Television, Addiction and Netflix

8 03 2013

I am always super suspicious when professional pundits draw sweeping conclusions based on their own personal experiences. I’ve heard tons of podcasts in which the panelists assume that their children’s Internet habits are those of every teenager, or that the way they navigate their web pages is the way that everyone does.

I doubt it. I truly truly doubt it. (Even though, truth be told, my blog posting will often fall into that trap)

The latest “We Know Eveything” topic is “binge viewing.”

House of Cards

Those of you who don’t have an addictive bone in your body might have missed out on the discussion about Netflix’s distribution of “House of Cards” – the 13-part series, based on the English drama about scheming politicians. Aside from the merits of the series (and there are many) the biggest news about the series is that Netflix released all of the episodes at one time, so you could theoretically have watched the entire series in one day.

And that’s what “binge viewing” is all about. (Even the New York Times has leapt into the fray, so you know that it’s official).

But, if I may be so two-faced as to make my own broad generalization, the focus on binge viewing misses the larger point.

As I’ve said before, many of us are in the process of creating our own networks — we don’t know when our television shows air because we watch them when we want to, either through DVRs or online. We aren’t as aware of what network they aired on because of syndication at search menus.

The point with Netflix isn’t so much that they made it possible to watch all of “House of Cards” in one day but that made it possible for us to choose to watch it in one day if we want to. My wife and I watched two episodes a night for a week. Others watched it all in a weekend. Still others watched it one a night over several weeks. It’s our choice. NBC can kiss their “Thursday evening comedy block” goodbye, because large segments of their audience don’t watch it on Thursday. We used to define “appointment tv” as shows that were so good that we made it our business to be in front of the television to watch them. Now it means something different — the shows make it their business to be in front of us when we want to watch them. The entire fallacy of the present network/advertiser model is that it’s based on grabbing eyeballs at defined times (which is why movie distributors used to run their ads on THursday nights, before Friday openings).

Sure, plenty of people still watch television that way, but an increasing number are creating their own personal networks, without regard to original network programming decisions.

So, the value of a Netflix/Hulu/etc. model is that it puts more options in our hands. Distribution models, like those of Roku, YouTube, and Apple TV, are acknowledging the trend lines established by DVRs. We want ubiquitous libraries of materials available when we want to view them, not doled out by intermediaries like the networks.

The true revolution isn’t going to be figuring out how to produce series that we will watch whenever and wherever we want. It’s going to be in figuring out how to pay for them, and at what level. It will be in discovering how to create shows that may be watched out of order, or over enormous spans of time. It will be in shaping stories that cannot count on the viewer spending six months waiting for a new season — with all of the attendant anticipation and fan activity.

In short, it’s about how those of us who produce and distribute entertainment can adapt to those of who watch it. Regardless of how my daughter watches it.

Share


Is Film Dead? Then Why Do People Keep Wishing For It To Return?

11 04 2012

I am a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is that Academy.  The one that gives out the Oscars every year. Though, actually, that’s only one teeny tiny part of what the Academy does.

One other thing that it does is to recognize great student work from around the world — by giving out Student Oscars. I am one of a whole slew of members who watch shorts (defined as 40 minutes or under — which often doesn’t seem so short) from non-U.S. film schools so we can vote on the ones that we think represent filmmakers who we would love to see be nominated for feature films in the future.  It’s a great committee

But something odd happened the other night, and it dovetailed nicely with an annual survey that Harry Miller conducts for A.C.E. every year.

Here’s the odd thing that happened.  One of the committee members got up and noted that fewer and fewer of the films submitted to us are captured on film. This member wondered if there wasn’t some way that we acknowledge and reward films that were actually shot on film. He wasn’t suggesting that we vote with that in mind, he hastened to add. He just felt that the Academy awarded films. And he wanted to acknowledge those that were shot on film.

With that, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor and one of my row-mates asked if I wanted to stand up and kick some butt.  Well, I did want to do that, though it was not the forum for that. So I kept my seat, and put my jaw back in its proper place.

You see, it seems to me that what we really do in the Academy is honor good stories, well told (THE ARTIST notwithstanding). It doesn’t matter if they’re captured on a Flip Cam (well, not anymore, I guess) or 70mm. Entrancing, captivating stories know no format.

This was borne out by a survey that Harry Miller helps to conduct every year among members of A.C.E. who are editing movies and television. Since 2004 he has asked a number of questions. One of them is what format (“camera original” in his survey) the editors’ projects were captured on. Back in 2004, the breakdown went something like this:

16mm film 7.5%
35mm film 72.6%
70mm 0%
DV-HD 0%
HD (24p) 10%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) 0%

Now, let’s jump ahead a mere seven years to last year – 2011.

16mm film 2.48%
35mm film 15.53%
70mm 0.62%
DV-HD 15.53%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) (includes 24p) 62.11%
Other 4.35%

If my math is correct (and I was pretty damned good at simple math back in high school) that is a six-fold increase in Digital acquisition, while 35mm film fell to one-fourth of its 2004 percentage.

Now Harry would be the first to confess that this survey was completely non-scientific. It includes pretty much whoever wanted to respond and doesn’t include anyone who either forgot or didn’t want to respond. But the trend is completely obvious. Kodak isn’t just in bankruptcy, its film side is dead, dead, dead. Labs may be making some decent money making prints worldwide, but more than 50% of U.S. theaters are digital now and the world is fast catching up. Those cinematographers who are still developing film negative are looking at a future in which it will get increasingly more difficult (and, hence, more expensive) to process film neg. Which means that fewer and fewer productions will shoot film. Which means that lab work will get even more expensive.

Which means that film will pretty much die. No, let me take that back.  It won’t “pretty much die,” it will totally absolutely die.

Since all of our theaters will eventually be digital projection (and nearly 100% of our films will go through a digital finish anyway), I defy anyone’s mother or non-industry friend to tell the difference between a digital capture film like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO or the upcoming SPIDERMAN 3, and a film capture. Either subconsciously or consciously.

Wishing that film would come back seems about as pointless to me as pining after those really great lemon cookies that Keebler used to make that I loved so much.  That now are dead, dead, dead.

I think it’s time to reward “good stories, well told” and forget how they were shot. Or, let’s bring those Keebler Lemon Cookies back.

Share


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.”

Share


The Right Tool For The Job and ROI

27 05 2010

AppleInsider had an article on May 18, 2010 which was titled “Apple Scaling Final Cut Studio Apps to fit prosumers” which generated a ton of blogosphere panic. Even I was caught up in the rumor mongering here, reacting to a post I’d read on Twitter and then, after reading the AI piece, tweeting about it myself. Phillip Hodgetts had a very intelligent post on his blog last week that used a historical approach to take the AppleInsider piece apart, rebutting nearly everything that the article said. Larry Jordan followed up with another article which also took pains to point out why that original piece was Dead Wrong.

But, in doing so, he made another excellent point.

For me, this is the key point — as editors our job is to tell stories visually. The tools we have today do a really great job of helping us put food on the table and pay the rent.

The emphasis is mine, by the way.

Now, I’d be the last one to paraphrase Larry (though I will be doing a bunch of that in a vidcast with him which will start in mid-June — more details on that to come), but let me try. What I think was so cogent about Larry’s comment is this: We only need enough tools to do the best job we can.

Of course, there’s a lot to pick apart in that statement. We were fine working on 35mm and 16mm film, drawing diagonal grease pencil lines down the middle of the film to indicate dissolves. But then videotape editing came along and, soon, we were able to actually see that dissolve. Very quickly, those diagonal lines were not “doing the best job” anymore.

Then there’s the reality that one editor’s “need” is another one’s “nice to have but I don’t care.” New tools in Avid’s Media Composer make displaying 3D footage must easier, but most everyone I know doesn’t work in 3D so (for now) we won’t care about it.

But those issues aside, the truth of that statement is strong. It’s not as important for us to have access to every tool out there, as it is to have the right tool. Until very recently, many feature films were edited on a very old version of Avid’s Media Composer hardware and software because that version of the program was stable, worked beautifully and gave editors everything they needed. Of course, with the advent of HD and visual effects, you can’t say that anymore, except if your job only involves straightforward SD editing. Then the urge to upgrade just isn’t there. Businesses call it ROI (“return on investment”) and the equation holds true in editing as well. Will we make or save as much money upgrading to a new tool as it will take to buy it, install it and (most importantly) learn it?

As the world changes, our editing tools must change of course. But the inverse is not necessarily true; as our editing tools change, the world doesn’t have to change as well. If something works really well in version 4.0 or in version 6, why should we upgrade to 5.0 or 7?

Incorporating new technology into our own work lives can be fraught with peril and we’ll only jump at the changes that make sense. How can we determine what makes sense without reflexively avoiding something just because it’s a change, or darting to every new bell and whistle just because it is new? Good question. We deal with that all the time.

Recently, I’ve been playing with two tools that are designed to make editing life more sensible and I’ve now incorporated them into my own editing life. In each case, I got something more by the change, than I had to put out in order to make that change. That is real life ROI.

I first saw PluralEyes back at NAB in 2009, where it was stuck all the way at a side wall. The way it was pitched to me got my juices excited — this is a tool for editors (FCP only at the time, it has now expanded to Premiere and Vegas; where is Media Composer???) that will automatically sync takes from different cameras that were shot at the same time and have matching audio. This seemed to be a godsend editors of music videos or events (think speeches or weddings) that are captured using multiple cameras. Six cameras capturing a speech can be easily sunk up to each other, even if the audio is of varying quality. Editors who have to sync multiple takes of a musical performance that was shot to a common playback will also benefit from this.

What a cool idea, right? I can hear editors all over the world counting up the amount of time that they will be saving in syncing up footage. In the “old days” this would have involved finding common points between each and every take (a verse where the band sang the word “Killer”, for instance — hard consonants like “K” are useful in finding sync), mark a sync point at those points in all of the takes, and combine the takes into one multicamera clip. This was pretty reliable but was incredibly time consuming and prone to error, especially if the person doing the syncing had to make sure that he/she wasn’t using that same word, but from different verses. In addition, at times the audio on an individual camera might not have been at the same level or quality as another camera, making it harder find the exact match by listening or looking at the audio waveforms in our NLEs.

So, PluralEyes could be a great timesaver but in order to do that, it has to require less work to set up than we benefit by using it. As examples, Avid’s ScriptSync used to take too much of my editing time to set up and so I never used it. Once they put voice recognition into it, it became a very usable tool and I now love it. On the other hand, I’m still waiting for Adobe’s Transcription tool to get to a usable state — right now I get around 50% accuracy, which creates more work fixing a transcription than I’ve saved by doing it automatically in the first place — Scott Simmons has a great review of it in his Editblog.

So, was PluralEyes helpful? Does it pass that test?

Way yes!! It can’t sync everything, but it does a great job of finding the sync points between takes, even if one of the clips is only a partial subclip from waaaaay down in a take. It does a remarkable, though not flawless, job in matching audio recorded at different levels and echo. I was able to effortlessly sync two cameras with direct feed audio, up to one that was using the camera mic, with all of its attendant room echo and noise. In the one or two cases where, for no known reason, it couldn’t sync up a track, it created a separate FCP timeline with those clips on it. This made it easy to see what wasn’t automatically sunk up so I was able to hand-sync those pieces. Synching two or three pieces, rather than thirty, is a huge time saving and so PluralEyes deserved to be in my editing tool chest.

It was the Right Tool for that very limited job and, even at $149, that was way worth it (Honesty Policy: Singular sent me a review copy of PluralEyes, so I didn’t pay that $149. But that doesn’t change my feeling about its worth.) I don’t know what your pay scale is, but if you use this application for three jobs and it saves you two hours in each, that’s about $25 an hour. If you’re not charging at least that for your time, you are either a student or starving or both. One key to this program’s success is its laser beam focus on one thing — help editors sync audio takes together quickly. That’s it. Priced accordingly, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who needs that one thing.

As an aside, Larry Jordan mentioned in his May 20, 2010 Digital Production Buzz podcast, that he has more editing applications on his computer than you can “shake a stick at”. (I’m not sure why you’d want a shake a stick at a computer — I often shake my fists, but that’s different.) He went on to say that he used different ones because not every NLE is good as another at specific things. I got to thinking about that. I used Media Composer a lot for my editing, but I absolutely hate their Titles creation tool — both Marquee and AvidFX/Boris — so I usually bop over to Motion to create lower thirds and the like and then import those files into my Avid machine. The right tool for the job. This is another example of creating a focus on single tasks. When I want to teach students how to create a simple DVD I’d rather use iDVD than DVD Studio Pro (even in it’s simple mode) because it’s Stupid Easy. But it’s phenomenally awful to do anything more complicated. For that I use DVD Studio Pro.

I apologize here for my total lack of knowledge of most Adobe products. I’ve been quite impressed by their improvements in the last few years, but my main body of knowledge still revolves around the NLEs that we use most here in the US — primarily the Media Composer and Final Cut.

Sorenson 360Another tool that I’ve been testing on and off for several months is something called Sorenson 360, which makes it much easier to upload videos that I’ve created for viewing and approval by my producing and directing collaborators. It will come as no surprise to those of you who have been reading this blog for a while that I am a strong proponent of long distance collaboration. I believe that, for editors of the future to be successful, we are going to have to be working with clients all over the world, often many of them at the same time. The feature I’m cutting now has me sitting in front of my computer in Los Angeles, the director is in Rhode Island and the producer is in Massachusetts. We need to be able to easily show each other sequences without flying all over the U.S. To that end, a number of cloud-based review and approval sites have been born on the web. They make compressing, commenting and approving much easier.

Sorenson 360 does all of that to great degree. Like any good compression tool, Sorenson Squeeze can take a while to efficiently and decently compress your films. For a 2 minute trailer that I recently created for that feature I mentioned, it took over an hour. For a documentary that I’m editing on Global Rivers, I had to create a 12 minute excerpt reel. The compression on that sequence, which was originally shot in HD/P2 format, took at least three hours — I left it after about 50 minutes and let it work overnight. When it was done, I had the site send me and my producers an email message that the upload was ready for them and gave them the password. It could have also sent us a text message as well.

Now, as anyone who has ever done any compression can tell you, finding the right compression settings is never as easy as they tell you. I’m okay at this, but I never can find the proper settings for quality, size and platform right out of the gate. Most compression programs give you a number of presets for each use but I find that these are no more than starting points. I am continually tweaking the settings for optimal image quality and web playability. Of course, once you determine the best setting for a particular project you should save it in a preset so you can use it all the time without the need to experiment each and every time (and I usually create a preset or two for each project I do — compression seems to be that finicky).

So, Sorenson Squeeze does all of that, as does Compressor. But Sorenson also provides a direct connection to its Content Delivery Network — the aformentioned Sorenson360 — as well as the notifications that streamline the approval process. It also gives me some rudimentary metrics — such as how many views each video received as well as the viewing duration for each video. This is great for web videos so you can basically tell where a viewer stopped watching your show (I find that the average viewer often dumps out of a video part way through — this way you can find out a bit of the “why”).

So, is this a tool that you need? And is it a tool that’s worth the cost (after a year of the free service that comes with Sorenson 6, the costs “start at $99″ and, yes, their website is that opaque about the costs saying that it’s “pay-as-you-go”)? Well, it depends on what you need it for. Brightcove, a leader in the CDN space (also acronymed the “ODN space” — Online Delivery Network), already provides pretty strong streaming in a variety of platforms with a full set of the statistics necessary for advertisers and sponsors. Can Sorenson deliver the same goods? Their prices range from the same $99 per month (50 videos and 40GB of bandwidth) to $5oo (for 500 videos and 250GB bandwidth).

I have to say that I’m not a Brightcove user so I don’t know the answer to that question. The real question is whether I’d reup with Sorenson 360 when my free one-year is up, and that is also a decision based on my own needs. I don’t create so many videos per month that $1200/year is worth it for me. But if you’re a video professional who finds him or herself increasingly working over distances this also might be the right tool for the job. I love its integration with Sorenson Squeeze (my compressor of choice). I love that I can drop a timecode window on top of my video in Squeeze to provide my producers with an easy way to key their notes to a specific spot in the video. I like the RTMP streaming which enables viewers to easily start a video from any point within the stream, rather than start at the top. I don’t like the fact that there are presently only two real formats for display — H.264 or Flash. I’d like some HTML5 capabilities as well. But it’s a great tool; well thought out and (with the recent upgrade to Version 2) becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

To see the example of how I used this tool on the Global Rivers documentary, you can temporarily check it out at my Sorenson360 site. I output this 12 minute trailer to a Quicktime movie, compressed it in Sorenson 6 and uploaded it to that site behind a password which, in this case, is “globalrivers“.

But, for many people, these applications could be another example of The Right Tool. Would it be really cool if we could get all of this in Final Cut or Media Composer? Maybe. Would it be awesome to be able to create Edit Lists or Film Cut Lists right in our NLE (the way we used to in Media Composer) without having to jump out to a separate program? Again — maybe.

Larry Jordan’s point is well taken. Not every tool needs to do everything. In fact, at a certain point, a tool that does everything is going to resemble Microsoft Word, where most users don’t take advantage of 95% of what the program can do, but it loads incredibly slow nonetheless because Microsoft is putting everything in the tool. Every NLE is going to need just the right tools to let the editors do their job, and no more. The real trick, with so many different editors out there, is figuring out just what the bulk of our editors need, and then give them The Right Tools to do that.

[PluralEyes disclaimer added - June 2, 2010]

Share


Rodney Charter, HD-DSLRs and Prep Time

3 04 2010

Rodney Charters shooting using a Canon 5D

The one thing that you can predict with students is that, if there is a cheaper way of getting to an end product (and that way involves a cool new toy) then they will be all over it. At USC, a recent trend has been away from the Red camera (which was all the rage for the last 18 months) and moving towards HD-DSLR cameras, still cameras which have been tricked out to shoot video. Because they have the large image sensor of still cameras, the HD quality they can deliver is amazing, though there are still issues with production and (particularly) post production.

I have no doubt that companies like Adobe, Apple and Avid will eventually work out the post production issues, so it’s important that we all get familiar with the issues involved in HD-DSLR production. But there are much deeper issues here than, simply, the technology. Issues of aesthetics and storytelling aside, shooting with a DSLR camera isn’t the same as either a no-budget or a high-budget shoot and it pays to think about why and how.

Here is an article by Rodney Charters (best known for his work on the show 24 and followable on Twitter with the handle @rodneykiwi) about the shooting of an Indian gangster (post-Sopranos) short. You can get to the article on digitalphotopro.com.

What is often left behind on these sorts of low budget shorts, and the article gets into, is how misleading the camera is, in terms of prep. And that is exacerbated on an DSLR shoot. Because it looks like the point and shoot digital still cameras that we’re used to taking out and capturing family picnics with, there is a tendency among many new filmmakers to treat their own projects a bit too informally. Crews aren’t bothering to do camera tests before shooting, and very little concern is given to issues like how lenses affect focus, and how handheld shots on a small camera are differently executed than on a larger one. This leads to beautifully detailed HD images which are slightly out of focus or too bouncy to use (remind me someday to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the Stabilize effect in our NLEs).

But there’s a mention in the article of some of the prep work that Charters did for this short, directed by Snehal Patel,

Working handheld or on a tripod, getting proper focus is a major obstacle for many filmmakers working with the 5D Mark II’s full-frame image sensor, which is closer to the size of 65mm motion-picture film. Because Patel and Charters were predominantly using Panavision zoom and prime lenses rather than DSLR lenses, it made the job of focus pulling a little easier. With cinema lenses, the extra-large lens barrel spins nearly 360 degrees, which makes it possible for a focus puller to hit critical marks within inches rather than feet. Similar to a film shoot, they also employed a first and second AC on each camera like a professional movie production.

Earlier in the piece, it mentions that Charters had one day of testing for a two day shoot. In other words, 1/3 of their production time was spent in testing. I’m not saying that Charters didn’t already know that he was going to using those Panasonic zoom and prime lenses, but I don’t doubt that what he learned in that one day helped the project move more smoothly, build the language with the director, and help the project to look better.

[As a side note, I should also mention that Charters, being the Hollywood DP that he is, had Panasonic build him a special PL lens mount so he could use a 10:1 zoom. Just try that if you're Mr. or Ms. Indie Cinematographer.]

The piece also mentions that they had a DIT on set, and that they ended up backing up their footage to three locations. That’s professional industry practice on file-based cameras, but there are all too many occasions where crews shooting with HD-DSLR cameras forget that they still need to think professionally. They aren’t operating on a home movie shoot. Unless you can afford to lose your shoot like a home picnic, then you can’t treat it like one.

Share


I’m Not Afraid Of Organization!!

22 02 2010

Shane Hurlbut is known for more than just being the guy on the other end of the Christian Bale shouting match. He is a DP who has been tirelessly touting the value of shooting high-end films using HDSLRs (High DEf still cameras that can also shoot HD video) like the Canon 5D Mark II. In fact, in a recent fxGuide podcast (podcast #56, about half way through) he makes a passionate case for why these cameras will eventually “kill film.” It’s a thought provoking and (frankly) pretty exciting podcast. For those of us who step back from a headlong rush into something new just because it’s new, this will raise some great issues about what earthly use celluloid film really has.

Shane also has an interesting entry on his blog at Hurlbut Visuals, talking about the digital workflow issues that he and his crew dealt with on a recent Navy Seals film (that he also talks extensively about in the podcast). In it he talks about media management, a skill which is sadly lacking in many crews who shoot file based cameras. There is an illusion that, because it’s easy to keep shooting, and because stopping to reload cards “interrupts the creative process” (as if decades worth of shooting 11 minute loads of 35mm couldn’t create good creative films), that media management is an impediment to creative filmmaking. Hurlbut takes the piss out of that one:

The unique skill set that my Elite Team brings is that they all have a film background and are comfortable with certain rituals that accompany being a motion picture film loader and 2nd assistant cameraman.  These include: managing the truck; keeping  track of the gear and specialty pieces of equipment; creating an inventory and log; assessing how many magazines you have to load and color coding it according to the stock; labeling the magazines with the date, job, film stock and amount loaded on the magazine itself; and writing a camera report with the same information.

When I see students of mine with disorganized editing bins, into which they’ve loaded unlabelled takes digitized from tapes that have not been sub-clipped for easy access, it drives me insane. One of the great advantage of digital editing is that it should make it easy to find anything that I need to create a finely edited sequence. If I have to scroll through a ten minute series of takes in order to find the one that I want, it’s going to stop my creativity much quicker than taking the 20 minutes to subclip and label each one of those takes before I edit them.

by the same token, dumping dozens of takes of unslated, unlabelled takes, into my NLE does nothing to help my creativity. And having to hunt through all of the dailies because the production people didn’t bother to create usable camera and sound reports, or script notes, makes the editing process so much more difficult.

One of the things that encouraged me to write my recent book on editing room procedures (THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK) was the awareness that filmmakers were wasting countless hours and brain cells because of lack of organization. And that this organization, which we use quite naturally on higher budget films that have assistant editors by the score, was easily adapted to low budget films with no assistants. A little bit of work at the start, saves a whole boatload of work later. And that work is complicated by the fact that the director will be standing over your shoulder while you’re scrolling through a 25 minute clip, looking for the one 50 second take that has the piece he or she wants to look at. Or that opening and clicking through a dozen badly-named sequences, in order to find the version of the cut that you liked from two months ago, is just a really stupid idea.

There are ways to avoid that nonsense and creative DPs like Shane aren’t afraid of them.

And neither should you.

Share


The iPad, Film Editing, My Book and Delays

10 02 2010

My book sitting quietly in a Barnes and Noble bookshelf

Long time readers of this blog will realize that it has been a long time — since I’ve posted. There are some very good reasons for that, not the least of which is that my new book was being written, rewritten, rewritten again, and published — all of which required a time sucking amount of work.  All of which I’m thrilled about.

This is the fourth edition of my ancient book on editing room workflow, written originally back before anyone knew what the word “workflow” meant. It is a total page one rewrite and, because I’m not an assistant editor any longer, I had to do a ton of research with assistants (those that are left). I learned a tremendous amount about what assistant editors do today and much of that shows up in the new book. I’ll be dropping some of that on you in the weeks ahead.

Of course, I want each and everyone of you to go out and buy 50 copies each of the book.  But that’s not what I’m interested in talking about today. So, let me go on.

Another reason why this latest posting has been inordinately delayed is that I’ve been editing one or two films. One of them is a great comedy road movie that follows a self-destructive screenwriter as he drives across country accompanied by the young kid who’s been assigned by the film producers to babysit the guy . The film is, I think, going to be loads of fun, but what’s really interesting about it for me is that I’m editing it long distance. My co-editor is in Massachusetts and my director is in Rhode Island.

That means that the three of us are going to spend lots of time shooting copies of our Avid bins back and forth to each other so we can see what each of us are doing. This excites me a lot, but that may be because I’m slightly crazy about the future. A conversation I had a little while back, showed me that not everybody shares this mania.

Last summer, when Final Cut Pro 7 (or whatever they’re calling it) came out, I remember enthusiastically talking to a friend about the iChat Theater function, which allows the editor to play out anything in FCP over an iChat video conference, simply by pointing to it. It’s an easy way to play dailies or your sequence to any of your collaborators. It doesn’t have any of the real interactive functions that would make it a true shared editing platform (I’ll be looking at Fuze soon, which promises much more), but it certainly is a start to long distance communication in the editing process and I was telling my friend about it.

He looked at me horrified and said “I’ve got one word for you — outsourcing.” He was worried about his job going overseas.

“But you’ve got to look at it from the other side,” I told him. “You’re an accomplished Hollywood feature and television editor. There will be plenty of people around the world who would love to work with you. But they haven’t been able to because you live here in Los Angeles and they don’t.”

He agreed that this was possible but then said “A lowering tide lowers all boats. Even if I could get those jobs, my salary is going to go down. Way down.”

Hard to disagree with that.  Welcome to the 21st century. With the collapse of television syndication and the advertising market, the days of 10 month guaranteed jobs for tv editors are going away. As Hollywood moves more and more to large tentpole films, the number of mid-range films is also disappearing and, along with them, a sizable number of cushy mid-level jobs. Those of us who live off of these types of projects are going to have to get used to the fact that our incomes are going to go down, unless we adapt to the new markets.

And, miraculously, those markets are all over the world. What my friend, and all of us, are going to have to do, is to learn to juggle multiple jobs across multiple time zones. Some of us are doing that already. It’s really only the larger job markets that haven’t been doing it. No producer is going to share his/her editor’s time with someone across the globe. But if that same producer is hiring his/her editor for a few months, laying them off, bringing them back on again for a month or two, and then laying them off again — well, they’re going to have to get used to sharing them with the rest of the world.

So working long-distance is going to be a smart thing to learn how to do. And somehow I’ve stumbled right into it.

Apple's new iPad

Then, enter the iPad. I’ve been asked endlessly whether I’m ready to rush out and buy one. Honestly, not really. I’ll wait until the device matures a bit more (just like I waited for the iPhone 3G and am thrilled that I did). However, the possibilities that this new device gives us in the vertical market that is filmmaking are thrilling.

Imagine a producer pitching a project to a studio. Right now they send a script and, perhaps, some accompanying materials, to the studio where (if their readers like it) it is sent home with 50 or so executives to be read over the weekend. This is called, in a predictable burst of studio originality, the “weekend read.” Many studios have moved the weekend read from paper to the Kindle, which saves paper but does nothing to brighten the experience for those poor junior executives.

Now, imagine if you will, that the producer has loaded the script onto an iPad and that there are embedded links within the script to location photos, audition tapes, CAD drawings of sets, and 3D mockups of the worlds that are only hinted at in the script. That is going to be a clearer, more interesting vision of the story for every single one of those bored-to-tears weekend readers. It’s also going to be more helpful to me, when I read a script before an interview, or to an art director as he/she tries to figure out what’s inside of the director’s mind.

And that’s just one single use for this device. If you take a look at the dozens of applications for filmmakers available on the iPhone (Taz Goldstein has a great list, adapted from his recent Supermeet talk, up at his site Handheld Hollywood and, by the way, the Supermeet was a great event, even if I did have to watch it streamed on Ustream — you should go and look at it right now). There are slates galore, some of which even will help you import your footage into your NLE. There’s a very cool application to allow you to remotely control your f-stop settings on your camera. There are director’s viewfinders, storyboard creators, teleprompters and research tools. And that’s for the iPhone.

Imagine what we’ll be able to get with a 10″ screen.

Here’s my point. For years we’ve been on the cusp of something really new and exciting in the filmmaking world. We’ve gone all digital — from capture through editing. We’ve also seen the world of distribution change — so the need to print film for theaters is fast disappearing, and we will be easily distributing to each of the four screens that people watch their entertainment on (see an earlier post of mine about Four Play).

What’s been missing is the ease of getting from this digital creation, to the digital consumption in any way that resembles a realistic viewing format.

The iPad is more than a hint into that future, it’s the door ajar (not fully open yet, but not closed).

Share


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.

Share


Waiting for the Blu-Ray deluge

15 06 2009

I’ve been down this road before, but a recent announcement by Bruce Nazarian on Larry Jordan’s Digital Production Buzz perked my interest again.

Here’s the set-up:

  1. More than a year ago, Blu-Ray finally (after much payment of money to the various film distributors) triumphed over HD-DVD in the HD Format Wars. However the rush to adopt the format has been conspicuously slow.  We were told at first that this was because people had been holding up on buying players because of the war.
  2. Then the war was over and very few people ran to buy.
  3. Then we were told that it was because of the high price of the players and when they came down, in time for the 2008 Holiday Season, then all would be well.
  4. Then the player prices went down and sales went up — but not ferociously. (As of May 31, Blu-Ray accounts for only 12% of all DVD sales according to the most optimistic figures).  Accoring to the web site Blu-raystats, sales of Blu-Ray disks are up 81% from last year, which seems impressive on the face of it.  But when you consider that the number of Blu-Ray release is up 210%, that figure doesn’t look quite as good.
  5. At the same time, we were told that a huge impediment to adoption of Blu-Ray in the independent market was the high licensing fees for replicatable disks. Once those were licked, that group of content creators would leap onto the bandwagon.

Now the good news is that through Bruce’s (and the International Digital Media Alliance‘s) incredibly hard and diligent work, it appears that the most expensive of the two licensing organization for Blu-Ray — AACS — may finally be relenting. And that is great news for independent producers.  But I’m still not convinced that anyone cares enough to make this the straw that breaks the Standard Def DVD’s back. Even with the growth of large screen TVs.

Ask yourself this question. I’m going to assume that most of you reading this blog are interested in Content Creation in some way — either as filmmakers or film watchers. That puts you in a group of people who are Interested In Content. Now, out of this group, how many of you own a Blu-Ray player and regularaly purchase Blu-Ray disks.

Hell, let’s make the question even broader.  Out of all of you people, how many of you even know of someone who regularly purchases Blu-Ray content?

If that percentage doesn’t approach 50%, then Blu-Ray is dead.  If we can’t even get those of us interested i films to watch them on Blu-Ray, how are we going to convince the rest of the world.

This goes beyond the Current State of the Economy. As I’ve said before, the leap from VHS to DVD made a huge difference in terms of the visual and audio quality.  In fact, it made a big enough difference so that it passed the Mom Test — that is, even My Mom would notice. That, and market factors, eventually drove VHS out the window.

But, even with great big wall televisions, the difference between SD-DVDs and Hi Def Blu-Ray DVDs is just not that huge that my Mom would ever care or notice. Hell, my Mom hasn’t even bothered to use the component video outputs from her DVD player.  (“Nothin’ wrong with those cute red and white plugs, right?”) And it’s a pretty steep curve to get her to upgrade — both the hardware box and all of the movies that she’s accumulated over the years.

In short, the drive to move to Blu-Ray, with my strongest apologies to Bruce, is completely led by the studios — who are looking to give consumers a reason to re-purchase all of their already purchased content. This isn’t coming from the consumers (except for HD sports on television most of us couldn’t give a damn) at all.  It’s not even coming from the producers, directors, and cinematographers of the world. Nope, this is almost completely market driven.

Which means that, for now, those of us who love HD content would rather download it over the Internet then go through the upgrade path. The Future of Blu-Ray may be Broadband.

Share


Cell phone bills and media makers

3 02 2009

It’s hard to know exactly what these numbers mean, but someone recently sent a long some statistics on the change in cell phone spending since the beginning of the decade.

The numbers below are pretty interesting, especially when you look at the younger demographics and their percentage of total telephone services spent on cell phone service.  These numbers of from the Bureau of Labor, show that spending on cell phone service increased tremendously from 2001 to 2007.  Somewhere in 2006, we started spending more on cell than on landlines. And that’s across all age groups, even the landline-bound Over 64 group, whose percentage of cell phone spending nearly tripled over that time. About one-third of these people are now spending more on cell phones.

That, to me, is an even more awesome statistic than the fact that about 3/4 of people under 25 are doing the same thing.

Cell phone usage has increased tremendously since 2001

Cell phone usage has increased tremendously since 2001

The article goes on to say,

In 2001, the ratio of spending on residential phone services to spending on cellular phone services was greater than 3 to 1. In 2007, cellular phone expenditures accounted for 55 percent of total telephone expenditures compared to 43 percent for residential phone expenditures.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) show that cellular phone expenditures increased rapidly from 2001 through 2007. Cellular phone expenditures surpassed spending on residential landline phone services beginning in 2007. Chart 1 shows that annual expenditures for cellular phone services per consumer unit increased from $210 in 2001 to $608 in 2007, an increase of 190 percent. Expenditures for residential phone services per consumer unit decreased from $686 to $482 over that period, a decrease of 30 percent.

There are obvious reasons that this might be so, including large cel phone bills — I don’t think that my landline (which I still keep going — my cel service in my own home being less reliable than the cel service I experienced in the Jordanian desert several years ago) accounts for more than 20% of my total monthly phone bill.  I’ve got a lot of services hanging off of it — including my miserable DSL service (more on that in another post).

But it’s clear that, with manhy people jettisoning their landlines in favor of cel service, that a sizable chunk of money (and our expectations) is going into cel phones.  Worldwide as well as in the United States.

If you ask me, this is great news for those of us who make media. As I told a class today, for those of us who love the idea of making media for screens above and beyond the television and the Big Silver, we’ve got a great expanse of wild and wooliness out there.  It will be necessary for the phone companies to compete with each other in even stronger ways, once it’s clear that their landline business is going away. Between business VoIP (like Skype and Avaya) and residential cel service, they’re going to want to shore up their cel services.

And that is going to mean providing additional content for the smart phones of the future.

If I were you, I’d start learning Big Time about puting media that you want to create, onto someone else’s cel phones. Then, after the dust settles, if you’re in there, you’re going to make some money.

Share