Titles Reel

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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.

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.

An Excellent Search Term

For years it’s been people searching for pictures of Jennie. But today it’s me!

By the way, I’m thinking the next animation episode will be clothing optional.

It’s Episode Two!

It’s been over a year in the making, but Episode Two of my planned decade-spanning animated time travel web series “Time Travellin'” is finally finished. Take a look at “A Common Misconception”

I learned a lot about animation by doing this, and I’m hoping the next one comes a little quicker. But if I keep getting all this paid work, it’s going to take forever.

Possible Films Has a New Website

I’ve been working off-and-on with Hal Hartley since 2001 when he was my college thesis advisor. I’ve spent time as his teaching assistant, production manager, editor, and now we’ve built a new website for his company Possible Films. There have been several incarnations of the site over the years. In 2004–05 I packed envelopes with DVDs and CDs ordered through PayPal. For the past few years the site has been a very simple affair, with no direct sales. But now we’re doing something that represents a very interesting future for film distribution. We’re selling downloads of movies and soundtrack music straight from the website. We’re also premiering original content (again, video and audio) for free streaming. The really exciting goal is to premiere a feature film as a downloadable movie. There’s no DRM on anything, so our customers can watch the movies they buy in any way they want. I put a lot of work into this project over the past few months, and I’m really proud of both the look and the functionality of the site. Please, take a look at it, and if you like what you see, think about buying something.

A Strange Image in A Nightmare on Elm Street

In honor of Halloween, we had some friends over last night and we watched Young Frankenstein followed by A Nightmare on Elm Street. Halfway through Nightmare, we noticed an amazing poster on the wall behind the doctor at the sleep institute.

Nightmare on Elm St Cat Poster


Yes, that’s a giant cat riding a cable car in San Francisco. There was also a dogs playing poker tapestry in the basement where Mr. Krueger met his original end, but we didn’t get a picture of that one. Nice work, set dressers!

Streaming Netflix on my Blu Ray?

netflix_ps3_1Look, I’m just going to admit this. I don’t use my Blu Ray player very often. Most titles that are available on Blu Ray are large, new releases, and if I wanted to see them I saw them in the theater. I watch a ton of HD TV on my DVR. The indie films that frankly I hardly ever see in theaters anymore (sorry, business I work in, but my TV is awesome and your theaters are a pain in the ass) are almost exclusively available on DVD. I pay the extra money for Netflix to send me Blu Rays, but I only have a handful of Blu Rays in my queue.

But like a lot of Netflix subscribers, I’m getting more and more accustomed to the instant gratification of “Watch Instantly.” The selection is growing, and it’s a wonderful rogues gallery of films nobody wanted enough to tie up with restrictive licenses. We even get movies that have been out of print for years. Hal Hartley’s Trust is only available in the U.S. through Watch Instantly. Unfortunately I don’t have an XBOX 360 or a Roku, but I do have an Internet-enabled TV, and of course the “let’s hope someone comes up with some interesting way to use this” feature BD-Live on my Blu Ray player. So far both the TV and Blu Ray player haven’t gotten much use from their Internet connections. I’ve been hooking up my Macbook Pro to my TV via DVI-HDMI cable and an optical audio cable, but that requires all kinds of plugging and unplugging and doesn’t allow HD streaming through Watch Instantly. Both my TV and Blu Ray player are Panasonic, and neither of them has partnered with Netflix to allow streaming on their devices. And I don’t want to buy another device right now.

Today I learned that Netflix will be sending out special discs to PS3 owners that will enable them to use Watch Instantly through BD Live. Now the obvious question here is: why not my Blu Ray player too? What does that supercomputer PS3 have that my Blu Ray player doesn’t? Well, obviously the large hard drive and massive processing capabilities, but neither of those seem particularly necessary. I have a small amount of storage space available for BD Live material, and my Blu Ray player can obviously handle the processing necessary to play back HD video. Is there a technical limitation here, or is it a business limitation?

Previously Netflix had an exclusive relationship with XBOX 360, so opening it up to the PS3 is a big step. But opening it up to every Blu Ray player would be huge. It would paradoxically create a larger market for Blu Ray players while simultaneously reducing the market for the overpriced discs. Anything that makes it easier to get movies in the hands of consumers (for a fair price) is a good thing.

Cloud Backups

So it appears that T-Mobile has lost all the Sidekick personal data stored on Microsoft/Danger servers. This is bad news for the Cloud. I always assume that my data is safer in the hands of professionals. But apparently the Sidekick data wasn’t backed up? It got me a little nervous about the status of my 5 years of Gmail data, which I’ve always been content to leave up on the massive Google server system. I imagined my Gmail data existing in multiple locations in massive data centers all over the world, and it could never be lost. But I’m in a backing up mood anyway, so last night I used Gmail Backup to download all my messages.

I was watching SNL (typical of this season so far, it was almost entirely bad) so I wanted to stay in the living room. But I wanted to download the data to the desktop computer in my office. I decided to use the Screen Sharing built in to OS X. I logged in to my desktop computer using my laptop. Everything worked perfectly right out of the gate. Nice work Apple!