Archive for the ‘Production’ Category

Filmmaking and the Environment

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

As you probably heard yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. I’ve not always been a big supporter of Al’s, but I was definitely feeling some pride for the local boy done good (the second native Tennesseean to be awarded the Peace Prize, actually.).

Though the press reports usually got it wrong, as AJ Schnack reminded everyone yesterday, Gore did not win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (because he didn’t direct it), but I have little doubt that the film — because of how it drew attention to the cause of global warming, and because it drew attention to Gore’s advocacy in the process — was a factor in Gore sharing this year’s Peace Prize. Looking over the list of previous Peace Prize winners, I couldn’t think of another instance in which cinema played such a central role in the awardee’s recognition.

Anyway, in the spirit of the announcement, I thought I would share some links and notes on environmentally-friendly filmmaking for those folks out there that, whether or not they like Al Gore, accept the findings of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world that shared the Peace Prize for their work on man-made climate change research…


Review: The Filmmaker’s Handbook, 3rd Edition

Monday, October 8th, 2007

My earlier post on the 3rd edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was written in anticipation of receiving it. Now I’ve got it in hand, and had a chance to look it over.

A lot of people simply want to learn from a review whether or not they should own a book or not. If that’s why you’re reading, the answer is that, generally speaking, if you are a novice-to-intermediate filmmaker, this is an essential book.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some quickly-jotted observations:

There are lots of changes, but few surprises. And that’s probably a good thing. There’s only one new chapter, at the beginning, which lays out basic questions that filmmakers should consider before beginning their work. Aside from that, the changes are all revisions. The biggest change, because it’s something of a philosophical shift, is that the chapters on Video now take precedence over the chapters on Film. And, of course, the video chapters have been (predictably) overhauled and expanded. The film chapters have largely gone (predictably) untouched.

It’s still essential. I don’t know of any single technical manual related to filmmaking that collects so much information in one place. None of its chapters can compete with my favorite books on sound, lighting, etc. but this is a great place for novices to begin and it’s a great single reference book for the rest of us, particularly on the things that won’t change as quickly as video (sound, lighting, film).

It’s already starting to become obsolete. Steven Ascher notes this in the preface: “Right now, the pace of change in video and computer technology is so rapid, some things in this book could be dated before you get to the end of this sentence.” There is a small, one sentence mention of the Red Camera (bottom of p. 34). I expect there will be more on 4K and RAW imaging in later editions.

There will be new editions, and probably sooner than later. The cover of this edition conspicuously notes that this not the “3rd Edition”, but instead the “2008 Edition.” Aside from noting that, well, it’s still 2007, I have to imagine that this is a hint that we’ll see this tome updated more regularly. And it is a tome.

Readability is reduced. The Handbook has been such a staple of film education because of its (relative) readability. Ascher and Pincus do a fine job of making complex technical concepts understandable for novices. But as the book has grown (see below) it has sacrificed some of its readability. There is simply so much stuff in this new edition that it can be a little difficult to navigate through it to find what you need. Luckily the index is above-average for this type of book.

It’s big. Really big. I remember a film professor of mine once waxing nostalgic about how the precursor to the first edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was a small pocket-sized book by Ed Pincus called Guide to Filmmaking. That book, my professor argued, was superior in some ways to editions of The Filmmaker’s Handbook because you could stash it in your back pocket while you filmed. He had a point. This is a “handbook” in name only — it has 830 pages and weighs nearly 3 pounds! (Here’s a similarly sized work of fiction, as a point of comparison.) I wouldn’t recommend eliminating anything, but I do wonder if perhaps the next edition shouldn’t be called The Filmmaker’s Desk Reference.

In sum, while this isn’t my favorite film book, if you are new to filmmaking, or if you are beyond the basics but need a single desk (or on-set) reference for tons of technical stuff, this is probably about the best $16.50 you could spend.

Two Hands are Better Than One: LevelCam and “RebelCam”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Earlier this month, Matt over at FresHDV posted some photos of a new, fairly inexpensive ($50) gizmo called the LevelCam, which helps stabilize camcorder footage. This is no Steadicam — there’s no counterweight, no spring-loaded arm, no gimble. It’s just a small horizontal mounting surface that allows a camera operator to hold a camera level with two hands instead of just one. The LevelCam looks throw-it-in-your-backpack small, which is an added bonus.

Of course, if you’re too cheap to spring for something like the LevelCam — of if you just want to see how such a thing works — you could build a similar contraption. Stu Maschwitz’s DV Rebel’s Guide has instructions for building what he calls a “ghetto cam.” (Note to Stu: Not to get too PC on you, but I think “StuCam” or “RebelCam” would be a better name for it.) What is it? Basically a 2×4 and a couple of 1″ dowels.

I just built a “RebelCam” to see just how much it helps stabilize the image, and I have to say that it works better than I expected. The materials cost less than $10; building it took about an hour. The two downsides are that a) it’s kinda bulky and b) getting the camera mounted with a thumbscrew is a pain. For $40 more (and no effort) you can get a smaller, possibly more convenient version.

Of course, you can just try to hold the camera steady with one hand. People have done it for years. Or at least tried.

The Bible, Revised

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

In some fields, there’s that one book which, without it, your collection would be hopelessly incomplete. In my opinion, every kitchen needs a copy of The Joy of Cooking, a library’s not a library if it doesn’t have the Oxford English Dictionary, and filmmakers… well, I would argue that all of us need a copy of The Filmmaker’s Handbook by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus. At least that was true a few years ago.

First released in 1984, The Filmmaker’s Handbook was one of the first, and best, books to cover almost all technical aspects of the filmmaking process. Its presentation of technical concepts was accessible to beginners; its depth of detail meant experienced filmmakers could return to it again and again, always sure to learn new things.

For years, the Handbook didn’t need an update. Film technology had gone largely unchanged for decades. An f-stop’s an f-stop, right? Then, in 1999, the Handbook was updated to include developments in digital video. A necessary nod to the present, no doubt, but also an invitation to obsolescence.

The 2nd edition was first published in March 1999 — one month before the unveiling of Final Cut Pro 1.0. Things have changed. Radically. Needless to say, the Handbook‘s been long overdue for another update.

So when I say that the new edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was released yesterday, well, if you’re sentimental about books like I am, maybe you’ll agree that this is a cause for celebration.

In many ways, though, it’s a bittersweet celebration. At this point, I don’t expect The Filmmaker’s Handbook to present any especially new information, exactly. The internet keeps me up-to-date on this stuff far better than any book can now. And, like so much of the technology it will no doubt discuss, I suspect that much of the information found in this 3rd Edition will be out of date within a year or two. If not sooner.

Yet, even when discussing evolving technologies, books have their place. Books demand (or at least request) more attention than digitally-presented information does. That’s a good thing, especially when you’re trying to learn something. You can also carry a book to a remote location where you might never have the internet access that would allow you to google for a solution that might crop up on set. But most importantly, a book lets you dog ear its corners, mark up key passages, and write in the margins. At least, that’s what I plan to do with my new edition as soon as it arrives on my doorstep.

And besides, a lot of what this new 3rd edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook will have to say has never gone out of style and won’t for a long, long time. After all, an f-stop’s still an f-stop.

First Red Cameras Slated to Be Delivered Today

Friday, August 31st, 2007

More news on the Red Camera’s release as updates and footage become available.

Until then, assuming you haven’t been following this camera’s (fairly open) development, you can get caught up by reading the official propaganda from Red and Apple. Then check out the various forums:


Red forum on

UPDATES (last update 9/6/07):

FX Guide – “Red One Starts Shipping”
Words and photos about the release.

FX Guide – Shooting With Red

FX Guide – RED Podcast Discussion

“First Pictures” thread posted at
Links to first known still grabs and short clips from Red users. Registration is required to view the photos.

OffHollywood Studios’ Red Diary: Day…. 1, 2, 3