Why Hiring From the Bottom is A Real Bonehead Move

6 05 2012

At the risk of seeming like a real obnoxious pinhead, I’m going to start off this posting with a line that I’d hate in someone else’s post (hey, life ain’t fair). But it will be in the service of making a larger point about how people hire film craftsmen.

So, here it goes.

I was trapped in a security line at Heathrow Airport while on the way back from a conference in Cape Town, South Africa when I heard a middle aged man unwittingly put it all in perspective. (There. I’ve said it. I don’t feel better about it, but at least now I can move past it.)

So, we’re stuck on one of those long security lines made even worse by the fact that British Airways has decided to open only one line for hundreds of people.

Now, last time I checked, it had been more than a decade since these security procedures have been instituted at worldwide airports. Yet, still, there are those fliers who seem to have ignored ten years of experience. They forget about the liquids, they don’t take off belts or shoes or any number of other alarm triggering devices. I’ve got this down to a science by now — cel phone, money, and wallets in my jacket pockets, my belt and other loose items inside my shoes, with it all in a box with my laptop.

But I travel a lot. I don’t expect everyone to have gotten this down like I do. But, damn, how many times do you have to listen to those TSA folks drone on about small liquids and laptops before you figure it out.

Anyway, the line is slow moving until it stops moving because one puzzled couple can’t seem to get anything right. Anything. The crowd grows restless and finally one businessman in front of me mutters (and this is the point of the whole story so pay attention now) at them “Noob.”. Pronounced “newb”

And the guy was right. These two newbies were slowing everyone else down.

I thought about this when I got a request the other day from someone looking to hire an editor. No pay involved, but a “chance to work with great talent, and get something for their reel.”

I must get four or five requests like this a month, and I have never seen any of them with any real value. For the intern. There are newbies directing, newbies producinF, newbies acting in it. And this makes the likelihood of this being good for a reel pretty damned slim.

Now, I firmly believe that there are real values in working on volunteer projects. Anyone who has read my THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK (and stayed awake) might remember that I talked about this. There are more ways to get paid than money.

But jumping onto a project with noobs all around (I am aware that the definition of this will change as you move forward in your career) doesn’t help you learn and will rarely help you build a larger group of people who know they can trust you (which is really the point of every job and job search you should be doing). More frequently, it will hold up the line as you and others try to figure out if toothpaste should be considered a liquid and put into that plastic Baggie.

By extension, producers should think twice before going to the all-volunteer route. I’ve heard stories of actors bailing in mid shoot because they got involved in something else they were more interested in (or compensated for). I’ve seen plenty of films that lost composers because they delayed locking their picture past the point where the composer could do it for free for them.

Noobs don’t mean to make these errors. They just do, because that’s how we creatives learn. At USC we know that our students will rarely learn from lectures. They have to do and fail at projects. And that’s what a lot of noob projects are. No harm in that, but I resent when that no-pay-necessary attitude extends to bigger projects. Some people would rather spend the money on a great looking VFX package than an editor with enough experience to give them a great working story.

I’ve edited for noobs and I’m sure I will do it again when the people are right. But I’d rather work on a project with a producer who isn’t hiring people who don’t know where their shampoo goes on the TSA line. Makes me feel better about how he/she feels about me.

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Learning From Experts, Part 2

8 10 2010

Last post, I talked about how I learned about learning from the late Arthur Penn, on the film FOUR FRIENDS. This time I’m going to talk about another, more traditional, type of learning — book learning.

Many of you know that I’m an editor and editing teacher by trade. I’ve been editing using digital NLEs (first on Lightworks, then on Montage, Ediflex, Avid and Final Cut) for years and years. In all that time, you’d think I would have learned things.  Well, actually, I have. But then you always meet people who help to keep your ego in check.

A few years ago, I joined up with a group of amazing top-notch editors in an Advisory Group which gave advice on software, strategy and other feedback to a major NLE manufacturer. And earlier this year I started doing a videocast called 2 REEL GUYS with another top-notch expert on another major NLE. Within a few meetings, it was clear to me just how little I really knew about the Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Studio. Now, fortunately, both of them have published books that help me to get schooled (in both senses of that word) in both systems.

Steve Cohen is an Avid Guru, in my mind. He’s been editing on the Avid since 1993′s LOST IN YONKERS which according to IMDb, was the first studio feature ever cut with an Avid. He’s worked as a consultant for them as well and some of our favorite parts of that NLE come straight from his brain. If there is a working editor today who knows more about the hidden parts of that system, I don’t know who it would be.

Years ago, Steve co-wrote a book on tips and tricks using the Avid, which (self-published) became an underground classic. A little while ago he decided that the time had come to come out with a new book for the very new system that Media Composer is today and I’m thrilled to say that it’s now here. Avid Agility: Working Faster and More Intuitively with Avid Media Composer, also self-published, came out last month and I’ve just finished going through it.  It is an amazing work — for both new and old Media Composer users. Sensibly organized into editing functions — Basic Editing, Timeline, Audio, Effects and much much more — it has taught me tips and tricks that I didn’t know. It’s not meant to be an absolute basic book (for that I like Sam Kauffman’s book Avid Editing) though I think that beginners would get huge value from it, because it does go into basic Avid functions.

For me, the huge value of the book comes from the complexity of any piece of software. There are many editors who are using Avid today in much the same way that they did ten years ago — even though there is now so much more in the program that would help them work. It’s the same thing with Microsoft Word, on which I’ve written several books but continues to blow me away with what is buried deep inside menus. Unless you spend a ton of time keeping up with your software, you’d never learn so much of what’s new and valuable in it.

“Avid Agility” does just that.  It takes me by the shoulders, shakes me several times and shouts — “Hey dummy!  Why are you stepping into an effect that way when you could do it so much easier this way.” I’d recommend that each and every one of you who are editors — whether you are on Avid, Adobe or Apple, rush up to that link above and order the book.

So, now, you’re thinking. Ah, why isn’t there something like that for Final Cut? There are a ton of great books teaching me how to use Final Cut Suite, but nothing that really digs into secret and great tips and tricks.

Ah, you’d say that, but you’d be wrong.

Larry Jordan is one of the more tirelessly hard-working gurus for Final Cut Pro. He has written about 10 gazillion books, is the Pilot behind the essential weekly audio podcast for digital video professionals, The Digital Production Buzz, and co-hosts our videocast, 2 Reel Guys, which is designed to help you understand how to tell better stories on film and video.

He has now published what, to my mind, could become the definitive cheat sheet book on Final Cut Pro, called Final Cut Pro Power Skills: Work Faster and Smarter in Final Cut Pro 7. Impressively presented, and incredibly detailed, this book spends its 264 pages giving you about one tip per page with things that should have been obvious to me about five years ago, but weren’t. Just like Steve Cohen’s book, Larry’s book divides itself into smartly designed chunks, designed to explore areas like Audio, Transitions and Effects, Video Formats, Editing and much much more.

It has a ton of those “Oh My God, I’m Such An Idiot” moments where it tells you an easier way of boosting audio levels, or clearing settings from a group of clips. These are things that you would have thought I’d have known already but, frankly, it’s way too hard to keep all of those new things in my head, while also trying to edit something.

Larry has done us all a great service by collecting these hundreds of tips to (as the book’s title says) work “faster and smarter” and I, for one, am glad he’s done that. Go right ahead and click the link or the picture above and learn a ton of stuff.

In fact, if you’re a working editor or would like to be a working editor, I’d go ahead and click on both of these links. In the entire filmmaking world today, you have to keep learning or, as Woody Allen said in ANNIE HALL, you’ll have a “dead shark.”

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Keeping Organized – A Free Webinar

8 09 2010

One of the things that many low budget productions suffer from, as well as nearly all student films, is a lack of organization. It makes those tougher films even harder, but no one ever feels they have the time to set up their systems.

This is crazy shortsightedness and to give a few examples of what I mean by organization, I’m going to take some examples from my book, THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK, 4th Edition, and present them (in my usual rambling fashion) during a webinar being given by the good folks over at New Media Webinars.

Every editor does things differently, and Shane Ross has done a pretty good DVD on the subject within Final Cut Pro. I’m going to toss my own thoughts into the ring  tomorrow, Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 10am Pacific time.

There are some good things about this webinar — the first is that it’s free, if you can make it at that time (NMW will be making the webinar available for a fee afterwards, along with some added content — a video where I’ll talk about organizing a VFX  workflow, as well as a copy of the glossary from my book). You’ll also get a chance to win some prizes, always a good thing.

Finally, I think that you’ll learn some things and, if you haven’t, you’ll have a chance to ask questions.

It should be a blast.  And you don’t even have to be in LA to see it.  So, c’mon down.  Just click on the link below.

Editing Bootcamp. Get Organized!!

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Filmmaking, Critics and Sound

1 08 2010

A recent podcast from the makers of /film called, oddly enough, /filmcast (you can pronounce the “slash”) gets into the varied opinions and passions around the movie INCEPTION (which I recommend you run right out and see even if you hate it — it’s fascinating filmmaking, even with its faults). Critics David ChenDevindra Hardawar, and Adam Quigley are joined by New York Press film critic and professional curmudgeon Armond White, who argues that INCEPTION was a horrible, shallow, inadequate piece of crap by a filmmaker who shows none of the talent that someone like Michael Bay showed in TRANSFORMERS 2.

I’m not here to argue with his point of view, or anyone’s for that matter.  Though White would strongly disagree, I believe that (at its best) film watching is a visceral experience as much as an intellectual one and, as such, can lead to great divergence of opinions.  There is no absolute right and wrong if a film is really working.

White went to Columbia University’s School of the Arts, receiving his MFA there. This gives him the cudgel that he uses to slap around a mesmerized and overly polite Chen. In fact, he tells all three of these Internet film critics, that he feels that Web film criticism is mostly uninformed and shallow, and that everyone who calls him or herself a film critic should be trained in the profession.  “Professional film critics,” such as himself, it seems, cannot be questioned by people who haven’t been to film school and taken courses where they sit with a Moviola (I’ll deal with this comment in a little bit) so they can examine films frame-by-frame. According to Wikipedia, White calls himself a “pedigreed film scholar,” without much definition of what he means by that broad statement (that statement can be found in a short, not particularly interesting, piece on him in Macleans, a more interesting and substantial read is a New York Magazine piece on him).

Now, I’m not here to support or bash White — plenty of much better writers, who are much more familiar with his work, have taken their shots already. But two comments that he made on /filmcast, as he argued against INCEPTION’s value as a film, strike me as immediately calling into question White’s qualifications, MFA and his “pedigree” claims aside (aside from the obvious one I mentioned above — that he still thinks that the Moviola is a viable tool to examine films frame-by-frame.  Where has he been for a decade?).

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Telling Stories Without Getting Hung Up in Technology

16 06 2010

2 Reel Guys - a videocast from Larry Jordan and Norman Hollyn

The biggest thing that attracted me to teach at USC full time, when I started there eight years ago, was the fact that the Dean told me that our mission was not to teach better toys (though we certainly have to teach technology) but to teach better storytelling.

I don’t know a single filmmaker who thinks that their job is to play with technology. Ask any cinematographer, editor, sound designer, production designer, actor, producer, director, etc. what they do for a living — and they’ll tell you that they’re storytellers.

So, it’s been a great disappointment that there is about fifty times more web content about what buttons you’d push then why you’d push those buttons. Sure, I learn a lot from video tutorials — I watch them all the time. I learn a ton from casts like Film Riot and Avid Screencast, as well as videos from Larry Jordan, Ripple Training, Lynda and more. But it pained me that there is so little out there about why you’d use a certain lens to tell a story, what costume designers do to help a script, how silence and sound work to push the meaning of a script, and more.

About a year ago, Larry Jordan (FCP guru, trainer and co-host of the necessary-to-listen-t0 show The Digital Production Buzz) and I were talking about working together, and it occurred to me that, together, we could create just such a videocast. Now, Larry is way more comfortable in front of a camera than I am, but I’ve been doing teaching and speaking for years, and had developed a number of very teachable concepts about story construction that I’d written about in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT. Surely, we could pool our overlapping talents and come up with something that could help fill that gap.

Well, thanks to the support of Avid Technology, we’ve been able to do just that. We’ve already shot, and are finishing, 20 episodes of a new videocast called 2 Reel Guys in which we talk about the concepts of the Lean Forward Moment in storytelling. Each episode deals with a different aspect of how to use the initial storytelling concepts that we talk about in the first two episodes. Some of the concepts that we deal with (in 6-10 minutes each) include: how to work with actors, how sound design and camera techniques can help enforce the story that you want to tell. We’ll talk about editing, costume design, collaboration and much much more over the run of the series (which will hopefully go beyond these first 20). Starting yesterday, we’ve released the first two episodes of 2 Reel Guys, and we’ll unleash a new episode every two weeks — on the first and the fifteenth of each month. It’s the start of something which is quite exciting to me — bringing the concepts that we’ve been working with and teaching for years — to you; all for the low low cost of nothing.

That’s right. You can leave your wallets at the door (or on your night table, whichever is safer).

Give it a try and leave comments on our website.

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How We Learn and Why We Resist It

4 05 2010

When I first started teaching at USC’s film school some eight years ago a much much wiser person than me told me that there were several things I needed to know in order to teach well.

First, not everybody’s learning curve is the same so you can’t teach  a concept only once. In other words, since everybody is going to learn at different times, you’ve got to structure your teaching so the same thing is taught in several places in several ways because you never know when a student’s teachable moment will be. To most effectively teach many people you need to structure your teaching so you’re teaching concepts from many different perspectives at many different times.

Allied with this is the fact that most people (and this applies particularly to teaching artistic concepts) really learn something only when they need to learn it. It’s why I’ve always believed in project based learning. I can talk about pre-lapped audio all I want, and I can show you examples of it until the cows come home. But most of us aren’t going to really learn it until we need to do it in our own editing in order to push the energy at a cut. I don’t know about you, but I rarely read manuals until after I’ve started playing with a piece of software. Most of my students don’t want to learn how to change the opacity of an effect until they realize that they don’t like the effect that they’ve just created and need to change it. If it can get better with a tweak to the opacity then they will really remember that setting forever. If they don’t need to tweak the opacity, all I can do is bore them with instructions.

The second thing I was told (and this goes with the first points I think), is that you need to tell your audience what they’re going to learn before you teach it, let them know what they’re learning while you’re teaching it, and remind them what they’ve learned after you’ve taught it. It’s reassuring to the learner to understand that there is a new concept being taught and that they’ve learned it. It also gives them three chances to figure out how this new concept works for them.

Third, all teaching is really about entertainment. Most people don’t learn things just because you tell them they need to, any more than they’re going to like swallowing medicine that’s good for them. They have to be involved in the process, and that often happens when they’re entertained in that process. Mary Poppins said it (or sung it, to be precise): “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

I was thinking about these thoughts as I began playing with the latest version of Avid Media Composer — 5.0. It’s not available to everyone right now, but there are a few advantages to running the editing track here at USC, and seeing some software in early stages is one of them.  You’ll all get to play with it soon enough, and you can certainly see enough videos about the new features (there’s one on the Avid web site, and another from a German media site) but one of the most interesting points about the new version is that it changes some of the interface, partially in an attempt to make it more Final Cut Pro-like in that it allows for more direct manipulation of the tools right within the timeline without jumping into various modes.

Naturally, there are editors who are already not liking it.

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NAB

11 04 2009

The largest get-together of television, film and media makers and distributors is the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas every April. This year NAB (as it is called) happens April 18-23 and I’ll be speaking at a number of venues, as well as going to the first NAB Tweetup.  If you’re going to be there please drop me a note (norman@normanhollyn.com) and let’s try and get together. For now, here’s what I think I’ll be doing while I’m there:

Monday, April 20, 2:00 PM — I’ll be signing copies of my new book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, at the NAB 2009 Official Bookstore

Monday, April 20, 8:15 PM — I’ll be at the ProMax Digital Lounge, talking about Shaping Stories Through Editing.

Tuesday, April 21 9:35am — I’ll be at the Avid Technology booth (Booth # SU 902, South Hall), talking about “Where are the new editors coming from? And how will they learn how to get there?”

Wednesday, April 22, 9:30am — I’ll be at the Official NAB Podcast Digital Production Buzz booth, being interviewed by Larry Jordan

Wednesday, April 22, 11:00am — I’ll be at the Final Cut Pro Users Group Booth (Booth #SL10129), talking about “15 Film School Tips in 20 Minutes”

Stop by.  At many of them I’ll be giving away a few copies of my new book!!

See you there.

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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.

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I’m Writing A New Blog — Too

4 07 2008

Film Industry BloggersA few weeks ago, I started posting a weekly column on Richard Janes’ new blog, Film Industry Bloogers. It’s a pretty cool concept, just in its germinating stages, where filmmaking professionals from across a wide spectrum publish their thoughts, on a more or less weekly schedule. Each Friday, my musings go up — along with those of the following:

The Animation Prod. Coordinator – Christine Deitner
The Documentary Producer – Amy Janes
The Editor – Norman Hollyn
The Reality TV Producer – Top Secret
The Web Producer -Chad Williams

Each day, Monday through Saturday, a different assortment of writers takes their crack at explaining just what their lives are like including people like Noah Kadner (the “Digital Expert”), Jen McGowan, an independent filmmaker, Brian Trenchard Smith (a genre director), and many many more.

Surf on over there and check it out. And give us feedback. We can use it.

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Self-Serving Announcement

18 05 2008

Digital Production BuzzYou’ve heard me talk about Larry Jordan and Mike Horton’s Digital Production Buzz radio show/podcast (actually, I’ve never heard it on the radio in real time; I listen to it every week in my car driving to or from work — thanks to the podcast version of the show).

Well, this week Larry and Mike are interviewing me on the show. I’m not quite sure just what they’ll find so interesting, but I know I can trust them to do it. For those of you who are interested in what I sound like with a cold, tune in on Thursday from 6-7 Pacific time (you can hear it live on their site right here). And just to make it even more interesting for you, they also promise to interview Patrick Nugent from Roxio about the new Toast, and editor Michael Jones. That interview is described thusly on their web site:

Michael Jones was the editor for the revival of “Banana Splits” for Warner Brothers. Shot in Australia, Michael developed an intriguing on-set editing workflow using Final Cut Pro and it’s multicam feature to show the director what they shot almost as soon as the scene was over. Listen as he describes his new workflow.

Listen early and listen often.



UPDATE.

To listen to the finished show, go to this archive page for the Buzz May 22nd show.

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