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.

David Duchovny Gives Editors Ultimate Power

12 06 2008

David Duchovny, from thetvaddict.comIn yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, there was a roundtable of Emmy-winning and potentially Emmy-nominated actors (deadline for Emmy nomination ballots is in about a month, and the trades are both publishing many articles pertinent to the process as well as reaping beaucoup bucks from For Your Consideration ads).  The discussion, which was actually pretty interesting (and you can read at the Hollywood Reporter website), included Ted Danson (FX’s “Damages”), Alec Baldwin (NBC’s “30 Rock”), David Duchovny (Showtime’s “Californication”), Blair Underwood (HBO’s “In Treatment” and ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money”), Mark Harmon (CBS’ “NCIS”), David Spade (CBS’ “Rules of Engagement”), Neil Patrick Harris (CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother”), Bryan Cranston (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and Rainn Wilson (NBC’s “The Office”).

The discussion, at one point, veered off into talking about whether the divide between television and feature acting is breaking down. Spade talked about going where the good scripts are, Baldwin talked about the immediacy of the acting process in television (“a movie really is about sitting around”), Wilson talked very intelligently about the audience’s investment in watching a film and how television doesn’t require so much of their attention on character arcs.

Duchovny finished that part of the discussion with the following:

Duchovny: Ultimately, I think film becomes an editor’s medium. You give them 15 takes and then release control over it. On TV, the actor really has more control over the whole process.

Wow. I’m rocked on so many levels by this.  First of all, it’s nice to see that someone who has produced, written and directed as well as acted, is aware of the importance and power of editing. It’s also interesting to see that he feels that the actor has more control over the process in television.  Surely, the secondary characters in THE X FILES and even every other actor in CALIFORNICATION (a great series in which Duchovny’s “control” may come more from his executive producer role) might disagree with him.

But the innate point that he is making is really quite fascinating — that from the point of view of the actor — television elevates the actor’s involvement above what they would normally have in a film.

Now, I’m not sure that I agree with him on this. The stories, for instance, of Edward Norton’s involvement in the upcoming HULK and on AMERICAN HISTORY X are legendary by now and any star of significant power is going to be involved in the editing process, if only through intense notes with the director, producer or studio.

But the interesting point that Duchovny raises is whether, from the actor’s point of view, having too many takes of a performance removes that actor’s ability to shape a performance.

I’m actually going to be discussing this point in more detail in my book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT (Peachpit Press), so you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see how I figure this all out. But I have to say that, on balance, I agree with him in the hands of a mediocre or bad director or producer/showrunner. The point is to put everyone on the same page, so that the actor’s performance works within the context of every other creative art on the film. Improvisation has a great part in filmmaking. Editing is all about shaping a story from a multitude of choices.

I’ve seen both students and professional directors be stymied by too many disparate choices. Sometimes that comes from basic indecisiveness as a personal trait. But more often than not, it stems from being unsure about the kind of film that they wanted to make.

More about this in November/December (you can keep track of the progress of my book by looking at the Lean Forward tab on this blog).

Great Do-It-Yourself Podcast Tips

10 06 2008

There are two really great sites that I like to tour around to get tips and technique tricks for FCP and Avid.

First, David Forsyth, over at Amber Technology in Australia, does a podcast called “Avid Tips and Techniques” which has featured discussions about the Audio Mixer, Animatte, the Super Bin, and more.

One or two Final Cut sites. My favorite are the series of tutorials about the entire Final Cut Suite from VASST, a company that does training videos. If you look up their store using the company name RHed Pixel in iTunes you’ll be treated to a great series of excerpts from those videos. I like the one called “Total Training for Final Cut Help – Final Cut Studio.” A warning — VASST’s free tutorial website hasn’t been updated in a very long time.

Another good FCP podcast, though it hasn’t been updated since early March, is Creative Cow’s podcast “Creative Cow Final Cut Studio Tutorials Podcast.” Creative Cow runs those great web forums on practically every production and post technology known to mankind (and womankind too).

A cool series of short tips and tricks from the people at Digital Heaven, who make some really neat plug-ins for Final Cut (including a large timecode window, for all of you Avid editors who miss throwing that up during music or sound spotting sessions). Their podcast of video tutorials for FCP can be found on YouTube or at this address in iTunes.

Feature Envy

9 06 2008

ScriptSyncOliver Peters, in his blog Digital Films, has a posting about Avid’s ScriptSync, the technology that allows somewhat automated connection between the script inside Avid, and individual takes. This allows the editor to edit in the lined script mode and, as for me, I often look at the script supervisor’s lined script when I edit. Once I finish my first cut, I’m rarely looking at the script — by then, it’s all about what the footage says, not what the script says.

But I often refer to the lined script (and the facing notes pages as well) to find out what has been shot for any given line of dialogue or bit of action. When I worked with the extraordinary editor Gerry Hambling on FAME, I saw that he did his own lined script, even though he had received one from the set. This is actually even doubly cool, because it means that the lined script will reflect what was actually in the dailies (even great script supers can make mistakes) as well as forcing the editor to really examine the footage that he or she has received.

So, in the scheme of things (and despite its shortcomings) this Avid Media Composer feature is A Very Good Thing.

But “more features” is not always A Good Thing.

We are all aware of Feature Bloat, the natural tendency of software programs to grow more features as they get older and need more selling points for new versions. Microsoft’s Word is often trotted out as an example. This program has gone beyond its 1981 origins (as Bravo) and its 1983 release, into a program which now takes 20 megabytes at its core (not including its countless ancillary files). I remember installing Word back on my early Mac, and it took about eight floppy disks to get it on my drive. Now, I look back fondly on those days. There are features in Word that, I’d bet, less than 1,000 people use on a regular basis.

The real problem is that one person’s useless, memory-hogging feature, is another one’s must-have.

Right now, I’m writing my new book (THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, coming in December from Peachpit Press, buy early/buy often) and, this morning alone, I’ve used the following features:

  • bookmarks
  • cross-referencing
  • index
  • table of contents creation
  • image resizing
  • image cropping
  • split screen editing
  • separate section styling
  • borders and shading

and many more.

My guess is that most of you who use Word don’t care about half of those, and that a large number of you have features that you would care about far more than I. Those of you who use other word processors will feel similarly, I’m sure.

I’ve been involved in a group that has been presenting Avid with feature requests that we absolutely need. And while the list has been arrived at by consensus, it is amazing to me how many people have different opinions about what they can’t live without. I’ve also seen how one person’s feature must-have, is another’s oh-I-just-use-this-workaround-and-I’m-satisfied. And, while I’m not involved in anything similar for Apple or Adobe (not because I don’t want to — I’ve just never been asked), I’d be shocked if they don’t go through a similar prioritization over everything.

[And that doesn’t even take into account the issue of how expensive or how much time it will take to effect these requests. There is the issue of ROI — Return on Investment — all the time in software development. Do you want to spend $100,000 software dollars on features that won’t matter to most people, or on features that will?]

So to my mind, ScriptSync is an awesome new tool that everyone should want (especially documentarians who can afford to get transcripts of their shoots), but I’m not brazen enough to think that everyone will want it.

Distribution Hints and Depressing Tricks

8 06 2008

On Larry Jordan and Mike Horton’s always valuable and fascinating Digital Production Buzz podcast the other day (June 5 episode) Stacey Parks talked about things that she learned from her recent trip to the Cannes Film Market. Stacey, who wrote the book “Independent Film Distribution,” and who runs an amazing web site about film distribution called Film Specific, found out that the good news is that there are a lot of companies in the international marketplace who are looking for short films — actively looking. She said that she would post it on her website and, though I can’t find it there, you should keep checking back. On a clip on her site she talks about selling to the emerging markets — India, China, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

The bad news, however, is that even features with big buzz and stars aren’t selling because there are fewer channels for distribution in the United States. The films that are selling are those with very specific targeted audiences — such as senior citizens, teenagers, Christians, skateboarders, etc. The days of broad marketing are gone for independent films. Ironically, though, the major distributors are looking for films that appeal to all “four quadrants” (that is males and females, under and over 25) and, as a result are spending $125 million and more in production costs and tens of millions more in marketing.

That means that the only films that they will touch are those with strong marketing elements. And that, often, leads indie films out in the cold. Or, as I’ve talked about before, forces indie filmmakers to look at their films just like studio films, just with lower budgets. Marketable concepts, a few stars, name directors or writers or producers.

Internet Memes Strike Back

4 06 2008

Trawling around on YouTube this evening I realized that I’m probably the only person who hasn’t done a cover to Tay Zonday’s Chocolate Rain.” Like the Star Wars Kid before him, the power of the Internet Meme has stretched to John Mayer, Tre Cool, and a host of much much lesser known YouTubers.

But the coolest one of all has to be this version from Pittsburgh metal/hardcore band Ryashon.

The indication of a true Internet meme is when it goes beyond water cooler talk (or, in today’s word, beyond “Twitter Talk”) and becomes acted on. Once it gets participation on a large scale then it’s on its way.

A few years ago there was the guy (Noah Kalina) who took a picture of himself in the same position every day for, what?, two years and then strung them together into a short video. Within days, dozens of copies and parodies had popped up on YouTube. There was another one, posted by a guy named Matt Harding, that also took over. It showed a guy dancing madly in about three dozen different cities. Cut to music, it was actually a self-referring comment on Internet memes — with tons of energy it started popping up all over the Internet world. You can see “Where The Hell Is Matt?” by clicking here.

What makes one clever idea take off, while a thousand others die a self-conscious death?

To get a sense of what I mean when I say “internet memes” check out this really nifty Internet Meme Timeline, where such societal momentary crazes are published on a linkable timeline all the way to 1996 (can you say “Dancing Baby” and the page full of dancing hamsters anyone?) Of course, one of my personal favorites is “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” which has a certain geek appeal.

=============== ADDED COMENT ===============

Randy Riggs, over at Mental Floss, has a discussion about Internet Memes in which he makes the following hilarious, but completely true, observation:

When Ted Stevens, the elderly senator from Alaska, infamously referred to the internet as “a series of tubes” during hearings on a 2006 net neutrality bill which he himself had sponsored, he unwittingly entered into a kind of irony vortex. Stevens had simultaneously proved himself clueless about the web — at one point saying “an internet was sent by my staff” in reference to an email — and had also created an internet meme, his “tubes” comment earning him a place among such hallowed meme icons as the Numa Numa guy and “2 Girls 1 Cup” (not to mention President Bush’s infamous neologism “the internets.”)

I don’t know about you, but I constantly refer to the Net as “the internets” (to the consternation of friends of mine who weren’t aware of the famous — to me — Bushism) and I’ve also dropped the phrase “series of tubes” into conversation, with equally blank-faced results.

Editing Kicks Directing’s Butt

4 06 2008

For those of you who haven’t played with Google Trends yet, let me tell you — it’s a cool time waster. The deal is you type some typical Google search terms into its search box, each one separated by a comma. It then returns the number of searches found for those terms, graphed against each other.

As you can see above, articles with the term “film editing” in them have consistently beat out ones with the term “film directing” in terms of number of searches. What this MUST prove, of course, is that more people are interested in editing than directing. Right?

Well… I suppose there is another explanation. Like more people use the term “directing” than “film directing” in their searches? Sure enough, look at where the orange line is in the graph below.

Statistics don’t lie. People using them do.

Interview with Dan Lebenthal

4 06 2008

Larry Jordan, over at, posts the first in a promised three part interview with editor Dan Lebental (IRON MAN) and it’s a really good one. There’s some chat about editing such a massive film as IRON MAN.

Like many VFX-heavy shows, Dan started his work months before shooting began (he was on five months early) and worked with the animatics and other early temp FX to help shape the show.  As Dan says “I think, from the studio’s point of view, it makes economic sense to get it right early.”

Larry, by the way, is not the Larry Jordan who is associated with LAFCPUG, has done all of those books and articles, edits the online Final Cut magazine EDIT WELL, and co-hosts the Digital Production Buzz podcast.

It’s confusing having two people with the same exact name, but that they’re both in the editing world!! Yeesh, it’s more than my poor mind can handle.

George Orwell’s Rules For Writers

4 06 2008

George OrwellCrawling around in my old computer files the other day I came across this list of six rules for writers which, sad to say, no longer seem to be on the site from which I stole them (CCSN in Nevada). I reprint them here because the more people who see this, the better place the world will be:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Aside from the fact that I have probably violated all six of these rules during my blogging and writing career, it occurs to me that most of these rules have their equivalent in film and video work (gotta find a better term for what we do) since they basically boil down to this “Treat the reader like an adult and don’t talk down to them.” I find, both at school and professionally, that there is a terrible tendency to over explain or over obfuscate. I know those sound contradictory, but they’re not. I find shots held on way past the point where they’re giving any new information because “the audience needs to get it.” I’ve also found director being deliberately obscure because “I don’t want to pander to common sensibilities.”

Most student movies tend to be too long (I should know, mine were and are, thankfully, not available on the Web — you should see my version of an unproduced Antonin Artaud script) and, often, too obscure. It’s as if the filmmakers were deliberately challenging the audience to be engaged. And, if my own experience is any judge, that is often just what they are doing — saying that “You should come to me, not the other way around.”

Needless to say, I now totally disagree with my earlier self on this. If I have anything at all to say to an audience, I need to make them understand it. Otherwise, why would I even show the film to anyone else other than myself. For me, and for most filmmakers, our works exist as a way to touch other people. Of course, we are constantly struggling with how much to reveal, how clear to be, and how to explain ourselves. But, ultimately, we want to explain ourselves to others.

And so, with apologies to George Orwell, I present my version of his six rules:

  1. Never use a filmic device that has been so overused that it is instantly identifiable.
  2. Never hold on longer on a shot or a scene than you need to in order to deliver its point.
  3. If you don’t need a shot, a line of dialogue, or a scene, always cut it out.
  4. Never use objective shots where you can use subjective ones.
  5. Never be deliberately obscure with a script point, unless you plan to reveal its meaning later (and keeping its meaning to your audience is important to your story telling).
  6. Don’t do anything obnoxiously obvious, garish or horrifying.

Somehow, I don’t expect these rules to go down in history (or even to appear on the CCSN website, like Orwell’s did. But I do think that they’re a start to a discussion about the audience/filmmaker balance.

Panel This Saturday

3 06 2008

USC’s film school has an extraordinary group of students attending. One group, the Women In Cinematic Arts, is holding a great conference this Saturday that is open to the public. It’s called the “WCA Industry Forum 2008: Making Your Vision A Reality.” It’s an all-day event and pretty cheap, even if you’re not a member. It will have panels on:

  • Creating and Delivering a Television Series
  • Navigating the Studio System
  • Independent Filmmaking
  • Preparing your Film for Film Festivals
  • Increasing Production Opportunities for Women, and
  • Trends in Alternative Media

I will be moderating the last panel, which is subtitled “From Your Cutting Room to YouTube” at 2:45. It’s going to be really interesting with these great panelists:

Kim Moses – Director: The Ghost Whisperer and principal in Sander/Moses Productions.
Fonda Berosini – Participant Media
Ken Rutkowski – KenRadio
Jesse Albert – Agent: New Media & Branded Entertainment, ICM

We’re going to be rambling over a range of topics from “What the hell is alternative media anyway?” to “How do I break into new media?” to “How can I get online distribution for my shorts?” It should be an interesting hour, and the rest of the day looks fabulous.

You can find more details about the program, and registration, at the Women In Cinematic Arts site.