Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Convert VHS to DVD to MP3

"It took me 3 hours to convert this video to the proper format."

I understood the frustration. Even with fairly sophisticated tools, it can be pain to convert files from one kind to another. Currently, my project is to convert a VHS to MP3. The video is old and unnecessary. My mom thinks the content is great, but would rather read it. So... how do we go about transferring a VHS to text? Here's what I've finally come up with:

Step 1: We have a VHS player that automatically copies to DVD. Cake.

I dropped my DVD into my computer and tried to rip the audio straight out. No can do. The video files are a jumbled mess of multiple files that do not play sequentially. In fact, I was unable to find the start point anywhere.

Messy DVD Files

Step 2: Open DVD in DVDShrink and "Backup!" the "Main Movie Title" from the DVD.

This makes the once four separate VTS files into one.

Step 3: Fire up VLC and "Convert/Save" to an .mp3 file.

Step 4: (optional) Open the .mp3 in Audacity for further cleanup/editing and export.

I believe the plan is to play the audio to a dictation program which will-theoretically--convert it to text. Here's hoping!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


We Don't Like Surprises

Yes, I've been watching a teen vampire show. It's surprisingly clever, and it's giving me blog fodder. So, I'll stick with it for now.

There's a tussle between two boys--who have been at each other's throats for many episodes now--but after getting punched one asks the other, "Why are you like this?"

"I don't know," the other replies, as he stumbles into a new camera angle that looks like this:

See the Moon There?

Earlier in this episode we learned that these two characters like sketching fantasy characters and monsters. So we, as an audience--even if you're still not sure what the moon has to do with vampires--are prepped for the "big reveal" later in the series. Granted, I don't know for sure yet, but it's coming...

Speaking of: I was horribly disappointed by this moment in Game of Thrones:

The Twist Out of Nowhere

I realize that moment is in the book. I get that it came out of nowhere in the book. I hear that people threw their copies of the book against the wall when they read this. I hear something similar happened when people saw this moment on screen.


I don't think it's for the same reason that the author and the producers think. It's not because it's earth shattering or genre-bending or so intense. People are angry because this event comes completely out of the blue.

What does this mean?

We don't like surprises. Not at all. We like twists--we love twists--but only when we see them coming. Don't spell it out, but let us know that something--something crazy--is headed our way. Then when the impossible happens, like, say, a main character suddenly gets axed, we'll jump up and down, scream, cry, hug our friends, rant and rave about the moment... but we'll have had fun. As it was with the moment above, I wandered upstairs and said to my wife, "Umm... I think that just happened. I guess I'll find out if it really did next episode."

It was such a surprise that it felt like a dream sequence, not a major plot point.

Give your audience a chance to come along in the journey. Don't tell them stand in the middle of the road and then hit them with a tank. That's not any fun.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Faking Scars vs Fake Scars

I've mentioned making fake blood for videos before. But this week, while watching a teen vampire television show, I noticed a shot where the fake wound looked, well, fake.

Fake Scar

Part of the problem was that this character's bite was all of an hour old--in the show--and already it looked like the wound was scarring, something I wouldn't expect for more than week.

Lesson 1: Make sure your makeup fits the scene. You may be great at using latex to make scars... but that's not very important if you need an open wound instead.

Related to this: liquid latex is awesome, but once it sets, the stuff is going to bend and stretch like flesh, not a puncture. If you need holes, you need a different kind of makeup... or glue (which is more like the latex, but... oh well).

Lesson 2: I'm all for using low-tech and inexpensive tools, but use the right stuff if you need a specific look.

Have you done any makeup projects recently? How'd they turn out?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


YouTube Supports 4K Video

This simply blew my mind today: You can upload 4K video to YouTube. I guess this is, like, really, really old hat (read: I'm more than a year behind the times)... but... whoa!

Video at 4096 pixels compared to your HD TV

Crazy. Awesome!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Don't Neglect the Needed Moments

Priest was a moderately enjoyable ride... but it could have been so much better had it included two shots.


This 87min movie would have been much improved with less than 6 seconds of missing footage.

Missing Shot 1: Walk it off
Our hero steps off a ledge into an almost bottomless pit. We cut away to other action for a while and come back to him, now at the bottom... walking around.

Huh? How did that happen?

Did he float to the bottom? Did he absorb the shock like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld? Did he have a cool roll move which transferred the force into horizontal momentum? We don't know. And that's the problem. Show us what happened. Help us understand how this character is awesome. And if you do, we'll cheer for him all the more. As it is, we're left scratching our heads wondering what transpired while we were forced to look away.

Missing Shot 2: Take one for the girl
Now, at the end of the movie, our hero is clinging to the side of a speeding train while clasping the hand of a young lady who will fall to her death without him.

Then the train blows up.

He must swing the girl and launch them both away from the blast. When the dust settles, we see the girl in his arms, shaken, but unscathed.

Again: What?

In the flying debris, smoke, and the various shots of what happened to other characters in those important moments, we lost the most important moment of all: The one where our hero saves the girl. We never see him tuck her onto his chest while he uses his back to absorb the impact. We don't see him roll, careful to keep her body shielded in his arms. We are left to imagine how cool that moment must have been for them to survive such a thing.

If they had bothered to get two seconds of landing in a pit and walking away as well as three seconds of bouncing along the desert floor amid a splintering train, we'd have cheered. Missing these needed moments, the rest of the special effects lose their impact. Visuals must support the story.

Those 5 seconds would have made a world of difference. But those two moments weren't the only things left out of the movie. Key motivations and backstory elements were conspicuously absent. They weren't that important for an action horror flick, but they would have helped.

As you work on your productions, carefully consider those needed moments that make your story matter.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


The Future of the Photo Montage

I was asked by a friend to create a photo montage for her wedding. I agreed and talked with her about her picture selections and the style she wanted for the piece. We chatted about messaging and mood. Armed with a good sense of what I'd do with the video, I got ready to edit.

Then the groom-to-be said he'd like to try putting the piece together himself. He's been learning iMovie and would like the extra practice. Plus, with the latest software, he has all sorts of font styles, image movement options, pacing controls and automation tools whereby he can toss the thing together in a couple of hours... tops.

Me? I'm in the middle of learning an inexpensive but fairly powerful Non-Linear Editing program which I was going to use for this project. My program contains no fancy bells and whistles for automating photo montages. I'd be doing absolutely everything by hand, one click at a time... while wrestling a new NLE.

Honestly, iMovie is probably the better choice. I predict his version will be excellent and take him very little time.

This got me thinking about the future of photo montage editing.

Prediction 1: Automated programs will do a better job of cutting a photo montage if the machine is given a few seconds and the human an hour or so.

What needs to happen to make this a reality?

First, computers will need to use their face recognition ability to frame photos and--where applicable--apply a subtle zoom in. If I say I want a photo montage for my friend's wedding, the computer should have me identify which friends, then use the rule of thirds for framing and zoom in on the appropriate people in each photo. This should be doable within the year.

Second, the computer will need to find the beat of the song and trim the duration of each photo to fit the music. Considering graphical visualizers can already change style on the beat, there is no reason a computer couldn't do this right now.

Third, developers will need some simple tweaking tools which enable a human to show a computer where things need to change. A "slow down" button, for instance, may be needed if the computer decides the memorial video should move like an awards banquet montage. Of course, for starters, a few standard presets would give you most of the parameters you'd need.

Prediction 2: Computers will eventually be able to assemble photos, pick music, and put the whole thing together with almost no human interaction.

A friend posts: It's my birthday! You, inspired, click a "make montage" button for this announcement. The computer finds all the photos for this individual, selects the music he or she likes, and spits out a montage to celebrate. Cool! But not much different from above, assuming this is connected to a site that collects personal data about a person's preferences and tastes.

Even better: A distant relative--who distrusts the internet entirely--gets a promotion. You don't really know this person, but your mom thinks it would be nice to send them a celebratory video. You find a couple pictures in your family photo album, include something about the promotion, and feed that into your Photo Montage Tool. Within minutes it's uploaded a video with hundreds of pictures, fancy but obscure graphical elements, and a music style you didn't even know existed. Your relative contacts your mom praising your video as "spot on."

How'd the computer do it?

First, the computer found other pictures of your relative using something akin to Google's experimental "more like this" image search tool.

Second, the computer compared the look and feel of your relative to a "what these kinds of people like" database based on information collected from things like Facebook's Flair and Pinterest. This will also include music selections.

After that, it's cake.

A part of me mourns the loss of "creative expression" and the need for me to help out with these kinds of projects. On the other hand, the only thing that used to separate me from this engaged couple was the know-how to toss a photo montage together with my expensive program. I could crop and move and sync, and they couldn't. Today, most phones can do a pretty good job without any human input. My usefulness is quickly fading away.

This, of course, raises questions about the difference between art and assembly. How much of a production is governed by rules, and how much needs that spark of creativity? What is creativity anyway? And when well-proven rules can be programmed into a machine, to what should humans next apply their artistry and time?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Creative Commons Footage from YouTube

I am totally excited about this, though we'll see how useful it all ends up being. YouTube now allows you to offer your footage via Creative Commons and use other's Creative Commons material in your own productions.

Sweet! I love the idea. With how easy it is to get great footage these days, I can totally see a future where low/no-budget producers can get similar shots to those who spend hundreds on video clips. Establishing shots and fly-overs are out of reach for so many students... but, perhaps, no more!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Comic(book) Relief

Fifteen minutes into my first viewing of Saving Private Ryan, I turned to my friend and asked, "Are they going to keep this up for the next two hours?"

We're not wired in such a way as to sustain continuous abuse. To escape on-going pain in life we turn to coping mechanisms. In media, we turn to something else. Drama lives off conflict. For it to affect us it has to matter. But for things to matter, they often have to be pretty intense. But when things are intense for too long, we shut down. So filmmakers have the difficult job of keeping you on the edge, but letting up enough so you don't tune out.

This break from the action is often accomplished through comic relief. Those two totally obnoxious characters that have absolutely nothing to do with the story? They're in the movie to give you something to laugh at when things get too intense.

Bollywood films employ song and dance. When things are getting too hot, the whole town turns out to sing about it.

Sucker Punch takes a different tack. To escape the intense brutality of the unfolding drama, we are given "guy movie" eye candy: Girls in miniskirts taking out bad guys.

Comic(book) relief totally works for me. Song and dance is my second choice. But I typically find comic relief distracting, annoying and detrimental to a movie. I really like that filmmakers are exploring alternate ways of breaking the tension. And, in the case of Sucker Punch, they killed it!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Sucker Punch: Wins and Losses

Revenge flicks have long bothered me. You spend two hours watching the characters you care about get hurt, harassed, horrified and humiliated. Then, in the last couple of minutes, you get to watch the villain die to a bullet through the head.

Hardly seems fair.

But Sucker Punch demonstrates why this has to happen. For a wound to hurt, it has to be a wound you feel. When you're taking out steampunk Nazis, you don't feel for them. When you're slicing an evil robot in half, you cheer. When you take out a samurai wielding a wicked-huge gun, you clap your hands in glee. But when your sister gets shot right before your eyes by a heartless crime lord... oh, you feel it.

When two of your friends are murdered before your eyes, it hurts.

The win is temporary. More demons will follow the last wave. But the loss is permanent. Your sister is not coming back from the dead.

Sucker Punch is an excellent reminder that over-the-top stylized violence can be a ton of fun while, at the same time, a single bullet can rip your soul open. There's an emotional connection with the characters you care about. In an age when some blame violent media with school shootings, I take a different perspective. Violent movies themselves demonstrate the difference between enemies and allies. We do not become the heartless, soulless, faceless monsters our characters destroy. Instead, something else must happen in the mind of a murder. The victim must not be a victim. The person you kill must become a monster, a barrier, a fiend. Thus, our desensitization comes not from over-stimulation but dehumanization.

The win, then, is that violent media is not the problem. The loss, however, is that we can so easily mistake a person for a parasite.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Sucker Punch: Shallow Tales

[NB: This post contains huge spoilers for Sucker Punch.]

On the heels of her mother's death, a young woman escapes the sexual advances of her evil stepfather. He then threatens the young woman's little sister. In her attempts to save her sister, the young woman accidentally shoots her and is carried off to an insane asylum.

We're not even five minutes into the movie.

By the end, this young woman has brought together a band of frightened girls who are then willing to sacrifice their lives for one another. They use their unique skills and opportunities to complete their goals. Meanwhile, they are hounded by a powerful adversary who is on to their every move. In the end, the young woman must learn what freedom is and how much sacrifice is required to attain it.

I ask you: Is this a shallow story?

It's not happy. It's not pleasant. It's not particularly complicated. There are no huge "reveals" that make a good guy bad or a bad guy good. But it's certainly not shallow. In fact, this story has at least as much to say about love and loss as Romeo and Juliet... with higher motivations.

I don't understand how critics miss this. Granted, I was sucker punched by the story. I didn't know this period piece was going to be the foundation of a film about cute girls beating up samurai, Nazis, dragons and robots. But it hits you and it hits you hard.

My guess is that Sucker Punch suffers the same fate as The Village. In fact, both films share a similar rating arch. The issue is not with either movie, but with film-going critics who can't accept the fact that they saw a film with a story not spelled out for them in the trailer. For what ever reason, critics complain about lack of depth when a movie pulls a punch on them.

That's unfair.

Say you didn't like the story. Complain about how it wasn't executed excellently. Admit it hurt too much. Confess that your expectations were shattered. But don't complain that it's a shallow tale when you are simply out of your depth.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Old Spice: Behind the Scenes

How do you make a crazy complex commercial in what appears to be a single take?

Well, you take the time to create a crazy complex set and shoot the commercial in one take. That's how. See for yourself:

Old Spice: Behind the Scenes

Granted, you also need to have a very talented group of computer graphics people to "fix it in post" as well...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor