Angry Filmmaker’s Tip of the Day

12 08 2007

Here’s a great quote from The Angry Filmmaker, from his blog.

If you piss off your crew you’ll never really know it until you’re back in the editing room. That’s when you will see things like the boom, or mic shadows, or that the focus is soft.

– – from The Angry Filmmaker’s Survival Guide (coming Fall 2007)

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How The Big Guys Do it

12 08 2007

For those of you interested in the sometimes arcane, but usually technical details of how a large budget film sets up the hardware in an editing room, there’s an interesting post on the ACE blog about Dan Lebental’s editing room on Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN. You can link directly to the post at “Iron Man Editing with Dan Lebental.”


Interestingly, they use a combination of Avid and Final Cut. They use the Avids for the heavy lifting — to actually edit the film. There are six full-on Adrenalines (with two more on the way when a second editor is hired) and a seventh software only Media Composer which Dan uses for sound effects work. They used another Adrenaline on set to play out dailies with a 2K projector.

They also use Photoshop to print out scene index cards to put up on a wall in the room.

They intend to use FCP for their picture output for sound because, oddly, they can’t get an accurate output that won’t drift in sync. Their hope (which is still in the experimental phase) is to record out of the Avid directly into FCP, which will preserve the HD quality and maintain sync (though it will result in a timeline with no edits in it; though this won’t be a big issue for them, once they have the OMF issues worked out)

For those you who’d like to get your geek on, check out the piece.

What Does Collaboration Really Involve?

12 08 2007

One of the things that I did at the recent UFVA Conference (from which I’ve just returned, having sweated through four shirts in the 103 degree heat and high humidity) was run the opening night keynote interview with editor Steven Cohen, the guy who runs the great blog Splice Here.

I always enjoy talking to Steve because, though he is far more intelligent about how Non Linear Editing technology works than I am, our careers have actually paralleled in some wonderful ways. Not only has Steve edited for more years than I care to admit, but he’s also written a book (“Avid Media Composer Techniques and Tips”) which helped me make the transition from Lightworks to Avid editing. He was my editor at the Editors Guild Magazine when I was writing the series of interviews with film editors called “The View from the Cutting Room Ceiling” in which I went over a scene from a new film in detail with its editor.

He has also taught (many years at AFI; he was also head of the editing track there).

And he was an early adopter of digital editing, just like I was, though I was sitting in front of the Lightworks in version 0.9 and he was over on the Avid side.

So, whenever we get together we ended up talking fluidly for hours. Here, we got to do it in front of a few hundred people, though it seemed pretty much the same.

We ranged over a wide variety of topics, including how the thought process of an editor works, showing a sequence from the Bob Rafelson movie BLOOD AND WINE, which Steve edited. He talked about the way in which the director of photography shot Steadicam coverage, designed to help the editing process.

This led into a great discussion about collaboration. In the two parts of the scene that he showed (a bar fight that included the Steadicam shot mentioned above, and a car chase ending in an extended crash) there were two different ways in which everyone collaborated. In the chase, for instance, Steven faxed the storyboards to his editing computer, so he could then animate them in a timeline, complete with sound. This allowed Rafelson, Steve and the dp to help plan shots even better as the shoot unfolded.

The point that we evolved to was that there is a great dialectic that can happen when creative partners are involved together on a film. In the editing room this works by an editor looking at the footage shot and shaping it with his/her interpretation. Then, after the director/producer/whoever sees that cut, a new cut evolves that is a combination of that edit and other ideas. I’ve heard this described as “these/antithesis/synthesis” and, when done collaboratively (as opposed to angrily and fearfully) it makes for a much better film.

This is why I fight for all of my students to have someone else edit their thesis films. Not only does it help them to learn how to communicate their ideas better, but it makes for a better film. And this was Steve’s point as well.

There is an unfortunate tendency at all budget levels to assume that the editor can and should do it all. Now that we have packages like the Final Cut Pro Suite, we are looked at as people who can color correct, do dialogue editing, shape soundtracks, build DVDs, and much more. And while we can do some of that it doesn’t mean that we are good at it. My wife constantly asks me, as I’m walking out the door in the morning “Are you wearing that?” So you’d probably be foolish to ask me to color correct your film. Can I do a passable job of it? Sure. But you should actually get someone who is really really good at it, to do the final for your film.

Steve is seeing the same things and it’s a scary trend. It’s much more likely that we will bring the total artistry of our films down, at the same time we lower their budgets.

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What Is Wrong With Me?

10 08 2007

I am so not concerned with this article that the Martin Scorsese film of the Rolling Stones concert has been postponed until next April so, I assume that there is something wrong with me.

First, let me say that his 1978 film about The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco, THE LAST WALTZ, is (IMHO) one of the best concert films ever. It’s got a variety of really fantastic performances shot with great intelligence. And it feels like I was there — if my head could have been detached from my body and spun all around the Fillmore from the best damned vantage points ever.

So, why don’t I care about anything except one little telltale thing? Probably because I haven’t been interested in things Mick for about twenty years (I would admit to a longer period than that, but that would date me horribly, wouldn’t it?). Generally, I find concert films of just a single band not so interesting. Even The Boss, who I think is a damned God, was a complete yawn in the video of his recent tour. I am looking forward, in an intellectual way, to the U2 3-D film that’s been making the rounds recently, But I’m not sure how excited I am about it.

This film, though, needs more than WOW THIS IS A FILM ABOUT THE STONES AND IT’S DIRECTED BY THE GUY WHO DID TAXI DRIVER to make me care.

One thing that IS interesting, however (and it’s probably just an entertainment reporter at Reuters not really knowing about filmmaking) is the following quote:

Scorsese, who often uses Rolling Stones compositions in his movies, was in Rome early last month to screen a rough cut of the film for the band. The documentary originally had been set to open in theaters on September 21.

Taken on face value this is preposterous. I simply cannot believe that any Scorsese film which is still in rough cut as of August 9, is going to be ready for release a mere six weeks later. Rough cut?!? Are you kidding? The guy takes months to lock a picture! You’re not going to convince me that he was ready to release a picture that quickly.

Locking, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, means that no more picture editorial changes will be made to the film and it is ready to go into music and sound editing. Rough cut, for those same people, is the first cut that we editors put together. I have worked with directors who will call everything a rough cut, until we lock, but I think that that is an absurd use of the term. We work very hard, as editors in the full cut of the film that we present to our directors after the wrap of principal photography, to shape it and smooth everything out. The roughness of this cut comes from the fact that it generally includes all of the scenes in the script, in their scripted order and with all dialogue that was shot. The real work of editing has not necessarily started yet. And, by that, I mean the reshaping and recrafting that are made necessary by the realities of the shot footage.

I can talk more about this in a later post if you’d like, but for now let me just say that we all endeavor to put the “rough cut” behind us as fast as we can.

So is Scorsese’s film is still in rough cut (the real rough cut, as I’ve just described), then it’s nowhere near ready for release.

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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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Yup. I’m Here In Texas

7 08 2007

The billboard on the I-35E on the way from Dallas/Fort Worth to Denton proclaimed in huge letters:

Drink Lone Star Beer
Anything else is treason.

Ah, so that’s where Bush got his “You’re either with me or you’re my enemy” concept.

P.S. The opening night Q&A with Steve Cohen went very well thank you. Much of interest was covered, especially collaboration in the editing room, and how to teach it.

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I’m Off To Texas

6 08 2007

Every year, as soon as it gets really obnoxiously hot in the States, the UFVA (University Film and Video Association) has its annual convention in someplace really really hot. This year, it’s in Denton, Texas. So there’s going to be a whole slew of film professors converging on the University of North Texas, and sweating their asses off. The ever inaccurate Yahoo weather promises temperatures up to 100 this week, so I’ll probably get to lose some weight just through sweat along. Luckily, in the night time it ‘s going to go down to the high seventies.

Actually, I really like going to UFVA. As it turns out, there are a whole lot of cool people who like film and who like to teach it. Plus we all get to watch or sit on panels.

