Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This is coming out on 4/20!

In a silly–but wholly appropriate–stunt The Weinstein Company is releasing a movie I edited, Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This on 4/20. I’ve heard a rumor that it might come out in a few theaters as well. There’s no trailer yet, but you can pre-order the Blu-Ray for hardly any money on Amazon. I can assure you that it is a lot of fun.

If you want to see some very similar material (almost exactly the same material in fact) in animated form, check out the trailer for the new animated Cheech & Chong movie which apparently does for Cheech & Chong’s old comedy albums what HBO is doing for Ricky Gervais’ old podcasts.

Barriers to Entry

The cost of making movies that look good has been plummeting steadily over the past few years. Way back in the beginning of the century, there was basically just DV, which everyone pretended looked good because there were no viable alternatives. Now we have a plethora of amazing HD options. I am a complete believer in shooting movies with DSLRs. Shane Hurlbut (who you may remember as the “fucking distracting” DP of Terminator: Salvation) brought the Canon 5D to my attention when he suggested using it to shoot portions of the Cheech & Chong concert movie (coming out 4/20 of this year!). At the time they had to do all kinds of crazy things to trick the automatic sensors into making the right exposure, and of course there was the totally boneheaded 30.0 fps. A year later we have full manual control on the 5D, which still has the best sensor around, but what’s exciting me today is the newly-announced $800 Rebel T2i. It seems to have all the video functions of the 7D with a significantly reduced price. Just like the 7D, you can shoot 23.98 fps. Sure, the sensor is smaller on both the 7D and T2i, but the beauty of a real lens is going to go a long way towards making up for the “small” sensor. Of course, you’ll have to get a lens for the thing too. $800 is just for the body.

I’m also a big believer in double-system sound. The sound recording on these DSLRs is suspect, but it’s just always a good idea to have a person on set whose job it is to monitor the machine that records your sound. When it’s going into your camera things start to get crowded. It also limits your camera’s mobility. Something like the Tascam DR-100 is very appealing to me. B&H is selling it for a mere $300! It’s small, portable, and records to the same SD cards the T2i records to. It’s basically the modern version of the DA-P1 DAT recorders I used in film school. And again this is only for the recording device. You’ll need a nice microphone or two.

As exciting as all this cheap gear is (and it is very exciting) you still need something to happen in front of the camera. First off you need a good story. It’s hard to write a good story. If you’ve seen any movies, plays, or read books you know this. Lately I’ve been disillusioned with the quality of films being made on shoestring budgets, but I saw the excellent Humpday recently and it really lifted my spirits. Anyone could make that movie from a technical point of view. It was shot on quite inexpensive HVX-200s. The barrier to making a good movie at this point is talent, and not access to money.

Even with the cost of recording devices heading towards $0, and your own talent being essentially free, you have some costs that aren’t going away. If you know enough people you can probably get a crew to work for free or deferred salaries. If you’re smart about the writing, you can keep the location costs low (access fees, transportation, and art department) but you still have to feed all those people. Lunch is necessary, and breakfast is a good idea to keep people happy. Food can easily be the most expensive part of a micro-budget movie.

And then there’s the big question of what to do with your movie when it’s finished. Yes, feel free to submit it to the big film festivals and hope that somebody picks you. There were 3,724 feature-length films submitted to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so good luck with that. And even if your film is shown at Sundance, the days of Miramax picking up your film for $10 million are long gone (as is Miramax). You’re very likely to leave Sundance in the same penniless state you were when you started. Do not fall for the myth of “If you build it they will come.” If everyone in the world is building a baseball field in their corn field, heaven runs out of dead baseball players pretty fast.

Your film might be great, but the marketplace for films is terrible. Indie films struggle in theaters, and most people are still locked in a mindset that direct-to-home-video=failure. You certainly can’t make any money by selling downloads on the Internet. I don’t think I have any answers for someone making a movie on their own. It seems like a terrible idea financially. But if you can keep your costs down, you don’t need TWC or IFC Films. The less money you spend, the less money you have to earn back.

Server Closet

For years I’ve been complaining about the mess that external hard drives create. They’re amazing and convenient for someone in my line of work who needs to move a lot of storage around, but every manufacturer uses a different power cord. Some of them use wall-warts. Some of them use in-line bricks. Some of the higher-end companies like Glyph put the converters inside and use standard 3-pin power cords. They also keep the case a nice rectangular shape, but you pay a premium for those drives. I have at least five external drives connected to my computer at all times, and they tend to vary in both cord and enclosure style. What this has generally meant was a barely contained mess of wires surrounding my computer. When I installed an HD monitor and Blackmagic Intensity card, the problem got even worse. So this week I moved my computer into my closet. This solves the messy cable problem, and makes the computer easier to access. It’s on a shelf so I don’t have to crawl around on the floor to plug and unplug things. It also makes the office much quieter because all those noisy fans are tucked away in the closet. Of course it generates a bit of heat, so I’m currently investigating some cooling options. I’m thinking of venting the heat out the back of the closet into another closet that doesn’t have any delicate computer equipment. For now, the closet door just stays open a crack.

Since I was running 35-foot cables, I wanted to minimize the number of cables I had to buy. Once you get over 15 feet it can get expensive especially for DVI. I managed to get it down to an incredibly thick (1/2″ diameter) DVI cable, a 33-foot active USB repeater cable, a component video cable for the HD monitor, and a red-white RCA for audio. I was already running ethernet from the DSL modem right past the closet, so I diverted it inside. I put a little 7-port USB hub on my desk, and the computer monitor has 4 USB ports as well. I put my DVD burner in an external USB enclosure on my desk so I don’t have to go into the closet to burn a disc. All firewire and eSATA devices stay in the closet. The component and DVI cables are really thick, but the whole thing just barely fit in a nice little cable zipper so it looks like a single thick cable.

I have a multi-standard DVD player hooked up to the HD monitor, so I got a component video switcher to switch between the computer’s video feed and the DVD. It’s a neat little device that has IR Learning, so I can use any remote to control it. That lives under my computer monitor stand, which does a great job of hiding cables.

The Marriage Ref Promo

I edited this promo for The Marriage Ref a couple weeks ago. It was shot entirely on the Canon 5D Mark II. It was a really fun experience, and Mr. Seinfeld came in a couple times to work with us. It’s great to see something I edited released so quickly but the quality of the encoded video is pretty low. It’s my understanding that this full version of the story will not be shown on TV.