Saturday, December 17, 2011


If you are looking for quick and interesting reads each day to keep up with what is happening in the film and television industry, subscribe to Doddle at for their daily news update. They also have an app called DoddlePro that has tons of industry info and contacts, although it does not seem to be particularly helpful in my market of Atlanta just yet.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Directing Fact #5 - Your Script Matters

Somewhere around Day 5 of shooting and then once again around the halfway point in editing, you will have a realization that this film is a lot of work.  At that point, you will either be encouraged to think how worthwhile the project is or will be completely deflated to think of the huge waste of time and money you are in the middle of. Your response will be determined primarily by how good your story is. Do you have something that is barely passable as a movie--or do you have something that will move, inspire and thrill people?

There was a time (only a few short years ago) that you got credit for trying. What I mean by that is that anyone who was actually able to turn out a finished film was lauded and people would watch it. I remember going to a screening about 12 years ago for a film that a friend of mine had helped finance. They were all raving about it, but when I saw it I was thoroughly embarrassed that I was even sitting there watching it. The tools back then were not as inexpensive as they are today, so it was not a cheap production. The story was so weak, however, that it was truly a waste of an hour and a half. Afterwards, everyone was congratulatory of the filmmaker and were honestly excited that they were a part of the project. I assure you that this is not the case anymore. With the number of indie films released each year, and a very large number of them with pretty high production value, it takes a great story and an interesting premise to even get people interested. Major Hollywood releases are even taking huge losses these days when they do not connect with people on some level with the story.

The lesson in all of this is to make sure you have something great before you commit a large part of your life to it. The least expensive stage of production is the writing stage, so take the time to find or develop a script that you can be truly excited about and that you know will connect with your audience. If you do, then you will find the strength to press on when the process of making the film turns from fun to work--and it always will at some point.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lighting With What Is Available

Probably my favorite blog for practical information about filmmaking is the one by ASC Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut (Terminator Salvation, We Are Marshall, Act of Valor). Shane is happy to share his knowledge and has garnered quite a following among aspiring DP's. In a recent post entitled, "Lighting Basics: Going With What Is Available," he breaks down the lighting (almost nothing) and light control instruments used in the street scene of one of his films. It is not easy to find this type of breakdown anywhere (believe me, I have searched far and wide), so certainly take this opportunity to read about his decisions and learn from one of the best in the business. His newest movie about to hit theaters is Act of Valor, which he shot almost entirely with Canon 5D MkII DSLR's. Read and follow Shane here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Targeting Your Audience

No matter who you are or what your business is, all of us can benefit from good promotion on the Internet. Lance Cummins of has a great post about building traffic on your website through great content that is narrowly targeted. You can read it here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Canon C300 and RED Scarlet

For the past several months, filmmakers have been eagerly awaiting this day for the announcements from Canon and RED about their new "game-changing" cameras.

Canon's C300 seems to have hit the mark as far as rolling the best features of the large sensor DSLR's into a truly workable film production package. The footage looks great, of course, and the features are what everyone has been asking for. The only problem I see is the price point. I really was hoping they would realize who their largest market is on these things (not generally the same market as those who would and could buy a RED Epic) and offer this solution at a price no one could pass up. The MSRP that I heard was around $20,000. Not an unfair price at all, but still way higher than most of their current 7D/5DmkII owners can afford to upgrade to. That said, it looks like perhaps there could be another lower-cost version coming soon, though no guarantees on that. I am curious to see also what the price point will be on their new cinema prime lenses. Those certainly look enticing.

As for RED, the Scarlet (also a large-sensor 4k camera) looks great and is an amazing product for the price--probably a better deal than the Canon. The biggest downside to products from RED, however, is the post workflow and the number of expensive accessories needed to do it all properly. It would have been nice to see a test film using the Scarlet, like we did with LaForet's C300 film, but I guess we will have to wait a little for that. Learn all the details about both of these cameras at All in all, a good day for filmmakers. Always love having great options when it comes time to shoot a project!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Envato Mail Freebies

Envato is a company that has created websites (which they term "marketplaces") for every type of creative professional. They have over a million members on their marketplaces. The two sites that I use most often are for footage and After Effects templates, and for music cuts. Their prices are among the lowest for the quality they offer. Each month they send out an Envato newsletter that includes eight or ten free downloads from their various sites. Check it out.

Rig Wheels Mini Dolly System

I know I just posted last week about another mini dolly system, but this one looks great as well. I don't think either of these are a replacement for a full-sized portable dolly, but this one, Rig Wheels, is really very versatile and leaves a lot of its uses up to your imagination. You can watch the promotional video and learn more at their website.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Editing the Movie Courageous (Part 2)

Steve Hullfish has a continuation of the article I linked to last week on the work he did for "Courageous". It is a bit on the technical side, but has some good insight into the behind the scenes decisions that must be made in post production.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Directing Fact #4 - Location is Everything

There has been a cliche in the business world for a long time that goes, "Location, Location, Location." It simply means that nothing is as important as where you choose to set up your business. This applies to shooting a film as well. The choice of location will impact the production in a number of ways, both on-screen and off.
On the practical side, there are many considerations that go into choosing a set. These include location fees, cost of travel, ease of access, distance from other set locations, availability of extras, availability of crew, availability of power, water and restroom facilities, sound considerations, natural lighting considerations and more. When you are operating on a small budget, the impact of each of these is magnified. For example, even something as simple as a bathroom may be the determining factor in the final choice of location. A big budget project would never think twice about bringing in a facilities trailer where needed, but even an extra $100/day for a porta-potty could be outside the budget of a small production. Likewise, a small budget may consider a couple of hours drive between locations to be cost-prohibitive due to the extra fuel and mileage charges, whereas a studio film may be able to shoot in Moscow, Buenos Aires and Morocco all in the same week. Because of these financial limitations, directors often have to "settle" for what is available and close.

The big thing to remember is that what ends up on-screen is all that matters. Often we think we have to have the perfect complete location, when in fact we only need a couple of good "spots" to shoot. It would be nice to find an amazing old factory with all of the right junk in just the right places, but the truth is that we can get by with a brick building in an alley and probably tell the story just as effectively. No, it will not have the epic establishing shot you pictured, but many films (even large budget films) these days do quite well without establishing shots. A good DP should be able to get you a great look even when you have very little to work with. I remember being very disappointed in a couple of the locations we ended up with on my last film, especially for our scenes in the woods. However, once we put it on a long lens, it was amazing how that spot just came to life. In the end, that location in the woods turned out to be one of our better ones.

This is not to say that the location does not matter, because it does. The primary consideration, however, is that it has the right feel about it. One of the things I really wanted to achieve on my film, since it was for children, was a bright, happy and colorful feel. Contrary to my earlier beliefs, this had very little to do with the lighting and had everything to do with the sets, props and costumes. We missed the mark on a number of scenes because I did not understand how much that feel would be impacted by the location. Several of our scenes, for example, were shot at a building that we had free access to. The building had a couple of rooms that I felt would work perfectly. What I did not consider was that the very nice, warm earthy tones of the paint scheme (and lack of color contrast) would make those entire scenes feel moody, dark and less interesting visually, despite the colorful costumes our actors were wearing. Even a white wall would likely have been better in that it would have provided more contrast with skin tones and the costumes--and would have felt brighter and happier overall. On the other hand, had we been shooting something with a more moody feel, that location may have been the right choice.

There are obviously hundreds of considerations when choosing a location, but from my limited experience, I would say that finding something to fit and enhance the overall "feel" of your movie is far more important than having a list of great individual locations with varying looks and feels that ruin your story's continuity. Make this your number one priority whenever possible.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Editing the Movie Courageous

A few of the crew members on our recent film, The Solomon Bunch, were also a part of the crew of Courageous. This is a fantastic film, and one that I recommend you go and see. After three weeks in theaters, it is over $20 million and is still in the top 10 (despite being in only about a third the number of theaters that other major releases are in).

Steve Hullfish worked with Alex Kendrick on the edit for Courageous and has a very in-depth article about how they handled the workflow from two RED cameras and some 5DmkII's. It is featured on ProVideoCoalition today.

Read the article here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Super Portable Mini Dolly

I am totally over buying cheap stuff and trying to "DIY it." Most of the time the hassle is not worth the results--and you end up with a product that is quirky at best and makes your clients question if they have hired the right person. This little dolly, less than $100, seems to be a great little product that is well-built and will certainly offer more than $100 in production value the first time you use it. If you use HDSLR's, GoPro's or other small cameras, check out the extremely portable Pico Flex Dolly here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Flag Kit from Digital Juice

Without tools for controlling and shaping the output of your lighting instruments and the sun, you will never be able to get consistently great results on-screen. This set of flags and scrims looks to be a tremendous value. As long as you have some C-stands or at least light stands with grip heads, you should consider adding this kit to your toolbox. The best thing about it is that it is super-portable, although I am not sure how durable it is for everyday use on-set. Knowing the track record of Digital Juice, I am optimistic in that regard as well.

Learn more about the DJ Flag Kit by visiting their site here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Great Camera Shootout

You will enjoy watching this episode, the third and final installment, of the 2011 camera shootout. It is very interesting to see how each film camera handles different situations. If you will be deciding on a camera purchase or rental for a particular project, you will want to watch these videos first.

Watch episode here.

Where It Goes, No One Knows

Don't you just love it when you find new information that shows you that the way you have been doing things for 20 years is really not the best way? Well, actually, I do love it. Better to find out late than never.

This article gives some really good insights into the use of your fill light. The ideal placement may not be where you think it is. Take the time to read this article by Art Adams, and you may improve your lighting design tremendously.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Declare His Glory

Bible Truth Music has just released a set of music books along with the demo CD which I engineered. It is a collection of songs for ladies' trios to sing in church.

They have a few clips from the cd on their website.

Master of None

Have you ever met a jack-of-all-trades? Well, let me introduce myself. Here is a list of the hats I regularly wear--often all in the same week. I am still trying to figure out which one of these is supposed to be paying my bills.

• Video/TV producer
• Editor
• Camera operator/DP
• Film director
• Script writer
• Radio/TV producer/show designer
• Record producer
• Live sound engineer
• Recording engineer
• Voiceover artist/Radio announcer
• Live event announcer
• Radio/TV/sound consultant
• Audio/Video Instructor
• Acting Instructor
• Graphic designer
• Web designer

Believe it or not, this is not enough! My wife thinks I should know how to fix the garage door and crack eggs without breaking the yolk. With this list, it is pretty clear that I will never be really great at anything. The upside is that at least my life will never be boring. Little blessings.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Correcting An Underexposed Shot

Working on a shot this morning and I thought I would post about it. This was shot in Phoenix with nothing but a standard tungsten interview light kit. With daylight correction gels on each lamp, it was just not enough light to match the subject's lighting to the level of the windows in the background. Because of that, I left her underexposed in order to keep the windows from blooming too much. To get enough rim light on her hair, I had to put my light stand just behind her and in the shot. I was careful to shoot a clean slate (without her in the seat) for replacing that area of the frame in post, and did so with an 8-point garbage matte cutting out around the light and stand.

In color correcting the shot, I cranked the mids way up and then boosted the saturation to compensate for the desaturation that naturally occurs. Because I shot with a camera that has good detail in the shadows and did my grading in a 10-bit environment, the shot looks fairly natural--just a tiny bit of grain. I also added a face light, which is like a little bright spot over just her face and upper body. This helps set her off even more from the rest of the image. One other thing that would focus the attention on her would be to do a vignette centered on her. I tried that look, but really prefer this shot to have a little brighter and more open feel, so I decided against it.

The only thing I wish on this shot is that I would have had a larger sensor to work with on the camera. The background is just in too sharp a focus for my taste. One more thing to point out about the text. I really like the look of the thin lettering I have chosen. Because it is so thin, however, it tends to get lost in the background. My solution on this one is to have the text moving just slightly (the words slowly pass one another), which always makes it more readable.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Identify Any Font Quickly has a great little app for web and for iPhone that will identify any font for you. This is a big timesaver when trying to match the fonts in your video to the client's existing print and web designs. Kevin P. McAuliffe has a short tutorial to show you how it works.

View tutorial

Moving On...

Making the transition away from Final Cut Studio is looking like more and more of a necessity each day. Oliver Peters explains why in this article and gives some sound recommendations about how professional editors should begin making the transition now by making current FCP projects as future-proof as possible. If you are a professional editor, you should at least skip to the end of his article and heed the six transition steps he gives.

Check it out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The 12-Step Plan for Film Actors

I start my acting class tonight--assuming we have a few people show up. In the last week, I have been developing a curriculum and have come up with what I am calling a "12-Step Plan". This seemed fitting since we will all be sitting around in a circle anyway and starting with something like "Hi, my name is Jason...and I am an actor."

My twelve steps are the skills an actor must develop to be a success in on-camera acting. If you are in the south Atlanta area, come check out the class some Thursday evening. Here is the website.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Amazing Inexpensive Equipment Cart

I travel to most jobs in a Chevy Suburban with the seats laid flat. With all the equipment loaded, I have very little room left. I have been needing a rolling cart for a long time, but the ones that fold small enough are either way too flimsy or way too expensive (as in $1,000). Usually, I end up borrowing one from the shooting location when they have one. The last one I used was very small and two of the wheels kept falling off at the slightest bump throughout the three days of shooting.

Today, I saw a great solution at Costco called the Origami Rack. The Costco version already has rolling casters (although you will probably want to consider putting larger wheels on if you will be on any terrain rougher than interior floors or concrete sidewalks). While it is not as heavy duty as the $1,000 version, it is an amazing cart for the price of just $50. It folds flat for transporting and is super simple to use. The one I am referring to is the medium sized cart in the photo above. Check out the video here.

Promo Video for Brian Neher

Just posted a promo video that I have been working on for portrait painter Brian Neher. The look of the piece starts with an After Effects template from Footage Firm that I have customized. I also used a built-in Motion template from Final Cut Pro for the photos flying in three at a time. That also took a little customization, including reversing the effect occasionally so that viewers would not get tired of the effect happening the same way every time. Watch the promo here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lighting A Scene Naturally

Here is a blog article from Shane Hurlbut, ASC that walks through his decisions in lighting the final scene of The Greatest Game Ever Played. He deals with some ideas such as "Color Contrast" that you may never have heard before. If you deal with lighting at all, you should read this. He plans to do a series of posts on lighting, so I will try to keep you up on the latest from his site.

Shane's blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Tool or the Task?

For several years I have followed with great interest as all the cool new tools have been released. Every few months there is a new camera that is the "must-have" for filmmaking, and hundreds of companies are now creating amazing tools for the independent filmmaker.

But the vast majority of the equipment is being purchased and reviewed by people who will never use it to create a marketable product. I know several people personally who own the latest software, hardware, cameras and accessories and never actually create anything with it. And before you think I am being too critical, know that I have my share of stuff sitting on shelves and in the garage that has rarely seen the light of day. Thinking about all of this yesterday let me to this conclusion.

You can test whether you are a true working professional by gauging the following. When you hear about an unbelievable new product, are you more excited about the tool itself or more excited about the specific task it will help you achieve? If you are mentally plugging that tool in to your existing workflow realizing that it will help you work better, faster or more economically on an upcoming project, then you are probably a professional. If you are solely interested in features, specs and marketing photos with no particular project in mind, then you are probably a hobbyist (or maybe an engineer).

I am always amazed when I talk with professionals in the film industry how little they know about the "latest and greatest." It seems they are even disinterested in it. Perhaps it is because they are entrenched in the old way of doing things and not interested in trying anything new. This is probably a little true. More likely, however, is the fact that they are more focused on the task of filmmaking than they are the tools. They are able to work with almost any tool to get a great result on-screen. And they have figured out that any new tool will eventually reveal it's limitations. Since there is no perfect tool for every job, they simply learn the limitations of the one they are using and make sure they work around those problem areas.

There is some great stuff on the market today, and I am glad for it. It has certainly made things cheaper and easier for the indy filmmaker. But there are a lot of "flavor of the weeks" out there too. To me, it is like the infomercials for kitchen tools. There are literally thousands of different types of cutters, choppers and dicers that have come and gone over the years. But no matter how many you may have bought along the way, chances are when it comes time to slice the vegetables, you end up using a plain old kitchen knife. The others were amazing when you watched the commercial and when you first used them, but for whatever reason you reverted back to the knife.

In the end, there are a lot of ways to get the job done, but if you are focused more on the tool than on the task, you will accomplish very little.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On-Camera Acting Classes

I have decided to do a group acting class each week to work with actors not only on interpretation, but on developing the necessary skills to work on a film set. My brother, Nathan, who is the Fine Arts Director at Creekside Christian Academy in McDonough, GA, is working with me to offer the classes to those involved with the school as well as to those with interest in the community. If you live in the South Atlanta area, check out the website, which will have even more information as things progress, to find out details. You can get there by clicking here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Directing Fact #3 - The Books Are Right

Every book I read, every seminar I attended and everyone I talked to said the same thing. "Never do a movie with children or animals!" I guess I thought it was just something people liked to joke about, because I promptly went out and wrote a script that featured both.

It is not that all kids or animals are problems, in fact, I had a few really talented kids who were much more professional on-set than were some of the adults (including seven-year-old Chase Wainscott, pictured here). However, it only takes one or two poorly-behaved kids to turn the entire set into utter chaos. One of our most tension filled moments of the production came after about three hours of trying to get ten kindergartners to walk single file down a school hallway without looking at the camera. Everyone on the crew was yelling either at each other or at the kids. Between takes, the 2nd AD and one of the PA's were trying to keep the kids in a line by playing follow the leader between rows of desks in a classroom. One of the five year-olds looked at me during this exercise with seething hatred in his eyes and asked, "What is this, some kind of a circus?" Well, yes, actually. That is what it had become. The worst thing about the situation was that one of our executive producers had chosen that very moment to bring some of his friends on-set to see the production. They did not stay long.

When you realize that every additional take you shoot is money, it becomes important to cast professionals in your film so that you can get great stuff quickly and consistently. Screen actors must be skilled in doing multiple things at once. Not only do they have to jump into character immediately and remain in character for reaction shots, but they must at the same time perform precision blocking, hit floor marks exactly without looking, stay open to the camera when other actors move, and be conscious of leaving extra space in the dialogue for editing, Oh, and they must do the entire scene EXACTLY the same way every single time. Children, while they may be great on-screen, rarely have the ability to pull off this combination of things. They also need a lot of reminders about things like speaking clearly. Therefore, you spend a lot of time in additional takes and you pray that there will be options for cutting shots together with continuity once you get into the editing room. In addition to their acting inabilities, children are also subject to child-labor regulations that dictate a shorter workday with more breaks. This results in a less productive daily schedule.

Animals do not need much explanation, but you should heed the warnings there as well. Unless you are using trained animals, you will spend a lot of time even on the simplest task. We needed a dog to jump up in a window sill to scare our kids. No amount of coaxing or treats would do it for a good thirty minutes before we finally got lucky. Horses tend to be frightened by large reflectors and run away at the least opportune times. If you need just one or two to stand in a particular place, good luck. You have to use feed to get them there, but that also brings the other six horses from across the field. In most cases you have either no horses in your shot or too many. All that said, it is very rewarding to get a great shot with horses in the background.

Would I ever do a movie with children and animals again? Probably (except for kindergartners). But I would be sure to plan appropriately and spend more rehearsal time working through the exact blocking they would be doing on-set. I would also audition more carefully and would have someone stationed in the waiting room during auditions to find out which hellions we should send packing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Directing Fact #2 - Time Flies. Period.

You may think this photo is from a night shoot, but no. This is just after finishing our final scene on Day 5. There are a lot of reasons this one went long, not the least of which is that we were attempting the impossible--shooting actors on one boat from another boat without either boat being anchored to anything. What a nightmare. But even without that impossible task, we had a difficult time making our days, simply because everything takes longer than you expect. I don't know how many times I thought to myself that a particular simple scene or portion thereof would take a couple of hours when in fact it took two or three times that long. Learning to estimate the shooting schedule is critical, but coming to the realization that there is no such thing as a simple scene is a good start.

Even the simplest scene with two actors requires a minimum of 3-5 setups. Outside of the setup time required for blocking and lighting (30 to 90 minutes), there are a huge number of other factors which can eat time off the clock. Delays during setup can include power issues, equipment malfunctions, intermittent cloud cover, makeup and costume problems, missing props, location issues, crew indecision and more. Once you actually roll camera, there are any number of things that can ruin a take. These include actors missing marks, flubbing lines, looking at the camera or breaking continuity. Of course, you can expect multiple takes for getting the perfect performance as you have envisioned it. There are also camera issue such as lens flares, improper exposure, operator error, boom mic in shot, wrong framing, wrong timing between the dolly and actors, bugs or other stray objects in frame, or the biggest issue of all--missed focus. The sound department also contributes their share of re-takes for any number of sound issues including mic interference, visible mics, handling noise, air traffic, animals, insects, vehicles, trains, air conditioning units, lawn mowers, noisy off-screen cast and crew, and everything else you can imagine. Now, throw in complicated technical elements such as extras blocking, untrained animals, airplanes taking off/landing during a scene, remote-control helicopters hitting marks, etc.

This list is only things that happened during our recent film shoot to cause delays. It is by no means comprehensive. When you consider that a take must be free of all of these issues in order to be usable, it really does become necessary to shoot a huge number of takes in order to get even one that can be considered good. So, you can see why even a scene with only three setups (angles) can never be considered "simple." The lesson to be learned is that a shooting schedule with high per-day page counts will often result in either incomplete days or in compromised production value. Finding a balance between meeting the budget and keeping the quality high (technically and in performance) is certainly one of the biggest challenges a director faces.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Know These People!

This is one of the funniest videos I have seen in a long time. Every single statement in the piece is one that I have heard multiple times over the years. If you are a video professional, I am sure it will ring true with you as well.

Can't believe it took me this long to find such and excellent video! Watch it here.

Lighting Tip #10 - The Language of Lighting

Which face in the two images on the left would be considered properly lit? While you may instantly decide that you prefer one over the other, the fact is that either one could be correct. In the context of this particular film, however, one would be correct and the other would be very wrong. The only way to know which is correct is to know the lighting ratio that has been pre-determined for the project.

Lighting ratio is simply a way to communicate the difference in level between the key and the fill as it falls on the subject. A ratio of 2:1 (something like the image on the left) would be much more evenly lit than a ratio of 5:1 (something like the image on the right). My numbers for these particular shots are guesses, by the way, since I did not measure the light on location--but you get the point.

In this film, which is a children's film, the decision was made in pre-production to keep it bright and happy. The best way to accomplish this goal was first of all to choose colorful locations, costumes and set decorations. Equally important, however, was to keep the lighting ratio low. This is why the image on the left is the only choice that could work for our film. The image on the right is much more moody, gritty and dark, which may be perfect for another film. And, in fact, it could work in our film, but only if we were trying to accomplish a dark, scary effect on one of the subjects.

Why is it important to know all of this? Well, it is the language of lighting. How else could we describe to the second unit director of photography how to light scenes that will match the first unit? How else could the History Channel hire DP's in ten locations to shoot interviews for a show and have them all look like they were shot by the same crew? It is critical to be able to describe to someone else what you are looking for, and that is where knowing your lighting ratio is important. It is important for your own shooting as well. If you can have a clear idea of the ratio you want while you are lighting each shot, you will end up with a much more consistent-looking project in the end.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lighting in the Real World

Dan Lennie at F-Stop Academy has put together some very extensive training programs for would-be video producers. One segment that he is offering as a stand alone module is called "Lighting For Digital Filmmakers" and is currently at a special price.

The one thing I think is a problem for those of us trying to learn more about lighting is that most training only deals with 3-point lighting and generally the examples shown are interviews. It becomes infinitely more complicated, however, when you are lighting a "real-world" scene, especially one in which characters are moving around. Dan deals with this more effectively than most training courses do. You can learn more by checking out his website.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

First Movie Poster for The Solomon Bunch

Just created a temporary poster for The Solomon Bunch. We needed something to submit along with all the information to be listed on the IMDb website. Everything should be online within the next week or so.

Visit the official website for now and I will post once they have us online at IMDb.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Directing Fact #1 - YOU are not making a movie.

I come from twenty years of productions that for all intents and purposes have been a one-man show. I have many times marveled at the credits on television documentaries, wondering why in the world they would need that many people. More often than not, I choose to not list credits at the end of my own productions because I am embarrassed that I only have three or four names total. While this can and has worked for me in documentary, promo, training and commercial productions, it does not work on a film set.

Preparing for my first film, I found myself often making a mental note of something I would need to be sure to take care of on a particular day of the shoot. They were all very simple things that would not take any time or effort at all. But somewhere along the way, I started to realize how fast they were adding up. There would be no way for me to oversee all of these little things by myself. So I began passing them off, which now unnerved my production manager and assistant directer since these were things they had not heard about previously. I finally got my list down to just one task the night before shooting began and one task on the morning of Day 1.

The first task was putting together the sound cart for our audio guys. Most of the equipment was mine or stuff I had borrowed, and I already had a plan for how to rig it up as a cart. I estimated about two hours to put it together. I was a little off. By the time we had rigged it all together, labeled everything, proved microphones, set up recording templates and gathered all the accessories that might be needed, I got a total of fifteen minutes of sleep.

The task the next morning was much easier. I had agreed to pull the trailer with our movie car to the set. This would not be a problem since I was driving my SUV to the set anyway. Call time was at 8 am, but at 8:45 I was still waiting alongside the Interstate for a police officer to show up. With a flat tire on the trailer, my plan was to simply unload the movie car and drive it the last 30 miles to the set where it would be needed soon. I could not do that, however, without a police escort since my movie car was a very convincing police cruiser. While I really could not afford to be a couple of hours late to the set, I figured it was a better option than being arrested for impersonating a police officer. After permissions and escorts from two counties, I finally drove onto the set in the police car.

No one noticed, of course, because they were already busy shooting the first scene (as I had instructed them by phone). Looking around, I suddenly realized two things. First, this was way bigger than me. My first AD and Director of Photography had things humming and probably would have had a decent scene in the can whether I showed up or not. It was humbling, but it also gave me a great sense of respect for what we were undertaking. My second realization, however, was that I would not see my own vision for my film on-screen if I was also a PA, grip, sound guy, production manager and driver.

A film is like a ship at sea. A lot of people and processes are in place to make it move and maneuver. The captain may be running the show, but his only real job is to hire a good crew and then make sure the boat is always pointed in the right direction. If he has to run up and down the ship taking care of things, no matter how important or how simple, he will be distracted and the results could be disastrous. As a director, after you have found great actors and a great crew in pre-production, you should be focused on only two things--getting the coverage you will need in the edit room, and getting the performance you want from your actors. Everything else is a distraction that someone else should be handling. It is not easy to make this happen on a small budget project, but I believe it is the key to having a great, cohesive end-product that you will be happy with.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lighting Tip #9 - Know Your Camera

While good lighting practices generally apply to every situation, it is important to know the capabilities and limitations of the camera and format you are shooting on. The amount of latitude in a camera can make a difference in the way you light. For example, when using a camera with 10 stops of dynamic range, you will be forced to light the scene much more evenly than if you had 14 stops. With a higher latitude camera, you can get away with including both well-lit and very shadowy areas in the same scene--and it may actually create a better result in some cases.

Another thing that is important to know is how your camera handles highlights. Some cameras have a nice-looking roll-off into a blown-out window while others may have the same window looking like a home video. If your camera falls under the latter category, then you will have to bring up the overall lighting of the interior, gel the window with a neutral density filter. or simply find a way to keep the window out of the shot. Be aware that each camera handles differently the highlights in different colors as well. Some may blow out reds before any other color, so you will need to take that into account when lighting the scene.

The overall light level of a scene can be affected by the camera as well. For example, if you have a camera with a higher ISO rating, then you are able to work with much less light and get the same results. While one camera may require an evening scene to have a 5k light as a key and a bunch of lights bringing up the background, another camera may capture the same scene with a small KinoFlo as the key and existing light for the background. In the picture above, we shot a scene of two boys in a fishing boat at close to nine o'clock at night. It was supposed to be a daytime scene, and because we were shooting with a camera rated at 800 ISO (Sony PMW-F3), we were able to get the look of daylight with just existing light and a single Litepanel LED light. On most cameras, this would have looked far too grainy to be of use.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inception - Behind the Scenes

Here is a BTS video I found to be very interesting and informative. It covers the filming of fight scenes that were done in a tumbling hallway. I am glad someone out there is willing to put in the effort to figure this kind of thing out, because I have a feeling I will be making no such contribution to the filmmaking industry.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great Camera Shootout 2011

Zacuto has posted a new documentary which compares the capabilities of most of the popular film cameras on the market today. It is a very in-depth and scientific comparison that will give you a good grasp on which cameras work best in which situations. The Sony F3, which we used on our recent film shoot, is included, and I thought the results matched very closely to what we found on-set. One thing in particular that seems to be a weak point is the way it handles yellows. It tends to overexpose in the yellows well before it overexposes in any other color. We thought this was strange while shooting, and sure enough these tests found the same thing. Other than that, I thought it matched up well against the other professional formats when you consider the price range it comes in. Take a look at this documentary, which is in three parts. The final segment is due out sometime this month.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Last Chance for Free Templates

Footage Firm has been giving away stock footage and music for only a small shipping and handling charge for a couple of years now. I have found much of it to be useful in my productions. This new product, which is After Effects templates, is the best thing they have released to date. There is no reason not to purchase this set. It will pay for itself the first time you use one of the templates. Check out their site now since these will not be free for much longer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Video Promo for

Here is a video promo that I just recently completed for a Gospel of John outreach being sponsored by More than 10,000 scriptures will be sent directly to homes in the Denver area and this video was created to show the specific need of the city of Denver. I loved shooting there, by the way. If you see my next movie script starting with a description of the setting that says "somewhere in the Rocky Mountains," you will know why.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stills from The Solomon Bunch

I have been in production on the film, The Solomon Bunch, for the past several weeks, which is why I have not posted anything to this blog. I will spend some time discussing the experience as director sometime in the near future, but for now I figured I would at least post some stills.

We shot with the Sony PMW-F3, which captured some amazing images. There were a few things we did not like about the camera, but overall we were very pleased with how everything came out.

These stills are screen captures as-shot. They are ungraded. For time and cost considerations, we shot directly to the SxS cards in-camera and tried to get as close as possible on the look while shooting. If this were intended to be a theater release rather than just at TV/DVD release, we probably would have shot in S-Log to maintain the image resolution needed for the big screen.