Kyle in Ned Rifle Video

Kickstarter for Henry Fool Part 3: Ned Rifle

Two years ago Hal Hartley successfully raised completion funds for his film Meanwhile through Kickstarter and now he’s trying to finance a whole film. It’s called Ned Rifle and it’s the third and final film in the Henry Fool trilogy. The script is awesome, and the idea of making three films over nearly 20 years with the same group of characters and actors is wonderful.

Part 2 of the Henry Fool seriesFay Grim, was the first feature film I worked on in the post production department. I was Hal’s assistant editor for Fay Grim and if we raise the necessary funds I will be the editor for Ned Rifle. Here’s a fun video in which I recount some details of the previous films’ plot along with the rest of the crew and the actors who will reprise their roles from the first two films.

Choose From Video

Really Cool New Feature in My WordPress Video Plugin

Choose From Video

I’ve always been annoyed that my WordPress “Video Embed & Thumbnail Generator” plugin required FFMPEG to make thumbnails. Most people are on shared hosting and aren’t allowed to install software like that on their servers. And even if they are allowed, configuring and installing it is a pretty substantial hassle.

I started my most recent coding burst with the inspiration that I could show the video in a little player in the browser and use it to find the exact timecode a user wants to generate a thumbnail. I planned to send that number to FFMPEG in order to get the image, but when I saw the video in the browser it looked exactly like a thumbnail. I wondered why I couldn’t just grab the image that the browser had gone through all the trouble of decoding already. It turned out I could do exactly that, and it was surprisingly simple.

So as of version 4.2, you don’t need any special software on your server if you want to turn a frame of video into an image. There are some limitations though. Your server needs to have either ImageMagick or GD. Most servers have one of these enabled, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Your browser also has to provide native support for your video format. Plugins will not work. That means this doesn’t support FLVs, WMVs, AVIs, or MKVs. Browsers have built-in support for H.264 MP4s, WEBM, or OGV. There is a helpful chart on Wikipedia that details the array of browser support for these formats. The short version is if you use H.264 MP4 videos in Chrome then you should be fine.

I also moved my development onto Github, which I am loving. It’s much easier to keep track of everything, and it allows for savvy users to offer their own code to merge into the plugin. If you’re having any trouble with the new release, please post it in the issues section.

kozmo-chrome-messenger-bag-01

Where’s my $48 Kozmo.com?!

Kozmo.com is coming back and I couldn’t be happier because they’ve owed me $48 for 13 years.

In the summer of 2000 I lived in a $400/mo SRO in Chelsea. I assure you it was even worse than you’re imagining. I had an internship at CourtTV and was making minimum wage. I got my internet from NetZero, which at the time was one of those brilliant dotcom ideas where you got free dial-up internet in exchange for looking at ads. I had started using the Kozmo.com delivery service while at school that year and it was perfect for my solo lifestyle in New York. I spent a lot of my money renting DVDs online and getting them delivered to my door within the hour. Of course now I can hardly be bothered to go through the effort of putting a disc in my Blu-Ray player when there are so many instant streaming options available, but it was really cool at the time.

One night I rented Blue Velvet and watched it on my computer because nobody had stand-alone DVD players back then and I didn’t have a TV anyway. I enjoyed it very much. A day or two later (I don’t remember their rental policies, but it was within the acceptable time frame) I returned the DVD to the drop-off box in a donut shop on 23rd St, where I frequently returned DVDs from Kozmo.com. A few months later a $48 charge from Kozmo.com showed up on my debit card. I checked in with their customer service and they explained that I had never returned the Blue Velvet DVD and so was being charged $48 for the privilege of keeping it.

At the time they were having financial trouble, so I figured it was a scheme to stay solvent, but it was an unacceptably large percentage of my net worth so I was unenthusiastic about my part in this scheme. I explained that I did not keep the DVD and that $48 was a bit much for a DVD anyway. They apologized and promised to return the money. Months went by and I was frequently assured that I was going to get that money back. Then in April I learned that they were going bankrupt.

I found this in my archives:

From: Kyle Gilman <gilman@fas.harvard.edu>
To: custserv@kozmo.com
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 02:58:00 -0500
Subject: Still missing $48

Hi there Kozmo people. I guess you’re going out of business, but I thought that before you completely close up shop that maybe you could give me back the $48 you wrongfully charged me. I’ve been trying to get it back since January, and have been promised several times that it would be credited to my credit card and it’s never actually happened. I know you guys have money problems, but I never had anywhere close to $280 million to blow through.

Anyway, my username is ********, and I was incorrectly charged for “purchasing” an overdue DVD of Blue Velvet even though I returned it on time.

–Kyle

I never got a response and I never got the money, but I bet they have all kinds of cash on hand right now. How about a store credit or something?

Maron Kyle

Hey Look: I Have a New Website!

My website’s design was almost exactly the same for seven years. I built it out of the Blix WordPress theme back in 2006 and a few years ago in a fit of modernization I expanded the width of the main column. I always keep my resume updated, but mostly the site just sat there featuring months-old blog posts. But now I have a fancy, modern design thanks to the incredible WordPress theme designer Kriesi and his Enfold theme. Now everything works on the fancy smartphones nobody had in 2006. Rather than this musty old blog I’m now featuring my editor reel and many clips of projects I’ve worked on like this one from the Dead Possum episode of Maron featuring up-and-coming comedy star Josh Brener:

My favorite part is the tag system I added in. You can use it to look up all the projects I’ve done with a particular person. Want to see every Hal Hartley project I’ve been involved in? How about super-producer Jim Serpico of Denis Leary’s production company Apostle? Boom! Technology.

Check out all the cool new stuff. If you’re looking for an editor for your comedy series, might I suggest you peruse the Series section. Or if long-form is more your style, head over to the Features. I’ll do my best to keep the projects up to date, and maybe I’ll post in the blog a couple times a year.

2013_mac_pro

At Least The New Mac Pro is New

After last year’s non update update, the Mac Pro is getting some real attention. This year Apple has announced a very powerful, very small, and very strange new computer.

2013_mac_pro

Sure, it’s an “innovative” design. I don’t really even care that it looks like a trash can or a coffee maker. My editing computer is hidden away in a closet anyway. What’s important about this new computer is that it redefines the idea of expandability in a powerhouse computer.

Remember this?

Remember this?

In 1999 the blue-and-white G3s introduced a tab that you could pull to swing the computer open and mess with its guts. Variations of this idea persisted in the G4, G5, and cheese grater Mac Pros. Just like on a generic PC, you could install hard drives, upgrade the RAM, and most importantly, install cards in its expansion slots. Since then there have been a number of other Mac models that offered limited expandability in exchange for “just working.” Those were and are some great computers. I’m writing this on a lovely 27″ iMac in an office full of iMacs and I like it very much. But sometimes you want your computer to do something that can’t be handled without direct access to the brain. Historically expansion cards have provided that power. The new Mac Pro has no slots for expansion cards and no space for SATA drives. What it does have is lots of Thunderbolt ports.

Thunderbolt devices can theoretically handle most of the things that expansion cards always did, but here’s the problem: they don’t do it yet. There are Thunderbolt to PCIe boxes that fill in the gaps in functionality, but they are very expensive. This new computer isn’t coming out for several months, so the world will be a different place by then, but Thunderbolt has been around for over two years and I rarely see Thunderbolt devices in the wild. The absence of Thunderbolt on the old Mac Pros has held the technology back from wide adoption in the professional realm, but the price premium is also a problem. G-RAIDs with Thunderbolt are almost twice as expensive as comparable Firewire/eSATA/USB drives. Glyph doesn’t seem to make any drives with Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt version of the Blackmagic Intensity is $100 more than the PCIe card.

The only complaint I ever had about the Mac Pros when they were current was that their thick metal cases made them much too heavy. That was usually a problem once per computer: when I took it out of the box and installed it and never moved it again. I certainly opened them up to install cards and hard drives and RAM, but I didn’t have to move them to do it. I and most people I know who use Mac Pros would have been very happy with an upgraded processor, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, and I guess no Firewire since that seems to be the way things are going. If we’re lucky, this will be like getting rid of floppy drives. It seemed crazy at the time, but then everybody had a CD burner in their Macs and CD-R prices plummeted. Same thing happened with DVDs when Macs all had Superdrives. Now we don’t have any optical storage, and good riddance. Thunderbolt is a very complicated technology and the high prices are not arbitrary. Will removing the option to use anything but Thunderbolt make Thunderbolt devices inexpensive enough to use for everything? I hope so.

I guess the big question is how much this machine will cost. An 8-core Xeon E5 is around $1500 depending on the speed. An AMD FirePro with 6GB of VRAM is $2400. There will be two FirePros in these things. Prices will go down by the time the computer is released, but his will not be a cheap computer.

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Update to Video Embed & Thumbnail Generator Compatible With WordPress 3.5 and All Kinds of New Stuff

I’ve been working on this one for way too long. I was all set to release a big update to my Video Embed & Thumbnail Generator WordPress plugin when I found out in November that WordPress version 3.5 messed with the media windows enough that I’d have to do a lot of tweaking to even maintain the functionality I had before. I think I’ve finally sorted everything out, and I apologize to anyone who updated to 3.5 right away and hasn’t been able to make thumbnails for a month. I think the wait was worth it.

For me, the coolest new thing about this version of the plugin is the video gallery. It’s pretty and it was actually one of the easier things to do. I designed the basic functionality last summer in order to display rough cuts of the 50 short monologues I edited for CenterStage’s 50th anniversary. (For the finished product they designed their own site using Vimeo for playback.) Here’s a sample gallery of my short-lived animated series:

The most important new feature is probably the addition of Video.js as an alternative to the old Strobe Media Playback Flash player. Video.js solves the problem I used to have with native HTML5 players, which is that they were ugly and all look different. It’s also lighter and more flexible, and I highly recommend switching to it. I managed to add Google Analytics tracking too, if that sort of thing interests you.

I wasn’t keeping up with FFMPEG’s development and totally missed the fork to LIBAV. I know most of you haven’t updated FFMPEG in ages so it didn’t seem to cause much trouble, but I now support calling LIBAV directly.

MP4 files encoded by FFMPEG save the moov atom at the end of the file and that was causing problems with streaming playback. I knew the way to fix this was to implement a queue system for encoding videos and run qt-faststart or MP4Box once the file is encoded, but I also knew to do it right would stretch my meager programming skills to the limit. I spent a long time on it, but it seems pretty good now. One of the most difficult things was interpreting the output from FFMPEG because it’s not really designed to interface with other programs like I’m doing. And then I had to make everything look pretty and work with AJAX because what’s the point of making something ugly that forces you to refresh all the time?

ross medium

Kickstarter for Ross McElwee’s New Movie

Now Ross McElwee is on Kickstarter, and he needs your help! Although I somehow never had a chance to take one of his classes, Ross was a frequent presence around the basement of Sever Hall at Harvard. I first met him when he made an excellent cameo appearance in my film Camera Noise. Later I provided some sort of technical support while he was editing Bright Leaves, although I can’t remember what it was.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ross, here is one of the best quotes I’ve ever seen about anyone:

“If Ross McElwee were a novelist instead of a creative-nonfiction documentarian, he’d have awards by the mantelful, he’d be an Oprah’s Book Club millionaire, he’d be beloved by—at least—the 47 percent of Americans who reportedly read literature of any stripe. His sympathetic, cogent, witty voice would make seductive reading, satisfying a contemplative intercourse we’ve long since learned not to associate with movies. In a less supercool, more thoughtful world, McElwee’s new film would be an event, to be sighed over by reasonable adults, and imitated by ambitious camcorderists.” —Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice

But Ross makes movies, so he doesn’t go on Oprah, he goes on Kickstarter. He finished Photographic Memory last year and now he’s trying to release it. Support him! You can pledge to pre-order a DVD right now.

Meanwhile

Kickstarter for Hal Hartley’s Latest Film Meanwhile

My good friend, marriage officiant, alleged Indie Film Legend, and frequent employer Hal Hartley just started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to finish his film Meanwhile. In addition to being a big fan of Hal’s movies, I edited Meanwhile, and I am very excited to see it get a chance to go out in the world. It started its life as a short feature, and kept getting shorter as we pared it down to its essential elements. For a while we thought it was a TV pilot, but sadly the world is still not ready for a Hal Hartley TV show. There isn’t really space in the traditional distribution system for a movie like this, so Hal has decided to take it to the people.

For only $25 you can pre-order the limited edition DVD of Meanwhile. It’s a great deal. You get to support a truly unique and independent filmmaker and at the same time you get to take home a copy of a terrific movie. It also will help support me, since I edited the movie for free, and I only get paid if the movie makes any money.

And here’s the trailer for Meanwhile: