Archive for the ‘DIY Filmmaking’ Category

Dimmer Boxes

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

When I was looking through the new edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook, I noticed a lot of little changes and additions. An example: In a list of equipment to bring to the set, in the lighting category I noticed one addition: “dimmer boxes.” I can’t argue with that — dimmer boxes help one light with finesse, and they’re fairly easy to come by.

I went to the trouble of making a couple dimmers (aka “hand squeezers”) myself about a year and a half ago. I made a couple of 600 watt boxes, as well as a 1000 watt box. The supplies I got from the local home improvement store, though I remember that the 1000w dimmer was not widely available. If I remember correctly, I built all three dimmer for about $100 in supplies. They would have been cheaper, but the 1000w dimmer was considerably more expensive than the 600w.

In retrospect, instead of making those boxes, I would have been better off simply purchasing one of the many dimmer boxes or router speed controls (which can be used as a dimmer box) that are commercially available. They’re cheaper, they’re probably more reliable than anything I could build, and the heavy duty router speed controls can handle more power than the ones I built. Plus, the router speed controls have a safety fuse, which my self-built dimmers lack.

Shopping for some last week, I ran across lots of varieties. Here are some:

Dimmer Boxes:

Ikea Dimma – 300 Watts and under – $7.95
Note: Not useful for most motion picture lights, but if you just need something for practicals, these are nice and cheap.

Smith Victor – DC-1 Dimmer Control – 600 Watts and under – $23.95

Router Speed Controls:

Harbor Freight Tools – 15 Amps and lower – $19.99

MLCS Router Speed Control – 15 Amps and lower – $20.95 and $28.95, respectively, for the “home” and “industrial/commercial” use boxes

Grizzly G3555 Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $31.50

Rockler Router Speed Control – 20 Amps and lower – $39.99

If, however, you wish to build your own, you can find instructions in Blain Brown’s Motion Picture and Video Lighting, 2nd Edition (p. 241) and, of course, there are plans aplenty on the ‘net.

Resource for Writers: Occupational Outlook Handbook

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Doing some researching and writing earlier this month, I was trying to decide on an appropriate occupation for a character I was creating. One of the most helpful online resources I found was the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you visit the site, go to the search box in the upper right hand corner and type an occupation. If your search terms are too specific, just make it more general (e.g., try “dental” instead of “dental technician”, which will give you lots of results). Eventually you should be led to an overview of the profession you’re seeking, including the types of wages that might be expected, the type of education required, and so on. Useful stuff for writers, particularly the stuff about the downsides to each job. Can you say “conflict”?

Of course, besides its usefulness to writers, people that are actually, you know, looking for jobs might appreciate the link, too. Being the lucrative, high-demand profession that independent filmmaking is, though, I doubt many readers of this blog would ever need to use the site in this way.

Review: Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Note: Though it’s clumsy phrasing throughout this review I refer to the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher by its full name because Primera makes a similarly named unit, the Bravo SE AutoPrinter. The AutoPrinter model prints, but does not burn, DVDs. It’s a critical distinction, and one that you want to make sure you’re aware of if you decide to purchase either unit!

**

Though the days of online distribution are upon us, DVDs still remain a (if not the) most effective way of sharing work seriously with an audience.

Obviously, one way of producing DVDs of one’s work is to burn discs individually on your computer. After burning, you can label them by hand or, if you have a printer that accepts DVDs, use a printer. This method works fine if you’ve just got a handful to burn. Sometimes these printers can be fussy, though. Don’t get me started on my experiences with my Epson R200 printer.

Another way of producing DVDs is to have them produced by a professional duplication house (e.g., DiscMakers). This is the way to go if you need hundreds for festival submissions, online or in-person sales.

But what about if you need somewhere between a dozen and a thousand? What if you find yourself needing to burn and print a moderate number discs, particularly projects that need to be updated intermittently (like, say, a demo reel)?

The Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher aims for this market. A combination laser jet printer, DVD burner, and robotic arm, it automates the burning and printing up to 20 DVDs at a time. I have been testing one for the past couple of months, and here are my findings:

Pros:

Once set up, it does the job without hassle. Setting up the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher with a Windows-based computer was fairly hassle free. And once it was set up the unit performed like a charm. Readers of this site may be doing a double-take — Did Paul just say Windows machine? Yup. I first tried setting up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher using an older “sunflower” iMac. That unit simply didn’t have enough RAM and processor speed to do the job. Worse, though, was the fact that, regardless of the Mac computer I used, the included software was buggy and the features were limited. On a Windows-based machine the Bravo SE Disc Publisher has worked flawlessly and the included burning and label design software is easy to use.

Automation is a beautiful thing. The Bravo SE Disc Publisher will do runs of 20 discs. In my tests, the unit only stopped mid-run because of an error once, and that error was an operator error. (The “finished disc” tray should be extended when printing one disc, but pushed in when printing two or morel I left it out once when I should have pushed it in.) After a number of runs I grew confident that the unit didn’t need “nursing.” I felt confident leaving it alone and concentrating on other work.

It’s pretty speedy. The time it takes to burn and print a run of 20 is dependent on a lot of factors — the length of the program, the design of the label, your computer’s processor speed and RAM. With my set-up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher was able to burn 20 DVDs of a short program (30 minutes or so) with a basic text label in about an hour. I was satisfied with those results.

Results have been reliable. The DVDs I’ve burned work, and they look consistently good. ‘Nuff said.

Cons:

Not so hot on Macintosh. Though, admittedly, I tried using an iMac that didn’t have enough oomph to get the job done, the design/burning software included for Mac was not as feature rich.

Ultimately, whether this unit is for you depends on your DVD burning needs. The results are more immediate than sending the DVDs off for replication, and the thing is far speedier than burning and printing with your computer and a printer that requires you loading discs one-by-one. However, for the cost of a Bravo SE Disc Publisher (about $1500 online) you could do two 300 disc runs (including cases and full-color sleeves) at DiscMakers. And remember, you’ll need to purchase blank DVDs, blank cases, print inserts, etc. if using a Primera.

You’ll have to do your own cost-benefit analysis to determine what’s most cost effective for the work you do, but for what it sets out to do, the Bravo SE Disc Publisher is a success.

Film Festival World: Resources

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Film Festival World has recently launched a few useful resource pages worth checking out:

Their Ezines, Journals, & More page selects some of the better sources of critical writing on film from around the (digital) globe. Alongside long-running magazines (like Cahiers du Cinema and Cineaste) are sites like the Rouge and Senses of Cinema. I’m looking forward to exploring the sites that are new to me.

Another resource worth checking out is what they call The Essential Film Blog Reader. Though some of my favorite bloggers aren’t listed (Mr. Schnack? Mr. Lowery?) what’s there is quality stuff: David Bordwell, Ray Carney, Chris Fujiwara, Girish, Sara Jo Marks, Chuck Tryon, and others. Needless to say, I was flattered by the compliment of inclusion (and their biography, which was done entirely without my input).

If you’re unfamiliar with Film Festival World, you can read more about the site here.

Use Caution, Leopard Ahead

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Apple’s new operating system, Leopard, was released about 5 minutes ago. If you edit video — and I assume you do if you’re reading this — read the post at Little Frog before you rush to upgrade. (Little Frog… Leopard… What is it with the animals today?). Shane Ross has some tips for upgrading, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

The golden rule? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Read on…

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after going on sale, Leopard is… going on a rampage. While there are, doubtless, some happy early adopters out there, several folks are making some noise about all of the problems they’re having post-install. Topics in the Apple Support Forums with such inspiring titles as “Installation appears stuck on a plain blue screen” are not reassuring.

So, for now, beware. As one MacFixit article states:

Apple, having allowed this shipment to slip six months already, has had to get Leopard out the door before the end of October by hook or by crook. You may reasonably conclude that this cake is probably not entirely baked. As with Tiger, an early software update (10.5.1) will likely be needed to correct a multitude of issues. Until then, consider yourself a beta tester.

If you absolutely must install Leopard, read this MacFixIt article about the best way to install Leopard.