Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

My Two Favorite Resources on DSLR Filmmaking

Friday, June 18th, 2010

My absence for the past few months has been due to the fact that I’ve been woodshedding, as folks in the Jazz world would say.

One of the things I’ve been doing is writing. When I’m writing, I find this blog takes a back seat. Sorry, dear readers. That’s the way it goes. As for what I’ve been writing, well, maybe one day you’ll see…

In my spare time, though, I’ve spent a lot of time playing with these newfangled DSLR cameras. Though I’ve bought one (a Canon 7D), I’m not sold on them. I know I’m late to the party in discussing them, but better late than never. I’ll post my thoughts in a few days.

In the meantime, there have been several resources for DSLR filmmaking that, time and time again, I’ve consulted as I’ve been experimenting with these cameras. I want to give a special shout out to two of them:

The first is Ryan Koo’s fantastic DSLR Cinematography Guide. I always enjoyed Ryan’s writings on the now-defunct DVGuru blog, and this reminded me of that. Ryan has done the legwork for novices, compiling information from all over the ‘net. If you are new to DSLR filmmaking and have time to read only one thing, read this. It’s free, but if you send him a donation you’ll get a PDF of the whole thing. I did.

The second resource is Shane Hurlbut, ASC’s invaluable blog. I knew Hurlbut was a champion of the Canon DSLR cameras since at least last summer. What I didn’t know until recently, though, was how generous of blogger this guy is. How does a guy in the ASC have time to write as much as he does while I’m making my first post in, what, three months?

Both Ryan’s and Shane’s willingness to share their knowledge and mistakes so freely (as in “openly” and as in “without compensation”) has rekindled my love of internet.

But for now, it’s back to the writing room.

By the way, for more on woodshedding, check this out.

Tape is dead! Long live tape!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

It struck me today that For Memories’ Sake will probably be the last movie I’m involved with that uses videotape. Ashley began shooting the documentary with the venerable DVX-100 in 2006 and, for consistency’s sake, we stuck with that camera through production. All the new projects that I have on the horizon will be shot with a tapeless cinema camera, whether it’s made by Panasonic, Sony, or Red. So tape is dead to me.

Or is it?

One of the issues, of course, about shooting tapeless formats is what you do with the data. While editing with tapeless footage, of course, I keep lots of backups on drives in different locations. But after the project is completed, using hard drives to archive the footage is not a reliable solution. Of course, I’ll confess that this is what I’ve done in the past. But as my hard drives age, and as I amass more footage that I’ll want to hang onto, I know I need to find another solution. Most pros will tell you that solution is (wait for it)…. tape. Specifically, LTO or “Linear Tape Open.”

Luckily, for us Mac users out there, Helmut Kobler recently did us all a service by summarizing how to get started with LTO4 tape archiving on a Mac. Kobler estimates the low-end price tag for a Mac-compatible LTO system as $3300.

That figure may seem like a lot to independent filmmakers. (I wonder how many fewer Panasonic HVX200s or Sony EX-1s would have been sold if this cost was factored into the purchase price?)

In the end, whether to spend this kind of money amounts to questions about risk and value: How much do you value your data? And how much risk are you willing to take that your data might be lost forever?

For me, that $3300 is starting to look like a decent value. Long live tape!

Final Cut Pro tips: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I started noodling with Final Cut Pro soon after it came out (ten years ago!) and taught myself how to use it. By taught, I mean that I learned to hack my way around and accomplish what I needed. But it wasn’t pretty or fast.

After a few years, I really started feeling the limitations of my abilities, so I decided to dig into some tutorials. For whatever reason — probably because I’d seen a few for free online — I chose Larry Jordan’s Lynda.com video tutorials. These helped me immensely with everything from media management tips to techniques that greatly reduced the time I’d spend fumbling through FCP’s interface.

Even if you don’t need to teach (or re-teach) yourself Final Cut Studio, I highly recommend that you check out Larry’s free Monthly Newsletter. Among the tips this month:

Startup Mode Selector, a free application that helps Snow Leopard users learn more about, and harness, 64-bit technology without use of the terminal…

Ken Stone’s excellent iChat Theatre tutorial

and Apple’s substantial (40pages) white paper on Customizing Final Cut Studio Blu-Ray Disc Templates.

Enjoy.

For Memories’ Sake, pt. 3: Organizing Content

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Once I had completed the most basic research and transferred Angela’s movies to video, I had to figure out how to keep track of the content of her collection. Though I only later learned about the importance of metadata and the availability of online archivist classes, I began simply and naively with a system that has served me well. I created a basic Filemaker Pro database with screengrabs from the home movies and just enough data to let me quickly find movies by persons featured, keywords, and/or their location on specific film reels or transfer tapes. I think this screen grab is somewhat self-explanatory:

As you can imagine, the keywords tend to be most useful. The beauty of using Filemaker Pro (as opposed to a library-designed data management software or, even worse, paper-based finding aid system) is that I can create ways to look for and quickly find what I want in a way that make sense to me. It’s also one of the most affordable solutions I’ve found.

Of course, I quickly discovered I would need hard drives and backups of those hard drives for all the data and the video files, and when you’re dealing with hundreds of hours of footage, it’s quite an investment. I’ve found this brand to be especially reliable and affordable. As part of the “best practices” I’ve adopted, I always keep one copy of master tapes and hard drives with data in a separate, secure, climate-controlled location (e.g. not in a basement, attic, or anywhere subject to big temparture fluctuations or humidity). I also set alarms to remind myself to power up and spin the heads on the harddrives at least once every six months. Failing to do so can mean a total loss of data.

**

Even for filmmakers who aren’t interesting in shooting small format or working with family archives, home movies have a lot to offer. As opposed to much archival footage that comes with hefty fees (my searches online yielded rates ranging from $25 per second to $350/second and up), home movies often come free for the taking (with attribution) or for a song at garage and rummage sales. More than that, I believe there’s something inexplicably beautiful in these smaller than life versions of everyday scenes. Maybe it’s because small things distill life to its essence…or maybe it’s because the world seems so big and wonderful when things appear so small. Whatever the reason, if you come across orphan or neglected home movies, I hope you’ll consider preserving and using these beautiful artifacts or donating them to an archive near you.

In the next making of For Memories’ Sake post, I’ll share how I scanned and catalogued 30,000+ photographs without taking too many years off my life.

Still from Angela Singers 8mm home movies.

Still from Angela Singer's 8mm home movies.

For Memories’ Sake, pt. 2: A Smattering of Super-8 Resources

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Paul Harrill here. What follows below is Ashley Maynor’s second post about For Memories’ Sake, her forthcoming documentary. (I am the film’s producer.) If you missed Ashley’s first post, you can catch up with it here.

As you might guess if you read my first post, I soon found myself overwhelmed with the task of caring for Angela Singer’s massive and chaotic collection. While this preservation project has finally come together in the form of a movie (more than three years since it began), I had to first learn to work with and care for her diverse and problematic assemblage of photos, films, and video. As a first generation college student, I majored in the not-so-versatile area of French Literature. I came to filmmaking late in my academic career, so it was without any formal photography training and during my first year of film school that I set out to learn best archival practices, digitization techniques, and the ins and outs of small format filmmaking.

While there’s no substitute for learning hands-on through trial, error and frustration as I did, the following is a collection of websites and online resources that most helped me as I stumbled through the first phase of preservation:

Working with Home Movies

General Interest & Footage Sources

Home & Amateur – A blog about home movies and amateur film, whose contributors hail from the Center for Home Movies.

Lost in Light – The documentation of a (now complete) free home movie transfer project, including home movies, categorized by topic, many of them available for Creative Commons remixing.

Prelinger Archives/Archive.Org – A collection of home movies includes amateur films and videotapes from the collections of the Center for Home Movies, the Prelinger archives, other home movie aficionados. Many of the movies are public domain or available for use under Creative Commons guidelines.

Supplies & Small Format Filmmaking Resources

Film Shooting – A great online source for news about all things home movies and small format filmmaking based in Norway. Given that two major print publications (Super8Today and SmallFormat) have shut down their presses in the last year, this online news pool is essential.

On Super 8 – This site bills itself as “impartial and comprehensive resources for today’s Super 8 and 8mm small gauge film makers.” It’s all that and more; based in the UK.

Pro8mm– The only movie house I know of in the US that specifically specializes in Super-8 film stocks and transfers. In 2008, they added a Milliennium II Scanner with daVinci 2K color corrector to their transfer menu, capable of SD or HD scans. It’s the premier scanning system for small  gauge film.

Super 8 Site – A German Super8 site. The “links and addresses” page is worth a look.

Urbanski Film – Though the website screams 1990s, I’ve ordered and been very pleased with film cleaning supplies, projector bulbs, and other hard-to-find small format equipment.

And though it goes without saying, eBay is an immense (if risky) resource for finding old Super 8 cameras and projectors, as well as professional VHS decks for digitizing old videocasettes.  Before purchasing the unknown, I’ve found the folks on the AMIA Small Gauge/Amateur Film Interest Group listserve to be incredibly helpful and willing to share their expertise.

Preservation & Care Information

Brodsky & TreadwayThe transfer house for rare, valuable, and fragile home movies. Their companion site, Little Film, contains detailed, downloadable tips and instructions for caring for home movies.

Home Movie Day – A major project of the Center for Home Movies, Home Movie Day is an international celebration of home movies. The site contains lots of information about film handling and care as well as links to home movie day events across the country and the globe. Home Movie Day also keeps a running list of home movie transfer houses.

National Film Preservation Foundation – A clearinghouse of film care basics and resources for more advanced users. Be sure to download their extensive film preservation guide.