Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


The Day the Zune Stood Still

So, I got tipped off to this bit of news.

Seems as though ol' Microsoft has done yet another rather disastrous thing to its already widely loathed name. Even so, they claim they will only be down for a total of about a day. The fix is supposed to be up at 4am PST, January 1, 2009.

If you have one of these crashed Zunes, let me know. I'm interested in knowing if the fix is actually a go or not.

My wife wonders if the Trusted Computing Group is behind this, testing some form of ultimate control over user's devices. I doubt it, but it would be funny. In any case, here's a logo TCG may want to incorporate to more accurately reflect their ideals.

Cranky People Group

So, until tomorrow morning...

A Happy New Year from Microsoft.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Slumdog Millionaire

Collateral meets Bollywood with the intensity of Requiem for a Dream in a love story about a boy on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

In other words: Go see Slumdog Millionaire ...assuming, of course, that you are okay watching intense R rated flicks.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Church and Editing

There is a lesson that churches should learn from editing. But it's more painful when editors have not learned this lesson either.

This Sunday was fairly typical, but they also included an extra hymn, communion, and a time for people to talk about what they are thankful for from this past year. All good things, sure, but we still sang the normal amount of songs. This put the end of the service 10-25 minutes over when it usually ends.

Granted, I've only got to do lunch after church, but others have places to be and things to do, not to mention the teachers who are wrangling kids for an extra half hour. In short, if you run an scheduled "event"--service, dinner, show, whatever--you need to make sure you are on time. It's the respectful thing to do. Plus, people get antsy the moment you start to go into overtime (at least here in the "go, go, go" United States).

So what should have been done?

Drop three songs from the worship set to accommodate the three additional bits.

In short: Make the music fit the length of your piece.

If you've ever had to sit through a service that was going over, you know the frustration I'm talking about.

Now think about the student films you've seen (and, honestly, some of the Hollywood flicks as well). How many times do these filmmakers let the song they chose dictate the length of their movie? Over and over again I see videos drag on and on while we wait for the filmmaker's favorite song to end.

Make your point and get out. The music is there to support your movie, not dictate its length.

Similarly, if you've got a length for your service, cut out music if you're going to add other elements.

Rant over.

Please resume your productions.

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father


DVD Design

I got a cool new DVD for Christmas.

It's a very new DVD complete with several nice DVD features... and at least one very, very, very annoying one. See, when I pop in a DVD, I don't really feel a need to read (or wait through) the FBI Warnings, the copyright reminders, and the distributor's animated logo bit. But sometimes someone, somewhere, feels the need to take away my power skip these little reminders.

So, I popped in the DVD and pressed the "Skip Forward" button and got a:

Not Permitted

I was forced to wait for well over a minute before the DVD gave me control over my viewing experience.

That is bad.

Very, very, very bad DVD design.

Give your viewer control.

Thank you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Gifts and Thank-Yous

Merry (day after) Christmas!

I am finally back to regular blogging. It's felt like forever and I'm very happy that life is--hopefully--going to settle back into some form of normalcy (at least until my next major trip which will hopefully be soon).

One of my gifts was a year's subscription to Reader's Digest. That's pretty cool, but has very little to do with media. ...except for the card that came with my first copy. Here's a scan of the front and back:

Reader's Digest: The Gift of Reading

That's right: With my first copy there was a Thank-You card ready for me to fill out and mail to my gracious gift-giver.

When have you ever had a gift given to you that came with a Thank-You card just waiting for you to send on to the person who gave it to you? It has never happened to me before.

This is an excellent example of how we as media producers can think about those who will be using, giving, and receiving our materials. And making our end users feel special, important, or even merely considered will often be more important than the media you produce.

Life isn't about text, clips, or images. Life is about people.

I hope you had a pleasant time with the people in your life, and that as you get back to more "normal" life you keep your people close to you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


I'm Finally With It

If you somehow missed my post about my new cell over on my Sonlight blog, I have an announcement to make:

I have joined the 21st century and now own a cell.

And that is cause for much rejoicing, sure. But I have also linked my phone to my personal/homeschool Twitter persona and linked that to my Sonlight blog. How cool is that? Let me tell ya: It's pretty cool.

So my "tweets" from my cell to my twitter show up on my blog.

Am I with it, or what?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Ps. What's more, it only took me half an hour to get it up and running and looking all pretty like. Much of that was researching, looking for the moved button on Twitter, testing, and tweaking the HTML.

NB: Posts continue to be sparse. Normal posting will definitely resume after the holiday season, if not sooner.


Times Have Changed in 3.5 Years

I got to visit my Alma Matter last night. It was odd to walk the campus and see how the familiar things had changed.

And we started talking about how technology has changed in the less than 4 years since we were in college:

  • There was no YouTube
    (in fact, Facebook and Blogger were just starting)
  • Instant Messaging was cool
    (we spent a lot of time chatting with friends in IM)
  • Cell phones were not ubiquitous
    (I used a calling card and room phone to call home)
  • JumpDrives were just coming out
    (my best friend and I bought each other a 34MB JumpDrive for Chistmas one year... they cost $40 a piece)
  • DVDs were just ramping up
    (one of my classmates did a presentation on why DVDs were better than VHS... and he had already collected all 200 DVDs that were out)
  • Burning DVDs became possible
    (you had to turn off everything--even the clock--restart the computer, and pray... all to burn a maximum of 30 minutes onto a DVD... that was Sophomore year)
  • Digital Cameras were a whopping 1.3 megapixels and saved to flopping disks
    (and those cameras were several hundred dollars)
  • .mp3s were new
    (digital music was a novelty, and iTunes didn't exist)
  • HD was not a buzzword
    (and we watched as the world changed from Zipdrives to P2)
  • I was editing on Premiere 6.0
    (and later moved to Final Cut 4)

Where we will be in another four years?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


State of Student Films Address - Dec 08

This month the student films I got to see were primarily short enough. In fact, it was refreshing to see them. ...very unlike the films from my last address.

There were, unfortunately, two films that dragged on far too long. The biggest offender was far, far too long. The problem was, I'm sure, that the producers had procured many locations, costumes, and props from the myriad of people who agreed to support their film. This lead them to the erroneous belief that their movie needed to be long enough to showcase all of it. They should have cut it down.

My favorites were two movies that worked because their characters totally fit within the worlds they created. Both movies were quirky and the people within those worlds matched them exactly.

One of the "cool looking" films rocked, but I didn't understand it. Talking with a couple of the guys who worked on the film after the show I was told that they never shot what was supposed to be the last shot of the movie. Had they done so, I think the movie would have made more sense. Perhaps not, but the lesson is important: If you've got an element that is pivotal to your story, get that shot. Removing it greatly increases the chances that your movie will end up incomprehensible.

So, the lessons:

1. Realize that movies take a lot of resources to make, and let your movie fit the scale and length of your story, not your effort and budget. If you stretch it beyond your story you cheapen your whole film, no matter how intricate your sets.

2. If you can get all the elements--especially the characters--to fit within your world, you are setting yourself up for gold.

3. Story trumps cinematography... unless you're a cinematography guy. If you are, make sure you have someone working with you who will make you shoot all your story elements.

In other news, I'm going on vacation for a week to spend time with my in-laws, so see you in a week-ish. The holidays really make it hard to keep up on everything, so things will likely be spotty until the New Year.

Until then: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And God bless us, every one! (I just watch the Muppet Christmas Carol <smile>)

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Getting "Cool" Shots

I had the opportunity to help out (and provide the green screen for) a "cool" shoot today.

The object was to grab a single shot that involved a pretty girl, a lot of makeup, and a green screen. Cool, eh? What was more: I got to direct the girl's motion so she would be as fluid and nice looking as possible.

The makeup work took much longer than anticipated, even though we had dyed the girl's hair the day before. There was just a lot to do.

Applying Makeup

At one point while shooting the breaker switch for the green screen tripped and so those lights went out. We were left with a fairly black background, so we shot a few takes with the black too.

Black Background

All in all, I'd say we had a really successful shoot, though we won't know for sure until everything is composited together. I wish I had the footage so I could grab a few stills that dramatically demonstrated how incredible our actress looked with her red hair against the green screen and her blue eyes shining. It was impressive.

The lesson besides the need to plan lots of time for hair and makeup?

If you've got a girl who looks this good:


You'll have people who want to take her picture:

Paparazzi or Photographers?

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Save Your Settings

I'm not a very good gaffer.

I mean, I know how to light sets and all, but I'm not particularly good at it.

Even so, I've shot enough stuff to know that this...

Lousy Lighting

...isn't very good.

In fact, it's down right bad. I know how to light a set much better than that. So why did my camera give me such an image today after spending thirty minutes playing with the lights?

Well, the problem may reside in the fact that I relied on my Zebra Stripes. I don't typically do that, even if it is a good idea. But something was odd because I was supposedly peaking out inside on a overcast day.

So I added an ND filter, and started filming.

After dumping the footage and seeing the terrible result, I was bummed out. When I got home I started talking with one of my mentees who had recently used my camera.

"Oh," he said. "That may have been fault. I set the Zebra to 75% for one of my shoots... so you were under exposed, right?"

Ah. Yes, that would do it.

See, in my camera you can set the Zebra Stripe Level to show peaking at various intervals (like 100%--truly overblown, or 75%--so you see where someone is being hit by light in a darker room). Since I didn't realize the Zebra level had been adjusted, I just went with the assumption that it was telling me what I wanted to know.

I should have reset the settings on my camera before shooting.

And if you have custom settings on your camera, you should do the same. And you should also keep track of what settings you used on your last successful shoot, just in case you need to recreate the look in the future.

An Overblown Image

The lesson: Don't trust your equipment unless you know the settings are where you want them to be. ...and this is why a lot of low-end/consumer cameras do so well: They give you less control so you have less of an opportunity to mess something up.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Pre-Production Props

When I first started making movies with a home camera and no editing software, my movies consisted of what I had around the house.

They also tended to be boring or only funny to me.

...much like a lot of YouTube content.

But over the years as I've worked on more and more important material, I've had to wrestle through pre-production and post-production a lot more. I've had to consider message, audience, quality, pacing and the like.

I've also had to start looking for props.

And that can be a killer. I'm shooting a two minute piece tomorrow with a single actress in a kitchen. She's going to cut an apple, pull a pie from the oven, and eat it. That's the gist of the piece.

So, I've got two lighting setups to do and I need to find the following (which I scribbled down while glancing through my script):

Apple Core Props


I think we tend to forget just how many little things we need to make a movie. One more reason why pre-production is so important.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Now That's HD

I went to the Library on Saturday.

I go every Saturday to find more movies to watch. While there, I decided to glance at the few Blu-ray titles they had available. And one of the titles totally blew me away. That's right, they had:

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ... in HD!

I mean, when I consider the quality of 1950 film stock, it typically screams: Watch me in HD!

In HD!

...again, I question why people are so hyped about this product.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

Ps. I'm not the only one who says that this film was "not meant for HD."

We Get the Point

I got to see Twilight today. And I enjoyed it. Of course, if you didn't, feel free to pop by Rotten Tomatoes for some Twilight fodder.

Now, I know I've seen Kristen around, but I didn't realize she was the actress in this movie. And can you blame me?

Kristen Comparison

I mean, in the poster image she is this warm, cute looking girl with a soft jawline. But in the film, and in many other photos, she's washed out and has a rather angular jaw. The major connection between the two images above is her mildly stoned look. <smile>

But it wasn't Kristen that bothered me in Twilight. What got to me was the number of times the camera would pan away from a scene (a typically good move to ease the audience into the next moment), hold for a while on trees (or something), and then: WHAM! we cut back to the same scene. For instance:

Hey look: They're in a tree. [pan away to forest shot]
[Cut back] No, really, they're in a tree.
[Cut to another shot, farther away now] Look, they are actually in a tree.
[Helicopter shot] Yep, those two kids are really, honestly, for real, in a tree.

Wait? So, I'm confused now... they're where again?

Lesson from Twilight: If you pan away from a moment cut to the next part of your story. We get the point.

In other news, I saw a movie with Camilla Belle when she was younger and at one moment she totally raised one eyebrow in a totally fantastic way.

Young Camilla

And she's going to be in another movie coming up. Hopefully it's better than the one that put her in a rather hideous greenish-blue dress type thingy.


So, yeah, despite how likely we are to get another cheesy flick, I'm pretty excited to see another Camilla Belle movie.

But you already knew that.

You got the point.

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father


You Can't Take Back Your Words

...sometimes not even with blogs.

Ever since Google announced their Custom Time™ option on April 1, 2008, the ethical issues surrounding email and time manipulation have been hotly debated1.

But what about taking back an email? I know of a select few clients that allow you to take back an unread email... but that's not a common feature. Other systems allow you to request a "recall" of the message you sent, but even that doesn't fully work and can't erase what others have read.

Much like the impossibility of taking back something you said that now hangs in the air like a lead weight, you can't bring back an email once it is loosed on cyberspace. The same is true of blog posts with an RSS feed. I've read numerous posts that, after posting, had been deleted by the author. In fact, I've commented on posts long deleted and sent people a copy of the post they bemoaned deleting. All of them expressed surprise that their post had not completely vanished from the world wide web.

Why am I talking about this?

Because I replied individually to an email today that had text in it that should not have been seen by most of the people on the mailing list. Thankfully the email was recalled, but I don't know how many of the recipients read what I had before the message was revised.

This caution applies to email, blogs, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and many other web tools: Be very careful before you put anything out there for the world to see.

And be careful what you say as well.

Honestly, that's just good advice all around.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

1Citation needed.


Dude, IMDb Talks to Me

So, after yesterday's rant, I got a comment from the founder and managing director of IMDb himself!

I did not expect that in the least, and it was a very pleasant surprise <smile>.

Granted, I get Google Alerts for certain things so I can keep a pulse on what people are saying about those topics as well. And, honestly, if you have a vested interest in something, it's a good idea to create an alert for that. It's good to be on top of what's being said.

So, lesson 1: Keep tabs on things important to you.

But lesson 2 is far more important, and is why you should follow through with lesson 1: Respond graciously and helpfully to everyone. If they sing your praises, thank them. If they bash you, provide helpful information, assistance, or apologies to make it better.

And that's exactly what Col Needham did for me.

Excellent example.

I now more fully understand why I can't just add an image to my own bio. And that's okay. It would still be nice to add things to my own account for free though... <smile>

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Dude, IMDb the Net is Free

Okay, so after yesterday's very exciting news I went to IMDb to try to add an image (or three) of myself to my profile.

I mean, everyone wants to know what I look like now, right? How annoying is it to go to a person's profile and be met with the blank "No Photo Available" message?


So I happily created some profile pictures and go through the steps of adding one. Everything is going along swimmingly until I get to the final step and see:

Gimme Money


Come on. Even Google's pathetic image space is a Gig. You can upload photos to just about any other site, so why does a majorly ad-supported site require you to pay money to add an image to your own profile?

It seems as though someone has failed to inform these media guys that the interwebs are free.

...most of the time.

When you learn this lesson, IMDb, feel free to use one of these for my profile:

Some IMDb Profile Pictures

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


I'm Back!

...and I'm on IMDb.

That's all I have to say.