Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pre-production notes

We have decided to join the 21st century and stop using Word and Excel for all of our pre-production work.  As such, we are going to use Chimpanzee for this film.  This is a scaled down version of Gorilla and it's on sale right now for half off:

Sale banner:

I downloaded the demo and did some testing and this hsould be perfect for our little film and crew.  Check it out if you are tired of the Word/Excel style of pre-production.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And we're BACK! Coming to you live from California!

It's been over a year since I last blogged.  Basically there has been no time to devote to the blog here but that is about to change.  I am finally starting our next film Thicker Than Blood.  We are in pre-production now with the script locked.  I have cast the lead and hired a composer for it.

Currently we are:

  • Developing story boards / animatics
  • Designing the color script
  • Gathering human resources
  • Finalizing the shooting script
  • Determining wardrobe and props (dependent on color script)
  • Determining lighting / camera package
 Nance will DP the shoot and I will direct it.  I will blog our progress in detail here.  We will also attempt to crowd fund part of the film and I will also document / blog that process and it's results.

So, if it has been a while since you looked here, feel free to check back over the next days / months  to see how we progress through this process!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Canon 5D MkIII

We have been REALLY happy with the 5D MkII.  We have used the camera extensively.  It's very nice to be able to quickly grab this camera, do minimal setup, and get shots in the can FAST.  We were waiting for the 5D MkIII to possibly pick one up as a backup.  However, the cost vs. updates on this camera make it tough to rationalize.  As such, we will grab another MkII as a B cam now (especially with the price drop).

Lens review update

We are waiting on a piece of gear to arrive before we get hot and heavy on the CP.2 review.  We will test the following:

85 T2.1
28 T 2.1
50 Makro T 2.1

Redrock Micro Mattebox

We'll contrast these with some Nikkor still lens equivalents.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Information overload

Information overload is a challenge that all of us face in this internet information world.  In this blog entry, I am going to talk about one method of easing this burden while still allowing you to stay current on things that are important to you.  The best part is that this process is VERY simple to do and, once set up, requires very little of your time to maintain.

Whether it is our in-boxes overflowing, trying to keep up with various blogs or twitter as well as stay on top of all of the changes that seem to occur on a daily basis in this business.  It's a challenge that all of us face every day.

The number of blogs and forums that I track on a daily basis is, to be honest, mind boggling.  Yet, every day, I am able to quickly discern what topics are being discussed and focus on those that are of immediate need or interest.  The way that I do this is by leveraging 2 technologies:

  • RSS
  • iGoogle
We'll take these two topics in order...


RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  It provides a method for blogs, forums and other sites to provide a simple update feed to some other application (typically a web browser).  So, for blogs, it will provide updates to a browser when a new article is posted or on forums when new topics are started or a particular topic is getting a lot of traffic.

The way that this works is that the web site of interest will generate some XML that follows the RSS format (or schema) whenever the site determines that enough changes to the site's contents have occurred to justify a refresh of the RSS data.  Someone that is monitoring the RSS will detect that it has been updated and pull the XML down from that site and display a nicely formatted summary of the changes.  When you use an RSS feed, it is called subscribing.

So, who uses RSS?  Almost all forums and blogs offer this service.  So, now we know how RSS works, how can we use it?  Enter...


I use Google's RSS monitoring tool.  It's called iGoogle and it's VERY easy to use.  You can find guides on how to use it HERE.  iGoogle is not the only game in town for reading and monitoring RSS information.  Most browsers have a reader built into them but I prefer iGoogle because of it's ease of use and the ability to customize it.  But, before you settle on iGoogle, I highly encourage you to look at all of your options to find one that best meets your needs.  Wikipedia has a comparison article on a bunch of readers HERE.

The number of sites that cover filmmaking is huge.  iGoogle allows me to see what sites have updates and what the topic is that was updated.  I have divided my iGoogle into about 13 pages and each page corresponds to a particular area of interest for me.  I have one for stocks and finance, one for music, one for filmmaking and so on.

Then, on each of these pages, I have added what Google calls a gadget.  Each gadget is just an RSS feed for a particular web site.  Here is a screenshot of my iGoogle page that I have setup for filmmaking:

As you can see from that screenshot, I am monitoring a LOT of RSS feeds.  On the left side you can see where you select which topic area that you want to browse.  That page (and it is a partial screenshot) is for Film making (as you can tell from the red highlighted word on the page selection panel on the left).

Each of the items on the page are customizable and I added them by clicking on the add gadget button at the upper left.  When you click that you will see a bunch of gadgets that Google is recommending for you.  On the left pane of that screen are links that will narrow the suggestions and below that is the link that I use to add a new feed (or gadget).  Clicking this will give you a popup so that you can put the URL in of the site that you are interested in.

Once you have added whatever sites you want (iGoogle will complain if it cannot find an RSS feed at the URL that you enter and disallow the creation of the gadget), click the link on the left panel at the top that says "Back to iGoogle".

You can then set how many lines of updates the gadget will display (up to 9 each) as well as drag and drop to arrange the gadgets on the page.  I do this arrangement process to ensure the sites of greatest interest and activity are at the top of the page.

So, how do you know if the sites you are interested it offer RSS?  Many sites will sport the RSS logo like this:

You can right click that logo and copy the URL associated to it and add it as a gadget.  If you do not see the logo on the blog or forum or whatever, you can still try to add the site by just pasting in the URL when you add a gadget.  If the site has RSS, iGoogle will tell you that it has added it.  Otherwise it will complain that there is no RSS found at that URL.

If you find a site that you think should have RSS but appears to be lacking it, email the site owner or webmaster and ask them.  The link for it may be on another page or what have you and the webmaster should be able to point you in the right direction.

And, finally, iGoogle will let you export your pages so that you can share them with other users of iGoogle.  As such, I am happy to offer my Filmmaking RSS page to anyone that would like it.  Just email me at and I will zip up my page so that you can import it to your iGoogle account and adjust as you see fit.

Thanks for reading this!

Small update

I am working on the review.  The lenses to be reviewed are:

28mm T2.1
50mm T2.1 Makro
85mm T2.1

There are plenty of lab tests and the like on the net for these.  Our review will be a simpler real-world look at these lenses for the DSLR shooter.  And, as stated previously, the Redrock Micro Matte Box will also be reviewed.  The review includes the matte box as it is a required bit of kit for these lenses.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pending review of Zeiss CP.2 and Redrock Micro Matte box

Stay tuned...  I have not blogged in over a year now as I have been too busy.  Tomorrow we will have the Zeiss CP.2 50 Makro and 100mm lenses in our hands and I will do a review of these and the Redrock Matte box - Both written and with sample video etc.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

DSLR and the revolution part 1

Nance and I have watched with interest the development of the inclusion of HD video into the realm of the DSLR world.  Nance has been wanting a full-frame DSLR ever since she saw the Kodak one around 2004.  Then we saw "The Last Three Minutes" shot by Shane Hurlbut and his crew, using a Canon 5D Mark II.  Then we saw the last episode of House, which was also shot with the 5D.

Since we loved the results of those two "films", we knew we just had to have that camera!  Almost all of the lenses that Nance uses are manual Nikkors.  In conducting our research, it was clear to us that the Canon was really leading the pack here in terms of value.  We also determined that we could use the Nikon glass with the help of a simple adapter.  Actually, she got 10 of a different brand on ebay for about $12.50 each.  They work great!  She almost forgot the Canon back caps.

The first day with the camera, Nance was messing around with it after shooting a bunch of still tests and decided to check out the video.  She shot a 10 second clip in natural light and loaded the clip up into FCP after using the EOS capture utility.

She was very excited.  She had me look at the footage and I was just blown away by it.  It was truly stunning.  Clear and vibrant.  Just beautiful.  At that point I suggested we do some side-by-side testing against the EX3.  We have been VERY happy with the EX3 and were anxious to see what the difference was.  There was a big difference.  And while the EX3 produces stunning results, there was just something very different about the 5D's imagery.

It was very cinematic - Film like.  24p or 30 - It still had this certain quality about it.  We were both very surprised by this.  Now, we understand the issues with this camera.  Specifically:
  • Fast camera movement distorts the image (rolling shutter "jello" cam)
  • Moire issues
  • 12 minute recording time
  • Rolling shutter artifacts (especially with flash)
I tested the moire issue by shooting the roof of a house across the street from us and indeed it was terrible.  However, lens selection can be used to minimize this effect.  Moreover, I tested the same focal length on the EX3 and got similar results.

For moire effects, if you properly plan your shots with this issue in mind, you can eliminate or at least, minimize this effect.  From what we can see, the main drawback for us with this camera is the 12 minute clip length.  We do some event shoots and they can involve the camera running for more than an hour at a time.  So, for that, we will tend to favor the EX3.

For film narrative, 12 minutes is not a real issue since most shots are a few minutes tops.

Oh - yeah, and this thing takes WONDERFUL stills.

Nance has since purchased a few accessories for the camera and has started testing a workflow that uses Premiere CS5 instead of FCP as Premiere is much more adept at consuming this highly compressed format natively.  This past weekend, Nance attended Shane Hurlbut's HDSLR Bootcamp and learned a great deal.  I will detail some of the things she learned over the weekend in the next installment of this as well as post up some images from our tests with the camera.  Here is a link to Shane's blog about the weekend.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Visual Storytelling

Once in a while you run across something that just speaks to you.  Something that transcends culture and language.  Sometimes it's a film.  Momentos is just such a film.  Shot on the 7D, this 6 minute short embodies the concept of visual storytelling.  No dialog.  Just an emotional story that will touch you.

You can see it HERE.

BTS can be seen HERE.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Zacuto DSLR Shootout part 3 is up

This is a great series that compares a sampling of the current crop of HDSLR cameras to film.  Part 3 is up that covers keying, simulated raw and frame blowup as well as a couple of shorts shot on HDSLR.

If you are at all interested in the future, these are a must see.  Highly respected industry professionals share their insights with the results as well.  These videos can be a bit talky at the beginning but if you let them queue up a bit you can skip that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our lives in the cloud

We have all heard the flap over Facebook's sharing of private user data with advertisers.  And recently about Google collecting data on users.  Google.  You know, the "Don't be evil" guys.  Well, Facebook is a primary resource for lawyers to research their opposition, potential jurors, plaintiffs and defendants...

Recently, in a custody case, a father was testifying to obtain custody of his child and asserted that he had reformed and had not had a drink in over a year.  The lawyer for the wife presented a picture of him from his facebook page that showed him drinking a few months prior to the trial...

Many of us maintain email accounts on Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail among others.  All web based services that maintain all of our data on their servers.  Additionally, services such as Google Apps or even the more recent Adobe online screenplay authoring tools and Photoshop online products place our information, preferences, location and proprietary works onto the servers of companies with whom most people just tend to place blind trust into.

The public posture of these companies regarding user privacy tends to be one that sounds like they are acting in good conscience.  But we as consumers of these services need to be diligent in our use of said services and to assume that these companies will not act appropriately with our privacy.

This is not to say that these service providers will act maliciously against us.  However, the assumption that their agenda is aligned with that of their consumers is naive at best and dangerous at worst.  It is incumbent upon the consumers of these services to protect ourselves.  The assumption that the service providers will do that for us is, again, naive.

So what do WE as consumers need to do?  It's very simple.  Two things:

  1. Place ONLY information into our online activities that does not compromise our personal privacy.  We must ALWAYS assume that there is no privacy on the internet.  Not in emai, not in online applications, social websites - NOTHING.
  2. When we see that privacy is being compromised by any service provider we MUST speak out about this.  However, our tone must be one that gives the benefit of the doubt to the service provider.  This method of raising concern is more likely to be taken seriously than a "Sky is falling, everyone is spying on me" approach.
That's it.  Simple.  Do not depend on any service provider to maintain your privacy.  They may have a policy that protects the user but there are always individuals at any of these companies that can compromise our privacy without the knowledge of that company.

What does this have to do with filmmaking?  Nothing, specifically, however I know that a lot of my readers are active on forums, run their own blogs, use cloud based applications and it is important for all of us to act responsibly in the information age.

Be careful out there.

UPDATE: I should also point out that deleting your content from an online service provider only ensures that it is out of the public eye.  Service providers do backups and maintain historical records that are obtainable via court order.  And, then there is always THIS.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Story boarding and inspirations

After many, many iterations, I finalized the script for Thicker Than Blood recently and those that have read it have urged me to get this made.  And so it begins...

I began story boarding it about a week ago and I have the first scene completed (about 2 minutes and 40 seconds total).  It takes me a while to do this as I do not do it in the traditional fashion.  I do it with a 3D application called Lightwave 3D.  Basically it's a competitor to Maya or 3DS Max.  In this process, I have to build all of the sets and props, set the scene and animate all of it.  I create a VO of the dialog in the film and bring the final animations into FCP and edit it all together, adding the VO and sound effects.

This allows me to create every setup that will be in the film, to pre-visualize all of it and basically create the entire film on the computer.  This is really a wonderful way to do this since I get to see everything before I ever roll the camera.  I know what each setup will be.  I know how long each shot will be.  I can experiment with multiple camera angles on a scene to see which of these best serves the story.

Then, once we are on set, we have already shot the film in the storyboard.  We have every aspect of it planned out to the most minute detail.  This makes for a fast paced shoot and minimizes wasted time on the set.  It does not, however, preclude changing it at the last minute.  If some improvement presents itself on the day of the shoot, it will be explored.  But, when all else fails, we have the plan to fall back on.  To quote the old addage: Plan the shoot and shoot the plan.

One thing that Nancy excels at is over-preparation.  Invariably when we do a gig, we are prepared for every contingency.  But this makes for a very organized and fast shoot.  When noon hits and people are getting hungry, we are ready for it and we are on schedule.  Hitchcock always story-boarded every shot in his films.  When he got on the set, the film was already shot.  He just had the mechanics of putting it on film to deal with...

OK, enough rambling about story-boards.  Now for the inspiration...

I have not really spoken about the new DSLRs that are being used for video.  However, that does not mean that I have been stuck in a dark room with my head in the sand.  Nancy and I have been tracking these developments with great interest.  We watched the season closer of House M.D. last night that was shot on the Canon 5D MkII and it was very impressive.  These cameras are amazing.  And SO small that you can really get them into a very tight situation with ease.  I love that idea.

With all of that being said, and with no further ado, I offer to you a short film shot on the 5D MKII by Shane Hurlbut ASC.  It's called The last 3 Minutes and it is just stunning.  This, my friends, is truly inspiring work:

The Last 3 Minutes

Making of part 1

Making of part 2

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Maltese Falcon

Nancy and I attended a screening last night at the AMPAS HQ's Samuel Goldwyn theater last night as part of the AMPAS's Film Noir series.  Last night they presented The Maltese Falcon.  The show was preceded by a series of cartoons and trailers.  The idea being that they wanted to emulate the theater going experience as it was in the 40s.  The screening was introduced by Lawrence Kasdan who offered a number of insights into the film

The Good

The print was very very clean.  The SG theater in the AMPAS HQ is clean as a whistle.  None of the normal theater issues were present.  No one talked during the film.  No cell phone went off.  My feet did not stick to the floor.  The sound was excellent.  Mr. Kasdan offered some nice insights into the film and it was very clear that he is a HUGE fan of this film (as am I) admitting to having seen it more than 20 times.  The daughter and granddaughters of Dashiell Hammett were in attendance and informed the MC and Mr. Kasdan that his name is pronounced DASH - EELE.  Not DASH-ALL as most folks would have assumed and have probably heard Hollywood say countless times in the past.

The Bad

Well, not too much bad here.  Nance had not seen the film in many years and was displeased that Mr. Kasdan pointed out a large number of the humorous gags in the film.  She likened it to a trailer that has all of the good jokes in it.  Other than that it was a packed house.  We got there around 6:45 and it took the ushers quite some time to find 2 seats together for Nance and I.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of these I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The NAB Wrap up

Well, the show is over and the number of changes that we are seeing is occurring at an astonishing rate.  I think we are not that far from the point where digital imagery can supplant film in terms of look, latitude, and dynamic range, not to mention resolution.  Mark my words, there will come a day when content producers will wonder why people were obsessed with the "film look" back in the dawn of the digital image revolution.

The first time I looked at making a film was around 1988.  It was a simple short that had both interiors and exteriors and was about 15 minutes in length.  After doing my research, I determined that my cost to do this was going to be around $33,000.  An amount that far exceeded my fiduciary wherewithal at the time.

A mere ten years later, the landscape had changed so significantly as to reduce this cost by half.  And in another 10 years the cost had come down so low and the quality had gone up so much as to rival the same trends that we have seen in the computer world.

So, with all of that perspective in mind, let's look at what some of the more significant announcements were at NAB that I did not cover in the previous blog post.

DaVinci Resolve

Blackmagic Design's announcement of the pricing of DaVinci Resolve truly exemplifies the type of lower cost / higher quality that I spoke of above.  DaVinci color correction has been the bar to which all others have aspired in this arena.  In the past, this color correction system has been used by all of the big Hollywood studios and the big post houses.  After all, they were the only ones that could afford such a high end tool (some configurations topping $1M in cost).

And now, Black Magic Design is offering DaVinci Resolve in a software only configuration for the Mac for $995.  That's just insane...  Now you won't be doing 2K footage on this platform but you can do HD footage all day long.  Just as a caveat, it does require a control surface.  Also, performance can be increased by the addition of GPU based video cards and Resolve will leverage the additional processing power of the GPUs.

There was a ton of very cool stuff at NAB this year.  I think that this one tops the list.

Arri Alexa

Clearly targeted at the RED ONE, the new Arri digital camera looks to be a real game changer.  Coming in at around $65K with accessories, it is competitive in price to the RED ONE, similarly equipped.  The Alexa is a 2K camera rated at ISO 800.  Admittedly, at these prices, most of the users are renting, but it's still significant in terms of reduced costs.  AWN's blog covered a side by side test of the new RED Mysterium X equipped camera and the Alexa HERE. One of the clear advantages that Arri has here is their infrastructure for professional cameras and their experience in the pro world.  But, at the end of the day, it's the image that matters.  And people are stunned by what they have seen.

I think we can all thank RED for precipitating developments like this.  Competition is good.

LITEPANELS Sola series

LitePanels introduced a set of Fresnel LED lights that look to be pretty incredible.  For me, the Sola 12 is of particular interest.  This is a 2K Fresnel that draws 250 watts of power.  It's also dim-able with no impact on color temp.  That's huge.  You can have 4 of these running off of household current.  This is really nice when you are on a practical set and have no generator.  Most of your typical household circuits are rated at about 2K watts or so.  This is very slick.  Speaking of LitePanels, we have one of their smaller on-cam lights that we use to do things like stuffing a light into a cramped space (We used it recently on a shoot to light the interior of a refrigerator).  The name used for these is Grenade - Because of the similarity of the array of LEDs to an old style "Pineapple" Grenade.  So make sure you don't drop it :)

OK, I am going to stop bending your ear here.  If you want more highlights from the show, be sure and check out FreshDV's coverage of the show.  It's second to none.  But, I will leave you with this lame joke:

Q: How many grips does it take to screw in a light bulb? 
A: Two.  One to hold it and one to hammer it in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NAB 2010

Wow.  The stuff showing up at NAB this year is just stunning...  I'll do some brief coverage of some of the elements that are essential to what we do here at B-Scene.

Adobe CS5

One of the big items to get announced is Adobe's CS5 suite.  Before I get into AE, I want to point out a technology in Photoshop that looks just amazing.  It's called Content Aware.  Check out this preview from Adobe Labs:

Some folks are saying that GIMP has had this ability for a while now.  I tried GIMP a long time ago and found that I preferred the UI in Photoshop.  Now I have to go back and have another look at GIMP and see how it compares to the new Photoshop...

After Effects new big feature is Roto Brush.  If you have ever done rotoscoping, you know the challenges that this can represent and the tedium associated with it.  If you look at the first shot in our Post Production reel (HERE) you can see where we had to roto out a tripod leg from the bottom of the shot.  This kind of thing is particularly challenging when the element to be removed starts out of frame.  It will be interesting to see how well RotoBrush can deal with this kind of situation.  You can see some of Mark Christiansen's tutorial on RotoBrush HERE.

Premiere Pro's updates are pretty big as well.  The addition of the new Mercury rendering engine is pretty huge.  The offloading of image rendering to the GPU is a major paradigm shift for an NLE like this.  The addition of Script-to-Screen is also interesting.  Not sure how useful this will be but we will have to give it a try.  You can see a discussion of that HERE as well.  The integration with Adobe Story is an interesting direction.  Adobe Story is a cloud based app for screenwriting that is clearly aimed at products like Final Draft.

Oh - And ALL of the CS5 apps are now 64 bit.  ONLY.  That's right, if you are still running a 32 bit OS, you will NOT be able to run CS5 until you upgrade.  So, what does 64 bit buy you?  It's huge, I tell you, HUGE!

64 bits means faster.  And, at the end of the day, faster is what it's all about.  I have always said that the fastest computer in the world is too slow.  And I meant it.  With 64 bit applications, the application can move elements around in memory twice as fast as 32 bit.  Oh, and it means the apps will be able to use more memory.  With 32 bits, the upper limit of physical memory was 4GB.  With 64 bits it is (in theory), 16.3 billion gigabytes, 16.3 million terabytes, or 16 exabytes  of RAM.  I say in theory because some CPU manufacturers limit this...

Not that anyone is going to max that out anytime soon (famous last words, I know...).

Redrock Micro Remote

As owner/operators of a Steadicam rig, the new Redrock Micro Remote is HUGE.  The integration of an iPod Touch or iPhone to the remote to run Redrock's focus application is just genius.  This is a real game changer for folks like us.  Rather than blather on endlessly about this device, I'll let FreshDV's NAB video coverage do the talking for us:


That's all for now, I will post some comments on the AMAZING new cameras that were released so far at NAB.  Some of which answer the question that my friends and I have been asking for two years: Why can't they take the big imagers from the still cameras and make a pro HD or 2K camera at low cost?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Mantra of the Five

Many times, we get footage for post that exhibits a clear disregard for the 5 steps that should be used for any given setup in a narrative context.  This always creates more work for us and a greater cost to the client.  The client does themselves a disservice by not taking the time to do each setup on the set with the 5 steps.

Performing the 5 steps takes longer than just jumping in and shooting.  But this will pay off in spades in terms of both the look and the performance of the talent.  The mantra of the five is:

  1. Block
  2. Light
  3. Rehearse
  4. Tweak
  5. Shoot
Let's take each one in turn...


The director blocks the action with the actors.  During this time, the lighting crew can also be doing rough setup for the lighting phase as long as it does not interfere with the director.  Typically, the AD will be putting tape marks down on the floor for the talent to use to repeat the action for the scene.  Sometimes the marks are numbered so that the director can tell the talent to start a take at a given point in the scene (Everybody back to 2, etc. called by the AD)

As the blocking is taking place, the DP is watching how the talent is placed in the scene and formulates a plan for lighting the shot that meets the needs of the particular scene.  The DP may also, at this point, rehearse any camera moves that need to take place.


Once the blocking is complete, the talent typically gets made up and is off the set.  The DP can now direct the gaffer to set the lights.  In this process, it is generally a good idea to have stand-ins doing the action for the DP while the lighting is taking place so that the DP can see how the light is going to fall onto the talent.


At this point, the lighting should be correct or at least very close.  The talent returns to the set and the AD calls "Rehearsal is up".  The director then goes through the scene with the talent as many times as the director deems necessary.  Any camera moves associated with the scene are also rehearsed here.


Once the rehearsal is complete, the DP can make final fine tuning adjustments to the lighting.  Once the DP is satisfied that the scene is lit correctly, they let the AD know that they are ready.


That's it.  You shoot the scene.  When you are ready for the next setup, you repeat the mantra of the 5 before you put ANYTHING down on tape or film or digital media...

In other news...  I put a short post showreel up on the website.  You can see it HERE