Archive for the ‘Principles & Productivity’ Category

Review: Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Note: Though it’s clumsy phrasing throughout this review I refer to the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher by its full name because Primera makes a similarly named unit, the Bravo SE AutoPrinter. The AutoPrinter model prints, but does not burn, DVDs. It’s a critical distinction, and one that you want to make sure you’re aware of if you decide to purchase either unit!

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Though the days of online distribution are upon us, DVDs still remain a (if not the) most effective way of sharing work seriously with an audience.

Obviously, one way of producing DVDs of one’s work is to burn discs individually on your computer. After burning, you can label them by hand or, if you have a printer that accepts DVDs, use a printer. This method works fine if you’ve just got a handful to burn. Sometimes these printers can be fussy, though. Don’t get me started on my experiences with my Epson R200 printer.

Another way of producing DVDs is to have them produced by a professional duplication house (e.g., DiscMakers). This is the way to go if you need hundreds for festival submissions, online or in-person sales.

But what about if you need somewhere between a dozen and a thousand? What if you find yourself needing to burn and print a moderate number discs, particularly projects that need to be updated intermittently (like, say, a demo reel)?

The Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher aims for this market. A combination laser jet printer, DVD burner, and robotic arm, it automates the burning and printing up to 20 DVDs at a time. I have been testing one for the past couple of months, and here are my findings:

Pros:

Once set up, it does the job without hassle. Setting up the Primera Bravo SE Disc Publisher with a Windows-based computer was fairly hassle free. And once it was set up the unit performed like a charm. Readers of this site may be doing a double-take — Did Paul just say Windows machine? Yup. I first tried setting up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher using an older “sunflower” iMac. That unit simply didn’t have enough RAM and processor speed to do the job. Worse, though, was the fact that, regardless of the Mac computer I used, the included software was buggy and the features were limited. On a Windows-based machine the Bravo SE Disc Publisher has worked flawlessly and the included burning and label design software is easy to use.

Automation is a beautiful thing. The Bravo SE Disc Publisher will do runs of 20 discs. In my tests, the unit only stopped mid-run because of an error once, and that error was an operator error. (The “finished disc” tray should be extended when printing one disc, but pushed in when printing two or morel I left it out once when I should have pushed it in.) After a number of runs I grew confident that the unit didn’t need “nursing.” I felt confident leaving it alone and concentrating on other work.

It’s pretty speedy. The time it takes to burn and print a run of 20 is dependent on a lot of factors — the length of the program, the design of the label, your computer’s processor speed and RAM. With my set-up the Bravo SE Disc Publisher was able to burn 20 DVDs of a short program (30 minutes or so) with a basic text label in about an hour. I was satisfied with those results.

Results have been reliable. The DVDs I’ve burned work, and they look consistently good. ‘Nuff said.

Cons:

Not so hot on Macintosh. Though, admittedly, I tried using an iMac that didn’t have enough oomph to get the job done, the design/burning software included for Mac was not as feature rich.

Ultimately, whether this unit is for you depends on your DVD burning needs. The results are more immediate than sending the DVDs off for replication, and the thing is far speedier than burning and printing with your computer and a printer that requires you loading discs one-by-one. However, for the cost of a Bravo SE Disc Publisher (about $1500 online) you could do two 300 disc runs (including cases and full-color sleeves) at DiscMakers. And remember, you’ll need to purchase blank DVDs, blank cases, print inserts, etc. if using a Primera.

You’ll have to do your own cost-benefit analysis to determine what’s most cost effective for the work you do, but for what it sets out to do, the Bravo SE Disc Publisher is a success.

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…

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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.

The 25 Greatest Documentaries of All-Time?

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

IndieWire reports today on the International Documentary Association’s list of the “25 Best Documentaries.” As an introduction to the genre for people who have never seen more than one or two non-fiction films (including, say, March of the Penguins) it’s a serviceable list. On the other hand, it will probably upset a lot of people, if the comments after the IndieWire article are any indication.

It’s not worth getting too worked up over these things. Like those AFI best-of lists, they’re not so much a serious study as a marketing tool for the sponsoring organization. Still, I was pretty surprised (and a little sad) to see just how historically short-sighted and Americentric this list is, particularly coming from a group that is comprised of filmmakers and bills itself as an international association.

Almost all the films on the list are American, English-language films. As for representation throughout the decades, the last seven years are represented by ten movies; the ’80s and ’90s are represented by seven more. The other eighty years of cinema are represented by a mere eight films.

I can put aside the fact that lesser-known, esoteric personal favorites (like, say, Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, Godmilow/Farocki’s What Farocki Taught/Inextinguishable Fire, Jorge Furtado’s Ilha das Flores, or Wiseman’s High School) didn’t make the cut. But a list claiming to represent the “Greatest Documentaries of All Time” that doesn’t feature a single film by Robert Flaherty, Dziga Vertov, Jean Rouch, Michael Apted, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, much less Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah ? Well, it’s curious, to say the least.

Ok, I said I wasn’t going to get worked up. So I’ll stop.

Here’s the list. Continue the debate in the comments, if you want….

1. “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx
2. “The Thin Blue Line,” directed by Errol Morris
3. “Bowling for Columbine,” directed by Michael Moore
4. “Spellbound,” directed by Jeffery Blitz
5. “Harlan County USA,” directed by Barbara Kopple
6. “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim
7. “Crumb,” directed by Terry Zwigoff
8. “Gimme Shelter,” directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
9. “The Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris
10. “Roger and Me,” directed by Michael Moore
11. “Super Size Me,” directed by Morgan Spurlock
12. “Don’t Look Back,” directed by DA Pennebaker
13. “Salesman,” directed by Albert and David Maysles
14. “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance,” directed by Godfrey Reggio
15. “Sherman’s March,” directed by Ross McElwee
16. “Grey Gardens,” directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer
17. “Capturing the Friedmans,” directed by Andrew Jarecki
18. “Born into Brothels,” directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
19. “Titticut Follies,” directed by Frederick Wiseman
20. “Buena Vista Social Club,” directed by Wim Wenders
21. “Fahrenheit 9/11,” directed by Michael Moore
22. “Winged Migration,” directed by Jacques Perrin
23. “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog
24. “Night and Fog,” directed by Alain Resnais
25. “Woodstock,” directed by Michael Wadleigh

21 Mac Shareware Applications for Filmmakers

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Back in July, I linked to a post that recommended 15 “must have” Freeware programs for filmmakers. Though it favored Windows users, it was still an interesting list of applications.

At the end of that post in July I mentioned that I’d try to add to that list, so here it is. Listed below are 21 freeware and shareware applications that I use regularly or which have, at the very least, really saved my butt a couple of times. There are only two duplicates betwen the FreekGeekery list and the one below.

Granted, some of these applications are, at best, only tangentially related to filmmaking. While it may not be as sexy as editing your latest masterpiece simple stuff like email, writing treatments, doing budgets, taking notes, and – yes – simply maintaining your computer probably constitute at least some of your time as a filmmaker. At least, I know it does mine. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s all part of the same process.

So on with the list. If you see a favorite application of yours missing from this list, by all means say so in the comments.

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