Production-Now.com Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.

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

11.06.2008

Good Stuff

I do what I can to bring you good content day after day. One of the ways I do that is by reading media blogs and posting links to some of the most informative and interesting in the "Other Posts of Note" section on the sidebar there.

If you want something fun to read on a weekly basis, on of my friends has started a blog where he nitpicks at all the inconsistencies and issues with major Hollywood productions. You can find him over on the Movienitpicher's Weblog. He really needs to spend some time cleaning up his layout, but the posts are enjoyable.

Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn from sites that point out all the flaws in major motion pictures is two-fold:

1. Every film has issues, many of them huge.

2. If your story is good, no one cares.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.05.2008

Tutorial: Build a Signature Image

NB: This tutorial is for GIMP, though similar steps will be taken for other image manipulation programs.

Step 1: Find a photo. Photo manipulation is outside the scope of this tutorial, but you can start by checking out my tutorial on color correction.

Step 2: Make sure you have the Selection tool selected, and then use the drop-down menu to make it a "Fixed Aspect Ratio"


Fixed Aspect Ratio

Step 3: Set the Aspect Ratio to the size required by your Forum software (in this case it is 500x200).


500 by 200

Step 4: Select the area you want, and then choose Image->Crop Image.


Crop

Step 5: Now go to Image->Scale Image.


Scale

Step 6: Make the image the proper size (in this case, 500 by 200 pixels).


Resize

Step 7: Now go to File->Save As.


Save As

Step 8: Name your file, and make sure you select the JPEG File Type before you Save.


JPEG

Step 9: Choose your quality setting. 85 is just fine*.


Quality 85

Step 10: Go back to the Forums and upload the image from your computer.


Upload

*If you'll notice, for these forums my image must not only be within the 500x200 pixel restraints, it must also be no larger than 29.3KB. So, I actually had to open my image again (which was 31KB) and resave it at a quality of 60 so it would be small enough. You will likely have to do the same.

So, there you have it: How to make a signature image for your favorite forums.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.04.2008

Sick

I'm sick today, so my ability to come up with something insightful or interesting is severely hampered.

When you spend most of your day sleeping you don't have much time to work on things or come up with material.

But rest is good.

If you need rest, take it. Your productions aren't worth making yourself sick.

You are not what you produce.

The sooner you learn that, the happier you will be.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.03.2008

Writer's Block

I spent the greater part of my after work hours today trying to write an article.

No dice.

No love.

No article.

It's due tomorrow.

Well, technically, it was due Saturday, but we're dealing in reality rather than technicalities.

Even so, I may not get the article finished... technically.

Sometimes things just don't come together. And sometimes it's your fault. When that happens it's good to learn to say, "I'm sorry, team." Hopefully I can do something about it tomorrow, but the future isn't looking bright.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

11.01.2008

Obvious Marketing

Sometimes marketing cracks me up.

See, I have this odd notion that media should communicate. And, well, I believe that communication is best done for a purpose, even if it is to be funny and nonsensical. But with marketing, often it is just to take up space to make you feel like the product is valuable. Like this:


Pepsi Obvious

The fine folks of Pepsi would like to remind us that 36 is 50% more than 24. If they were trying to be funny, I'd laugh with them. But they're not trying to be funny, they're just trying to make me feel good about the fact that I bought a 36 pack instead of a 24. They are hoping that my subconscious isn't very good at math and simply assumes that they're giving me 50% more, rather than merely making it possible for me to pay for 50% more.

So, I'm laughing, just not with them.

May your communication be purposeful.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor