Archive for the ‘Movie Making’ Category

DIY: Teleprompter

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Walter Graff has just posted instructions for a low-cost do-it-yourself teleprompter. Looks like it works… and at a fraction of the cost of professional teleprompters. Good stuff if you need such a thing.

While you’re at Walter’s site, be sure to check out his “Instruction” page, particularly the “What’s in my Light Kit” article.

Open Thread: Superstitions

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

I’m back from Knoxville, where I just spent the last month prepping and then shooting a new project. I’m way too close to things to say much about it — what it is, how it went, and so on — right now. As it gets closer to completion I will talk more about it, no doubt.

Aside from not having any distance on the thing, the fact is that I’m just generally reluctant to talk about works-in-progress. This probably seems like an odd trait for a “film blogger” to have. If so, hey, guilty as charged. That fact remains that the only thing I like less than talking about a film I’ve just shot (but not edited) is a film I’m in the process of writing. I don’t have a problem talking about the project with collaborators — that would be counter-productive (and very frustrating for others, I’m sure). Mainly, it’s just a reluctance for me to attempt to define a creative project for others before it has defined itself to me.

The reluctance is also based in superstition. It seems like every time I say something semi-definitively about a film I’m making (especially during production) I’m eating my words within minutes. (A recent example: “I’m glad we’ve now decided which camera we’re renting and we can move onto other things!”)

On the flip side, I have certain rituals that I need to do before writing a project. And there are lucky objects: a brand of pens, old t-shirts, baseball caps.

I know I’m not alone. A lot of artists (filmmakers, writers, choreographers, etc.) that I’ve known are superstitious people — practically as superstitious as baseball players. The cinematographer of a couple of films I made always wore the same t-shirt on the first day of filming. It was a promotional film from a successfuly 90s indie comedy (which shall remain nameless). He loathed the film, actually, but he wore the t-shirt because he figured it would remind him that no matter what, we could make something better.

But enough about me. What about you? Drop a comment if you have superstitions when writing, prepping, filming, or finishing a project — or if you know a good story about someone that does.

Dialect Resources for Actors and Directors

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

The lead actress of the new film I’m working on is doing some dialect research. She shared this link with me, and I just have to share it here. It’s the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA). From their website, an explanation of the purpose:

The International Dialects of English Archive, IDEA, was created in 1997 as a repository of primary source recordings for actors and other artists in the performing arts. Its home is the Department of Theatre and Film at the University Of Kansas, in Lawrence, KS, USA; while associate editors form a global network. All recordings are in English, are of native speakers, and you will find both English language dialects and English spoken in the accents of other languages. The recordings are downloadable and playable for both PC and Macintosh computers.

It’s an amazing audio archive of dialects from around the United States. Maybe this is old news to actors, but it’s new to me, and quite exciting.

And, just in case you were wondering, we’ve been listening to Tennessee Eight.

New Doc Qualifying Rules: Arguments, Notes, Questions

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Over at All These Wonderful Things, AJ Schnack writes in depth on a subject that has long been a source of contention and debate in the documentary community: The Academy’s rules for qualifying for the Oscars.

Probably the biggest change is “Rule IV.2“:

In addition to the Seven-Day Qualifying Exhibition, feature documentaries must complete a Multi-State Theatrical Rollout consisting of fourteen other exhibitions, as defined in Paragraph III.2, of at least three consecutive days each, at least twice daily, in any standard commercial format. These exhibitions must be distributed among ten or more states in the U.S. and must be completed by Thursday, November 15, 2007.

I was surprised when I first read about this rule (in John Sinno’s Open Letter to the Academy). Mainly, I wondered how many docs could actually qualify for such a thing; it seemed unrealistic. AJ, though, is in support of the new rule and he makes a very convincing argument in support of the new policy. Pragmatically, he notes that several films qualified this year and, philosophically, he argues that

if you weren’t hoping, weren’t planning, weren’t thinking all along that you’d have a real theatrical [run], then you shouldn’t be thinking Oscar.

I found myself surprised to agree with him. My only lingering question on the issue is whether these rules are actually more restrictive than those applied to narrative features. To the best of my understanding — and I could certainly be wrong on this — a film like Letters from Iwo Jima really only needs a one-week qualifying run in New York or L.A. to be considered for the Oscars. If this is the case, why hold docs to a different standard? It seems like the best way to maintain integrity in the process is to have narratives and docs follow the same rules.

Aside from this minor point, I only found myself disagreeing with AJ one one other issue — his support for the 35mm print requirement, which remains for docs short-listed for the Oscar. AJ writes:

Some filmmakers have complained that if your film is shortlisted, you must produce a 35mm film print, a costly process that is starting to seem unnecessary in the midst of the digital revolution. I find this complaint a bit hard to swallow, considering that just 6 years ago you couldn’t play a film festival without a print, but Apted says that it’s something the Documentary Branch is looking at, and that it’s conceivable that in the near future you wouldn’t have to have a print if you made the semifinals.

Actually, I think the 35mm print rule is a legitimate complaint.

While it’s true that six years ago you couldn’t play a festival without a print, it’s also true that six years ago the theatrical experience was defined by 35mm film prints. Today, projection on 35mm is still the standard, but it no longer defines the theatrical experience. Digital projection in commercial cinemas has become increasingly commonplace. We are in an era where some viewers can go see a digitally shot, digitally projected “theatrical film” like Zodiac, as I did.

Furthermore, most documentaries these days — including all five nominated last year — were shot on some form of video. A 35mm blow up may be an “up-rez”, but it is, in all likelihood, a decrease in visual quality of the camera original footage. In all likelihood, the best looking version is the film’s videotape color-corrected edit master tape, which is probably on HDCAM SR. Heck, it might be on DVCam.

My point is this: If a film can qualify for the Oscar without ever making a print (by the new rules, it can), and if a 35mm print is a downgrade in quality (as any 35mm blow up is) then why create some flaming hoop for cash-strapped filmmakers and/or distributors to jump through? This would be a minor point, of course, if such prints didn’t cost $20,000 or more. That’s chump change for a studio; for the smaller outfits that distribute documentaries I would imagine that’s a hefty price for what sounds like a few screenings for the Documentary Committee to decide whether or not you’ll be nominated.

The supreme irony of all of this angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debating is that if a movie ends up being nominated, most people will judge the film on DVD screeners at home. This is true of both fiction and documentary features but, either way, what’s “theatrical” about that?

**

Healthy (and ultimately minor) disagrements aside AJ’s whole article is great food for thought, at least if you’re a documentarian (or advocate of them) or if you follow the Oscars in that Inside Baseball sort of way.

Ten Commandments from HDforIndies

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

Mike Curtis posted an amusing and, more importantly, instructive rant over at HDforIndies. The post, entitled “OK Indies, listen up – 10 THINGS NOT TO DO“, is a litany of Bad Things that Mike probably encounters once a day in his work as a post-production guru.

Eight of the DON’Ts are technology related. Five, in fact, deal in some way with the Panasonic DVX-100. That camera has earned its spot in the Pantheon of Great Indy Film Tools, no doubt, but its framerate settings (60i, 30p, 24p, 24pAdvanced) can cause a lot of problems if you don’t fully understand them. The fact that most of these problems happen in post-production only adds to the misery — if you’ve shot in multiple formats without understanding their differences and potential incompatibilities, you may have really hurt your project.

If you don’t understand this stuff, check out the CallBox DVD or read carefully in the DVXUser forums.

The two non-technology issues have Mike addressing the fact that so many poor independent filmmakers want him to do their tech consulting for free. Though his blog (like many others, including this one) provides information freely, Mike’s really in business to sell his expertise and information. Since the “product” Mike sells has no physical properties (i.e., it’s not a car or a widget) people seem to think that it should be given freely since it can be asked for freely.

I can relate. Since I teach, it’s my obligation — and it’s my pleasure — to give my information freely to my students. I also try to serve the community (both the film community and my local community) in different ways. But you have to draw the line somewhere in order to do your own work and to pay the bills.

Mike’s answer to people needing answers to specific post-production questions is that you can “pray to Google” or hire him. I’m someone who’s done both. Here’s a post from the past of my own experience in hiring Mike as a consultant.