Assistant Editor Appreciation Day

26 08 2009

Just found out, thanks to Scott Simmons and the French web site FinalCutMtl, I’ve learned that tomorrow, August 27th, is I Love My Assistant Day.  Awwww.  Go out and hug your assistant.  For those of us who don’t have assistants (I’ve presently copying my media from the transport drive that I was sent from the East Coast yesterday to a backup drive), go out and hug yourself.

A Great Example of Crowd Sourcing

24 08 2009

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a great example of a crowd sourced music video which popped up on the web at the beginning of the summer. I meant to mention it then but… I don’t know… life intervened.

Shot for the Japanese band Sour’s song “Hibi no Neiro” (which means something like “Everyday Tone”) this is a great example of how you can make something incredibly creative with very little money and involve your fans in the process. Their fans are much more likely to be involved and support Sour after something like this.

SOUR ‘日々の音色 (Hibi no neiro)’

Collaboration, The Sequel — And A Contest

23 08 2009

Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute

Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute

Seems like just yesterday that I finished writing about collaboration (it wasn’t, it was actually two days ago) and I’ve just watched Daisy Whitney’s latest episode of New Media Minute which is all about collaboration.  (Daisy is one of the most informed, entertaining, correspondents on the media area, hosting This Week In Media as well as writing for a slew of magazines and web sites.). She talks about new technology which is enabling people to collaborate across great distances including Wiredrive, web conference software Adobe ConnectNow and sites like video hiring hall Spidvid and online collaborative amateur site Pixorial.

Along the way, Daisy also mentions a project that I was involved in earlier this year — Mass Animation’s “Live Music”.  This was a Facebook application in which animators from across the globe were able to download a trial copy of Maya, and use it to create individual shots in an animated short that is going to be released at the top of Sony’s fall film PLANET 51. There were weekly contests, polls and judged competitions. I was one of a panel of judges that looked at individual sections of the films, gave feedback to the worldwide animators, and awarded badges to the shots we judged the best. It was a fantastic experience and created a much better film than it would have been without that diverse input.

Daisy also announced a contest for web videomakers that I want you all to know about. To dovetail with the publication of a friend’s book (Alison Winscott’s “The Time of My Life”) she has asked animators to create and post a short 10-15 second video based on the idea of “The Time of My Life”. Send her the link and, after judging, the winner will run on her popular show along with a featured interview. Sounds worth it to me. Also, a good chance to learn more about yourself.

The contest (read more details about it on Daisy’s blog for New Media Minute) has no announced final date but, as usual in life, earlier is better. So get those videos shot, edited and in.

Real Collaboration – Editors and Directors, Editors and Editors

21 08 2009

Over on my other blog I long-windedly answered a question that someone sent me on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago: “How do you deal with directors who ask you to do stupid things?”

The short version of my answer was that, if each of you are doing your job right, then there really aren’t any stupid requests because each one is a window into what the director really wants, even if he or she isn’t capable of communicating it well.

But that led me to start thinking about two times when I’ve seen editorial collaboration help enormously in the editing room.

I was an assistant editor and assistant music editor on the film HAIR, way back in the Editorial Stone Age. We had two great editors on the film – Lynzee Klingman and Stan Warnow – as well as a director (Milos Forman) who really knew editing. But there was once sequence that none of the three could quite figure out how to edit. It was a song called “Black Boys/White Boys” in which a row of Army medical examiners decided whether a line of inductees were healthy enough to march off to Vietnam. Choreographer Twyla Tharp had designed this clever set of homoerotic dance moves for the two trios of examiners to be intercut with two trios of women who sang and made eyes at the boys around them in Central Park. The idea was that the juxtaposition of these very straight military men, the naked inductees in front of them, and the trios of seductive women in the park would make the entire medical exam seem absurd and somewhat surreal.

It was supposed to be clever and funny and it absolutely didn’t work.

So Milos and the producers hired Alan Heim with the specific goal of having him edit that sequence. Alan had been Bob Fosse’s editor for quite awhile and had cut films like ALL THAT JAZZ (still one of the most amazing biographies in Seventies cinema – and way ahead of its time), LIZA WITH A Z and LENNY. He was hired one day and disappeared, with an assistant, into a room at the Trans Audio Building on 54th Street in New York (above the famed Studio 54) and came out a week or so later with a first pass that blew everyone away. It wasn’t perfect and underwent many changes between then and the final cut of the film. But it so clearly pointed Milos and his other editors in the correct direction, that Alan was convinced to stay on and work on the film in its entirety.

It by no means belittles the editing contribution of Lynzee and Stan to say that the scene could not have been shaped as well without the outside viewpoint that broke the logjam of their preconceived ideas.

The second example came the second time I worked with director Michael Lehmann. We had previously worked on the film HEATHERS together and it was a fantastic experience for me. When he asked me to move onto his next film, MEET THE APPLEGATES (a satirical farce starring Ed Begley Jr, Stockard Channing and Dabney Coleman, about large Brazilian bugs who get sick of humans destroying their habitat and turn into humans and move to Ohio to blow up a nuclear power plant terrorist-style) I jumped at the chance.

The film came together relatively easily, considering its low budget nature and high ambitions, but it still didn’t feel like the movie that we wanted to make in places.  There were areas that weren’t funny enough. Other scenes had great moments, but didn’t propel the story forward enough.

So we brought in a mutual friend, editor Barry Malkin, to look at the areas of the film that most concerned us (and any others that he wanted to work at).  We put Barry, who had worked with on THE COTTON CLUB and had been an editor with Francis Coppola for years, in a room with a Moviola, an assistant and a ton of film. In a few days he did two things. The first was, he told us that he understood perfectly why we had edited the individual scenes the way we did. He would have done it the same way. But he had some ideas on rethinking scenes in ways that we hadn’t really thought about. We let him go back into the room and, a few days later, he started showing us a few scenes that had been subtly or greatly revamped.

Like on HAIR, the changes weren’t perfect, and they went through many changes before we locked the film a little while later. But they opened up thought processes and brain synapses that we hadn’t used before. It helped to bring us out of our mindset. (Barry got a credit as “Editorial Consultant”.  He should have been credited as “Logjam Breaker”)

Every project needs a place where its creators can step back and re-evaluate what they’ve been doing. Most of the time, there’s neither the time nor the money to do that. What is most painful is when you could do it, but don’t because you’re locked into a conception of your project that can’t move.

The Greeks, I’m told, talk about it this way. Every idea (a “thesis”) needs to meet up with a second different idea (the “antithesis”). When they are allowed to work off of each other, they create a third, usually better, idea (the “synthesis”). The key to making this work in both HAIR and APPLEGATES was to allow the new editor to actually sit and work the material, as opposed to simply giving notes. Sometimes great ideas can come from a comment, but often those ideas just don’t work when they’re exposed to the light of day. You can’t find a character’s smile, or there is no close-up when you’d need one. But with enough time and freedom, a good editor will work towards that alternative goal.

The goal of good collaboration is to allow good new ideas to bubble to the surface without distracting the leader from the overall spine of the project. It’s not easy sifting through thousands of ideas over the course of the day-to-day work on a film. But that is what distinguishes a good director from a mad or mediocre one.

How Animation is Leading The Way For Our Filmmaking

10 08 2009

I just got back from a week-long conference on teaching media, about which I’d love to talk more and more.  And I will.  You know I will.

You know journalist A.J. Liebling‘s old expression — “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” For a long time the same has been true for much of filmmaking and the cooler aspects of animation, including the sort of motion capture technology previously available only to those who could afford it.

But there is a fascinating project going on in Hungary, called Kitchen Budapest, which is creating a place for a myriad of arts and technology projects spearheaded by Hungarian artists. There is one, called Animata, which (if I understand correctly) will make motion capture much more accessible to the average computer geek (I doubt that Mom and Pop will be using it anytime soon, but that’s probably a good thing all around). Here is how they describe it:

In contrast with the traditional 3D animation programs, creating characters in Animata is quite simple and takes only a few minutes. On the basis of the still images, which serve as the skeleton of the puppets, we produce a network of triangles, some parts of which we link with a bony structure. The bones’ movement is based on a physical model, which allows the characters to be easily moved.

Check out a dancing figure in the following piece, which has an inset of the person who is controlling it.

Reverse Shadow Theatre from gabor papp on Vimeo.

And then, take a look at how you can get much more complex, using multiple figures and musical instruments.

Animata Jazz Pub from gabor papp on Vimeo.

Now, I have no idea how flexible this is. But, if it is as accessible as it looks, this bodes well for projects well behind artsy animation films. Just think how this could work with instructional videos (one of the largest and most successful areas for Internet video) and demo films.

Let me take a little sidetrip here. I remember years ago, there was an incredibly talented post-production sound mixer named Dick Vorisek in New York who created so much mystery about what he did that it seemed like no one could ever mix a film except for him. A little while later, another mixer (named Lee Dichter) started mixing in a much more open way. I began to feel that mixing wasn’t a huge mystery, but that no one could mix quite as well as Lee could.

This paradigm has now moved into the entire filmmaking process. We all can edit and do sound work much more easily than before. We can now afford to shoot as well. And we can color correct and do visual effects. Most of us aren’t doing those things very well but we’re beginning to understand and participate in the process much better than before. Now we’re beginning to see the light in terms of motion capture and bridging animation and live action.

This bodes for a vastly more interesting world out there. Link on over to Animata, and stay tuned for the future.