: In your nonfiction work, we see a blending of fictionalized moments and what we think of as conventional documentary technique. You spoke at Sundance about staging a scene with a droplet of water, glycerin, actually –

WH: The water drop scene and the dialogue that I purely invented is in The White Diamond.
But your question is somehow poking into what is documentary for me. I'm after some deeper truth [rather] than just facts. To find some sort of ecstasy of truth, I stylize, I fabricate, I stage, I invent dialogue all over the place. So when you speak about documentaries, do it with a necessary caution....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

OK. One Last Shootout

Zacuto's Great Camera Shootout '08 from Steve Weiss, Zacuto USA on Vimeo.

Zacuto did an interesting shootout, covering pretty much the entire range for state of the art image aquisition in 2008, from 35mm to a D90 DSLR. They talk for awhile at the beginning of the clip and the actual footage starts about midway through. I recommend downloading the whole thing and then watching it in full screen HD. Again, creating this type of test is a very subjective thing, regardless of how hard you try to be objective.

What did I take from this? 35mm film is still the most elegant solution, both in the established workflow and resulting image. In the cheaper end, one of my favorites, the HVX/Letus Elite combo still looks pretty darn nice. A little soft, but pleasantly so, and as you'll hear them say in the clip, it required very little post production work. This is something that people really aren't focusing on in all of these discussions about what is the "best" camera, how much money and time you are consuming in post-production. You can also pick up an HVX used for a pretty cheap.

I thought the HPX 170 didn't look too bad out of the box, for the money. It'll make a really nice low-cost documentary camera. I'd be curious as to how it'd look with a depth of field adapter on it. I'm also curious why the color looked a little thin on it compared to the HVX, given that the image processing should be the same (if it was an HVX200A). If the HVX used for the test is the original model, the HPX should have improved image processing.

The new HPX3000 and the EX3, to me, looked the most "video." I also was a little disappointed with the color reproduction of facial tones for the EX3. I don't understand what was going on with the Red footage, it looked soft, maybe they used the stock "Red lens" (don't get angry, it's a joke).

My choices? For a feature, 35mm. For a guerilla budget, the HVX/HPX with the Letus Elite. For the "jungle documentary", the HPX 170 or the EX 3 with a Flash Nano from Convergent Designs.

OK. I promise my next several posts will only deal with creative issues. No technology.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More ridiculousness

That's a crystal sync, super 16, Bolex EBM with a built-for-danger sound barney.

Sorry, you'll have to go here or here if you want to follow the latest from Red's PR trail. This is good reading if you want a Red non-believer's perspective. And if you're in the mood for a contrarian opinion about DSLR video, click here. These are some pretty good arguments for shooting in film (add the words "data extinction" to your vocabulary). I am in techno-burnout and am feeling more focused on images and story than data rates, data management or resolution right now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sublimely Ridiculous

Yes, that is an 8 year old PD100. And, yes, we had a blast. The camera was quite helpful in reviewing the moves we made with the camera head and dolly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Extreme DVCPRO HD Color Correction

I recommend clicking on this link to view it at full size and in HD. It really looks much better. The linked page also describes in detail what I was trying to do with the test.

Extreme DVCPRO HD color correction test from Craig Mieritz on Vimeo.

Friday, October 17, 2008

$60 CF alternative to $850 SxS storage card for EX1/EX3

Wow. Check this out. Some Australians have figured out that you can use compact flash memory with the EX-1 or EX-3 in conjunction with a Kensington 7-in-one media reader (about $40). The transfer rates are slower and your overcranking is limited to 40 fps but, wow, the media cost is brought down from $850 to $60. Read the fine print about compatibility and test, test, test, it yourself.

The HVX-200/HPX-170 also records at about 35 Mbps in 720/24PN mode. Maybe someone will figure out a workaround for P2 cards??

Hopefully this will be, as far as the pricing on solid state memory, a game changer.

Thanks to Bruce Johnson, at ProVideoCoalition for digging this up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Crazy times

Crazy times can foster amazing art. Not always, but just maybe your time is coming. It's up to you, not an international media conglomerate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do the Madison

I need to post these to clear my head from all the techno-babble that has been polluting my brain.



Passion and intellect. Now I feel better.

The Kopple photo hangs in my office for inspiration. It always makes me flash to that moment in Harlan County when the strikebreaker points his gun at the camera, pauses, decides not to shoot, and then keeps on driving. Which side are you on?

Interesting Times

Regardless of how you feel about the Red One as a tool, it certainly seems to have changed the camera marketplace. Camera companies tend to pace the introduction of new technology, both hardware and formats, allowing them to draw out the introduction of innovation in order to milk the maximum profit from it. (Yes, there are other reasons: for example, other companies need time to create products that support both the end formats and the hardware.)

HDV is an example. Originally created for the Japanese wedding market, the camera makers found that it was a marketable format as a step up (quality-wise and cost-wise) from DV. Several years later and many of the companies were still selling this "accidental" format, with Panasonic being an innovator with their P2/DVCPRO HD format. I won't go into HDV at depth, other than to say that it is what it is and it does what it does. I chose not to participate, for the most part sticking with DV and film.

What does Red have to do with HDV? Well, once the Red One was introduced, people started expecting (rightly or wrongly) an accelerated pace of innovation (both in hardware and formats) from the major camera companies. The real bombshell was when Red announced the Scarlet camera, a "3K" camera for "under $3K". What needs to be made clear is that the big camera manufacturers make nearly all of their profits from camcorders, from small-fry like us, and not from their high-end cinema cameras. The high-end cameras serve a role: R&D, prestige and also as an always changing "professional" standard that the prosumer market looks to with desire and dollars.

What has been the result of the Red marketing revolution? To a certain extent it has tied up the prosumer to low-professional level of the marketplace. Why? Because it seems many people are saving to buy their Red One, their Scarlet or an equivalent from one of the major manufacturers. The result is that you are seeing cameras coming out from Sony and Pansonic at a substantially lower price point than initially announced. For example, the HPX-500 has had a $2000 rebate for the past 6 months (the retail list being about $11.5K, with it actually selling at $10K and ending up at $8K with the rebate) and the Sony EX-3 was announced at about a $13K pricepoint at the 2008 NAB, yet is selling at $8300 at your local dealer 4 months later.

Now Red may be doing a little scrambling of their own with DSLR camera makers like Canon (5D MkII) and Nikon (D90) releasing cameras capable of 720p or 1080p. Earlier this month, Red announced that they were going to make a "replacement" for the DSLR market and that it would not be a replacement for the planned Scarlet or Epic. Yesterday, Red announced that, "We have changed everything about Scarlet because the market has changed and we have discovered a lot of things in the process. We have a new vision...." It appears as though they are starting over again with both the Epic and the Scarlet. What will that do to the projected release date of both products and to the seeming army of people waiting to buy them?

If you have any interest in DSLR filmmaking, here is a film that was shot within the past month on the Canon 5D MkII by Vincent Laforet. Remember, this is primarily a still photo camera.

I am not going to go into the technical/aesthetic issues between Red and other digital cameras. That is going on endlessly on boards. I did participate in a shootout last fall involving the Red One, 35mm and an HVX 200 (shooting Lomo anamorphic glass through a RedRock adapter). It is discussed here on and the HD file of the test is available for download here. The best comment on the thread, for me, asked whether the accompanying photo was a still from "Revenge of the Nerds." YES!!

Where is it all headed? Is it the best of times or the worst of times? Will the format you buy into today be acceptable a couple years from now? Here's the best advice that I've received from a couple of pretty smart people: "Get only what you need to reach the quality level necessary for your next show." And, "Why buy when you can rent?" My head is spinning after researching all the cameras and formats out there right now for the documentary I am shooting. All I can say at this point is that I'd like to buy as little as possible and spend more time worrying about telling stories than obsessing about the technology. Or, as my former advanced cinematography teacher put it, "There was a time when DP's didn't worry about data rates." And to stop asking, like kids on the family vacation, "are we there yet?"

If reading this hasn't exhausted or bored you, here's an interesting article written by Rian Johnson on Red hype, resolution, color depth, the Sony F 23, and the Genesis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Web content strategy

This is an interesting blog post from Norman Hollyn on web content strategy. His blog (Hollyn-wood (Norman, that is)) has included an ongoing discussion of online content that is worth following (Note: he has moved his blog to Professionally, he has done many things, (most importantly for me he was the editor on Heathers), from editing features to new media development and teaching at USC.

His take on video content is pretty level-headed. Why would the essential necessities of visual narrative storytelling (drawing the audience in quickly, well-developed character arcs) be different on the web? He also gets some fairly funny pokes in at the New York Times and big-money producers who don't seem to get the difference between content and how it is delivered. Is it really possible that media experts can't tell the difference between "Don't Tase me, Bro!" and serial narrative content? The people who will be successful will produce content that is not just watered down television or incoherent splatterings (think YouTube). I'd really like to hear more from him on the relationship of business/advertising models to content in the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Burden of Dreams

I finally got to watch The Burden of Dreams by Les Blank. It documents Werner Herzog making Fitcarraldo in the middle of the Amazon, risking everything, including the lives of those around him. One, of many, dangerous ordeals undertaken by Herzog in the making of the film involved actually moving a steamship over a large hill in the middle of the jungle without using any special effects and very little equipment. I highly recommend it (another film with a similar theme is Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse).

Some Wernerisms from it:

"If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that. My life begins and ends with this project."

"I'm running out of fantasy. I don't know what else can happen now."

There is a priceless interview, made after Herzog had spent years in the jungle trying to complete the film, during which a somewhat dazed Herzog rambles on about how the jungle is nothing but "fornication and death."

The Criterion edition also has the extra short (also by Blank) Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. This documents Werner cooking and actually eating his shoe in payment for a lost bet. Herzog had challenged Errol Morris, then living in the San Francisco Bay Area, by saying that he was not "brave enough" to actually complete a film and that he would eat his shoe if he ever did. Morris completed Gates of Heaven and Herzog flew to Berkeley for the premiere and ate his entire right shoe (except for the sole) in front of the audience (after cooking it at Chez Panisse). The short is also available online here.

If anyone is feeling particularly generous, there is also a nifty 6 dvd box set of documentaries and shorts by Herzog.

I'll talk more about Les Blank, George Kuchar, Kurt McDowell and other Bay Area filmmakers, in a future post. My brain nearly explodes trying to imagine a San Francisco Art Institute filmmaking class in the early 1970's taught by George Kuchar with Errol Morris as a student.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Human Light Stand

There is truth in what Eric Escobar says in this post. Shoot with cheap equipment, often and then some more. What to add? Here are some opinions:

Filmmaking is hard work. Really hard. And you need to become proficient in at least one skill. Yes, it's really important to understand the soup to nuts of filmmaking but, it is inherently a collaborative process. No one person (with the exception of animation) can sustainably create films on their own. The goal is to develop relationships with people to work with whose skills dovetail with yours. Or switch roles when you work on each other's films. But at some point you are a director, writer, producer, electrician, grip, script supervisor, assistant director, sound mixer or a combination of them. You can't be great at all of them.

What is a "filmmaker?" It's a generic term that describes someone involved in the filmmaking process, from industrials to webisodes. If you talk to people who really are making a living doing this, trying to find work, they're going to want to know what are your specific skills, right now.

No matter what type of work you intend to create I think it's good to get work on sets with professionals. You will learn 100X more than you ever learned in film school. There is nothing like the sight of the grips coming in like a SWAT team to re-rig a room in a couple minutes because the shooting schedule has changed at the last minute. You learn discipline and develop the physical and emotional endurance and learn the skills to help you make your film end up looking the way you want it. You will also learn how to work in a team and how to treat a crew (especially important if you're trying to get people who know what they're doing to work for free). You will also be 20X ahead of the competition when you learn what a script supervisor does and why you must have one. Once I started to work with people who were really good at what they did I understood how important it is to surround yourself with people as hard working and dedicated as yourself.

Everyone I know who is in film works incredibly hard. I admire every last one of them. They're out there working 12-14 hour days outside in the desert or on a soundstage with 50K of lights up. They eat, sleep, work, dream filmmaking. In their free time they hang out with their film friends to network and talk. Nearly every person who makes a first feature never makes a second. I think it is important to have a long-term plan and commitment. But you also need to have a way to support yourself. And if it's not in film or complementary to film, it can ultimately drag you away from it. My observation, by no means definitive, is that making your way is a process. The harder you work, the more you put yourself out there (and don't internalize the rejection) the more likely you are to last. Yes, you may be a genius but sometimes you just might need to just be a human light stand.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nifty visual tool for converting light color accurately

This chart (it's a pdf) is a visual tool for converting light precisely by using mired units. The left side is for using gels and the right side is for using camera filters to acheive the same effect. It's brilliant. Especially if you're the kind of person who wonders how to convert high pressure sodium light to match cool white fluorescents. Yes, we do exist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

French Maid TV

This hot off the presses of the LA Times, a story about webisodes and an accompanying photo gallery showing "Behind the Scenes" on a French Maid TV webisode shoot.

The internets, the new frontier, the future of entertainment. On the positive side, they've cut out virtually all the dialogue on this show.

The only thing that always pops in my brain when I hear the word webisode, is the time when I heard a development executive enthuse about how cheap they were to produce and that you could get "kids who live at home to work for $50/day." I still have not heard one sustainable financial model (besides Google/YouTube or aggregators) for the webisode as an alternative model to just streaming TV over the web with commercials. If anyone has, please contact me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Linear, Log & Exposure Explained

I highly recommend Stu Maschwitz's blog Pro Lost. This is one of the clearest explanations of the difference between log and linear and how it relates to exposure.

Stu is the creator of the Magic Bullet products and one of the co-founders of The Orphanage (check out his IMDb). His posts are clearly written and usually quite interesting. He also advocates for low-budget filmmaking (especially when the alternative is not filmmaking).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Death and Restoration

The computer with my film data files died today. Hopefully nothing happened that fried the hard drives because my original files and backup were on separate drives (lesson 1: always keep a back up in a separate location) on the same computer. Here's the thing I ordered that'll hopefully get me out of this mess:

It connects to any internal hard drive (outside of the computer), gives it power and converts it to a USB 2.0 interface. It's a good tool for a filmmaker to have anyway. Internal drives are really inexpensive and you can use them for project file archives, rather than using more expensive drives in enclosures. Just plug them in, fill them up and stick them somewhere (ok, two places) safe.

With any luck at all, I should be able to hook this mess up to either of the drives and transfer the data to my new data drive. If not, I've lost all of my film files. Ack.

Recent film work

I've been pretty busy lately. A couple of weeks ago I was Director of Photography on a short film shot up in Oakland called "Ticket to Change."

The quality of the photography can largely be attributed to the heroic efforts of Karen Abad and Michael Baca. The whole film can be seen here.

Last week I shot a spec commercial for a director with whom I enjoy working a great deal, so it was a pretty pleasurable experience. It was also a funny concept. I'll post a link when it's completed.

I am also doing pre-production on a documentary that I hope to start shooting in September. It will hopefully be one in a series that I have planned. There will be much more about that in the coming days....

Saturday, August 2, 2008

L.A.'s Loss

If you're lucky, when you're in school you get a teacher who helps you pull together concepts far beyond the boundaries of the class. I had that experience with Deron Overpeck while taking survey Documentary and Narrative film classes at LACC. So I had mixed feelings when I heard that he was leaving California for a tenure track position at Auburn University. Happy because he absolutely deserves to be on the tenure track at a major university. But also disappointed because people like Deron really add to the discussion about what film is and it just seemed right to me that he was in Los Angeles.

Besides teaching an excellent overview of the development of cinema as an art form, he also managed to clearly address the structural market issues and how they helped drive that development. He always treated student comments with respect, no matter how distant they seemed from the subject at hand, and always tried to find some truth from their input that was applicable to the topic.

My advice to cinema students at Auburn: study hard and bring extra pencils, erasers and blue books. You'll get as much as you put into his classes.

Hollywood Joke

O.K. I heard this from a person who has an IMDb listing that's a full page long.

In Hollywood, what's the difference between your friends and enemies?

Your friends stab you in the chest.

Do I look like Mother Theresa?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Happy Place

Go to a bbq or organize/label my gels and diffusion? This is why I have a very limited social life. For the non-filmmakers, gels are used to color light, sometimes for aesthetic reasons or to match the wavelength of light to the film stock being used (daylight or tungsten). In practice, it usually ends up being a combination of both necessity and aesthetics. Diffusion is material that is used to make light softer by spreading the light source and breaking up the parallel rays from a direct light source. It also cuts down on the intensity of a light.

Whatever the use, these stinkers are expensive, about $6/sheet and over $100/roll, so they get used and reused.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Content is King. Long live the King?

Ah, the eternal debate. What is content worth? I remember those idealistic days in the 1990's, prior to the first internet bubble collapsing, when the mantra was "content is king." That concept, like the business model accompanying that first wave of utopian euphoria, is a nostalgic memory now.

Last weekend, I attended a workshop on "alternative" fund-raising and distribution. The idea that, in the digital age, content is rapidly being devalued has taken root at the grassroot level. Mind you, presenters included people who had screened films at Sundance and a very well-regarded documentary filmmaker. What were the underlying messages of the day for me? The film industry is potentially heading for a disaster similar to what happened to the recording industry as digital bandwidth increases. Markets will continue to fragment, leaving smaller and smaller economic rewards (however, people willing to serve these smaller markets will be able to make money off of them, if they know what they're doing). We are heading for a world where the content will be less valuable than all the ancillary materials surrounding the content.

What? That's right, the stuff around content will be what earns the content producer money, not the actual content itself. O.K., I am just reporting, so please don't scream at me. I am way too feeble minded to make such sweeping predictions. However, once you get past the shock of the idea of relatively valueless content, it's not such a revolutionary idea. All the way back in the 1970's George Lucas understood the concept of ancillary materials being more valuable than the actual content. In the original deal for Star Wars, Lucas gave up the right to profits from the actual films in exchange for exclusive ownership of all the ancillary products related to the films. Love him or hate him, I think it's safe to say that given studio accounting, he did quite a bit better peddling action figures than working under a traditional deal.

According to what I heard at the conference, small content producers are going to have to get used to the idea of giving away content and learning how to create and (I hate this word) monetize their content through creating an experience to accompany the content. Find, or create, a community (rather than an audience), serve it, and then rely on it for financial support. A poster child for one model using this approach is Jill Sobule, who raised the funds to make her last album from her fans prior to recording it.

Anyway, here are two groups that sponsored the conference: The Workbook Project and Current TV. Here is a link to the conference itself, DIY Days.

I do know that things are getting painfully tight for smaller content producers who are trying to produce content of substance. What can a consumer of media do? Be mindful of all your purchases, including web clicks and when you give your personal information away (that is ultimately what is most valuable to the people with the stuff to sell). How many cable channels do you need? Are you willing to watch content that is essentially one long commercial because of product placements (which seems to be one potential scenario as far as content delivered on the web)?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trip to Panavision

Today was a fantastic day because I got to go to Panavision. It's hard to explain what it's like to be there. I love almost all cameras but Panavision is a special place. A legendary cinematographer could be in the stall next to you, doing camera tests for their next feature. Plus, they treat you well there, even if you aren't a famous cinematographer. A couple of weeks ago I was there for an event and Joe Dunton gave a talk. He provided lenses and cameras for Stanley Kubrick (and many others) for much of his career. What I really appreciated was that his presentation focused entirely on motion picture artistry, not technical details. He also pulled out an f/0.7 prime lens. Geeks and Kubrick fans will know of what I speak.

I practiced loading film mags and operating the Panahead geared camera heads. Unfortunately, I still have a way to go, as far as operating the heads. For the non-film people, the magazine is on top of the camera (the part that says Panavision) and holds the film. The head is a geared support device for moving the camera smoothly. You can see them both here.

You know that you're crazy enough to work in film when you're happy to spend 4 hours moving a laser pointer on a camera head, trying to keep it in a series of thin white lines on a chart. You spin the wheels on the head and it turns the gears that move the head and the camera. It's kind of like rubbing your head and stomach at the same time with your hands moving in opposite directions.

There was a 5.4 earthquake while I was there. Everyone looked up for a second and then went back to work.