What Film Production Is Like

10 07 2008

So, this is what happens if you don’t take good care of your film.

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.

How Not To Screw Up Your HD Project

24 03 2008

Chad Denning and the folks over at Gamma Blast, a Nashville-based post-production house have put together a pretty straight-forward guide to bringing your project into an HD format. Subtitled “Be A Hero in Your HD Project” the piece, the guide talks about the various flavors of HD, as well as issues involving Standard Definition. The most important bit of information, to my mind, comes in the first paragraph.

Thinking backwards from the distribution step will guide the process for HD because the technical requirements of the distributor will dictate what you need.

In other words, don’t just shoot. Prepare to shoot. And make sure that the preparation takes into account the full project — all the way through post-production. As any number of wiser people than me have noted, the camera manufacturers are rapidly addressing production issues (easy capture onto the smallest amount of digital media possible), without acknowledging that the needs of post-production are almost the exact reverse (memory is so cheap that we hate what compression — particularly HDV compression — will do to our process).

So, it is wisest to know what you’re going to have to deliver at the end of your process as you’re making decisions about what to capture on.

Thanks go to Larry Jordan and the Digital Production Buzz podcast for the interview with Denning that led me to this website.

P2 and Tech Talk

4 02 2008

Shane Ross, over at Little Frog In High Def, has a post in which he talks about the changes in P2 workflow with the new HVX-200 camera. Here is an excerpt:

I got my hands onto an HVX-200 camera so that I could do P2 demos at MacWorld. I went out to shoot footage and when I tried to apply this workflow, I found that I couldn’t trash the contents. They were locked and I could not unlock them. READ ONLY. And if I reformatted the card as MS-DOS (FAT-32) then put the card back into the camera, it was an unrecognized format. I HAD to reformat the card in the camera. That was the only solution. Oh, I could open the LOG AND TRANSFER interface in Final Cut Pro and delete the files in there. But that is slow and not too slick. And while the P2 Viewer that Panasonic makes can reformat the card…it is PC only. So us Mac guys, a HUGE part of the HVX-200 and P2 market, were left in the cold.

Apart from the value of this post (thanks Shane!!), this raises an interesting issue. In a recent Digital Production Buzz, the usually great podcast with Larry Jordan, Mike Horton and Phil Hodgetts, Larry and Mike were talking with Richard Townhill, one of the heads of the Pro Apps Group at Apple (they’re responsible for Final Cut, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Logic, et al). On this show, from January 10, 2008, Townhill mentioned the bane of a post-production. Camera manufacturers are continually coming up with new formats designed to solve production problems. Now that we are deeply into tapeless work flow, manufacturers are interested in providing maximum shooting time with minimal space requirements on disk, and also decreasing record speeds (throughput).

As Townhill and Jordan both noted, these are meaningless goals in post production where we have great desktop bandwidth and unlimited amounts of relatively cheap storage at our disposal.

So the needs of camera manufacturers are, in part, opposed to the needs of editors. As a result, camera manufacturers are continually updating their codecs and capture technology. Even at the expense of editors. It took Avid about six months to test and come up with a P2 workflow. The new Sony EX codecs aren’t available yet for either platform. The Red workflow isn’t available on several NLE platforms now (since I’m told that they’ve struck a deal with Apple). Large amounts of R&D money and time need to be spent simply keeping up with camera manufacturers.

I’m not saying that this shouldn’t happen. Lord knows, I’m in favor of innovation wherever it happens (so long as it happens for user needs, rather than marketing). But these changes take time to ripple through the entire filmmaking chain. Just because the camera manufacturers have come up with a format, doesn’t mean that a project can be completed in it. And even if finishing tools are available, there’s no guarantee that they’re workable or clean (we’ve still to come up with a viable backup strategy for tapeless workflow, that combines ease of use in the field with reliable backup — the cheaper Sony EX might actually point the way).

Are you listening producers and post production schedulers?

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Using An iPhone as a TImecode Slate

25 12 2007

iPhone as timecode slateScott Simmons, over at The Editblog, has a cool post about how to use the iPhone as a timecode slate, for the really really really cheap among you producers out there (but who hire editors who can afford the iPhone).

Along the way, he dispenses a few nuggets of information about how to edit music videos which may be shot in low budget mode.

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“Preparation Is Essential”

21 12 2007

I’ve never worked with the P2 cameras but I am about to embark on a big documentary project, called RIVERS, which will be shot across four continents with the Panasonic HVX-200. I’ll then be editing in in Avid’s Media Composer. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about P2 workflow.

There’s a great article on Ken Stone’s website by Dan Brockett about his work shooting a television pilot using the same camera which details many of the problems inherent in working with a tapeless workflow (that is, the image doesn’t go onto film or videotape — it goes directly to a computer format on some kind of storage medium, either a hard drive or special cards that insert in the camera for storage).

My interest is, of course, how it worked in post production and Dan was quite good in mentioning some of those issues as well. Paperwork tended to be crucial, because organizing the equivalent of 400 8-GB cards worth of footage would have been nightmarish without it.

The most important element here was that Dan was working with producers who, though they wouldn’t listen to his pleading not to use this camera for this particular shoot, seemed more than willing to let him test everything involved in the workflow. That is crucial even in workflows that are well defined. When I worked in film, I always met with the script supervisors, assistant camera, vendors and more to make sure that everyone was on “the same page” (though no one ever used that expression back then — it’s amazing how fast that one became trite).

Now, with new HD workflows cropping up every time you start a new job, it’s even more crucial. But many producers/companies just can’t afford to test anything. Then, they can’t afford to fix it when the inevitable problems crop up. As Brockett notes, he shot the pilot and never once lost a file and was able to deliver the pilot on time and with the degree of professionalism the studio wanted. And what was one of the lessons that he learned: Preparation Is Essential.

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The RED has arrivED

8 09 2007

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Red camera, you might as well click over to the latest Perez Hilton post, because there’s not going to be anything of value here.

Mike Curtis, of the site HD For Indies, has a posting on his blog which reports on a shoot for a NYC based film called OFFHOLLYWOOD BROOKLYN (at least that’s what it’s called on the web gallery from which I got the picture to the left).

For a look at all the production still on Mike’s gallery surf on over to his .mac gallery.

The RED is the new lower budget HD camera that comes from the Oakley sunglasses magnate. People in the indie world have been panting after it for two years. Some felt it would never come, some felt it was late in coming. Nearly everybody liked the concept of it a lot. Now, it’s out in the wild (as of August 31st, according to Red’s web site) and people are using it whose names don’t start with the initial Peter Jackson (who shot a test film for Red, which was shown at their booth at this year’s NAB show). Steve Soderbergh is shooting his new movie with the camera, and Final Cut claims to have native support for their 4K RAW files (look for the menu item “REDCODE”).

It remains to be seen just how easy the post production workflow is using the camera. Here is what RED claims the workflow is:

  • Shoot 4K REDCODE RAW @27MB/sec.
  • Load footage into REDCINE. Do 1st light correction.
  • Export to any number of output options.

Sounds easy, eh?

Whether it is or not will be shaken out over the next several months as more of the promised cameras start to emerge. For now, one of the strongest attractions the camera has is its great image quality at its price. The body, mount, and LCD screen cost $20,450, before you add lenses, power packs, chargers, memory cards and a number of other necessary accessories, which is a total steal compared to any other HD camera out there that records at 4250×2540 pixels. You know all of the buzz about 1080p HD (there are as many flavors of HD as there are flavors at Baskin-Robbins, read this article, from Media Daily News, for some help in decoding them), here is a flavor that is at 2540 resolution.

Obviously, no one is going to really edit at that resolution. Even if you could have all of that information online at any given moment (which may be conceivable given the falling price of hard drives and the length of your project), the sheer amount of information that would need to be input and output for each second would choke even the best processors in the latest machines. That’s why Avid introduced DNX-HD and Final Cut’s got ProRes. But it will be interesting to see just what the issues will be in the editing room with a screen resolution so good. It’s like in the days when I worked, briefly, on a 70mm film. We couldn’t edit at that size, so we got reduction prints on 35mm. But the frame size and orientation was so different that the cuts ended up looking a little different when the film was neg cut and printed at its original 70mm size. It will be really interesting to see just what the translation issues are here.

So that we can get away from geekdom, and back to storytelling.

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Filmmaking Is The Same

20 07 2006

Spent 13 hours on the set of one of our Jordan Digital Filmmaking Workshop short films yesterday. The ironic thing is that, here in the middle of the Middle East, at the junture of several continents, the process (craziness and all) seems very familiar to what I’ve experienced on USC Student film sets as well.

Here are a few pictures from the shoot.

Samer (in the yellow shirt) is the director.

The View From The Middle East

19 07 2006

I haven’t posted in a long time because of how crazy busy I’ve been. Right now I am in Amman, Jordan teaching with several other teachers, at a workshop for beginning digital filmmakers.

It’s very interesting being here as Israeli airstrikes hit Lebanon and Amman receives tons of refugees. I had a conversation yesterday with a Lebanese television producer who has come here because neither she nor her family feel they can stay in Beirut. Normal middle class people, like you and I, are watching their neighborhoods destroyed. Either the bombing isn’t accurate or there is a plan to target civilian areas. It’s puzzling.

I know that when I was back in LA last week, the news coverage was fairly slanted towards the Israeli side. Luckily, the blogosphere is helpful in showing both sides. If can stomach it, check out this blog entry at itoot.net, which is a blog that culls entries from ten or so other blogs. [ADDED NOTE: This post now seems to have taken down. Perhaps the pictures were too graphic. I’ve changed the URL to point to the general crisis page at iToot.] Some of the pictures are pretty graphic, but that is precisely the point here. It’s easy to turn the pages of the newspaper, or fast forward on our Tivo’s when everything is soft-pedaled.

There’s also a very personal story from an actress/writer named Najla Said, who writes on Electronic Lebanon about her ordeal in fleeing Lebanon. She contracts it, in a beautiful way, with her father’s recent death, and their attraction to their homeland.

The point for me is this — I have no idea whether this can ever be settled. I’m often convinced by the stories of the people on both sides — many of whom have no desire or need for war. Most are not political people.

But politcal decisions made at the highest levels of many governments don’t care about these people. And, in my discussions here and reading lots of blogs, this is creating anger in Arabs that was not there before. One woman told me that she was a person who demonstrated against Hezbollah for years. Now she is on their side. When you look at pictures like the above, or