Friday, September 4, 2015

First Person Shooter Game Brought to Life by British Filmmakers

The London based film company, Realm Pictures, brought every video game/film nerd's wet dream to life. This past August, they created a first person shooter film that allowed random strangers they found on the internet to control the actions of the main character.

Yeah. You heard me. Realm Pictures specializes in fantasy-like films, photography and visual fx, so they are no stranger to creating interesting content that pushes the bounds of reality. With a camera strapped on to a helmet, and some tricky computer work, Director David Reynolds and his team were able to live stream an actor wandering through a church yard and fighting zombies.

But here comes the cool part. Reynolds was able to live stream the video to Chatroulette, a website that allows you to talk and video chat with random strangers. And those strangers got to control what the actor did, just like a real video game. With multiple locations, a handful of hidden weapons and items, a horde of zombies and a demonic final boss, players were able to choose their own paths by giving the actor commands, and hopefully make it through to the end, where the team of filmmakers was waiting for them in their control room. Here's the awesome video:

But how did they do it?!

It wasn't as easy as setting up an intricate obstacle course and flooding it with actors in zombie makeup. Reynolds orchestrated something very innovative technologically, that could really change both the gaming and film world. By strapping one of the zombies with a wireless router, they were able to live stream HDMI from the camera on the actor's helmet back to the control room, where Reynolds and his team controlled the website, and visual and sound effects. Reynolds also provided the voice of the shooter, so he would be able to react and communicate with the strangers. They created a behind-the-scenes video, which was even more interesting than the actual film.

And their accents, am I right ladies?

Currently, Realm Pictures are starting to produce their first feature film, so a sequel won't be in the immediate future. But, Reynolds stated "our fanciful conversations about what 'level 2' could bring are now becoming a reality real quick!", so don't cry yourselves to sleep just yet. 

This level of audience participation is pretty groundbreaking. It takes the concept of "Choose Your Own Adventure" games and films to the next level, getting rid of the preplanned paths and allowing the "gamers" to decide whatever they wanted in a controlled environment. Though video games almost look like films nowadays, with graphics getting more realistic by the second, this is truly a new way to combine the two mediums. If developed and expanded, this kind of gameplay may catch on, and hopefully Realm Pictures will be the leading pioneer to this new frontier.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A look into the night with the Sony A7s (Part 1)

Recently I was able to make a huge investment for myself as a filmmaker. I introduced myself to a new camera, the A7s. I have had my eye on this Sony product for quite sometime now. I have been blown away by it's dynamic range and high ISO capabilities displayed online and now I finally get a chance to use this in a real world setting.

(A still from the A7s, Sigma Art 35mm 1.4)

So where to start? The Sony A7s has so many favorable traits its hard distinguish a starting point. I'll start with my three favorite features and move on throughout each blog post, addressing individual features as we move along. For myself there were a few things that I found desirable about the camera that swayed me to switch from Canon to Sony. First off, variable frame rates. I previously shot on the Canon T3i as it was my starter camera and boy did it get me through some times. However, the highest frame rate you can go is 60fps at 1280x720. This is universal through most Canon DSLRs.
 (Tokina 11-16mm 2.8)

The 5DmkIII, which previously ruled the DSLR world, couldn't compete. The A7s can also be boosted to 120 fps with the downgrade to 1280x720. It can't compete with the Phantom or RED, but for a Full-Frame DSLR, this variability will get the job done. The video posted below is shot completely in 60fps.  All footage is played back in realtime until brought into post to be altered. 

While the variable frame rates are so much fun to play with, thats not all there is to this beast. The ISO is off the charts. Most of the footage above, besides what was indoors, was filmed at upwards of 30,000 ISO. This was my first day with the camera and I really was enjoying this party trick. Grain in the image began to increase as I went up, however it is quite clean around 20,000. Some 50,000 iso footage can even be salvageable. Once you increase upwards of this threshold you will need to use plug-ins like Neat Video to decrease grain levels.

 (Sigma Art 35mm 1.4)

Many filmmakers have highlighted in reviews this outstanding feature, and I hope to learn how to take advantage of this feature and really get some outstanding footage. Once difference I noticed is that the Video ISO is much cleaner at much higher ISOs than the photos. This is due to the sensor only having 12.2mp, thus the pictures suffer loss of quality in order for the video to prevail. Although the resolution is not quite up to par with Cameras like the 5D or even the A7s older brothers the A7 and A7r, the pictures produced still look very nice when paired with the right glass.

While these two capabilities are useful and help with more advanced shooting, you can never forget the little things. The live recording punch in feature is so handy and is something I've been looking forward to for quite some time. Paranoia strikes at the strangest times, especially when conducting interviews. The everlasting battle of not being able to tell if you have something in your eye or if your shot is soft. Being able to punch in and check focus is an amazing feature especially when it comes to doc work, not only in interview settings but out in the field too. The back tilt able LCD screen paired with an amazing EVF makes this camera very diverse. 

(Sigma Art 35mm 1.4)

Using the EVF paired with the punch in focus feature will be great when recording in the field and you need that extra assurance that the subject of your shot, whether that be an animal, mountain top, you name it, is in focus. There are multiple custom keys on this camera that you can arrange which ever is most comfortable for you. I prefer to have my C1 button (located on the top right corner diagonal from the shutter release) to be my short cut to this handy feature, but to each their own. 

I'm very excited to start using this new investment for personal projects, thesis films, and even try my hand at time-lapses. It feels weird making the next step of your career goal and being faced with new and unique situations. While the learning curve in this industry is always changing, this factor is what drives me to be the best I can be. There will be plenty more reviews to come in regards to the time-lapse capabilities, picture profiles, and much more. Until next time. 

Panasonic DVX200

Browsing NoFilmSchool today after not reading the site for well over a month I discovered that Panasonic released a camera called the DVX200. This camera is a successor to the DVX100, a 4:3 CCD camera released in 2002. At its time, the DVX100 was the first camera to support progressive scan video recording at an affordable price. Since then other cameras have been released, such as the HPX500, the HVX200A and the HMC150, which were released in the 2000s.

Several years ago I owned an HMC150 that I bought after saving up for over a year while working at a NAPA Autoparts store in my town. I loved that camera. At the time, I was shooting action sports videos of my friends snowboarding and riding BMX bikes. The HMC150 served a versatile tool for the type of filming I was doing. Action sports filming is a run'n'gun situation. Many times we would arrive at a location and after a few minutes of scoping out shot locations begin to film. Content was key, the more the better (as always), and we never wanted to miss a moment. The first video I have posted above is a edit from footage I shot during one year for my friend Shane. His video was being shot when I bought my camera and is the first one that I shot part of with my HMC150. The second video was made about a few years later. By this time I had become much more adept at using the camera.

The release of the DVX200 is important because it brings 4K quality video recording to the build style that favors action sports videos as well as documentaries as well. Most 4K cameras are not built for run'n'gun style shooting as they require a monitor and a complex setup that is suitable for studio work in a controlled environment. Sports and documentary filmmaking involve quick setups, the ability to zoom easily with a servo zoom motor, attachment of shotgun mics with onboard XLR ports, as well as other features, such as ND filters. All-in-all I'm excited about this camera.

Baraka and Non-narrative Film

As a fan of documentaries, I’ve become fairly well acquainted with the various styles found in the genre. One of the less-discussed styles that greatly intrigues me is non-narrative docs/nonfiction films - particularly those that lack any sort of narration whatsoever. 

The first time I saw this sort of thing was back in middle school, when our music teacher showed us some clips from Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (we watched it in music class because of its remarkable score by Philip Glass). And as a middle school kid, of course I found it to be the most boring thing I’d ever seen. After that experience I stayed away from the genre until I found Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka a few years later. 

Baraka opened the door for me to the world of non-verbal film. It is a movie shot in 25 different countries on 6 different continents, and it completely avoids the use of dialogue, narration, and narrative. It is comprised of footage of people, nature, vehicles, infrastructure, etc. over a beautiful score. Regarding the film, producer Mark Magidson said “[the goal] was to reach past language, nationality, religion and politics and speak to the inner viewer.” 

Baraka is remarkably captivating, yet in a different way from most films. There is no story to become invested in, or characters you get to know. However the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and the film keeps your interest by providing vastly different aesthetics as locations change. Here is an example, in a particularly depressing scene:

The film was shot in 70mm and later scanned at a ridiculous 8k for their 2008 blu-ray remaster. Even though I (or pretty much anyone, for that matter) am not getting anywhere near that resolution on my TV, it still looks absurdly good and it's certainly one of the best blu-ray film restorations I've seen. Take a look at the original trailer vs. a re-cut trailer with the restored footage: 

I highly suggest checking out the Baraka blu-ray, it's good stuff. A sequel to Baraka called Samsara was released a few years ago, and it is equally as stunning. 

ASMR You Serious?

There’s a good chance that you have never heard about ASMR, and if you have, you almost certainly haven’t talked about it. But almost everyone has experienced it in some way or another, either as a tiny child, in romantic encounter, or maybe even during a game of telephone. When somebody whispers in your ear, it can trigger a very relaxing, somewhat paralyzing chill that spreads in a wave over the head and sometimes in the lower back. This is caused by a relatively unknown mechanism in the body called the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Depending on the context, it can foster a feeling of tranquility and/or sexual arousal. While the scientific reasons for this response are still unknown, the sensation has found a significant appeal among a growing YouTube community.

A simple search of the terms “ASMR” or “whispering” will result in an array of videos that oddly enough comprise of many people just whispering to the camera, most of the time for about twenty to thirty minutes. Sometimes they just make lip sounds. Sometimes they tap and scratch random objects. Sometimes they pretend to give the audience a fake haircut.

So what’s going on here?

It turns out that for many people, ASMR videos provide a drug-free way to relax by tapping into a sensation in the body design for exactly that. In order to fall asleep, people will listen to YouTubers (sometimes known as ASMRtists) whisper and tap objects to create this sensation in their headphones. There are all different kinds of people making these videos but certain voices are more effective to certain people.

