Friday, December 24, 2010

Ari Emanuel Speaking about the Future Media Landscape

This is a very interesting conversation with Ari Emanuel, Hollywood super agent at the recent Web 2.0 Summit (whatever that's supposed to mean).  Some of the things that he says about the future of media are similar to points that I have been making.  Of course, the difference is that he actually knows about what he is speaking.   The future is coming quickly and for small players, the window of opportunity is getting smaller as the big players start to actually figure out what is happening.  Agility and the ability to pull together sophisticated media production and marketing quickly by leveraging technology and the incredible wealth of knowledge available to everyone with an internet connection will be as important for indies as it is for Lady Gaga.

Hope everyone is having a great holiday.  Much exciting news coming in the next couple of months.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Personal Brand Schizophrenia

I am just back from Brazil.  It was an amazing experience, I will write about it further when I have a little time to digest it and write about it intelligently.  I realize now that I have not even spoken about the substance of the project.  Let's just leave it at now that I am very fortunate to be able to participate in documenting a sustainable development project in the Amazon facilitated by this organization.  It was energizing (and a real privilege) to meet people who are doing so much right to improve a piece of the world through hard work, brains, humility, stamina and more hard work.

Beautiful, but not always easy

There is so much happening right now in my world, I will try to touch on a few important other thoughts today (against the advice of the experts who warn about keeping a focused personal brand--rather than corporations becoming more human, it seems as though we are increasingly assuming their attributes).

I wanted to post a link to this: Flipboard, a subtle, but important step forward in how I see us all consuming media in the future.  Media created by people you know and curated/repackaged for your consumption.

I will leave today's post with a few questions:

1.  Is there any reason to think that in the future visual media will be any more highly valued than music has become?  In China, it seems as though literally no one pays for music now.  People there are scrambling to try and create anything that people will pay for surrounding the consumption experience, especially using social media.  Indie filmmakers, is this sounding familiar? Once the bandwidth logjam is broken, and it will be broken, unless we are willing to become completely uncompetitive as a nation in the global marketplace, how will media producers stop visual media from becoming as valueless as an mp3 in China?   It seems like a survival strategy that madia producing companies like NBC/Universal are being consolidated into pipeline providers like Comcast.  As someone who creates visual media, and knows the dedication, skill and hard work that goes into its creation, this is not an easy question to ask.

2. Will the future of paid media production involve largely only a few high-end producers of technological wonders (like Batman, Ironman, etc.) which can only be produced with a lot of capital and organizational/technical expertise?  Will most of the rest of the media consumed be produced by, well, everyone and curated through Facebook, YouTube and other online social repositories?  It seems as though we are well down the path to ever-increasing media consumption, however, rather than being consumed as a separate viewing experience it will be consumed nearly constantly, in small bits, and much of it created by people we "know" (at least online).

I'm not leaving until I get my $.99 for that download

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brazil- Arrival

Travel by bus is also difficult

Finally, I am safe in Brazil 6 airports and 40 hours later.  Fighting travels sickness off, (nothing to do with hygienic conditions in developing areas)  and everything to do with  municipal/airport authority institutional capitalism (thank you Panda Express at George Bush International Airport).   I had forgotten what it’s like to fly on non-U.S. airlines:  lots of fresh air in the cabin, food service, multiple beverage services on short flights….. Meanwhile, at George Bush I saw my first “self-service” boarding gate, for an international flight no less.  Apparently our future in the U.S. is even more jobless (and chaotic—no one to control people at the boarding gate??) than I’ve even imagined.  And on the San Francisco-Houston leg of my trip I felt like a fish in an oxygen starved aquarium 

I am now in Santarem, Para State, Brazil.  I will be staying for the next night or two in a hotel best described as 1970’s military dictatorship Internationalist architecture relic.  Think Internationalist more as in 1970’s coup-conspiring ITT, not Le Corbusier.  But, as in all things Brazilian, it is the wonderful people that make it a living place.  And there are definitely worse places to land at 1 a.m after all your plans have been disrupted.

I recommend highly the book,  Amazon Journal: Dispatches from a Vanishing Frontier  by Geoffrey O'Connor  if you have any interest at all in the reality of the not-that-distant Amazonian past and how it ended up portrayed in the media.  One thing I have realized in my preparation for this trip, and already from the very short time I have spent traveling across Brazil, is just how much more complicated the situation is here in the Amazon than I had taken the time before to understand.  As opposed to (what O'Connor refers to as) the eco-kitsch, Indian-kitsch, and political-kitsch, etc. that we have all been fed.   No matter how much we realize that this information is not reality, it is so pervasive that it does end up shaping our perceptions. 

Ceci n'est pas un indien

This is opposed to the good kitsch of which there seems to a fair share here in Brazil and which I hope to share with you as well, like a huge fake Christmas tree constructed out of burlap standing mutely in the 93 degree heat with the tropical birds squawking up a riot.  More later on how similar the internal “dream life” image the media creates in Brazil is to the U.S. version.

Not Christmas in Connecticut

My producing partner arrives hopefully tomorrow, after an unscheduled delay in Lima and being separated from his equipment.  Then, it will be time to get hard at work.  More on that later.  Roughly we will be working in this region till next week, when we head out on the Arapiuns River (Amazon tributary) and later the Tapajos (also an Amazon tributary) River.  My posts will be fragmentary and sporadic, but I hope to share some of the interesting moments I find with you.

Interesting fact that I learned while preparing for this trip:  the Amazon area was a large lake and the river flowed from the lake to the Pacific, not Atlantic.  The geological events that created the Andes mountains reversed the river’s flow.


Monday, November 15, 2010


I have to make this short, as I leave for a month of filming in Brazil tomorrow.  This is definitely a step in the direction to which I see media consumption moving.  Forget watching movies or shows in segregated time blocks, we will be experiencing bits of media constantly and not just from "professional" media producers.  Nightmare or dream?

For sure, the future of media consumption will be imperfect.  Funny that they coded this crazy product but couldn't get all of the video to load at the correct aspect ratio on Vimeo.  They may need to add a couple of teenagers to their marketing team.

Qwiki at TechCrunch Disrupt from Qwiki on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I am now tweeting, mostly about technology and the future of media consumption: @cmieritz.

Also, here is an interesting article that clearly explains how Facebook and Google have become direct competitors (include Apple on the list as well).  Essentially, it is a battle to see which company will become your everything.  I am guessing that Facebook has replaced the Trilateral Commission in the paranoids' minds-eye by now.

O.K., back to my Amazon trip preparations.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Visually Mapping the World?

I know it's popular to bag on Microsoft but this is pretty amazing stuff.  Are they going to leapfrog Google in photographically reproducing the world online?  And with crowdsourcing rather than actually investing in a physical infrastructure to do it? This is already being integrated into Bing Maps and it is also a nice showcase for Silverlight.

Click on me

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mapping Information (and life)

It is time to start sharing the groundwork of what I am learning about an affirmative future for media, media consumption and generally, understanding information.  I think this post will be best served by letting the really smart people speak for themselves.  The first video is long and somewhat abstract.  However, I suggest that information, like life, is promiscuous and the parallels are obvious between what he is speaking about here and how we may build our knowledge of using and understanding media/information.

This video is a lot more accessible.  It is a kludgy and preliminary step in the direction that Enriquez lays out in his lecture.  This is not the only group of people mining this territory, but from what I know the efforts seem to be similar.

In ten years, I suspect that this will be as dated as Pong, which was the future when I was a kid.

Finally, I think this does a better job of explaining the theoretical thinking behind the "Sixth Sense" technology.

And, if you want to see the reality of where we are today in the marketplace, here is digital intuition, on your cellphone in 2010.  Don't get too excited.  I've used it quite a bit and sadly, I'd rather sort through all my information manually (actually the more accurate term would be intuitively) still.  But look out John Henry, the machine is gaining on you.

Here are Enriquez' "new rules" for life:

1. It is imperfectly transmitted code.
2.  It happens.
3.  It is promiscuous.
4.  It adapts.
5.  Likely it is common.
6.  Humans increasingly design/control life code.

Life and information are moving ever closer together and at a quickening pace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Burden of Dreams

I have been a little silent lately.  There is a lot going on, in mid-November I am going to Brazil to help shoot a film in the Amazon about a non-profit that is doing a sustainable development project.  I have also been thinking a lot about what I am doing, professionally.  That, is a dangerous thing in the film business.   It is an industrial workplace, geared towards grinding out film after film, with everyone hoping that each one will advance them a tiny step towards their ultimate goal or at least help them pay their rent.

I have a somewhat unpopular view.  There are too many films being made.  What?  Ok, more precisely, there are too many films being made that are not adding anything to the conversation about film or life, or even the conversation about the potential of technology in media production.  Does the world need 10,000 short films that are basically variations on the same thing, over and over and over again even if they are shot on the newest camera?  Hard question, particularly when the industry of film schools is churning out thousands and thousands of bright eyed graduates who are sold a dream (and very high tuitions) every year and the industry of film festivals is selling the same dream (news flash, most film festivals are about tourism and economic development).  It is a big machine that sucks you up, regardless of your intentions.  I have been disappointed to recently see a few really interesting projects, innovative in structure or process, gradually become "regular" projects because that is where the positive feedback comes from the system.

Anyway, I hope to share some of my thoughts in the not-too-distant future about, well,  possible futures in media creation.  There are a lot of really interesting possibilities out there, even if the current tendency is to milk the present model to death.  I am a firm believer that, for the most part, it is human nature to only change when we must.  In the meantime, I will satisfy my current need to do something that will hopefully be of use on the ground for people doing important, difficult (and unglamorous) work.  I will be working hard to let them tell their own stories, a far harder job than many people realize.  We all like to overlay what we know, or think, instead.  In this age of media over-simplification, vilification of those who think differently and "instant experts," I think we can all use a lot more small dollops of little truths from those who do not have the time to have a media presence.  I don't pretend to have answers, but hopefully I can at least learn to start asking some good questions.

Destroy what we do not understand or,  just try to make money off of it?

Is it me, or does Werner look kind of buff in this?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

River City

I had an iPad/Alexa/DSLR/DaVinci dream in 4K/3D last night.

Am I the only person out there who gets weary of all the shuck and jive going on in the creation of culture?  Blogs that are promoting technology, selling dreams to sell themselves by association?  Tweets that are just personal brand building?  I have to admit that, at times, I find it extremely discouraging that the new normal for making ground-level culture seems to often be so cynically capitalistic, particularly when we have so recently seen on a large scale just how likely this mindset is to fail and leave us all to flail on our own.  I'd like to think that we are all more than personal brands.  Don't get me wrong, I love technology and know that there are extremely liberating aspects to what is happening right now.  But just how real are these "relationships" that we claim to be building in the ether?  Are we all just salesmen?

Every time I log into my Blogger account, there it is, the monetize button.  Is that all we can aspire to now, to be little Mad Men?  Is that all culture makers can aspire to, being productive sub-units in Adam Smith's dream?  It seems to be an unquestioned assumption now, internalized by even the most ground-level culture makers.  My hope is that people will realize at some point, you are doing it all on your own anyway, create your own path and do what feels right for you.  You don't necessarily have to follow the "new" rules any more than you need to follow the old.

And for heaven's sake, please stop buying technology and throwing it away, replacing devices every few months.  Somewhere, there is an extremely poor person disassembling your "recycled" piece of technology and most likely getting poisoned (and poisoning their local environment) doing it.  Really, it's not ok.  The questions I ask myself are:  Can I do what I want without the new upgrade?  Will I make any money off of it?  Not perfect, I know, but at least it keeps in check the mindless upgrade beast that lurks in all of our hearts.  OK, no more cranky posts for a long, long time.

On a positive note, I'd like to mention a blog that I've found that I like quite a bit by Brad Bell.  It's really quite nice, beautiful and an interesting mix of technology, film, social concerns and their intersection.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Working with a Colorist, Preparing a Sequence for Color

I guess this post should really be titled, "Working with Me as Colorist," as I can only speak for my own preferences. I am briefly going to touch upon prepping a Final Cut Pro sequence for grading in Color 1.5.

Color has come a long way from version 1.0 as far as stability and its ability to work with various types of clips.  However, there are certain best practices that I like for people to follow before they provide the Final Cut sequence to me for grading.  I have created written guidelines which can be downloaded here.  Some of these best practices are absolutely necessary, others are optional but if not done will limit options for working with a clip in Color,  affecting things like to ability to do things like key framing.  It may seem like a hassle, however, remember that Color is a powerful professional tool and it is absolutely worth the effort.  Your editor, if they have sent any projects to be graded in Color, will probably be aware of most of these.  I just want to make it as straightforward as possible and save everyone time.

If anyone has any questions or corrections regarding these guidelines, please feel free to drop me a line.   The main point of this is that it's better for you to have your editor prepare the sequence for me than it is to pay me to do it.  I will do it, but personally I'd rather spend all of the money you pay me to make your project look awesome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Out-Innovated Again

Everyone Here for Free iPhone Bumpers Please Line Up to the Right

Sorry for the video only post, I am in the middle of a grading a project and several other deadlines. But, trust me this is hysterical.  Leave it to the Chinese to come up with the funniest, over the top, anti-Apple animation ever.  Their view of Steve Jobs' solution to the iPhone 4 antenna issue is worthy of Peckinpah.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Can't Vimeo Get It's Act Together?

Who is behind that curtain?

Oh, just try doing a mobile site with Vimeo.  Cute, cute, underdog Vimeo.  That's why they're always behind the curve and doing everything patchwork, right?  But they have such a cute site!

Um, sorry but they're owned by IAC, a  super gynormous company that has bought and trashed sites like, own properties from to  The Gannett of the Internets?  But wait, Gannett at least innovated the idea of a national newspaper, USA Today.

Fortunately, you, my 5 loyal readers, do not have to fear me selling out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Want My (3D) YouTube TV

Come with us on a trip to the 3D future!

Zowza.  It's starting to look like the early 90's all over again.  Sony has just announced that they will be supporting 3D YouTube video on the PS3.  Why is this like the early 90's?  Well, they are supporting Flash and promoting that as a 3D video player, lining up Sony, Google and Adobe against Apple.  The stars are aligning again for another battle of a generally inferior technological standard (Flash) promoted by "PC" against the upstart technologically superior HTML 5.0 (at least in non-3D, I need to research HTML 5.0 and 3D) being promoted by Apple.  I wonder where Microsoft stands in this battle.  Frankly, I liked the world a lot better when Google was lined up with, and not against, Apple.

This whole 3D thing is either going to bust open and be ubiquitous or is going to be another spectacular flameout, with dens across America littered with unused/unusable 3D televisions.  Click here for a short and interesting history of 3D film.  The most interesting fact is that prior to Avatar, the most financially successful (adjusted for inflation) 3D movie was a softcore porn flick, The Stewardesses.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New Site Up

Shakes, the camera assistant

I am still working on my first blog post about working with a colorist.  In the meantime, in addition to doing some production work and development work on a couple projects, we launched the newly revised version of my website yesterday.  A color grading job or two are in the immediate future. Welcome to the new film economy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Documentary Colorist Reel

Important: for optimal viewing in full screen mode, turn scaling off.   Trust me, it won't look like it should otherwise.

I uploaded one of my colorist reels yesterday.  This reel is focused on more meat and potatoes type of corrections particularly pertinent to documentary films (especially footage shot under less than ideal conditions) rather than more flashy Hollywood-type effects or putting a subtle sheen on really well shot and lit footage.  I understand and do that type of work as well but will showcase that on a separate, narrative reel. 

My next couple of posts will focus on working with a colorist, well working with me as a colorist.  There is no one approach to color grading. Working with a colorist can encompass a wide range of experiences from  paying $600/hour in a high-end house to working with someone in their bedroom, and a whole world in-between.  The thing that is important for me is that people understand what to expect when they start the process and to be able to make intelligent choices.  

I am very interested in getting feedback on the reel and also hearing questions/topics filmmakers would like me to talk about with regard to the process of color correction.  Please feel free to email/IM me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free the Bits

Is there latency in your packet shaping, or are you just glad to see me?

It has been speculated for years that bandwidth providers (that'd be phone and cable companies) in the U.S. are slowing innovation and capacity increases on their networks.  Don't take my word for it, even the conservative Wall Street Journal is finally on board.  Why would they want to do that?  It seems mostly like a waiting game, trying to put off the day when entertainment users can download content as easily as music lovers were able to download mp3's back in the day.   These companies fear the day that their lucrative (and in the case of cable companies, local monopolies) businesses models that have served them so well are changed.   The companies that own the pipelines and distribution are increasingly the companies that own the content,  say NBC/Comcast or Time Warner.

What does that mean, besides the fact the people pay huge cable bills and still cannot pick (and only pay for) exactly what content they want delivered?  Now there's a radical idea, not paying for the Golf Channel because you don't want it.   For one thing, it means that innovation in new media forms are being stifled.  There are people out there with ideas out there that cannot be tried because they just are not feasible given data constraints.  It is in the interest of these companies to keep you passively watching cable TV and at best letting you DVR it so you can watch it on your schedule.  Forget interactivity, forget mob-sourcing, forget just about anything that isn't pretty much just a sickly derivative of the same stuff that's we've been watching for the past 60 years.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for years, especially with regard to decreased innovation.  Why is this important?  Culture is big business in the U.S.  It is a huge export product as well as being a political tool.  Will Hollywood become like GM and lose it's market share and profitability to other foreign producers through willfully slowing innovation and clinging to dying business models in order to control (slowly dwindling) profits?  Remember, in the 1960's it seemed inconceivable that Japanese cars were anything other than oddities to American consumers.   People laughed at the cars, their size and their quality.  With the democratization of media production, isn't there a whole world full of people out there now with their own media creation dreams?

The U.S. currently ranks #28 in Internet access speed and and "is not making significant progress in building a faster network."  The average download speed in Korea is four times faster than it is in the U.S.  And upload speeds, key for interactive media, those are even slower, usually by an order of 2-3X.  How long will consumers raised on interactivity and the belief that they are all media creators be willing to live with that?  And given the recent performance of U.S. mobile broadband providers like AT&T, will the future be more of the same?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Good Old Days are Gone

Interactive,  multi-media experience circa. 1973

Nice short article here in Advertising Age with observations about how media consumption patterns are going to change, quickly, with the coming generation of infants that are immersed from birth with multi-touch, interactive media tools.  The human mind is a plastic thing, malleable, and many people are predicting the demise of the type of deep thinking that we typically associate with reading and, well, reflective thinking.  Interestingly, there's a decent NY Times article here today that explores the effects of immersing the human brain in an increasingly digital environment.  It pays to remember that  generally TV and most film never induced a deep-thinking type of brain activity, so I guess the difference is the length and type of media immersion that we are experiencing.

We don't understand the long term evolutionary impacts due to changes to the format, interactivity or length of media experience.  But, I think it is safe to say that media creators need to be thinking hard about what they're doing.  The old dominant command and control structure of large media companies seems even more vulnerable as young consumers search for more personal and, well, interesting media experiences rather than the one-size-fits-many approach that is still surprisingly prevalent today.  Or, it is possible that alternatively the bulk of society will be feeding their children slightly modified interactive marketing intended to create lifelong brand loyalties from infancy, delivered through ever cheaper e-waste produced offshore.  Only time will tell the story on that.

It should be a really exciting time to be a young media creator.  Many of the constraints of the past are being thrown aside and the people who can visualize the future will be the new powers.  Media creation is more decentralized, less "heavy industry" and more nimble than it used to be.  People starting small production companies now should have relationships with developers and information architects as well as with camera people, electricians or animators.  They will also require new types of creatives.  People who understand how to create satisfying and intimate experiences for the users (note, not consumers) of their media.  Personally, I think it's good and that there will be some real pioneers in the next few years who breakthrough in reaching people in a way they've never been reached by media before.  I think it's reasonable to expect that in the not-too-distant future, the kids of today will be laughing (hopefully) at what we accepted as entertainment.

We're ready for the future here.

Will the future of media production be more "boutique-oriented"?  There will probably be an element of that start-up type culture, which will eventually grow into a more complex, mature industry.  Disruptions to the current model are just beginning and people who are waiting for things to get "better" may be disappointed.  I can't help but wonder whether the schools that are churning out "film school" graduates, particularly the 1 year or 6 month certificate-type programs, are preparing their students for careers in 1995 Hollywood.   It seems to me that the future media maker is going to have to be more and more nimble and manage their career in ways that unionized workers never had to consider.   But, if you're young and smart, you should be excited because your time is coming and our environment will be more media saturated than ever.   Those who don't adapt may be relegating themselves to a never-ending life of low paying, non-unionized freelance work, with no benefits and scrambling even for that work.  

I'd really love to hear other people's thoughts about what the future is going to bring to media creation.  People seem to be getting so distracted by things like 3D and new cameras (and learning endless workflows that seem to become obsolete in a year) that I worry they are not seeing the bigger picture.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rodney Charters Straight Talk about Cameras and CInematography

This video is absolutely worth watching.  It's a recent interview with Rodney Charters, ASC (NAB?).  He gives a pretty much dead on state-of-the-art discussion about cameras and cinematography 2010.  The discussion is frank, much to the chagrin of Sony I'm sure.  It's great to see someone in his position not pulling punches.  I think it's part of the new reality for all of us, people are better informed than ever and they have their BS meters on sensitive and don't want to hear corporate propaganda or shilling.  He even talks about something called "film." The only thing I would have liked more of is a discussion of where he sees the new RED's fitting into the picture.  It was only a year and a half ago that I was at HD Expo watching him show travel footage he shot with his RED and Canon film lenses!

His most important point passes so quickly that if you aren't paying attention you'll miss it:  everyone has access to technologically advanced pro level gear.  If you want to stay on top as a cinematographer, you'd better know how to light.  These are really wise words.  Even if you lean heavily on your gaffer, which is a beautiful thing, you have to know when things are right and when they're not.  On indie and corporate projects, there will be times when you're in a hurry and you need to fix things yourself.  Your gaffer may be setting up the next scene or, in the case of corporate, you're wearing multiple hats.  I am really glad that instead of buying a Varicam, I spent my time on sets learning how to light and slinging cable.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I've been busy working on my color grading reel.  I hope to have it online within the next two weeks.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back to the Future(s)

We have perhaps reached a tipping point in Hollywood, film investing can now have absolutely nothing to do with stories, or even making films (yes, I know what the cynical among you are thinking).  The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved creation of "a market for trading futures contracts based on the predicted box-office revenue of Hollywood movies."  That's right, a film futures market.  On the bright side, if you fund a film you will probably be able to hedge your investment and bet against your own film's profitability.  It worked great for sub-prime mortgages!

Read about it here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Flushing Vegas

If like me, you haven't gotten your hanami in this year, here is a link to some virtual sakura viewing.  Just click on the blossom on the map.  The site is for photos taken by dog owners, so you can also get your fill of cute little fluffy Japanese dogs if you like.

Vegas Flush

I survived NAB 2010.  I can't spend more than a day in Las Vegas without getting alternately annoyed, depressed or creeped out, so it was a very very long day there.  If you want more balanced reports from people more-better adapted to the Vegas ecosystem try my friend Eric Escobar's blog.  He was the perfect person to tag along with for an action-packed day, although I did miss the private hotel room session with Alexa.

 Better living through nodes

What rocked my world?  DaVinci Resolve for Mac for $995.  If you don't know what that means, there are no words I can speak that will make you understand.  BlackMagic hit it out of the park on this one.  Not only have they saved one of the truly great brands (and great product) but they've figured out a way for it to thrive.  Very clever, people who still haven't figured out Color will have to have this.  This seems to be one of the most successful marketing tactics in the film/broadcast world, aspirational marketing.  Adobe has been a genius at it, giving endless presentations of everything their new refreshed product lines can do to people who will buy them and use maybe only Photoshop.  Resolve is a major step up for anyone (well anyone who hasn't worked as a colorist in a high-end professional post-production house),  both in terms of capabilities and the learning curve.  I have to say it again, DaVinci Resolve for Mac for $995.  I still can't believe it.  The multi-point tracker makes Color's look like a toy and it handles high-end workflows that require a lot of tinkering in Color.  This isn't a complaint against Color.  Color is amazing, it just ups the game for those of us who have cut our teeth on it.  And they have created a pricing structure that allows you to grow your capabilities as your business grows.  Thank you, BlackMagic, you get the new marketplace.  Buy only what you need now and invest more money only when it will make you money.

You think you're ready for me, big boy?

BlackMagic also has another genius product, UltraScope.  Tecktronix, et al. should be a little nervous right about now.  This is a professional scope product, capable of 3Gb/s monitoring, every line is there, constantly updated, WITH THE ABILITY NOW TO ZOOM into each scope, for $695.  All the information is there, like a beautiful electronic ghost wave, shimmering and dancing.  Again, if you don't know what this means, there are no words I can speak that will make you understand the beauty of this.   And, they also have a portable version.  They also announced support for Mac at NAB, desktop at least.  The portable version will work with Mac once Apple includes USB 3.0 on laptops (that is a topic for another day).  Do I sound happy about saving $15K on dedicated scopes?  Heck yeah, being able to zoom into your scopes is essential for balancing flesh tones and blacks.

Dance of the RGB Parade

The other genius product?  GoPro HD Hero.   Buy one now.  I did, on the spot at NAB, along with at least a few hundred other people.  $300, or less, for a camera that shoots pretty darn nice 1080/720P, includes sound and a waterproof housing that is good to 180 feet, a focused accessory kit and records to CF?  They sell accessories for helmet cams, surfboard cams and soon, 3D.  A $600 3D rig?  That was the first 3D announcement at NAB that I actually found interesting.

Between decentralized distribution and truly professional grade products that are selling for prosumer prices, it is truly an interesting time to be making media.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blurring the Line- Part II

I originally made this post in January of this year. This time I address the issue from the narrative filmmaking side. It was originally titled "Blurring the Line Between Fiction and Non-Fiction."

We all know that a lot of "reality" TV is largely scripted.  And I've spoken before about documentary filmmakers (Herzog, Morris) taking liberties with factual truths in their own obsessive searches for more poetic Truth.  But what about narrative filmmaking that blends non-fiction/documentary aspects?