This year, I’m sitting on a panel called 10 Things You Need To Know Before Making Your Film, and I’m also leading a Question and Answer session at the Opening Keynote evening. I’ll be interviewing Steven Cohen, editor, teacher and blogger (see Splice Here; no, really, go see it!). Steve and my lives parallel each other in strange and eerie ways. He’s been editing for a gazillion years. So have I (I used to edit by carving images on stone tablets). He’s taught — he did it at the AFI, I’ve done it at UCLA and USC. He was a super early, bleeding-edge adopter of Non Linear Editing technology — bringing the Avid to Hollywood back when people were sweating that they’d never give up their Moviolas, KEMs and butt splicers (about which you can ask, but I won’t tell). I started on Lightworks, Montage, Ediflex and Avid.

So, it’s always fun to sit down and talk to him. We’ll just be doing it in front of a group of people who actually will care about what we say. Should be fun. I’ll keep you posted.

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Le Keyboard Ultimate

6 08 2007

You know how you’re moving back and forth between Final Cut and Avid, and the keyboard shortcuts are different and how you’re always typing the wrong thing because your mind has standardized on one or the other and then you forget that you’ve moved into the other and things just get all wacky and crazy (just like this run-on sentence).

Well, here is the answer to your prayers, from Art. Lebedev Studio. It’s a keyboard, called the Optimus Maximus, possibly the biggest and best April Fool’s Joke around (okay okay, it may not be a joke, but if it isn’t, it should be). It’s a keyboard in which each and every key is actually a tiny little display that shows the key function. Here is picture of it.

Pretty cool. And it better be, at a price of 43,990 rubles. For those of you without handy access to a calculator, that’s $1565. Oh, you’ll have to wait until December 20th to get one.

It makes the Red Camera seem like a real bargain.

Happy April Fool’s Day!!

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Moving Deeper Into The Editing “Workflow”

5 08 2007

The word “workflow” is so overused in filmmaking today that I’m hesitant to put it into my title, but there’s almost no other way to describe this quote from Alexandre Gollner’s post in his really entertaining and interesting blog Editing Organazized (and that is no typo). In a post about a visit that he took to St. Anne’s Post, at Ascent Media in Soho, London, he talks about St. Annes’ move towards Avid’s Nitris DS tool.

The man from St. Annes says that more and more people are learning DS. The grader knows that Da Vinci is just a tool. People are adding more seats to their Unity networks.

He is discussing this approach, versus the idea that adding more of the Apple apps.

As editors, we are being asked to do more and more inside our editing bays — the Final Cut Suite has begun to indoctrinate us (and our clients and producers) to the idea that editors can do it all. We can do color correction, we can do titles, we can smooth out dialog tracks removing unwanted sounds and doing EQ in a way that we used to go to a mixing stage for.

But here’s where I part ways with this idea. Even though I love the idea that there is so much more that I can do. Sure, we have the tools to do it all. But does it mean that we can. My wife will swear that I’m practically color blind (“You’re wearing that today?”) so I’m not the best person to do color correction beyond the obvious eye dropper stuff. I can do great music edits (I was a music editor) but does it mean that every editor can?

In short, whatever happened to the idea of getting the right person for the job? I’d rather a real composer do the music for my film, rather than knock something out in Soundtrack Pro. A really bright and innovative title designer can usually do a better job than I could, no matter what tool I use.

There are, as Alex brings up, two different thoughts on this — one that each tool for a job should be individualized to run best and that the proper person should be in charge of running it. The other thought is that one artistic person can better guide that process through universally available tools.

I had a conversation this morning with Steven Cohen, of Splice Here the great editing blog, about the concept of interaction. The best ideas don’t come fully blown from one person’s mind but, instead, come from a dialectic between multiple creative partners. I would rather edit with a director than by myself any day of the week (well, skipping Sundays). Working alone is normally a guarantee that new ideas won’t be tried out. If you ask me, John Sayles work with an editor beats the hell out of his work without one. Do I think that directors should be their own cameramen/women? Hell no. Not only does it divide time, it shuts down interaction with another acoomplished professional.

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