And as it happens, certain audio recording techniques are more effective as well. After finding out that ASMR videos exist, I found myself very intrigued not only by the idea of using this sensation to relax, but also how to use 3D audio recording techniques to best recreate natural human hearing. I developed an ASMR series of my own called “Ultimate Plane”. The idea behind it was to create a found footage style narrative using ASMR to tell a post-apocalyptic story. In terms of stereo recording, I used two omnidirectional stick microphones places just outside the frame of the shot, replicating approximately where human ears would pick up sound. When two omnidirectional mics are recorded together and then hard panned left and right, it creates a three dimensional listening environment, meaning that even without visuals, a person would be able to pinpoint the direction and distance of the source of the sound.

Only five episode were shot because I realized I had gotten too many people and too many props involved to keep making the weekly commitment to record episodes, but of the feedback I got, it was mostly positive, albeit many people thought it was weird. To tell the truth, it is weird, but it works and whiles it’s rarely talked about, a lot more people turn to ASMR than you may think. For me, it was a test in storytelling and sound recording and someday I’m going to go back to 3D ASMR sound recording. In the meantime, I think I’ll just listen to it sometimes and pretend that I don’t.

Comedy + Drama = DRAMEDY

Developing a story is often a work in progress. Even the most experienced writers know that story telling takes time. Myself and the creative team behind "Scout's Honor" are discovering first hand the struggles that come with creating a well rounded plot. All the ingredients are there for us, diverse characters, strong environment and a premise we're happy with. And yet, even with all these elements we're still working to get over the hump between draft 2.99 to 3.0 One of the things we've been struggling with is the tone of the piece. We're tabbing our film as a "family dramedy," key word being dramedy. This genre of storytelling combines parts of both drama and comedy, elements we're looking to include in our film. As we write and revise, we've discovered the difficulties that come from this type of storytelling.

Dramedy is tough because the author must establish a fine line between laughs and drama. A big part of a successful dramedy (or any story really) is establishing a tone and keeping it consistent throughout. Part of this is creating reliable characters. If they are, the audience will never question their emotions. Moments whether sad or happy will feel appropriate.

Even with all of these elements, it can still be hard to walk that line between comedy and drama. In "Scout's Honor" we're covering something that isn't necessarily funny: death. While our plot covers a sad part of life, we've been trying to find humor in the situational's, the aftermath. We've tried to create characters that feel real and relatable, however sometimes it can be difficult when the comedic element is added. One of our characters, the attorney, has sort of become our go to guy for comedic relief. In each draft we've tried to work on him so that his character feels multi dimensional and real, not just funny. Once again we had to go back to this character's situation and use that to justify his actions, trying to make them consistent with his predicament. As we work to complete our script we're focusing hard on finding a reliable tone.

One of the things that got me thinking more about the line between comedy and drama, is the netflix show "BoJack Horseman". I started watching this show about a week ago and have already finished the first season. I had heard good things about it, but my expectations weren't exactly through the roof. I liked the premise and most of the voice actors working on it, but otherwise I didn't think it would be much more then an easy to watch comedy. The first couple episodes were about what I expected; funny, decent plot, enjoyable enough to keep watching. As I got deeper into season 1, I was surprised to see storylines carry over episode to episode. Plot points started to get darker and the character emotions became relatable. This is when it really started to differentiate between other adult cartoons such as "Bob's Burgers" and "Family Guy." While it continued to make me laugh, the 2nd half of season 1 really pulled me in with the dramatic aspects. "BoJack Horseman" began to waver between comedy and drama. And while you can't really sell it as a drama, you can't discount the dark moments that resonate with the viewer. In one of the later episodes in season 1 there is a scene where BoJack takes too many drugs and begins to hallucinate. At coming off as funny, his hallucinations take a reflective turn as BoJack starts to visualize what his life would be like if he had a family, if he made different choices. He sees how happy he could have been before he wakes up outside a gas station collapsed in the pouring rain. As silly as the show can sometimes be, this scene really resonated with me. With graduation a year away, I'll soon have a lot of tough decisions to make as I pursue a career and a family. Each of these choices I make could have a ripple effect on the rest of my life. And while these are things everyone will think about at some point, it was this "comedy" "BoJack Horseman" that got me looking to the future.

Dramedies are awesome in that they can connect with the viewer in all kinds of ways. If done right they can connect with all kinds of emotions. Make you laugh, make you cry, and more then anything make you think.

The Good, the Bad, and the Long Take

Long takes (or oners, or long shots, or whatever you feel like calling them) have been talked about endlessly among film buffs, film students, and really anybody that gives a shit about the aesthetics of film. If you know what a long take is, chances are you've got a favorite, whether it's Goodfellas or Gravity or Children of Men or Birdman or Episode 4 of the first (and only, as far as I'm concerned) season of True Detective. I'm pretty positive I even wrote a blog post last year around the time Birdman came out, fanboying over how sexy and cool the long take is, as a shot. By this point, just pointing them out is nothing new, though. They're there, they're good, and I won't talk about them any more.

While these shots should be praised for their creativity, determination, and, sure, length, I've recently gotten more interested in when it's acceptable to use one, and for what purpose. You might have seen this video about how Spielberg uses long takes in a far more subtle way than most directors; it's part of the really great Youtube channel "Every frame a painting," and it really dissects ways you can use a long shot to your advantage without calling attention to it. In particular, I think it's fascinating how you can essentially take a long shot and break it down into three or four basic shots: the Raiders of the Lost Ark scene stands out to me the most in that regard, with a wide, mid, close, and insert shot all being incorporated into a single take. It moves the scene along, keeps things interesting, and like the guy said, almost definitely saved time on set. 

What's the point of this though? Why not just do a scene four times and cover all your bases? This is just me conjecturing here, but I think every shot should elicit some kind of emotion from your audience. Don't just go about shooting everything willy-nilly: have a purpose. If a character feels isolated and alone, back that camera way up and make her look small. If someone is claustrophobic, slap that macro lens on and get in real tight. Make a powerful character more prominent in a shot than a weaker character, and switch this if their roles are reversed. All of these will, even if only subconsciously, help an audience to better understand whatever emotion you're trying to play up. 

So what emotion does a long take elicit? In short, all of these things, all at once. I know I said I wouldn't bring up Birdman again, but I lied, so deal with it. Birdman is filmed to make it appear as if the entire movie was all done in one take, using really clever transitions to cover up the cuts. It's about theatre and theatre actors, and throughout the film, you can't help but feel like you're watching a stage production instead of movie, mostly due to fluidity and lack of cuts. One of the intentions of this is to (probably) just let the actors take over and control the screen. This works, but only to a certain extent: the lack of cuts can sometimes be distracting, e.g. "oh, did they cut there? I think they cut there. But wait ok maybe not." 

This guy.
This brings us back to the subtlety of the Spielberg long take: it's long enough to let the actors act uninhibited from cuts and various camera angles, while still being short enough to not draw attention to itself. The "Every frame a painting" guy calls it "robust," and I think that's the perfect word for it. It's simple, gets a strong point across, and can free up time on set. Ideally, we'll find some way to incorporate it into our film this semester, and if we do it right, you might not even notice it.

Also, here's another great article about the evolution of long takes, both subtle and not-so subtle. Looking at you, Lubezki

It Was a Wet Hot American Summer

14 years ago, David Wain directed an absurd comedy about camp counselors on the last day of summer camp. Wet Hot American Summer is over the top humor casted by nearly all recognizable faces. With Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and many other familiar comedians, this hit from 2001 entertains you for each second. With such a talented cast and creative writing, it continues to be an enjoyable movie 14 years after it's release date. Netflix took this cult classic hit and decided to work off of this comedy's previous success. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp released all 8 episodes on Netflix this past July.

It is no surprise behind the buzz of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. With the same cast returning along with special guest appearances, including Jon Hamm, this prequel was a definite success from the start. In typical Netflix fashion, all episodes hit the internet at the same time. We know that is ideal for all of those binge watchers. Not only was it released all at once, but it was also released in the summer. Summer is a bounty of free time and the movie is a reflections of summer itself. This production had everything going for it, and it lived up to the hype. The plot is minimal but the laughs are plenty. With both the movie and show on Netflix, it's hard to decide which to watch first. Smooth move, Netflix.

Saturday Night Live: The Alligator

I love Saturday Night Live. Ask anyone I know and they'll tell you I'm the ultimate SNL nerd. I collect the merchandise, I've camped out to get standby tickets and I've absorbed every bit of knowledge and trivia I could about the show. I often encounter people who tell me that the show isn't funny or that "it used to be really funny but now it sorta sucks". I try to take these comments in stride and to squish my normally argumentative disposition down into my gut. Truth be told most of the people who make these comments often don't or rarely watch the show and are parroting things they've heard from their parents or the endless amounts of op-eds you can find online. However this is as good a medium as any to finally tell them they are wrong and why (one of my favorite things to do).

Saturday Night Live is often referred to as a dinosaur. It relies on more old fashioned ways of producing, especially those popular when live television was a more consistent form of broadcast, and it costs a million dollars an episode because of it. Because of these methods, some of which many deem archaic, it is called a dinosaur, a beacon of the "old ways of doing it". But SNL isn't a dinosaur. Dinosaurs go extinct because they can't face new environments or refuse to evolve. SNL instead is an alligator. Sure it existed in the time of the dinosaurs, or as I like to call it, the 70s, but they learned to adapt and were unafraid to do so, they became ready to enter dangerous situations and tread unforseen territory. While many networks have seen a steep decline since the dawn of the streaming age, SNL was already built for the internet, especially making digital shorts their mark on the web. In addition they have consistently called for innovation, circulating in new players to keep the show fresh and capture a new younger audience. Yes each episode cost a million dollars to make but it doesn't matter because SNL, because of it's nature, almost always captures their time slot in terms of ratings. In a television landscape that calls for the survival of the fittest, SNL has proved to be the head of the foodchain.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Follow Runs - Their danger and necessity in downhill skateboarding media

The most simple and common form of video in downhill skateboarding is referred to as a "follow run," or "raw run." Here are a few examples:

Raw Run - Justin Rouleau from on Vimeo.

Fun fact: both these videos are filmed on the same road.

This type of filming produces very clean footage, and shows the skaters in their truest element. It is all one clip so you know the skater didn't take 15 tries to nail the right line. A skater's true style is apparent with raw runs.

However, good footage comes with high risk. To get a shot like this most filmers take a suction cup mount, put the camera as far forward on the hood as possible, and follow the skateboarder down the run. To make the footage look the fastest and most impressive possible a wide angle lens is often used, somewhere between 10-20mm. These lens create a slight distortion around the edges which makes the skating appear much faster than with something like a 50mm lens. Because of the short focal length this requires the driver to be dangerously close behind the driver, often 7 feet or less, all while going upwards of 50mph.

To make a quality downhill video follow car footage is pretty much a requirement, regardless of how dangerous it is. The driver is knowingly risking the skaters life just to get the shot that will most likely be seen by less than 10,000 people. This is a shot I will definitely be getting for my film, however we are taking precautions to make it as safe as possible. 

There have been a few cases of people getting hit by cars while driving follow runs, however no one has died to my knowledge. Here are some videos of follow car driving going wrong. No one in these videos were hurt from the car, however in a few cases the car ran over the board or the board flew up and dented the car. 


 Skip to 2:54 for the dangerous part.

S1 Helmets / Bails Bails Bails Bails from s-one helmet co / s1helmets on Vimeo.

This can only end well.

Color and Why not

Over the course of this summer I shot thousands of photos over a two month period in Ghana. On my arrival home I realized I had enough portraits to make a series. So I set out sifting through and picking the very best of the photos. There were a few decisions I had to make when going into post processing. My first decision was to have them in color or black and white.

Of course I could have both but I wanted a certain consistency to extend through the series. Unlike many of my peers my roots in photography began in a darkroom. I shot on 35mm black and white film for the first two years before I switched over to digital. Because of this I tend to lean towards black and white over color in many of my photo editing decisions. The lack of color in many cases makes some of the photos more tangible to me. The image is less distracting and focus is more on the subject. Especially in portraits. My usual plan is to look at the un-edited photo with and without color. If I feel that the color doesn't add anything to the photo then it becomes black and white.

In the film world of today I feel as if we are seeing less and less black and white films and even less television without color. With newer cameras expanding dynamic range and colorspace at an alarming rate, black and white seems to many people an unviable option. In certain cases its seen as cliche or "retro". I disagree with these statements but I agree that b&w in video is much more of a difficult decision than in photography. In the end it comes down to the decision of the director and what you think will best help tell your story. Choose wisely.

Released in 2013 Ida was an Oscar nominated film in the Best Achievement in Cinematography category

These are some of the photos in my upcoming series.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Time + Money + People = Producing College Film

I know I'm not the only one that has really started to reflect on the crazy realization that this will be the last film that I make while at Ithaca College.  There have been some stellar ones, some average ones and some projects that we just don't talk about. I'm probably not the only one who didn't wind up doing what they thought they would be doing at the tail end of four years.  As a freshman, I thought it was going to be directing.  I'm not the type of person who likes getting caught up in the hands-on details of things.  Rather, I prefer to think as big picture as possible.  Somewhere between sophomore and senior year, directing became producing because I fell in love with it in a way I never did with directing.  Before I get stuck in nostalgia, or something far worse, I'll cut to the chase about what I've figured out about producing thus far...

Producing film (and TV), at least in college, can be boiled down to the management of three resources. These three resources will always be in significantly shorter supply than you'd like AND, as the producer, you will be the one held responsible if any of them are mismanaged. 

Time is one of the three things that is mine to handle.  This one is arguably the most difficult to get a hold of at the college level, and I'll venture a guess that the real world isn't all that different.  Long before I was at Ithaca College, I stage managed a number of theatrical productions back home.  Somewhere along the line there, time management became a part of my brain that doesn't shut off, ever.  When I am asked to produce a film, the first thing I do is read the script, duh. The main two time factors that I am crunching in my head as I read are: "How long is it going to take to shoot this?" and "How many weeks of preproduction do we need to get it ready to shoot?" (the third is post-production, but this usually doesn't take long to calculate).  To be honest, I'd say that the first question is usually much easier to answer for me.  If I get a good enough sense from the director as to the vision, I can usually ballpark a good schedule based on a few things: "Day/Night Shooting", "Elaborate Set Ups/Stunts", "Script Length", "Number of Characters", "Complexity of Action/Background Action".  
Right off the bat, some of these are going to be much easier to understand than others.  When the directors come to you with a script for a musical with five different dance numbers, you know those are going to each take at least two, if not three hours to shoot based on complexity. If the directors want to shoot on Cayuga Lake, you know that too will take some extra time. If there is a need for day4night or night4day, then your set ups will take significantly longer. Now the tricky thing about the way to schedule these is that while there are guidelines, there is no true right answer, and that is frustrating as all get out. My solution is that I take my time, and never go it alone. Any time I schedule a film shoot, it is with the AD, Line Producer and Director (and often DP). There is no sense  making a schedule that your crew will kill you over. More on people later! As for trying to assess the amount of preproduction needed, at the college level this is tricky.  It is tricky because of schedules.  We aren't professionals yet, and unfortunately we aren't paid to exclusively do this.  This means that when I plan preproduction I need to look at the schedules of the Director, Producers, Director of Photography and the Production Designer more than anyone else.  What other films are they making? How many classes are they in? Are they working part time jobs? Any other extra curriculars? Once you take all of their commitments into account, you then need to see where priorities lie.  Unlike scheduling shoots, planning preproduction has a much, much looser formula; this is not something I have ever been thrilled about.  I used to believe that it was always best to throw time at preproduction, but my opinion on this has changed.  If your team has all the team in the world, they lose their sense of urgency.  Well that certainly won't be a worry on this one. Five weeks until production!
Money is usually the next biggest hurdle to have to jump through.  Much like time, this management is also broken in to two main parts: budgeting and fundraising.  Not only am I the final say on how we spend our money, but I am also responsible for getting us the money to spend.  This may be one of of my favorite parts of the job.  Managing a budget starts with reading the script, marking it up and assessing what the needs will be from each department.  The highest costs are always going to be production design and camera department, at least on student film.  Ideally you would want to use as much of PPECS's equipment as possible, but there are some things they just don't have; this is where rentals come in, and they ain't cheap.  Creating the world for the film to take place in is not a time for short changing, and production design should never be underestimated.  Once the DP and Production Designer are hired, I then compare my notes with theirs to verify that my estimates are fairly on track.  The same can be said of every other department and its keys.  It is especially easy when I am the key to parts of the budget, like PR. Once the estimates are pretty locked in, I input them into a Google Sheet, which tracks our departments' estimated budgets in comparison to their actual expenditures.  As preproduction continues, it is important to keep each department in the black, as there will be unexpected costs in production (which I try to build contingency for). 
Fundraising is the other side to the coin.  Indiegogo is not a perfect platform but it does manage to get the job done! If you want a fast way to get in touch with friends, family, family friends, to communicate your need for their support, then it is perfect.  There are some serious limitations to it though.  The platform was initially created for film fundraising but it is actually the most difficult type of fundraising to do on Indiegogo.  Tech fundraisers can promise prototypes or other fancy forms of swag that filmmakers just can't.  At the end of the day, this leaves film Indiegogo pages (those of the non-famous variety, for an example of the successful ones check out Con Man) struggling to break what I like to call the "middle class ceiling".  If you are coming from a middle class background, your ability to fundraise on Indiegogo is going to tap out somewhere just above $5000, in all likelihood (that's a team of roughly three students and this is just my observation).  This leaves you looking for slightly deeper pockets.  This can be other connections such as alumni, businesses or grant applications.  I am currently in the process of designing some literature which I hope to turn in to a few thousand dollars, fingers crossed.  Really it comes down to getting the money, however you can, even if that means taking a water balloon full of hot sauce to the face. 

People wind up being the resource that is the easiest to find at the college level, and it doesn't take a lot of brains to see why.  This school is full of some of the most intelligent and gifted people I have ever met.  The tricky thing that I am starting to realize as a senior is that I no longer have anyone older than me to recruit for films.  For the first time, I have to hire on people in to major roles that are one or two years younger than me.  Admittedly this took a little getting used to, but age really is just a number, and not always an indicator of skill level.  
Some positions will always be more difficult to fill than others.  Finding good production designers, gaffers and producers is always the most difficult thing to manage, for a variety of reasons.  Production design is one of those jobs that takes a hell of a lot of effort, but arguably the least glamorous of the most difficult jobs; it also takes someone who is both detail oriented and able to see the big picture.  Gaffers just seem to not exist all that much from a "I can create a beautiful look" for this scene level.  Honestly I think this has more to do with our education than anything.  Cinema majors get a decent grounding in this, while TV/R majors can expect very little in lighting aesthetics (not to say that we don't make good grips, we kill that game).  

As for producers, well we have the job that almost nobody wants.  We have to be able to constantly ask for things to get done, without being a nag. We have to deliver bad news in the best way. We have to be able to stay friends with our peers, while also having to supervise their work. We are the organizers, the brainstormers, the hand holders, the blame takers, the huggers and the ones who get to lose sleep over it all; we are the crazy ones. We have the job that most people find either too boring or too much work. I have heard a number of times from others that we don't make art, because we don't touch cameras, write scripts, use paint, or call action. It took a long time to realize this isn't true.  True, there really isn't much art in the excessive amount of paperwork I have to do.  You have to look broader, from development to distribution, we connect everyone and everything. If you look for our art in the film you won't find it, because you aren't looking in the right place. Our art is in the film production itself. We line it all up. I don't play an instrument...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Universal Quick Disconnect?

This week Edlekrone revealed their latest essential innovation for the cinematographer's toolbelt - a universal quick disconnect attachment for any cameras use on any piece of equipment. Essentially this would allow a camera operator to seamlessly move from, say, a tripod to a jib to a crane and then back without ever screwing in a new plate. Although it is a seemingly painless process, anyone who has been on set before knows how it can suck up an unwanted amount of time.

This tool continues Edelkrone's streak of simplifying things that I thought couldn't be made easier. Nowadays the film process has been fairly standardized, and we don't expect creations such as this to comoe along and improve the process. It's boarderline annoying how innovative they are, making such elegant, simple pieces that make one think "Dang, I should have thought of that." The one big downside for me has to be the price - coming in at around $140 for what essentially is three screws and a plastic handle puts it out of the budgets for many young film makers. I think the best course of action for a piece like this is to wait until a third party (in the style of Samyang, Rokinon, ect. bringing down prices for comparable lenses) makes a knock off. Until then, we can only keep switching plates.

Will & Grace and the Importance of Not Forgetting What You're There to Do

Many people think of Will & Grace as a show that was groundbreaking for LGBT rights. It's not a bad legacy to have and not illegitimate either. Will & Grace normalized the gay experience while also being unapologetic in it's portrayal of gay characters (even if they came off as stereotypical at the time). However, a more fitting remembrance would be that of a perfect sitcom.

Let me be clear, by perfect sitcom I don't at all mean the best sitcom. That is of course subjective and usually a title taken by Cheers, Friends or Seinfeld among many other top shows. However, a "perfect" sitcom is one that doesn't forget what it's there to do, make people laugh. Shows like Friends and Parks & Rec often forget this, they sometimes find themselves relying heavily on sentimentality and extensive character arcs. It doesn't make them bad shows or cheapen their quality, however it bends their genre to their own whims instead of succeeding in its established guidelines. And while this may seem like a narrow set of requirements, such strict guidelines can actually allow for a more polished product, especially for novice television creators. It allows them to serve the genre, and more importantly their audience, when creating. And teaches them not to allow their voice and own creative desires have precedence over what best serves their characters, story and audience. It's the same reason writers rooms exist, to create an environment that values input over personal voice.

Will & Grace, partly because of it's groundbreaking content, exemplifies this best. It would have been easy to create a show that was specific to the creators', David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, voice and experience. It would have also failed. To create a show that could only speak to the gay experience of two men would fail to reach a substantial audience. Instead they decided to serve a comedic voice, to put comedy over perspective, to fit into a genre so they could tell their story instead of pushing their voice. It's what keeps the consistently funny, while shows like Cheers and Friends have ebbs and flows to their series run, partly due to their extensive character arcs. Insread Will & Grace focuses on short storylines and characters arcs which the put the characters into situations that explain their character as opposed to relationships. It also allows for comedy to take precedence over the easier alternative of sentimentality. Will & Grace knows what it's there to do, make people laugh and serve the audience over the experience of the creator

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"James Kelly - Burn It Down" and my thesis project.

I had to choose between taking Thesis and Motion Graphics in order to complete my degree. Last Spring when we were choosing classes I went through a long internal debate, but here I am, enrolled in thesis. After graduation I plan on working in rentals in addition to freelance camera assisting. I have little desire to direct/produce/shoot fictional narratives, so I was kind of at a loss for ideas for my thesis. Naturally I turned to skateboarding to fix my problems, and I decided to make a skateboarding film.

Random unrelated skateboarding photo I took
Pulling directly from Arturo's preliminary class email... "for some of you this will be your calling card in the job market you will soon be entering", " intellectual proposition you can defend" were just some excerpts that pushed me more towards doing a skateboarding film. Just as I have spent the past three years studying film, I have also spent the past three years learning the ins and outs of downhill skateboarding, the industry, and the culture, and I cannot think of a better way to tie the two together.

Arbor Skateboards :: James Kelly - Burn It Down from Arbor Collective on Vimeo.

This is by far the most impressive downhill skateboarding video I have seen in both terms of skating and production quality. This is the video I am taking inspiration from for my thesis film. I do not have access to the Sierra mountains or unique run down houses like Jack Boston, the creator of this film, does. However I do have access to a numerous amount of Ithaca hills and waterfalls, which will make this video unique in its own way. My knowledge of both video production and the Ithaca skate scene will be able to create a video in a way that no one else would.

Another unrelated skateboarding photo I took

My good friend and Ithaca local, Edward Kiefer, is currently ranked the number 1 junior (under 18) downhill skateboarder in the world by the Internation Downhill Federation. He's agreed to be the subject of my video. Matt Shalkoski is going to shoot it, and I have a slew of other talented individuals working on the production and I am excited to make a film that both season skateboarders and average viewers will enjoy.

The Characters We Need, In Their Own 'Universe'

With everything I create, I always think about the implications of my work and the affect I want it to have on my audience. This week, as we develop characters for our theses, it's important to think about how we can break stereotypes and better represent the diverse world we live in. I recently (as in today) started watching a show on Cartoon Network called 'Steven Universe,' and it is easily the most revolutionary program on children's animation.

Steven Universe is the coming age of a young boy (Steven) who is half human, half alien. As a member of the Crystal Gems, magical defenders of the earth, Steven is given magical powers that he is still trying to harness at the start of the show. His mentors are three power woman named Pearl, Garnet, and Amethyst, who have devoted their lives to defending the earth from the weekly supernatural monster or universe-threatening phenomenon.

Steven Universe is a show that takes it's responsibility to represent diversity very seriously. It's very clear to see that it was created with awareness of the fact that their audience is made up of little kids longing to see themselves as the heroes on screen, and that seeing heroes that look like them would change these kids' lives.

The very first thing that I noticed about Steven Universe was the bodies. And I'm not talking about the Disney princess/Barbie body type. I'm talking all body types. Bodies that look like mine! And yours! In the world of Steven Universe, all sorts of people who look all sorts of ways get to be heroes that you've never seen before. Even the title character, Steven himself, is a chubby little kid with big bushy hair, and no one ever comments on this or calls him fat or tells him that he needs to loose weight or even ever acknowledges it. So Steven is pudgy. Who cares?

And it's not just their diversity in body image that makes Steven Universe revolutionary. The show also pushes gender roles and breaks stereotypes overused in television. The fact that these three strong women are raising this boy while defending the earth is progressive in itself. But each of the gems are far from perfect and come with their own set of flaws. Just like you and me!

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I'm sure I'll expand on this show's groundbreaking diversity later in the semester. Steven Universe is one of the most positive, progressive shows on television and you should probably drop what you're doing to start watching now. Season 1 is available on Hulu. Just saying.

I Know That Voice

Have you ever wondered who that guy is that says "In a world...." at the beginning of a movie trailer?  Or who tells you the side effects of that medication you are now too afraid to take? Or maybe you never noticed. These people are called voice actors, and they are some of the most famous people you'll never recognize. Director Lawrence Shapiro and voice actor/producer John DiMaggio wanted to not only give the actors recognition, but the craft itself. In 2013, they produced the film "I Know That Voice", a documentary of countless famous voice actors talking about their personal experiences and the career of voice acting in general. It provides tremendous insight into a world that not many know about, or even consider a career at all.

DiMaggio narrates the film as well as gives his own story. He is best known for his roles as Bender from "Futurama" and Jake from "Adventure Time", but his talents expand far beyond that. He is also an actor, stand up comedian, producer and beatboxer. He is extremely passionate about his craft, and cares about the community of which he is he a part of, hence the creation of the film. DiMaggio skillfully tells the tale of the voice actor from the start of voice acting, to the start of their careers, to their daily lives, to the reason why each and everyone one of them has a passion for it.

One of the most fascinating parts of the film is how they explore the concept of fame in the voice acting world. Unless they were speaking like the character they play, or are also a famous screen actor, most people would have no idea who they were. The title of the film, "I Know That Voice", is a comment on the reaction that most people experience when a voice they recognize comes on television, the radio or video games, but they can't pin down exactly who that person is, due to the facelessness and namelessness of the job.
Some of the cast members of "I Know That Voice"
Another interesting point the film makes is the broad range of areas that voice actors cover. Most people think of animated films when they think of voice acting, but it covers so much more. As previously stated voice actors are required for movie trailers and commercials, as well as video games, television shows, dubbed foreign language films, radio, and audiobooks, among many other fields. Each area comes with it's own challenges and rewards, which the film covers in great detail.

As someone who loves to do voices and comedic bits, this film felt extremely close to my heart. Voice acting seemed like a career that only a select few were chosen to do, and was completely unobtainable. After this film, I realized it was like any other Hollywood job, it required three main things: talent, determination, and luck. This film made voice acting real to me, not just something I wondered about after watching "Inside Out" or "Family Guy". Currently, I'm enrolled in a voice and narration class, which I became more inspired to truly learn about after watching "I Know That Voice". Hats off to John DiMaggio and the rest of the cast of this documentary, this one is a must see for anyone interested in the film and television business.

"Cry Baby" Drops Hard

Following closely on the heels of o
ther young female musicians like Lorde, Melanie Martinez first appeared on the scene in 2012 after she appeared on The Voice. While she didn’t win the show, she scored a deal with Atlantic Records took her song writing to the next level. Paired with hip-hop duo Kinetics & One Love, the writers of B.o.B.’s hit “Airplanes”, she has been working for the past few years on her debut album.

Thirteen days ago, “Cry Baby” was released. The album is dark, creepy, hard-hitting, and in some cases too real. Following the story of a character named Cry Baby, it explores an array of childhood themes with a dark adult twist. For example, the song “Mrs. Potato Head” takes a classic children’s toy and uses it as a metaphor to expose society’s conditioning of how young girls feel they should look and the desire for plastic surgery.

The trio of songwriters (with a few other co-writers on some of the tracks) is the perfect blend. Melanie brings the haunting melodies and a perspective on growing up that the mainstream media seems shy away from but is all too real. Jeremy Dussolliet (Kinetics) bring his expertise in lyricism as a rapper from Manhattan, and Tim Sommers (One Love) beautifully produces tracks to fit the songs that are strongly hip-hop influence and yet carry the dark childhood themes that pulls the whole album together.

Keep an ear out for Melanie Martinez; it wont be long before she hits the Top 40 charts, even as a 20 year old new artist. She brings dark themes to surface through music in a manner much like Bo Burnham, but in a hip-hop production style of Top 40 music. It almost seems like she’ll be the anti-Taylor Swift; relating to masses of young girls with the corniness stripped down to the honesty beneath that most people growing up in today’s society, young girls especially, can relate to.  Just wait. Like every cry baby that needs to grow up, Cry Baby will grow up to the top of the charts.