Thursday, November 12, 2009

Film Joke

An AC and a grip are out fishing, catching lots of fish.  The AC pulls out some tape and marks an X on the bottom of the boat. 

Grip: "What did you do that for?"
AC: "So we know where our spot is so we can come back to it."
Grip: "That's dumb, how can you be sure we'll get the same boat?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Bring What I Love

If you're in L.A., I highly recommend getting to the FREE screening of Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love on November 17.  There will be a discussion afterwards with the Director, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.  I recommend also staying for that; she is an extremely bright and engaging person.  This film explores someone who knows exactly who they are are (in a profound sense), what they believe and their journey to give voice to that experience.  It's no understatement to say that during that journey, he risks all that really matters to him to spread the message.

I have been a fan of Youssou N'Dour's for 25 years or so, but after watching this film I realized how little I really knew about him and his music.  Structurally, the film is not perfect, the filmmaker clearly had to include enough back-story to engage the uninitiated.  But the upside is, even if this is the first time you've ever heard of Youssou, you will enjoy this film.  His personal charisma is quite engaging, as is his amazing music.  It's definitely worth seeing on a big screen because a lot of it is shot in Africa and it's great to be able to absorb it all at the theatrical scale.

It's been a very good year for music documentaries.  Two others that I can recommend are: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (now out on dvd) and It Might Get Loud.  Anvil is kind of a real-life Spinal Tap story, except by the end of the film you love them, instead of just laughing at them.  Anvil is a Canadian heavy metal band that inspired the likes of Metallica, Lemmy Loud (Motorhead), Slash (Guns n' Roses) but somehow never seemed to find a payday.  The film documents their ongoing struggle to make it back to the top of the music world.

It Might Get Loud struck me personally as sort of an odd duck.  First, it is directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). The premise is that Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge are brought together in a room and talk about guitars, music and play together.  The film weaves together that footage with archival and contemporary footage of the three. It's an interesting film and is definitely worth watching, if nothing else, for the insights about each of them individually as artists.  And you do realize by the end that they are each a serious artist.  The Edge comes off as surprisingly insecure.  Watching Jimmy Page's fingers play the guitar is the definition of fluency.  And Jack White is surprisingly upfront about being a white kid who just wants to play the blues.

Happy Place

November has been kind of a rough month, so, today, I did what any sane person would do: I went to Panavision and took cameras apart and put them back together. Then I loaded them with film and unloaded them.  I am officially back in my happy place.

People, please be kind.  All the pushiness and junior high-level meanness makes me nervous.  We are living in a world that is changing really quickly, let's concentrate on being an integral part of it, rather than fighting for scraps of the old world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

That Barton Fink Feeling


Every day, to earn my daily bread
I go to the market where lies are bought
I take my place among the sellers.

Bertolt Brecht
American Poems 1941-1947

Shipping and Receiving

OK, not the most scintillating stuff, but it's good to know which companies actually stand behind their products.  I got my bus powered OTG hard drive back from Other World Computing after a week or so.  It had a defective bridge card, which they replaced, and then sent it back to me.  In the end, getting the drive made whole cost me nothing more than a trip to the UPS store. It also made me happy that they repaired the drive rather than tossing the whole thing and shipping a new package to me, less e-waste.  Very pleased how that played out, however, if I had needed the drive during this time period for work I would have been out of luck.  That is always something to think about when considering whether to buy locally or over the Internet.

What my living is starting to look like......

My Streamlight Scorpion flashlight also went haywire after a recent job.  Happily, I had purchased it from an authorized reseller (meaning it was covered by the lifetime warranty and also meaning it was more expensive).  I shipped it back to them, at my expense, they replaced pretty much most of the flashlight except for the shell and shipped it back to me with new lithium batteries.  Again, they replaced what needed to be fixed/upgraded rather than throwing the whole thing away and sending a whole new package.  In the end, it cost me about $5.00 to ship it to them, which was offset by the cost the new batteries.

The whole idea of buying junk that you throw away after a short time drives me crazy.  I guess this post really isn't about warranties, rather it's about thinking of how much waste you generate in your professional life and trying to minimize it.  I upgrade my computers rather than buying new and generally wait to buy something until I absolutely need it.  It makes good business and environmental sense.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yikes, I Know it Happens but Still..........

I bought two new bus-powered hard drives to transfer P2 files in the field for a new camera that I bought for documentary and corporate work. Today I did my first green screen and work flow test. One of the drives died almost immediately after transferring the data!   It couldn't be any clearer, always immediately back your data onto two hard drives and verify that it's good before reformatting those cards. The drives were On The Go (OTG) drives from Other World Computing.  I just spoke with customer service and they are emailing me a return shipping label and will replace the drive upon receiving the fried one. It was a one-minute conversation.

I will keep you posted as to whether their customer service follows through on honoring their warranty quickly. I am hopeful, I have had good luck with OWC and am a long-term customer.  OK, as I am typing this the shipping label has already arrived.  Good sign.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Motion Media in Magazines?

The idea of "living magazines" is one example of how media is changing, of how forward-thinking media makers will be able to find new opportunities as old ones evaporate. It also is an example of the "smaller" opportunities (as opposed to the dream of creating motion pictures, big budget T.V. or commercials) that will be available to media makers in the future. I suspect the future will be full of these smaller "disposable" media experiences throughout the day with the more engaging content being interactive.

I do have big concerns about e-waste for this type of media, especially magazines. What are the ramifications of creating largely single-use high tech media experiences?

The downside of this convergence between still photography and motion photography is that both traditional motion picture producers and still photographers are now competing for the same opportunities. In the end, the old rules will still apply: those with a good eye and who can shoot quickly and economically will thrive.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Helicopter Boyz and Your Future

The old ways of doing things are passing more quickly than many people realize. Or as Ted Hope succinctly puts it:

Cinema, in its current concept and execution, is both derived from and depending on a world that we’ve passed by.
• It is no longer is the most complete & representative art form for the world that we inhabit.
• It no longer mirrors how we currently live in the world.
• Cinema is now a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day to day.

Mobile, light, nimble, ....those are the future media makers. It's actually really exciting, technology is moving so fast that it is already leapfrogging those who want to create old style media by using new technology (that would be the deluge of stuff out there that tries to pass itself off as innovative web-content or some indie film that really is just a low budget imitation of Hollywood film).  More people seem to like to do things now, or at least they want interactivity.  That's a good thing, right?  Does anyone really think that the old passive entertainment model was that great, aside from T.V. network executives?  Social media is just one example of people shaping media to their own world.

The new DSLR's are awesome, especially for people like me who like the discipline of distilling a story down to one frame; the addition of HD video/depth of field is like a gift. But there are lots of little miracles out there that will help change the way we tell stories, so I am equally excited about the S1000PJ's of the world as well (what was used in the Helicopter Boyz performance). What will write the future is how you, the creatives, put it all together. Don't mourn the passing of the old, keep your mind open to the answers that appearing daily and have fun playing with them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Honest Truths: does the world need a documentary code of ethics?

There is an interesting discussion here about the idea of a possible "code of ethics" pertaining to documentary filmmakers. Access to this topic requires D-Word membership.

It is based on the release of the report "Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in their Work" which is available here:

I have to admit that I am a little perplexed by the idea of a code covering all documentary filmmakers. The variety of work, and storytelling techniques used, in the genre is so diverse, I'm not sure that it is possible (or desirable) to come up with an all-encompassing code. Is this type of code, no matter how well-intentioned, doing documentary filmmakers a disservice by painting them as "journalists" alone? Does someone who uses a more impressionistic technique for expressing a truth really need to live by the BBC code of ethics (how well are traditional news organizations living up to their own code of ethics)?

Many documentary filmmakers do strive to fit into the category of journalist, but there are others (including some very important voices) who do not. Would this type of code actual end up hurting the genre by driving away diverse voices who now self-identify as documentary filmmakers? Thinking about it, Robert Flaherty and Werner Herzog would probably be in violation, if not in letter then at least in spirit of the code. Could such a code be used in lawsuits against filmmakers who do not use a journalistic model for their filmmaking? Is it fair to expect filmmakers, who are in the minority, to live by, and be judged by a code that was created by a "consensus" of the majority?

Is an "ecstatic truth" more real than an "accountant's truth? " Interesting stuff, there are some who would argue that much journalism, with its codes of ethics, actually present less truth under the cover of presenting many details. Honestly, it freaks me out a little when people claim to know/ present the "Truth" as opposed to truths.

Friday, September 25, 2009

10 Most Watched Web Videos of Summer 2009

Hmmm, what if TV were eliminated and people could distribute whatever they created economically to nearly everyone else in the world? Surely a new golden age of creativity would follow? It does seem that the web really is having a democratizing effect: as a repository and distributor of the lowest common denominator. As Jimmy Cliff said, "give the people what they want."

Here are the most watched web videos, summer 2009. I recommend skipping the videos and just listening to the song. Trust me, you'll be a lot happier and feel a lot better about the future of mankind.

I think one of the greatest fears I have in my life is that I become so overwhelmed by mediocrity that I can no longer tell the difference.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kermit singing about keying greenscreen

Wow. I don't know about Fusion but I do shoot a lot of green screen and love pretty much anything having to do with Jim Henson. Great viral ad.

Finally, A Pansonic Single Card P2 Reader Is Coming

If you use the Duel Adapter for P2 data transfers with a Mac laptop, do not upgrade to Snow Leopard. There is no driver to support the card, for that matter, my recollection is that Duel seems to have stopped developing Mac drivers for their card some time ago. There have been lots of complaints about reliability and compatibility with Duel Adapters, but they've been the only game in town if you want to import a single P2 card with your laptop (and not tie up the camera). I personally have not had any issues but there are a lot of complaints out there.

The good news is that Panasonic announced that they will be releasing a single card P2 card reader in Spring 2010. They don't say what the interface will be. Let's hope that somebody makes a Snow Leopard driver for the Duel card before then.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Do Screeners (and Yourself) a Favor

People who screen films for contests, awards, grants, advice, etc. really, really want to see your film. Why else would they spend so much time screening films, usually for free? In this new age of technological democracy, however, there are sometimes a few glitches. DVD's recorded on your home computer can be finicky to play on someone else's equipment. And sometimes it happens 60 minutes into the film. By the time you've tried 3 different players and are calling friends to try playing the disc on their equipment and still have a stack of other films to watch (on top of your normal work life), you are wishing that you could just skip the bad spot on the disk and continue at the next chapter.

Chapter? Yes, it is really helpful if you put chapters on your disks. That way the screener doesn't have to fast forward through 60 minutes of film if they are actually able to find a player that will play through the bad spot. Or, it may make the difference as to their being able to watch the disk at all (sometimes you just can't get beyond the bad spot on the disc). Or if, they are interrupted by life while screening, they can easily pick up where they left off. Love the people who want to love you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weird Viral Advertising

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. This is one of the most disturbing ads I have seen in a long, long time. It proves that all you need to make a commercial in 2009 is a camcorder, laptop, trampoline and three guys in singlets in a North Hollywood park (and hopefully, After Effects). Sounds like the set-up for a very dirty joke. MSI tablets, catch one while you can!

I swear I saw the guy who throws the laptops doing jumping jacks in the parking lot outside my laundry mat in Hollywood.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dogs on a skateboard

God I just love that dog on a skateboard. Hang on baby, Friday's coming.

My current favorite blog, The Business Insider, has been providing an ongoing analysis of the current state of (the lack of) monetizing online content. It looks at Google/YouTube, Hulu, et al. using real numbers to give the state of the art. The bad news? No one, including the big boys, are making money off of content. And the heralded democratization of content creation brought about by online distribution? It says, "content creation is expensive, it takes talent, and lowering barriers for the creation of crap only provides you with more crap." So, professional content isn't making money and we are sinking in a sea of crap made by amateur (or amateurish) content creators, what hope is there? According to the article, "whatever golden tomorrow video may acheive, it won't be driven by the major media companies, at least not in the foreseeable future." Hmmmm, wait a minute. Where's the money going to come from to create the new paradigm, if not from deep pockets or inspired individuals?

The article is deja vu, all over again. It could have been written a few years ago, verbatim. So, why does it seem like we're going nowhere, fast? No one, including a lot of really smart (and well-paid) people, seem to be able to answer that question. The article, while flawed, does raise some good points and is definitely worth a read. For me, another question is, are we starting to approach the end of "free?" Today, Rupert Murdoch announced that all of his publications worldwide will begin charging for certain content. I expect other major online content providers will follow in kind.

Will they succeed? A couple of things seem apparent. First, people don't seem willing to pay for online content alone. They expect some kind of added value. Content creators who can come to terms with that in a big way (and figure out what is the "added value" that people are willing to pay for) will at least survive until this is all sorted out. The other thing, which I repeat over and over again, is that somebody has to pay something somewhere for the content we create. I know it sounds obvious but there are armies of people out there working for free, or close to it, to create content that is not innovative or particularly interesting. Emulating what exists already may be gratifying, "Look, I can do that too," but ultimately is slow death. Unless, you are willing to have another job to subsidize your creativity. But, if you're footing your own bill, why make watered down garbage that emulates TV?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Final Cut Studio Resources (and more)

Apple has recently put all of its Final Cut Studio documentation online and made it searchable. Thanks to Eric Escobar for highlighting this great new resource.

Here is a link to the FCP Help Home page:

This is good stuff, they even discuss workflows and using different formats with FCP. This should help answer a lot of questions, or at least empower people to be able to understand their problems and articulate their questions more clearly.

The Final Cut discussions page is worth a look as well:

Usually, someone has already asked the same question you have....and lots of power users are out there supplying answers. It's like getting a free consult from an expert.

Then, there are the Forums on Creative Cow:

This is the mothership for getting questions answered on just about any kind of software or hardware issue related to video production. These are all working professionals, so it's worth taking the time to review the archives first and to formulate a good question. Most likely you will be rewarded with a good answer.

Finally, I also recommend Moviola's Resource Center:

It has been put together by FCP uber-geek (and awesome instructor) Andrew Balis. Workflows, tutorials and tips for both Avid and FCP are here. And the "Knowledge Zone" is a nice primer on video. This is all stuff that you would pay for in a class.

The final thing I'd like to say is, this is all technical knowledge and it doesn't make you an editor. I am an Apple Certified Pro in Final Cut and I definitely don't consider myself a real editor. But, put me on a location with a camera and give me 10 seconds and I will figure out a shot that expresses what you want to say. Or show me a scene from your project and my mind will automatically look for ways to use color correction to help make it stronger. My point? It's good to be self-sufficient, but, if you have a project that you really love and believe in, find a real editor with whom you can collaborate. The difference between being proficient in software and being an editor is enormous (as is having a camera and being a cinematographer).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interesting Color Correction Tutorial

Stu Maschwitz, now of Red Giant Software, has posted a nice color correction tutorial on Creative Cow. He goes through the process of emulating the look of a few of this year's summer blockbusters. Even though he uses Magic Bullet and Colorista software in After Effects, this tutorial is applicable to any software.

Even if you aren't going to do a lot of color correcting, this is quite interesting to watch because he gives you a primer on how to look at and dissect the color palette of film images. It is also fascinating to watch the process of a colorist, how they fiddle with things, etc. As a film maker, it will also help you be able to speak more intelligently with your colorist.

I think I am going to bite the bullet, pardon the pun, and buy Colorista. I already own Magic Bullet Looks (which I've used mostly for brainstorming looks) and work in Apple's Color, but I can see how useful Colorista is, particularly as a complement to Looks. The main value I see in Colorista (in Final Cut) is that it is a tool that you can use within Final Cut Pro (with vignette tracking!!). Color is amazing, but sometimes you don't want to take the time to roundtrip things in and out of FCP, especially if it's not too complicated of a correction (but more complicated than the 3 Way color corrector can handle). Roundtripping requires a bit of preparation, particularly on a long timeline with motion graphics, still photos, etc.

The other tool that he used which I found cool was the Hue/Saturation effect in After Effects. I didn't know that it was hidden in there. You can define what the color range is for each of your color channels in After Effects. Nice tool. I am starting to understand why some people like to live in After Effects.

If you go to the Red Giant site, check out the "Indie Film" looks pack created by Eric Escobar. It's a nice selection of pre-made looks for use with Magic Bullet Looks or Quick Looks. They are a nice addition to the pre-set looks that come with Magic Bullet already.

Hollywood Joke

So a guy goes to the circus. He's enjoying himself, when he notices an old, old man following the elephants around with a shovel and a garbage can, cleaning up their dung. He can't stop watching this tiny old guy struggle to drag the can around, stooped over and shaking, barely able to lift the shovel. At the end of the circus, he finds the man and says to him,"why don't you retire? " The man, stooped over turns up and looks at the man and says, "what, and give up show business?"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Back to the Future II

Someone I respect a lot made a funny comment about the RED camera, saying that it was potentially "the DeLorean of the camera world." What a funny image. It makes me imagine RED user meet-ups, 20 years from now, talking about how it was ahead of it's time and got killed by a conspiracy......too bad it's not made out of stainless steel.

It's a joke, o.k., so don't get all worked up. It's just a camera. In search of a post workflow.

Back to the Future

OK. I know I keep hearing that 3D is back for good. That it will be "just another film making tool." That it will be used even in indie films. I've even been to a cutting-edge 3D production house and learned about new advanced production techniques.

I went to see Ice Age 3D yesterday afternoon, fancy Dolby 3D glasses and everything. A really funny film, I highly recommend it. But, I (and my wife) both left the theater feeling nauseated, which lasted most of the rest of the day and evening. I have to say that I would've preferred to have seen it in 2D (and saved the 3D premium ticket price as well). If a big budget animated feature like this can't avoid inducing nausea, what will the experience of watching lower budget films be like?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Color Grading Magic--After and Before

Color Grading Magic--After and Before from Craig Mieritz on Vimeo.

I've been working on upgrading my color grading skills in Apple Color. For practice, I graded a short horror sequence this week. The corrected footage is first, followed by the original uncorrected footage. Yes, I know the original footage is shot and lit horribly. This test is unusual in that it's more about creatively salvaging footage rather than doing the more typical, subtle work that a colorist usually does.

What is happening at this point in the story is that the bad guy is following the apparition of a woman he murdered down a dark corridor....

A few notes: the compression on this is pretty good. However, it is a medium res online video from a SD source. This compressed version is less saturated and there are a few artifacts (and blocking) not present in the original. I wish I could post a higher quality version of this, the original footage looks rich and textured, particularly for DV. The full-sized version can be viewed here.

The original video footage was shot on an old-school DV camera (PD100), a few years ago. I am kind of shocked at how much I like the corrected footage, it's DV--the camera has been sitting unused in a closet but I think I may start using it again.

I enjoy working in the horror genre, there seems to be a little more room for "drawing outside the lines" as compared to expectations for other mainstream genres. Color is a powerful tool, however, it is no replacement for well-shot footage. The most important thing is to get as much information in your image as possible, but (a really big but), try to capture the contrast differences between different areas of the frame as close as possible to what you want in the end. If you don't, it adds a tremendous amount of work on the back-end and ultimately you may not be able to get what you want, particularly if there is a lot of movement in the frame.

I'll be uploading a series of graded short sequences, including variations on this one, please let me know what you think.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How the Recession is Affecting Hollywood

OK, this isn't the funniest thing ever but, the electrical department guy is pretty awesome (and that he only knows her as the "house bunny"). Sorry about all the video posts but I've been pretty busy. More of substance coming.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We'll remember you when we make it big

This is not specifically oriented towards film, but it's pretty funny.

There's a special place in hell for producers who expect their crew to invest more (in the aggregate) in their not-very-original project than they're willing to put in themselves. Or, producers who expect the DP's day rate to include a camera and media because "we don't have the budget for a camera and DP." Someone, please explain to me how you can expect to make a project and not have a camera in the budget?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mr. Slate Guy

The posts have been a little too serious lately. I will note that I own the same slate as the one with which he is sleeping.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Record Low Year for LA Film and Commercial Production

Chauffeur Queue- BTR

This is a record setting year in Los Angeles filmmaking, according to the Los Angeles Times. I feel pretty happy that I'm starting work next week on an indie feature, even if it is low-budget. It's actually kind of amazing that film production has become such a heavily subsidized industry across the entire country, from Des Moines to Baton Rouge to Asheville to Bridgeport (a quick internet search turns up at least 7 features being shot in Connecticut in 2008--due to their 30% tax rebate), especially given the record box office numbers of the past year. Kind of makes you wonder how taxpayers feel in these states about subsidizing feature films 15%, 25% or more with their money (California does not offer major rebates, incentives, etc. for media production). Especially given that when the free money stops, the productions leave.

Friday, April 10, 2009


On location, France

There are lots of interesting discussions going on out there about sustainable models for filmmaking. I admire the amount of thought that is being put into these discussions. Personally, I think that for the conversation to be truly productive, there should be a discussion defining what sustainable filmmaking is. The funny thing is that I actually completed a sustainable agriculture program in Minnesota a few years back (if you need any pointers about sustainable, pasture raised pork and beef, shoot me a line). These folks were dead-serious about advancing this purpose and had devoted their lives to living (and empowering others to live) sustainable lives through local agriculture. Why? Because they had seen so many people before them fail. I think that some of the things I learned there are definitely applicable to this discussion.

Money, Money, Money
No discussion about sustainable models for filmmaking can be taken seriously without a serious discussion of money. Stories about people making films using different creative methods are always interesting, but the point is about doing it sustainably. What am I talking about? A business plan. Any credible discussion about any model for sustainable filmmaking needs to have the nitty gritty included, expenses, income, fundraising, distrubution, marketing, ROI on every single piece of equipment, etc. The sustainable agriculture people were clear about this: if you don't have the discipline to create a plausible business model on paper (using real world experience and not hopeful numbers), you are 99.99% likely to fail.

Your Soul
A discussion about sustainable filmmaking should also include an evaluation about whether it is psychologically or spiritually sustainable. Sound squishy to you? I don't think asking yourself what you really want from life if squishy. Want a family? What are your financial needs (yes this is an internal question)? What kind of social relationships do you want? Will you be able to create the kinds of projects that you want, that are truly satisfying to your vision? And on and on... You need goals before you can figure out how to reach them. And if you don't do this, ultimately, you're potentially just another miserable person on planet earth, whether you're working in an office or making films.

Me Me Me
How does what you want to do impact others and the world in general? Do you have a way to get crew that is fair to their needs in the longterm? Are you committed to creating your films in responsible way that actually feeds the community of other like-minded filmmakers rather than parisitizing them? How about mitigating ecological impacts, which rightfully should be included if you truly want to be sustainable. That discussion seems very applicable to the new world we seem to be entering.

This is the part of the discussion that seems to usually eat up about 99% of all discussions about sustainable filmmaking. It's important, no doubt. I like to think about Cassavetes' use of 2 cameras and improvisation in his early films as much as the next film nerd. Making interesting films is the heart and soul of the endeavor, unfortunately, it's not the whole endeavor.

This is just a bare bones, off the top of my head, list. Does any of this have anything to do with filmmaking? My experience with sustainable agriculture has taught me that you cannot separate any of these parts from the whole if you are truly serious about being sustainable. Getting there is a lot of work, both from the external and inward-looking points of view. Anything less is, well, unsustainable.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Will SAG-Producer labor relations help kill film?

What do labor relations have to do with film versus digital? Due to the contract issues between SAG and the Producers, as much TV production as possible is being done under AFTRA electronic media contracts (SAG represents all primetime series shot on film). My understanding is that this season's pilots are almost all being shot digitally. This is a huge deal. Television has been a major consumer of film, week after week, to the point where certain filmstocks have only been available due to the demand for them from TV productions. Many of the most visually compelling programs of recent years have been shot in 35mm (and a surprising number of shows have been shot on Super 16mm). Can film, and its infrastructure, stay viable if only features are using it? Talk about the law of unintended consequences....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Laurel Canyon: Effective Low-Budget Camera

I watched Laurel Canyon (2003) last night. I recommend it as a film to look at for really clean, effective camera work (DP: Wally Pfister of Dark Knight, Memento, The Italian Job...). The camera work really helped to move the film along, and with a minimum of coverage. It was a pretty low budget film, around $2M I think, so it's a great opportunity to see how the mind of an enormously talented DP works within very tight budget constraints.

As an added bonus, here is a really good interview with Pfister in Moviemaker Magazine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Inspired amateurs rule

My wife sent me this link just after I published my last post. I believe her words were something like "why don't you make films like this?" I guess, there is always the possibility that some of us just don't deserve to make a living doing this, after all. This is pretty awesome.

When do we get paid?

Really interesting story in AdAge (I saw it originally here). If you create media, it is an absolute must read. It pretty well torches the "if you build it, they will come (and someone will pay for their eyeballs)" model of revenue generation (as does this opinion piece in the Economist) . And, well, getting people to pay for content directly in 2009? Yeah, ok, right. We seem to be fast approaching that mythical moment when content itself is valueless. Smart people suspected this was coming, but nobody seems to have a coherent response. The only response that I've heard to date that directly addresses the problem is creating community around your content and getting people to pay for what's surrounds the content, not the actual content itself. That and people saying that you need to be flexible, be able to do 10 different things. But aren't people already doing that? How many balls can we juggle?

It's a great time to make media. Film schools are churning out tons of able graduates and technology has made professional level results attainable by nearly everyone. Sadly, it's a horrible time to make a living off of it. Many types of production, including Hollywood, are hurting, bigtime. There are hardly any features in production or scheduled for production in Los Angeles. Low-budget reality programs gobble up a large segment of TV time. I've been hearing rumors that union types are turning up on low-budget indie shows. I know that there's a lot of schadenfreude out in Indieland about Hollywood's hard times. I'm not sure why, because aside from lower production costs, most indie productions are in the same boat as far as generating revenue. When you're 24 maybe it's not so important but how long are you willing to work for nothing, or close to it, with no health insurance? Last year I attended a conference where a development executive from a major production company gloated about how cheap webisodes are to produce, given "there are so many kids out there who live with their parents and are willing to work for $50/day." Is that our future?

This time, it may be different. The SAG thing has the Producers playing hardball and the disappearance of Wall Street money both have had a severe impact on production. But, beyond these two transitory events, there are serious structural economic issues that need to be resolved. And the implications are profound for all of us, including indies. Someone has to pay for content, somehow, if any of us want to survive. That is true for web, theatrical, TV, DVD or any other form of distribution, regardless of how low the entry costs are. Unless you like living with your parents.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indie Swiss Army Knife?

As virtually everyone in the world knows at this point, Panasonic has announced the HPX 300. I'm not going to go over all the features of this camera, there are plenty of other sites that do a much better job of that than I can, but rather talk about how I am thinking about this camera. Panasonic helped make low budget/high image quality digital indie film a reality with the DVX-100 and the HVX-200. Think about the massive explosion of grass-roots creativity that has occured over the last five years and how many of those projects were shot on these two cameras. This legacy makes the camera worth some serious scrutiny. Street price is estimated at about $8500 including the lens.

I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes of Jan Crittenden-Livingston's (a ubiquitous, informative and patient presence on boards, at trade shows, etc.) time, watch her presentation and fiddle with camera a little bit at HD Expo. The main point that I took away from her was that Panasonic created this camera by listening to the requests of users. Fair enough, I think the update to the HVX and the release of HPX-170 did a decent job of incorporating many of the suggestions and complaints of users.

The main positive features that immediately hit me:

AVC-Intra codec- 10 bit image quantizing in an up-to-date intra-frame codec. For me, this really sets this camera above Sony's prosumer shoulder mount camera the HVR-S270U, which still records HDV to tape. Here's Shane Ross's recent rant about working with HDV.

20 bit Image processing- maybe some of that power will be used for minimizing CMOS artifacts?

Shoulder mount form factor- no more "up the nose shots," or messed up wrists. Not only is it a true shoulder mount, it seems like a really intelligent take on it.

Ability to use professional power sources- can you say Anton Bauer?

Low power consumption-real life use will tell the story. This is at least partially a benefit of the CMOS sensors.

Ability to mount professional wireless receivers integrally with the camera (as an upgrade)

Chromatic aberration correction!-yes, CAC correction built into a sub $10K camera (when used with compatible lenses).

1920 x 1080 sensors- ok, this could be a positive or a negative given the sensor size, however, people seem to really think that sensor resolution is the most important spec in a camera, so Pansonic gave them what they've been asking for and they claim excellent low-light performance.

Interchangeable lenses- ok, I'm not going to run out and buy a horde of 1/3" lenses, but, it does mean that you will be able to use a relay lens with the camera with a DOF lens adapter and use higher quality glass with the camera and not have to go through a built-in zoom lens. It adds to the camera's flexibility.

Panasonic 5 year professional warranty

SD/HD-SDI out- you can output either SD for live transmission or capture a 10 bit HD-SDI signal.

The less positive features:

1/3" CMOS sensors- no camera is going to be perfect for every use. Rolling shutter will still be an issue, as with all CMOS chip camcorders. I am betting, though, that a substantial bit of that 20 bit image processing will be used for minimizing artifacts. 1/3" sensors have made many people groan, depth of field, low-light performance, resolution, etc. Panasonic seems to have made a choice here that the benefit of the AVC-I codec, Pansonic image processing and professional features would outweigh the 1/2" sensors on the EX-1 and EX-3.

Viewfinder size

How good is it's resolution? The part of Jan's presentation comparing the resolution of this camera to the EX-1/3 went by kind of quickly. I'd like to see some independent tests. But, then again, the HVX has been softer than a lot of other cameras......

The Gorilla in the Room-RED and it's proposed line of cameras. When will they actually be released and what will their final specifications be? You will need to add modifications (and cost) to shoulder mount them.

The other:

Camera weight is 11 pounds with lens- it doesn't seem like too crazy of a weight for a shoulder mount camera with all these professional features. It seems to be about 1/2 pound lighter than the HPX-500. It isn't going to be a camera for everyone.

In summary

In my opinion, Panasonic's strong selling point in the prosumer class of camcorders is its image processing. I shot this with a 4 year old HVX, lens adapter and low-end Nikon lenses. I haven't seen it projected on the big screen but a trusted source tells me that it looked fantastic. The final look is pretty much the look that I created in-camera and on-set. The ability to create the look you want in-camera, and not spend a lot of time and money in post (also due to the sturdy and easy to work with Panasonic intra-frame codecs) is what sets Panasonic apart. The camera is not for every use, however, it certainly could be a versatile tool for someone who wants to shoot documentaries, (flash photography free) events, shorts, webisodes and low-budget features. I can't wait to get my hands on one to see whether it lives up to Pansonic's tradition of beautiful image-processing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pure pleasure

Soul Bruise 2009

I used to be an exhibiting painter, when I lived up in San Francisco. I stopped some years ago. Today I painted for the first time in quite some time. I forgot how good it felt to be able to just create. No script, director, crews, actors, sets and equipment to be arranged. Just me, my brushes, paper and paint.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

2K, 4K, Pixels and Resolution

This article in the Creative Cow magazine is essential reading. John Galt, of Panavision, speaks in plain language about pixels, resolution, 2K, 4K, Imax, frame rates v. pixel resolution and dynamic range. My eyes usually glaze over during these kinds of discussions but this is quite engaging (and comprehensible). Isn't it time to actually understand what a Bayer pattern is and what it means for image acquisition? Or, that you should be spending as much, or more, time thinking about your lenses as you do about the sensors?

Combine it with this blog post by Stu Maschwitz on lin, log and clipping and you'll be the smartest HD kid on your block. And it will make you more impervious to the marketing of camera companies. Seriously, it's important to demystify all of this stuff so you can use the tools to achieve what you want creatively, as opposed to being treated like a tool.

As an aside, last week I saw my first camera rental request posting on Craigslist that specifically asked for RED owners to not contact the poster anymore (my recollection is that they didn't want to deal with the workflow). It does makes me wonder what kind of ROI the average RED owner is getting. Maybe there are just a lot of them here in Los Angeles? I'd love to here some owner-operator stories (or secondhand anecdotes) about how they're doing financially with their cameras.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Adobe Customer Care Redux

O.K. There are probably only about 10 people out there who will care about this, but if this helps one lost soul out there trying to deal with Adobe Customer Care know that they aren't alone, it's worth it.

I wanted to follow-up on something that I had written about earlier, Adobe's inability to provide even basic customer service. Admittedly, I am only one individual who owns 7 or so (depending on how many products they've dropped or picked up again) Adobe/Macromedia licenses, but I guess Adobe will never know since they still haven't assimilated the Macromedia database (or apparently, their online store database) with their Adobe I.D./registration database. When I see the Adobe "evangelist" out there telling me how their ability to aggregate and search metadata is going to send me to media heaven, I can't help but snicker, thinking that they cannot even aggregate all their customer data into one coherent database.

Look deeply into my eyes and forget about the fact that we won't let you upgrade to a Master Collection license even though you own all the individual licenses.

So, what happened with my odyssey to obtain my post-announcement upgrade for Production Premium CS4? After a maze of online requests and phone calls, Adobe sent the upgrade to the wrong address TWICE. The final time shipping arrangements were made, I made the customer service rep. repeat the shipping address twice. I did get my upgrade, after I figured out that it was easier to deal with someone who I barely knew that lived in my old flat in San Francisco (where it was delivered, again) than to try to deal with Adobe. After some arrangements, the package was hand delivered to me in Los Angeles, via personal relationships, not metadata.

OK, mostly I just wanted an excuse to post the picture. Next post will deal with creative issues, promise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Digital Dilemma

I love to create images. Film, digital, paint, animation, they are all just different expressive tools. I am not a digital hater. Each tool has its place and use. That said, I keep meaning to mention the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences report, "The Digital Dilemma" which was published in November of 2007. Everyone who creates images should read it.

There are only two points that I'd like to make:

1. Anyone who says that shooting HD is cheaper than film has not taken into account the cost of archiving the material.

2. I suspect that there will be a time when many films created in the early digital film era (now) will be lost, as were films created during the early years of film. Both eras used media that were unstable for long-term storage.

Add data extinction to your post production checklist. The report is available for download here.

The Orphanage, no more?

Stu Maschwitz just announced on his blog that The Orphanage is "suspending operations." Never heard of them? Take a look at The Orphanage's and Stu's IMDB. These are the people you don't read about that increasingly help make films look awesome.

On top of that, he also created Magic Bullet software, which is a really nifty piece of post production "look building" software. I use it quite a bit when I am trying to brainstorm looks.

He also blogs prolifically about technical issues, low-budget filmmaking and whatever else crosses his mind.

The film world needs more innovators and restless minds like these, not less.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Molepar Love

I bought a couple of Molepars on Satan eBay. They arrived rusted and damaged. I should know better, the one camera angle that something isn't photographed from is the one angle that you really need to see. So, my OCD kicked in and I sanded them down and refurbished them. Fortunately, they were pretty cheap.

Molepars are one of those lights that I think everyone who owns any lights at all should have, especially low-budget filmmakers. They kick out one heck of a lot of light for a 1K (Par 64 globes) and are light, compact and incredibly flexible. Need to light up a building or trees at night? How about a fixture to give a decent-sized room your base exposure (by bouncing off the ceiling or a bounce)? They are great for any application where you just need a lot of light and want to plug into a household circuit (2 units per 20 amp circuit). The key to using them, as with any other fixture, is how you control the light. You can also use a variety of globes in them, from extra narrow to wide beam as well as daylight balanced dichroic.

They are also not expensive units. I have seen them new online for about $350/unit (without globes). And a rental will run about $14/day. They will also last a lifetime because they are made by Mole Richardson. The one unit I bought dates from the mid-1960's (number 493) and now looks/functions like new (and when I got it, it looked like it had been used as a rental for 40 years). The paint color is Mole Maroon and is available directly from Mole Richardson as an air dried spray paint. They also sell individual parts for all of their lamps at a reasonable cost.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


In the last three issues of HD Video Pro magazine, they've tracked the progress of Adam Cultraro, as he directed his first low-budget feature (Corrado). It's an interesting enough article that follows him from pre-pro through post. However, at the end of the last article he gives some pointed opinions about wannabe filmmakers that struck a chord with me (mostly because film people are almost universally unwilling to give frank opinions in writing): "On a broad scale, don't give too much credence to people's opinions, because in this business, very few people want to see you succeed. If you read filmmaking blogs and threads, you will see that most people trying to make indie films are self-defeaters....The kinds of people who succeed in filmmaking are people who don't stand in their own way."

Online, I definitely see a lot of that self-defeating behavior happening, especially with equipment obsession. The "perfect" camera does not exist and, even if it did, it won't make your film more engaging, intelligent or beautiful any more than the most expensive hammer is going to make a more beautiful or functional building. Or, buying another piece of software. Or.... I also run into people who have really good projects, and have completely thought them through, but when it comes to putting the rubber to the road find a million little reasons to keep slowing it down or be diverted from actually starting to film. As far as other people not wanting you to succeed, I guess in one way it's not really that different from any other competitive field. However, narrative filmmaking does seem to be a special combination of collaboration and vicious competitiveness.

I guess this post is really reflecting my own state of mind right now. It's been a little while since I've completed any personal projects. I have a couple of substantial projects right now in which I have a lot of time invested that, for various reasons (some good and some not), may or may not happen. I am itching to just make something. Ultimately, managing and maintaining your focus seems to be the greatest skill that a filmmaker can have.