Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Find Your Audience and Ignore Complainers

My wife's new favorite movie is Fighterman Singam:

It's in Tamil. There are no subtitles. She used Wikipedia to learn the plot. She thinks Suriya is attractive and super cool.

The movie is ridiculously over-the-top in a distinctly Indian kind of way. The violence is predominantly hand-to-hand where a slap to the face sends grown men flying through the air. Rather than cutting through some scenes, they simply speed up the shot to get to the next important line of dialog; it's almost as if you're fast forwarding through sections of the film. I wouldn't be surprised if they did this because they didn't have enough "coverage" of the scene to edit. They simply used what they had.

There is an important lesson here: This is not my kind of movie. I could write several blog posts about all the things they do wrong and that don't work. But my wife enjoys the flick. She's part of the "audience" for this movie. And me? Why try to cater to me? I'm not the demographic. Ignore my complaints and keep making movies that others find awesome.

I, personally, had a ton of fun watching Sucker Punch (though, apart from the first five minutes, the film is already showing its age). One of my friends didn't enjoy it at all. And there are many more examples where I disagree with others about a movie. And that's okay.

As you develop your skills, it's okay if you make a movie that only your mom likes. I often critique Christian films for their horrible execution, but there is an audience for these preachy, lame excuses for a story. And while growing in our ability is important--and I think Christian filmmakers should strive for excellence--it's probably best to ignore complainers like me.

Keep making movies for your audience because the best way to improve is to practice.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Movies and Our Existential Plight

The Time Robot xkcd strip makes an excellent point about movie plots:

we impose narratives on life's random chaos to distract us from our existential plight

Philosophically, it seems, Randall and I are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The comic above, for example, focuses squarely on the inevitability of death (though, paradoxically, in comedic form). Seen this way, entertaining movies--like Terminator--are mere diversions to help us ignore our ultimate, meaningless end.

I see stories, film or otherwise, as more a reminder of the continuity of life. Indeed, as C.S. Lewis points out again and again, we discover in myth the thing that endures in the constantly changing realm of philosophy. Thus, stories are not dissipations of our momentary existence, but the very thing that gives our fleeting lives meaning. As filmmakers, our movies answer our existential plight by hinting--in one way or another--at the eternal life to come. When seen this way, Terminator becomes a movie that touches on the value of a human life, the importance of human dominion, the sorry state of the world, and the new world to come where suffering is removed in a restored relationship with God. There are important themes like the need for a savior yet a requirement that we act as well (James 2:26).

Thinking, as Randall does, about movies and our existential plight, leads him to the conclusion that we are merely coming up with stories to make us feel better about our lives. I would argue that movies remind us--in subtle, yet powerful ways--that there is more to existence than "crude matter." No, as Yoda says: "Luminous beings are we."

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

NB: xkcd often contains inappropriate content.


Image Inspiration: Russian Firing Squad

A Fly on the Wall

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Piracy, Remix, and the Law

There is an amazing documentary about The Pirate Bay trial. If you're interested in media production--and think about piracy and pay--it's a well-made chance to get a taste of what's out there:

I also highly recommend watching all four parts of Everything Is a Remix if you haven't yet.

I, naturally, have my own opinions about all this. I think it's important for us, as content producers, to understand where the law currently stands, how popular culture currently responds, and the ramifications of both attempting to stop piracy and allowing it free-reign.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

P.S. It should go without saying, but downloading torrents is potentially dangerous to your machine.


Mac or PC for Beginning Filmmakers? Early 2013

Mac or PC

Five years ago, there was no question: If you were an aspiring filmmaker, you got yourself a Mac. Final Cut Pro was awesome and much smoother to use than Adobe's Premiere Pro. And if you were just getting started, iMovie HD with iLife gave you most of the tools you'd need... and even normal iMovie was light-years ahead of Windows Movie Maker. You could, of course, do video on a PC, but you'd be fighting your machine the whole time. Sometimes the huge price difference made it worth it go with Windows, but not often.

What does the video editing landscape look like today, here in early 2013?

Free options: Mac
There still isn't a truly solid free Windows-based editor. Windows Movie Maker is more of a joke than ever. So, if you're only going to make cat-videos, iMovie offers many more options. But Apple has also dumbed-down their tool, so it's not nearly enough for someone seeking to progress as an editor. Apple is the clear winner, but if you're editing at this level, you could make either system work. In fact, you may be better off using YouTube's editor or one of the many other web-based video editing options emerging. So, Apple wins this round, with growing web-based browsers coming in a close second. I hope that, within the year, we'll see online tools that far outpace the current offering, making this part of the discussion obsolete.

Inexpensive options: Windows
Apple does not have an intermediate level editor. Sony's latest Vegas Movie Studio editing suite costs less than $50 right now, and it gives you almost everything you could want in an editor. The major drawbacks: No customizable hotkeys and no great keying/masking options. Other than that, it gets the job done. Vegas, and others like it, are only available for the PC. So, if you're serious about making movies but don't have a ton of money to drop on a setup, you can purchase a killer machine and fantastic software for well under $900... that's simply not possible if you go Apple.

Professional options: Windows
Five years ago, Apple had FCP7... and it was fantastic. I used it regularly and created lots of professional DVDs and web videos. Then Apple killed--and then quietly brought back--their flagship editing program. In it's place, they offered a $300 app that, while slick, removed key professional features. Now dubbed "iMovie Pro" by professional editors, this tool does not yet "cut it" when you need to cut, and deliver, content. Adobe stepped up to fill this gap while Apple fumbled, and their suite is better than ever. Avid also continues to compete in this space.

Other thoughts:
  • Both Adobe and Avid can work on a Mac, but for the price, you get far more horsepower with a custom PC.
  • OSX continues to be a fantastic operating system, but Windows 8--building off the solid 7--is now a real challenger.
  • Final Cut Pro X will continue to improve. It takes a refreshingly open approach to the timeline, which is fantastic. In years to come, I believe Apple could again make it a staple for prosumer editors--like myself. Will they? That remains to be seen, but there is some interesting discussion on this front. For now, Apple is still on the high end of the price point, pushing out aspiring low-budget filmmakers.

The good news? While Windows is more a contender than ever, if you have a Mac, you can still make movies. So, it remains true in early 2013: As a beginning filmmaker, start with the tools you have and only upgrade when what you have limits your ability to tell your stories.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Shorter Superbowl Ads 2013

My favorite ad was:

GoPro: Dubstep Baby

Actually, only the second half of the commercial is worth much of anything... but those last few moments--especially around second 22--are fantastic. It shows off the slow-mo with hilarious ease. Love it.

And I would have liked Audi's commercial, had it been half as long. Watch it, and take note of where you're bored:

Audi: Prom

How should this spot have been cut? Start around :13 with "Hey, son, have fun tonight." The bit about him going alone has nothing to do with the story. Then cut out the needless limo and parking space shots (:22-:29). Get through the crowd a tad faster, and put the primal yell over the end screen. This thing could have easily been 30 seconds and so much better for it.

I make this point over and over again, but it bears repeating: Do not make your story a moment longer than it needs to be. Your audience can get bored in less than a minute. Need to see an example? Check out the two commercials in the "What to Watch" section of Assignment 11 from the Filmmaking 101 Free Film School course.

Then go cut your film in half.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor