Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


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