I recently made my way through two TV series produced by Section 8 (George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh), Unscripted and K Street.  Both were limited run, one-offs for HBO, K Street directed by Soderbergh and Unscripted directed by Clooney and Grant Heslov.  They are similar in their blending of real people (James Carville, Mary Matalin, Krista Allen, Bryan Greenberg, lots of famous politicians and actors), using real events mixed with fictitious characters and storylines to give authentic experiences of certain aspects of Hollywood and Washington D.C.  I have to admit that I was quite skeptical when I started watching them but found them both engaging and wanted more when I reached the last episodes.  The cinematography in both is, well, what I will call Soderberghian (if you've seen The Girlfriend Experience or Bubble, you'll know what I'm talking about).  That is to say, they were shot with almost only available light and almost taunting you with their homeliness at times (particularly in K Street).  They were both shot primarily by Tom Inskeep.

They are interesting variations on Soderbergh using "real" people to play fictitious characters (Bubble).  For Unscripted, there was no written dialogue, it was largely improvised from incidents in the actors' lives.  Each episode of K Street was based on a breaking news story and shot within days of airing on HBO.  I'd like to do a little deeper analysis at some point, but for now wanted to point out these interesting experiments.  They are all worth a watch and available on Netflix: Bubble, K Street, Unscripted.

Blurring the line- Part I

I am going to repost a couple of posts that I made awhile back about something in which I am very interested: filmmakers walking the line between narrative and documentary filmmaking (and I'm not talking "reality" TV).   This is an issue that keeps coming up and since I have a lot more readers than I did when I originally made these posts, I thought it would be good to put the discussion out there again.  There are interesting ideas being tried out there by people like Soderbergh, Herzog and others.

This post is originally from December 2008 and was titled, "WWD?"

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....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Porange and Teal

If you have any interest in color correction, I recommend reading this funny post.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hard and Fast Practical Thoughts on the 7D

OK.  First thing, I am not an expert on VDSLR's.  Stu Maschwitz and Ben Cain are really amazing at providing all the technical analysis you'll need.  And you know where to go for your fix of camera test porn.

I realized last week that I needed to regroup a little and pull together what I needed to know to use them successfully.  So, instead of going out on a beautiful Sunday, I turned my apartment into this:

Don't worry, there will be no screen grabs of waveforms or vectorscopes.

What have I learned?

1.  DSLR's are really simple to use.  That's why people who buy them are like crack addicts with them.  They are pretty much a pick it up and shoot kind of deal.  Sure, you can get into superflat curves and whatever, but the real truth is that you can take the standard setting, knock the artificial sharpening down most of the way (lowers the amount of aliasing) and the contrast down some and you are good to go.  Just make sure you know how to white balance the camera correctly.  That is the one aspect that is a little confusing and the one area where I consistently see issues with the finished footage.

2. White balance- the instructions are more complicated than they should be.  Find a white object.  Focus and expose it correctly and then take a photo (you can do this in movie mode) of it.  The camera uses the rectangle in the middle for the white balance calculation, so the whole frame doesn't need to be white.  Then go to the menu, select the 2nd tab (a camera followed by a colon), scroll down to CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE and select it (the "set" button).  Select the image you just shot with either the QUICK CONTROL DIAL or the MAIN DIAL and hit "set" again.   Select OK.   Hit the MENU button again to exit the menus.  Use the WB button on the top of the camera to select CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE and you are good to go.

3.  Heat- if you shoot with the camera running all the time, it may overheat.  If it is your only camera, you are shooting documentary footage, and it is warm out, bring an ice pack and a wash rag to keep the camera cool.

4.  Data Corruption- I have pieced together the following procedures to help prevent data corruption.  Yes, it happens quite a bit.  I've personally seen it and it's all over the boards.
  1.  Format the cards only in the camera
  2.  Be careful putting the cards into readers/cameras.  Bent pins can cause corruption.
  3. Make sure that the camera is done writing and that the computer is done offloading before pulling the card out of the reader/camera.  Always unmount the card before removing it from a card reader.
  4. A remote, but real, possible cause of corruption are computer viruses.
  5. Buy only UDMA cards.  I think that the all the SanDisk Extreme Cards are UDMA. 
  6. Format the cards in the camera before leaving for each shoot to ensure that they are good.
  7. Don't use a super cheap CF card reader.  I use the SanDisk Extreme FW 800 Card Reader (they also make a USB 2.0 version).  The SanDisk Extreme cards seem to be the consensus card I see in production environments, so I bought the reader that they made to go with the cards.  Believe me, I didn't want to spend the extra $40.
5.  For most shooting situations, set your shutter at 1/60th.

6.  If you can afford it, get a lens with Image Stabilization.  Shaky footage seems to be a real hobgoblin with these cameras, particularly on a long lens.  They are hard to hold steady.  I've met one person who is an absolute genius at operating these cameras, keeping them really steady handheld and being able to "blend" the out of focus moments really nicely on the fly.  Most people just can't concentrate enough or practice enough to reach that level.  Or there's always the monopod.

7.  Focus- you wanted shallow depth of field, you've got it now.  Now you know why there's someone on narrative films whose sole job is to ensure that the image is in focus at all times.  Outside of sound issues, an image with "searching" focus is the most issue likely to draw your viewer out of the story you are working so hard to tell.  You don't have to have a follow-focus, fancy mounting gear, etc. But you do have to concentrate always and practice a lot beforehand.  It isn't easy.

8.  Sound- the sound is not very good on these cameras, everyone knows that.  Great sound is essential to any project.  Google "dual system sound DSLR" or something like that and you will get all kinds of solutions. 

