Cloverfield & Acceptable Moviemaking Practices


Like many other people, I saw Cloverfield last weekend. And I got really queasy. The handheld video was unbearably shaky. The movie was pretty good, even if it required a lot of suspension of disbelief. It’s funny how we’ll accept that a giant monster from the sea would attack NYC with no provocation, but not that a human can walk from Spring St to 59th St in 15 minutes.

But what really made me think was this motion-sickness thing. I saw The Blair Witch Project when it came out, and I didn’t have any trouble with the shaky-cam. I didn’t like the movie, but that was because it was awful. Am I more susceptible to motion sickness now that I’m older? Why is that? Google hasn’t been much help. Apparently motion sickness peaks when you’re around 10. But I read books in the car all the time when I was young.


My big question was, in a film designed for sensory assault, is it OK to induce nausea in the audience in addition to the usual increased heart rate? I’m going to have to say no. A movie can be a lot of things, but vomit comet should not be one of them. It’s definitely possible to shoot a film from a first-person perspective without tossing the camera around. Just watch any Ross McElwee movie. Of course, Ross never has to deal with giant sea-creatures in his movies (except in the upcoming “Gojira’s March”) so he tends to have a pretty steady hand, but the point is, shakiness is not required for a sense of immediacy and reality.

Here’s my dream script for the beginning of a first-person horror movie:


A scary noise is heard outside.

General Pandemonium.

                   RANDOM PARTYGOER #1
      Oh shit, we have to get out of here!

                   JOSH (to the camera)
      Come on Bobby, there's an army of 50-foot 
      vampires attacking the city!

                   BOBBY (from behind the camera)
      Hold on, let me get my Steadicam harness!

The camera becomes noticeably smooth and steady.

      Ok, let's run!

The camera glides out the door.

More YouTube Thumbnail Data

Last June I noticed a trend caused by the arbitrarily assigned thumbnails on my Truth @ 15fps YouTube videos. Videos with Jennie thumbnails got almost 7 times more views than videos with Kyle thumbnails.

Now that we’re allowed to choose from 3 options for thumbnails, I’ve switched all the Truth @ 15fps videos to Jennie thumbnails (with the exception of the first one which Jennie’s not in) which has raised the average of those videos to 5,765. Although the other ones still lead with an average of 29,700, the difference is closer to 5 times as much now. Since last June, the Bad Webcam Sex video views have doubled to over 2 million.

What’s interesting me today though, is my film Two Night Stand, which at 18 minutes is a tough sell for YouTube. They don’t even let people upload videos longer than 10 minutes anymore. I managed to get a director account before they imposed that limitation though, so I got grandfathered in. Here are my thumbnail options:
When I uploaded it in July 2006, the only option was the middle one. I switched it to the left-hand one a few months ago, and hits have gone up considerably since then. People commenting who have actually watched it all the way through are way up too, which is the most important thing to me. As of today, the video is at 97,506 views, which is way more than even Getting Laid Tonight, which is both short and has a suggestive title. The main difference I see between the two thumbnails is that rather than just a shirtless Chris in the original one, you get an indication that there may be a naked lady under those sheets in the left-hand option. It’s a lesson for the kids out there.

3 Films at Sundance ’08!

It turns out I worked on 3 films that are premiering at Sundance this year. I knew that Blind Date and Choke would be there, but I just discovered today that Quid Pro Quo will be there too. I haven’t seen the final versions of Choke or Quid Pro Quo, but I’ve seen Blind Date quite a few times and it’s very good.

So far I don’t have anything lined up that would be eligible for Sundance ’09, but the year is still young.

That Was Hard

inside_computer.jpgI upgraded my computer a couple weeks ago, swapping out the motherboard, CPU, and RAM, but leaving the hard drives and case alone. I thought it would be pretty simple. I knew Windows would work without a hitch, but I knew from the beginning that I’d have to reinstall the Mac OS because it had been patched to work on my old AMD processor. What I didn’t know was that the OSX-on-a-PC drive interface situation had flipped since the last time I installed OSX. With my nForce4 motherboard, it was a hassle to install onto SATA drives. With my ASUS P5K-E P35/ICH9R motherboard, OSX refused to even see my PATA/IDE drives. My DVD burner and my Mac hard drive were both IDE, so I was in trouble. I went through a lot of work, so I thought I’d document it all for anyone who’s dealing with the same problems. The geniuses over at the Insanelymac forums were a huge help. Here’s what I did:

  1. Bought a new SATA hard drive. I can never get enough storage anyway.
  2. Used VMware Workstation to format the disk to HFS+ and install the OS. I followed the instructions on this post, although I used the Kalyway 10.4.10 install disc because I need 10.4.10 in order to run FCP 6
  3. Replaced AppleAHCIPort.kext with the one at this post
  4. In the BIOS, switched SATA mode to AHCI (from IDE)
  5. BOOTED UP OS X!!!!!!
  6. Ran script to get onboard components (sound, ethernet, etc) working.
  7. Switched SATA back to IDE mode in the BIOS and booted into Windows.
  8. Followed these instructions to enable AHCI mode in Windows XP
  9. Switched SATA to AHCI mode in the BIOS and booted into Windows.
  10. Suddenly I had a nasty audio skipping problem. It was clearly related to AHCI mode. It turns out it was caused by an eSATA drive I had plugged in to the computer, but not powered on. My guess is because of the hot-swapping capabilities of AHCI, the system kept polling the drive trying to figure out what it was, while in IDE mode it doesn’t bother looking.

I’m sure I missed a few steps, but those are the ones that stick out in my memory. There might have been some extra fiddling with ATA-related kexts. I also continue to have a problem mounting the boot disk when I boot with cached kexts. I use the -f flag on the Darwin bootloader to get around that problem.

2007 Editing Tech Wrapup

For me 2007 was the year of HD. I bought an HDTV, but more importantly, I edited a number of videos on my own computer in HD. It’s kind of old news for a lot of people, but it turns out DVCPro HD is a great format that you can play back from a regular old hard drive without any fancy RAIDs. In the past I’ve insisted on sticking with DV because I didn’t trust a regular old hard drive to reliably play back HD video. And at least on a feature film there’s always going to be an online assembly at the end anyway, so the advantages of working in HD are generally not as great as the hassles. One feature I worked on last year was edited with 14:1 compressed DV on a G4 Avid Meridien, so HD was beyond out of the question. It literally took an hour just to output one reel of the DV reference quicktimes for the sound editors. But despite the old-fashioned tech in the offline, we did the online in 4:4:4 1920×1080 at a post house, and it ended up looking terrific. I always say that in the end offline editing is just about generating a list of numbers for the online anyway.

But working in DVCPro HD has really opened my eyes. For one thing, it made my pretty nice 2-year-old AMD X2 3800 computer seem way too slow. Rendering times were unacceptably high. I’ve just upgraded to an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz system with 4GB of DDR2 RAM and I’ve seen some real performance increases. Rendering titles is much improved, and realtime HD effects work really well. Of course, I’m still limited by slow hard disk speeds, but now I have 4 eSATA connections (2 built-in to the back of the motherboard and 2 from an SATA to eSATA bracket) which ensures that on the newer external drives I don’t have any Firewire interfaces slowing anything down.

All of the DVCPro HD projects I’ve worked on have been short, and came from P2 cards; my new favorite things. If there’s one thing that annoys me the most about editing, it’s real-time capture. It’s too slow!!! P2 cards copy faster than real-time, and generally have to be loaded onto hard drives during production, so in many cases I get a hard drive all ready to edit without having to load anything into the computer. This is the way of the future. In FCP there’s still some futzing around with conversion from the MXF format on the P2 cards to QT files, which seems like something that won’t last long. Avid loads MXFs without any conversion, which I find very cool.

We edited Blind Date using XDCAM. In this case it was PAL DV saved as MXF files to XDCAM discs, which are basically Blu-Ray discs in a cartridge. All I did was copy the files from the discs to a hard drive and we were ready to go. It was at least twice as fast as real-time capture, possibly faster. My favorite part was syncing up the 3-camera shoot. Everything had the same timecode, so it was a snap to group every bin using AutoSync.

The big new thing that I haven’t tried yet is Apple’s ProRes codec. I’ve done a little bit of testing and it seems to work really well and really fast, but I haven’t done any serious editing with it. It looks like I’ll have a chance in April when I’ll be editing HD video for an opera in Amsterdam with Hal Hartley. Everything will be shot in HDCAM and we’re going to capture straight to ProRes HQ and edit with that throughout the process. At the end it all needs to be converted to MPEG-2 for the playback hardware installed in the theater, so ProRes seems ideal. I will of course post more as I learn more.

2 For Tuesday

Even though it’s New Year’s Day, it’s still 2 For Tuesday. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk. I hate about 25% of classic rock songs and when I listen to the radio in the shower I only have time for 2 or 3 songs. So if Rush comes on 104.3 on Tuesday morning they lose a listener for 8 minutes. But this morning I got two great Zeppelin songs off the back wall, so it was cool.

Happy New Year to my half-dozen readers.