Edit Fest is August 8th and 9th

22 07 2008

A.C.E. (the American Cinema Editors organization — there the three letters you see after the names of a lot of editors out there) is running what looking like an incredible event on the second Friday and Saturday in August. Its called EditFest and will give you an opportunity to “Learn about the craft of editing from the working experts.” It start on Friday evening with a welcome reception at Universal Studios with the ACE board members and ACE Interns. The next day is split between Saturday morning, where top television editors will be on a two-hour panel, and the afternoon, where there are three events — Editors of Summer Blockbusters, Animation Editing, and Cutting for Comedy.

It looks like an amazing event. “Tuition” is $349 and looks well worth it.

You can see a few more details, including contact information, by downloading this postcard or going to the ACE website.



Should We Make Media?

15 07 2008

Daisy Whitney, in a posting over at TV Week, says “Just Because Everyone Can Do a Video Doesn’t Mean Everyone Should” and it’s an interesting statement. And one which I’m of two minds about.

First, as a filmmaker and teacher, it makes me insane that people make media who have absolutely nothing to say, other than “Hey, I can make media.” I cannot read blogs and tweets which contribute nothing to world except the user’s location and food ingestion. Likewise, I can’t take it when people makes “hilarious” videos that do nothing for the world except add to the amount of bandwidth waster on cute pets.

Yet, as a filmmaker and teacher, I am also completely aware that not everyone has access to teachers and facilities like we have at USC. In fact, having worked in lesser advantaged areas of this country and the world, I’m aware that most people don’t have access to people who can help them get a leg up on the thought process of media creation. For them, getting a cheap camera or cell phone and shooting material is the only way to learn.

Daisy had a slightly different point, though:

Doyle Albee, president of the firm Metzger Associates, told me that he has explored whether it makes sense for his company to produce some sort of weekly webcast or Web series, sort of a “Metzger Minute.” It’s an interesting idea, he said, but right now it’s not in the cards. And that’s because there isn’t a reason to do one at the moment, he said.

I liked his response because it recognizes that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Or that you need to. Sometimes a blog is enough. Sometime a Web site is enough. And sometimes even just a phone call, memo or e-mail can convey the same point.

She makes alot of sense here (for more of Daisy’s thoughts, check out her occasional visits to the This Week In Media podcast). The real issue is not grabbing bandwidth, or people’s time. It’s about learning, however we can, which media is appropriate for each of our messages. Not everybody should be doing a podcast, and for those who are, not every issue needs to be podcast. That’s one of the issues I have with regular podcasts. While I acknowledge that regularity builds viewers and listeners — that’s a marketing idea. In terms of content, I much prefer the podcasts and blogs that publish when there is something to say. I would offer the opinion that some of the reason why I often skip over large parts of the content in some of Leo Laporte‘s podcasts nowadays (which I never would do, even six months ago) is that there is a sense of “filling up time”. The last TWiT ran almost two hours long, and it seemed that a large percentage of it was redundant jabbering, even from someone as consistently fascinating as Merlin Mann.

The great thing about the web is that, until recently, we didn’t feel that we had to create anything regularly. So readers/listeners/viewers like me didn’t get the feeling that I sometimes get on the New York Times Op-Ed pages — that the columnist had to write something, so he or she went fishing.

So, to answer Daisy Whitney’s question: no, we don’t have to make videos if we have nothing to say. But if we do it for the learning first, then we can do what we have our film students here — we don’t send those early learning attempts out into the world.

[Disclaimers: I should point out that I do a weekly column for Film Industry Bloggers, and that Daisy’s podcast New Media Minute is not scheduled — in other words, when she wants to publish it.]



Wordle Tells All, Sees All

12 07 2008


Jonathan Feinberg, over at Wordle, has created an intriguing device (he calls it a “toy” but I’d use that word only in the sense that people once called computers “toys”) which creates a word cloud that includes most of the words from any text you input (you can paste in text, give it a URL of a web page, or put in a del.isio.us user name). [To the left is the Wordle for my blog without this new post.]

It then creates one of those frequency cloud pictures that shows what words you’ve used, with the size of word reflecting how often it was used in that text.

At first glance, you might think it was a toy — someone posted one called love iphone/hate facebook — but already a few interesting clouds have turned up. There’s one called “Things i want to say to you, but can’t” which features such words as chance, life, don’t and (of course) love.” That one feels almost as revelatory as PostSecret.

There’s another one on today (so many get posted that you’re never going to find these easily unless I give you URL, since Jonathan doesn’t give any sort of databasing search tool), called “What did YOU wear today?’ and another one which was put up by Wired on people’s thoughts on the iPhone.

The possibilities are tremendous — as a way of visually representing the way people are thinking at any given moment. Here, for instance in the Wordle for an article on today’s Huffington Post about Karl Rove (the link to the original article is here). The largest words seem to be Obama, government, money and Shiite. A recent Washington Post column by Dana Milbank on Rove creates a different Wordle with the biggest words being Rove, Karl, House and travesty (the original article can be found here). An article from conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, has this Wordle, with the biggest words read, rest and post.

Helpfully, Wordle will remove common words (like “the” and “and”) if you ask it to, so you can straight for the content and you can get deeper into the text’s actual meanings.

The holy grail of marketing on the Web is measuring its readers. The next step after that is making sense of what you measure. Wordle is an interesting way of making that “sense” more visible.

By the way, you can click here to see the Wordle for this blog with this new post.



Film School Diaries

11 07 2008

No, it’s not the hot and steamy version. From what my students tell me, that’s pretty much not possible (One of my students told me that she just couldn’t date while in school because she didn’t have any time to meet anyone who wasn’t at the school, and dating film school guys was just, well, in her words “Yuck!”).

No, I’m talking about a weekly podcast and blog that I’ve been following for a while now (It’s been going on since the beginning of January 2007). It’s called Video StudentGuy and it’s put together by Paul Lyzun.

Paul is a guy who has a day job working video production but, on evenings and weekends, is taking a two-year program in Boston all about Video Production. This year has has been working on two films of his own (as well as working on a slew of other people’s projects — very much like our students at USC). His final film, which he’s working on now (and which will not be done by the time he graduates — but that’s common too), is a documentary about the value of craftmaking in this era of mass-produced items.

The thing that I really like about about Paul’s podcasts (I subscribe via iTunes, but it’s also available at Libsyn) is that he’s completely honest about what he knows and doesn’t know, and how he makes mistakes. You can also see him struggling to get to the real breakthroughs which, in my humble opinion, are about how to better tell a story, not how to operate the equipment. It’s been fantastic watch him work through his thoughts about what his documentary is really about.

Along the way he talks about his abilities and his learning with the cameras (including scheduling), the editing systems, the bureaucracy of his school, the difficulties of production scheduling and commitments, as well as personal boundaries — such as when he realized that he couldn’t always say “yes” to helping out others, if it meant that his own project was going to suffer.

His latest podcast is about learning DVD Authoring.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but I just put it on my iPod and it’s going to be in my rotation for this weekend’s trips to the gym.

It’s a great listen for anyone who is trying to power through in this industry.



What Film Production Is Like

10 07 2008

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



The World Really IS Flat

10 07 2008

The World is Flat

The World is Flat according to Thomas Friedman, Thomas Ryan, Ken Rutkowski, Fred Wilson and me.

A recent post by VC (Venture Capital) blogger Fred Wilson reinforces Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book/theory that globalization has completely changed the way we do business, in general, and entrepeneurship, in specific. That, combined with a discussion on a recent KenRadio show (I believe by Thomas Ryan and Ken) reveals much about where our expectations should be in the 21st century.

For those of you not familiar with Friedman’s book (available from Amazon, and from Audible as an audiobook), he takes the position that technology and our new mindset have leveled the playing field so that there is no real difference between countries anymore. It’s a philosophy I first heard expressed in the mid-seventies when Paddy Chayefsky had one of his characters in the film NETWORK proclaim that “There are no more countries of the world. There are only ATT and Exxon and…” [he went on and on from there]

On KenRadio, Ryan and Rutkowski were talking about the dearth of new American ideas in tech startups and discussing whether Americans were being “dumbed down.’ Ryan’s comment was that it wasn’t so much that Americans were getting dumber, as that the rest of the world was getting smarter and Americans were sorta standing still. In my opinion they’re dead on here. As both a teacher and technologist, I can’t say that I have seen my students or the startups in this country to have fallen off in any way. My students at USC are still as challenging, bright and motivated as ever. It’s what keeps me in an industry (education) that forced me to take a huge paycut when I joined it seven years ago.

However, because of that very thing (educators being paid less) as well as government support of education and technology waning, other countries have been able to boost their status quite well.

And this leads me back to the first paragraph of this posting — Fred Wilson’s blog from today entitled “Taking Stock of Tech Startups in Paris.” (Fred’s blog, by the way, is one of the most informative and consistently interesting blogs about venture capitalism around. You should definitely check it out.)

There, Fred talks about a meeting he attended in Paris called Open Coffee in Paris, which is a weekly Thursday get-together of technology business people held every Thursday in Paris (open to everybody, so if you’re in Paris and you’re interested, check out their Facebook page from the link above). He also attended a “speed dating” event for Parisian entrepreneurs. There Wilson met, in his words:

 [T]he entrepreneurs I met yesterday were very typical of the people I meet every day in our business. And they are working on exactly the same problems/opportunities that startups in the US are working on.

He then goes on to detail the companies that he talked to at the event. Here is his scorecard, listing the industry they were in, the number of companies in each market space, and whether his own VC company is currently investigating companies in the same space in the US:

Entertainment ratings/reviews – one company – current
Mobile banking – one company – current
P2P lending – one company – current
Interactive/Internet TV – two companies – current
Sentiment analysis/tracking – one company – current
Stock footage – one company – current
Mobile gaming – two companies – current
Mobile RSS – one company – current
iPhone apps – one company – current
Prediction markets – one company – current
Virtual worlds – one company – current
Video ad creation – one company – current
Mobile/web integration – one company – current
Career/Jobs web service –one company – current

Here’s the interesting thing to me about this. Every single one of the categories has stateside equivalents that his VC company is currently investigating. In other words, the industries that we are developing here in the US are not ours alone. They are worldwide industries. Wilson’s conclusion:

Don’t think that the most interesting mobile games or iPhone apps will be built in Silcon Valley or even the US. Some will. Many won’t be.

This is what globalization is all about and it is further evidence that we are in a changing world. Those of us who create content would be foolish to ignore this. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. If you think that the ultimate goal for your content is a big screen (cinema) or small screen (television) then your train has already left the station and you’re not on it.

You are going to have to think globally — global stories, global collaborative ventures, global financing, global production and post-production, and global distribution. That’s the train you want to be on if you want to be around and thriving in the year 2020.



The Order That Comes When You Shoot In Order

9 07 2008

How To Run A Set

How To Run A Set

One of the hardest things for beginning filmmakers to internalize is that there is a smart way to organize a shoot and a dumb way. The photo at the left, taken by a USC student — Mitsuhiro Sakai — describes the smart way.

The first item on the list is the one that nearly every one of our student crews here at USC have trouble internalizing amidst all of the craziness of shooting. Faced with vanishing time and the normal confusion on any set, they often move right to the lighting.

But any seasoned set professional will tell you that the time you spend in blocking out the entire scene — from top to bottom — in the actual location where you’re shooting, will more than make up in time savings, any time that you spend doing the blocking.

Let the actors and the director run through the scene and find their moves. It makes a huge difference in terms of prep if you discover that an actor is never going to exit through a doorway. Rather than lighting the hallway outside the door, you can use all of that saved time in extra takes, or getting more coverage. Once your sound, picture, wardrobe, production design and assistant directors see exactly where the characters will be moving, it becomes way easier to set up for the actual shooting.

During that time, only the actors and the director are actively working. Everyone else — which are generally the department keys — are watching. They are examining how the blocking of the scene will affect their work on it. If there’s a potential problem they can discuss after the actors are released to go into wardrobe, hair and makeup. Now everyone needs to shut up and watch how the scene wants to play itself out.

Occasionally there will be changes that need to be made in the blocking because of technical issues (if we shoot in that corner of the room, we’ll shoot off the side of the set; there’s no way that the lighting crew can hang that many lights out of that window, etc.). That’s cool. Everyone will decide what changes must be made, and then the director can communicate them to the actors. When everyone arrives back on set, after the lighting is done, then the rehearsal can incorporate all of those changes much easier — because everyone has worked on the original conception.

The rehearsal is also where you can do the actual fine tuning — where the edges of frame are so the boom operator doesn’t invade the frame, for instance. But spending the 15-30 minutes that it will take to block out the scene ahead of time will make each of the ensuing steps easier — including the shooting.

And everybody will be happier.

So don’t blow off the blocking. Don’t forget about it. Don’t ignore it. It can be among the most valuable minutes of your day.



Coolest Final Cut Pro trick!!

8 07 2008

Larry Jordan\'s tip about patching tracksOne of the reasons why I read Editwell and virtually anything that Larry Jordan is a part of (here is a link to Larry’s website) is that the man not only has the smoothest voice of any tutorial host/radio host, but that he is among the clearest (and most enthusiastic) FCP teachers around.

That puts him in some incredible company, by the way. I learned an amazing amount from a three day workshop that Diana Weynand taught a year or so back. And her books, along with Michael Wohl’s, are an invaluable addition to my library.

But Larry is amazing. Check out his tip from a recent posting on “Larry Jordan’s Tip of the Day” from his engaging web site. It gives a great way to repatch the track assignments from the Patch Panel at the left of the timeline (see the image at the right).



Avid Editors in Lebanon

7 07 2008

When I’ve worked in the Middle East, I’ve noticed that many of their editors use Adobe Premiere. Certainly, the area is largely PC, so Final Cut isn’t really very popular (though that is changing, as Apple begins to penetrate the area a little more). But we’ve taught there, primarily because it’s what we knew and we were teaching storytelling anyway — not just technology.

Still, it’s cool to see that there is now a Facebook group titled AVID EDTIORS in Lebanon (this link won’t work right if you’re not a member of Facebook), led by Mohamad Zoghbi and Dany Abi Khalil Aljabai. Started at the end of last month, the group boasts 80 members now (including Harroot Kasparian who has a picture of Jim Morrison as his ID picture).

Exciting!



The Password Post-It Conundrum

7 07 2008

Any of you who have worked in a cubicle-style environment will have noticed one of the biggest ironies of the Information Age. You walk around the office, checking out people’s computer monitors and nearly every single one has Post-It notes stuck to their edges. And, if you looked closely (I’m not advising you to do this, I’m just saying…), you’ll notice that a very high percentage of monitors have, on at least one Post-It, a sign-in password.

That’s right.  Most people have the keys to unlock their computer, sitting right there on their computer. That’s like leaving your front door key inserted into the lock in your front door all of the time.

For those of us who don’t want to do that, we do something almost equally moronic — we attempt to use the same exact password for all of the sites that require a password. And that password is usually something like the name of your child, or your spouse’s birthday, or something else equally guess-able.

The reason why we do this is obvious — there are way too many sites that require passwords for us to remember them all. Many sites have arcane restrictions on them (“Must be 8 characters long, contain at least one number and one ampersand.”) and require you to change them every few months.

With the rise of identity theft, this isn’t a bad idea. But the plain truth is that most sites require passwords for monetary reasons, not security ones — in order to continue producing the site, most companies need to monetize it. And that means collecting data on you. The only way to do that effectively is to register people, so that they can track what you’re doing on the site. Then they can either sell something to you, or sell your eyeballs to an advertiser (well, not literally your eyeballs, but at least the information about what those eyeballs are looking at).

This leads us to the Information Overload Password Conundrum (or IOPC, a term I just made up).

People, who are generally unable to retain a variety of complex passwords, will do their best to make their passwords less complex and less varied.

This is a problem for institutions who really need to keep your data private — like banks, medical facitilities, research institutions, etc.

There are two initiatives that have been brewing to help to make this entire process both more secure and less intimidating for users.

The New York Times, on June 24, published an article on an organization which is developing something called the Online Information Card. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Equifax, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal are trying to come up with an online version of a driver’s license ID card.

The idea is to bring the concept of an identity card, like a driver’s license, to the online world. Rather than logging on to sites with user IDs and passwords, people will gain access to sites using a secure digital identity that is overseen by a third party. The user controls the information in a secure place and transmits only the data that is necessary to access a Web site.

There are a host of problems with this, of course, most notably the fact that the consortium will have to convince millions of web sites to trust the company behind the inititative — the metnioned “third party” — with the data that the sites’ users have entrusted to them. Personally, I don’t know how I feel about that. Is there a difference between a government Big Brother and a private industry one? We regularly hand over large amounts of our personal data to companies right now. About the only thing that keeps them from abusing that data too much is that it is fragmented between many companies.

Still, it’s a laudable start to our IOPC.

Another, more interesting one, came up in today’s “Bits” column in the New York Times. Called “More Personal Password Questions” the piece talks about a new inititative at the Palo Alto Research Center (which, as Xerox PARC, developed the icon-based user interface which is used on nearly personal computers today) called “Blue Moon Authentication.”

Named under the erroneous assumptiion that you only forget your password “once in a blue moon,” this technology is used to provide reliable, but difficult to crack, “fallback questions.” These are the questions that you need to answer when you’ve forgotten your password and need to either reset it, or have the website send you an email with that information. You choose from a list of questions: what was your first pet’s name?, where were you born?, what is mother’s maiden name?, etc.

The problem is that they are very hackable, especially to someone who can automate the responses (the Times even publishes a list of common pet names). PARC’s idea is

While registering for a site, users are asked to select from a long list things they like and dislike (punk music, golf, southern food, for example). If they forget their password, they return to the site and are presented with the list of items they selected. Then they have to specify whether they like or dislike those things – a quick personality test. Forget about plumbing the depths of your brain; just be yourself. “It turns out very few people have a hard time remembering who they are,” [Markus Jakobsson, principal scientist at PARC] said.

The piece says that, in a study, the chance of someone not being able to remember the answers to those questions was near zero. No one knows, of course, what happens if you choose to dislike chocolate after liking it for many years. People change, though not as often as most sites require us to change our passwords.

Still, it is a step to solving our password problems, something that has been discussed for years. Now that we do much of our purchasing, banking, and investing online, it’s time to do something about it.