Archive for the ‘Movie Making’ Category

Costuming Forms and Resources

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Wardrobing on my previous films has often amounted to browsing through each actor’s closet and, if they’re lucky, making a quick stop by the Goodwill.

For my new project, though, there are about 20 characters, not to mention 150 extras, all of whom we have to dress for a mid-19th century masquerade ball.

Just kidding.

In all seriousness, we’re going to have to do a little costuming for the new project I’m working on. It’s nothing elaborate — just a uniform for a baseball player — but a even single costume means taking measurements. I found the following forms online, and they’ve been useful for me. Maybe they’ll be useful for you.

How To Take Measurements

Measurement Form

The first form listed above comes from The Costumer, a costume rental house.

The second form comes from MIT’s OpenCourseWare website, specifically their Fall 2004 course entitled Costume Design for the Theater. I browsed the site for a few minutes. It looks like it could be a great, and free, resource for budding costumers.

Also, while I’m on the subject, MovieMaker Magazine had a pretty good article about low budget costuming last summer.

Finally, if you’re serious about looking at the art of the costume designer, it’s tough to go wrong with Screencraft: Costume Design. It is a good book and, as an added bonus, there’s a large photo of Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman on the cover. Meow!

An Open Letter to the Academy

Monday, March 5th, 2007

John Sinno’s open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is worth a read, so I’m posting it below. Sinno was one of the producers of James Longley‘s Iraq in Fragments, a documentary full of poetry and ambiguity — uncommon virtues for such a political film. Like the movie, the letter speaks for itself.

John Sinno
Typecast Films
3131 Western Ave Suite 514
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 2, 2007

An open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers’ craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very “real” quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films “incredibly depressing!”

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld’s remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries “incredibly depressing,” he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they’re nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld’s introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers’ work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we’e living in.

John Sinno
Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments
Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

Review: 24P Digital Post Production with Final Cut Pro and the DVX100

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Call Box’s 24P Digital Post Production with Final Cut Pro and the DVX100 is a new instructional DVD that features Noah Kadner, one of the early adopters of the DVX100, talking about different workflows and best practices when using those two eponymous (and ubiquitous) tools of independent filmmaking.

The DVD runs 90 minutes, and it’s divided into several small episodes in which Kadner discusses lots of basics (e.g., what’s a slate and how to use it, recommended tape stock) and some intermediate techniques (e.g., why and how to use CinemaTools, exporting projects for Color Correction at a post house, etc.). While some of the topics that Kadner covers seem pretty basic for anyone familiar with the DVXUser.com discussion boards, my suspicion is that this DVD grew out issues that Kadner has seen over and over in his consulting gigs. Sometimes the biggest problems that consultants solve stem from very simple things that were overlooked at the beginning of a project.

The video is well-shot on a bare-bones set, which puts the focus on Kadner, who is an engaging teacher. The DVD presentation is professional; it can be watched in one sitting, or chapter-by-chapter, which is useful if there’s one topic you particularly want to revisit. I do wish that it was a DVD-Rom, perhaps to include some quicktime files to practice with, but I suppose Kadner assumes we wouldn’t be watching if we didn’t already have these tools ourselves.

Do note that this DVD focuses almost entirely on circumventing workflow problems using the DVX100 and FCP. This is NOT a “how-to-edit” in Final Cut Pro DVD, nor is it a manual on how to get the most of the DVX100’s sophisticated imaging settings. (For an instructional guide on how to use FCP, I recommend Larry Jordan’s Final Cur Pro 5 Essential Editing, Beyond the Basics, and Essential Effects DVDs. For a guide on making the most of the DVX100’s image options, check out Barry Green’s The DVX Book, which sometimes ships with new DVX100s.)

If you’ve shot and completed a few projects without any hitches using 24pAdvanced footage, 24P Digital Post Production with Final Cut Pro and the DVX100 probably isn’t for you. But beginning to intermediate users venturing into 24p production would do well to spend 90 minutes with this disc before racing into production. Some might hesitate at the $75 pricetag but, as Kadner points out on the DVD, he gets paid $75 an hour to solve other filmmakers’ problems. I guess you could think of this as preventive medicine (at 2/3 of the cost).

More information can be found at Call Box.

A Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking at William & Mary: Pt. 1

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

The College of William & Mary brought me to Williamsburg, Virginia this weekend to participate in a “long weekend of short filmmaking.” It’s been a busy, and rewarding, weekend.

Friday, after arriving to town, I was a judge at 24Speed, William & Mary’s variation on those twenty-four hour filmmaking contests that have grown in popularity throughout the country.

In this case, eight teams of six filmmakers each were provided the same line of dialogue (a line from one of last year’s videos: “I’m not taking you out, I’m taking you down”) and a 1920s yearbook from the college’s archives, which they had to use as a prop. After a drawing in which they received two film genres at random each team had to choose one genre in which to work. They then had 24 hours to produce a three-to-five minute video.

By the time of the screening the place was packed. Each of the eight videos had their charms and their share of cleverness. Of course, all of them had their rough spots, too — what video produced in 24 hours wouldn’t? It’s funny, though, how those “rough spots” (some out of sync dialogue, say, or let’s-roll-with-the-first-and-only-take-performances) become charming in and of themselves when you consider the context of how quickly these things were produced.

After watching all the videos, the two other judges and I had a healthy debate about the merits of the eight videos. Every video, to its credit, managed to produce at least a handful of laughs, jolts, or cringes.

Speaking only for myself, as a judge I was looking for videos that had adequate craft, for starters. Beyond that, though, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the best shot or best edited video. I was looking for videos that gave me a fresh take on the genre instead of merely rehashing it. That might sound like a tall order, but there were more than a couple that did this.

Ultimately, after forty-five minutes, the other two judges and I had settled on the prize winners. The winner was a mockumentary that used consistently smart deep-focus cinematography to execute its jokes with a lot of subtlety; an honorable mention was awarded to some ambitious students that came this close to nailing their chosen genre, the musical. That’s right, in 24 hours they wrote, scored, shot and edited a musical. It was rough around the edges, sure, but it definitely had me eager to see what these guys could accomplish in 48 hours, and that’s worth something.

***

That night, after the screening was over, I realized that I had experienced a change of heart about competitions like 24Speed. In the past, to be perfectly frank, I’ve had some reservations about the benefits of such competitions. I guess I feared that the 24 hour time constraint reinforced bad habits (mainly, thinking that making a film is something you can rush through) and emphasized competition over collaboration. I see, now, that I’ve been wrong.

First, the competitive nature (at least at this one) was entirely overshadowed by the fun everyone was having. That was great to see. Competition can push people to do better work, even (especially?) with art. You just can’t take it too seriously.

Secondly, and even more importantly, I see now that what these competitions can do is remind us that there are times when it’s better to make something as quickly as possible just to do it.

More than anything else, watching these videos (and meeting the students that produced them so quickly) I was reminded of the collaborations I have undertaken in the past with friends on videos for Termite TV. To an outsider, such projects might seem “insignificant,” but I always learned something by making them, even if the final product sometimes ended up being kinda rough.

This afternoon, browsing Termite TV’s website, I ran across a quote from Manny Farber‘s “White Elephant Art vs Termite Art” essay, which reads as a kind of found poem for what I saw at 24Speed:

a peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art
is that it moves always forward,
eating its own boundaries, and
likely as not, leaves nothing in its path
but evidence of eager, industrious, unkempt activities

***

Part 2 of W&M’s Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking coming soon…

ADDENDUM:All of the entries for the contest are now online for viewing by the general public.

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.