Production-Now.com Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.

12.27.2007

Ten Hours (Day 2)

Movies take a lot of time to make. If you consider the amount of time "Lord of the Rings: Two Towers" shot for the battle of Helm's Deep, our schedule seems like nothing. And maybe that's the point: We have eleven shooting days to complete what is likely to be a three hour DVD (it could easily be much longer, but I haven't had a chance to come up with an accurate guesstimate yet). The sequence of Helm's Deep is certainly lengthy, but the whole movie is not even three hours (unless you're watching the Extended Edition, which is really the way to go, but hardly the point here), so we are attempting quite the feat.

During lunch we talked about how the shoot was going. We all agreed that if we had not had the time we did to prepare as well as we have this project would not be happening. However, despite all of the time we put into pre-production, we under-estimated the significance of rehearsals. For the last short film we did for a festival we practiced three to four hours twice a week for three weeks. That film ended up under 15 minutes in length. How many rehearsal did we have for MathTacular4?

None.

Well, we practice the lines on set before we roll the camera, but that's not a rehearsal; that's a necessity of working with a script. Most of our other educational projects have been almost completely ad lib, which is a major testament to our actors. If we were to do this again in a perfect world, we would have rehearsals.

The stress level on set is rather high because we all feel the crunch. I'm forced to make decisions that could severely diminish the video quality while the actors frantically try to memorize their next four lines. It's insane. It's the great and terrible thing that is film making. Taking breaks is very helpful, but the later it gets the higher the stress becomes as we all slowly wear out. I guess ten hours will do that to you.

Tomorrow we get up to do this all again. However, for the next week we will be working on finishing up MathTacular2 and 3. There are a lot of little pieces that need to be put together before those will be done. So it will be a while again before we hit MathTacular4.

The two points of all this are:

1. Rehearsal/memorization time is an important part of filmmaking.

2. No matter how prepared you are, making a movie is hard, time intensive work.

Keep that in mind as you think about projects you may want to pursue. Videos are not things you can "just do a minute" as my mom is fond of saying. We're doing remarkably well with our tight schedule, but I am all too aware of my shortcomings.

And that's another good reminder (lesson): There is always room for improvement and there will always be more to learn.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.26.2007

One Light and 56 Degrees

Filming for MathTacular4 started this morning. The temperature outside was 9 degrees when I left my house, so it was chilly. We shot in a warehouse and had to turn off the heat because the heating units were far too loud. This meant that I got to watch the temperature slowly drift down from 68 to 56. The equipment worked just fine in these conditions, but the actors were getting cold. I made sure I stayed in my t-shirt to keep moral up. People tend to lose motivation if the film guy is bundled up while the actors are in costume freezing.

This reminds me of a story I heard about the set of MASH. In one of the episodes a girl is taking a shower when suddenly the curtain falls leading to embarrassment and, I assume, comedy. I've never watched the show, but the actress reportedly complained that she was the only person wandering around exposed on set. The director then had the crew strip down (he did too, supposedly) so that she wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Whether that story is true or not, and I don't see how being in a room with naked men would make a naked women feel better, the point we can take away from this story is that it is important to do what you can to keep your cast and crew as comfortable as possible. Nine to eighteen hours on set is grueling enough, don't make it worse.

Food is a very important part of retarding mutiny. At 1:15 it was essential that we take a break for lunch because none of us were doing well at that point in time. We did not have snacks on set today and that was not good. We plan to remedy that situation shortly.

Last, despite the many technical aspects of our shoot, we only used one light today. A single Bar Door was the only thing I used to modify the light. That's it. And it wasn't because I didn't have more lights. I did, but I didn't need to use them. That's an important thing: Don't use more than you need to get the look and feel you want. Again, film is bad enough, don't make it worse.

The one light setup:


~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.20.2007

Christmas Vacation 2007

I haven't posted much recently because I've been getting ready for vacation, which means I've been working more. Ironic.

MathTacular 4 is in the works right now, and the day after Christmas we start shooting. So I packed the morning we flew out to California because the rest of my time was running around setting up for the shoot the day after we get back in town.

The biggest news at the moment is the issue of insurance for one of our locations. Since I am an independent contractor working on MathTacular, it seems that their insurance can't cover me on their set (maybe because it is technically "my" set). It's rather odd, and something I've never had to deal with before. It's exciting as well because I'm learning more about film insurance for the first time since college. I'll let you know anything interesting that I learn from this experience once the cloud of paperwork has cleared.

So for now, I'm away from my camera and my computer, so all I can do is relax and write from time to time.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.08.2007

Production-Now Promo: Myst-style

I built a quick video yesterday to test TrafficGeyser's claims and found that they were mostly true. Now, if you Google for "media mentoring" or "media mentorship", you'll find my video. Unfortunately, I was unable to break into the "media mentor" top 10.

I made the video with only four layers of media:

Me (my pretty mug and the mic):


Some Static (taking straight off the TV):


A Photo of an Old Book I had (notice how I left a very low opacity over the section where my video was going to go so that there would be a slight hue to the video):


and finally some Title Cards (keep 'em simple):


When I put it all together I got a pretty cool image:


I only used a couple little "tricks" to make this video. First, cut out my book photo and deleted a rectangle in the same proportion as my video. Then I added a layer of the page with very low opacity (15%) over the rectangle where my video would show through to give it a slight hue.

Second, I didn't add the Title Cards to my first Timeline. I got all my video tracks (me, static, and the book) lined up how I wanted and then I rendered a full quality video file. Since I Green Screened myself and had other Compositing going on, my video would not play back in real time. By rendering out my timeline, I could play my composited video in a new timeline and know exactly where I wanted my Titles to go.

Third, I couldn't get my TV to make the static noise, so I had Audacity generate it for me. Cake.

Now, if you've got 2:02 minutes, check out my Myst-esque Production-Now Media Mentoring promo video:



~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.30.2007

When It's Better to Work Alone

I just got booted for the first time from a film set.

Oh sure, there have been times in the past where I wasn't needed so I got put outside to watch the equipment or make sure a 5k didn't fall through a window. That's rather typical on sets. But, no, I was asked to leave a set I had volunteered my help for and spent a considerable amount of time helping them out.

When the director (who was also acting as producer) first contacted me, he mentioned that he normally works alone and for his upcoming big project he knew he needed help and wanted someone like me who knew my way around film to help. Sounds cool.

A month later I still hadn't heard anything else. I had asked for any information he might have to help me prepare for assisting. Then, the day of a meeting I was told that there was a meeting about the film shoot. So I dropped everything for this guy and went to the meeting. I was rather shocked to find out that filming began the next day, and they wanted people all day for three days this week. Thankfully I was able to get out of my other engagements to help them out.

Lesson 1: If you want to work with others, communicate with them a lot. Some people say you should be in "constant" communication, but that's a tad overkill. At least give your crew the dates you want to film as you figure them out... not the day before.

Lesson 2: If you are typically a Director type, you will need to work extra hard on communicating with everyone on your team because you are not a Producer.

The first night of filming the director showed up 15 minutes after "call time" when he had made it clear that he would show up an hour early to make sure we could just start setting up right when we got there since he did not have storyboards or lighting setups. The next morning he rolled in an hour late.

Lesson 3: Show up on time, especially if you're working with volunteers. If you're paying me my going rate to sit around for an hour because you can't get your act together, no skin off my nose. But abusing volunteers is never a good idea.

Then, when we asked him what he wanted us to do, he would typically tell us to wait until he had thought about it.

Lesson 4: Pre-Production is important. It allows your crew to begin work right away which translates into less time on set.

When we finally got around to setting up lights for him, he never communicated what he wanted. Instead, if we asked him what he wanted he would go off and move the lights himself. Nothing wrong with getting involved, but things would go much better if you let your team do their jobs and merely direct.

Then this morning he pulled me aside and told me, "Luke, I asked that people just talk to me if they had a suggestion. You have been talking to the whole set, and I would appreciate it if you would just talk to me."

Confused, I tried to explain that all of my comments had always been directed only to him so he could make the call. I ended by saying, "I guess I've been too loud. I'll make sure to just make comments to you from now on."

From that moment on, when I had a comment I was sure to speak it in a low voice so only he would hear me. Things seemed to be going fine.

Lesson 5: Just like this director demonstrated, it is always good to pull people aside if you have a problem with them. It was great that he just talked with me so things could get fixed.

Then I was helping set up a light that he had not specifically asked for so we could ask him if he liked it. He came into the room, noticed what we were doing and suggested that instead of "just doing" things, we should be more "inquisitive" and ask the director before doing things. I tried to explain that we were setting up a light to ask him if he wanted it (so he could see it rather than just try to imagine it). He told me to come out into the hall to chat. Once there he said, "This is an attitude thing. You've just been throwing around your film terms and acting like you know everything, and that's not working for me. So, you should just go."

I said, "Thanks for letting me be part of your set, and if you ever need help let me know." I collected my things and walked out.

Once outside, I started laughing.

Lesson 6: It was very good of him to recognize that he was not happy with people doing their jobs without his express direction. It was also good of him to mention that the reason he was letting me go was because it wasn't working for him. The fact of the matter is that I am not a jerk (I can be at times, I know) and that was not the reason for kicking me off the set. It was a conflict with his style, and he recognized that. Perfect. May we all be so gracious.

Lesson 7: Return the courtesy, even if they don't give it to you. Never leave a project making a scene or yelling. Just move on and thank them for the opportunity. Take what lessons you can away with you, but don't try to "win" anything by arguing.

Lesson 8: If you prefer to work alone, do so.

If you are considering making a larger production and you have a history of working alone, I will offer just a few more tips before I close this post:

Tip 1: Utilize people's skills. I have worked with a director who has truly grasped the idea of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you so you look better. If someone knows how to do something that you do not, let them take over. It will only make you look better in the end. And watch those talented people and see what you can learn from them.

Tip 2: Be humble. You know you are not going to be doing this perfectly. Admit your shortcomings, ask for feedback, and stay in a posture of learning. This can be hard to do in a situation of stress, and so all the more reason to be conscious of personal pride that will leave you alone.

What lesson do I need to learn? The big one is probably this: If I volunteer to be on someone's set, I may need to leave my ideas behind. I should have been more attentive to this director's frustration with me "taking over" his set by trying to be helpful. If people don't want you to be helpful you will be much more helpful if you sit back and wait for them to tell you what they want. If they feel like they need to be in control, I need to be respectful of that even if it is inefficient, ineffective, and inane. I signed up. If I truly am there to serve I need to be happy to serve in whatever way they want.

Oh yes, I have a lot of learning and growing ahead of me as well.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.27.2007

A Movie Without Video

I was recently sent the following Machinima video: "Among Fables and Men".

What is so interesting about this video is that it was created without screen video capture technology (at least, it could have been done without capturing motion). This means that even if you don't have a fancy bit of screen recording software, you could make a movie like this one with nothing more than "Print Screen" (Windows) or "Grab" (Apple).

Once again, and if you didn't notice "Among Fables and Men" won for best Drama video, if you learn to use the tools you have you can make absolutely fantastic movies. This reminder comes at a good time for me. Last night I was on the phone with one of my mentees trying to trouble shoot his new Adobe CS3 Production Suite. Since I don't own the software yet myself, it's really hard to troubleshoot. I had no problem fixing his other issues while sitting in front of his computer, but on the phone it is nearly impossible. I was frustrated because I felt like the tools I recommended for him were letting him down.

However, what I told him was true as well: Learning new software takes time. Editing (filmmaking, as well as most other technical endeavors) requires that you learn your tools. Once you know what you're doing, no matter what tool it is, you can fly. Sure, certain things (like customizable hotkeys) can make things even faster, but you first have to know what you're doing.

Which reminds me: I need to write up a tutorial on how to make a movie without a camera. "Among Fables and Men" may be the perfect impetus to get me to do that. I think I'll start working on that now.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.09.2007

A Quick Lesson from a Cool Show

I've been watching the First Season of "24". It's a lot of fun and very well put together. However, with all their steadycam work and multiple cameras you knew it had to happen sometime. Lo and behold, I came across this moment (I added the arrow):



That is very much a cameraman in the shot. I wouldn't have even noticed him at all if the girl wasn't supposed to be alone at this moment in the action.

Could the editors have gotten rid of that moment? Absolutely. They could have blow up the image just a tad and moved the clip around to cover him up off screen, or, since this is "24" and they already use cropped images within the screen, they could have simply cropped him out entirely. But they didn't. Why?

I'm going to assume they noticed and it was consciously left in. It could have been that they knew that their footage was going to be presented in 4:3 with Overscan anyway and weren't concerned with it. Perhaps they realized that it probably wasn't worth the time to fix it because the majority of people wouldn't notice anyway because what's more important than perfect images is your story.

But even if they did miss it somehow, guess what? People still love "24", they still purchase the DVDs, and they still rave about it to their friends. If anything, people may talk about it more because of that little goof. I mean, I wouldn't have written this post if it wasn't there.

Another prime example of how story trumps technique every day.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.08.2007

Recording Session

Last Friday night we had a mini-recording session for a band I know. I told myself I had to blog about that experience, but I didn't get around to it till now. Better late than never, right?

So, you'd like to think that two guitars and one vocal track would be a simple setup, especially since I was going to record only one at a time, but no such luck. Granted, my system is set up for editing not recording and I hope to one day have a DAW, but that's a long time in coming, me thinks. All that to say that it took an hour before we were ready to jam. Why did it take so long? Three reasons:

1. Incorrect connectors. For some reason the 1/4" input on my USB interface doesn't work but we didn't have an XLR for one of the guitars, so we tried several different ways of patching through, but kept keeping noise or nothing at all.

2. Inexpensive/lacking tools. I haven't put much money into my audio recording equipment yet so we often get erratic results and a realization that we're missing something.

3. General ignorance. Add the previous two to my already limited audio knowledge and you get a lot of head-scratching which adds up to time spent fiddling.


Once we got a signal we were willing to work with, we put down the first track. Then we played that back in the headphones while we got the next track. However, we found that the two tracks drifted in and out of sync. We tried recording again, this time beating out the time while the musician played. There were still problems.

We ended the night recording a single guitar track and the accompanying vocals. It sounded good, but we decided to do more research before we tried again.

Thus far we have found that the "screeching" of the guitar strings that was giving us trouble was likely due to the strings' age and just needed to be replaced.

Hopefully our next attempt will go better. But I must say, despite the frustrations and failures, I had a blast.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.06.2007

Adding Color

I've been shooting with my XL H1--her name is Sonyia, by the way--quite a bit over the past week. I've been meaning to get some side by side comparisons for you of the difference between using her Custom Presets and just letting her take over, but I love the color so much that I forget to switch it back. However, I did remember to do a comparison shot of the sky. I'm sorry that it's only demonstrating blue, but you get the idea:

Without Custom Presets:


With Custom Presets:


When I remember to turn off the Custom Presets on a picture that has more colors, I'll post those images as well. But for now, let me just leave you with a picture that was so full of color I forgot to turn off the preset:


Please note that these images have had no color tweaking whatsoever. None. That's how they come out of my camera when I set it up correctly. It's blowing my mind, let me tell you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.25.2007

The COW and My Third Canon

I get the Creative COW Magazine and it's one of the few I actually get around to flipping through. Needless to say, since I'm writing about it now, I'm so glad I did today! I read a great article that taught me something I completely didn't know, and now will be a better filmmaker for it.

One of my many biases is toward Canon cameras. I own four: GL2, ZR-85, XL H1, and a Digital Rebel XT still camera. I also own a LiDE 25 scanner too. I freely admit to my bias, but I love the cameras (and the scanner is great too).

I got my GL2 when I was in film school, and it was probably the best purchase I have ever made. I still use it today for most of my client projects and it has treated me like a king.

Then the HD craze exploded. When it came time to look into an HD camera, I was torn. I read everything I could find about HD, P2, HDV, compression, cameras, price tags, reviews, comments, concerns, cults, and side by side coparisons. People were all over the place. With a gulp I made the plunge into HDV with the Canon XL H1. The camera was beautiful. The image was beautiful. The worldflow was pretty nice, and the resultant image was good. But there were some problems. P2 was getting all the press, and people were bashing Canon on various forums (I've found a lot of filmmakers don't like Canon, which is really odd to me; right up there with a hatred for PCs and Adobe Premiere... I don't get it). So for the past few years I've wrestled with my purchase, questioning if I made the right move.

Today, my fears are at rest. For the time, I made the best possible choice. I will eventually get around to playing with P2 (when I have money floating around... wonder when that will be? ), but for now, the XL H1 is my baby. And she's beautiful.

I'll post some pictures soon of the fruit of my learning, but for now let me mention this: Custom Presets are an amazing tool I didn't know I had. Well, I knew they were there but never asked what they were there for. In a few words: To make your image rock.

Tedd Terry, of Fantastic Plastic Entertainment answered the question that had plagued me for years now: Why is the color on my GL2 so much better than my XL H1? The answer: I wasn't using the camera (most notably the Custom Presets) properly, if at all. I spent five minutes adjusting one my presets and my image looks absolutely stellar. Stellar.

Every once in a while you get a nugget of information that completely revolutionizes how you do things. This is one of those moments. Thanks so much, Bessie!

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.22.2007

DVD Menus and Functionality

I recently heard about a problem with one of the DVDs I authored. I built the DVD a few years back when I was still ignorant of this issue. So, lesson 1: There is always more to learn. Basically, when the viewer presses the "Menu" button on my defective DVD, hoping to return to the Menu, the DVD doesn't go anywhere; it just pauses and then continues playing as if nothing had happened. This is extremely frustrating to someone watching a DVD. The first reason is that the DVD doesn't let them get back to the Menu, so functionality it's shot. The second problem is that the DVD doesn't behave as expected.

There's a book out titled "The Design of Everyday Things". Mr. Norman discusses how smart people can become very frustrated and confused when something doesn't work as they expect. The DVD not going back to the Menu when you press "Menu" would fall into this category of frustration.

I experienced this myself when I first held an iPhone. I double tapped to zoom in on a web page, but then it didn't zoom out when I doubled tapped again. I was lost. I clicked everything I could find, restarted it, and flipped through every menu page I could find. My wife then told me that double tapping should make it zoom out. I tried it again and it worked. I must have not quite tapped in the same place when it did it the first time, but I would have been lost forever if someone hadn't been there to set me straight.

Lesson 2: Make sure your DVDs do what people will expect.

Granted, if you have a simple DVD with only a "Play" button, people aren't going to be too confused (unless that button doesn't seem to do anything). Problems arise when you have hundreds of buttons or try to get too fancy.

A prime example of "too fancy" is the DVD for "Troy". In the Special Features there is a section where you can flip through things about the Greek gods, or something. Unfortunately, once there if you click the "Up" arrow on your remote, you end up at the bottom left of the screen. "Over" will take you to some random button, and on and on. It doesn't help that the buttons are sprinkled throughout the page in an upside-down "U" shape, so you're never sure where you are supposed to be.

Whenever I make a DVD, I always flip through all the buttons to make sure they go where I expect: Down goes down and right goes right. This requires quite a bit of thought if your Menu has 40 buttons and a navigation bar. What is someone going to try to do? What if they end up there? Where are they going to want to go?

Lesson 3: Less clicks is better.

No one wants to spend their time clicking their way through your DVD. I don't care how cool your transitions are, or how awesome your backgrounds and buttons may be: People want to watch what's on your DVD, not spend time clicking. This leads to design issues when you have a hundred different chapters that you want your viewer to access, like in an educational DVD. Your time is well worth spent on saving your viewers' time navigating your Menus.

Well, I should go fix that issue now, which is lesson 4: Don't dwell on past mistakes. Fix them and move on.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.18.2007

Favicon... it's here!

Nothing big, but since I spent a disproportionate amount of time on it yesterday I thought I'd point it out: Production-Now.com has a Favicon. This Blog has had one for a while but I hadn't figured out what to do for the main site. Well, now I have.

I also have really nice Favicons for the Wiki and the Forums, but the builder that I use for those doesn't allow me to edit the HTML yet. When they let me at the code, I'll add the Favicon.

If you've been scratching your head wondering what a "Favicon" is, take a look up in the URL field where it says "http://blog.production-now.com/". Right next to that text is a sweet-shaded green "B". That's the Favicon for the Blog.

Now head over to Production-Now.com and check out the Production-Now Favicon.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.12.2007

Beijing, Munich, and the Twin Towers

This morning at work for a client someone mentioned China and what they are doing to get ready for the Games in 2008. That reminded me of the film "Munich". The film is certainly not happy, contains significant violence and nudity, but should go down in film history for several reasons. Among them:

1. The same year that Peter Jackson released his fully digital "King Kong", Spielberg went with a complete film/chemical/"old school" workflow for "Munich".

2. Much less noteworthy is the use of a zoom (yes, a zoom instead of pushing in the camera via a dolly or a crane). Zooms traditionally (and realistically) mark a poor cameraman. If you look at home video footage it is rife with zooms. But I have noticed that because this is such a part of "raw home movie" footage that smart filmmakers now use zooms, in moderation, to show something is "really happening" and not just part of a multi-million dollar Hollywood production.

3. Spielberg is the first filmmaker post 9/11 to show the Twin Towers on screen. And he didn't just show them. He stuck them at the end of his film and left them there for a long time (I wasn't running a watch, but it was at least 5 seconds of nothing but the Towers) before the fade to black. The film makes a powerful point with this bold move: We must move prudently through our own attempts to find justice when faced with evil.

That's one of the many things I love about film: The ability to inspire conversation, provoke thought, and challenge ideas. And now, as I look forward to the 2008 Olympics, I hope we as humans have learned something since 1972.

What should we take away from all this as filmmakers? First, we have the power to influence, if not change, how people think about things, so we must be careful with what we say and how we say it. Second, despite the cry of "Entertain me!" from the mass populace, there is still very much a market for films like "Schindler's List" and films that give us pause. Third, we would be wise to stay abreast of the current trends in the "grammar" of film so we can most accurately communicate with our audience.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.06.2007

It Ain't the Size of the Hammer

I just watched a very impressive Machinima music video based mostly in World of Warcraft. What's potentially even more inspiring about this video is that it was edited in Vegas 6 with Adobe After Effects and a few other programs as well. This is once again a reminder of the truth: It's not about the quality of the hammer but how to drive the nail.

I've been hitting this point a lot lately: Technology will not save you; ever. It's not about the software you use, or the camera, or the computer you have. Sure, just like all tools, knowing how to use the tools you have will make better movies, like the music video, but it's all in how you use those tools.

All this talk about HD, 24p, and Macs, and P2, and other watchwords has me rather depressed. Learn to use the tools you have, then worry about which tools you could really use.

Well, that's all I got time for now. Movie Night folks have arrived.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.02.2007

The Production Triangle



I've been thinking about the Production Triangle quite a bit lately. It has three points: Time, Money, and Quality. You can choose two.

This means that you can either:

1. Make something really quickly for very little money, but it will be terrible.
2. Do something really fast and have it be amazing, but it will cost you millions.
3. Have something that costs very little and is spectacular, but it will take you forever.

You can not beat this triangle.

This is something you must understand going into a project. This is also something that your future clients need to understand as well. I've been working on MathTacular2 all summer at a break-neck pace. Recently one of the managers of my client began chatting with me about how the project was going and what could be done to make sure we weren't so totally beaten down by the end of the project. Also, what could be done about the cost and number of resources required?

I said: Three people isn't that many (that is the director/producer from my client, the actor, and me). We're a good team, but you can't really get any smaller than that. To make this process better we need to pre-produce. Someone needs to sit down for a month and plan all this out. That didn't happen this year and it came back and bit us.

The response: You know that will never happen, right?

My client does not understand the Triangle. I did what I could to explain it. The reality is that film takes money or time if you want quality. Unfortunately for businesses time=money, so clients need to understand that making movies is expensive.

Having someone who is good at what they do can help cut down on costs and time. I'm a really fast editor, so I can do things in much less time than others. However, this doesn't necessarily cut down on costs because people who are better at what they do typically (and rightly) charge more.

What does this mean to you as a young/poor filmmaker? Since you don't have money you need to realize that you will have to take a long time if you want something good. This has nothing to do with equipment. This isn't about how expensive your camera is, or how fast your computer is, or what software you use. This is about the reality of production. Your projects will take time if you want them to look good. Do not scrimp on pre-production. Take your time in production. Spend as long as you can on post-production. Take the time to get it right.

On the other hand, remember that you're still learning, so quality isn't a big deal. It would be far better to make 16 short films that look terrible but teach you 32 new lessons than one film that looks good but only taught you two things (that it takes time to make something look good and your story wasn't very good). There is plenty of time later on to devote to honing your abilities to make something look good. Learn the basics first: How to tell a good story, how to use the equipment you have, and what you like to do and do well. These are invaluable lessons that will help you as you move forward as a filmmaker.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.29.2007

The "Film Look"

I had chat with one of my "mentees" on-line today. He had some questions, mostly related to what kind of camera he should get.

His first question was what consumer priced camera shot in 24p. I asked him why he wanted a 24p camera. He said he was looking for a consumer camera that had "film look". I've heard that term often. Basically, it's the goal of making an image that was not shot on film by a Hollywood crew look like an image from a $400 million production.

Unfortunately, people spend a ton of time trying to get the "film look" and forget to make movies with good stories. If you have a good story, it doesn't matter what you film was shot on. Seriously. I have proved in my own films that story definitely trumps the difference between a $300 camera and a $10,000 camera (both of which I own). I also, while in film school, got to be part of a shoot that rented a $110,000 camera. Guess what? The story was more important. Sure, we got good looking shots, but I have never gone back to watch that film. If I want pretty pictures, I'll watch a $400,000,000 Blockbuster, not one my school projects.

24p is close to "film look" for only one reason: It has the same frame rate as film. The color curves and motion are totally different. Film has a "stutter" to it as it bounces through the "gate" of the projector. People sometimes add this in to digital movies, and that just annoys me. Basically, the idea is: Let's make the film worse so it can look more "natural". Give me a break. As for the color, Film (in still cameras are movie cameras) has more of an "S" shape from Black to White, whereas Digital is a straight line. This makes for a very distinct difference. This gap is closing and can be tweaked in post.

And, honestly, I have only been able to tell a difference between 24p and 60i when looking at fans in 24p... and it looks worse, in my opinion. The motion is much more jerky. The rest of the time, I couldn't tell you if something was 24p or 60i.

So what kind of camera should you buy? If you are still hazy on the difference between 24p and 60i, you don't need a 24p camera. I you are looking to purchase your first camera, you certainly don't need a $10,000 beauty. You need to learn how to make movies, then, when you have begun to master that, technology begins to matter. Before that, what you use makes no difference at all.

I have heard it said by many wise people: It's what you do in front of the camera that's important, not what kind of camera you have.

So, for your first camera: Get a MiniDV camcorder with as many Manual controls that you can. If you have the money, get one with 3CCDs (the image will be much, much better) and XLR inputs too (or at least some sort of mic-in so you can attach an XLR box).

For your second camera? Come talk to me.

The thing is, if you're starting out and are just starting to get equipment, odds are that you won't even be able to handle 24p footage. Get a camera, start making movies. It's like the time I went shooting (with a gun). The guy selling us shot told us that it didn't matter the quality of bullets we purchased. We weren't good enough for it to make a difference. He said that even he wasn't "better than his bullets". His daughter, however, was. If she didn't buy the expensive bullets, her score suffered.

That's how it is for you too. Until you get good enough at making movies that the kind of camera (or lights, or mics, or even actors) makes a difference: Don't even think about "film look". It won't make a bit a difference for you movie.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.23.2007

What Makes Boys Cry?

A post about a film; not exactly filmmaking (which is why it's on my person blog and not here), but I thought I'd at least provide a link: Love, "Love", and Love Acts.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.14.2007

A Cinematic Breakfast Snack of Some Kind

Title Link Here

So, I did it. Yes, I saw the movie that "is going to redefine cinema as we know it".

NB: The link above (no, not Homestarrunner) is PG-13 in content. Hilarious, but PG-13.

How was it? Well, suffice to say that Matt Diamond's pre-release review is much better, and the entire reason I bothered to sit through the flick at all. The cinematography was actually quite good. The violence incredibly gross (as if the filmmakers sat down and thought about the worst places people could possibly be bitten, and then said, "That'll do"). The story is weak as it could be with a ridiculous group of characters. All in all, I had fun. Think "AVP" meets "Air Force One" with a dose of gruesome deaths and some nudity just because. I actually enjoyed it because I knew I was sitting down to watch an incredibly terrible movie.

So what does this teach us about filmmaking?

First, it tells me that people will watch just about anything. There is a market for your movie, assuming that it has a little production value (and sometimes even when it doesn't) and some semblance of a story.

Second, it shows that with good marketing people will happily watch, buy, do anything... even if it is horrible. Note: Not only will they do it, but they will gladly do it. Sure, the "Snakes on a Plane" trailer did nothing for me. Nor did the posters. But the above article made me watch the movie and enjoy it. That's the power of good marketing that isn't official marketing. Had someone written that up for real to try to sell tickets and we had known about it, it wouldn't have worked. Well, not as likely.

That's all I got for now. Hope it was enlightening. If you get nothing else from this post: Don't bother watching "Snakes on a Plane".

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.12.2007

Cutting Action

Nathan brought by a movie he's working on for School. The assignment was to create a 1-5 minute movie that started in the middle of a conflict. He decided to create an action piece that started with a guy in the middle of a chase. After talking over the story with me, he decided to start with the guy getting shot and add some bits about a girl in flashback.

That discussion is worthy of a blog post about creating a compelling tale, but that will have to wait. As we talked through his initial, just under 2 minute, cut there were several things that could have been changed to make it much, much better.

1. In several instances he had left too much tail room on his action clips. His actors would zoom out of frame and we'd be left looking at the beautiful framing for a couple seconds. Just by trimming off these two or three seconds he will improve his action moments by at least a factor of six. Why? Because cutting back and forth across the screen (and thereby forcing the audience to flick their eyes) will cause a subconscious stress of "what is going on?" and "did I miss it?" This is very good. Just don't fall into the trap of cutting so fast that there is no way to keep up and so bore your audience (e.g. The Bourne Supremacy).

2. On the flip side, he got in and out of his flashbacks way too fast. These moments were designed to show the "normal" life of our hero and the love and care he had from his girl. I suggested that slowing down these clips to 70 or 80% will help allow the audience to connect with the intimacy. Also, he needs to add more time before the important action starts in his flashback scenes.

3. Transitions. Throughout his piece there were five second fades to white. This is totally inappropriate for action. The audience must be jarred from the action of the present to the calmness of the past; this is why more time is needed to set up the flashbacks: the audience needs time to figure out what's going on. So, instead of 5 seconds, the flashes must be 15 frames or less. Stress the audience out. That is the mantra of action.

4. We don't care about the bad guys. Once we know they are dead, or leaving, or running away, unless the story is about that interaction our hero will have with them, we don't care. Cut away the moment we know they are down, gone, or no longer important.

There were a few other things that we worked through that were directly related to his film, and the next cut should be significantly better.

All in all, his timing as an editor never ceases to impress me. There have been many moments when I've told him not to change a thing. As an editor, it is a great feeling to see a cut that is simply perfect... even if it did take two hours to get the cut right. Those moments are so rewarding, probably because they suck all your mental energy out of of you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.11.2007

'Tis done

After over two years of trying to make this Blog work like a Wiki, I have migrated the information to the Production Now official Wiki. No more "back posting" to get the information to show up where I want it. No more wishing there was a better way to set up the information, make it searchable and generally more accessible. And now, this Blog is officially "just" a blog. Which, is good, because it will require that I actually do something instead of just post content and hope someone cares enough to read it. However, if you check out my other blogs, I don't feel like I have much to say. We shall see. Perhaps a very focused blog, like this one, will help me journal. With a topic as large as "Any Great Thought You Have" it's little wonder why I don't post more.

Today I finished moving all the content from this Blog over to the Wiki and deleted the pages that have been here since 2005. I also deleted the duplicate information that was on the Production Now Discussion Group so it will be purely a discussion group as well.

As for video work, I was not able to get much done today. If find that if I get interrupted even just a couple of times my whole "groove" is thrown off. It is really frustrating to spend a few hours creating graphics to try to help explain ideas you didn't get right while filming. Again, pre-production is oh so important.

I also need to send a couple of e-mails, but, again, I haven't been able to get myself to do it. Tomorrow, I guess.

So, I'm excited about Production Now and the cool Wiki I've got, now I just wish I could figure out a way to get this information about there so I can help more kids create media. If you have any great ideas, please hop over to the Producion Now Forum and let me know!

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.10.2007

7 Hours Later

So, I've been thinking: Now that we have a Forum and a Wiki, Production Now could actually benefit from a Blog, a real blog that isn't trying to double as a Forum and Wiki. So, my goal is to start posting about the things I've been doing lately, the stuff I'm thinking about, anything I've been watching, and whatnot. Basically, a blog about the life of a professional, self-employed filmmaker intent on mentoring the next generation of filmmakers. The content that has been here will move to the Production Now Wiki.

So, today I stopped editing after seven hours of tweaking MathTacular 2. I'm working until I begin to no longer be productive on this project because I need to get it back "in house" for my client by November 1, or earlier. So, I'm in "crunch mode"... which I've been in all summer with this project. I was brought into this project after only about a week of pre-production and then we were supposed to simply start shooting this 4 hour comprehensive math DVD covering everything in 3-4th Grade math. This was not a good idea, which I kept reiterating to my client through-out the summer, and it made the project not only much more of a pain but also a lot less fun; and frankly, if you're not having fun making an educational DVD the end result will be a bear to watch. Thankfully, we are a good enough team that it will end up spectacular, but not without plenty of blood, sweat and tears on our end. As gentle reminder to filmmakers everywhere (and their clients): Please pre-produce!

We are supposed to hear back from the SAICFF at the end of this week about our film and whether we made it in. I still have a lot of BTS to edit and a few more Commentaries to record. Also, when I showed the version I sent off to the festival I found some errors, so there is more tweaking to do there too. We may not have been watching the final version because there were some big differences from what I watched before. Not sure what happened. I guess that should be a reminder to have a better filing system. I am way better than I was in College, but I still have much to learn.

Hmm, I have more to talk about, but "the kids" are coming over, so I'd better go.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor