Author Archive

Quick Feet… on PBS World – July 9.

Monday, July 5th, 2010

 

On July 9th my short film Quick Feet, Soft Hands will be on nearly a hundred PBS stations across the country, including stations in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Boston. If you’ve not already seen it, tune in or set your DVR. Many stations are playing it three or four times throughout the day.

To determine if it will be broadcast in your area — and, if so, which PBS station (many cities have multiple streams) — you can click here and enter your zip code.

Another way is to check is to look at this listing of all PBS World stations. If your city is listed here, then look at that station’s local listings for July 9. Almost all of these will be doing the broadcast.

Here’s the trailer from 2008, when it was about to begin playing on the festival circuit.


 

July 4

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

The Fourth of July is not only America’s birthday, but also the anniversary of one of the boldest experiments in American letters.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts and began writing “Walden,” the autobiographical book that would define his legacy.

Thoreau was many things – naturalist, political dissident, professional crank – but he was also one of our earliest and most memorable media critics….

Read more here.

 

 

How do you make a filmmaker cry?

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

It seems like I can’t go a month without hearing that yet another filmmaker I know has lost a project due to having a hard drive fail and not having a back up.

Most recently, it was some kids at a youth video project. Their counselors didn’t back up the kids’ iMovie project file and returned to edit the next day to learn the project was gone. All the editing they had done was lost. A group of budding filmmakers was in tears, the project was in chaos… Talk about an ugly situation!

But worst part is: The counselors knew better. They knew about backing up footage. They just didn’t do it!

C’mon, counselors! What were you thinking!? Do you want to make children cry?

In a bit of inspired timing, Final Cut User linked to this video recently. No, I don’t expect everyone to have the kind of backup system that Chase Jarvis demos. (I sure don’t!) But as Jarvis says at the end of the video, you need something that scales to the work you’re doing.

When was the last time you backed up your data?

DSLRs, “Democratic Technology” and The Cost of Bokeh: Part 2

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

This is the second of two posts considering the rewards and challenges of using DSLRs for cinema work. If you’ve not read the first post, start there.

At the end of the last post we had assembled a Canon 7D camera, a Canon 17-55 f/2.8 lens with Image Stabilizer, a Zoom H4N audio recorder, and PluralEyes software to help us sync the picture and sound in Final Cut Pro. The cost: $3230. I hesitate to call this a “bare bones” package since it doesn’t even include a tripod or microphones. It does, however, get you picture and sound.

But you get picture and sound with a pixelvision camera. My intention with these posts is to compare DSLRs to a more traditional prosumer camcorder. And we still have a ways to go before it’s a fair comparison. So let’s continue…

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DSLRs, Democratic Technology and The Cost of Bokeh: Part 1

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

DSLR filmmaking has been much ballyhooed in the last year or so. Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D have been hailed as the lastest in a long line of “democratizing” motion picture technology — inexpensive cameras that produce cinematic, shallow depth of field images that seem to rival the look produced by cameras costing many times more.

There were two reasons I was didn’t jump on the DSLR filmmaking bandwagon from the start. For one thing, in the last year I have been working on a lot of other projects, none of which involved needing to worry about how to use a new camera (finishing up a documentary and two DVD releases, raising money for a feature, and writing a script). Another reason was, frankly, I was skeptical. I saw photos of filmmakers dressing the cameras like this:

Going "indie" with a DSLR.

Going "indie" with a DSLR.

If that’s what you had to do to get it to work, I wasn’t interested.

As I mentioned in my previous post, though, I did recently decide to experiment with these cameras. And my uninformed skepticism has developed into experience-grounded ambivalence.

After a few months of wrestling with the cameras (especially the Canon 7D), I find them as frustrating as they are inspiring. Yes, I love the way they handle light. I love the lens interchangeability. I love their form factor, (at least initially).

But, as has been well documented elsewhere, these cameras have serious issues. Focus can be a challenge with their small LCDs. They’re prone to the “jello” effect. They shoot on a codec that is a challenge to edit and even more challenging to color grade. And, most frustratingly, they have major issues with aliasing, particularly moire, which is often not even observable while shooting.

Sure, I’ve had busted takes with other cameras — under-exposed shots on film that didn’t come out, shots that were a little soft in HD, or whatever. But DSLRs are built (or not built) for movie-making in such a way that you can very conceivably shoot for a significant period of time only to later discover that all of your footage is unusable. Not “disappointing” — unusable. Or perhaps you find something like this acceptable. (Note: I did not shoot this.)

To put it bluntly, these cameras have more red flags than a month’s worth of World Cup games. They carry a lot of risk for any serious project.

Because there are some undeniably awesome uses for these cameras, though, I have educated myself — by reading, by watching, by shooting — to find ways of working around their many, many problems. And I’ve learned to produce some nice footage.

But many of the techniques I’ve used to mitigate the problems involve spending more money, making the cameras bigger, and so on.

Fixing the problems often means taking away the very properties that make these DSLR cameras so seductive for filmmaking in the first place.

So in this post and the next I want to deal honestly with the basic costs of DSLR filmmaking and to consider whether these costs are worth the benefits.

It’s possible some DSLR acolytes will disagree with, or even have their feathers ruffled, by my writings about this technology.

That’s fine. These are my opinions alone and no camera is right for every person, at every time, for every project. But I think that by now this blog has established my credentials as a champion of smaller, less expensive, and simpler technology for movie-making. If I’m being critical, it’s probably for good reason.

So, today’s post will begin to consider the “cost of bokeh”, since their shallow depth of field is often touted as the leading reason for using these cameras.

My next post will finish pricing out the camera and accessories. I’ll also offer some thoughts on the notion of this technology as a “democratizing” force.

But enough prelude. What do we need to shoot motion pictures effectively with a DSLR?

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