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12.31.2008

The Day the Zune Stood Still

So, I got tipped off to this bit of news.

Seems as though ol' Microsoft has done yet another rather disastrous thing to its already widely loathed name. Even so, they claim they will only be down for a total of about a day. The fix is supposed to be up at 4am PST, January 1, 2009.

If you have one of these crashed Zunes, let me know. I'm interested in knowing if the fix is actually a go or not.

My wife wonders if the Trusted Computing Group is behind this, testing some form of ultimate control over user's devices. I doubt it, but it would be funny. In any case, here's a logo TCG may want to incorporate to more accurately reflect their ideals.


Cranky People Group

So, until tomorrow morning...

A Happy New Year from Microsoft.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.30.2008

Slumdog Millionaire


Collateral meets Bollywood with the intensity of Requiem for a Dream in a love story about a boy on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?



In other words: Go see Slumdog Millionaire ...assuming, of course, that you are okay watching intense R rated flicks.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.29.2008

Church and Editing

There is a lesson that churches should learn from editing. But it's more painful when editors have not learned this lesson either.

This Sunday was fairly typical, but they also included an extra hymn, communion, and a time for people to talk about what they are thankful for from this past year. All good things, sure, but we still sang the normal amount of songs. This put the end of the service 10-25 minutes over when it usually ends.

Granted, I've only got to do lunch after church, but others have places to be and things to do, not to mention the teachers who are wrangling kids for an extra half hour. In short, if you run an scheduled "event"--service, dinner, show, whatever--you need to make sure you are on time. It's the respectful thing to do. Plus, people get antsy the moment you start to go into overtime (at least here in the "go, go, go" United States).

So what should have been done?

Drop three songs from the worship set to accommodate the three additional bits.

In short: Make the music fit the length of your piece.

If you've ever had to sit through a service that was going over, you know the frustration I'm talking about.

Now think about the student films you've seen (and, honestly, some of the Hollywood flicks as well). How many times do these filmmakers let the song they chose dictate the length of their movie? Over and over again I see videos drag on and on while we wait for the filmmaker's favorite song to end.

Make your point and get out. The music is there to support your movie, not dictate its length.

Similarly, if you've got a length for your service, cut out music if you're going to add other elements.

Rant over.

Please resume your productions.

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

12.28.2008

DVD Design

I got a cool new DVD for Christmas.

It's a very new DVD complete with several nice DVD features... and at least one very, very, very annoying one. See, when I pop in a DVD, I don't really feel a need to read (or wait through) the FBI Warnings, the copyright reminders, and the distributor's animated logo bit. But sometimes someone, somewhere, feels the need to take away my power skip these little reminders.

So, I popped in the DVD and pressed the "Skip Forward" button and got a:


Not Permitted

I was forced to wait for well over a minute before the DVD gave me control over my viewing experience.

That is bad.

Very, very, very bad DVD design.

Give your viewer control.

Thank you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.26.2008

Gifts and Thank-Yous

Merry (day after) Christmas!

I am finally back to regular blogging. It's felt like forever and I'm very happy that life is--hopefully--going to settle back into some form of normalcy (at least until my next major trip which will hopefully be soon).

One of my gifts was a year's subscription to Reader's Digest. That's pretty cool, but has very little to do with media. ...except for the card that came with my first copy. Here's a scan of the front and back:


Reader's Digest: The Gift of Reading

That's right: With my first copy there was a Thank-You card ready for me to fill out and mail to my gracious gift-giver.

When have you ever had a gift given to you that came with a Thank-You card just waiting for you to send on to the person who gave it to you? It has never happened to me before.

This is an excellent example of how we as media producers can think about those who will be using, giving, and receiving our materials. And making our end users feel special, important, or even merely considered will often be more important than the media you produce.

Life isn't about text, clips, or images. Life is about people.

I hope you had a pleasant time with the people in your life, and that as you get back to more "normal" life you keep your people close to you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.20.2008

I'm Finally With It

If you somehow missed my post about my new cell over on my Sonlight blog, I have an announcement to make:

I have joined the 21st century and now own a cell.

And that is cause for much rejoicing, sure. But I have also linked my phone to my personal/homeschool Twitter persona and linked that to my Sonlight blog. How cool is that? Let me tell ya: It's pretty cool.

So my "tweets" from my cell to my twitter show up on my blog.

Am I with it, or what?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Ps. What's more, it only took me half an hour to get it up and running and looking all pretty like. Much of that was researching, looking for the moved button on Twitter, testing, and tweaking the HTML.

NB: Posts continue to be sparse. Normal posting will definitely resume after the holiday season, if not sooner.

12.16.2008

Times Have Changed in 3.5 Years

I got to visit my Alma Matter last night. It was odd to walk the campus and see how the familiar things had changed.

And we started talking about how technology has changed in the less than 4 years since we were in college:

  • There was no YouTube
    (in fact, Facebook and Blogger were just starting)
  • Instant Messaging was cool
    (we spent a lot of time chatting with friends in IM)
  • Cell phones were not ubiquitous
    (I used a calling card and room phone to call home)
  • JumpDrives were just coming out
    (my best friend and I bought each other a 34MB JumpDrive for Chistmas one year... they cost $40 a piece)
  • DVDs were just ramping up
    (one of my classmates did a presentation on why DVDs were better than VHS... and he had already collected all 200 DVDs that were out)
  • Burning DVDs became possible
    (you had to turn off everything--even the clock--restart the computer, and pray... all to burn a maximum of 30 minutes onto a DVD... that was Sophomore year)
  • Digital Cameras were a whopping 1.3 megapixels and saved to flopping disks
    (and those cameras were several hundred dollars)
  • .mp3s were new
    (digital music was a novelty, and iTunes didn't exist)
  • HD was not a buzzword
    (and we watched as the world changed from Zipdrives to P2)
  • I was editing on Premiere 6.0
    (and later moved to Final Cut 4)


Where we will be in another four years?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.13.2008

State of Student Films Address - Dec 08

This month the student films I got to see were primarily short enough. In fact, it was refreshing to see them. ...very unlike the films from my last address.

There were, unfortunately, two films that dragged on far too long. The biggest offender was far, far too long. The problem was, I'm sure, that the producers had procured many locations, costumes, and props from the myriad of people who agreed to support their film. This lead them to the erroneous belief that their movie needed to be long enough to showcase all of it. They should have cut it down.

My favorites were two movies that worked because their characters totally fit within the worlds they created. Both movies were quirky and the people within those worlds matched them exactly.

One of the "cool looking" films rocked, but I didn't understand it. Talking with a couple of the guys who worked on the film after the show I was told that they never shot what was supposed to be the last shot of the movie. Had they done so, I think the movie would have made more sense. Perhaps not, but the lesson is important: If you've got an element that is pivotal to your story, get that shot. Removing it greatly increases the chances that your movie will end up incomprehensible.

So, the lessons:

1. Realize that movies take a lot of resources to make, and let your movie fit the scale and length of your story, not your effort and budget. If you stretch it beyond your story you cheapen your whole film, no matter how intricate your sets.

2. If you can get all the elements--especially the characters--to fit within your world, you are setting yourself up for gold.

3. Story trumps cinematography... unless you're a cinematography guy. If you are, make sure you have someone working with you who will make you shoot all your story elements.


In other news, I'm going on vacation for a week to spend time with my in-laws, so see you in a week-ish. The holidays really make it hard to keep up on everything, so things will likely be spotty until the New Year.

Until then: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And God bless us, every one! (I just watch the Muppet Christmas Carol <smile>)

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.12.2008

Getting "Cool" Shots

I had the opportunity to help out (and provide the green screen for) a "cool" shoot today.

The object was to grab a single shot that involved a pretty girl, a lot of makeup, and a green screen. Cool, eh? What was more: I got to direct the girl's motion so she would be as fluid and nice looking as possible.

The makeup work took much longer than anticipated, even though we had dyed the girl's hair the day before. There was just a lot to do.


Applying Makeup

At one point while shooting the breaker switch for the green screen tripped and so those lights went out. We were left with a fairly black background, so we shot a few takes with the black too.


Black Background

All in all, I'd say we had a really successful shoot, though we won't know for sure until everything is composited together. I wish I had the footage so I could grab a few stills that dramatically demonstrated how incredible our actress looked with her red hair against the green screen and her blue eyes shining. It was impressive.

The lesson besides the need to plan lots of time for hair and makeup?

If you've got a girl who looks this good:


Gorgeous

You'll have people who want to take her picture:


Paparazzi or Photographers?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.10.2008

Save Your Settings

I'm not a very good gaffer.

I mean, I know how to light sets and all, but I'm not particularly good at it.

Even so, I've shot enough stuff to know that this...


Lousy Lighting

...isn't very good.

In fact, it's down right bad. I know how to light a set much better than that. So why did my camera give me such an image today after spending thirty minutes playing with the lights?

Well, the problem may reside in the fact that I relied on my Zebra Stripes. I don't typically do that, even if it is a good idea. But something was odd because I was supposedly peaking out inside on a overcast day.

So I added an ND filter, and started filming.

After dumping the footage and seeing the terrible result, I was bummed out. When I got home I started talking with one of my mentees who had recently used my camera.

"Oh," he said. "That may have been fault. I set the Zebra to 75% for one of my shoots... so you were under exposed, right?"

Ah. Yes, that would do it.

See, in my camera you can set the Zebra Stripe Level to show peaking at various intervals (like 100%--truly overblown, or 75%--so you see where someone is being hit by light in a darker room). Since I didn't realize the Zebra level had been adjusted, I just went with the assumption that it was telling me what I wanted to know.

I should have reset the settings on my camera before shooting.

And if you have custom settings on your camera, you should do the same. And you should also keep track of what settings you used on your last successful shoot, just in case you need to recreate the look in the future.


An Overblown Image

The lesson: Don't trust your equipment unless you know the settings are where you want them to be. ...and this is why a lot of low-end/consumer cameras do so well: They give you less control so you have less of an opportunity to mess something up.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.09.2008

Pre-Production Props

When I first started making movies with a home camera and no editing software, my movies consisted of what I had around the house.

They also tended to be boring or only funny to me.

...much like a lot of YouTube content.

But over the years as I've worked on more and more important material, I've had to wrestle through pre-production and post-production a lot more. I've had to consider message, audience, quality, pacing and the like.

I've also had to start looking for props.

And that can be a killer. I'm shooting a two minute piece tomorrow with a single actress in a kitchen. She's going to cut an apple, pull a pie from the oven, and eat it. That's the gist of the piece.

So, I've got two lighting setups to do and I need to find the following (which I scribbled down while glancing through my script):


Apple Core Props

Crazy.

I think we tend to forget just how many little things we need to make a movie. One more reason why pre-production is so important.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.06.2008

Now That's HD

I went to the Library on Saturday.

I go every Saturday to find more movies to watch. While there, I decided to glance at the few Blu-ray titles they had available. And one of the titles totally blew me away. That's right, they had:

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ... in HD!

I mean, when I consider the quality of 1950 film stock, it typically screams: Watch me in HD!


In HD!

...again, I question why people are so hyped about this product.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Ps. I'm not the only one who says that this film was "not meant for HD."

We Get the Point

I got to see Twilight today. And I enjoyed it. Of course, if you didn't, feel free to pop by Rotten Tomatoes for some Twilight fodder.

Now, I know I've seen Kristen around, but I didn't realize she was the actress in this movie. And can you blame me?


Kristen Comparison

I mean, in the poster image she is this warm, cute looking girl with a soft jawline. But in the film, and in many other photos, she's washed out and has a rather angular jaw. The major connection between the two images above is her mildly stoned look. <smile>

But it wasn't Kristen that bothered me in Twilight. What got to me was the number of times the camera would pan away from a scene (a typically good move to ease the audience into the next moment), hold for a while on trees (or something), and then: WHAM! we cut back to the same scene. For instance:

Hey look: They're in a tree. [pan away to forest shot]
[Cut back] No, really, they're in a tree.
[Cut to another shot, farther away now] Look, they are actually in a tree.
[Helicopter shot] Yep, those two kids are really, honestly, for real, in a tree.

Wait? So, I'm confused now... they're where again?

Lesson from Twilight: If you pan away from a moment cut to the next part of your story. We get the point.


In other news, I saw a movie with Camilla Belle when she was younger and at one moment she totally raised one eyebrow in a totally fantastic way.


Young Camilla

And she's going to be in another movie coming up. Hopefully it's better than the one that put her in a rather hideous greenish-blue dress type thingy.

Ugh.

So, yeah, despite how likely we are to get another cheesy flick, I'm pretty excited to see another Camilla Belle movie.

But you already knew that.

You got the point.

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

12.05.2008

You Can't Take Back Your Words

...sometimes not even with blogs.

Ever since Google announced their Custom Time™ option on April 1, 2008, the ethical issues surrounding email and time manipulation have been hotly debated1.

But what about taking back an email? I know of a select few clients that allow you to take back an unread email... but that's not a common feature. Other systems allow you to request a "recall" of the message you sent, but even that doesn't fully work and can't erase what others have read.

Much like the impossibility of taking back something you said that now hangs in the air like a lead weight, you can't bring back an email once it is loosed on cyberspace. The same is true of blog posts with an RSS feed. I've read numerous posts that, after posting, had been deleted by the author. In fact, I've commented on posts long deleted and sent people a copy of the post they bemoaned deleting. All of them expressed surprise that their post had not completely vanished from the world wide web.

Why am I talking about this?

Because I replied individually to an email today that had text in it that should not have been seen by most of the people on the mailing list. Thankfully the email was recalled, but I don't know how many of the recipients read what I had before the message was revised.

This caution applies to email, blogs, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and many other web tools: Be very careful before you put anything out there for the world to see.

And be careful what you say as well.

Honestly, that's just good advice all around.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

1Citation needed.

12.04.2008

Dude, IMDb Talks to Me

So, after yesterday's rant, I got a comment from the founder and managing director of IMDb himself!

I did not expect that in the least, and it was a very pleasant surprise <smile>.

Granted, I get Google Alerts for certain things so I can keep a pulse on what people are saying about those topics as well. And, honestly, if you have a vested interest in something, it's a good idea to create an alert for that. It's good to be on top of what's being said.

So, lesson 1: Keep tabs on things important to you.

But lesson 2 is far more important, and is why you should follow through with lesson 1: Respond graciously and helpfully to everyone. If they sing your praises, thank them. If they bash you, provide helpful information, assistance, or apologies to make it better.

And that's exactly what Col Needham did for me.

Excellent example.

I now more fully understand why I can't just add an image to my own bio. And that's okay. It would still be nice to add things to my own account for free though... <smile>

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.03.2008

Dude, IMDb the Net is Free

Okay, so after yesterday's very exciting news I went to IMDb to try to add an image (or three) of myself to my profile.

I mean, everyone wants to know what I look like now, right? How annoying is it to go to a person's profile and be met with the blank "No Photo Available" message?

Very.

So I happily created some profile pictures and go through the steps of adding one. Everything is going along swimmingly until I get to the final step and see:


Gimme Money

What!?

Come on. Even Google's pathetic image space is a Gig. You can upload photos to just about any other site, so why does a majorly ad-supported site require you to pay money to add an image to your own profile?

It seems as though someone has failed to inform these media guys that the interwebs are free.

...most of the time.

When you learn this lesson, IMDb, feel free to use one of these for my profile:


Some IMDb Profile Pictures

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

12.02.2008

I'm Back!

...and I'm on IMDb.

That's all I have to say.

~Luke

11.22.2008

A Week Away

I'm going on vacation to spend some time near these people:


Lost

See ya in a weekish.

Assuming the plane doesn't snap in half...

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.20.2008

$100K YouTube Contest

This is so cool I just have to post about it!

YouTube is hosting a contest and the prize is $100,000.

$100,000! With that kind of money you could by, like, a MacBook Pro and a paper clip! Just think of the possibilities.

What's more, all you have to do is make a movie that is actually good. That's it. Which is great because that means that now you can get into a competition and win!

Here's the YouTube video with all the details about the competition:


$100K YouTube Contest


Also, in preparation for this competition, YouTube has added a new tab to their site:


New YouTube Tab



Shane Ross

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.19.2008

Desktops, MySpace and Youth

I was chatting with some kids today on a forum I moderate/run. We got on the topic of desktop wallpapers, and how several submissions to a recent contest I had put together were rather "busy," which I thought was odd for a viable background.

One of the kids told me that she was really into bright colors and crazy designs. Upon further inquiry she told me that she was even into things like hideous MySpace layouts.

As as I thought back to what I had in college... wait, nope, I still wasn't into crazy backgrounds. But I was just as narcissistic as ever:


College Desktop

But it was interesting to hear from kids who claim to actually like their crazy black backgrounds with hot pink text. Odd, but interesting.

So, what kind of desktop do you prefer?


Calm and Cool, or Crazy and Colorful?

Me?

Well, I'm still into girls.


Camilla Belle

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.18.2008

Christian Filmmakers Part 2

The next step in answering the question, "What is a Christian filmmaker?" is to define what a Christian is. We can't answer the question until we get that nailed down.

Defining what it means to be a Christian is a deceptively easy task. Just ask Bethany Hudson... er... wait.

Scratch that.

She already asked that question. And her question goes far beyond Romans 10:9 which merely asks that you believe Christ rose from the dead and confess that He is Lord.

I gave a crack at answering her question by saying:
Christians are those who are seeking to follow Christ as He leads them. They believe that He died on the cross and rose again.

As for the rest of it, I'm thankful God is in charge of that and has grace for me as well [smile]. I think the only good indications we have on other's walks with Christ is in the "fruit" of their lives--what kind of impact are they having on those around them? But even that is hard to judge since we are not their shadows.

Why do I have such a vague view of things?

Because I know Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons... and while there are most assuredly deep doctrinal issues that I think people get wrong, I can't really tell if any particular believer buys these errant views.

Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons... oh my!

I'm going to pick on Mormons for a moment because that cult--yes, I believe it's a cult--has some really far out there ideas that are a far cry from Orthodox Christianity. But when I talk to my Mormon missionary friends, I really can't tell how much of the deeper, problematic (and, if I do say so, downright wrong) beliefs they hold. In fact, most of them seem strangely ignorant of the "deeper things" of the Mormon faith. So, if they believe in the same Christ I do, seek Him as their means of redemption, and believe in His resurrection... are they not seeking to be more Christ-like? Are they missing it?

Granted, I strongly believe that if they buy into the gnarly aspects of their faith they can't possibly be serving the same God that I am, but if they are still on the outskirts... who am I to say?

I could make similar cases for Protestants and Catholics as well, as we all tend to be a tad out there in certain areas. Of course, I see the potential errors of Protestants and Catholics can lead to misunderstanding God, whereas the problems of Mormonism lead to seeking to be God... and that's a dangerous place to play.

Bad Believers

After I had been at Biola a couple of years, I started meeting some strange film students. One of them was Daniel. One of his major projects was a South Park rip-off that was, well, discomforting and, well, distasteful and, well, disrespectful. But that's what you get when you borrow heavily from South Park.

Daniel himself was a rather rough character. In fact, if he weren't at a Christian university, I wouldn't have pegged him as the religious type; at least, not in the Orthodox sense--maybe a pantheist. He carried a butterfly knife, swore, and may have even smoked.

But when I talked with him, he had a sincere heart for Christ. He liked the "rebel Jesus" who bucked the religious system. Sure, he only got part of Christ right, but who really has a good handle on all of Him?

Had I merely met Daniel and seen the project he worked on, I would have written him off. He wasn't applying his Biblical knowledge (if he had any to begin with), and he certainly wasn't a good witness for Christ.

Or was he?

I don't know. I guess I'll figure that out in the next life. But Dan didn't strike me as the sincere, albeit sincerely wrong, kind of guy. He was sincere about following Christ, a Man he was still trying to get to know and be more like.

And that's where I find myself. ...minus the reliance on nicotine and juvenile humor.

Growing and Grace

So what signifies a Christian?

I'd say it's likely two things: Growth and Grace.

Are they growing, or at least, desiring to grow? I mean, I would love to grow to be more like Christ, but I don't see that happening very quickly. I'm still very much stuck in certain sins and thought patterns that are very un-Christlike. And I'm not seeing much growth there. But I still want to grow, and there are subtle shifts in other areas of my life.

The bigger one is grace. That in and of itself is a major doctrinal issue that has really tweaked me out. But ultimately I would say that a Christian is a person who understands his/her deep reliance on God's goodness and grace. We are not Christ, but we follow Him as He followed His Father, and we walk in the grace we need to do so.

So, yes, people can be very, very wrong--even downright nasty or completely messed up in their beliefs--but does that mean they aren't a Christian?

As I told Bethany: I'm thankful God is in charge of that.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.17.2008

Blood Elf and Layers

Once I saw a sound guy's timeline for a mix he was working on. He had hundreds of layers with sounds and bits scattered everywhere.

'Why does he need so many layers?' I thought to myself. 'I never hear more than a few sounds at any given time.'

But I just created a single image that spanned four files with over 60 final layers (not to mention all the ones I flattened along the way). Granted, the layers were all copies of the steps I had taken in case I needed to go back and redo something--which I ended up doing several times--even so: 60 layers for a single image?

What could possibly require that?

First, the back story:

When I heard that they were planning a live-action Warcraft movie, I was a little incredulous; 'Live action? What are you thinking, Blizzard?'

Then I saw a picture of Taylor Swift, and if they cast her as a Blood Elf, I'm sold. In fact, I even made this idea a formal suggestion.


Taylor Swift

So, I decided I needed to make a "proof of concept" piece just to increase Taylor's chances of moving from the world of country music to the digitally projected silver screen.

Step 1: Cut her out of the background so it can look cool.

Step 2: Fix her up.


Original


Edited:Scratches, skin folds, dress

Step 3: Add Blood Elf eyes.

This was difficult. It took me many tries of various techniques to figure out how to make the eyes look right (you're welcome to use my method, Blizzard). In the end I had five layers for the eyes: I boosted her eyes, added some green, added more green around her eyes, whited out her pupil, and then whited out the very center a little more.

After that, I added in her long eyebrows.


Eye Layers


Blood Elf Eyes

Step 4:Ears

These killed me. And, honestly, they are the worst part of this image. See, Taylor doesn't show her ears (at least, not in any of the images or videos I found of her). So, I needed an ear model to stand in for her. So, I chose Lindsay.


Miss Lohan's Ear

This I cut out and added to Taylor's image and changed the color to match, used Liquify to reshape, and some lighting effects to make them fit more in the space.


A Few Ear Layers

Step 5: Putting it all together.

At this point I got a Horde symbol, vectorized it in Illustrator (since it wasn't nearly big enough originally), added text (which I then painted with Liquify to get the font a little cooler), and then added a white blurred version of that layer behind it to make it stand out a bit more.


For the Horde!

So, there she is: The girl who should be a Blood Elf in the upcoming Warcraft movie.

And if I need that many layers to make a single image, I have a slightly better idea of why it may be helpful to have that many layers of sound as well.

...and that is probably why my films haven't had very good sound: I didn't have nearly enough depth to the sound track. Because if I need five layers just to make Taylor's eyes look right, I'm guessing I need more than just a dialog and music track for sound.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.15.2008

Christian Filmmakers Part 1

This topic will warrant multiple posts, but I'm going to start with one and write more next week. So this is an on-going thing. Please feel free to comment and ask questions, but there is much more to be said about this topic.

[NB: This will be more of an essay than a blog post... so it will be long and philosophical.]

I got an email from a mother whose daughter is currently in the film program from which I graduated. The girl's mother said because "you have been there, and are in the world of film, and as I know your background ... I would really appreciate any ideas!"

To summarize the girl's concerns:

  • The "Christian worldview" of Biola isn't there--there are no solid lines of what is appropriate in movies.
  • This is due to non-applied Bible lessons.
  • People are relativistic and work on bad films to "minister" to other filmmakers.
  • Only 2 of 30+ strongly believe you can make a comedy with a good message without vulgar humor.
  • Scripture is shot down as irrelevant because movies weren't around in Bible times.
  • I'm frustrated and disappointed but it is better than what we'd be getting at USC. We're starting a Bible study to watch movies and discuss them from a Christian filmmaker's perspective.

It seems to me that the heart of these issues is the question:

What does it mean to be a Christian filmmaker?

But let me start by addressing each of the concerns:

Appropriate Content There are no "solid lines" of what is appropriate in films. This is due to a lack of a Christian worldview and due to rejection of Bible lessons.

Film is an artistic media, and so it feels like lines are constantly being pushed and crossed. What makes this even more problematic is that the label of "Christian" has been slapped on it. So, let me start there:

The "Christian" label is a thorny issue (and is at the heart of "What does it mean to be a Christian filmmaker?"). "Christian film" typically denotes three things:

  1. Pathetic filmmaking
  2. Preachy-ness
  3. "Safe" for the whole family (as a local Christian radio station puts it)

There are Christians who are trying to improve their filmmaking skill, and coming along swimmingly. However, even if they get good sound and nice shots, their films typically derail because of a lame script that has descended into the realm of the conversion scene and the "you need to respect your father" kinds of lines. <shudder> They also tend to forget to tell a story, and instead focus on their message.

And my biggest beef with the "safe" aspect has come about because of the backlash I have received from the films I've submitted to "Christian" festivals. I was told by Christians that this one was so immodest and inappropriate that multiple people had to stop watching it.

Umm... what?

I also submitted a film to San Antonio a few years ago, but we didn't get in. After talking with people who have been there, I suspect that it was because of the content of our movie: We made a modern retelling of the book of Hosea--you know, the book about the prophet called to marry a prostitute? Well, that didn't fly so well, and we didn't ever go nearly as far as Hosea did.

And this leads to the first question: What is appropriate for a Christian film? Can it be PG, R? What about NC-17? Can it have violence, swearing, gore, sex, nudity? What kinds of topics can be covered: Lying, hatred, murder, rape, witchcraft, incest, homosexuality?

And if all of those are inappropriate, why are they such common topics of Bible stories?

Let me put it another way: Why are so many Christians thrilled about The Passion but appalled by violent films? What makes the gratuitous violence of Christ's death a thing "every Christian should see" but the insane opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan a thing to be avoided? Is it just the language? Both are historically accurate and are messages of hope and a call to live a better life.

Hopefully I have shed a little light on how this can be a gray area. And as for Biblical principles, can you imagine what kind rating Ezekiel 16:3ff would get? This certainly warrants discussion, but discussion is needed. This isn't black and white.

Relativism and Doing Evil to "Minister"

I can't comment on the relativism, as I don't know what has been said. However, as I've begun to unwrap above, things aren't nearly as cut and dried as we often would like. I've always been a passionate "black and white" kind of guy promoting truth and godliness... but as I've become older and wiser, I have come to see that things in a fallen world aren't so easily split. And that's how we can end up with God doing some pretty crazy stuff that I doubt He's going to be doing in Heaven.

As for ministry, let me give you one example we discussed briefly when I was at Biola: A Christian man was asked if he was interested in working on a full-blown pornographic film. He knew the people he'd be working with which is how he got asked onto this shoot. Here was an opportunity to "minister" if ever there was one.

But it was a porno! Can Christians work on such trash?

The man talked it over with his wife, his pastor, and some of the guys at his church. And after getting their blessing, he ended up working on that film and interacting with some of the professional "sinners" of Hollywood.

That's certainly not a path every Christian is going to walk, nor should it be. But if God is calling people to be in that kind of industry--like the people at XXX Church--then who am I to cry foul?

And when I read my Bible, the story of the Christian working on the porno set echos of Matthew 9:10-13 just a little.

People think you can't make a comedy without vulgar humor.

I agree that this is untrue. I mean, there are plenty of hilarious movies without vulgarity; take Emperor's New Groove as an example.

But even Homestarrunner.com, for how clean it tends to be, can push the envelope beyond what some Christians would find within the limits of propriety. So this comes around to the question of: What is "vulgar" and what is not?

Can Strong Bad say that he should be having kids with Ali and Ali's sister? Is that vulgar? It sure isn't "pure" ...so is it acceptable? Why or why not?

I think the confusion of your classmates is understandable: How many clean comedies are there? Not many.

Why is that? I think it's because comedy, as a genre, tends to work off the premise that "the unacceptable is funny." Or something like that--I don't remember where I heard that first, and the wording might be slightly different. But the point remains: Why do kids laugh when someone passes gas? Because it's not "appropriate"/acceptable.

And as I think about the comedies I've seen, even going back to the "old tyme films," they get their laughs from topics like divorce, nudism, genocide, and violence. It is very, very difficult to create a comedy that does not step on someone's sensibilities.

But comedy can be made without vulgarity, and every filmmaker needs to learn that. However, I can see why so many filmmakers don't realize it: There are precious few examples.

Scripture is said to be irrelevant because movies weren't around in Bible times.

Okay, that...

Umm...

That's inane.

The Bible is not a rule book and if a specific thing isn't mentioned we can't just ignore it. No, the Bible is a set of books of various genres from which we can draw knowledge and wisdom that is applicable for all of life. That's part of the whole "living and active" part of the Bible.

It does seem crazy that Christians at a Christian university would have somehow missed that.

In response, we discuss movies from a Christian filmmaker's perspective.

Excellent! There is need for this. But this clearly begs the question:

What is a Christian filmmaker?

I'll pick up there on Monday-ish <smile>.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.13.2008

Long Post Coming...

...so no post tonight.

I'm working on a rather involved post at the moment. I've already invested a few hours in it, and it needs many more.

So, I'm letting you all know that something big is coming and to ask that you be patient with me in the meantime.

Thank you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.12.2008

Midnight Release WotLK

I've only been to a few midnight showings of very specific films.

Now that I have work and not just class in the morning--and because I'm getting old--I am not currently standing in line for the midnight release of Wrath of the Lich King.


Wrath of the Lich King Cinematic Trailer

That's something you do in college.

And if the release was of something really cool, I may consider staying up worth it. What would be cool enough for that?

I don't know.

If you're currently standing in line, have a blast, because someday you'll be old like me and no longer willing to be that uber.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.11.2008

Angles of Angels

[NB: I understand that foundationally angels are male, so please take the title as a poetic expression. Thanks.]

I received a catalog from Amvona yesterday, and the cover just blew me away. The girl in the picture was absolutely gorgeous, the lighting just right, and makeup perfect (meaning, you didn't notice it was there).

I tried to find a huge copy of the image to share with you, but couldn't (the guy didn't even have a full version of the photo on his site <grr>). So I scanned the catalog and tried to make do.

Just look at her:


Amvona - Meghan

I mean: Wow.



But then I flipped through the other images of girl. And this is the difference the angle--and hair, and a little makeup--can make:


Meghan Again

Whoa.

The lesson: You have the power to make people look really good, or... well, not. Some people are difficult to find a good angle for, but it's there.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.10.2008

OSHA and Health

I tend to eat lunch outside as much as possible, since I spend much of my day in front of my computer. However, since the weather is changing, I had to eat inside today.

I ate late, so no one else was in the lunch room, and I started looking at the posters on the wall. Most of them are required by the law to be posted and talk about workman's comp and minimum wage. There are also a few from OSHA.

Then I noticed this little gem:


Safety and Health

Really? Safety and health are the law?

I mean, I can understand the law requiring a safe environment.

But, how in the world is "health" part of the law? Healthy environment? Sure. But just plain old health?

For instance, what if the sign instead read thus:


Health: It's the Law

I do wonder what government officials were thinking when they signed off on this poster (which is at least in its second run by now). Or could it be that even OSHA, which is looking out for those pesky safety issues that could befall us, has overlooked the security of proper English?

May your communications be clear and accurate. And if you're going to pair two things with an "and" it may be wise to take away the first to see if it still makes sense.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.07.2008

Tutorial: Gimp Effects

This tutorial gives an introduction to using and creating effects. Apply what you learn here to your experimentation to do all sorts of cool things within Gimp (though the concepts can be applied to other programs as well).

Step 1: Get yourself an image.


Original Image

Step 2: Manipulate the image as you like and make sure you have an extra copy layer of the one you're happy with. Then click on the New Layer icon.


New Layer

Step 3: Select a White background.


White

Step 4: Select the Oval Selection tool and draw a nice oval covering most of the image.


Oval Selection

Step 5: Go to Select->Feather and make the value 250.


Feather


250

Step 6: Cut or Delete the selection from the White layer. You can also adjust the transparency if you feel like it.


Cut (Control+X)

Step 7: Make sure you select your Image Layer and then go to Filters->Artistic->Apply Canvas. You can play with the settings, but I left them as is.


Apply Canvas


Default Settings

Step 8: Choose the Text tool and type something. The text editing tools are on the lower left dialog box for things like font size, font type, and color.


Text Editor


Text Attributes

Step 9: Moving the text can be tricky. Choose the Move Object tool, and make sure your cursor is touching the text itself, otherwise you will move the layer below.


Move Tool

Step 10: Move the text layer above the white layer so it is more legible. Duplicate the text layer and then go to Layer->Transform->Flip Vertically.


Duplicate Text


Flip Vertically

Step 11: Use the Distortion tool to tweak the text a little.



Distortion

Step 12: Change the Opacity on both text layers...



Opacity 50 and 70

Step 13: Save and Save As, and...


Ta-da!

There you be.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • Make duplicates of your layer before you change it.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment (if you have duplicate layers).
  • If you don't like the way something turned out, delete that layer and start with a new duplicate one.
  • Duplicate layers are your friend.


~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor