Archive for the ‘Tools/Equipment’ Category

A Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking at William & Mary: Pt. 2

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Saturday morning at William & Mary began with Troy Davis giving Ashley and me a tour around the William & Mary’s Swem Library Media Center. The Director of the Media Center, Troy was my host for the weekend and one of the primary organizers of the Media Center’s Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking.

The Media Center is several things in one — an equipment training center, an equipment check-out center, a recording studio for music and podcasts. It’s anything and everything that students want and Troy makes himself, and his assistants, available to students to teach them anything from iMovie to Logic Pro.

Troy has been the Director of the Media Center for a year and a half, and it’s impressive what he’s accomplished. On a technical level, he’s helped secure some superb editing facilities (several Mac tower stations with Final Cut, Logic Pro, and the rest of the works, each in its own sound controlled environment). For a guy who describes himself as a “dabbler” when it comes to film, I was impressed with all the smart technology purchases he has been making, not to mention his ability to talk in depth about the subtle differences between various pieces of equipment they own.

Since there are, no doubt, places like this at universities across the country, the biggest accomplishment isn’t the equipment and stations he’s amassed — it’s the sense of community generates out from this media hub. A lot of that, no doubt, is due to Troy’s vision for the Media Center as a place that is accessible and inviting (as opposed to exclusive and intimidating). The Media Center, in fact, is littered with Troy’s self-desribed “propaganda” — humorous, well-designed posters — that invite students into the space and use the equipment.

After the tour, Troy and I recorded a podcast that covered making and teaching film. He had thought a lot about my work and had some great questions, which is really flattering. (The podcast will be posted at some point on Media Center site. I’ll link to it when it’s available.)

The podcast led into a “self-reliant filmmaking” workshop that I conducted with some of William & Mary’s film students and faculty.

I began by discussing the work I do on this blog, including my reasons for starting it, and how it’s transformed my own film practice. I then opened things up for discussion, which led to a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from what video camera to purchase to some simple strategies for first-time documentarians. Ashley threw in some good advice during the conversation, to boot; I was happy she had joined me.

Our workshop group talked for nearly two hours, so Ashley and I had a quick break for lunch before I ran off to a screening of some of my own short films at the historic Kimball Theatre. The films looked good in this classy venue, I was happy with the turnout, and the questions the audience asked were, again, really good. (I even received some email from audience members after the screening thanking me for sharing my work.) There was a little reception in the theater lobby afterwards, and I enjoyed talking with some of the William & Mary faculty members that had come to the screening. That conversation led to a coffeehouse where Sharon Zuber, who teaches W&M’s production courses, and I compared notes about how to teach film production.

We closed out the day by stopping by the premiere of the Cans Film Festival (pun intended), a student-organized screening of films produced at a variety of Virginia universities. (There weren’t any entries from Virginia Tech — maybe next year?) Ashley and I weren’t able to stay for long — I was beat and we had a long drive back in the morning. We did manage to catch one zombie flick before we left.

Before we left on Sunday morning, Troy treated us to breakfast at one of Williamsburg’s many pancake houses. Ashley and I had seen a number of pancake houses on our drive in, and I suppose they reflect the fact that Williamsburg is a haven for retirees and a magnet for tourists (motto: “Where History Lives”). The three of us had one last movie-saturated conversation, and Troy told us about his next dream for the Media Center — restoring an unused auditorium in the William & Mary library and making into a screening facility/microcinema.

As we drove out of town, past a few more pancake houses, I thought about a place like Wiliamsburg. Even with the occasional major production (like Malick’s The New World) coming to town, it would still be surprising to see Williamsburg develop into the next Austin. Williamsburg’s a town of 12,000 people, and a lot of the people are transient (whether they’re tourists, college students, or retirees). That’s a tough place to build a film culture. Of course these things don’t only apply to Williamsburg. If this sounds like your town, too, well, so be it. It sounds like mine.

The thing is, something is happening in Williamsburg. Things like the Kimball Theatre, and the William & Mary Media Center are part of the puzzle. The “corner pieces” of that puzzle, though, are a dedicated group of people with vision, passion, and resourcefulness. That’s the real lifeblood of regional filmmaking and film culture. Some places don’t have this, or have enough of it. Luckily, for Williamsburg, it has Troy Davis, Sharon Zuber, Arthur Knight (coordinator of Film Studies at W&M), and a host of student filmmakers. Something tells me that their numbers will only continue to grow.

Loss of deck connectivity in Final Cut? Try reinstalling QuickTime

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Normally I try to write less prosaic (or at least shorter) post titles, but hopefully this will help some Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express users that are googling for a solution to deck connectivity problems.

A few weeks ago a student came to my office nearly in tears because Final Cut Express, which she had on her iBook, wouldn’t recognize her camcorder when she was trying to capture footage. In fact, most times, FCE would crash when she tried to capture footage.

We tried to isolate the problem:

Was it a connection problem? No, we tried firewire cables (including some known to work). The problem continued.

Was it a camera problem? No. We captured footage on my laptop without any issues.

Was it a computer problem? Probably not. She was able to capture footage on her computer using iMovie.

At this point we began the googling. After a while, we happened on the problem (QuickTime) and its solution (reinstalling QuickTime).

Here’s Apple’s article on the subject: Restoring a DV device connection in QuickTime 7.

It’s worth noting that this tip also works for Final Cut Pro. And its a good reminder that a smart first place to search when encountering problems with Apple-manufactured software is Apple’s own support site.

Software Update: Final Cut 5.1.3

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Apple has just released an update to Final Cut Pro (5.1.3). Apple describes it as a maintenance release that “resolves performance and other issues.” Specifically:

Render File Capability – apparently, render files created on a PowerPCs and Intel-based Macs weren’t playing nice

Keyboard Layout Issues – “adds several commands to the default keyboard that were missing”

Issues with Cross Dissolves in Nested Sequences – “resolves cases in which cross dissolves did not work as expected in nested sequences containing still images with adjusted motion parameters”

You can read more here.

Of course, as with any upgrade, you might wait and see how others are faring with the update before you upgrade yourself. The VersionTracker message board is one good place to look for this kind of feedback.

Also, if you move between different computers using the same project files make sure all the machines will be upgraded at the same time so that your files aren’t rendered incompatible, as sometimes happens.

Finally, use extreme caution when upgrading software while in the midst of working on a project. I have seen nasty stuff happen to FCP projects when someone upgraded their system from, say, 4.5 to 5.0. I’ve even seen it happen with a “dot something” upgrade. Such a small incremental update like this (5.1.3) is probably okay. But I’m not going to guarantee it. Safety first: If things are working just dandy for you with 5.1.2, don’t chance it. Finish that project, output it, archive it, and then do the upgrade.

Cool Tool: Steadybag

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Matt over at FresHDV has a warm write-up on the Steadybag from Visual Departures. Check it out.

Cool Tool: Gage-It

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

While at Home Depot the other day I ran across a nifty little all-in-one measurement tool called Gage-It. It allows you to measure screws and bolts; nuts; steel, brass & PVC pipe; wire size; and nails. It also has a couple of rulers (metric and standard) and a conversions table for weights and measurements. I feel like I’m always going to the hardware store trying to find a screw that’s the right size for this or that thing around my house, plus it seemed like a useful thing to have with you on a film set, so I picked one up. The thing cost something like $1.99.


I can’t even seem to find the manufacturer (“Armour Technologies, Inc.”) online, much less the item itself. The only other mention I could find was at Toolmonger, from whom I grabbed the pic above. But if you’re looking for one, try Home Depot. I ran across mine in the screws/nails aisle.

Finally, as an aside, writing this post made me realize that I’ve become so conditioned to finding products on the internet (and the internet has become so synonymous with shopping) that, when I run across something that can’t be found for sale anywhere online, it seems… well, it seems weird. And by “weird” I mean conspiratorially weird, even creepy. It’s like the thing doesn’t exist, even though I have one right in my hands. Am I alone on this one?