Shooting… the Independent Way

14 06 2008

Stu Maschwitz, author of the great book, DV Rebel’s Guide and filmmaker, blogger (over at Pro Lost), techno geek, has a really interesting blog about “clipping.”  For those of you who know little but could care more, that term refers to the point when video (or audio) reaches a saturation point and can no longer take any more light.  Stu refers to it this way:

Throw enough light at a piece of color negative and eventually it stops being able to generate any more density. Clipping, i.e. exceeding the upper limits of a media’s ability to record light, happens with all image capture systems.

In the posting, titles “On Clipping, Part 1” Stu gets into quite a bit of detail about how our eyes perceive light, as oppose to our digital capture systems (read that as “cameras”) and, at times, it went clean over my head.

But he makes the good point that film treats clipping much more forgivingly than video and digital capture does.  DPs have learned to expose for the whitest whites as much as possible, and to let the color timing bring the image down to respectful levels. This approach works fine, according to Stu, but falls apart when images clip, because bringing down a clipped image leaves you open to many digital imperfections — including milkiness and noise.

Editors have dealt with this for years, especially as more and more of us are pushed into the realm of color correction (way beyond most of our skill sets, I should point out, and that’s a topic for another post). But Stu lays it out in a great way.  And, along that way, he points out that clipping isn’t always bad.

And that’s OK. While HDR enthusiasts might disagree, artful overexposure is as much a part of photography and cinematography as anything else. Everybody clips, even film, and some great films such as Road to PerditionMillion Dollar Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey would be crippled without their consciously overexposed whites.

Go check out the posting, and while you’re at it, take a look at the other postings on Stu’s blog.  You’ll find it way worth your while.

Fun Red One Demo

12 06 2008

Red One cameraTed Schilowitz, public face of the RED CINEMA Digital Camera, knows how to put on a show. He, and Michael Cioni (Plaster City Digital Post), put on a short demo of shooting with the RED, and playing it right on a Final Cut Pro system.

There’s nothing really special about that.  FCP can do that with the P2 cameras. Avid can too. But the way that Ted does the demo is really fun. He and Michael have two red cameras (take THAT, Red Camera fanatics) and shoot a little mini show called “Mythbusters.”  While still rolling both cameras, they walk into the next room, which has a spiffy 27 foot screen, plug one of the cameras into a second Mac (eight-core) system, and immediately project the footage onto the screen.  Frankly, it’s a demo that Sony and Panasonic could do as well, with their technology.  The cool thing is that Mike is demonstrating it using the 2K movie files right out of FCP (something that Ted advises you not to do, by the way). And there are some occasionally funny titles laid over the picture.

There are 4K and 2K versions of the film posted on the Red Cinema bulletin board.

3D Movies and Theaters

15 02 2008

MarketSaw, a blog which focuses on 3-D movies, has a list of theatres which screen 3-D films in the Real D technology. There are more and more of them each time I check back it seems — actually the list was last updated at the beginning of December, but we know it will continue to grow.

Grand Central Freeze-In

1 02 2008

ImprovEverywhere loaded a video on Vimeo which documents mass event in which 207 people stopped at exactly the same time in Grand Central Terminal in NYC. They didn’t move despite being poked by curious onlookers or being honked at by workers in vehicles trying to get by. The way the video is edited it creates a real shape to their event, including applause when they broke their poses after five minutes.

By the way, from ImprovEverywhere has a whole bunch of these events captured on Vimeo, including a pretty cool synchronized “swimming” event in the Washington Square Park fountain.

iTunes video and the future of distribution

30 12 2007

Ira DeutchmanTwo recent news items and a fascinating podcast interview with Ira Deutchman have combined to get me thinking about how Steve Jobs and Apple can have a role in the future of filmmaking rather than tagging along on the sidelines.

The Financial Times had an article a few days ago about an about-to-be-signed deal between News Corporation and Apple in regards to renting Fox Films through the iTunes store.

In a deal struck between the maker of the iPod gadget and News Corporation, the parent company of The Times and owner of Fox, consumers will be able to rent the latest Fox DVD releases by downloading a digital copy from Apple’s iTunes platform for a fixed period.

It is understood that Apple has been trying for months to persuade Hollywood studios to sign up to a digital rental model, in which subscribers would be able to download and view films for a set period, but until now no studio has agreed to a deal. Studios are understood to have had concerns over issues such as pricing and piracy.

I would assume, by the way, that Disney is soon to follow.

I’m going to omit any discussion on how this reflects a change in Apple’s business model that’s been a-long time comin’. Most people don’t want to own films. The main reason why they buy DVDs and download films for storage is so that they can watch them whenever they want without a trek to a video store. But that ground has been over covered by many bloggers much better than I. Instead, I’d like to combine it with another news story, one from last month. In an interview with George Sirois on 411Mania, among a zillion others, Ed Burns described how he was releasing his new film, PURPLE VIOLETS, directly to iTunes, rather than take any number of half-assed theatrical releases.

We got a couple of half-assed theatrical offers, but the last couple films I’ve done I’ve done that and, you know you do all this publicity and then the movie’s released in New York and LA, and maybe Chicago and San Francisco, and if you’re anywhere outside of those four major cities, your audience can’t find it. So, we’re gambling and we’re gonna be the first film that is released exclusively through iTunes. It’ll be available for four weeks exclusively, and the idea is we’ll promote it the same as you would a theatrical release and we’ll see what the numbers are. If the attendance, if the downloads, which we expect to be a much higher numbers than the attendance, I think it’ll be the way I would go in the future for small movies like this. You know, and then we’ll do more festivals than you might normally, so you can hit kinda smaller markets for the theatrical experience, but for everyone else it’s available, kinda like what people do…

Then, just this morning, I was listening to a fantastic interview with Emerging Pictures CEO Ira Deutchman on the usually interesting TCIBR (This Conference Is Being Recorded) from The Workbook Project, a really interesting website which has, as its slogan, “An Open Source Social Experiment for Content Creators.” Deutchman, who is somewhat of an articulate visionary in regards to distribution, makes a number of really great points about what is broken with theatrical distribution today, much of which has been said before. On the other hand, he talks about the things that Emerging is doing to move in new directions. With digital distribution, his company has set up a series of monthly screenings of films that play simultaneously in all of the 40 theatres that they have deals with, called “Undiscovered Gems” in which unreleased films are run. Deutchman also is interested in creating “events” for distribution, allowing press to get excited about a film that would normally disappear into the vast morass of unreleased or small released projects.

But What If We Put Them All Together?

We know that Apple has now accepted the idea of a rental model for some of its films. We also know that they distribute music and movies for free, when prompted. If you look at podcasts, for instance, most of them are free I would note that they have worked with studios to allow free downloads of episodes of “The Office” and others for TV Academy members and readers of the Hollywood trade newspapers. All we needed was a passcode.

What would happen if they moved just slightly further and started looking towards sliding scale rentals? In fact, what if they decided to become the corporate sponsor of something like Emerging’s “Undiscovered Gems” or took on that task themselves. In a flash, Apple could become a film distributor for films that don’t have other distribution channels. In short, they could become a broadcaster. Singlehandedly, they could become a viable channel for all types of popular and niche films and television. We wouldn’t have to disguise them as video podcasts anymore (and house them on our own servers). In one bold stroke, Apple could become the dominant force in independent (for now) film distribution. Rather than simply being a retailer (the way they are with the record, film and television distributors) they would be a distributor.

And maybe that’s where it’s all going anyway — back to the days when the film distributor and retailer were one and the same (until the Paramount Consent Decree of 1948 outlawed the ownership of movie theaters by the studios).

And that, my friends, is probably studios like NBC/Universal are out to kill iTunes That is a future that they don’t like at all.

Standards Standards Standards

10 12 2007

When I first started doing consulting in the music field the one thing that I discovered was that the only standard was that there was no standard.

And that was before HD-DVD and Blu-Ray started duking it out.

One hopeful sign (though not really, and I’ll tell you why in a moment) is the adoption of the H.264 compression standard for video (sometimes known as AVC).  This is an MPEG video compression that has been around since mid-2003 and has become a standard of sorts, ever since its adoption by Apple for the iPod video.

It’s easy to see why.  Despite its small file size, the pictures it presents are pretty damned good, with some great gradations of tone and color and a suspiciously good lack of motion artifacts.

There’s only one small problem, and this is one that I didn’t know about until I heard about it on the podcast This Week In Media.  In order to get widespread acceptance of H.264, the group that started it, agreed to allow content creators to use it for free until 2010.  That’s for free.  As in “no money need exchange hands.”

And, in case you missed it, that deal ends in 2010.

What this means is that every podcast or iTunes download that uses H.264 will have to start paying a royalty of some undetermined amount in a little over two years.  I have no idea how much that will add to the media creators’ costs, but you can bet that this cost will need to be made up in some way.  For Apple… they might finally have to charge a bit more for their downloads.  For podcasters, they might need to… well… start charging.  Or get more ads.  Or stop creating.

I’m not saying that all media should be free.  Lord know, that would certainly put a crimp in my lifestyle.  But in a world where the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are stopping charging people for access to their content, it worries me that the costs of creating media is going to go up.

Tell me I’m being paranoid.

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Still Photos Make A Film

27 10 2007

Last year there were a slew of films up on YouTube in which people took a picture of themselves in more or less the same position for a year or more and strung them together in a film. The first one that I was aware of was from Noah Kalina, but a slew of them (both serious and parodies) started cropping up soon aterwards.

Here is an interesting variation on this version of the old Eadweard Muybridge using, gasp, stills. It’s called The Arrow of Time and it is pretty haunting in a way that Kalina’s never was.

What is it about the simple arrangement of still photos in sequential time that causes an effect on us? I am convinced that this is at the very heart of cinema.

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The Middle East GETS It

21 09 2007

The Middle East International Film Festival is running from October 14-19th in Abu Dhabi and I wish I could go, but (alas) that simply won’t be possible/affordable this year.

However, there is a really interesting sidebar festival going on, called the Hayah Film Competition. It is designed, according to the site, to “encourage innovation and creativity from filmmakers throughout the UAE and Middle East region.”

Here’s what’s cool about it, according to a note on the MEIFF’s site:

Filmmakers will submit projects, less than 5 minutes in length that will be viewed on iPods and on the Festival website throughout the world.

There are three categories — students, professional, amateur. (For more information, go to the Hayah website right here)

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of films that people can view on their iPods right now (the new iPhone/iPod with YouTube connection guarantees that). But I’m excited that a film festival is creating an integrated event honoring them.  I’m excited but not too surprised that it’s happening in the Middle East.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the Middle East, teaching film in Jordan. Though I haven’t traveled extensively outside of Jordan, the film scene there struck me as incredibly vibrant and at the beginning stages. (The first feature created by Jordanians and shot, CAPTAIN ABU RAED, isn’t out of editing yet but the early cut that I saw is absolutely stunning in its storytelling and filmmaking abilities). It is an incredibly exciting time to be in the area, filmmaking-wise (one of my workshop students, has posted pictures of him shooting a film in Iraq,) and every single one of the filmmakers I met there was incredibly aware of the power of the growing Internet presence.

it bodes really well for film’s future and I’m thrilled to be even the tiniest part of the rebirth.

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Hell About to Freeze Over!!

9 08 2007

Remember when people said that Digital Cinema in movie theatres would happen shortly after hell froze over.

Be prepared to buy more warm coats.

The Hollywood Reporter writes in an article in Monday’s edition (entitled “Digital cinema standard is coming soon” that, if plans stay on track, that there will be more digital screens than film screens by 2010. Proposed plans call for more than 20,000 digital screens by then.

“Once beta markets feel ready, installation will accelerate,” said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “We believe that will occur in 2008.”

Though nothing is guaranteed, and the article points out a number of issues that could delay this implementation, we now appear to be over the hump for adoption in North America.

I have long felt that, once the labs lost the print income that is keeping the physical developers and printers running, that it would not be long before labs would start to pull out of the dailies processing business. In fact, since more and more films are skipping the film print altogether (in favor of HD dailies and previews) that labs would have to jack up the price of processing to such a level that most films would find it prohibitive. Sure, there will still be telecine/scanning for them, but we will begin to hear the ticking clock that will turn into the death rattle for film.

The prevailing wisdom is that filmmakers love shooting on film too much to give that up. However, with digital cinema soon to be here, and with HD resolutions beginning to overtake film is certain areas, the economics of moving away from film negative are going to ultimately make that decision for those filmmakers. Some labs will still hold out, though at drastically reduced size. Then, after a while, the talent to run those machines is going to go away. DP’s will have moved to tapeless cinema for capture and will be comfortable with it.

There was a panel here at UFVA run by Kodak, who claimed that film will not die for a very long time. Not only, they claim, do you get better image quality by capturing on film, but it’s the only reliable archive medium.

Could be (though there are some who would debate the latter point). But, at a certain point, it may be easier to buy film stock than it is to process it. It’s not the aesthetics that drive this business, it’s the business that drives the business.

You’d better get used to it.

Tick, tock. Tick tock. TICK TOCK!

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Top Ten Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before They Start

9 08 2007

I figured I’d use the same title as Mike Curtis did on his blog posting today.

I’ve been on a few panels here at the UFVA Conference in Denton, Texas including a fantastic interview session with keynoter Steven Cohen on Tuesday night, but this one was really interesting. The stated topic was “10 Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before Making Their Movie. A guide to making a great film on a budget — and doing it right!” (you can see why I abbreviated it in the title of this post). It was moderated by Ashley Kennedy from Avid, Mike Curtis from HDForIndies, ad John Sterneman from Dragonslayer Post in Burbank, a facility that offers complete post services for the indie filmmaker.

Last night we all went out to dinner to talk about the panel. We had previously had one long phone conversation so we could get the ten points together, but now we wanted to get to know each other.

The top of my head exploded.

These two guys know so much about the technical world of post production that I felt like an idiot. I was worried that I’d be completely out of my depth. But those of you who know me, also know that I fight gallantly to put the storytelling aspect of film front and center. And that is what I wanted to make sure we included.

I needn’t have worried. I’ll reproduce the ten talking points below (as copied from Mike’s blog), but we ended up talking about many of them (thanks to Ashley to keeping us on track) set within the framework of collaboration and advance planning. Sure, there are ten points here, but they really all boiled down to these two. Put together the right team and let them advise you (and listen to them — don’t be an asshole) to create a thorough game plan for the entire process — from pre-production through distribution and exhibition.

  1. Put together the right team. Be sure you have the right members involved at the right time. For instance, the editor should be involved in pre-production and the producer should be involved in post. This was a far flung and all encompasing topic – this also includes getting the right team that knows the nitty gritty of their jobs and will see to all the granular implementation details to make sure stuff goes right. By default, the right team will include folks to steer you clear of certain pitfalls, warn you of expensive or limiting choices, and be able to think on their feet when contingencies are needed to be invented on the spot.
  2. Work backwards and know what you want to deliver before you start shooting. Plan your post workflow (i.e. deliver on film? HD?).
    I say this all the time to clients when they start asking about what to shoot on – I say STOP – what do you want to end up with at the end of the day? Work from there.
  3. In pre-production know what budget is for post and stick to it! Perhaps even account for more $$ in POST. Many producers end up
    spending 3x the money in post because they didn’t plan accordingly. This folds into a saying I’ve come up with – “Most indies would rather save a nickel on Friday that costs the $20 on Monday…and even if they knew they were doing it, many still would, because they didn’t have the nickel on Friday.”
  4. Don’t just try to piece the workflow together. Make sure your NLE (Non Linear Editor — like Avid or Final Cut Pro) supports your camera and the formats that you are shooting in. Be sure that your offline edit will seamless make it to the online. Know how to get final product out of the system. This one
    was all me – for a good example, see the post from a couple of days ago about Pull Trigger, Then Aim (link to follow).
  5. Have a realistic schedule from the get go. Based on your budget – know how many days you will need to shoot, weeks you’ll need to edit, etc. Many have unrealistic post schedules. As an add-on to that, just because you only have enough money for a 6 not 12 week creative edit DOES NOT MEAN that you’ll get it done in that timeframe.
  6. With so many choices – be smart about what you choose for technology, talent, location, etc. Overprepare and execute. Small projects can take the same or more amount of prep as larger projects. Small budget = use every penny wisely.
  7. Know your story! If changes need to be made – make them on set, not in post. Plot point vs character point. If the story isn’t coming together based on the shots – it can cause 2-3x increase in post production.
  8. Producers need a better grasp on the distribution process – particularly for indie film. Understand the requirements that distributors have. Avoid getting a 20 page document after QC of what needs to be “fixed” before the film is ready for distribution.
  9. Understand how to appeal to distributors. It’s always about the best story. Know whether to spend funds on name power vs. technology. Discern hype from reality – when It comes to vendor marketing. Know how to get your “name” out there.
  10. No role is unimportant in film. Even if tools have a color application – you still need a “real” colorist to do the job. Best use what tools you have (media management.)

Mike promises to go back up and go into detail on the points, so you should loop back there periodically over the next day or so. But all in all it was a great experience.

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