I just tried the new Canon E-1 plugin for Final Cut. I'm sure it'll work fine, but I deleted the thumbnail files, and I think you need them to make it work.  My one complaint is that it's getting ridiculous trying to keep up with all the plugins necessary for all the codecs out there.  Somewhere along the line it's easy to lose track of upgrades.  I actually used MPEG Streamclip to batch convert the H.264 files to ProRes today.  It works, is free and is faster than Compressor.

The 7D is an amazing camera, it made a ridiculous, backlit shot of my dining room table look all sexy and romantic.  If I had shot it with my HPX 170, it would have looked like a backlit bunch of stuff on a table.  Just remember, that along with the good comes some annoying and sometimes ridiculous issues.  I promised myself that I wasn't going to post any footage, but it's short and it makes me laugh out loud.   Can someone please explain this?  I've seen lens breathing before but not like this.  Why is it that the white bar only moves?  The dynamic range of the camera explains itself.

Have fun, but for god's sake, don't make your dramatic climax a rack focus shot of a Kodak Super Gray Card.

UPDATE:  I got this explanation from Charles Haine, uber-technologically adept DP/Colorist:

     A lens will breath differently for different colors/wavelengths of
     light, since everything wavelength of light will bend differently.
     Since white light has all the wavelegnths of light in it, it'll spread
     much more, and in more directions.  I think that's why you see some
     color fringing on the white boxes.  Since the black boxes are the
     absence of light, they won't spread as much.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Horses for Courses

VDSLR's are amazing. More precisely, they are amazing still cameras that shoot acceptable video. Why only acceptable? Read Ben Cain's blog, there are about 10 posts with solid DSLR technical analysis, ranging from dynamic range to the benefits of lenses with image stabilization.

Acceptable video, but yes, sexy acceptable video. Like any camera, it's horses for courses. I was on a documentary interview shoot this week and the second camera, a 7D, kept overheating and needed to be shut down several times. It was pretty warm in the rooms but not really hot.  I can't point out enough that it's essential to know your camera and what its limitations are before you start shooting.  If the 7D had been the only camera, it would have been a disaster because these were people who did not have time to schedule a second interview, or wait for a camera to cool down.

Canon 5D Mark II - Over and Under Exposure Tests from Ben Cain / Negative Spaces on Vimeo.

National Day of Unplugging

March 19-20, sunset to sunset.  Read a book, think, stare out the window. I am currently reading "After the Deluge" by San Franciscan, Chris Carlsson.  I can't even begin to summarize all the amazing things he has helped birth in an attempt to make people at least think about how to make the world a better place.

Taking a little time for reflection improves your work, whatever it is, but particularly if you are a creative type.

Also, a great piece of viral documentary film marketing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I was talking about the last color grading work I did (see the post before this one) with someone and they said, "geego."  I said, "wha?"  He said "Garbage In Garbage Out."  I understood his point immediately.  Don't go into a shoot thinking that you can "fix" everything in post.  The truth is that you pay, either up front or later, but you always pay at some point if you want quality. It can be equipment, people's time, locations, planning, etc., but quality has a price.  For example, the footage that I graded for that documentary required a lot of  time to make it look good.  I put a bunch of extra time into it because: 1) it was for a friend, and 2) because of the topic matter.  But, realistically,  what it would have cost to pay market rate to do what I did would have been out of reach for many filmmakers.

Here is what I probably would recommend in a situation like this, a documentary film with a lot of difficult footage:  select a couple of good looking shots (post correction) which repeat themselves in the timeline to which the same corrections can be applied.  These really nice looking shots will serve as the visual baseline for your piece. You then spend less time (and money) correcting the rest of the shots.  As long as you have that baseline of good looking shots, your audience will be forgiving of the other shots interspersed between them especially if they are verite.  Again, I repeat that this is for documentary films, narrative film grading is a different beast.

CLARIFICATION:  For clarity's sake, when I am talking above about cost cutting, I am speaking generally which is probably not a good idea.  What is "expensive" will vary from production to production and mean different things to different individuals.  Paying $300-$400/hour for a grading session on a DaVinci with a highly skilled colorist is normal for some people while for others it is incomprehensibly expensive.  Having your editor grade your feature length documentary may be the perfect solution for you, while others may want someone who is an expert in color correction.  Sometimes having someone who is more expensive per hour is cheaper in the end because they do the project more efficiently or because they have better skills to help express your vision.  Or, sometimes they are just more expensive.  The real point is, if you want quality, plan ahead because quality costs skill, money, time, energy, etc, and it's best to know how you are going to allocate your precious resources to meet your goals.  Research your options and the people who are going to do your work.

Remember, the process of getting something into Color, or any color correction process, will also take time.  So, if you have a messy timeline that is more than mostly straight cuts, you will have to do a lot of prep work to get it into Color (this will be a future post). Either you will have to do it or you will have to pay the colorist to do it.  It's best if you plan from the beginning that the project will be color graded and keep your timeline REALLY ORGANIZED.  There are also times that I would recommend keeping the project in FCP and having it graded with Colorista.  This compromise limits what you can do quite a bit but makes it more feasible economically to have your piece graded.

I guess the point of this post is that if you want to have a really good looking film, you have to plan (and budget) from the very beginning.

Now I am going to play some more with my new, sweet tool:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Love Your Colorist

I just finished color grading a documentary.   I thought that I'd share a few before/after screen shots the editor sent to me.  This footage was particularly challenging: the film is about children with cancer. The children and their families were all given Flip Camcorders to shoot footage.  If you think an image from a $2500 DSLR is thin, imagine some of the images from a $150 camera shot by non-professionals solely in ambient light.  I should also say that there were also some very nice images, really remarkable given the cost of the camera.

There was a serious red skew with blotchy magenta spots on the flesh tones in this image.  The real challenge was not only in giving the flesh an overall naturalistic color but also disguising the darker magenta artifacts without making the thin image look overly worked.  When I say naturalistic, I mean making his flesh look as good as possible while still retaining the overall feeling that it was shot under fluorescent lighting as opposed to trying to make it look like it was lit on a Hollywood set.  Flattering but authentic. If you click on the images, a larger version will open in a new window.

This image also had a serious color skew.

This image had contrast and color issues.  The greens were a little too yellow in the background and the water color isn't right either for the time of day.  This is actually when it gets fun.  I closed my eyes and put myself in that place and that time (late dusk in summer) and visualized what it looked like.  That is the intangible part of being a colorist, can you see what the intention was in your mind and actualize it? It's late in the day, so there is a little yellow lingering but the shadows are turning blue, particularly a challenge to make look subtle in the greens.  It becomes a balancing act.

 I feel like my job is done well if, when people watch a film, they don't notice what I've done and stay absorbed in the world created by all those who pass before me in the process.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rose Water and Pomegranates

I have been on a little bit of a Iranian cinema tear lately. I most recently watched Close-Up by Abbas Kiarostami, also the director of Taste of CherryClose-Up is a hybrid documentary/narrative film (as well as a film about film), a structure near to my head and heart these days. It's been a sobering realization, watching these Iranian films, the latitude that many directors there seem to have in structure and storytelling compared to what we are fed, even through our "indie" film movement. The trial scene, actually a real trial filmed documentary style, is a narrative masterpiece, subtly revealing the story's "characters." I am jealous, Film Forum in NYC is showing a new 35mm print right now.   Don't get the wrong idea, these films are beautiful because of the people in them and their stories (the photo above is a still photo by Kiarostami, a noted photogher as well), not because of big budget cinematography.  They are filled with little gems, mostly conversations between everyday people, oftentimes while driving.

I hadn't fully realized until recently how poetic, artful and, well, trying at times mainstream Iranian cinema could be. It gives me hope that we will use the cinema to think and dream again.  Enough with the toys, explosions, robots, apocalypses and cross-marketing already.  Film, and culture, needs to be more than product marketing delivery devices.

Click on the mouse for a special treat. 

"Kiarostami’s films are extraordinary. Words can’t relate my feelings. See his movies and then you’ll see what I mean.” – Akira Kurosawa.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Think Like a Pirate

It is worth taking a look at this video if you create media.  He doesn't say anything that, if you're really paying attention, you don't know already.  But, he does say it clearly and concisely.  I like at the end how he says off-hand, "people have moved on from Blue-Ray."

The lessons:

The days of tightly controlling your product are, or are nearly, over.   The Blue-Ray "consortium" example is a great one.  High licensing fees and lots of rules have made many people just avoid it until a new means appears (online distribution).

There will always be "Hollywood."  However, it will exist only to make projects that require that type of artistic/financial complexity.  It seems doubtful that all those union jobs that have disappeared are coming back.  Just ask all those people who worked for record labels in the 90's.  Right now it feels like a lull in the storm for film and television.  Once the stranglehold is broken on bandwidth, many of the large media producers also own the cable companies, all bets are off.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    Cinematography Light

    OMG.  Thank you, Ben, for pointing out this great feed.   I've been doing a lot of color grading lately and reading it is making me (kind of) miss carrying around 70 pounds of camera equipment in the mud and rain.   And all the random things that happen while doing so, like being attacked by birds of prey.

    Anyway, back to what inspired this post, this one is for all the devotees of camera test porn.  It's not what you're probably expecting.

    There is a moment in Cleo de 5 a 7, where Corinne Marchand is in a cab and the camera is handheld on her.  At one point the cab turns and the camera, seeing an interesting passer-by, pauses for just an split second on that passer-by before panning back to Marchand.  Totally by instinct and total genius.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010


    When's my movie deal?

    The name of this article says it all, Thanks to All Those Shills on Twitter and Facebook, People Don't Trust Their Friends Anymore.  Now, hurry up and sell your camcorder that you use to mostly make web video or DVD's and buy a RED.  Or is it, sell your RED and buy a DSLR to shoot a documentary?  Sell your DSLR and buy an entire 3D work-flow?  Then, spend every waking moment learning twisted work-flows for each new product out there that has been social-media marketed directly to producers and directors by a blog/twitter feed/Facebook friend, etc. that they follow.

    I almost choked the first time I saw an ad on Craigslist looking for a DP to include a RED with lenses in their day rate.  Are there that many of those cameras out there already?  Don't get me wrong, I love all the technological advancements of the past few years.  It's truly an amazing time to be a creative person, but I always have to stop and ask myself "what's in it for me?"  Will it help me pay my rent?  Will it make me creative in a way that the technology that I am currently using can't?  Would I be happier spending a little of that time, money and energy on life, my family and friends?  And, what's in it for the people pimping the dream?  Sometimes it feels as though we have so thoroughly internalized all the hype that we are doing the manufacturers marketing for them.  That wouldn't be of the plan, would it?  Hopefully, there is more for us to aspire to be, as individuals, than unique brand identities cross marketing with other brands.