Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Mixed Up Files

My wife scanned an image and then sent it as an attached file in an email today. A few hours later, I got a call from the recipient. She said, "I can't open the file, but I don't know anything about computers."

I went to the computer to see what file type the image was (maybe she didn't have Photoshop and couldn't open the image). But it was just a simple .jpg image. There shouldn't be any problems with that.

So I tried to open the image myself and got the following message:

Invalid Marker

Ah. That's what's happening.

I was able to open the image in another program and re-save it as a .jpg. Then I set out to recreate the problem.

I created a new image. Then I used Save As... which lets you choose the file type. But the Save As... dialog box lets you name your file and choose the extension. Unfortunately, my wife merely typed in the jpeg extension into the file name, but left Photoshop thinking it was a .psd image.

Photoshop Extension

On a Windows system, I believe the extension you type overrides anything the computer wants to do. In a Mac environment, however, the computer overrides the user, but still accepts the extension. So, in the end, my wife had created a .psd file with a .jpg wrapper.

And no one could open it.

Thankfully, I'm here to save the day <smile>.

You must be very careful with wrappers and extensions when sending a file from a Mac to a PC. Apple isn't nearly as picky as Microsoft when it comes to file types, which can cause huge problems when you send a file from the lax Mac to the precise PC.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Voting and the Amish

What an odd title for a media blog, eh?

"Let me explain. ... No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

I voted today, filling in the little arrows on the ballot. And that got me thinking about the machines they will use to count the votes, much like a scantron test. And that got me thinking about how much we use technology.

And I love technology (when it works), and I use it all the time. In fact, ever since college I have said, "Home is where my computer is plugged in and turned on."

But some people aren't so keen on technology. The Amish, for example, tend shun things like electricity. But technology is anything from a blog to a feather pen, so how do the Amish define what "bad" technology is?

I had never considered that question before.


"The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure."


Of course, my family structure revolves around computers... but we're probably pretty "weakened" as a family unit. Ah well, at least I'm uber in World of Warcraft <smile>.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Multi-Layer Fades

I recently saw a video done by a self-proclaimed non-filmmaker mom. Overall, the video was amazing. However, at one point there was something odd as her image faded down. I have recreated the effect in the video below.

Layer Fade

Within video if you fade two stacked layers at the same time, the top one will show through to the bottom layer, giving a very odd feel to the transition. To compensate for this, you must first flatten the image so that the single layer fades cleanly.

Multi-Layer vs. Single Layer

Keep that in mind as you work on your productions. If something looks wrong with a multi-layer transition, flatten the images/video/text to one track and try the transition again.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Media with Purpose: Calculus

Copyright law aside, this video is fantastic.

...I just wish I remembered more from my calculus class.

I Will Derive

There is actually quite a bit of production value behind this project, a few of those aspects being:

1. Audio recording
2. Time remapping
3. Keying
4. CG/special effects
5. Acting (it was pretty good)

It's hard to find shorts that have that much production value in them... and this one has moderate educational value! Some of the best places to practice your media production could be for class projects. Just turning out shorts or movies may feel more like filmmaking, but it is sometimes much harder to come up with a story worth telling than a fun, educational bit.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Custom 3D Maps Question

I got the following question from a student:

How do you make Halo CE maps? Or mods, or whatever.....

To which I replied:


I've only done minimal world map manipulation, and never for a 3D environment like Halo. From what I hear, it takes a long, long time to do. I heard about a guy who created a custom map for another shooter game, like Halo, and he took three solid months to make it while he was laying in bed sick.

Three months.

A custom 3D map relies on three basic parts:

1. The geometry - this defines where the walls, floor, mountains, etc are. Basically, the shape of your map.

2. The textures - this dictates what objects look like (are they blue, swirly, brick-like?). Basically, the paint color of your maps objects.

3. The behaviors - I don't know if you can adjust these for Halo, but changing the scripts/behaviors modifies what an object does. Basically, this is the stuff--weapons, debris, books--of your map.

If you interested in learning about it, I'd suggest you start here (though, I can't vouch for the content on the site, and it may not be appropriate for some people):

If you get stuck, I'm more than happy to try to help, but my brain does not function that way, so I don't know how much help I'd be. <smile>


To which I received:

LOL, whoa....
That is NOT happening......
Well, thanks, Luke!

Yes, well, media sometimes takes a lot of time. A lot of time, even if you know what you're doing. For example, I posted a video on another blog of mine. The video is less than two minutes in length yet took almost 12 hours from beginning of concept to the video being available online.

Twelve hours.

And I know exactly what I'm doing. <smile>

Give yourself time, and take the time you need for your projects.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


I've Got the Company Car

[Title link: here]

So, I like totally own a company, right?


And so I get all kinds of great perks like filing taxes and stuff even if I never have any clients. Pretty cool, eh?

No, not really.

But it is cool when people think that because I have a company I can afford to buy stuff so they send me stuff to get me to feel like I should buy their stuff. It's a very confusing world, business, but someone's got to do it. And free stuff is awesome.

Like this:

Epson Shirt

Way cool.

Now if only it made sense to get a business so you could get free t-shirts. Too bad with how much I pay in taxes and web hosting every year, this shirt is at least $400. Wish I had a client from time to time <smile>.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Timing Out

Blogger seems a tad sluggish at the moment. In fact, I almost gave up posting on another of my blogs a few minutes ago because it kept timing out--meaning, the computer knew there was an internet connection, but the server was taking too long to send any information.

This also kept me from connecting to the internet yesterday during an all day meeting. I didn't exactly need internet, but it was frustrating.

Hopefully this post will publish and life will go on.

If not, I'll post it when Blogger's server starts playing nice again.

All that to say: Sometimes you can't do something because your tools are not behaving. If that is the case, you either you need to scrap it until the issues can be resolved, or figure out a different way of doing what you're trying to do. It's a hard choice to make, but necessary if you are going to survive in the world of production.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Take a Break

So there we were, on set, late at night.

I was camera oping.

We were trying to get the first shot of the day. And it wasn't an easy shot. What I needed to do was do a pan over from the door, dolly in, and pan down to a spot on the desk where the character was going to drop a magazine.

It wasn't working.

Luke Trying Hard

And I was getting frustrated.

I'm usually so calm and collected. <ha!>

In fact, I got so frustrated that eventually the director, a good friend of mine, pulled me aside and told me I had to chill. He said, "I can't have you like that in there. You're making everyone else upset. I don't care if you totally lose it after you get home from this shoot, but for now, I need you to just grin and bear it."

The Chat

After a few minutes, I was able to go back in and finish the shoot. But it was good that we took the break. Breaks are important for many reasons, but I'll list two major ones:

1. They let us rethink the thing we're working on by giving our brains space to consider other options. Just beating your head against the wall doesn't do anything, but taking a step back may reveal the door.
2. They remind us that life goes on even if what we're working on doesn't. I can get so caught up in the importance of something that I completely forget that, really, it doesn't really matter.

So, next time you find yourself stuck and your blood pressure rising... take a break.

We ended up scrapping that shot entirely.

The movie turned out just fine without it.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


xkcd on DRM

This is brilliant:

Steal This Comic

Of course, most of the stuff on xkcd is brilliant. And much of the time it is completely over my head.

DRM-free is better.

I'm not condoning piracy, but sometimes what the DRM people do makes you wonder if they are trying to.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Two Approaches

I've seen two flicks in the past days that come at filmmaking from opposite ends of the spectrum. On one had, you have "Reverie" which is a super high-end image piece shot on a Canon still camera. On the other side, you have "Primer"--a film shot for $7,000.



One film was full of color, depth of field, and all the other "filmic" pieces that make it a very artistic piece. The other looked like it was shot with a VHS camcorder that didn't have manual focus.

And while "Reverie" is fun to look at, I enjoyed my experience with "Primer" a whole lot more. Why?


"Primer" had one. Okay, "Reverie" has one too... but it's not very interesting. The images are interesting, but the story? Not really. "Primer" is a fascinating look at indie filmmaking. This piece was written, director, edited, and starred by one guy. He had a crew of five. And his movie went to the big screen and grossed over 60 times his budget.

That's good.

"Reverie"? A cool demonstration of the ability of a digital SLR to make pretty video clips.

There's absolutely a place for both, but as an independent filmmaker, I'd rather have "Primer" under my belt.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Demographic Winter

I like conspiracy documentaries.

...but this isn't a conspiracy documentary.

Demographic Winter

Part 1--I don't know where Part II is--is under an hour long and you (and your family, and friends, and professors, and others) should check it out. Watch the whole thing (you can skip through the credits though).

You can watch Demographic Winter on Google Video.


~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Wait to Eat

You will find that as you shoot live events you will eat late, last, or perhaps not at all. Generally, the clients with whom I have worked have been very accommodating and conscientious about feeding me... but I'm usually shooting something while others are eating.

This happened again today. While others ate, the speaker decided to get going, so I filmed his presentation while my food got cold.

I'm not complaining at all. I'm merely stating the facts.

And I'm stating them because, as you shoot live events, you need to be prepared. If you get low blood sugar levels that cause you problems, bring something quick and easy to munch on. If you need energy, eat before the event. And smile graciously if called upon do film instead of eat.

The really nice people will apologize for making you shoot during the meal. It's nice, and I always thank them for their concern, but I'm not surprised. I'm used to it, and mentally prepared.

Make sure you are as well.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Call to Clarify

I got the following feedback in an email concerning a little clip I was working on:

"We would like more energetic throughout."

Ah, the beauty of typos. What did that mean?

  • We would like it to be more energetic throughout.
  • We would like more energy throughout.
  • We would like more energetic pacing/cutting/clips throughout.

So I called.

It's always a good idea to talk to the person so you can figure out what they really want and provide instant feedback on their ideas, make suggestions, and get clarification. This is why many directors and producers like to sit in the edit bay with you and go over things.

This can be really helpful, but it can also eat up a ton of time. "Hmm... now that I think of it, could you just..." And two hours later you've finally convinced them your first cut was better.

It turns out that the cryptic message was actually supposed to be: We would like more energetic music throughout.

I see.

Well, that's the problem you often run into when you are working with royalty-free music. Where do you get the really good stuff? What kind of music are you looking for? ...and so on.

So, the music question is still sort of up in the air, but at least I know what they want me to change.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Context to Concept

There are four main categories or levels of information in a movie:

1. The Context: What is happening in the scene. This includes the action and the visuals we see.

2. The Text: What is being said about the scene. Here the narrator or the actors tell us something about what we are seeing.

3. The Subtext: What is going on in the movie at this time which influences how we interpret what is happening and being said. This includes previous action which sheds light on the characters and their surroundings.

4. The Concept: This is the deep meaning or idea the director is trying to convey. This could be anything from "brotherly love" to "the vices of western medicine."

The problem is that filmmakers tend to get stuck on one of these to the detriment of the others. For instance:

Action flicks, like Bond movies, are all about the context... the explosions, the pretty girls, the great locations where the explosions and pretty girls exist.

Religious flicks get hung up on the text and so become preachy.

Thrillers and "heady" movies can get so enamored by the fast ones they are pulling on the audience that people only half follow them and either are unimpressed and lost at the end, or so confused they believe they have just experienced genius.

And art pictures are so intent on their concept that they forget to tell a story altogether. Then the director gets angry and tells people they just weren't experiencing the movie properly.

The Fall

Naturally, each of these appeals to different people. But the truly excellent films--and, honestly, other works or art--have a good blend of each of these. The movie "The Fall" does not have a good blend. The film instantly drops into its concept and never comes up for air. It is beautiful, and so the context is impressive, but the film lacks any tangible depth because the subtext is so buried not even the director in the commentary can tell us what his movie is about, "This is a movie that I wrote over 17 years ago and then knew it was going to be retold and shaped by a 4 year old girl."

...okay... interesting concept piece there... but... what?

Balance. Not only an important part of your breakfast, it's also important in your productions.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Recent Shoots

Just a few stills from a couple of the recent shoots I've been on.

I got to be an insane extra while also acting as the 1st Assistant Director for this shoot.

I'm on the far right

Then I got to shoot on the roof of my church. That was pretty cool, though not the first time I'd been on top of a building for a shoot.

On the Roof

For this last shot everything had a really nice warm glow, but there were windows in the background which showed up blue. I couldn't get them out of frame and wished I had some color balancing material to put over the window. In the end, we just left it and the video turned out great anyway. The only people who would be bothered would be DP snobs <smile>.

Mixed Light

In the end, you use what you have, be it extras, locations, or light. If you wait for everything to be "just right," you'll never make a movie. So, get up and start making stuff with what you have.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Barbarians in Film

Acting has really improved since 1981.

Well, not if you watch 10,000 BC, but Camilla is cuter... so that counts for something.

Camilla Belle

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor



In the world of physical pictures we have a few different media: Photos, slides, negatives, etc... and to look at a slide requires very different technology than to look at a photo.

This is similar to different file formats. You may have a bunch of image files, but you need a different bit of technology to read a .jpg instead of a .bmp or a .png or a .psd. Sure, they're all images, but the image is contained in a different "wrapper," and the computer needs a different line of code to be able to show them to you. These bits of code, languages, wrappers, what-have-yous are called codecs.

You must have the correct codec reader installed on your computer to open a file and manipulate it. Last night I got a call from a friend who couldn't get her Word file to open. That's because she had an older version of Word that only had a codec for .doc files, but the file she was trying to open was saved in a .docx codec. I helped her install a new codec reader so she could open the file and get back to working on her paper.

This also happened with some video files. We captured some footage to a .mov codec. But there is more than just one type of .mov file. These video files happened to be in a .mov wrapper that included an HDV codec. Once these files were transfered to another computer without an HDV .mov codec reader, the files were useless until they had been put through a conversion program that repackaged them in the right wrapper.

The computer must know what kind of wrapper the file is in, and it must also have a way to read that file.

If you don't have the right codec, your file won't open.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Know Thy Drives

Hard drives.

Simple, right? Well, besides the whole motor spinning plates of magnetic material... oh, and something about formatting.

Formats? What are those?

Simple, totally non-technical explanation: It's a language the drive speaks. So, for instance, if your drive is formatted as an NTFS drive then it speaks NTFS (we'll call that Spanish). But then you attach it to a computer that only reads Apple Extended drives (Russian). The drive doesn't show up (or asks to learn the new language, thereby forgetting everything it new before... namely, your files). The computer can't read the drive because it's the wrong language.

The good thing is that there is a format that can be read by both PCs and Macs. It's the format that your flash jumpdrives use. This format is FAT32.

So why doesn't everyone use FAT32?

One major reason is because it has a size limitation. You can only put files that are up to 4gigs per file on a FAT32 formatted drive.

But 4gigs is a pretty huge file. What kinds of files are bigger than 4gigs?

Video files.

An hour of MiniDV footage is around 12gigs.

So, if you're capturing a tape onto a FAT32 drive, everything will go swimmingly, you'll get through the hour dump... and you'll get a message that says something like: Opps. Something went wrong.


We just had that problem.

The solution? Capture footage in 20 minute or less increments. Then your files will be less than 4gigs, and you'll be able to move on with your life.

Bottom line: It's important to know what "language" your drive speaks before you try to do any major projects.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


All I Want for Christmas my two... er... I have no idea.

I'm a contented guy. I'm very happy with what I have.

Oh sure, a new camera might be cool, another screen would be fun, a new computer would be sweet, and several more hard drives would be useful. But those things are either too expensive, too mundane, or not really needed. So, what do I want for Christmas?

New DVDs?

Like what? I've seen precious few movies I'd want to own.

And here is the rub for me: I know there is a limited amount I can get for Christmas, so I want it to count. Which translates into me being paralyzed.

The same happens with Netflix. I want to only watch movies I'll love, so I don't put any on my list.

...yeah, I'm odd like that.

So what do you want for Christmas?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


What Do They Want?

Every time someone asks me to shoot a "quick (i.e. one to three minute)" shot of someone talking, I always tell them it will take between 45 minutes and an hour.

Seriously. It takes time.

It did today. Three quick bits, each less than a minute in length... three hours. But not all that time was setting up the lights, working through the scripts, and trying to get all the elements to match up.

The last fifteen minutes or so was spent trying to figure out what these people wanted the final video to be... which is dictated by what they want it to do.

There are two main types of video genres: Informative and narrative. Either you have an information piece where you tell people stuff, or you have a narrative piece where you take people on a journey. Both are equally valid and effective for different types of things. The problem arises when people don't know what they want.

I shot a 45 second clip where two people told me (the camera/audience) some information. We wrapped up and they asked me if I would be able to throw in some shots so others could "get a feel" for what they were talking about.

Umm... not easily. See, we had just shot an informative piece, not a narrative piece. If you had clips that demonstrated your information, people could follow it. But if you want people to get drawn in to your tale, we really should have shot a narrative piece.

And that's where people get lost.

We need a story if you want people to get an introduction to who you are. We can use your descriptions if you want people to know what you are.

How do you help people figure out what they want? I'm not sure. It's not easy.

Perhaps this will help: You want to make a movie about a banana. Cool.

You want a movie where we show a banana, peel it open, cut it into pieces and eat it? Cool. That's an informative piece. You are free to talk about the technical side of the banana, and you can get people to be more informed about this particular fruit.

You want a video that makes people want to eat bananas? That's different. That requires a narrative. You need to talk about the time you found the perfect banana, how excited you were, the wonderful taste, and how great it made you feel. You need a story.

Which is right for the video you're working on?

I have no idea, but hopefully you can figure it out.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Artist or Asistant?

I had a client come over and give me his feedback on a piece I had thrown together. I had to add in another music piece at the end, and I liked it.

Granted, it was a bit more... "intense" than was really called for, but I really liked it.

Of course, I really like things that are more intense.

He watched the cut and then said, "Wow. ...That had more drama at the end than I was expecting."

'Cool,' I thought.

"Let's see if we can get that other music piece to fit there."


Over the next two hours we fiddled with the cut, flipped music around, added graphical elements. Well, I did it while he made suggestions. He was changing my cut.

But it didn't bother me. This was his project and I was the person who was there to make it happen. I, of course, added my input and make his suggestions work--when it was possible--but he had a very clear picture of what he wanted.

So, sure, I could have been an "artist" and gotten hot and bothered about his tweaks, but that would have made things rather miserable. Instead, I got to see myself as the assistant who actually made it happen. I was an empowerer. I made it possible.

Keep that in mind as you work on other people's projects: You are the expert in your field, so definitely use your talents and share your opinions to make the piece better, but if it's not your project, remember that you are the assistant to that project. Your job is to make their dream reality.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Two Frames

How did my blind edit go?

Well, for the most part if I was off, I was only off by two frames.

If I was off by five frames, the cut was just completely wrong and needed to be reconsidered entirely. Which is pretty interesting to me: If the cut doesn't work within two frames either direction of the music cue--which is what I was cutting to while "blind"--the cut probably isn't right.

I don't know if I can make it a hard and fast rule, but it applied more often than not.

Pretty interesting. me, at least.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor