Watch Two Night Stand Two

Just finished today! It’s been six years, and Jennie and Steve are waking up in bed together again. Why does this keep happening?

And in case you need a refresher, here’s what happened six years ago. Sorry about the fuzzy video. YouTube is a lot better now.

Wow! I didn’t even plan those shots to match so closely. I totally forgot the original bedroom had one set of folding closet doors open!

Two Night Stand Two

I haven’t really made a live action movie since the summer of 2004, when I directed my not-very-short film Two Night Stand. In the meantime I’ve done some animation, and Truth @ 15 Frames Per Second which wasn’t exactly “shot” so much as it was “recorded.” My main focus during that time has been editing other people’s movies. Which I like very much. I’ve never been a huge fan of Two Night Stand. It was something I felt I needed to do at the time, and I got a lot out of it, but the movie is lacking a certain crazy energy that was in my earlier films. And if you read the comments on YouTube you’ll see quite a few people who agree with me. Many of them feel I’ve robbed 18 minutes of their life. You’ll also see that the video is approaching 1 million views. It’s always been my most popular video, and thanks to some mysterious change in the way YouTube links to and promotes videos, in August views jumped from 500 views/day for the past two years to around 2000/day.

Around that time, a producer I work with watched the movie and asked if there was a sequel. In the process of explaining why I never wanted to make a sequel, I came up with an idea I liked. So I’m getting the band back together. Jennie Tarr & Chris D’Angelo will return, along with the original DP, Alan McIntyre Smith.

The movie will be a lot shorter, and generally a bit nastier than the first one. And it will be in HD! It’s very exciting.

How to Slate a Movie

I’ve worn a lot of hats in my filmmaking career. I’ve been a script supervisor, data wrangler, post-production supervisor, assistant editor, editor, title designer, and every once in a while I’ve had to slate.

I rather enjoy slating, because later on when I sync up the movie, I know I’ll have quality slates.

I don’t always get quality slates. If you’re slating a movie, here are a few tips to make the editors happier:

Start with the slate in the frame, clapper raised, before the camera rolls.
The first frame of the shot should look a lot like the one above. While the shot is setting up, pay attention to what is actually in frame so you know where to put the slate. On a wide shot like the one above, it’s pretty easy to nail, but in a close-up on a long lens you might need the camera operator to help you find the spot. A slate without the slate in frame is not a slate. And you might need a rack focus. An out of focus slate is not nearly as helpful as one in focus, especially if it’s a smart slate. And you shouldn’t put a slate in an actor’s nose, so it’s a lot easier to find a focus mark for the slate and then rack to the first position for the scene.

Clearly say the shot and take number, then “marker.”
Make sure there is a microphone near you. Just like the camera might need to change focus, the boom operator might need to swing over to you. And don’t say letters. Say words. 24A take 3 is “Twenty-Four Apple Take Three… Marker.” Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t know the standard codes for letters. You can be creative.

Hold the slate steady as you push the clapper down.
I’ve seen many slates where the slate is moving as it claps, which blurs the whole thing so much that you just have to guess where the mark is. Be careful. Plant your feet. Use two hands. And don’t just let it drop. Push it down. On the other hand, you don’t want to smash it a few inches from an actor’s ears, so you can push it down softly. In that case, say “soft sticks” so the editors know not to listen for a huge click.

If you mess up the first slate, say “Second Sticks.”
There are a lot of things to deal with when syncing a movie, and it can be hard to find the right slate if there’s more than one. If you did the first one out of frame and then re-adjusted to get it right, or if the sound wasn’t recording yet, it’s a quick and easy way to let the editors know.

Sync up a movie yourself.
Nothing teaches you how to slate better than wading through hundreds of bad slates trying to fit all the pieces together.

Back it Up!

My soccer coach always said Expect The Unexpected. I swear to God he also once said there is no “me” in team.

In general, hard drives don’t fail during the first few years of their lives. As long as they stay under normal operating conditions they’re pretty reliable. But they’re also delicate and fragile machines spinning around at intense speeds. Stuff goes wrong. So if your masters are data based and not tape or film, you better be prepared.

Last night I came home with the first dailies from a new movie on a portable hard drive from Glyph. I’ve had great experiences with their drives. I like the little leather cases on the Portagigs and I love the standard power cables on the fullsize ones. But last night when I tried to copy the dailies to my editing drive, on ten of the files, I consistently got a -36 error, unable to read or write to the disk. I got a little worried, but I wasn’t extremely concerned because I had a backup.

Whenever I work on a movie shot on cards (which is pretty much all of them now) I always insist on transferring to at least two drives. Sometimes I do three. Drives are cheap. Re-shooting a whole day is not. This morning I went back to set and copied the files from the backup drive to the one I had brought home. It worked fine. Notice I didn’t have the backup with me. Another important step is to physically separate your backups. If you drop your bag in front of a subway train, all that backing up won’t matter.

A New Twist on the Nigerian Scam Letter

I haven’t seen a good Nigerian 419 scam letter in a while, I think because Gmail filters them out. But this one was smart enough to target me as a filmmaker and it got through the filters. It’s a pitch for a film called “Bear Beer Dear.”

Dear Sir,

Unique thrilling movie script is the basis, movie Producer and Company need to make a breathtaking production.

Roger is a hard working husband and father but is addicted to alcoholism. What becomes of Douglas, Rogers’s second son who took to his brevity but a singular learnt habit of alcoholism has done him worst in life. Rogers’s companion billy his dog is more than a pet to him, not even his family can come in between him and billy. How many animals must die by barrel? billy saved the life of Rogers’ at the hunting expedition by maneuvering whisky, Rogers’s horse. billy was brilliant to have manipulated Ashley to drive Rogers home and thwarted Trevor’s pilfering plan on Rogers who is drunk to stupor. Georgiana’s manhandle by Rogers. Rogers’ scolded by Douglas at the birthday party of Mabel. Morris manipulated Douglas his friend to play hanky panky love game with Mabel. Trevor make comic of Douglas’s dad as Douglas reply lead to bloody fight at the night club. Ahmed chase of Douglas and Patton over an escaped accident. Roman, Douglas, Mabel and Patton mimic Roger’s their dad who is drunk as Georgiana got provoked. Roman shot. Douglas and Morris hunt the perpetrator to a death. Beer please let Rogers alone!

I like the ingenuity here, and the willingness to do the work to track down people actually involved in film, but nobody would want to even watch that movie, let alone invest in it. It’s hard enough to raise money for movies that aren’t completely incoherent. My advice: pitch classic films that might not be caught by the weak-minded people you’re trying to scam.

Dear Sir,

A unique movie script forms groundwork for your opportunity for riches. Seeking a Producer & production company to storm the gates of Hollywood.

Roger Coleman, his apprentice Douglas Hooker, and they endorsed Joe Huron’s latest swindle them sometime US$11,000, enough for an old Roger thought retiring from grifting. However, they are not aware that the money belongs to extortionist Trevor, whose thugs Roger in revenge killed. Before Roger’s death, he suggested that he contact George, his old friend in Chicago on the art of the great far to learn. Who after he had burned his last big con retired. George decided to assist retirement just to get back at Trevor for Roger’s murder. In the pull of the big con, and Douglas require the assistance of a number George’s old associates, as well as a number of small time grifters. The last group includes Huron, his small part to do in revenge Roger’s death. Beyond Trevor or anyone else to find out about the con, there are many potential obstacles to pull the stinger out as a controlling and overly cautious to things like Trevor his own way to do this, and some people run to George, including a crooked cop, the lower level thugs and a hired hit man. Through the process, George, who saw himself as a dealer Wheeler may have a better deal than that to him by Douglas come.

Special thanks to Google Translate for providing that authentic machine translation feel.

Why Are These People So Angry?

I’ve seen a couple videos making the rounds among the film nerd websites this week that seem to be made by what I can only describe as disgruntled old farts. First was the “Cinematographer vs. Producer” video in which a comically clueless producer has the ABSOLUTELY INSANE plan to shoot a feature film on a Canon 7D.

Frankly, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. What’s so special about “Feature Films” anyway? People used to shoot feature films on DV cameras for God’s sake! And depending on the look you’re going for, you might not need a lot of lights. I’m in pre-production on a feature right now that will be shot on a 7D and I have absolutely no qualms about it. This imaginary producer is an idiot, but clearly this is the wrong DP for the job. Maybe they should give Shane Hurlbut a call.

The one that really drove me nuts was a little closer to home. “So, you’re an editor…”

It’s another straw man talking with a professional editor who apparently can’t figure out how to use Final Cut Pro. I’ve certainly never had the problems he describes. This one is upsetting on a couple levels. First, why should anyone expect the average person to understand what an editor does? It’s a specialized and confusing job. I don’t know what middle managers do all day either. And as a lifelong freelancer, I still fundamentally don’t understand how vacation/sick/personal days work. Mocking people who don’t know about editing and don’t need to know about editing is just petty.

Second, of course is the attitude about Final Cut Pro. Like the 7D video, it takes a fear-based approach to things that are outside the comfort zone of the author. Rather than take the time to learn how to use the extremely flexible and powerful Final Cut Pro software, the author calls it a piece of prosumer crap and repeats a bunch of scary myths about how it works. With the 7D the author is on better ground, since all of the things he says about the 7D are true, but they are less of a problem than he makes them out to be.

My point is, I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I’m perfectly happy to round you people up to toil in the 7D’s underground sugar caves.

Do it Yourself

I have a never-ending need to understand the tools I work with, and the new tools that might help me make movies in better and less expensive ways. It’s why I continue to build my own computers and insist on understanding how to run the Mac OS on those computers. It would be a lot easier, and potentially cheaper to just buy a Mac Pro and be done with it, but for me it’s no fun unless I can get under the hood and tinker with it.

I’ve written before about inexpensive production equipment, but today I’m thinking about something I know a little more about; do-it-yourself post production.

At this point, picture editing is wide open. You can do it any way you want and you don’t have to pay a lot for equipment. To really get the most of your gear though, you should have a good, expandable desktop. iMacs and laptops can hold you back when it comes to finishing a film. Obviously the Mac Pro is the simple choice. I built a system around a quad core Core 2 Duo a few years ago and overclocked it from 2.4 to 3 GHz. It’s served me well, but it’s due for an upgrade. Rendering HD is one of the most processor intensive things you can do, and working on 8 core Nehalems makes me jealous.

The best piece of equipment I have is a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card, which you can get for less than $200. It outputs almost any kind of HD or SD video you could want. I have it attached via component cables to my trusty 37-inch Panasonic 9UK plasma. It will take any video the Intensity throws at it, including 25 fps formats. Blackmagic has also just released a USB 3.0 Intensity Shuttle which will be great if Apple & Intel get on board with USB 3.0. It would allow laptop or iMac-based video outputs. For now, unless you’re editing on Premiere in Windows 7 and have USB 3.0, stick with the card.

I haven’t worked on a tape-based project in at least a year. If a film is shot on a tapeless format I can take the camera originals, convert them to ProRes, edit the picture, and color correct, all without bringing in an outside vendor. Now, I can tell you that the Panasonic plasma is far from a reference monitor. But there’s perfect, and there’s good enough. If the budget allows, I always go to a professional colorist, but if you’re making an indie film for a few grand, you can’t afford perfect. And if you’re doing the color correct yourself, you can futz around all you want for weeks if that’s something you want to spend your time on. The great thing about Color is that even when I go to a professional colorist (who also uses Color) I can still make a tweak here and there if I see something I don’t like a few weeks later.

Now, what about sound? If you’re making anything you plan to distribute beyond YouTube, you better believe you need a 5.1 mix. You can’t do that in FCP, but you can do it in Soundtrack Pro. You’ll need 6 audio outputs. I’m just starting to investigate the “home 5.1 mix” angle, but I like the look of the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra, which is less than $300, has 8 in and 8 out, and works with Pro Tools M-Powered.

Audio is another situation where you want a good room, and the professional mixers with dedicated equipment have a real edge. But in the do-it-yourself “good enough” range, you can run those 6 outputs to a consumer 5.1 receiver and speaker set. Reducing noise in the room becomes crucial here. You don’t want to find yourself in a quiet theater and hear things that were masked by fan noise in your improvised mixing room.

The moral here is not that you necessarily should do any of this stuff. But you can. You’re not required to make a perfect mix or a perfect color correct. If it looks good to you, it looks good to your audience. A lot of dialogue-driven films will be just fine with a 5.1 mix that puts 90% of the audio in the Center speaker. Some films look fine without any post-production color grading beyond a basic legalization process.

In order to pull this off though, you need good source material. You need a well-shot film with well-recorded audio. You can do a lot with these tools, but don’t force yourself to. Make it easy on yourself by getting it right on set.

And of course, you need to know how to operate all this software to get what you want out of it. You might consider hiring someone like me to do that.