Production-Now.com Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.

3.31.2008

Don't Be a Nasty Troll

I strongly recommend to people that if they run into a problem that they ask about it on their Forum of Choice. I tend to find fantastic help from the forums I use when I run into an issue. Other users who have worked through the same problem can often offer better support than someone on a phone looking at a manual (especially if you have also looked through the manual they have in their hands).

But forums, as with any other place (be it the real world of on the 'net), can have some pretty nasty people stroll through. These people are often referred to as "trolls".


Mean People on Forums

Sometimes, however, people post on a forum and due to a simple misunderstanding, or poor choice of words, ignite a "flame war" or just generally make people angry. It is best to avoid such incidents because they do not really lead to anything good. I went in search of an answer earlier today and ran across such an exchange.

So, how does one avoid such issues? I'll offer a few tips:

1. Assume the other person means well. If someone replies to your comment with, "I was actually hoping to get feedback from someone who knows something" (as I once saw), let it go. You can point out, gently, that the people on the Forum probably know something, but leave it at that.

2. If someone points out that your post was not worded very well (see the point above), graciously accept their comment as a genuine attempt to smooth out the conversation. It's amazing what a simple, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that at all" can do... and how infrequently people say such things.

3. Keep on the subject of the post, not the relative intelligence level of one, or all, of the posters. It is a good idea, however, to express thanks and appreciation for people who say good things.

4. Do not insult people.

5. Let things go. Good rarely comes from a back and forth debate. Just think of the "Did not!" "Did too!" "Did not!" "Did too!" "Did not!"... type exchanges if you ever find yourself in a disagreement.

6. Remember that contention is often born out of a desire to justify yourself. One of the painful lessons I've learned over the past year is that pain is caused when I defend myself as right. It is easy for me to defend my position, prove the error of my opponent, and reduce their insipid reasoning to dust. But it does no good. Rather...

7. Apologize. If you did not mean something in the way it was taken, apologize that your words hurt them, and move on. No need to defend yourself because you did not mean anything bad.

8. Recognize that you have value outside of your posts, your work, or your insight. Gene Simmons said on an interview that "before you have anything to say, you're important. Do you understand that?" Until you do, you will be tempted to defend what you say as if it were your worth.

I could go on, but the main point is this: Get over yourself and be kind to others.

And don't forget: Forums are some of the best places for information in the world.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.28.2008

A Fair Assessment

I got two phone calls today asking for my feedback about particular products. When people ask for my opinion/advice, I don't take it lightly. I want to live up the honor they have given me by asking for my opinion. Random surveys are one thing, but calls from people who know and trust you are another thing entirely.

I want to accurately point out the positives while helpfully noting the negatives. All the while, I need to watch my biases and my preconceived notions about the thing we're discussing. It certainly takes more wisdom than I currently have. May I gain more wisdom in the days to come.

Both products are really excited, cool, and have the potential to be extremely useful. But, on the other hand, there are significant issues that may ultimately hold them back from becoming the mass-marketable tools they were designed to be.

So, what do I do? What do I say? How does one accurately assess the products, projects, or even situations that arise?

It is no trivial thing.

I wish I had an answer, but I don't. Certainly we can discuss price-point, value, minor tweaks that could be done, but that does not answer the question of: Will this benefit people to the point where it can make a lot of money?

Hopefully the things I did say, and the comments I make in the near future, will be helpful. I love being in this position, but it eats me up inside as well.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.27.2008

Photoshop Online

This was so cool I just had to post about it:

https://www.photoshop.com/express/

Check it out. Way cool. I happen to be a big fan of Adobe as it is, and this also ties in with things I've written about elsewhere... so, yeah, way cool.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Am I An Editor?

There has been some discussion over on Studio Daily about issues surrounding the accessibility of editing software to the masses and the discrepancy between professional editors and kids who edit. Very interesting stuff. And a little disconcerting.

I have never done an "Offline Edit" before, and don't know if I ever will. With digital technology moving the way it is, by the time I get into big productions, that whole process may be a thing of the past. Thus, I've never done an "Online" either. No EDLs for me, though I understand the concept.

While I label my tapes, bins, folders, clips, and whatnot, I rarely shoot from a fully developed script, and so have no number systems such as "12A-CU" or anything of that nature to utilize. Also, my log and capture workflow tends to be rather linear--capture the tape, cut it up in a timeline, name the subclips, convert to individual clips to work with--so I have abandoned much of the "old way" of logging.

Is that bad?

It may be if I worked with more editors, other professionals with their systems in place, or ever needed to send an EDL to someone. But since I work on most of my projects alone (true, I'll never become a "big dog" like that), and I pass on my labeling practices to my mentees, I have yet to run into a problem with my labeling system.


So, would I be a great hire for a studio or post house?

Probably not. At least, not at the moment.

But, as many people have noted in the comments that the way to learn these steps is to work in a post house and learn it on the job. So, since I'm a fast learner, and have no problems implementing the workflows of others, I could quickly and easily be "Onlining" relatively quickly.

So, am I an editor, or just a slowly aging "FCP Kid"?

Since I started with Premiere and only switched to Final Cut when I worked my poor $700 editing machine into the ground in college, I'm definitely not just a "Final Cut Kid". But I am certainly still learning a ton about editing every day on the job.

On the other hand, I plan to keep that up for the rest of my life. I will never know it all.

So, yes, I am an editor: It's how I make my living, it's a passion of mine, I love helping others learn this art, and I'm good at it.

I still have a lot to learn, and I am a long way from mastering many aspects of it, but hopefully that is the attitude of all professionals. May I never reach a place where I feel like I "have arrived" and can stop learning. There is always room for improvement.

...or maybe I'm just too much of a "young editor" to have reached that point.

Unlikely.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.26.2008

Script Supervisors

Today while cutting MathTacular4 I ran into a problem. I was building the Title Card for one of the equations when I realized that our actor had said the wrong number. It was an easy mistake as the number was from earlier in the shot, but now we had to reshoot something.

Not a big deal, but had we had a Script Supervisor, this wouldn't have happened. A Script Supervisor makes sure that everything on the script is captured on set, and if anything changes in the script, those changes are noted for later. No one was looking at the script during these shots because our small crew was busy elsewhere.


MathTacular4 Script Supervision Issue

Because everyone has so many jobs on set with a small crew, things like this happen. It's not too big of a deal, unless our actor was gone for good, or wouldn't come back for less than a million bucks. Then this would be a huge deal. Thankfully our actor is "in house" and so it should be pretty easy to grab the shot we need.

Much of the editing process is figuring out how to fix mistakes and issues that are not noticed until long after filming is complete. The solution for this is to go back and get the shot again. If this was going to end up being too expensive or impossible, I would cut to a shot of one of the other actors, and just redo the audio for that bit. It wouldn't be as nice, but it would work.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.25.2008

Eye-Trace and Cut-Aways

Much of my experience with production is with educational pieces. I shoot someone standing behind a raised desk talking and then doing something. My editing choices are thus limited to changing the depth of my image to cover a cut.

The theory is that to make a cut "work" (i.e. not be noticed), you need to change two of the three dimensions significantly. I've found that if you change one enough, the cut works just fine.


Change At Least One Dimension Significantly

But there is more to making a cut work than just moving the camera so many degrees, or pushing in so many feet. What the audience is looking at, and what they expect/want to look at next, can make cuts invisible as well.

For instance, in "Flowers", our girl comes out of the gate and notices the guy. We, as the audience, naturally want to know what she's thinking, so we cut in (changing the Z-axis).


Wide Shot of the Gate


CU on Her Face

But now the audience wants to know what our guy will do next, so we cut to his face (rotating around the Y-axis, but not changing much else).


CU on His Face

I could keep going (I prepared more images), but I think that's enough of that. The point is this: There are many ways to make a cut "invisible". For a fascinating discussion of a few of these "tricks", check out Norman Hollyn's post on his blog (a very excellent read): Awareness Test. In his post he links to this video, and then comments on how it works.

One more example of just how amazing editing/filmmaking can be.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.24.2008

Save Those Layers

I needed to change some title cards for MathTacular4 today. I had black text on white (rather boring), and so I needed to add a cool looking background to add some interest. Thankfully I had had the foresight to save the title cards in layered .psd files rather than flat .pngs.

The lesson? Always keep copies of your images in layers. That way, if you need too add or subtract something later, you can without rebuilding your entire graphic.


Keep Those Layers

I could have easily flattened the above image, but then I wouldn't have been able to add in a cool background.


Adding Background Elements with Layers

But had I saved the image flattened like that, I would not have been able to go in and adjust the cloud layer after I decided it was too dark and made the text difficult to read. So, even if you think you've fixed the image, still keep a layered version around in case you need/want to tweak something later.


The Versatility of Layered Images

I certainly flatten images to bring them into my NLE, but I keep a copy with the layers just in case.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.21.2008

e Resolution

One of my clients emailed me today and suggested that I make the text smaller on the DVD I was creating for them so I could fit more text on the screen at one time. My client told me that because their end users have good eyesight, the small font wouldn't be an issue.

The end user may have the best eyesight in the world, but that doesn't mean they will be able to read small text on a DVD. And here's why:

A printed page has a resolution of at least 300dpi. This means that the printer that created the letter "e" would have quite a few small dots to show the curves of the "e" to make it legible. However, a DVD has a max resolution of 72dpi, which means there are fewer small dots to make up the letter "e". So, if I were to shrink it down, the letter becomes less and less like a letter.

Here's an example:


300dpi vs. 72dpi for 14pt

Now that's rather impressive and you can start to see how one would be easier to read than the other. But they still both look like "e"s, so what's the big deal? I mean, if you shrunk those both down, they'd look pretty similar.

Granted. That's true. And that is why a 14pt font almost works on a DVD. Unfortunately, video tends to employ the power of Interlacing, which causes half the lines to flicker/disappear. Imaging trying to read one of those letters with half of the pixels missing or flickering. It'd be much harder on the 72dpi "e".

But you can do small fonts. You just can't keep getting smaller, as the following will show:


300dpi vs. 72dpi for 8pt

The "e" is gone. 300dpi still looks great, which is why you can have 6pt printed text that is still very legible. But on a DVD... it's just a bunch of blobs that make reading difficult.

So my client and I will have to figure out another solution to our text problem on the DVD. That's just a limitation of SD technology.

Now you too can clearly explain why text is blurry on DVDs. Or, you could always just link them here.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Ps. By the by, your screen's resolution, from which you are reading this blog post, is 72dpi as well. Which is why grabbing a screen capture and printing it off looks bad: 72dpi to 300dpi.

3.20.2008

Make Friends and Influence People

While talking to a mentee today, I realized that I must not have linked to my V-Day Post from my personal blog yet. Well, now I have. It's a post that deals with Taco Bell, and I've been wanting to post this picture for a while, so here it is:


"I'm just doing this between films."

Okay, that's done now.

I didn't get much done today in the formal sense (I'm even writing this post late) because one of my mentees came by, so I dropped everything to "talk shop" and expand our filmic knowledge. Both good things. Plus, this allows me to be an integral part of his life and formation; a job I take very seriously.

But, if I were to follow the advice of the marketing guru I get materials from, I am doing this all wrong. Or, at the very least, I'm not setting myself up to be productive. "Time Blocking" is required to keep the "time vampires" from draining your day away. It's how you avoid the "Have you got a minute?" interruptions that make it impossible to be really productive.

And it's true. I didn't get much BTS cut today. I'm only now posting on the blog, and I certainly didn't grow my business, come up with a new marketing ploy, or earn any money after noon.

But I'm okay with that.

I did do something important: I met with a kid who's making media. Was I able to radically change his life today? Did I take him from novice to master?

No.

But that's not how life works. Life is a slow process--painfully so for me--that works itself out as we age and interact with others. My mom has a saying that she uses when people do particularly destructive things to others: "Oh, that's one way to make friends and influence people."

And in this case, it is. And someone's got to do it.

So, sure, I wasn't very productive today... but I hope that will pay out in the long run.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.19.2008

The "Flow" of Shorts

Nathan asked me today why so many shorts don't "flow" as well as something like "Flowers" (which we think flows along nicely). I'm not really sure, and not just because the question is vague.

I've already written about the difficulty of making a good short, but this is a different aspect. This is editing as much as writing. This has to do with how your story progresses... or doesn't.

One of the first problems is that the story itself may be disjointed, too complex, or cover too much time. For a film to "flow", the ideas must be linked and naturally follow one after the other. This is best illustrated by good comedians. Their "sketches" often begin with an idea, move to another idea linked to that one, and then end coming full circle back to the first idea. This natural flow makes them masters, and comedians who just hop from joke to joke aren't nearly as enjoyable.

Your movie can also be ruined if your ideas that flow are not connected well enough in editing. The general rule of thumb is this: "Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as you can."

This means that you do not need your character to walk down the hall, out the front door, down the walk, to the car, open the door, get in, start the engine, and drive off. Now, if the point is that something important is happening during this time, fine. But if the point of the scene is that your character is driving somewhere, cut to him opening the door and climbing into the car. Boom. You're done.

Far too many shorts are killed by taking too long with an idea or scene. Something may be hilarious, moving, or just great, but then the editor lingers on the shot, the idea, the mood too long and we are no longer moved.

If you watch "Little Black Rain Cloud", the first few minutes are rather boring. Unfortunately, Nathan's professor required that the film be at least three minutes (a terrible requirement for a short, but that's a different issue). The ideas flow pretty well, and we keep things moving. But the ending is fantastic. The rain starts falling inside the umbrella and... cut.

Sure, Nathan could have sat there with me dripping wet. I could have even added a line of dialog: "I just can't win, can I?" But that would have been horrible. The laughter that started would die off. As it is the film ends with the audience laughing. Perfect.

Oh, and if you feel up to making a short, check out the SFMUG. Some cool awards. Check it out.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.18.2008

On Cookies

My wife made me move some of my video stuff out of the living room, which I should have done a week ago. One of the items that I had to move was a Cookie: A really high-tech lighting tool made from a piece of cardboard with scissors.


A Cookie In Action

What incredible tool that can pull of such stunning shots is used in this lighting setup? Let me show you:


One Light and a Cookie

For all the expense that goes into equipment, filmmaking often employs the cheapest little tools that change a production from a home movie into a motion picture.

So, don't throw out that box. Move it out of the living room and keep it under your bed for your next production. ...Just don't forget it's there.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.17.2008

A Background in Special Effects

I do not have a background in special effects. The best I ever did was the eternally popular: Shoot the actors, have them take a step, stop the camera, have the actors get out of the frame, and then "poof!" they're gone. Incredibly powerful if you'll still in 1977, but we're not even in 2007 anymore.

So, while I can do these relatively basic special effects, I tend to get stuck if I have to do anything even remotely complicated. I spent much of last week working on a shot for MathTacular4. It's easier to see what I mean than to have me try to write up a description. So, for your viewing pleasure: A brief discussion of using a background image as a special effect for your foreground.


MathTacular4: Backgrounds and Foregrounds

I am amazed at how frequently it is possible to do these incredible things with only the slightest knowledge of special effects. I don't really know how to use fancy special effect programs, but I can still do some cool things. And if I can do it, you can too.

So, once you've done a few fireballs, a couple disappearing acts, start stepping up into the work of digital replacement and modification. It's crazy here.


A Picture from Alaska

Okay, okay, so I didn't have any good visual effect-like photos, so I grabbed a cool looking one I had instead. Sorry.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.14.2008

DRM, NIN, and DBD

I've mentioned before my praise for the Creative COW magazine. Well, Tim Wilson over there often has great posts that I read with my nifty Google Reader [cough, cough]. Most recently he posted about the rise of DRM-free music. A fantastic post that made my wife giddy. Read it: Raising the stakes for DRM-free music.

This reminds me of DefectiveByDesign.org. I get their emails and sometimes take action. Sometimes not. It really depends on whether they have a point or not. It's about 50/50.

I am very much against DRM. At the same time, I am a firm believer that people should be paid if they want to be. These ideals are easily kept in mind at the same time, but often these two camps ideologically oppose each other, which is rather annoying.

Suffice it to say: Read Tim's post.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.13.2008

IFC and Web Series

I've already mentioned that we've been developing a web series, but we're not the only ones. There are many, many web series of a wide variety of creation formats: Flash, Machinima, as well as Live Action. [NB: As with much of what you find on the internet, not all these series are appropriate for all ages.]

Noting this very viable form of entertainment, the IFC launched a competition to get filmmakers to pitch their own web series. Pretty cool. But what's really cool is the promotional video that Casimir Nozkowski created for it.


Broadcast Standards

Thanks to Scott at The Editblog for pointing me to this great short video.

And it is a great short. Right at one and a half minutes. The lesson to be learned here is that short is good. Short shorts are the way to go. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. This video nails that.

Just wanted to point out the good stuff when I see it.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.12.2008

It Just Takes Some Time

Title link here.

[NB: The above video may be outside the realm of "moral decency" for some folks. The music video is filled with people in their underwear. You've been warned.]

Media production takes time. A lot of time. You have to learn a ton of stuff, then figure out how to apply it and use it for your productions.

I spent four hours editing MathTacular4 this morning, came home and replied to a question from the Forums, and then spent four more hours developing a script for the web series we're working on. It's gonna be HUGE. (Nothing like a little hype.)

Oh, I also dumped some footage from a children's play from Sunday that I'm converting to DVD for the cast and crew. Which, I guess that's a side lesson that you probably already know about: If people find out you know anything about media, you get asked to do everything. Which can be cool, but also annoying if it's something you really didn't want to do in the first place.

I'm not saying that's where I am at the moment; just noting that it happens. And it happens often.

Add a blog post to my day and that's curtain. Crazy.

I wasn't able to watch any more 24 Hour Competition videos today, but I did respond to several comments back to me. Thus far it has been very positive. People like getting honest, real, and helpful feedback. I hope I can continue to offer that in the days to come.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.11.2008

Useful Tool

I got a Leatherman Blast for a wedding gift. I didn't use it for the first few months because it was never on my belt. Finally I got fed up with having the thing and not using it, so I attached it to my pants.

I used it every day for two weeks after that.

Now I use it every few days or so, but still, for a guy who sits in front of computers most of the time, that's impressive.

As I was looking through some old pictures, I ran across this one of my Leatherman acting as a music clip for a windy live show. Not bad coming to the rescue of a local band.


Music Clip - Leatherman Blast

What does this have to do with filmmaking? Well, for starters, you often don't have all the pro/specialized equipment that you may want. This forces us to be creative in what we use. If you need help figuring out a specific thing for a shoot you have coming up, please let us know on the Forums and we'll try to give you some ideas.

Speaking of the Forums, I've spent some time the past couple of days trying to troubleshoot some issues for some people there. If you have any input (or questions or your own), I encourage you to pop over there and start posting. I've found that it is difficult for me to offer fixes to problems that I've never experienced, let alone solved, so if that's something you are good at, please get involved.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.10.2008

Dell and Lights

Yesterday I woke up and was about to close to the blind to the window behind my computer monitor (so I could see what was on the screen), but something one the wall caught my eye.


Dell

For those who don't know, I use Dell monitors on my editing machines. They're really nice.

But this post isn't about Dell. It's about light, and using light in your pictures to make them rock.

How does one get better at lighting sets and actors?

1. Practice.

2. Look.

Which comes first is really a "chicken/egg" question. You need to practice lighting and you need to look around both when lighting and not. If you see something cool happen naturally, try to recreate it with your lights on set (i.e. In your basement/bedroom).

There are also a lot of great resources out there to give you ideas you can use to improve your lighting as well. If you haven't checked out DJTV (Digital Juice Televsion), you should.


I'm still working through the 24 Hour Contest videos as well. I think I'm well over half way through them by now. I hope to have commented on all of them by the end of the week.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

The Importance of The Location Scout

I worked on a set this last Saturday for a Director who was producing a short for a class of his. The Director was very unpleased with the location because it was small, cluttered, and didn't have the area for his Actor’s entrance scene that he had hoped for. Since he was already very unpleased he simply told he a very vague idea of what he wanted the master set up to look like as far as lighting and blocking. I took this little information I had and set to work.

After spending a very frustrating hour trying to light the set to the vague specifications the Director had given me and random insight from the Actor, who had read the script a few more times than me, I was finally able to get something I was happy with. I was using a light bulb hanging from the ceiling as my key over the Actor's head. There was a small head light clipped to a door a little ways behind him and to the left which provided separation from the dark background. I also had a fill light placed 45 degrees off axis to the camera to help fill in the Actors face as well as a light up the stairs to motivate the entrance of the bad guy and give off a gloomy glow in the dark.

When the Director arrived back to check my work I was completely baffled to find that I had positioned the actor the wrong way the Director was intending. This was not a difficult fix and didn't hurt my lighting much but it did take time to correct which would have been avoided if I had been given the proper instructions in the first place. These types of instructions continued for the next 3 hours until the shoot was finally called off on account of the Director not being able to get what he wanted. What happened?

The problem was the Director had never seen the location. Directors are the visionaries of the film. Their job is too come up with a vision, communicate that vision to the other crew members, and see the vision to reality. The Director had put a lot of work into great story boards that had well thought out lighting and blocking. He did not show me these till after the shoot was called because he felt they were completely useless at that location. The Director had a good vision for the short film; however, he did not do a location scout to find the place that matched his vision.

There are multiple reasons why you do location scouts. The biggest reason is so that you can find the location that matches your vision for the scene. Once you have found that you then have to work out all the other pieces. You will need to know if there will be electricity that you will have access too, does it have bathrooms, is it really noisy, will someone else be there when you are intending to shoot, ect. These are things you can't afford to find out on set!

When planning the shoot the Director, Producer, and Director of Photography should all be present for the location scout. This list grows bigger if there is more specific problems/design you will need on set. These people need to be present so they have an idea of how to accomplish the Director's vision. The more you can figure out before shoot day the less time you waist on set.

It can also be extremely helpful to bring a digital camera with you on the location scout. This way you can try out some of your shots before hand to see if they will work. When location scouting for Flowers we found out that one of our shots would not even remotely be what we wanted (our actress would be far too small in the frame). This saved us time and frustration.


"Flowers" Location Scouting


Signed,
-)_-.

3.07.2008

Directionless: A Barrior to Progress

I often counsel media enthusiasts who are stuck without an idea in ways to get their creativity flowing. In a very short time it is relatively easy to come up with several options to pursue. And I tend to believe that once you have something to pursue, you're set.

But this isn't the case.

You need much more than just an idea, a story, even a script. Shoot, I've got an edited film on my hard drive just waiting for me to finish cutting the BTS. And I haven't. It's been half a year and I still haven't finished it.

Why?

There are certainly numerous reasons, but one of the biggest is my lack of direction. I've tried cutting the BTS together, but I don't have something unifying to cut to. There's no structure holding the piece together, and so every edit is arbitrary, and so I fear cutting anything out.

I've got several other projects like this. I just revisited my Production Manual I've been working on for a couple years now. I'm stuck. I've written about 40 pages and can't seem to move forward. If I had a clearer outline I could probably keep going, but I don't have an outline, and I don't know how to make one. I lack direction, and I can't seem to figure out how to get my bearings.

A prime example of an idea not being enough is our latest concept for a web show that we want to start. We've got it all: Structure, basic story, characters, and even the first few episode ideas. We should be set.

But I'm stuck. I lack a clear direction or journey to start my characters on. I have no clever start, no unifying joke that I can write into my scripts. And so, a great idea is on hold until I figure out a direction in which to go.


I've found that being or feeling directionless makes me feel weary. Not sleepy, and not really tired, but just weary: Like it would be too much work to do anything.

And that's a disastrous place for a media creator to be.

If you find yourself in such a "space" (as the artistic folk may describe it), get yourself into a different space. Go for a walk, go to the mall, go swimming, go skating. Get outside.

That may be something else that we digital/creative/techno-geeks do not do often enough: Get out for fresh air. I know how awesome Azeroth can be. I understand the draw to watch another movie. I empathize with the feeling that you just need to type up something else. But you and I have both likely been sitting on our duffs too much of late.

Get up. Get out. And perhaps, just perhaps, you may also get direction.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.06.2008

With Great Power...

...comes great awesomeness.

I've know about the power of "difference mattes" for a long time, but I hadn't been able to get it to really work for me until today.

A Difference Matte takes two similar images and then cuts out only what is different between the two. So, if you get a good Plate of your scene, and then do something in that frame, you should be able to have the computer cut that out relatively easily. This is the power of visual effects where something flies into a scene, stops, and then the characters walk around it.

At least, that's the theory.

Well, for MathTacular4 we are doing some pretty awesome stuff. While shooting on a race track, we ran into a problem: Beer and other ads that we didn't want.

Initially I just blurred everything out. But that really ruined the feel of the shot because some things were "out of focus" and the actors next to these signs were not. Then I created an overlay to replace the signs with MathTacular ads.


Adding Digital Ads

Cool.

But our actors walked in front of one of the signs. What to do?

I decided to give the "difference matte" another shot. And, amazingly, it worked. Certainly not perfectly, but definitely good enough for this shot.

Check it out.


The Power of a Difference Matte

Awesomeness.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.05.2008

24th - So They Say

If you don't already know, "Flowers" ended up 24th out of 71 films. That puts us in the upper third. But, honestly, it's hard to believe we scored so low. Here's the official ranking:


24th for "Flowers"

A total score of 15.5 out of 30. Just over half the total points. Let's walk through each of these and try to figure out where we went wrong.

Story 4 / 10
Was our story amazing? No, but we certainly had one. In fact, it's a story that "we can all relate to" (according to one comment). We spent a couple days hashing out this story.

Granted, it was a tad choppy at the start, bits didn't completely fit, but in the end I smile. Everyone I know who's seen it smiles. You can't help but smile at the end. That means that our story, for all it's shortcomings, works. I disagree that it's a 4; sub par.


Cinematography 3.5 / 5
Some of our shots would have been improved by a motion control camera. We don't own one, so for the hand-held shots we rock. Our dolly worked quite well.

Sure, the shot of the front yard was washed out and poorly framed. But that's the only shot in the film that really was not good. Everything else was awesome. For how great our images, color, framing, and visual storytelling were, we probably could have had a higher rank.


Sound 2.5 /5
Our sound was good. It was easy to hear everything, all the pieces were there. We were not just hanging in the middle with sound quality. We boomed most of our shoot, recorded our own music, and mixed everything together. That is way better than the others who used the audio off their camera's on-board mic and didn't bother mixing it at all.

People have pointed out that there were a few places where the audio was too loud (the gate and the "ding"). True. Also, I wanted to get rid of the airplane noise, but didn't have time. But for those few issues, I think we deserved a few more points in the sound category.


Performance 2 / 5
The acting was pretty good. We recorded the VO at 5am, so little wonder it doesn't sparkle. And some of the moments lacked real life, but a 2?


Editing 3.5 / 5
A couple imperfect cuts. Otherwise the movie flowed, moved, and fit the length it should have been. That's cutting. Here, perhaps, is where the choppy nature of our story made the editing look bad.


So, sure, they were correct, a little harsh, in pointing out our flaws. But when you compare these elements with the other films, that's when it really starts to hurt. And that is the problem with a 5 star ranking system.

I use Flixster so I can keep tabs on what I think about movies. But since there are only 5 stars, I give a lot of movies 3. If the movie was fine, it gets a 3. If I hated the flick, I give it a 1 or a 2. Great movies get 4. But very few movies get 5. So, the difference between a movie I love and a film I hate is as little as 1.5 stars (4 to 2.5).

To make matters worse, you are comparing a movie made by filmmakers and some 14 year old girl. With ranking card in hand they ask: How was her sound? Well, since it was a home camcorder, obviously pretty bad, but we could hear everything, so we'll give it a 3. Then they watch our flick. How was the sound? Well, the airplane overhead was a bit much, as was the ding. 2.5.

Our sound was, from a realistic standpoint, several times better than the girl's. That's not surprising. We used a boom mic and mixed it. She pointed her camera at her dog. But with a 5 star rating system, her film almost has to be ranked higher than ours because it is based in the quality of the production itself, not compared to the other films. Thus, we score really low because the bar was so high for us.

Last, any ranking system is completely arbitrary and flawed. Back in High School I did Duo Interp. After each round you get feedback from the three judges in the room. One judge said that she loved our introduction. The second judge complained that we didn't have an introduction. And the third judge said nothing about an introduction at all. What do you do with such things?

You laugh, and move on.

Which I will try to now do.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.04.2008

Feedback for Films

I'm going to spend some time over the next few days and comment on every single submission to the 24 Hour Video Contest. I've made it through page 2 of 8. It's a difficult process.

I have found that I tend to have the same advice for many people.

1. Don't use copyrighted material. And not just for legal reasons. When you use a song as the background for your movie, you will often make your movie fit the song, rather than the other way around. This makes your flick far too long, you lose your story, and the mix of quality of production (professional recording versus home camera) makes your film work look even worse.

2. Watch headroom. People frequently have their characters far too low in the screen with too much space over their head.

3. You can make your movie shorter. Please make your movie shorter. Shorter is better. Really. Your movie will make more sense, be more humorous, and work better if you make it the appropriate length. A three minute maximum length rule means that your movie must be shorter than three minutes... not equal to three minutes.

4. Don't preach. I've talked about this before, but it's even worse when it is a "Christian" film festival. It's hard to help people figure out how to show rather than tell, and say without saying.


The other thing that is really hard is when you run into a film that is just plain bad. And I don't mean poorly lit, a missing tripod, a script that could have been better, or acting that won't win Oscars. I mean, a movie that just doesn't work at all. A film that looks like a slideshow your grandmother shows you with her narrating (assuming that your grandmother rambles with long pauses as she gathers her thoughts to tell you every detail of the way her broach was pinned to her shawl at Aunt Mayble's country picnic on June 2, 1831; constantly correcting herself in details that don't matter at all, like the exact temperature outside that day: 72 or 73? 72... no... wait... 73... no...).

I want to be encouraging, to help people grow in their craft, but if they don't show any interest (other than posting a video online) in making movies, I don't know what to say. It's also bad when they seem to unintentionally mocking what they are trying to promote. How do you tell someone, "I admire your attempt, but never do that again"?


We haven't received that much feedback yet for "Flowers", which is sad. Thus far I've heard "Your video was kind of funny" from the people at ChristianFilmmakers.org. ...I'm not sure how to read that.

That's all for now. I need to take a break from watching these things. I may only be able to do twenty a day. It's not easy.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.03.2008

When Help Isn't Helpful...

I've been trying to leave comments on the other entries into the 24 Hour Video contest, but YouTube isn't letting me (I've tried on a PC, Mac, Firefox and Safari). Ugh. I really get frustrated by that.

So, I pop over to YouTube Help and read the following:

If you... see the grayed out "Post Comment" button, this means your comment hasn't been posted. You may want to try posting your comment again using variations of the original comment. Also, make sure you don't add any special characters, URLs, or HTML tags to your comment text. Finally, make sure the comment text is within our 500 character limit.



What do you do when you try reposting, editing the text, don't use any HTML, and keep your comment less than 500 characters?

They don't say.

Perhaps it doesn't like something I've written, but I can't tell. And so I can't comment. Which is sad to me for three reasons:

1. I want people to know that their videos have been watched and thought about.
2. I want to help these filmmakers make better videos in the future.
3. I want to get more visitors to Production-Now.com so they can get help in media production.

Sad times.

I guess I'll wait

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

3.02.2008

73 Degrees and Falling

For those who don't pay attention to Colorado's weather (why would you if you didn't live here?), you may not realize the severity of the shifts that can occur.

Yesterday we were filming outside in short-sleeves and 73 degrees. We grabbed a great timelapse shot for the opening of our 24 Hour flick. Life was good.

This morning greeted us with snow.


Sunrise Yesterday, Snow Today


And this just in:
Check out all the other Christian Filmmakers 24-Hour Contest Entries for March 1, 2008. I didn't realize there would be so many. I haven't watched any of the competition yet. We shall see.

It's Sunday, so that's all I'll say today. Just wanted to point out how blessed we were with weather, locations, talent, and equipment as we shot "Flowers".

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

"Flowers" is up!

Check it out!


"Flowers"

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

"Flowers" is Rendering

I sent our 24 Hour Video Contest piece, "Flowers", to render at 12:01am. I wanted to have my edit done by midnight so my computer would have time to render it and upload it to YouTube. I hope I have enough time. It's going to be close.

How did everything go?

Really well!


3 Seconds to Go

At 5am I grabbed a screen capture of the countdown and figured out which three elements we would include in our video: 1. Cheerios (despite the illegal nature of this violation of trademark; I knew I could work around this), 2. Mismatched Socks, and 3. The line of dialog, "That better not be what I think it is."

By 5:10 we started setting up lights for our first shot.

At 6:20 we stopped rolling our twenty minute shot of the sunrise for time-lapsing later.


The Sunrise this Morning

We arrived at my parents' house ten minutes behind schedule. Not a great way to start a packed day of filming, especially when we hadn't done anything particularly difficult yet.

After that, however, we got back in track.

Everyone we interacted with was absolutely top-notch and treated us like important filmmakers. We can not express enough how grateful we are to Banister's Flowers, LLC, Julie's Hallmark #6, and my parent's for letting us film at your locations. Thank you!


What made this project so great? Two main things: The Cast and Crew.

Our great actor Matt and our beautiful actress Kelly did a fantastic job in their roles. Dave, as usual, was absolutely stellar in his bit part as well. The only person who will not get an Oscar for his performance is me.


Kelly


Matt

Top that off with an amazing Crew, and it is amazing what can be done. Thanks to everyone: Nathan, Cameron, Brittany, Christina, and Andrea. We couldn't have done it all without you.


Cameron and Nathan

For those of you interested in what kind of Pre-Production we had completed before this morning, I have posted our Script,
Shot List, Schedule, and Breakdown for your viewing pleasure.

Looks like it's going to be another two hours of rendering. Hopefully it will be a quick upload after that because I need some sleep.

I'll post the video when it's uploaded.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor