Even Orson Welles Makes Mistakes…

29 07 2009

… but you have to be over 40 to know it.

Shane Ross, over at his fantastic blog Little Frog In Hi-Def, has posted an old video in which Orson Welles talks about editing.  It’s an incredibly wise, and short, piece in which, standing over a 16mm flatbed, Welles talks about the musicality of editing and how being in an editing room is “home” for a filmmaker.

“A Moviola is as important as a camera… This is the last stop between the dream in the filmmaker’s head and the public.”

But there’s one big mistake which makes me realize just how divorced he was from the actual mechanics of editing. See if you can spot it.

This does raise the issue of the difference in involvement from the great editors of the past and today, but we’ll talk about that when I see what sort of response I get to this challenge.



What Twitter is Absolutely No Good For

29 07 2009

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

An article in today’s Ars Technica gives some details about a lawsuit that property management company Horizon Group Management is filing against former Twitter user Amanda Bonnen who tweeted to a friend that her apartment was moldy:

You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

Now, it’s secret that companies are monitoring every mention of themselves on Twitter (Horizon would have to have done — Amanda had only 20 followers according to the article). UPS, a few airlines and, in my own space, companies like Avid Technologies not only have their own presence but are monitoring the temper of their clients.

And here’s where Horizon went so flamingly absolutely out-of-control wrong.

The coolest thing about Twitter, for companies like these, is the direct access to their customers at an exceedingly low cost per contact point. If the management company had simply responded to her tweet with a considerate “what we can do together to solve this” they have scored tons of Twitter brownie points, not just for her 20 followers (assuming they read it) but to all of Horizon’s followers and anyone of their’s who read retweets.

This means that Horizon’s job is to get lots of followers and then to use the tool in an intelligent way. Which is absolutely not what they’ve done.

I have no idea what the actual situation is here.  Perhaps Amanda’s building is completely spotless except for her space, and that would say bad things about her. But it’s not the actual battle here that is important, it’s the perception of the company’s personality. In the old days, they used to call it “Corporate Presence.” An awareness of that is what would have kept Amazon from looking like a Nazi-like company for pulling copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle last week. Outbound communication is crucially important in a viral world that we live in.

So, while Twitter is fantastically good for people and companies who have messages to broadcast (such as Amanda, in this case) it is absolutely a disaster for people and companies who want to keep those messages secret (such as Horizon, here, or Sarah Lacy and Mark Zuckerberg at SxSW in 2008). Companies that want to succeed in 2010 will do well to pay attention to this tempest in a teapot, because it shows just what the power of social media really is.

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The further down in the article you read, the more complex this story becomes, so it’s worth a read. It’s not really Black Hats vs. White Hats the way I’ve portrayed it.  My point isn’t who is right, but what it says about Horizon’s understanding of social media.



Color Correction Made Easy — Well, Easier

23 07 2009

Color Correction Window in Media Composer

Color Correction Window in Media Composer

One of the mystical and wonderful aspects of finishing a film is color correction where you get the opportunity to give an entire visual “feel” to your image. When I did the low budget JACK IN THE BOX, we couldn’t really afford to light every nook and cranny of the basement location in the dark, moody feel that the director wanted. In post production, using Magic Bullet Looks, among other tools, the colorist (and that was not me — my wife insists that I must be color blind when she sees what I wear to work every day) was able to put the characters into an arena of increasing panic and jeopardy.

But whenever I go into tackle color correcting some work, it’s clear that the task is not as easy as Apple or Avid would have you believe.  “Just click on the flesh tone” or “Just click on something that must be black” or “Find me the whitest part of the frame.”  Never looks right to me.

And then there’s the aspect of what I’m looking at the image on. The temptation among editors (and certainly among many of my students) is to color correct with whatever is right in front of them — often a laptop screen, or the perfectly good but not-meant-for-color-correction client monitors.

Mike Jones, over at Digital Basin, has gone a great way to helping me to understand the concepts behind color correction (or “colour grading” as he calls it). He essentially breaks the process down into three parts:

1. Impression – our visual response
This kind of grade is one designed to imprint on the mind of the viewer an element beyond the picture; to leave an impression by creating a visual response from a set of tones overlaying the image.

2. Expression – our emotional response
The Expressionist grade reflects emotional states, emotional changes and emotional journey’s.

3. Construction – our cultural response
A Constructivist grade is one that builds upon, exploits or plays with or against pre-existing knowledge the viewer may have.

This is actually a pretty good way of thinking of the process. How can we get it look right, then how can we get it to feel right, and finally how can we get it to seem right within our world. He goes into much more detail about this, including giving valuable examples, and it would be well worth a trip to his site to check it out.

He also has a link to a colorist who has a great site of his own, Kevin Shaw. The site has number of great resources for the color blind people like me. One article, From One Light to Final Grade, is a particularly good description of the entire process.

Oh, also, there is a section in my book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, in which I deal with how color and camera influence storytelling.



Final Cut Pro – Baby Steps Into The Future

23 07 2009

For the two or three of you who don’t know yet, Apple released its updates to its suite of video applications today.  Final Cut Suite 3, has updates and new enhancements to nearly all of the parts of the suite, including some cool title manipulation tools in Motion, voice level matching in Soundtrack Pro (a boon to quick and easy temp mixing), cooler markers and more flavors of ProRes in Final Cut, and more. Some of the features, like a floating timecode window and global transitions, are attempts to catch up with Avid’s Media Composer which has had that for a very long time. (Apple’s list of new features can be found on this page on their website.)

That, by the way, is a great advantage of competition.

But it is in the aspects of ease-of-use and collaboration that Apple has shown that it is paying attention to what it’s core market really wants. Despite the high-end videos of Francis Coppola and Walter Murch on TETRO, Final Cut’s appeal has always been to people on the lower-priced end of the market — the students, the low-budge indies, the people putting together their own shops. The entire suite concept caters to them — if your market is made up of people who can’t afford to hire separate title designers and sound editors, then the idea of charging people separate amounts for separate applications is a non-starter. For the indie filmmakers and podcasters who are creating their own soundtracks and flushing them out to the web in record time, buying ProTools and Media Composer is just too expensive. Even if Soundtrack Pro is way inferior to ProTools, it just simply doesn’t matter to that market. Having everything in a box (with round-tripping between the apps) is The Way To Go.

I’ll talk about the coolest indicator in a minute, but let me also say that the ease of use factor is also huge for this market. If I’m doing my own lower thirds, and I’m not a visual effects guru like Mark Christiansen, then I want easy-to-use templates that provide me with a great default setting.  I’ll change the look and feel if I want, but the fact that I don’t need to program in a motion effect, with a glow, and time everything out from scratch, means that I can get things done much more efficiently (even at the expense of greater individuality).

So, starting with something much higher than Ground Zero, appeals to many of the filmmakers that Apple is targeting as their market.

But here’s the cooler thing for me.

As many of you know, I’ve been harping on the idea of long distance collaboration for several years. It’s clear that more and more of us are working with people who we don’t see every day. Two years ago, I co-edited a small horror film called JACK IN THE BOX. It’s director and my co-editor were both on the East Coast, while I sat in Los Angeles editing. We exchanged files and projects via the net. It was a successful collaboration, but a bit frustrating because of the lack of face-to-face contact. This month I’m starting a new film where the director will be in Rhode Island, my co-editor in Massachusetts and me — still in California.

My point is that this is becoming more of the norm, rather than a rare instance. Commercials, corporate films, sponsored videos, and more, are fast being done by the People Who You Want To Hire, even if they’re in another city. But the tools just aren’t there yet to help re-create the face-to-face experience. We’ll be experimenting with some newer techniques on this one and I’ll report back, but the struggle is always to help all of us to feel like we’re in the same room.

Now Apple has introduced iChat Theatre, which allows the editor to play back his or her timeline right over iChat. If I read the tutorials properly, you no longer need to create a Quicktime export and then upload/FTP it. In fact, you no longer even need to create a Quicktime at all. This feature of Final Cut allows others on the iChat to look directly into a Viewer (or Canvas) on the editor’s machine. That’s it.

Now, it doesn’t have the real interactivity that I’d love — to have my iChat buddy be able to use his or her mouse to stop and scroll the cursor around on the timeline  (like Syncvue, for instance, does), and I don’t know if you can have more than two people on the iChat, but you can video chat with each other while you’re scrolling around. Mike Curtis says that you can show the timecode window as well, and that will be great for more precise discussion. But you certainly can’t take a mouse or Wacom tablet pen, and circle items on the screen (which would be handy for discussion visual effects) like you can on some services. It would also be cool if you could attach comments/markers to particular places on the timeline — so you could easily accumulate notes. But, using a screen grab tool like Snapz Pro X, you could record a notes session for later playback.

Very cool. Since one of the biggest issues in distance collaboration (as well as in any notes meeting, now that I think about it) is misinterpretation of notes.

My point, however, is that Apple has once again identified a growing need in their core market. Many of us working in lower budget ranges need to work with people across great distances. They haven’t given us any real groundbreaking tools to do that, but it is clear that they are thinking about it, and slowly introducing early versions of the tools that we will all need very very soon. These tools are very basic, and don’t really do much more than take ideas that have been floating around elsewhere for a while, and bring them into the suite. But the real takeaway here, is that they’ve now brought these things into their own tool and made them easy to use and integrate with their other tools. And that is going to be very appealing to this market.

Another aspect to this distance collaboration is their Easy Export feature which, on first glance, looks like an easy way to upload to YouTube, MobileMe and more (including BluRay — cool; direct export to DVDs from the timeline).

Oh, and one final point. They’ve made both the price of the suite and the upgrade price incredibly low. The upgrade for someone who already has a purchased copy is $299. That means that they are essentially telling the community that they’ve be idiotic not to upgrade. No one who has the money to make a video project of any kind, doesn’t have $300. (The full price, for those people who don’t have access to an educational discount or their own copy already, is $999.). Once again, Apple is saying to the indie and low budget community — this is for you.

Now it’s time for Avid and Adobe to decide if this is a market that each of them want, and then go for it.

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By the way, some other bloggers are beginning to post their own thoughts on this. Steve Cohen, over at Splice Here, is one of them. Richard Harrington, at the Pro Video Coalition, and Mike Curtis are two others who you should check out.



The Future of Television – Finally!

16 07 2009

Last week I ran a panel at the NATPE LATV Festival. NATPE, which is the National Association of Television Program Executives, describes itself as representing companies and people who are “involved in or wanting to become involved with the creation, development and distribution of television programming.” Along the way they promote discussion about television programming. And that’s what I was doing at the conference. Promoting Discussion. Hey, I’m all about talking (as anyone who knows me will sadly attest).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, unless I’m doing reality television, what the hell is there to talk about? Is there any television industry for me to create programming? And why should I care?”

Well, here’s why those of you who are in any part of the entertainment industry (or who would like to be) should care. The really interesting thing about the conference was just how aware the entire industry has finally becoming aware of the sea change. Of course, you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the changes. There are editors who I know who haven’t worked in eight or nine months; some are looking to sell their houses to make ends meet, and nearly every single person I know now says that they are working “below their rate” (which means, working for less money than they used to and waaaay less than they’d like to). And those changes are going to irrevocably affect how we all make and distribute our media.

The overall takeaway I got from the panels I visited and the one that I ran (“Animation: The Web Levels the Playing Field” with Chuck Williams, Producer, Walt Disney Animation Studios;  Allen DeBevoise, CEO, Machinima.com;  Uri Shinar, CEO & Founder, Aniboom;  Lifeng Wang, President, Xing Xing Digital Corp.) was that the television industry is changing mightily and those of us who can’t accept that change are totally hosed. That’s what I twittered after the conference.

I know, I know. But it’s interesting that this was coming from the real players in the industry.

There was much discussion about the collapse of the syndication market and the precipitous drop in ad revenue. The combination of these two things — the foundations of how this content gets paid for — means that content can’t be produced at the same level as before because it can’t be sold for as much money as before. There was plenty of discussion about the change in the broadcast model — 22 episode orders for (essentially) two network runs of a show, running primarily on broadcast with some nod to web streaming models like Hulu.

There was some discussion about how the web is beginning to suck away some of the ad revenue as well as some of the distribution, but the general consensus is that there’s no real money on the web yet — at least not at the levels that the Big Boys are used to. Uri Shinar, who runs Aniboom, said on my panel that he has to look at moving into traditional media to supplement his online, crowd sourcing method of distribution. Chuck Williams, who is directing at Disney Animation, said that they are approaching the dual distribution mode from the other direction — spreading into online to keep their franchises alive during the years in between theatrical releases.

The web is an established tool and it is growing in importance, the players agree. But there are still many people who don’t get it. For those of you who believe that you’ll be able to work below-the-line as you always have been (one show at a time, for a very good wage, guaranteed for 22 episodes a season), well you might as well line up at the state unemployment office now. Shows that once shot for eight days will move to six or fewer, episode orders will shrink to ten or so episodes with the possibility of renewals. That means that our contracts as editors won’t guarantee us more than two or three months of work.

We’re going to working on more things (sometimes simultaneously), for less money, than before. And that’s actually going to be exciting and dynamic. We need to embrace that reality.

Paradoxically, this means that those of you who are now graduating from college, with a decent skill set and some work behind you, are really going to be in a much better place than Old Farts (Disclaimer: I Am An Old Fart of a type), who have kids and mortgages and big car payments. We won’t be agile enough to catch the wave. More likely, we’re going to be buried under it.

Someone responded to my tweet about the conference with another one that “They’re five years behind.” That’s true. There are some people who began establishing a base in online programming years ago. They were greeted with jeers: “There’s no money in that.” Even today, people who are all about following the money will challenge us with the accurate claim that very few people have figured out how to make money on the Web with content or programming.

But those days are fast going away. The cable/phone company’s Four Play strategies (in which they will sell you a phone, your television programming, your wireless and your internet/data all through the same pipe) are moving your computer screen into your living room. The recent court decision to allow Cablevision to keep remotely storing viewers shows on their servers rather than our DVR boxes, will only accelerate that move. Within a few years, it won’t matter where we decide to watch our shows — on a large television screen, on our computer monitors, on our cel phones, or on a screen built into our refrigerators. The future of the Apple TV is finally here.

This means that there will be a million channels out there to fill with programming. No, make that an “unlimited number of channels.” There is always the danger proclaimed by Bruce Springsteen (“57 Channels and Nothin’ On“) but that depends more on who’s watching than who’s programming. As companies like Revision 3 show (check out their very cool Film Riot, a how-to-make cheap VFX show with Ryan Connolly), the real future is going to be creating much much cheaper content for a much smaller niche market.

If you guys want to have a future in the film world of the future — you should figure out how to do that. Then you’ll be way ahead of the professional Television Programming Executives and maybe be able to set your own agenda.