I made a movie.
That’s almost a strange thing to say. I’ve been working on a zero budget short film for a little over a year now. When I say “zero budget” I mean I haven’t spent a dime on the film at this point in time outside of feeding my cast and crew who are generous enough to work with me for free. As much as I love filmmaking, it’s a bitch. But it’s a bitch I love dearly. There’s hundreds of things that can go wrong that you can’t expect or plan for. Production of the film has been halted several times due to a variety of different reasons.
When I started I had a script, two Canon 60D’s, some older Zeiss lenses, a DR-100, a shot gun mic, a lav, and a basic light kit. With that said the argument could be made that the film’s budget is the amount I paid for the gear. It’s a kit I built over time, piece by piece. But for the sake of argument, fair enough. The film cost me a couple grand to shoot.
From the start I decided I didn’t care about the gear. I have what I have, and I don’t give a damn about better cameras, better lights, better mics. Everything works just fine, so why spend the money on new stuff? Who cares? I know most people watching the film wouldn’t be sitting there judging me on what camera I used. People just want to be entertained. I think a lot of people forget that. I made this movie for an audience to enjoy on a very basic level. I’m sure I’ll be on the receiving end of a lot of negative comments from trolls and whoever else. Whatever. I made a film. I made a ton of mistakes along the way. I learned a ton. And I made it with every ounce of love I could have poured into it.
The next few blog posts about ‘Rollers’ are going to cover a variety of topics. It’ll be a ‘tell all’ of sorts. I’ll explain how we made it, the times we got super lucky, the physical and emotional toll making a movie takes on it’s creator(s), (never under estimate that) and the times where I screwed up…royally.
Hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes.
Till next time, keep shooting.
Neil Gaiman has been an inspiration to me for years, and I’ve been a fan of his work for longer than that. There’s not much more I could possibly add to what Neil says in this address during commencement at the University of the Arts. I just thought I’d share. Enjoy. Hopefully this is as aspiring to you as it is to me.
As most people undoubtedly have, I’ve been reading about all of these new cameras that have been released recently. I’ve read the blogs, the comments in my twitter feed, and I can honestly say I’m sick of all of it. Why people feel the need to argue publicly on twitter aggravates me to no end. Can’t you DM each other and save me from having to read post after post after post of you “making your point”? In the grand scheme of things, your point doesn’t matter.
Cameras don’t make cinematographers. Period.
I don’t care how well they see into the dark, what the damn bitrate is, how well they hold highlights. Nobody watching your films gives one shit about that extra stop in highlight control, except for you, and those pixel peepers out there. And what is that really? You scrutinize peoples work down to the pixel looking for noise? Moire? Who cares? I’ve seen plenty of hollywood movies that have scenes full of noise. Now if it’s so bad that it pulls average viewers OUT of the story, then you’ve got a legitimate problem.
There’s gear heads that buy the next new product the minute they are released. Why? Have you mastered any of your existing gear? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. If I were in some of your shoes I’d start a rental business. The plethora of gear out there is supposedly designed to help you make better images by eliminating camera shake, light pollution, etc. That’s all well and good. But there are those that are completely obsessed over it, and I wonder what exactly they are doing with it all. I’m starting to get really annoyed, correction, I’ve been really annoyed with these bloggers who consider themselves “experts”. Seems to me the only thing they may be even close to an expert at is gaining a following through their blog and social media. (I’m talking about just bloggers here. Not DP’s that happen to have a blog). What exactly are these bloggers “experts” on anyway? Fact sheets on the cameras? I wouldn’t hire 98% of them to DP a project I was directing. But perhaps I’m missing the point of their purpose.
There are some blogs I like reading and some that I can’t stand. I won’t mention specific blogs on here because that isn’t the point. Information is great. I like that some of these people get products to review and put them through their paces and see how they hold up in real situations. I think of it as a blog version of Consumer Reports. By all means, keep doing these. But some bloggers may shoot for a living. Some of them are even pretty arrogant about their own accomplishments. Pompous even, and then hide behind “sarcasm” when questioned about it. I wonder where that comes from? Sometimes sarcasm isn’t a good enough excuse for just being an asshole. At the end of the day you’re not a better person than somebody else because you’ve done more work. If anything you’re very lucky.
Master what you have and invest in what you NEED. By all means go invest in good tripod, it’s one of the best pieces of gear you’ll ever buy. But to that advice, I don’t care if you shot a conversation between two characters with your cameras locked off on cheap tripods. You think I’m going to be able to tell the difference on screen between a locked off camera sitting on a Miller or a $40 piece of shit? No way. Now if your pans and tilts aren’t fluid, then sure I’ll be able to tell, but locked off?
Lighting is very, very important. Light is what makes images. A T2i and a RED are still going to produce a shitty looking image if you don’t light your scene properly. You don’t need a $4000 Arri lighting kit either, it’s nice sure, but you don’t NEED it. What you need to do is look at light in your scene and ask yourself, does this look the way I need it to to tell my story? There’s a ton of inexpensive tricks you can do to modify light. If you can’t think of any, there’s a Hollywood DP whose been a big advocate for DSLR’s since the Canon 5D came along and changed everything. He shares a ton of info on his blog. For free.
So enough with the arguing about aliasing and what camera is better and blah blah blah. C300 this, Nikon that, Canon 4K DSLR, Unicorn RED, whatever. Enough. I’d be more impressed with a film shot entirely on iphones that’s lit beautifully, acted well, with great story telling. Entertain me. Make me care. Make me think. I won’t care what you shot it on. And neither will most anyone else. And the ones that do don’t matter.
The following content is graphic, and depicts the last moments, literally the last breaths of a dying albatross. So if you’d find that uncomfortable to watch, good.
Messages that aren’t powerful don’t command attention. They don’t make you think.
This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time since I first heard about the project. I’m not a environmentalist by any means, but pollution needs to be addressed. What’s happening to these birds and the rest of the wildlife in and around the Midway Islands is our fault. Collectively we should all feel some guilt about this situation. Collectively we should all try to do at least something about it, no matter how small.
The Midway Project is the brain child of Chris Jordan. Once a lawyer, Jordan hung up the legal gloves and became an artist. An artist with a camera, and a message that demands attention. The horrors that humanity is capable of is hard hear about, and much harder to see. I encourage you to have the courage to watch the two films above, and let them impact you. Our planet is angry, but we can all help do something about it. Whether it’s something as simple as deciding to recycle, or making a tax-deductible donation to the Midway Project, every little bit helps. We owe it to our planet, ourselves, and each other.
A few weeks ago I shot an impromptu short film for Amy. She was making some crayon art and wanted to document it for her blog. I started shooting. In the days after shooting this little piece, life got busy, and the transcoded footage just kinda lived on my hard drive for a while. Two weeks later I found myself having a very good reason to download Avid’s 30 day trial for Media Composer. At first I couldn’t get my head around the GUI. I kept looked for things that were familiar in Final Cut Pro. After a few hours of trying to familiarize myself with GUI I stopped thinking about Final Cut Pro and approached the software as if I had never edited a thing in my life. That’s when things got interesting.
I closed and re-launched the program. I decided to cut something. Anything. It didn’t matter what it was. I was concerned with just learning how to cut. I remembered the footage I had shot for Amy’s blog. Sweet. A no-pressure project I could use to cut a short film from start to finish, all in Avid. I imported the footage, Avid did it’s thing creating reference files for each clip, and I was ready to go. Now what?
I loaded each clip into the preview window and set my ins and outs. Just like I do with FCP. So far so good. Since all of the shots were consecutive there was no reason to make separate bins for things like A camera, B camera etc. I grabbed everything and threw it onto the timeline. Then I went through Avid’s toolset. Seemed like a lot of trimming, ripple, etc. tools. Ok. i started trimming down clips. Avid runs silky smooth on my Mac and frame accurate trimming was a breeze. This software is FAST. I mean REALLY FAST. So far, I like it. A lot.
I was blasting through clips, trimming down and creating sequences. The composer window updates in a way that FCP’s doesn’t, or at least, that I have not seen. There doesn’t seem to be any snapping of clips together…Oh sweet the composer window updates and shows your frames left and right. Move left, black frame, move left some more, nice. There’s the last frame of my previous clip. Boom. Some more of this and I had a rough cut done in one hour…having never used the software before. I dropped in the music I wanted to use and started trimming down the clips further. Easy. Fast. Accurate.
Then I wanted to color correct. One click and the color correction display pops up. Place your timeline playhead over a clip and make a correction. Done. move the playhead down, make another correction. Done. So much faster than FCP. I’m thinking I want this to be widescreen. How can I do that… New video track, add a widescreen filter. Bang. All of my clips are masked with a widescreen filter. I want to adjust the position of some of the clips though, to accommodate for the new frame composition. Ah. A simple transform filter dropped right onto the clip in question and you can alter it’s Y position. Perfect.
Ok, I’m done and want to export. How can I do that to get a quicktime file as a result? File. Export. Export to QT reference. Awesome, I don’t want a huge QT file master, it’s not needed in this case. Save as, click, 4 seconds later my file is done. Open in QT, export to an .mp4 with crops and I was done.
I’ll be sad when my 30 day trial is up. If I could afford it, I would have probably purchased it outright already. I am not totally sure if you can export a sequence into FCP to make use of Magic Bullet software, or if there’s a workaround to that problem at all. But I love Avid. and I love the fact that by letting go of all my habits with FCP I was able to pick up this program so quickly.
So this little piece is far from a masterpiece. I could have lit the scenes, and concerned myself with the quality of the cinematography a bit more. But that’s not what this little shoot was ever about. It never needed to be really polished. But it was a great project to learn some new software and round out my skill set a little further.
Any Avid users out there have any thoughts? Leave a comment below.
This was my entry to the Laforet/Creative Live Challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to take the provided footage that the students shot during Vincent Laforet’s CreativeLive session and put it together yourself any way you liked. You could add footage, sound, whatever you thought was best to tell the story. Perhaps I went a little overboard on this challenge by adding so much footage. But in my opinion the provided footage was very incomplete. So I decided to flesh out the story and let the chips fall where they may.
I didn’t win the contest, didn’t even get an honorable mention. But my entry sparked a lot of discussion on Vimeo regarding the approach I took, and how it fit (or didn’t fit) the guidelines of the contest. To get a community talking was kind of cool. Everyone has an opinion and it’s nice to get some outside feedback. I had fun though. I guess that’s all that really matters.
I went up to Coxton Lake again this year for a long weekend. I wasn’t going to shoot a Coxton Lake Pt. II but I got talked into it. This time around I did something a little different. I wanted all the motion to be in slow mo reverse while all of the camera moves seemed like they were real time forward motion. So I shot everything in 720P and performed all the camera moves I knew I wanted to appear “normal” in reverse. This is the last one of these nature-y films I’m going to do for a while. I’ve got some bigger projects that need my attention. But I hope you enjoy.
This is a test sequence I shot over the weekend for a feature length movie I wrote. I can’t go into detail about the film, but I wanted to share the experience of making this.
First and foremost I storyboarded every shot I needed to make the finished sequence. I’ll upload those boards later. With the sequence drawn out in storyboard form, you can shoot what you need, then get additional angles/takes and come back to your boards to get you back on track. This really helps with making sure you shot everything. Then it was time for me to pick up the phone and call in a few favors. Once I secured a very very small crew (which consisted of my brother Dan playing the assassin, Amy as my shot manager, and Rob to help me out with basically everything else – my go to guy.) I organized a schedule for the day and emailed it to everyone. This is important so that everyone is on the same page.
I packed up everything, loaded up the car and headed to Philadelphia where my brother lives. His apartment is perfect for this type of sequence and has a few large windows on the far side that would serve as my key. I knew that he also had recessed lighting fixtures in the ceiling very close by to the windows. I picked up some 100watt daylight balanced lightbulbs that would serve in adding some fill light to whatever we were lucky enough to have coming into the windows. The weather was rainy, with some pretty heavy cloud cover. This was great because it would provide nice soft light and give me the grey/grittiness I wanted. Now we just had to wait for the rain to stop long enough for me to get the shots I knew I needed on the rooftop. Amy kept an eye on it for us while my brother and I rehearsed and I blocked shots.
Once rehearsal was completed and I was satisfied with everything we got Dan into costume. I had him wear a grey suit because shooting black is a nightmare in low light. I didn’t want him to be a silhouette. But the grey suit will appear black once it’s graded. We used some dancer’s leggings to black out his face. I cut one leg off the leggings and cut it to length. The lycra material these leggings are made out of is great because it form fits to your actors face, giving them facial features while being see-through enough that they won’t hurt themselves. It makes breathing a little difficult because your nose is smashed down but it gives a really nice look. Dan and I began at the beginning and shot in sequence. He took it really seriously, and gave me some great creative angle ideas and variations in his performance. He’s never acted before and yet has a very good sense of what’s going to look good on camera. Awesome. The tactical pistol he uses in the sequence is a Robs, and is real. Obviously we didn’t use any ammunition but I highly recommend using airsoft weapons in place of real guns unless you have someone with a lot of experience and is qualified to handle them legally on set with you like I did. We were flying through takes. Dan pretty much nailing his mark every time. We were halfway through the storyboard at this point and it had been about an hour and a half.
Midway through our shoot of the reverse angles of Dan moving through the room Amy yelled “The rain stopped!”. I swapped lenses and we hauled ass up to the roof. The rain had indeed stopped and the clouds looked great. The wind was blowing pretty badly and Dan’s fedora blew off during a quick rehearsal take I was shooting. I was happy with the blocking and Dan reset. We shot the roof sequence in 2 takes, plus 2 close ups on his face to cut to during the 360 degree shot. We grabbed a three quick shots of Dan looking over the edge the roof and had Rob run across the street below. Direction was done with cell phones. Amy on the phone with Rob as I was giving direction while operating the camera on the edge of the roof. As soon as we got the third take of Rob running away the rain picked up again. 7 shots in probably as many minutes. Sweet. We all hustled downstairs back into Dan’s apartment. With half the storyboard done we set up and shot the bedroom/desk search sequence. Dan hustled through the bedrooms and searched the desk while I followed him almost documentary style. I wanted the camera work at this point to be frantic so we didn’t rehearse anything. I just told Dan to search the rooms, then the desk and I tried to keep up with him. We got one over the shoulder shot of him searching the desk, and then I got down on the floor beneath him with a 50 mm to cheat the desk out of the upward shot of Dan’s face. Rob held a light to Dan’s back on the right to get his face lit up for that one. We got 4 takes of Dan storming out of the bedroom and living room to exit the apartment and it was a wrap. 58 shots in 3 hours 30 minutes.
I went through all of the footage, set my ins and outs, imported it into PreRes 4:2:2 cut/graded the sequence in one sitting in about 8 hours. 10:30pm – 6:00am. All told I only scrapped 5 takes completely, mostly due to serious focusing errors on my part. The actual sequence is pretty close to the original storyboard. But as usual the film I storyboard, the one I shoot, and the final edit are never the same. Improvisation, happy accidents, and bouncing ideas off of each other during shooting almost always yields some good results. I tend to use them instead of what I planned. You need that kind of creative kinetic energy in your films. Rob came over and we added just about all of the sound you hear in the final sequence in post. The sound we recorded during the shooting basically ended up being our scratch track and ambience sounds. After a few tweaks to the sequence, I exported and it stands as it is at the moment. It would be much much shorter if it were in a trailer as initially intended. But I had the time, so I shot it as it’s own sequence. It’s not final by any means, but I hope it’s enough to make you question what’s going on and want to see more.
I hope this is helpful to you in your own productions. Until next time…
These guys are making some interesting rigs for DSLRs. In a market that’s pretty saturated with DSLR products, some better than most, it’s nice to see a company doing some innovation with their products. I have no idea what the price point is going to be for these rigs, but Edelkrone’s website states that these rigs will arrive sometime in May. I’m looking forward to seeing them in action, how they hold up, and some reviews on their products. Check out their video above.
Final Cut Pro X. There has been so much talk all over the internet about it. Many thought that Apple was just doing some small mundane tweaks to the existing FCP platform, others were calling for a complete rebuild. And of course, a lot of people argued about it. What else is new.
I read about the new features over at Apple Insider & watched Apple’s preview of FCPX at photography bay. I kinda like the new UI. I’ve read a lot of people comparing to iMovie with the whole filmstrip thing. The features they’ve added to FCPX are some I’ve been really wanting for a while. 64bit which is able to use as many cores, and as much ram as you have on your system. Background rendering built into application, the inline precision editor, and the auditioning editors are some things that look to be really helpful. I strongly recommend watching the video at photography bay to get the full presentation.
Overall I think Apple did a good job, but as always, it’s using the software that’s the real test. The price point is odd at $299. But I’m definitely going to purchase it. I’m sure there will be more info in the upcoming weeks.
UPDATE: after the uproar all over the internet I never bought this. Probably never will.