Archive for the ‘Post-Production’ Category

Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

It’s been a long time since we’ve done a post that wasn’t related to Something, Anything. Back in 2007 (!), I did a post on shareware for filmmakers. That’s still the first hit you get if you google the term. So I figured it was time to do an update.

Looking over this list, it’s kind of remarkable what kind of tools you can assemble for very, very little money.

Happy New Year!

 

AUDIO/VIDEO EDITORS

Audacity: Free. From the audacity website: “Easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems.”

Audio Hijack: $49. Allows you to record any streaming audio. Useful for all sorts of things — skype interviews, etc. Also, you may want to compare Fission (Rogue Amoeba’s $29 audio editor) against Audacity.

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DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve 12: Free and Paid versions. Resolve would be on this list alone because it’s an industry-standard color grading app. What’s equally amazing is that it’s now a very useable NLE. When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X and abandoned its venerable (but aging) Final Cut Pro 7, there was a seismic shift in the NLE landscape. Some people moved to Premiere Pro, others moved to Avid, and some adopted FCPX. I clung to FCP 7 in hopes that something would come along that was less buggy (and better supported) than Premiere, more intuitive than Avid, and more “traditional” (for lack of a better word) than FCP X. DaVinci Resolve is not perfect, but it’s elegantly designed, and the free version does 90% of what the paid version does. And of course, it’s a must have for the grading tools alone.

 

VIDEO CONVERTERS

Apple Compressor: $50. Apple’s venerable Compressor app (part of its old Final Cut Studio suite) got a make-over when FCP X was introduced a few years ago. Now an affordable standalone app, it’s $50 and works pretty well. Users of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Media Encoder) probably don’t have a use for this, but some people (I’m one) still prefer it. VLC, Handbrake, and MPEG Streamclip (all below) are other alternatives, but I tend to go with Compressor.

MPEG Streamclip: Free. In their own words, MPEG streamclip is a “free video converter, player, editor for Mac and Windows. It can play many movie files, not only MPEGs; it can convert MPEG files between muxed/demuxed formats for authoring; it can encode movies to many formats, including iPod; it can cut, trim and join movies. MPEG Streamclip can also download videos from YouTube and Google by entering the page URL.”

Handbrake: Free. From the Handbrake website: “HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs.”

 

SCREENWRITING, WORD PROCESSING, SPREADSHEETS, etc.

Celtx: Free (for scriptwriting app only; other features are paid). I teach first-time screenwriting students, and this is the app I always send them to because it’s free. There are paid upgrades if you want additional features (scheduling and so on). But I’ve not tried those, and I’d be reluctant to use them over Scenechronize (see below). My favorite screenwriting app is Fade In (see immediately below), but this gets the job done if you have absolutely no money.

Fade In

Fade In: $50. This isn’t shareware, but it’s affordably priced, especially considering the competition. The best, and simplest, screenwriting app I’ve ever encountered — and I’ve paid for Adobe Story, Final Draft (vers 6, 7, and 8) Movie Magic Screenwriter, and several other also-rans (plus Celtx). Fade In works with files from other screenwriting apps flawlessly, in my experience. You can import files from Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Adobe Story, Scrivener, PDF, and plain text, among others. The interface is just what I want: It looks good, it puts a focus on the words, and it’s easy to navigate through the script. I actually LIKE using it. There’s also an iPad app. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as solid.

Scrivener: $45. Like Fade In, this isn’t shareware. But it is an awesome tool for keeping notes, research, and drafts in order as you prep a project. The one downside is that the developer has been promising an iPad version for years, and during that time people have been leaving the app for other competitors (like Ulysses).

Libre Office and Open Office: Free. These are essentially open source versions of the applications you find in Microsoft Office. (Do I really need to explain what you’d use these for?) Anyway, some people prefer Libre Office, others prefer Open Office. My day job supplies me with a free copy of MS Office, so I don’t have much of an opinion. They’re both free — download them both and give each a spin. Of course, another option is to work in the cloud using Google Docs (see below).

 

MISCELLANEA

App Cleaner: Free. If you’re reading this, you probably like trying new apps. The problem is that when you install new software hidden files and folders often get installed all over your computer. App Cleaner the easiest way to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. I use this all the time.

Super Duper: Free / $28 and Carbon Copy Cloner: $40. Backups are essential, and these are two great backup and disk-cloning solutions. I far prefer either to Apple’s Time Machine (which is a different thing altogether). I use SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner is very good too.

Cyberduck: Donationware. As the website states, Cyberduck is a “FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, S3, Azure & OpenStack Swift browser for Mac and Windows.” My go-to app for FTP stuff.

Movie Thumbnails

Movie Thumbnails: $3.99. This is really one of the best-kept secrets on the list. Movie Thumbnails lets you “create an overview or contact sheet of a movie combined with metadata like resolution, codec details and so forth.” We used this app to create contact sheets for every video file shot on Something, Anything, which helped us check on the wardrobe continuity or lighting for a shot from previous days of filming. Invaluable!

Pacifist: $20 shareware. This is one of those apps that you may only use once or twice, but you’ll be so glad it exists when you need it. Basically it allows you to drill down into Mac software packages to extract a single file from an installer. You may think you have no need for it, but like I said, it’s great at what it does.

QuickTime Movie NoteTaker: Free. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is still supported, and I confess I’ve not needed to use it in years.But this made the list last time and it might help someone out, so I’m listing putting here.

Self-Control: Free. The internet is a factory of distractions. If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on that screenplay, use Self-Control to shut off the internet for a while. It works.

Transcriva: $30. Transcription software for the Mac. I’ve not used this in a while, and some folks are using their NLE’s voice recognition software, but it’s still useful. While looking at Transcriva again I ran across Express Scribe — never used it, but it also worth a look if you need something like this.

White Noise Free: Free. I get distracted if I can hear random conversations, music, etc. while doing deep dive work (e.g., writing or editing). Listening to white noise and a pair of good headphones helps me stay focused.

VLC Media Player: Free. From the website: “VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.” Plays almost anything you throw at it. We use this to cue up trailers at Public Cinema screenings.

 

CLOUD/WEB APPS:

This could be a really long list, but here are a few that I use.

Scenechronize

Scenechronize: Free and Paid versions. I used to use a very old academic edition of Movie Magic/EP Scheduling, which is really expensive, to do stripboards and scheduling. Then a few years ago we discovered this. We used the free version of Scenechronize on Something, Anything, and it was amazing. It’s so amazing that I’ve bumped it to the top of this section, out of alphabetical order. The paid version allows teams to collaborate.

Dropbox and Copy: Free and Paid versions. You know what Dropbox is. Copy is pretty much the same thing. There are lots of other web apps out there that do what these two do. When Something, Anything started being invited to festivals, each one would ask for their own set of (sometimes unique) deliverables. Instead of using Dropbox (which I use for tons of other things) I created a new Copy account and created files for each festival. This kept things clean and organized. Again, you could do this with one service (like Dropbox) but with so many players in the free cloud storage area, why not use a few?

Google Apps: Sheets and Forms. Free. I’m ambivalent about cloud computing (as in, it really sucks if you lose internet service), but I use Google’s Spreadsheet and Survey apps quite a bit. We used the spreadsheet app to keep track of everything from casting information to festival submissions to publications to approach for reviews or other coverage. Google Surveys are great, too. We used them one, for example, at the beginning of Something, Anything to poll our crew about dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and so on.

WordPress: Free. Many a great website was built on the back of WordPress. (In case you’re interested, this site is built on WP; Something, Anything‘s site is SquareSpace. SquareSpace will cost you money, maybe too much money, but it’s appealingly no fuss.)

STUFF I DON’T USE, BUT SOME PEOPLE SWEAR BY:

Blender: Free. Blender is used for, as the website says, “3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games.” If you’ve ever seen my films you might suspect I know virtually nothing about this stuff. And you’d be right.

Lightworks: Free and Pro (Paid) Versions Lightworks was one of the first non-linear editors, and it’s been used to edit films like The Wolf of Wall Street, LA Confidential, Pulp Fiction, Heat, and Road to Perdition. You can compare the free and paid versions here. After Apple’s FCP debacle in 2011, I was curious about exploring this, but by the time the Mac version of Lightworks was released Resolve had emerged as a NLE candidate.

Evernote: Free and Paid versions. I’ve never been a convert, but some people — especially writers — are almost cultish in their devotion to Evernote.

 

Hopefully this post introduced you to one or more apps that helps you be more creative and productive. If you like something that I’ve not listed, or have thoughts on any of the above, let me know in the comments, via email, on Twitter, etc.

Something, Anything – By the Numbers

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

A year ago today, Something, Anything had its world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Today, the film is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vimeo, and Netflix. To commemorate an incredible, and exhausting, year of sharing the film with audiences here are some fun facts.

Something, Anything… by the numbers

22,474: miles traveled screening the film from April 2014 (premiere) to February 2015 (end of fest travel)

3333: days between emailing inquiry to Abbey of Gethsemani (first day of research for script) to world premiere (Wisconsin Film Festival)

961: gigabytes of original footage (AVCHD codec, in case you’re interested)

371: days between first day of principal photography and last day of principal photography (August 14, 2011 – August 20, 2012)

159: runtime of the film’s first assembly edit

127: scenes in final draft of screenplay

100+: actresses seen during casting for role of Margaret

88: runtime of film’s final cut

71: dollars paid on Ebay for the main lens used to shoot the film (Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E)

58: locations filmed

57: Facebook posts on since April 2014.

33: speaking roles

24: music cues

14: festivals and cinematheque selections (as of April 5, 2015)

8: number of times Paul Harrill and Ashley Maynor moved from pre-production through post-production

7: average number of crew members (largest crew size was 14; smallest was 1).

6: different camera models used on various occasions through production

5: attempts made to film synchronized fireflies before succeeding

4: babies born to crew and cast members during the film’s production, post, and distribution

3 and 1/2: stars (out of 4) given to film by critic Michal Oleszczyk in his review on RogerEbert.com

2: number of weeks Something, Anything was in Netflix’s Top 50 streaming movies according to website InstantWatcher.com

1: scenes in which the character of Peggy/Margaret (Ashley Shelton) does not appear in the film

Adobe, Avid and FCP X: Resources for Switching

Friday, July 1st, 2011

If you currently use Final Cut Studio you’re going to have to switch to something different at some point. That might mean “upgrading” to FCP X, or moving to a competitor’s product, like Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer.

To aid this, I’ve included links to demo versions and free/paid tutorials.

Demo Software
Final Cut Pro X
Demo download link: No demo version available. A 30-day demo version is now available here.
Cost of full application: $299, plus $49 for Compressor and $49 for Motion.

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5: Production Premium
Demo download link:Adobe CS 5.5 Production Premium 30-day Trial Version Includes Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Encore, Audition, Illustrator, On Location and more.
Cost of full application: 50% off ($849.50) thanks to a limited time “switch” promotion! Regularly $1650 for the suite of applications; $440 for the same suite in its “student/teacher” edition. (PremierePro can also be bought separately, but this is not nearly the same value as the bundle, which includes After Effects, Audition, Encore, etc.)

Avid Media Composer
Demo download link:Avid Media Composer 5 Free 30-day Trial
Cost of full application: $995 thanks to a limited time “switch” promotion. Regularly $2295; $295 for educational edition.

Lightworks
Finally, it should be noted that Lightworks — a professional editing application used to cut such films as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, and The King’s Speech — has gone open source for Windows and is slated for a late-2011 release on the Mac. If you currently have a dual-boot Mac, this is definitely a no-risk option to consider.

 

Tutorials
Final Cut Pro X

IzzyVideo: Final Cut Pro X Tutorial
Cost: Free!
Notes: Over 2.5 hours of training videos, plus project files. I don’t expect this to go into a ton of detail, but what I’ve watched so far seems pretty good, and you can’t beat the price.

Ripple Training: FCP X
Cost: $40
Notes: I’ve used Ripple Training tutorials for earlier editions of Final Cut Pro, and I find them very efficient ways of getting up to speed on the application. These download to your iPad or computer through the iTunes store.

Larry Jordan: FCP X
Cost: $99 for the entire set of tutorials. Or chapters for $15 each.
Notes: Larry Jordan’s previous FCP tutorials have been very good, but I can’t say whether these are worth the extra cost over the Ripple tutorials. Jordan’s tutorials have a little more personality than Ripple’s, which is a pro or con depending on your taste.

 

***
Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe: Editing With Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 If You’re an Final Cut Pro user
Cost: Free!
Notes: A PDF that lays it all out — straight from Adobe. Clearly they are in it to win it.

Adobe: Switching to Adobe Premiere Pro 5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Covers same info as above, but in video form. About 80 minutes of tutorials to help you make the switch from FCP to Premiere Pro. Probably not enough to train you completely, but enough to let you reassure you that switching to Adobe would be a simple transition.

Adobe: Adobe TV – Learn Premiere Pro CS5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Excerpts from the Lynda.com training listed below. Probably not a solution for advanced training.

Adobe: Learn Premiere Pro CS5 and CS 5.5
Cost: Free!
Notes: Mostly text-based tutorials.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS5 Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 5 hours of training videos on Premiere Pro.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS 5.5 New Features
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 27min of tutorials about new features in PP 5.5. You would want to watch this after the tutorials listed above.

Lynda.com: Encore CS 5 – Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 4hrs of tutorials on Adobe’s DVD authoring application.

Lynda.com: Audition 3 Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: 6.5 hrs on Adobe’s audio editing application. Doesn’t appear to be fully up-to-date for CS5.5 version of the application.

Lynda.com: After Effects (various)
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: Hours upon hours of tutorials for Adobe’s acclaimed effects and post-production application. Newcomers should start with After Effects Apprentice, which is 14 hours over 7 lessons.

 

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Avid Media Composer

Avid: Avid Media Composer 5: Getting Started
Cost: Free!
Notes: 3 hours of tutorials from Avid to get you started on Media Composer.

Lynda.com: Avid Media Composer 5 – Essential Training
Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos.
Notes: Nearly 6 hours of tutorials on Avid. This appears to replicate some of the free training Avid provides, but at twice the length, one assumes it also goes into more depth.

Avid: Avid for FCP Users
Cost: $50
Notes: DVD-based tutorial. Does not appear to be available online.

Apple’s FCP X FAQ: Reading Between the Lines

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Apple today posted a FCP X Answers To Common Questions page in attempts to address some pro editors concerns (read: “do damage control”) about the new application. While it brings some much-needed clarity to some questions (about sharing projects, etc.) many of the answers (to their own carefully phrased) questions talk around the issues.

Below I’ve offered my highly-subjective and quite likely wrong translations of some of the more curious Q+A sections of Apple’s FAQ. I’m no fortune teller, and if I’m wrong I will be happy to be wrong. But this is a very carefully worded document and, as is often the case with PR statements, what’s not said is as important as what is.

Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X?
Their answer: Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. In addition, Final Cut Pro X features new and redesigned audio effects, video effects, and color grading tools. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so after installing Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 7 will work with Mac OS X Lion. You can also import your media files from previous versions into Final Cut Pro X.
My translation: “No. And do not get your hopes up about this ever working. But it might — we said might — be something that works in limited fashion via XML, possibly through a 3rd party plugin, in the future.

Can Final Cut Pro X export XML?
Apple’s answer: Not yet, but we know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X.
My translation: “We’re going to enable XML export. And, who knows, maybe XML import… Wait and see.” Hey, your guess is as good as mine (probably even better), but it sounds as if they will add the ability to export XML, though the wording is vague enough that one could interpret it to mean that they’re going to rely on third parties to develop an XML export plugin. Also, curious is the fact that they say nothing of XML import, particularly since some detective work by others has shown that Apple appears to have been developing XML import capabilities in the program’s code. Maybe I’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt. (That’s something I’ve not said many times in the last few days.) 

Does Final Cut Pro X support OMF, AAF, and EDLs?
Apple’s answer: Not yet. When the APIs for XML export are available, third-party developers will be able to create tools to support OMF, AAF, EDL, and other exchange formats. We have already worked with Automatic Duck to allow you to export OMF and AAF from Final Cut Pro X using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/.
My translation: “We’re outsourcing some of the pro features you used to find in Final Cut Studio. This is one reason we’ve lowered FCP X’s price tag to $299. So we don’t have to develop this stuff. So get out your checkbook, but remember that FCP X, Compressor and Motion are under $400. You can spend the money you used to spend on Final Cut Studio to add back the functionality to which you’re accustomed. This a la carte approach is a way for us to get advanced hobbyists on board and to try to keep pros.”

Can I send my project to a sound editing application such as Pro Tools?
Apple’s Answer: Yes; you can export your project in OMF or AAF format using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp
My translation: “Um, yeah, if it wasn’t clear from above, we’re outsourcing those pro features.”

As I said, I’m quite possibly wrong about these things — and maybe way off the mark. I’m speculating, but that’s because Apple is — even after releasing a FAQ — still asking us to speculate.

If I am right, and the new approach is a la carte features, well, I’m not sure that’s actually a bad move. Other vendors developing these tools means that things might be better and more quickly developed than they would if Apple was doing them. They are, after all, a consumer electronics company now. Again, assuming this is the case, the big questions are:

What will be the final cost of adding in these various plug-ins, etc.?

Will Final Cut Pro X remain the bargain that Apple’s touting it to be?

And, perhaps most importantly, if FCP X lacks professional features without the use of plug-ins, does using plug-ins on a somewhat less-than-fully-pro application trump using something like Avid, Premiere Pro, or Lightworks?

We shall see. Later this week I’ll be posting some switching resources… because if you use FCP 7 you’re switching, one way or another, to an entirely new edit suite.

EDIT (6.29.11 12:14pm): Made some changes to the XML-related Q+A — one typo had changed the entire meaning, so I revised my interpretive paragraph.

FCP X User…. or Ex-FCP User? Some thoughts.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

For the most part, this is not a review of FCP X. If you must know, I’ve used FCP X a little bit and I like its sleek interface and speed but, even more, I miss a lot of Final Cut Studio’s functionality, particularly Color. If FCP X matures into something more professional (i.e., more robust editor, plus a truly sophisticated color grading tool) I might embrace it. If it doesn’t, I will embrace something else.

The biggest problem for me, and for many others I suspect, is that I don’t know where it’s going and what it will become.

What’s been most puzzling in the aftermath of the FCP X is that so many people outside the professional production community — journalists, software developers, consumer video hobbyists, etc. — have tried to serve as apologists for Apple even though they have little experience editing professionally (i.e., for works that are publicly exhibited in broadcast, theatrical, or home video environments).

So, instead of reviewing the program in depth, I want to add my $0.02 to the ongoing FCP X debate by trying to articulate very clearly why I and others are frustrated with Apple and — yes — why we’re considering switching.

In the Q+A format below I try to address these (sometime maddening) comments.

Let me point out that the comments to which I’m replying are composites or, at times, actual quotes (marked with asterisks) of comments I’ve found in news articles, message boards and elsewhere. And if you don’t believe me, Google them.
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