Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


The "Film Look"

I had chat with one of my "mentees" on-line today. He had some questions, mostly related to what kind of camera he should get.

His first question was what consumer priced camera shot in 24p. I asked him why he wanted a 24p camera. He said he was looking for a consumer camera that had "film look". I've heard that term often. Basically, it's the goal of making an image that was not shot on film by a Hollywood crew look like an image from a $400 million production.

Unfortunately, people spend a ton of time trying to get the "film look" and forget to make movies with good stories. If you have a good story, it doesn't matter what you film was shot on. Seriously. I have proved in my own films that story definitely trumps the difference between a $300 camera and a $10,000 camera (both of which I own). I also, while in film school, got to be part of a shoot that rented a $110,000 camera. Guess what? The story was more important. Sure, we got good looking shots, but I have never gone back to watch that film. If I want pretty pictures, I'll watch a $400,000,000 Blockbuster, not one my school projects.

24p is close to "film look" for only one reason: It has the same frame rate as film. The color curves and motion are totally different. Film has a "stutter" to it as it bounces through the "gate" of the projector. People sometimes add this in to digital movies, and that just annoys me. Basically, the idea is: Let's make the film worse so it can look more "natural". Give me a break. As for the color, Film (in still cameras are movie cameras) has more of an "S" shape from Black to White, whereas Digital is a straight line. This makes for a very distinct difference. This gap is closing and can be tweaked in post.

And, honestly, I have only been able to tell a difference between 24p and 60i when looking at fans in 24p... and it looks worse, in my opinion. The motion is much more jerky. The rest of the time, I couldn't tell you if something was 24p or 60i.

So what kind of camera should you buy? If you are still hazy on the difference between 24p and 60i, you don't need a 24p camera. I you are looking to purchase your first camera, you certainly don't need a $10,000 beauty. You need to learn how to make movies, then, when you have begun to master that, technology begins to matter. Before that, what you use makes no difference at all.

I have heard it said by many wise people: It's what you do in front of the camera that's important, not what kind of camera you have.

So, for your first camera: Get a MiniDV camcorder with as many Manual controls that you can. If you have the money, get one with 3CCDs (the image will be much, much better) and XLR inputs too (or at least some sort of mic-in so you can attach an XLR box).

For your second camera? Come talk to me.

The thing is, if you're starting out and are just starting to get equipment, odds are that you won't even be able to handle 24p footage. Get a camera, start making movies. It's like the time I went shooting (with a gun). The guy selling us shot told us that it didn't matter the quality of bullets we purchased. We weren't good enough for it to make a difference. He said that even he wasn't "better than his bullets". His daughter, however, was. If she didn't buy the expensive bullets, her score suffered.

That's how it is for you too. Until you get good enough at making movies that the kind of camera (or lights, or mics, or even actors) makes a difference: Don't even think about "film look". It won't make a bit a difference for you movie.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


What Makes Boys Cry?

A post about a film; not exactly filmmaking (which is why it's on my person blog and not here), but I thought I'd at least provide a link: Love, "Love", and Love Acts.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


A Cinematic Breakfast Snack of Some Kind

Title Link Here

So, I did it. Yes, I saw the movie that "is going to redefine cinema as we know it".

NB: The link above (no, not Homestarrunner) is PG-13 in content. Hilarious, but PG-13.

How was it? Well, suffice to say that Matt Diamond's pre-release review is much better, and the entire reason I bothered to sit through the flick at all. The cinematography was actually quite good. The violence incredibly gross (as if the filmmakers sat down and thought about the worst places people could possibly be bitten, and then said, "That'll do"). The story is weak as it could be with a ridiculous group of characters. All in all, I had fun. Think "AVP" meets "Air Force One" with a dose of gruesome deaths and some nudity just because. I actually enjoyed it because I knew I was sitting down to watch an incredibly terrible movie.

So what does this teach us about filmmaking?

First, it tells me that people will watch just about anything. There is a market for your movie, assuming that it has a little production value (and sometimes even when it doesn't) and some semblance of a story.

Second, it shows that with good marketing people will happily watch, buy, do anything... even if it is horrible. Note: Not only will they do it, but they will gladly do it. Sure, the "Snakes on a Plane" trailer did nothing for me. Nor did the posters. But the above article made me watch the movie and enjoy it. That's the power of good marketing that isn't official marketing. Had someone written that up for real to try to sell tickets and we had known about it, it wouldn't have worked. Well, not as likely.

That's all I got for now. Hope it was enlightening. If you get nothing else from this post: Don't bother watching "Snakes on a Plane".

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Cutting Action

Nathan brought by a movie he's working on for School. The assignment was to create a 1-5 minute movie that started in the middle of a conflict. He decided to create an action piece that started with a guy in the middle of a chase. After talking over the story with me, he decided to start with the guy getting shot and add some bits about a girl in flashback.

That discussion is worthy of a blog post about creating a compelling tale, but that will have to wait. As we talked through his initial, just under 2 minute, cut there were several things that could have been changed to make it much, much better.

1. In several instances he had left too much tail room on his action clips. His actors would zoom out of frame and we'd be left looking at the beautiful framing for a couple seconds. Just by trimming off these two or three seconds he will improve his action moments by at least a factor of six. Why? Because cutting back and forth across the screen (and thereby forcing the audience to flick their eyes) will cause a subconscious stress of "what is going on?" and "did I miss it?" This is very good. Just don't fall into the trap of cutting so fast that there is no way to keep up and so bore your audience (e.g. The Bourne Supremacy).

2. On the flip side, he got in and out of his flashbacks way too fast. These moments were designed to show the "normal" life of our hero and the love and care he had from his girl. I suggested that slowing down these clips to 70 or 80% will help allow the audience to connect with the intimacy. Also, he needs to add more time before the important action starts in his flashback scenes.

3. Transitions. Throughout his piece there were five second fades to white. This is totally inappropriate for action. The audience must be jarred from the action of the present to the calmness of the past; this is why more time is needed to set up the flashbacks: the audience needs time to figure out what's going on. So, instead of 5 seconds, the flashes must be 15 frames or less. Stress the audience out. That is the mantra of action.

4. We don't care about the bad guys. Once we know they are dead, or leaving, or running away, unless the story is about that interaction our hero will have with them, we don't care. Cut away the moment we know they are down, gone, or no longer important.

There were a few other things that we worked through that were directly related to his film, and the next cut should be significantly better.

All in all, his timing as an editor never ceases to impress me. There have been many moments when I've told him not to change a thing. As an editor, it is a great feeling to see a cut that is simply perfect... even if it did take two hours to get the cut right. Those moments are so rewarding, probably because they suck all your mental energy out of of you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


'Tis done

After over two years of trying to make this Blog work like a Wiki, I have migrated the information to the Production Now official Wiki. No more "back posting" to get the information to show up where I want it. No more wishing there was a better way to set up the information, make it searchable and generally more accessible. And now, this Blog is officially "just" a blog. Which, is good, because it will require that I actually do something instead of just post content and hope someone cares enough to read it. However, if you check out my other blogs, I don't feel like I have much to say. We shall see. Perhaps a very focused blog, like this one, will help me journal. With a topic as large as "Any Great Thought You Have" it's little wonder why I don't post more.

Today I finished moving all the content from this Blog over to the Wiki and deleted the pages that have been here since 2005. I also deleted the duplicate information that was on the Production Now Discussion Group so it will be purely a discussion group as well.

As for video work, I was not able to get much done today. If find that if I get interrupted even just a couple of times my whole "groove" is thrown off. It is really frustrating to spend a few hours creating graphics to try to help explain ideas you didn't get right while filming. Again, pre-production is oh so important.

I also need to send a couple of e-mails, but, again, I haven't been able to get myself to do it. Tomorrow, I guess.

So, I'm excited about Production Now and the cool Wiki I've got, now I just wish I could figure out a way to get this information about there so I can help more kids create media. If you have any great ideas, please hop over to the Producion Now Forum and let me know!

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


7 Hours Later

So, I've been thinking: Now that we have a Forum and a Wiki, Production Now could actually benefit from a Blog, a real blog that isn't trying to double as a Forum and Wiki. So, my goal is to start posting about the things I've been doing lately, the stuff I'm thinking about, anything I've been watching, and whatnot. Basically, a blog about the life of a professional, self-employed filmmaker intent on mentoring the next generation of filmmakers. The content that has been here will move to the Production Now Wiki.

So, today I stopped editing after seven hours of tweaking MathTacular 2. I'm working until I begin to no longer be productive on this project because I need to get it back "in house" for my client by November 1, or earlier. So, I'm in "crunch mode"... which I've been in all summer with this project. I was brought into this project after only about a week of pre-production and then we were supposed to simply start shooting this 4 hour comprehensive math DVD covering everything in 3-4th Grade math. This was not a good idea, which I kept reiterating to my client through-out the summer, and it made the project not only much more of a pain but also a lot less fun; and frankly, if you're not having fun making an educational DVD the end result will be a bear to watch. Thankfully, we are a good enough team that it will end up spectacular, but not without plenty of blood, sweat and tears on our end. As gentle reminder to filmmakers everywhere (and their clients): Please pre-produce!

We are supposed to hear back from the SAICFF at the end of this week about our film and whether we made it in. I still have a lot of BTS to edit and a few more Commentaries to record. Also, when I showed the version I sent off to the festival I found some errors, so there is more tweaking to do there too. We may not have been watching the final version because there were some big differences from what I watched before. Not sure what happened. I guess that should be a reminder to have a better filing system. I am way better than I was in College, but I still have much to learn.

Hmm, I have more to talk about, but "the kids" are coming over, so I'd better go.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor