Production-Now.com Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.

6.30.2008

Filmmaker, Videographer, Photographer

I shot a wedding for a friend this weekend. And during the introductions he said that I was a "great videographer". Cool, but I prefer to think of myself as a filmmaker.

And there is a difference. A videographer shows up and captures an event on video. This is the guy I call "Uncle Frank". He sets up his camera either in the back or in the aisle next to his seat, and presses record. If he's really dedicated he will look through the viewfinder and pan and zoom to try to catch the action.

The videographer records an event.

The filmmaker, me, gets up in the action. I walk around the stage to get the best shots possible (much to the chagrin of the wedding coordinator). I do everything I can to make the wedding video look and feel like a major production or reality TV show.

The filmmaker captures the feeling of an event.

But while I was wandering around getting shots prior to the ceremony, the photographer showed up. He knew what he was doing, and I'm guessing that his pictures will look awesome. But the photographer does something very different from the videographer or the filmmaker.

The photographer captures the moments of an event.

So, even if he has to fabricate something ("hey, groom, put your foot up on your leg like this while you're tying your shoe") he will snap a picture that embodies a moment.

The videographer and the filmmaker can't really do that. Because video is a time-based medium, we must capture the feelings of a moment, not just the moment itself.

So, if someone ever asks you to shoot an event, think about what kind of video guy you are, and approach the shoot accordingly.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.28.2008

Wedding Videographer

Just got back from a wedding shoot.

I'll post more on Monday about my thoughts. Things like: Video vs. Photography at a wedding. Filmmaking vs. Videography. That kind of thing.

But we're watching "Jumper" for movie night now, so I need to get back to that.

Oh, but I got some cool new clothes for filming.


New Clothes

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.26.2008

E-Notes and Life

Okay, so I started E-Notes at the beginning of the year. It was a cool idea and all, but are they really useful? I seem to have not placed the Analytics tracker on them, so now I have no data on how many people are actually reading them.

So, since it has been six months since the launch of E-Notes, I'm wondering if I should continue. With my new job position and such I don't know if it is worth the effort to get those essays out to two people who just come over to my house if they have a question anyway.

Your feedback is welcome!

And if this is the first you have heard of E-Notes and would like to find out more about them, please check out my Wiki entry on them with links to all that have been posted thus far.

Thanks.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.25.2008

Imperfections and Bobbles

I've been recording and cleaning up podcasts recently. They're more like phone interviews than an official podcast, but whatever.

Inevitably, someone makes a mistake, fumbles a word, or says something that isn't quite right. So, I always encourage people when they make a mistake to pause, and go back and start that thought over.

Cool.

"I'd like to say um... that Luke has the ah-lest-best brog... blog in the world."

How to cut that down?

Frist, drop the "um". Easy enough. Plenty of space around it to just lift it out of the recording.

"I'd like to say that Luke has the ah-lest-best brog... blog in the world."

Second, let's get rid of the "brog" and tighten up the pacing there.

"I'd like to say that Luke has the ah-lest-best blog in the world."

Now for the hard part. Because the person corrected from "lest" to "best" quickly, the natural frustration and emphasis on "best" comes across as harsh. If you just cut out the "ah-lest" then it sounds odd: "Luke has the BEst blog..." Who emphasizes like that? No one. Totally unnatural.

So, instead, leave the "ah" in and drop the "lest". Now, while not perfect, the sentence works:

"I'd like to say that Luke has the ah-BEst blog in the world."

And, in fact, leaving in a few bobbles can make recordings sound better; more personable. Not that you want to make commercials that way, but interviews and "heart to hearts" need a taste of human frailty.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.24.2008

Post Starts Today

After a weekend of shooting, it's time to start post.

So, today I dumped the footage and gave it a little "look-see". And it looks pretty good.


Footage

When we grabbed this shot the sun was starting to sink behind the mountains:


Sun Setting

But by the time we got ready for our next shot looking out the door at her, the sun had gone down and the world was dark and blueish.


Sun Set

So we took the large white soft box (red arrow) and put it right behind the head of our actress. When we zoomed in on just her, it looked like the world was still bright behind her.


Faking the Sun

Looking at the footage now, we're going to need to adjust it so it looks similar, but that's do-able. Expecting the audience to believe that it was still day with a dark background would not have worked at all.

The joys of "fixing it in post" <smile>.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.23.2008

Make Friends with Florists

Holy Grail isn't the only film that makes use of shrubberies. In fact, for both of my most recent shoots I've needed flowers. And so we hopped over to our local flower shop in search of...


Ugly Flowers

Now, I don't know much about flowers except they are supposed to mean stuff and look pretty and smell good. End of the extent of Luke Holzmann's knowledge of botany.

And so it's good to have a local flower shop where everyone there knows who I am (I'm that film guy, right?) and I can trust to give me good advice. The girl at the shop told me that she didn't carry any ugly flowers (can't really blame her), but she suggested a place down the street and told me to ask for carnations and "baby's breath".

Cool. I only have a vague idea of what one of those looks like, but now I'm armed with specific instructions.

Upon arrival at the other place, I announce my intentions. After the girl there looks at what I've picked out she says, "You don't want that... it's ugly."

Perfect.

After explaining the scene in the movie, she gets into it and includes some dead flowers in the mix "on the house".

Filmmaking can be fun, as long as you make friends with florists.

...and everyone else for that matter.

Moral of the story: Be kind to others. You never know when you may need an ugly bunch of flowers.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.21.2008

Some Pictures

It was hot today. Very hot. Filming outside wasn't as much fun as it has been at other times... wow, what a totally vague statement.

So, now I'm a little sunburned and really tired.

We knew before filming that shooting in cars was going to difficult. And while I didn't underestimate how hard it was to shoot, I really didn't know what I was getting into. In fact, I have no idea how our footage turned out.

I'll probably dump the footage on Monday or Tuesday, and I'll see about posting some freeze frames and talking about it.

But for now, here are just some pictures from on set:















Since much of our film takes place in traffic, and since we didn't have the money needed to build our own freeway, or even shut one down for a day, we had to fake traffic. And so we did.


Faking Traffic

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.19.2008

Prep Day

Spent a couple hours working out some final details for our shoot that starts tomorrow night.


Parking Prep

Sketches, decisions, phone calls, props and brainstorming.

All part of a small, no-budget little shoot.

I don't know when I'll post tomorrow since we're going to be shooting late, and then all day Saturday. But I'll do my best to at least get some pictures from on-set.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.18.2008

What You Copy, You Paste

I was working on a website today and built an image to use as a repeating background. I uploaded it to the web and copied the url to be included in my code. Then I went to another website of mine where I already had a viable bit of code for what I wanted to do and pasted it into my site.

Cool, it was working.

But something was wrong. I knew I had changed the color of the background image, but it wasn't updating. So, I closed out of the program and restarted it to try to get it to "flush" the cache. Nope, still the wrong image.

I called a web-guru friend of mine over and asked him if he had any ideas. We looked at the image (the color should be #CDCDCD), but the one on the website was different (#FFFFFF). After tabbing between the two a few times, he looked at me and said, "I don't know what's wrong, but those are not the same image. They're just not the same."

Light bulb!

They weren't the same image. I had pasted the code from the other site and had forgotten to include the new image url. Updating that line of code put everything back to normal.

Moral of the lesson: Just because you copied once in the past, does not mean that it ended up in the program... especially if you copied something else before pasting.

I feel like I should know better.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.17.2008

Firefox 3 Is Out

I was a little disappointed when I went to try to download Firefox 3 this morning and it wasn't there. Well, around 11am Mountain Time, it launched. So, around 11am Mountain Time tomorrow it will have been too late to try to help them set a world record.

So, download Firefox 3 now.


Fun Anime Version of the Firefox Logo

I now have it on all three of the machines I currently use regularly.

[Three? Is he sick?]

Other than that, I'm trying to get a handle on my new job position, so my brain is kinda fried.

But someone did ask me to suggest an inexpensive digital camera. After confirming with Jason, I would recommend a Canon PowerShot A-series camera... something like the 590.

So, hope that helps!

And, oh yeah, get Firefox.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.16.2008

Firefox 3

This was too important to pass up:

Firefox 3 is going to be released tomorrow. Download it June 17, 2008 and help set a world record.

Do it!

Download Firefox 3 here.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

"Please Implement"

Sometimes as media producers we get some rather ambiguous tasks. This applies equally well to a small youth promotional piece for your local meetings all the way up to major marketing schemes by multi-million dollar companies. In fact, while working with the media department of a major computer manufacturer, we were handed a spec sheet for the latest laptop with the instructions: Please Implement.

And so, over the past few months, I've found a slowly dwindling list of actual instructions coming from one of my clients. Frustrated, I sent them an email and asked which of the following they would like me to do:

1. Come up with what I think they should do?
2. Put together bits of what they already have that may work?
3. Write completely new material, and then see what I'd need to shoot?

I got back the reply: "Yes."

After discussing this further, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that they were happy to let me, as a professional, create their media for them and give feedback but not direction.

Armed with this new knowledge, I feel like I can move forward. I certainly don't want to step on people's toes, but I also don't want to sit around until someone tells me to jump.

And you will likely find yourself in this position at some point in time in your productions. Always probe deeper if you are confused about what someone wants of your or your final products. With that added clarity, you may be asked to move beyond your comfort zone. But that's okay. It means you're growing.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.13.2008

What Do You Need In an NLE?

I am constantly on the lookout for useful tools, especially free ones. Unfortunately, as of yet, I haven't found a good
NLE. If you know of one, please let me know. Please.

I have less and less hope for Microsoft and Movie Maker. It's functional, but not great. And Windows 7 doesn't seem to have a high priority on making it any better. At least, not yet.

And as for iMovie... it's horrible. From what an Apple rep told me, it was designed by a guy who wanted to be able to "make a movie in 20 minutes". I had hopes for Apple. In fact, I was worried that I would need to start recommending that kids shell out $600 for a Mac Mini, but my fears are now allayed.

So what does that leave us with? Vegas? I have yet to use it. I wish I had more money to be testing these things... maybe next year I'll have a job that makes me enough extra that I can start playing with things and actually writing up reviews. That'd be cool. But that's also off topic.

What I really want is someone to make a free, cross-platform NLE that supports multiple video and audio tracks. Not one, not just two or three, but at least 10. Preferably more.

I want to be able to drag and drop things around the timeline. And, yes, I want a Timeline, Apple. The latest version of iMovie has no timeline... how are we supposed to accurately edit a movie without a timeline?

Oh, right, I forgot: 20 minute post-production. There's no time for accuracy, pacing, or tweaks.

Give me MiniDV and normal image file type support. If you want to go crazy, add HDV. Then offer a DVD authoring program and a good compression program. But really, I just want multiple video tracks so I can do simple animations with keyframes.

Once you give me that, we can start dreaming. Until you do, I can't really suggest a program for aspiring filmmakers to use without shelling out big bucks.

Help!

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.12.2008

You Know Your Story

...but does anyone else?

I helped one of my mentees work out some story problems with a very ambitious short that he's working on. I also went to Ross to look for a costume for my upcoming shoot.

The difficulty with editing your own scripts, at least from what I've found, is that it is hard to read it as others do. You know your characters, why you like them, and what is compelling about your tale. But often that does not come across in your script.

I wrote a script in college that I really liked. But then a girl told me that she really didn't like my main character. I couldn't figure out why. My character was awesome. But then she pointed out that the guy never did anything. Well, sure, he was part of my storyline, but he didn't do anything awesome.

I realized then that I knew why my main character was awesome because I had created him, but I hadn't shown the audience any of that. So, instead of going into his backstory and all that--a la Phantom of the Opera... which was lame in my opinion--I wrote a new opening scene. It rocked. My character rocked. And it required that I change how my movie ended.

All for the better.

So, when you come up with a story idea, it's good to get feedback. I know it feels like people are just calling you names and "hatin'" on your story, but they are probably just confused and missing something that you have failed to tell them.

It's the same problem with proof-reading your own material: You know what it's supposed to say, and so you don't realize the word is missing.

Or is it just me?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.11.2008

Time Is Never Time At All

Title Link Here.

The Smashing Pumpkins music video in the link above is actually a good introduction to film history. But the Smashing Pumpkins version likely relied heavily on computers, unlike the 1902 original. And the rendering times for the modern video were likely pretty long... at least, if my own experience is any indication.

I left a few files compressing for web release last weekend, and they are still going today. In fact, it may not be until the beginning of next week that they are ready to go.

And I'm not using a poky machine.

Media production takes a lot of time, both yours and the computer's.

I often have a client ask me to make a simple change. I tell them that it's no problem but it will take my computer a week to get it ready. I can change a word in a title card in a few seconds, but if I have to re-render out that hour of the DVD, or that web clip, we could be looking at a lot of time.

It surprises people, and sometimes even me, how long things take. I told a friend that it would take about an hour and a half to capture 15 minutes of VHS footage and put it on a DVD. He was surprised when I was right.

Granted, if I had a handy "VHS to DVD" dubbing machine, that wouldn't have been nearly that long, but I don't, so it did. And if I did a lot of VHS to DVD dubs, I would likely invest in one because my time is valuable.

So, Lesson 1: Media production takes time, sometimes just computer time, but in any case, it's not quick.

And Lesson 2: Having the right tools can save you a lot of time, but they also cost money, of which most of us don't have oodles.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.10.2008

Locations and Schedules

I met with my producer today, and we talked about a few more things that need to be wrapped up and figured out for our upcoming shoot. We also went a on a quick location scout to get an idea of the shots we're going to need for one of our locations.


On Location

For most of our shoots we know what a location looks like because it's our bedroom, the garage, or the park by our house. But eventually you'll shoot somewhere that is unfamiliar to you. In preparing for that shoot, it is a good idea to go and look it over and figure out where you may want to put your camera, what lights you may need, and what kinds of sounds you may run into (planes, trains, air conditioning, construction workers, etc).

We're now running into a problem with schedules. Thankfully our locations are really flexible, but people's classes, work and family commitments aren't. So figuring out when everyone can be on set for long enough to shoot is sometimes difficult. And we, as beggars, can't be choosers. And so we move things around, throw out ideas, and rework the timeline.

Filmmaking is often a game of logistics.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.09.2008

A Rear View Mirror

I threw together some test shots for our upcoming shoot. The flick takes place in large part in the middle of traffic, with a guy looking through his rear view mirror at a girl. But the technical difficulties with shooting through a rear view mirror into another car were somewhat daunting at best and impractical in reality.

So, the tests are in:


Mirror Test1


Original Mirror


Mirror Test2


Original Mirror2

The good news is that this will totally work. The effect is believable, and this will allow us to take the shots we want and even tweak with the framing in post.

The better news is that the tests are all wrong.

I knew I would need to flip the image to compensate for the mirror that is supposed to be there, but I didn't think to flip the camera to the wrong side so that when we flipped it back it would be correct. And so, in both test shots, it looks like the cars in the background (the same car, actually) are about to ram the car from the side. So, on set, we need to make sure to put the camera on the other side of the vehicle.

So if you're ever going to do a special effect, even a really basic one like this, it is best to do tests to make sure everything is correct. Otherwise your totally "buy-able" effect will be ruined by unnatural physics.

We may shoot some more tests just to make sure we know what angle we need to use. If we do, I'll try to get some stills up here for comparison.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.06.2008

The World Wide Web Without Ws

It amuses me when I hear people say, "Go to this web address: www...".

I still see people open their browser and type a url with www before the address. And I guess sometimes that makes a difference... I guess. On the other hand, it feels very "Web 1.0". The web has grown up a bit since the days of AOL and paying by the hour. And one of those changes is the fading of the "www".

In fact, Production-Now.com doesn't have a www at all. Sure, www.production-now.com will go the same page, but there's no longer a need for the "World Wide Web" prefix.

Why?

I think it's because people finally figured out: Where else would people be going on the web except to the "world wide" version of it? Besides the people going to a specific IP Address, who already know where they are headed and so aren't browsing, and the few sites now that are "www2"s (huh?), people are sticking with the web of the world wide flavor.

What does this mean for web delivered media?

Not too much. But it should influence how we talk about web addresses in our media. Today I created a promotional video for a client that then ended in the clients web address... complete with the "www". Is it needed? Not at all.

Are we afraid people won't get the message that it's a web address without the www?

Even in the audio files I've produced for clients they want, "Visit our website at 'www. ...'" That adds time to your presentation that is unneeded. Not that people can't handle the two seconds and are off to the next thing due to a severe lack of attention span, but because it makes your presentation less smooth and adds superfluous material to your spiel.

At this point in time, the www is like asking, "Where is your website at?"

<shudder>

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.05.2008

Pointless Points of Light

I watch a lot of movies. I like watching movies, even bad movies. But just because I enjoy the process of watching B-Grade Russian Action Flicks, that does not mean I find the films themselves entertaining or enlightening. A prime example of lack of enlightenment is found within "The Fountain".


The Fountain

Granted, as I've written about elsewhere, there is an audience for every film. But what is more telling is that even IMDB knows that certain films resonate with others. Glancing through the recommendations that follow "The Fountain", I see a bunch of films I don't like. If you like them, that's fine. But, considering someone on IMDB said of "The Fountain":

All summaries and attempts to present the plot are futile, because it's truly indescribable. Any summaries you may have read about the plot are null and void – truly, don't judge the film by what it sounds like it will be like. It's a movie you must experience for yourself.

I will not try to summarize the plot. I will, however, point out the weaknesses of this film, as I see it, in the hopes that we can all begin to think more critically of the films we watch. And that's the point of this post: No matter what films you like, it is good to think about them, why you like them, and take away lessons you can apply to your own filmmaking, whether you want to make B-Grade Action Flicks, Artsy Screensavers, or even Preachy Sermons.

The problem I have with "The Fountain" is that while there is certainly workaholism with purpose and relationship with feeling, the rest of the film is devoid of meaning. If you like the yellow wash, fine, but it's beautiful like the OSX or Vista screensavers.

The philosophy is cyclical: Death is okay because it is life, and so the living should learn to accept death as a path to life on earth... which does nothing to actually address the issue of death. I was a little concerned that my feelings were calloused, but thankfully I watched it with a good friend of mine whose dad relatively recently passed away. He too found the philosophy of death ultimately depressing and pathetic.

I felt the similar when I finished "What Dreams May Come". I know people really like those movies, and I guess I'd be interested in why.

I guess I would encourage you, as a media producer, to walk the delicate balance between aesthetics, entertainment, and meaning. What makes this so difficult to do is that people have very different tastes in what is appropriate, good, or enjoyable in the media they consume. And that is where you must learn to pick your battles.

I really wish I could say, "This is good, that is bad." But I can't. There are things that are just patently worse than others, but people even like the bad stuff. Odd.

Okay, I'm going to stop rambling now. I've got a lot on my mind, but typing about random things isn't going to help... and, worse still, it's going to bore you.

Thoughts?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.04.2008

The Voodoo of Technology

It is a slightly blustery and overcast day. The world feels cold; distant. You find yourself contemplating the afterlife and what happens to computers that die. You feel depressed and let down, defeated, and helpless. You also happen to be experiencing the voodoo of technology.


Blustery Day

I couldn't find the discussion post, but someone suggested that the solution to fixing a particular bug in an NLE was to spin around three times on your left foot. Forums are peppered with people who talk about the erratic behavior of computers and programs. It often just doesn't make sense.

The most common solution to computer problems is the suggestion that you restart your computer. Sometimes this makes sense, like if your computer's resources are used up and your need to reset them. Sometimes it doesn't, like when your software not longer works or your hard drive just vanished.

What is so frustrating about technology that simply and suddenly does not work is that you have no real course of action to take. If you installed something and the computer tanked, then there was something wrong with what you installed. If you put a big hole through it, it would make sense that some features would no longer function as before. But that is rarely the case when it comes to computer issues for me.

The internet has been spotty at best over the past three days. I couldn't even get my blog to load when I first went to start writing this post. After restarting I was able to start writing. How odd is that?

The lesson from this post is basically this: Troubles with technology are pretty common amongst us mere mortals. Even if you feel alone, you aren't.

The bigger issue that I do not have an answer for is: What do we do about it? I've seen many posts on some of the best forums go unanswered because people scratch their heads and say, "Odd, it works for me."

May the light of the sun break through the clouds of your computer woes today.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.03.2008

Polarizing Filter

I purchased a polarizing filter for an upcoming shoot where we need to shoot through car windows. And, with a very quick test, the filter makes a difference:


Sun Glare


Sun Filtered

Looking at the two images, the filtered sun may not look better in a movie because it looks like a light reflecting off the windshield.

However, the filter does reduce reflection, which makes it possible to see through windows that would normally just be trees.


Trees


No Trees

So will the polarizing filter help on our shoot? It should, but will need to be used with caution and care. It doesn't just "magically make everything better".

Speaking of care and caution, those are my fingers spinning the lens in the above images. The filter works by rotating it into the position that cuts out the correct amount of light for what you want. Unfortunately, I was pretty excited to test the lens, and so didn't think everything through really carefully. So, after screwing the lens on, I didn't realize that the lens spun freely and there was a separate threaded section that mounts the lens to the camera. And so my little investment fell off the camera and landed on my dirty driveway, somehow missing any rocks laying around that would have broken (or at least scratched) it.

Whew. That was close. If you go back and watch the tape you can hear me saying, "CRAP!" as it falls to the ground. So, the little lesson from this post is: Take time to think things through, especially if it's new to you.

The nice part of having the camera rolling was I got a few frames of the lens falling.


Filter Down

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

6.02.2008

Educational Videos

I produce a lot of educational videos. That's what pays the bills. But there is something very educational about media even when it is not blatantly trying to be so. A prime example of this is the little extra on the Ratatouille DVD "Your Friend The Rat".

Granted, the creators of this little piece did their homework, wanted to impart facts about rats, and did their best to make it memorable. But it doesn't feel like an educational video. It doesn't feel like a textbook. This is the beauty of the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Much of their programming is made interesting, engaging and provides a key emotional link that allows us to remember things for much longer than a random string of facts and figures would allow.

I got thinking about this today because I was doing the post work for a podcast on education. Media (be it text, audio, video or otherwise) allows us to make connections with what we are imbibing. Thus, we retain it longer and also make more connections.

In my case, I often make rather abstract connections, like at a party I attended a couple weeks back and said, "The only Coke bottle in the village" when the other adults started commenting on how the one trike was going to be a point of contention between the myriad of children. Ah well. I thought it was funny.

What does this mean for us as media producers? First, we can and should defend media (even electronic media) as a powerful tool for educating. Just because it isn't "Time for Friends" does not mean that a kid won't learn how to tell time.

Second, we should keep an eye out for what we are teaching those who enjoy our media. This is very much a question of ethics. Is this what we should be telling people to believe? Will this improve the life of others, or will it lead to harm? These are important questions to consider, whether you're working on a documentary, writing a blog post, or shooting a fun short. Not that all of life needs needs to be painstakingly and meticulously analyzed, but that we should remain cognizant of what we say in what we produce.

This is also important for "The Media" to consider as they berate some candidates while lauding others.

This applies to us as we consume media as well.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor