Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

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 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.

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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.

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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: 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 fromcasting 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

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

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.

 

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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

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.

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.

"Editors are stupid if they upgraded on day one. I don’t know any pro I’d hire who jumps into something brand new and gets rid of their old stuff immediately." * I know of no one who threw out FCP 7 and assumed they'd jump straight to FCP X. Indeed, no pro worth her/his salt would ever migrate from one FCP version to a new one in the middle of a project. Final Cut 7 was an aging application that lacked many well-integrated features found in Premiere Pro and Avid. Editors have been begging for a new release of Final Cut for years. It's logical for editors to be excited to try it. If anything, the number of pros that downloaded it on its release date shows a lot of passion for the Final Cut brand!

"How can you expect a brand new product to be fully functioning and have all its features included on Day One?"* Actually, for two reasons: First, because no previous version of Final Cut Pro reduced functionality of its predecessor when it was released. And, secondly, because Final Cut Studio 3 was pulled on the same day, suggesting that the old Final Cut was indeed replaced by FCP X.

Apple can't have it both ways -- FCP X is either:

a) an update -- and hence it can carry the name "Final Cut Pro", and should be reasonably expected to carry over the same feature set, or

b) not an update -- and so can be forgiven for not having the same features as Final Cut Pro, but it should not be named as such.

By using X instead of "10" Apple may be trying to have it both ways… but they can't. It's wrong to claim the "Final Cut" name for marketing purposes, but not own the legacy of expectations associated with the application -- particularly when doing so casts the new version in a bad light.

"Your Final Cut Studio 3 suite of applications still work." "No one is forcing you to upgrade." "I was unaware that we lived in a world where software upgrades were mandatory."* Because FCS3 has been declared end-of-life, at some point -- perhaps soon, maybe in years -- it will no longer work, either because of an OS upgrade, changes in hardware, failure to support a new camera, etc. Transitioning to SOMETHING new is inevitable.

Since FCP X doesn't allow one to open Final Cut Pro 7 projects, FCP7's usefulness is today greatly reduced for the future, assuming one plans to adopt FCP X. As a point of comparison, Adobe Premiere Pro, for example, can open FCP 7 projects. (For an explanation of why opening legacy projects matters, see below.)

Finally, the issue for those of us in the educational community who teach editing is a pressing one. For us, Apple has forced a moment of decision. Beginning in August, when classes begin for most of us, we must decide whether to:

a) teach a "dead" application, which students cannot even purchase for themselves; b) switch to an unfinished application that does not yet include features that are important in any professional's skill set; c) switch to another company's application (e.g., Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, etc.).

In such a scenario, option "C" begins to look like the most logical solution.

"I haven’t seen a negative review of FCP yet from someone who took 10 minutes to learn about how it was new and then gave it a fair shot. All the bashing I’ve seen has been dishonest, by people who presume that, because something works differently in FCPX than FCP7, it is simply impossible to do."* Clearly, if anyone knows what's possible and what's not possible to do in the application, it is Larry Jordan, one of the leading teachers of Final Cut Pro. Jordan had access to a pre-release version and has been selling FCP X tutorials since Day One. Here is a quote from his blog:

In FCP X, Apple got some things amazingly right. But they also got key features amazingly wrong. And if they don’t change course, this software, which has significant potential, is going to spin further and further out of control. At which point, its feature set is irrelevant, its reputation will be set. We’ll be looking at another Mac Cube.

"The nay-sayers of this application fear change." First, this argument contradicts the earlier argument that "editors are stupid to try to adopt this on Day One." (See above.)

The people that I know that are the most pissed off are, in fact, longtime FCP users who were looking forward to FCP X's release. They were looking forward to the release because they had been waiting for an update to the application for several years. Several features announced in April by Apple about the new FCP X were exciting -- 64 bit support, support for H264 footage, renders being a thing of the past… If these things had been delivered without "taking away" features that many editors use in their day-to-day work, most editors would have raced to adopt and embrace the other, less familiar aspects of the new application (say, the new user interface).

"The FUD from “pros” are not pros at all – they are competitors from Avid, Adobe, and every little editing software maker who are literally QUAKING in their boots at the incredible bargain that FCPX brings. Period."* To account for the backlash against FCP X with this kind of explanation is paranoid. I'm reminded of the quote, sometimes attributed to Twain, "Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."

"Why the hell should a 7 project open in FCPX? That makes no sense. The entire flippin program has been redesigned. Finish your project in 7 and shut up."* The ability to open old project files is essential to any pro or semi-pro editor. Whether working for clients or for oneself, motion picture project files are often re-opened and tinkered with for years after their initial completion. Reasons for this can include such things as revising a corporate video with a client's new logo, updating a stereo project for surround sound, creating a Blu-ray project for a project that was once released on DVD or even VHS, creating a closed-captioned version to meet new accessibility guidelines, and so on. I could go on for pages about such changes, but I think I've made my point.

"Only a tiny segment of pros actually have a need for OMF, XML, EDL, tape output, etc." You're probably right -- most of us don't use these things on a daily basis. But that's like saying "Most drivers, on a daily basis, don't need airbags."

OMF, XML, EDL and other features pros are lamenting are professional, which is to say that many of the programs you see on television, in theaters, at film festivals on on DVD run across the need for these specialized tools at critical junctures in their projects. Not all projects need these tools, and not all projects that need them use them daily. But they are critical.

Speaking personally, I often edit my own projects and my projects often stay on one computer, but even then I will use OMF or XML to share these projects with collaborators (e.g., a sound editor using ProTools or a color grader using a Da Vinci suite). These are essential steps to completing a project.

Ironically, the fact that FCP X has sound editing and color grading features far less robust than Final Cut Studio only heightens the need to be able to share your project with other applications!

"It's released from the app store, so improvements will arrive faster." First, improvements will not arrive faster because of the app store; the speed of the improvements -- if and when they are offered -- will be dictated by the software developers.

Regarding the App Store as a delivery method, I don't understand why the App Store is different from, say, Software Update. But I'm not a programmer, and perhaps there is a good reason for this.

I do find exclusively using the App Store for such a massive piece of software cumbersome and the App Store creates problems for companies and universities that deal with issues like volume licensing and educational sales.

"Be patient. A lot of the features that are missing, like multicam, are on their way." Are they? If they are on their way, when will they arrive? What will be included? What features will never be "restored" to the application? And finally, share with us the source of your information. Please only cite actual quotes from Apple.

In all of my reading on FCP X, I have yet to encounter official statements made directly by Apple regarding what features will or won't be continued. A week after its release, the two closest things we have had to an official communication (as of this writing) are:

a) a few private email exchanges between pro users and Randy Ubillos, the lead software designer on FCP X. In one of these emails Ubillos verified that legacy FCP projects will never open in FCP X;

and

b) a response to a handful of criticisms in a hastily blogged response by David Pogue, a consumer tech journalist for the New York Times. Despite his attempts at helpfulness, Mr. Pogue is not an appropriate or even necessarily a capable messenger for any information that needs to be relayed by Apple to its current user base of Final Cut Studio users. His initial review and subsequent defense -- which showed special access to Apple developers that pro users don't have -- sadly did damage to my respect for him. Though perhaps unintentional, his special access makes him look like Apple's "embedded" reporter at the New York Times.

Final thoughts:

For many of its earliest years, Final Cut Pro was considered non-pro by many in the editing community. Avid reigned supreme, and many editors stuck out their necks by committing to Final Cut Pro. Though it's largely an emotional, not a rational, connection, many editors feel a deep loyalty to Apple for the journey they've taken together as FCP ascended in reputation and market share. Now, to feel as if their needs have been ignored and, worse, replaced by the need to woo a consumer market… well, for many it is a very bitter pill to swallow.

Like any misunderstanding, the way to mend things is via openness and communication. But Apple's lack of communication -- and the other signals it has sent regarding professional applications and tools -- accounts for much of the anger and anxiety many editors are feeling. Unless Apple lets us know otherwise, can we be blamed for interpreting that the "Pro" in Final Cut Pro X may actually mean "pro Consumer", and that the "X" may stand for ex-Pro?

If, as Ubillos suggests, FCP 7 projects will never open in FCP X, then I -- and thousands of others -- will be switching to something new. Here are our options:

FCP X Adobe Premiere Pro Avid Media Composer Lightworks Media 100 Sony Vegas

For nearly a dozen years, I have never considered, or needed to consider another suite of software to edit video. Now, entirely thanks to Apple, I must.

I'm not Steve Jobs, but I must say, it's a curious way to run a business.

Prepare to Lose Everything: Use SuperDuper and SMARTReporter

As I mentioned in my last post, hard drive failure is a virtual certainty. It's going to happen to every drive, eventually. The trick to not having your day (or your life) ruined by such and event lies in a) having an up-to-date backup and, if possible, b) being as prepared for drive's failure as possible. To this end, here are two resources to help you and me be prepared for the inevitable:

SuperDuper. If you don't know of this application, prepare to meet your new best friend. It clones hard drives. Reliably. A limited version is available for free. For under $30 you can buy the fully featured version, which allows you to schedule backups and does smart updates (i.e., it copies even faster). I've used SuperDuper for years and see no reason to change as long as it works but, as an FYI, Carbon Copy Cloner does similar things and is donationware.

SMARTReporter.  This nifty application checks on the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) status of your hard drive to see if it has any problems. It is, as the folks at Corecode note, a kind of "early warning system" to notify you (by email, alert, etc.) of a possibly impending hard drive crash. Useful stuff, particularly if you've not run a backup recently. The one hitch: SMART technology does not work with USB and FireWire drives. All the more reason to schedule backups so they're always up-to-date.

In my experience, I have found that a drive's likelhood to fail is directly proportionate to its need to work on a given day. One example: On the day I was set to drive to 200 miles to a post house to do the final output of Quick Feet Soft Hands for television broadcast my raid, storing all of my Final Cut Pro and Color files failed. Thankfully, I had an exact clone and didn't skip a beat.

Suggestions for further reading:

How Do You Make a Filmmaker Cry?

What to Do When Your Hard Drive Goes Soft

 

Shopping for Hard Drives? Two helpful resources...

I've been setting up a home file server and HTPC with a MacMini and, in the process, I found myself shopping for hard drives. It's amazing how cheap they are (about $80-100 for 2TB these days) when you consider what they do (i.e., holding all of your precious digital memories).

Unfortunately, other than relying on your own good and bad experiences, making informed decisions about purchasing new hard drives is next to impossible. The most important factor in a drive is reliability, but there's no way to know if the drive you're shipped is going to fail in 6 hours, 6 months, or 6 years. Compounding this is the fact that almost all reviews -- particularly those from customers on retailer websites -- are anecdotal by nature. Read the 1-star reviews on Newegg or Amazon for any hard drive and you'll soon be looking for another model. And then another. And then... they all start looking equally awful.

Two websites to break through this logjam were Storage Review and Mac Performance Guide.

Storage Review takes hard drive reviews seriously. In searching for some reliable, large, and quiet drives, I followed their recommendations. I particularly found their "Leaderboard" of best drives useful and, after a little cross-checking, followed their recommendations.

Mac Performance Guide, on the other hand, is home to a motherlode of tips on optimizing a system. The site, authored by photographer Lloyd Chambers, bills itself as "offer[ing] the web's clearest advice on selecting and configuring a Mac, especially for photographers." That's quite a claim, but I can't refute it. The Articles and Guides section -- which has multiple articles on backup, data safety, and optimizing Mac performance -- is outstanding.

By the way, I ended up purchasing three different drives: a Western Digital Caviar Green, a Seagate Barracuda Green, and a Samsung Spinpoint F4. I bought none of them in confidence, which, I suppose, is the way you should always buy a drive. That's why you have backups.

 

iPhone to Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro does not like video that has been shot with an iPhone 4. I learned this shortly after getting my iPhone and shooting the Karpeles Manuscript Museum video a few weeks ago. I imported my iPhone-shot footage into FCP. I was skeptical I'd be able to do anything with it since it's H264 footage and FCP (still) doesn't handle that footage well. The picture was fine, actually. The problem was the audio -- in the form of a big red render bar, to be precise. What to do?

Thankfully, a benevolent soul (named Jeff Greenberg) has done two things:

First, he's explained the problem and the solution. Not surprisingly, it involves transcoding to ProRes.

Secondly, he's gone a step farther and created an iPhone 4-to-FCP compressor droplet for you.

To edit your iPhone footage in Final Cut Pro, all you have to do is download this file, drop your iPhone movies on the droplet, and import them when they're done rendering.

Perhaps we'll be able to expect better H264 in the new Final Cut Studio. Whenever it's released, that is... Until it's released in June, this is the workaround (or one of them).

Launched: The New Self-Reliant Film.

If you're looking at this website in anything other than an RSS reader you can probably tell that we've completely overhauled the website. Thanks to our wonderful designer friends at Nathanna, we've both expanded and simplified the Self-Reliant Film website.

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, our new look is based on some new directions for the website.

Today, with the launch of the new site you can do a few things that you couldn't do before:

 

Sign up for the email list. Our new email newsletter will have exclusive content we don't put on the blog. We’ll share tips on great films we’ve recently discovered, we'll provide some extra filmmaking tips, and you’ll get access to see our films for free. The newsletter is only sent once a month, we never sell or share others’ email addresses, and it’s ad-free. Subscribe!

 

Watch our films: Some folks that visit this site do so because they're fans of our films. Others visit the site because of the blog. If you've not seen our work, or you want to see our films again, or you want to see more of them… we've spelled out all the ways to watch.

The easiest and least expensive way is to sign up for the email list. But there are other ways, too. Find out more here.

Must reads: Look to the sidebar on the left. These are a few of the most popular posts on the site. Check them out if you're new here or if you've not read these. The Declaration of Principles was the first post on the blog, and it's still pretty much as relevant today as it was when it was drafted in November 2005.

 

Resources: If you click on "Resources" (look to the upper left of this page) you'll see some of the more helpful pages we've assembled for filmmakers (and everyone) since beginning the site. Over the coming weeks we'll be updating and expanding these pages.

 

Submission guidelines: We've always received emails from readers wanting us to watch and/or review our films. This has been done pretty much catch-as-catch-can in the past. We finally drew up some ideas about how to do this, as seen in the sidebar on the left. We want to review and put a spotlight on great films more than we've been able to recently. This is a way to encourage this. Click on the Submission Guidelines and and let us know if you've got a film you want us to watch.

 

What hasn't changed?

 

Our blog still features all the same stuff that we've championed and discussed from the beginning -- DIY, regional, and personal filmmaking. We've moved it to selfreliantfilm.com/blog, so update your bookmarks.

(If you bookmarked an old page from the blog it should automatically redirect to the new permalink structure, but if you encounter a broken link, let us know!)  

Finally, one other thing that hasn't changed: This site is still ad-free.

For us, self-reliance has always gone hand in hand with the idea of simplicity. While filmmaking is a vocation that often resists even our attempts to simplify the process of making movies, we feel the least we can do, sometimes at least, is keep our tiny corner of the internet quiet from flashing banners, pop-ups, and google ads buried within our own reflections. This website, like our films, continues to be a labor of love.

We hope you like the new site, and the things to come. If you do, spread the word by sharing with a friend by using facebook, twitter or, you know, by actually telling someone about it face-to-face.

Tape is dead! Long live tape!

It struck me today that For Memories' Sake will probably be the last movie I'm involved with that uses videotape. Ashley began shooting the documentary with the venerable DVX-100 in 2006 and, for consistency's sake, we stuck with that camera through production. All the new projects that I have on the horizon will be shot with a tapeless cinema camera, whether it's made by Panasonic, Sony, or Red. So tape is dead to me. Or is it?

One of the issues, of course, about shooting tapeless formats is what you do with the data. While editing with tapeless footage, of course, I keep lots of backups on drives in different locations. But after the project is completed, using hard drives to archive the footage is not a reliable solution. Of course, I'll confess that this is what I've done in the past. But as my hard drives age, and as I amass more footage that I'll want to hang onto, I know I need to find another solution. Most pros will tell you that solution is (wait for it).... tape. Specifically, LTO or "Linear Tape Open."

Luckily, for us Mac users out there, Helmut Kobler recently did us all a service by summarizing how to get started with LTO4 tape archiving on a Mac. Kobler estimates the low-end price tag for a Mac-compatible LTO system as $3300.

That figure may seem like a lot to independent filmmakers. (I wonder how many fewer Panasonic HVX200s or Sony EX-1s would have been sold if this cost was factored into the purchase price?)

In the end, whether to spend this kind of money amounts to questions about risk and value: How much do you value your data? And how much risk are you willing to take that your data might be lost forever?

For me, that $3300 is starting to look like a decent value. Long live tape!

Final Cut Pro tips: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

I started noodling with Final Cut Pro soon after it came out (ten years ago!) and taught myself how to use it. By taught, I mean that I learned to hack my way around and accomplish what I needed. But it wasn't pretty or fast. After a few years, I really started feeling the limitations of my abilities, so I decided to dig into some tutorials. For whatever reason -- probably because I'd seen a few for free online -- I chose Larry Jordan's Lynda.com video tutorials. These helped me immensely with everything from media management tips to techniques that greatly reduced the time I'd spend fumbling through FCP's interface.

Even if you don't need to teach (or re-teach) yourself Final Cut Studio, I highly recommend that you check out Larry's free Monthly Newsletter. Among the tips this month:

Startup Mode Selector, a free application that helps Snow Leopard users learn more about, and harness, 64-bit technology without use of the terminal...

Ken Stone's excellent iChat Theatre tutorial...

and Apple's substantial (40pages) white paper on Customizing Final Cut Studio Blu-Ray Disc Templates.

Enjoy.

iPhone Film Calculator application

The folks at 2.1 Films have just released an iPhone Film Calculator. From the description:

Film Calculator has three basic functions:

Length & Time Converter: This function allows the user quickly convert length to time and vice versa for a variety of film stocks and speeds. Choose from Super-8mm, 16mm, 35mm or 70mm stocks and preset frames per second rates (12, 24, 25, 48) or enter your own. Then enter the time and you'll get the length or enter the length and you'll get the time.

Hard Drive Storage Calculator: Select a format and enter a time and this function will tell you how much hard drive storage space you need. Dozens of formats are included. Contact us to request more!

Script Supervisor's Assistant: This function provides a stopwatch that counts both time and length. Select the stock and frame rate and then operate this like a regular stopwatch. Saves scripty's from having to use a calculator at the end of each take. Always know exactly how much you've shot on a reel!

Read more about it here. Buy it (for $2.99) here.

Red Centre at fxguide

For those who are trying to stay up to date on the Red One camera, let me recommend fxguide's Red Centre podcast. Each episode features Jason Wingrove and Mike Seymour discussing the latest news, accessories, and tech tips (both production and postproduction). I recently dug into these episodes and found they're a good way of staying informed about this in-constant-development camera without having to spend a lot of time on the Reduser forums.

For a list of other Red-related links, go here.

iPhone WebApps for Filmmakers

iPhone 3G is being released today. If you are submitting to the mania, or already have a (non 3G) iPhone, these web apps are for you. I'll do a version of apps from the iPhone apps store at some point. Until then, enjoy these web apps on the set or off... All descriptions are pulled from Apple's iPhone web apps site.

ON THE SET

Power Load Calculator Allows you to calculate the load on a particular circuit when certain devices are plugged in. For example, you can calculate whether or not the circuit breakers in a location can handle the lights you want to use and if not, the size of the generator that needs to be hired. This sort of thing is better discovered during pre-production and not on the day of shooting, so this calculator is very useful in that regard.

Depth of Field Calculator This tool will calculate the depth of field for a given sensor or film type, aperture, focal length, and subject distance (the distance from the camera to the person or object you are focusing on). A lower number means that a large proportion of the background will remain in sharp focus and a higher number means that a smaller proportion (if any) will be in focus.

Footage Calculator Enables you to calculate the amount of disk space required for various video codecs at varying frame rates. It offers an easy-to-use interface that allows you to quickly and easily view the required information whilst on the move - perfect for those awkward on-the-spot questions from clients.

Film Rate Calculator Calculates the relationship between film reels and shooting time. Use this calculator to work out how many rolls of film are required for a certain shooting ratio, or alternatively calculate how many minutes have been shot for a certain number of rolls. This is a useful tool for any script supervisor or producer.

Red Footage Calculator For Red users. You select your resolution, frame rate, Redcode, aspect ratio, and amount of footage. The calculator tells you how much disk space is needed. Cool.

Weather Underground The Weather Underground, now on your iPhone. View current conditions, animated radar, forecasts, and severe weather alerts. [Note: Not to be confused with the radical leftist organization of the 1960s-70s or the Sam Green documentary of the same name.]

Sunrise & Sunset This applications helps to calculate the sunrise and sunset times for each location in the world on each day of the year. Enjoy planning your next holiday, trip or photo session where ever and when ever you want to go. Just click on the location, choose date and timezone and optionally add 1 hour daylight saving.

The Weather Channel The Weather Channel for iPhone delivers current conditions, hourly and 10-day forecasts, severe weather and maps in a fully interactive environment. [Note: I prefer the Weather Underground web app's interface to this one from the Weather Channel, but some will prefer this one.]

Stormchaser Cloud Reference Chart An on-the-go webguide to common cloud shapes and patterns and what they mean to the stormchaser or weather buff who wants to predict the coming weather via cloud formations.

OFF THE SET

IMDb iPhone Client Web interface with support for looking up actors, characters and movies. The client also helps you find trailers that are suitable for viewing on the iPhone and view additional information such as: Goofs, Soundtracks, Trivia, Quotes, and Crazy Credits.

Fandango Movie Showtimes and Tickets Buy movie tickets on the go with Fandango. Access showtimes, read movie details and reviews, find theater info, and get maps - all on your iPhone or iPod touch!

Moviefone for iPhone Give us your Zip Code and we'll give you the world -- of movies. Find Movies and Showtimes near you, as well as Upcoming Releases, our Top 20 Movies list, and Top iPhone Trailers.

iNetflix An iPhone Netflix client. It will let you see your queue, whats at home, recommendations and new releases.

The Cut List The Cut List displays a list of movies from the top 100 DVDs to new releases from your favorite online movie rental store.

EDIT (7/11/08 @ 12:30): iPhone App Store is open

Red One - Information Page

I've read a lot of stuff on the web in my efforts to educate myself about the Red One digital cinema camera's new approach to motion picture image capture and its workflow. Below are some of the better resources I've encountered. If I've left off something helpful, let me know in the comments.

***

COMPANY WEBSITE

    Red Digital Cinema Camera Company

RED DISCUSSION FORUMS

    Reduser.net The Red company-sponsored site.

    Creative Cow Red Forum Mostly oriented around Red post-production workflow.

    Cinematography.com Red Forum Lots of skepticism and passionate disagreement about the Red here.

    DV Info.net Red Forum Infrequent posting; lots of overlap with reduser.

WIKIS

    Redhax.net: a wiki for Red users. Very incomplete, but useful in spots.

    Wikipedia:Red Digital Camera Company entry

RED: BASICS

    Octamas.com: Red One user menu guides

    FresHDV: "All Things Red" - another links listing

    Creative Cow: Dress for Success with RED

    Creative Cow: Shooting with RED: Testing, testing...

SHOOTING RAW:

    ProLost: Exposing to the Left vs. Exposing to the Right

    Pro Lost: Digital Cinema Dynamic Range -- an epic post

    Pro Lost: Digital Cinema Dynamic Range [abbreviated version]

    Reduser.net: Thread on Working with RAW

    Bealecorner: John Beale's camera tests

WORKFLOW:

    American Cinema Editors: Podcast discussion for A.C.E. members about the workflow for Red with Avid and Final Cut Pro.

    RedHax Wiki: Footage Protocol on Set

    RedHax Wiki: Footage Conversion

    Editors Lounge: Handling Red One in Post-Production [link to page with pdf file]

    Coremelt: Red Camera 10-bit Color Online Workflow with FCP 6.0.2

    PVC: Working with Red Footage

    DV Magazine: Posting RED

    Scott Simmons' Editblog: posts tagged "red"

    Indie4k: Red Workflow posts 1 and 2

    Pro8mm: Red & Super-8 Telecine (!)

ONLINE TUTORIAL/DEMO VIDEOS

    Wonderhowto: Learn All About the Red One Camera - 12 videos!

    Studio Daily: Shooting Red

    Studio Daily: What You Can Do with Red Alert

    Studio Daily: Final Cut Pro - Red Workflow

    Studio Daily: Edit RED Footage in Avid Media Composer

    Studio Daily: RED / Avid Workflow

    Studio Daily: Maintaining Red Metadata to Avid

    Studio Daily: Assimilate Scratch / Red Workflow

    FX Guide TV: Workflow with Red Episodes 1 and 2

Official REDCINE Training Videos

    Interface Overview Project Settings Shot Settings Color Settings Output Settings Library

FOOTAGE

    Red Relay Repository of Red One footage.

PODCASTS

    RedCentre @ FX Guide Weekly podcast on all things Red from FXGuide.

RED 3rd-PARTY SOFTWARE

    Crimson Workflow FCP round tripping application.

    RedTrip Essentially an early, free version of Crimson Workflow.

    Red Portal Allows you to double-click R3D files to open in RedAlert!

    AliasRDC Helps with footage conversion (see http://www.redhax.net/wiki/Footage_Conversion).

    MetaCheater Allows MetaData use in Avid.

    Spotlight Plugin for R3D Files Lets you easily find and identify r3d-files on your computer.

3rd PARTY ACCESSORIES

    Element Technica

    Sim Video

***

Some might ask why this site is posting about Red, considering it is, for many readers, a high-ticket item (especially when you add in the cost of lenses, support, etc.). My answer is that this is a site that's devoted to all forms of maverick filmmaking, including the invention of maverick filmmaking tools. By this standard, Red certainly qualifies.

Review: Stop Staring and Start Grading with Apple Color

Stop Staring and Start Grading with Apple ColorWalter Biscardi, Jr. - Creative Cow MasterSeries DVD-Rom - $49.95

Walter Biscardi, who is a leader at the Creative Cow website, has produced this fine Color training video. It's consists of just over 2 hours of tutorials in the form of 9 lessons. All the lessons are QuickTime movies.

A small FCP project file with three clips, which you take into Color, is included on the disc. The project file that he supplies you with is very basic. I was a little skeptical at first that having only three clips wouldn't be enough to learn the program, but it's actually enough to get you started with all of the basics. In fact, I think the simplicity of Biscardi's approach is an asset.

As a teacher, Biscardi is nothing if not an enthusiastic guy. (At times he's downright manic.) He assumes you're an editor well versed in other Final Cut Studio applications and now you're being asked (or wanting to learn) to be a colorist.

All the movies are screencasts. When Walter wants you to see something up close, he zooms in on the element of the screen he wants you to see. If he wants you to look at something in the user manual, he'll superimpose those pages on screen. It's all very helpful.

The disc's emphasis is really on speeding through as much as possible to get you to dive in. In most cases, I felt like Biscardi did a fine job of covering things with enough detail that the application felt approachable, but not overwhelming. Walt spends the most time on Setup, Primary, and Secondaries. One minor criticism: The Primary Out room is barely discussed at all and I felt like he sped through this room too quickly. (I later found myself not using this room much at all, but was that because Biscardi hadn't taught me about it? Or was that because Biscardi understood it's only occasionally used? I don't know.)

Another minor quibble I have is that the DVD's interface is clunky. It uses a web browser to load the QuickTime movies you're supposed to watch. It's slow to load at times, and this could be done more elegantly. As a solution, I found it was easier to simply find the QuickTimes on the disc and simply play them one by one without the interface.

Of all the discs I surveyed and studied, Biscardi gets you in the fastest. There's truth in advertising: By watching "Stop Staring and Start Grading" while following along on my own computer I was quickly able to navigate through Color with some confidence. Highly recommended.

[Creative Cow info page] [Amazon link for purchase]

Oscar® Bragging Rights: Avid vs. Mac

I ran across some amusing (because they're duelling) press releases today: Avid is touting that all of the nominees in "every single one of the nominated and award-winning films in the Best Motion Picture, Directing, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Documentary Feature and Original Score categories at this year's Academy Awards were created using at least one Avid, Digidesign, Sibelius or Softimage product."

What Avid doesn't tout is the fact that multiple-Oscar (and Best Picture) winner No Country For Old Men "is the first movie edited with a completely digital workflow on Mac to win the Oscar." Indeed, the Coen Brothers have done a fair amount of promotion for Apple's Final Cut Studio suite.

Review: Digital Color Correction - The Final Cut Studio Workflow with Apple's ColorTraining DVD

Digital Color Correction:The Final Cut Studio Workflow with Apple's ColorCall Box $75

Digital Color Correction:The Final Cut Studio Workflow with Apple's Color stars Stuart Ferreyra and Noah Kadner (host of other Call Box videos) discussing Apple Color. The tutorial is really aimed at absolute beginners to Color and color grading. Being a beginner myself, that was exciting.

Ferreyra is an expert. Kadner, admittedly new to Color, represents a pro and indie (even low budget) philosophy. Kadner asks questions to Ferreya as Ferreya moves throgh the app. Kadner's backwards ballcap sensibility brings a welcome looseness to the proceedings.

This isn't is a step-by-step tutorial. As is repeated a few times, the DVD is not meant to take the place of the manual. And, significantly, there are no project files. This is a DVD (not a DVD-rom) that you simply watch.

As I watched it, I had Color open, but I didn't really find myself following along in the application. Instead, billed as an "insider's look", it's like sitting down with a friend and watching over his shoulder as he works. Sometimes that's a great way to learn; other times you feel like you want the friend to move over and let you push the buttons. If the disc had gone a little further in having Ferreya discuss the artistry of being a colorist -- what he looks for in an image and how he has learned to adjust it -- this DVD could have been a home run. But I did benefit from hearing Ferreya discuss his craft and it does better than the other DVDs I'll be reviewing in terms of discussing the actual art of grading.

In sum I enjoyed the disc, but I didn't think it carried as much value as the other two Call Box discs I've seen, 24P Digital Post Production with Final Cut Pro and the DVX100 and Digital Color Correction:Panasonic P2 Workflow with Final Cut Pro and the HVX200. The latter, in fact, is a truly superb introduction for to the HVX and I recommend it to anyone new that camera and its unique workflow.

Working with Apple Color

As I began the process (still ongoing) of delivering my new film, Quick Feet, Soft Hands I started weighing whether or not to try to do the final color grading in Apple's Color. Certainly, in the spirit of self-reliance, it made sense to go this route. On the other hand, I have a lot of respect for the artistry that a colorist can bring to a project. When the quotes I was getting from some of the post-houses I was considering turned out to be far higher than what little I had remaining in my budget, I decided to spend some time learning Color. If I couldn't get the job done myself, I figured I could always raise some money and plunk down the money for a grading session with a pro. Color, though, is not nearly as intuitive app like Apple's other studio applications. (Color began as Silicon Color's FinalTouch application, and this is probably the reason it lacks the signature intuitiveness of Apple software.) On top of that, most people haven't had color theory in the way that they've had experience editing picture. At least, I certainly hadn't. So, for me, this was -- at least initially -- as complicated and intimidating as jumping into nonlinear editing after using a Steenbeck.

So, where to start?

What Equipment You Need to Start Working in Color: Aside from working on computers that meet Apple specs, I found that you want to do work in Color on the largest monitor(s) that you have available. You may find that you even want to purchase a new monitor.

I began by working on a Dual 1.8 G5 with two 15" 4:3 monitors set up at 1024x768 and I soon discovered that it was literally impossible to use only one of these monitors in Color's single monitor mode. Even when using two monitors, reading the text in the menus was not easy. So, you need a big monitor -- I'd even take one large monitor over two small ones (and I rarely say that). In the end, I did most of my work on a MacPro with two Apple 23" monitors with an external Broadcast HD monitor, which I have access to at Virginia Tech. If I hadn't had access to this computer my G5 at home would have worked, but it would have been slow on renders and playback. And upgrading my monitors would have been a must.

Can you work in Color without a broadcast monitor? Sorta. The color of computer monitors will not match that of output for television, so it's obviously far better to know what you're really looking at as you work. (Consider: Would you edit the sound to your project listening to it through your computer's built-in speaker?) I think that for matching the color temperature of one shot to another you're fine looking at a computer monitor. The problem is knowing whether or not the colors you're seeing overall on that monitor are accurate. So, at the very least, if mainly working with computer monitors, I would want to make sure that I had access to a computer with a properly calibrated broadcast monitor for a few hours to tweak settings before final rendering.

Aside from computer and monitor issues, you need a three-button mouse. I don't especially care for Apple's so-called "mighty mouse", but it can work. (I prefer Kensington's Optical Elite.) If you're going to go pro with this stuff, you'll want to purchase a colorist's control surface. But such things are expensive -- $5000 and upwards. (If you've got that kind of money what are you doing working with Color?) Seriously, if you're not doing this all day, a mouse should be fine.

Finally, you're also going to need some hard drive space. A full output of Quick Feet, Soft Hands meant re-rendering a little less than 20GB of new footage. (We brought it into Color in its native DVCProHD, but took it out using Apple's ProRes 422 HQ codec.) Loading up your computer with RAM is a good idea too, but then you probably already knew that.

Digging In

I learned fairly quickly that Color is not the sort of application that the novice can just jump into. The interface doesn't feel like an Apple application -- even navigating through "Open..." and "Save..." menus looks different. So I looked for help in the way of instructional DVDs. My next few posts on SRF will evaluate the pros and cons of each disc I watched.

After those posts I'll share the overall workflow we used to get Quick Feet, Soft Hands color graded and onto HDCAM for delivery to ITVS. Who knows? By the time I finish these posts the movie might even be delivered.

HD-DVD Burning with an "SD" Mac

This may be old news to some of you, but it was news to me: You can burn HD-DVDs (not Blu-Ray) on a Mac using a standard DVD burner, Final Cut Pro, Compressor, and DVD Studio Pro. I tried it last night. It works. The limitations?

- Standard single-layer DVD media storage limits mean that you're limited to burning shorter projects (under 60 min). - The article states you can't play these on an HD-DVD player. I don't have an HD-DVD player, so I haven't verified this. You can, however, play them on a Mac.

Hooking up my MacBook Pro to a television and screening the DVD played flawlessly. And it looked a lot better than a standard definition DVD.

The trade-off? As anyone who's done it before can tell you, encoding a project to H.264 takes a long, long time.