Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


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


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


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: 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 "". Right next to that text is a sweet-shaded green "B". That's the Favicon for the Blog.

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

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


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


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


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