Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Licensing Photos

Now, you already know that you can't use images you find online unless you have been given specific permission to do so. Those pictures belong to someone else and you need to keep your grubby little mouse pointer to yourself. Don't copy, use, or duplicate those images as they aren't yours.

And if there's someone in the picture, you need to make sure the photographer has permission from the models so you can use their image in your project.

But pictures of yourself?

Knock yourself out. If you want to be crazy and post pictures, go for it. Though, you may want to be careful. And if a family member decides to take a sweet picture of you, you can probably post that too without too much concern.

My Family Hiking

But here's the kicker: Your Senior Picture, family portrait, wedding photos... nope.

You are not allowed to post those online. You don't own them.

Crazy! I know. They're of me, for crying out loud! I hear ya. I paid them hundreds--if not thousands--of dollars! You're right. I bought these pictures, so they're mine!

When you pay a professional photographer to take pictures for you, you are paying for their time, their work, and a license of the images. That license may include web distribution, reproduction, and extra printing... but probably not.

Why is this important?

Well, it means you can't legally take a picture of, say, your firm's president from a recent family portrait session and use that image on your firm's advertising materials.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

First, you need to purchase all the rights to the image for a few hundred bucks, and then you're good to go.

So, remember: Just because the image is of you, you may not have the right to reproduce it or share it. You may only have the right to look at it--courtesy of the wonderful thing called "licensing" within media law.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


When Killers Die

Hype is more exciting than normalcy.


But at a certain point, very early on, it also gets old. Like, in the case of all the "killers" that come out. In fact, there are so many "killers" that I feel like we're not human at all anymore, but rather dancer [sic].

Red, the P2 Killer. Android, the iPhone Killer. Blu-ray, the DVD Killer. Silverlight, the Flash Killer. ...on and on...

What's interesting to me is that thus far none of those have killed anything, and none of them have really taken off.

So imagine my reaction when I heard about Microsoft's Wii Killer: Natal.

[guys, it's not a good sign when your official homepage doesn't exist... just so you know. Thankfully, Wikipedia has you covered]

Actually, it's very cool technology (if it works). Their demonstration (sorry, the person added some very lame annotations to the video--including an f-bomb) isn't very good--they need a better speaker and a more polished presentation. Their trailers aren't all that credible, and we really don't know how well this system is going to work. But the idea is cool. ...except... Nintendo appeals to kids and grandmas who like racing cows, whereas Xbox appeals to people like my brother who like FPSs or games where you brutally rip people apart in a spray of blood.

Different market.

So how will Natal do?

It's really hard to say because of where it is right now (i.e. not here yet). But my guess is that this will be yet another "killer" that dies.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


The Language of Computers

Shift Click

If you use computers on a daily basis--and I assume you do--then these all make perfect sense. Completely normal. Even the Escape Key is perfectly comfortable on your keyboard, though you've probably rarely found a use for it. But this normalcy is completely foreign to some.

This evening I went over to visit with a family from our church--their daughter is in our Sunday School class--to help the woman figure out how to put music and pictures onto her iPod Nano. Within the first few minutes of sitting down at her computer we had covered:

  • The difference between a Folder and her Desktop
  • Documents vs. Music
  • User accounts
  • Left click vs. right click
  • Devices, hard drives, and media
  • Folder sorting/organization
  • and the iTunes interface

After that we showed her how to "import" music from her CDs, drag and drop them onto her iPod, and how to rename music files that did not automatically update. And I realized again that computers are anything but "intuitive". Rather, we learn where to expect to find things and can typically figure it out. As we encounter new programs and interfaces, these layouts shift and we have to go hunting again.

Left or right click? Well, is this a function that you want to activate or possibly alter/further define? How do you decide?

Why is it called "File" that ultimately lets you Open, Save, Create New, while "Edit" is where you Copy and Paste? I'm not totally sure. I mean, I get it, I do, but it's not the first thing people think of... unless they've been in computers for a long time.

And honestly, as I poked around the latest version of iTunes on a Vista machine, I felt a little lost now and again. 'Where did they move that feature now?' I found myself wondering every now again. 'I know where it used to be...' And so I'm lost as well, but I just happen to know roughly what I'm looking for.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


It Cuts Both Ways

I was watching a TV episode this evening and we cut to a scene with a little boy. It was a funeral and the coffin was headed out of the church to the cemetery.

The scene was mostly closeups on the boy's face as the coffin moves in the foreground:


The pallbearers move on toward the waiting hearse.

But wait, the coffin is moving past the boy again.


This scene is horribly cut! They are repeating action in the cutting. I can't believe how shoddy the editing it for this scene. You've got to me kidding me! I mean, here they are putting the coffin into the hearse.

Cut to the pallbearers opening the hearse doors...


There are two coffins?

Oh, that makes sense. Got it. Okay, not so bad anymore.

"Son," the man on the screen says, "I'm sorry about your mum and dad."

But the scene was bad. I was confused. I didn't know there were two coffins until they practically came out and told me. And if I wasn't slightly more astute, it would have taken until they said the line before I would have figured it out. And that makes it a very bad scene.

How could they have avoided this problem?

An establishing shot. And they could have had their pick:

  • Two hearses in front of a church
  • Two coffins in the viewing room
  • A wide shot of the processional exiting the church
  • The boy's POV of the two caskets
  • A slightly wider angle of the boy so we could see what was happening

But no. The entire scene was close in, personal, an individual experience focused on emotion and loss. And because of that, the audience was Lost.

I think many student films suffer from this same "claustrophobia" in that we rarely establish our scene. Establishing shots are difficult to pull off--in fact, I don't think we ever talked about them in film school--but they are essential to give your audience context for what is happening and where.

And here, a major scene from an excellent show was ruined because they never gave us a glimpse at what was going on.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


F Is For Font

I've written about the difference between owning and licensing media before. But now I'm delving into a whole new world of media production:

Graphic design.

And with graphic design comes fonts. Fonts of every shape, size, style, and feel.

Fonts -- Yes, yes, I know

You have to buy fonts to use them--unless you can find them legitimately for free. But what can you do with them? What does it mean to have a "copyrighted font" at your disposal? I mean, if you read some of the legal documents it appears that all you can do it buy the font and look at it on your own computer and no where else (not even your other computer).

So I started digging. Here is what I have found:

  1. Fonts are technically "software" now which means:
    • a) You can't give copies of it to others, or put it on another computer unless you have permission from the people who hold the copyright
    • b) You can't modify the font or change the name as this would be like altering code
    • c) You probably shouldn't embed a font into a document unless you're sure you're allowed to
  2. If you have any questions about what you can and can't do with a font, check the EULA (end user license agreement)
  3. Every EULA is radically different from all the others, so check the EULA if you have questions
  4. Seriously, no one can give any legal advice; the EULA is supreme
  5. is impossible to find a copy of any font's EULA

Yep, that wasn't helpful.

Here is what I have concluded: If you have a license to use a font--and you do if you purchased a copy of Word, Photoshop, or paid for your computer's operating system (which is typically included in the price of your computer), or have downloaded a program/operating system legitimately for free (like a Linux distribution or GIMP), or have paid for a font you downloaded--then the following rules apply:

1. Do not share the font. Just like software and other digital media, you can't share, copy, or give away this font to anyone else.
2. Feel free to use the font. The big, scary copyright laws seem to have much more to do with protecting the font file, and less to do with how you can use that font file in your programs. For instance, yes, the EULA may say that you can't "modify the font" in any way--which would seem to imply that you can't take your Liquify tool and stretch the bottom of the "R" a little, but this is not the case. You just can't go into a font editing program, stretch the "R" a little and resave the font (as that would be a derivative work).

So, near as I can tell: Feel free to use the fonts in your programs however you like to make logos, header images, layouts, and other fun images. It is absolutely within your licensed right to do so.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Other Video Sites

There are several main video sites that I know of--and probably a handful more with which I am still unfamiliar--places like YouTube, Vimeo, and others. But then there are offshoots, like Tangle, that try to cash in on the success of these free video hosting/sharing sites.

With mixed results.

TeacherTube and HomeschoolViewTube are two examples of sites that are, well, floundering. These are niche sites that focus on a particular type of video to get people to congregate there. Here's the problem with these kinds of sites:

There's no need for them.

YouTube, which is more ubiquitous, will host these videos just fine. And then you have the power of Google behind you too. Not that you couldn't host your videos on these other sites... but it doesn't gain you anything to do so. Unless they took off. Which would require people uploading tons of useful content there. And, well, you just can't compete with YouTube's insane amount of content (I heard a rumor it was close to 24 hours of footage every hour... but I can't confirm that so it may just be web hype).

Vimeo, on the other hand, offers you a place to upload huge video files, and so caters to the filmmakers of the world.

Other sites of a more... <cough> questionable nature provide those videos that are not as readily accepted on YouTube. So those have a natural niche as well.

But these other video sites--like those mentioned above--offer nothing new. And that is why they are floundering with only a handful of clips.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


I Am Not a Videographer

I graduated with a degree in Motion Picture Production. Ever since I started to study film--and not just make movies for fun--I have focused on filmmaking. When I shoot events, I shoot them like they were a movie as much as possible. I attend rehearsals, I practice my motion, I consider my options for angles... and I work with everyone at the event so I can get the best shots possible.

And I tend to like what I get after cutting an hour long event down to a few minutes of brilliance.

I am not a videographer. I've only shot two dance recitals in my life, and neither of them went how I would have liked. The first was a mad scramble to try to get everything set up properly and then grab some good shots from the back of the theatre--which, from my experience shooting weddings, is not the way to get good footage. In the end, I didn't even get the kinds of shots my friend wanted and the whole thing ended up almost completely unusable.

Which, going from a professional filmmaker to a worthless videographer didn't help endear me to the process.

The second event was last night. The location was over an hour and a half away and traffic was unaccountably slow. This meant I only had a few minutes to set up. I arrived and no one knew I was supposed to be there. My one contact was busy trying to get the event started, so I just did my own thing. I was told where I could shoot (which turned out to be great because I was right next to the sound guy who was kind enough to get me an audio feed), and the event just started. No warning whatsoever.

As a filmmaker, all of this smacked against my production values. Where's the "lights, camera, action"? Wouldn't it be good to check the audio feed before we get going so we know we have the microphones in the mix as well? We didn't. And, again, I found myself in the videographer's position: in the back.

I couldn't white balance between dances--where they change the light colors and throw everything out of whack. And I had no say over the color of the lights or the costumes--several times cherry red, which "bleeds" and smears on camera. I had no idea where the action was going to be next. And, honestly, since I haven't shot very many dance recitals, I found myself panning to the wrong place and missing the interesting action.

Oh, and the event was well over two hours long.

Six hours after I left, I was back home. I had footage I wasn't proud of, of an event that wasn't particularly interesting, with no focus on a particular person or event that an audience would want to watch again. Granted, I've been to dancer's houses when they've shown me their recital tapes. I realize that seeing the thirty seconds of themselves on a two hour DVD makes it worth watching the whole thing to them.

But me?

Editing is what makes dancing worth watching.

Sorry, this post drifted into my personal frustrations a wee bit much. Let me sum up. I am not a videographer because:

  • I like to control my shooting environment
  • I like to rehearse my shots
  • I like to edit events down
  • I like to be in the midst of the action
  • I like to work with those I am shooting, not for them
  • I like to know the equipment is set properly
  • I like to adjust everything to get a better shot
  • I like to be in control
  • I like to like what I've produced at the end of the day

I have a new respect for videographers. They have a rough job, and I see now that it requires many hours of practice to get good at it.

But I'm not sure I'll ever get those skills because I hate not producing stellar footage for people in the mean time, and I hate driving to places I've never been (as I tend to get lost). It's just not worth the stress on my end, and the potential failure to get anything usable.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


So You Think You Want This?

If you've ever thought about going into media production, you should watch the video on this post first. I actually haven't had many examples of this happen to me, but there's definitely a vibe in that direction.

Actually, I tend to scare people off right away so this doesn't happen to me. I tell potential clients exactly how expensive it's going to be and that there are plenty of low-end videographers out there if they're just looking for someone to hold a camera and press record.

I'm not sure, but I think they tend to go that route--or sometimes take my suggestion that for that price they could ask their Uncle Earl to do it for them.

I find myself reminding people of the Production Triangle often. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don't.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Lost: Storytelling with Editing

My best friend Jason looked at me and said, "I see what you mean about telling the story with editing."

We had just finished watching an episode of Lost, and don't worry, I'm not going to give away any spoilers if you're still catching up like we are. I had no idea what part of the show he was referring to, but I was very interested in what he had noticed. Thankfully, he continued without me having to prompt him:

"Every time LaFleur talks about his life here, they cut to Juliette."


And he's absolutely right. I hadn't noticed--the great editor and film guy that I am <cough>--but thinking back I could see it. The filmmakers could have done something else, like cut to his job paraphernalia or a group of his friends listening in or just left the camera on him so we know that he's really taking responsibility for his new position seriously. But no. Instead, the filmmakers wanted to remind us, again and again, that LaFleur and Juliette are an item... and a serious one at that.

Editing is often subtle--or, at least, unobtrusive when it's beating you over the head with a theme. Keep in mind: How you edit your movie can dramatically shift what you tell your audience to think.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor



I find myself digging through old posts to try to find something I wrote about this or that. So today, I'd had enough; I added a search feature so you and I can find information more quickly.

Go ahead--give the new search feature a try.

For instance, earlier today I couldn't remember what I'd said about converting .mp3s to .mp4s... had I had the search feature enabled then, I could have done a quick "mp4" search and found exactly what I needed.

Sweet, eh?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Pixar, 3D, and Up

I went to see Up tonight in digital RealD.

RealD Glasses Bag

It's been a long time since I've seen anything in 3D--almost since Captain EO 20 years ago. Naturally, I don't remember much about the red and blue experience. My wife says that it is much, much better.

Because I wear glasses, they pushed the 3D glasses farther down my nose. This, near as I can tell, caused any major motion to blur out. When I pressed my finger against the bridge of the glasses to keep them closer to my eyes the blurring seemed to go away. This definitely detracted from the smoothness of the digital projection and made the 3D aspect annoying at parts.

As for the movie?

Well, Pixar has done it again. Every trailer they release makes me scratch my head and say, "They're doing a movie about that?"

A movie about toys? What are they going to do with that lame plot?
A movie about monsters? What could they do with that?
A movie about fish? Come on: Boring!
A movie about cars? NASCAR? Are you serious?
A movie about a... trash robot?
A movie about a guy with balloons attached to his house and an annoying kid that tags along? Give me a break.

And every time--every time--the story is engaging, the world rich, and the topics they cover very moving and insightful. So definitely go see it, though it may not be worth the $13 when you will be able to get the special edition DVD for the cost of two tickets...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor