Filmmaking

25 thoughts
last posted Dec. 19, 2014, 1:45 p.m.
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In 2007, a friend of mine and I were doing small sketch comedy videos and posting them on youtube. One concept that he had was for a workout video by Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi that tought exercises that other despots might find useful for things like dodging laser designators, cruise missles and other threats modern day dictators might face. Shortly after posting it, the Libyan government protested it as being inappropriate and youtube took it down. While Kevin or myself never experienced serious threats from the Libyan government itself, the message from Youtube was loud and strong; never post this again or you'll face having your account shut off and be permanently banned. So I guess you could say that we were victims of state sponsored terrorist censorship before it was cool.

One part of me is admittedly upset to think that what amounts to an unbalanced, petulant child with a couple of nukes could pull off something on the scale of the Sony hack and actually block the release of a movie. Sony should have, at the very least, just posted the movie on youtube or something for free, or had someone "leak it" as a middle finger to Jung-un. Another part of me is thinking that all that really may have happened here is that we were all just spared the release of another really shitty comedy.

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I did wedding photography on the side to make a little extra money shortly after getting out of school in the 80's. I didn't do hundreds of them, but I certainly shot enough of them to vow never to do one again.

A friend of mine called me up about 6 months ago and asked if I would shoot video for a wedding he was going to be photographing for a friend, and I told him, no, I didn't really do that sort of thing. When he rephrased it by asking if I'd do it in Cancun Mexico, all expenses paid, I changed my mind.

I met with the couple tonight and the cool thing is that even though I'm familiar with the traditional sorts of wedding photography and video styles, they want something outside the box and different and gave me total creative control. I pitched them a bunch of ideas tonight and they really liked most of them. Now I'm actually looking forward to it because they're such a nice couple and really open to letting me do something fun for them.

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"Just because a movie looks good doesn't mean it has anything to say." -Roger Ebert

Not exactly sure when he said that, but it seems that lately, movies that have anything to say, or even movies that truly entertain are pretty damn scarce. TV seems to have far surpassed movies in terms of overall entertainment value.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman

When I saw "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", I recall being so blown away by the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman that I couldn't help but wonder at the time if he'd faced in real life some of the demons his character did in the movie.

There is something so haunting and ominous in this sequence watching it now, that you almost don't see him as portraying a character in a film, you almost see it as him realizing something about his own life. Scary.

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Leaving Final Cut 7

I want to move to Mavericks, and it's looking like support for FCP 7 is fading. I knew it was going away all along, but I've become a bit attached I'm afraid. From all of the articles I've been able to find, FCP 7 will work on Mavericks, but some features may be problematic.

Thinking of Adobe Premiere/Creative Cloud. I already subscribe to CC, but with the current lull in development/project activity now is probably a good time to come up to speed.

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I learned last week that a show reel that I'd been asked to produce/shoot/edit didn't result in a sale after being pitched for ten months. Not all that bummed out as that's just the way things go in this game, but I was particularly proud of the reel that we ended up with. The concept was not my idea and the content itself is not my cup of tea, but I think that we did a pretty good job shooting it on such a tight schedule.

A friend of mine, Gregg Therieau, a directory of photography based in Atlanta led the shooting, though a good chunk of the camera work in this piece is mine. All of the interview setups and lighting were his and it's always fun to watch him work - I always learn a ton as he's a working DP who has worked on just about every major reality show out there.

Gregg has been with me on my reality journey since day one really, and it's great to still count him as a member of my little "go team" for projects like this.

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According to some of the articles on realscreen.com, there's never been a higher demand for original content. According to what many are saying, there's just not enough (good) original content to go around. Sounds like that bodes well for my production partner's visit to the Real Screen Summit this week. Should get their full report in a day or so.

I plan on attending along with my content next year.

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The development of the Thought Streams ad is another example of the power of collaboration and how it can work so well. The music that James put together itself inspired copy and a theme that I think suits what he originally hoped to accomplish with this site.

The voice over and the music so far are sounding really great and forming a solid foundation for the piece. I really can't wait until we have it to a state where we can share it with the rest of the ThoughtStreams community.

I'll be pulling visuals together over the next few days for a prelminary visual mockup that will at least help us establish a look and feel.

My good friend and long time collaborator on a number of creative projects, Rich Woodall will be helping with art direction on it and has a number of really amazing ideas already.

Very exciting times at Eldarion.

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Collaboration

I'm really enjoying the collaborative process I've been engaged with for these last few projects. I've been fortunate enough to build a local team of passionate, bright and creative people who just want to make fun and interesting projects and tell good stories.

While most of the work we've been involved with has been producing short form sizzle reels for reality shows or advertising, the experience is always great. I can't wait until we have the chance to work on something bigger in scope like a feature.

I love having an idea, and then having other people come in and add their little color to bring it to life. You have the vision for the piece you're trying to bring to life, but you have all these great minds helping you make it into something really great.

I will freely admit that I like to be the ultimate arbiter of what goes into the finished piece, but I do love that process of having other people get excited about your project and adding to it and helping you shape it. The results are always so much better when you can allow that sort of thing to happen and realize that all the best ideas are not always just in your head.

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Corporate piece I did for Eldarion

On January 3rd, Eldarion released the corporate piece that I put together on the origins of our Gondor hosting platform. I have a number of other pieces in the works to promote Eldarion, our sites and services. I thought this initial effort worked really well.

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Two weeks to Real Screen

I shot a new reality pilot two weekends ago in a day and edited it over this past weekend. The initial cut was well recieved by my production partners, but sizzles are rarely finished in one cut, so I'll be getting notes on it today so that I can refine and hopefully knock this thing out quickly. Real Screen is only two weeks out.

Getting ready for Real Screen feels like cramming for a term paper or something this year. I have this new teaser I need to finish up, a recut of one of my older projects and a complete ground up cut I have to do on footage I haven't even recieved yet. I don't really mind doing the work, I'm just hoping that something hits this year.

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Too many projects, too little time.

I've yet to make any serious progress on the ISCSI SAN other than purchasing the chassis, and the short form doc that I've mentioned in earlier thoughts has been pushed off the stack one too many times in the past few weeks. I hope to return to both soon.

Most of what has been getting in the way is preparation for something called Real Screen, a marketplace of sorts for producers and TV executives who produce/distribute documentary based or "reality TV". I may have previously gone on the record as someone who personally loathes most of the reality TV offerings out there, though I'm not above admitting that a few guilty pleasures do exist in the genre. I now have 7 or 8 projects prepped or previously prepped that will be pitched with my partners who will be in attendance with yet another that I'm planning on shooting over the coming weekend.

The other thing that I've been toying around with are some interesting marketing pieces for Eldarion. I can't or won't say what they are, but one will likely be released soon, and I have to say I'm quite proud of it. It's more than a commercial in the traditional sense. It's more of a corporate piece that doesn't really feel like a corporate piece. I've been referring to it as a "micro doc" or micro documentary, under two minutes in length but has the feeling of a documentary. It's well paced and IMHO, tells its little story quite well.

I feel with all the short form stuff that I do, my story telling skills are tested more than they would be on a longer form piece. You learn very quickly to cut the nonsense, and get to the heart of the story. Being a part of Eldarion, I'm really loving the opportunity to produce some quality stuff that tells the world a bit about our story, and I'm hoping to do a lot more of it in the coming months.

I do plan to get back to my other projects… Soon.

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ML raw on 7D works, just not practical

Sadly, I'm not finding the 7D Magic Lantern raw workflow reliable and practical for my needs just yet. Some of it could be due to the card that I ordered. My colorist and Da Vinci Resolve expert CJ Adams and I managed to work out the workflow to a certain extent last night, but we were seeing odd things with the overall color cast of the image, and broken frames which is really unacceptable. Information is out there with regard to how to work through some of these issues, but I think a few more months of the Magic Lantern team hammering on it and working out some of the bumps in the workflow may be required before it's stable enough to depend on for a real shoot. I do plan to continue to play with it and see if there is a way to optimize it for later projects, but I'll probably not end up using it on this one.

In the interim, for some of the beauty shots and interviews where I want that really filmic dynamic range, I'll be renting a BMCC from Rule Camera in Boston. At $150 for a weekend rental, I think this is the most practical and reliable way to get the sort of look I'm after.

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Maybe there is hope for ML raw on 7D

After cruising the various magic lantern threads for the past few days, I think I've worked out that the latest builds for the 7d version of the firmware are pretty stable and producing reasonable results. They've introduced a new "mlv" format that's supposed to reduce the number of corrupted frames. I installed the hack on my 7d and was able to record raw clips just fine with the mlv_rec module, but I couldn't get the mlv2dng converter to work on my mac.

The good news is that it looks as though this is coming along as a usable option for raw recording on the 7d. Someone posted a short that was shot entirely with 7d raw. The content is lame but the images are pretty amazing. Its not the best example of showing off raw, but I think it makes the point rather nicely. So much more cinematic than H.264 compression. The way that it handles the highlights in the background is pretty remarkable : http://vimeo.com/73835410

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Jury still out on ML raw on the 7D

Not entirely sure now if I'll be using the Magic Lantern raw capability for my doc. The fact that it's still early alpha and requires a ton of post processing is a bit of a put off. I have been thinking seriously about buying a canon 5d MkIII over a black magic camera. Still waiting a comparison article to appear between the MkIII with ML raw and the 4k version of the Black Magic Cinema Camera.

For the doc though, I'll probably just shoot interviews in 1080 on my 7D. Cheaper/quicker/more reliable. I also think that I've shown on some of my other projects that the 7D can look very pleasing and cinematic when exposed properly. Not as much latitude in post for grading, but as long as I protect highlights and blacks, I'll be fine.

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The camera doesn't make the filmmaker

There was an old saying that a musician that I managed once used to toss around, and I've always liked it. "The clothes don't make the man" he used to say.

This saying can be modified slightly for filmmakers to read "The camera doesn't make the filmmaker". In other words, if you're a good story teller, it really shouldn't matter what you shoot your story with.

This has to be one of the best articles I've read yet on the state of current camera technology and image formats. Specifically, it covers the debate over raw/4k image capture vs other formats, why raw is great why it sucks and how at the end of the day, the camera doesn't make the filmmaker.

http://philipbloom.net/2013/10/10/4kraw/

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New Reality pitch.

Just turned in a sizzle/pitch reel for a reality show concept that I developed. It's being pitched at H2 tomorrow. I really don't want to produce reality shows, but if a world and story comes around that I think is fun, I'll try to build something around it. Most of the contacts that I have that are "in the business" are in this space at the moment, so it's fairly easy for me to pitch something in that space. I don't really even like reality TV that much, but if I come up with an interesting idea, it's fun to see if I can get something sold.

Working on stuff like this helps me keep my skills sharp too. Even reality shows are all about story and characters in the end anyway...

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Geeked out on a camera designer

I offered to shoot a promotional video for a band that a friend of mine is friends with. The other night, I met the guitar player who as it turns out has been designing video cameras for the last 20 years. Mostly in the video conferencing and medical products space, but he knows all the problems associated with sensors, optics and various supporting electronics.

I felt bad for him later because I geeked out on him like he was a rockstar and made him talk about digital camera design until the show started.

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Interesting documentary film equipment survey by PBS/POV. DSLR's are still in heavy use.

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Modular Cameras

I've been reading about or hearing about "modular" camera concepts for years. Axiom supports exchangable lens mounts, but wouldn't it be better to have a camera that would allow you to change out sensors like film stocks?

There was recent news about Nikon's interchangeable sensor camera patent which is cool, but it seems like something like this in the form of a modular, interchangable sensor camera for filmmakers would be truly disruptive.

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Magic Lantern raw and the 7D

Since Magic Lantern is now supporting RAW on the 7D, I'm going to make an attempt to use my 7D as the A camera for interviews for the documentary I'm shooting about my daughter and her horse. I figure it will be a great opportunity to play with RAW workflow without having to spend a lot of money. The only thing I need to pick up is some super fast high capacity CF cards. They're fairly pricey, but they'll be a nice addition to my DSLR kit regardless.

I realize that the firmware for this capability is still beta and may be unstable, but using it on this project is fairly low risk.

I'll be shooting/posting some tests as soon as the cards come in.

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New Project - "Hope for a Horse"

Sometimes the best ideas for a film are right under your nose.

I've been wanting to do a story on my daughter's rescue of a horse two years ago. Initially it just started out as a keepsake for her to have to remember the whole experience by. Recently, we've been talking about expanding the scope and trying to show it as a success story of a rescued animal.

One aspect of it that made it interesting initially was that getting this horse via rescue was a bit like finding a valuable painting amongst a bunch of items in a garage sale. She turned out to be the foal of a 3 time world champion jumper. We found out after checking around that she was worth at least 6-8 times the $800 we paid for her at auction.

That's where the joy stopped however. While Belle is a lovely animal, her behavior for the first year and a half was wildly unpredictable. We've since sorted it out and the journey has been a very interesting and instructive example of what it takes to own a horse and why people should give abandoned animals a chance.

Over the past weekend, I told the story to a representative for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and they were impressed and said that any film that builds awareness of resuced horses would get their full support.

So now it's become a full blown project for me and my daughter Hope, and I've started writing a script that helps frame the story and provides a blueprint for shooting it. It will likely be short form, 20 minutes or less, and if it comes out good enough I may consider entering it in the short form documentary category for some festivals.

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Breaking Bad - behind the scenes

The following article has a ton of great insights into Walter White and the development of the character and show. It was interesting that Bryan Cranston had questioned the path of Walt from genius chemist to high school teacher as well.

http://thebea.st/14T124c

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Thoughts on Breaking Bad

I watched an episode of a show called "The Writers Room" on Sundance Channel that featured the entire writing team from Breaking Bad. They confirmed some of the things that I had suspected about their process, but I was surprised to learn that they didn't really have Walts entire arc worked out from the beginning. While I never expected them to have all the details noodled out, everything ended up fitting so well that I couldn't help but think that Vince or someone on the team had at least some idea or vision of how Walt would morph or that his end would be epic and bloody.

There were only two small things about his about his character that didn't sit well with me:

  • How he got from genius chemist and founder of what was to become a multi-billion dollar company to a high school chemistry teacher. A 2-3 minute flashback sequence would have sewn that up nicely. I got that there was a falling out of the founders of Grey Matter, but I would think that someone with Walt's skills could have opted for something much better than a high school chemistry teacher. Most of it was there, but I always felt there was a hole or two in that part of the story. It didn't make a huge difference, but it would have been nice to have understood that better.

  • The relationship with Grey Matter was a useful plot device, but it never felt as well explained as it could have been. It was almost there, but never really fully "cooked" IMHO. I understand that Gretchen and Elliot harbored at least some guilt for the falling out and then making money on the back of Walt's research, but if they were that guilty about it, why couldn't they have offered some sort of deal to him before they offered to help with the cancer? They also seemed a little too friendly for people who had started a company, broke up, and then become successful because of someone else's work... The way the writers handled it wasn't terrible, but the fact that there wasn't a little more explanation made it feel a little weak.

Apart from that, having now made it through all 62 episodes all I can say is that it has to be one of the best television shows - if not the best television show I have ever watched.

http://theweek.com/article/index/247565/8-revelations-from-the-breaking-bad-writers-room

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Too much emphasis on cameras

So much focus on camera technology in the indie world these days. While there are some excellent quality films and docs being made, people seem talk more about cameras, 2.k vs 4k and gadgets than writing good material.

Be interesting to see what made it in to the New Hampshire Film Festival this year.

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