Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is an Independent Film? and Five Things to Know When Working On an Independant Film

"Independent Film" is a term you hear a lot these days. With cameras getting better and cheaper, it's no wonder. A six year old with a camera phone might consider himself an Indy Filmmaker, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of this post, I want to establish what I find to be a working definition of "Independent film"

An Independent Film is a a production shot on a shoe string budget, with a bare bones crew, and unconventional methods. Obviously there is more to it then that, however, many of the films you see in blockbuster, or on TV, are shot in this way. I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true. Furthermore, you don't need big Hollywood backing to make a decent movie; which brings me to the next part of this blog.

Five Things to Know When Working on an Independent Film
  1. Make sure your script is good. There are several books on screen writing, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder being one of the best. He gives you a simply, and easy to follow format to work with, and if you follow his methods, no matter how silly your story idea, it will be entertaining. Check out the link, and you'll see what I mean.
  2. SHOW Respect/ Appreciation for Your Actors and Crew. I emphasize show because many times people say, while they continue to abuse thier crew. On an independent film shoot, many people are working for low or no pay, simply because they like making films. Knowing this, the least you can do is feed your crew well, thank them for thier hard work, and not make them feel like slave labourers. This applies to Directors, Producers, Writers, and even fellow actors and crew in some cases. I worked with a Director who paid nobody, but he had the right attitude, and fed us well, and every person continues to come back and work for him.
  3. Make and Stick to a Production Schedule. Without a schedule, it's very difficult to get everyone in the right place at the right time. It also makes it more difficult to keep track of what you've done, and still need to do. When making your schedule, considered that many of your actors and crew are working other jobs to pay thier bills, and that 10 days of shooting, is very tiring. Work in a few days of down time between shoot days, you'll be happy you did.
  4. Lighting and Audio are the Unseen Heros of Production. Whether your working with clamp lights and a memo recorder, or $10,000 worth of lighting/sound equipment, make sure you use it properly. Studies have shown that people will watch a movie with bad images if the sound is good. The better the recording is during the shoot, the easier it will be to work with in post production. Light your scenes. Even if it's adding three little lights in your apartment, adding lighting to your film increases production value, which makes your film look better. This brings me to my last point:
  5. Have Value for Your Production. Do the most with what tools you have at hand. I worked on a film where production value actually went down over the course of a shoot. It's disheartening for the crew and actors, and no one wants to watch a film that falls apart as it proceeds forward. As the saying goes, "people will give you the same value you give yourself"... or something like that, but you get my point.

Obviously there is a lot more to making a movie, but in my experience these five factors can play a huge roll in the final product. However, I'm always learning new things. The more productions I work on, the more I learn, and the more this list develops. That being said, I'd like to open this conversation up to all you lovely folks on the interweb.

Add to the list, or subtract from the list. Agree/disagree with me in a comment down below. I'm curious what you all think.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Music from the Original Motion Picture

I've loved motion picture soundtracks since I saw the Crow. I must had three copies of that cassette growing up, because I played it so much I had to keep buying new ones. I have many favorite movie soundtracks in my possession, but recently I've been into Eric Clapton's work in the 80's.

For Lethal Weapon 3 Clapton teamed up with Sting and made the awesome track, It's Probably Me.

This is a bad ass song, and it came from an awesome movie.


While reading Andrew Bellware's blog, I have come to learn that Clonehunter is now available for preorder on It's pretty cool because I cut the trailer for the american distribution of the film.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Drop Frame

While at my buddy's study yesterday, he mentioned that most of the editors dropping work off for audio mixing don't know a thing about drop- frame timecode.

I've heard of it, but being that I couldn't give a definition of it, I decided to do some research. After about 5 articles, I get it. It's facinating stuff. The idea that someone developed a program to automatically compensate for the .03 second lost when shooting in 29.97fps, so realtime syncs with timecode is pretty cool.

It's interesting how the standards for video production change with the creation of new technology. Drop frame only came about when TV started shooting in color. It took slightly longer for color information to be processed by TVs so the frame rates of video/film were shortened from 30fps to 29.97 to compensate. Pretty cool

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bococa Arts Festival

Last night kicked off the start of the Bococa Arts Festival. I was there, camera clad, to start shooting some footage a proposed documentary following the festival. After the experience, a few things came to mind.

Unconventional performance locations are difficult to film in. The lighting sucks, it's crowded, loud, and hard to move around in.

My shoulder mount was a little too big, bulky and heavy last night, a disappointing realization, I must say. Today I'm removing the shoulder pad and fore grip, so I'm going to stick the basic rail system on my monopod and run around like that.

I would love to have a bunch of lenses that were 1.8 or faster. The sigma lens I got performed well, but as the sun went down, it really became too dark in the bar, so I had to bump up to higher ISO speeds, making for a noisy picture. At one point, I swapped lenses for my Canon EF 50mm with the f/1.8, and man it was super sweet. I shot at slower ISOs, got some great shallow depth of field, did some rack focusing, it was a blast. The only down side, is that in a small bar, you'll only get two members of the band in a shot at that focal length. I'll figure it out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Last 3 Minutes

This is one of the short films used for test purposes during the Zacuto shoot out. I liked it so much, I wanted to give it a seperate post. It was shot on the Canon 5D.

"The Last 3 Minutes" Directed by Po Chan from Shane Hurlbut, ASC on Vimeo.

The Great DSLR Shoot Out

While looking through Philip Blooms website, I stumbled upon the Zacuto Camera Shoot Out. Basically they grabbed a bunch of experts, DPs, Editors, Colorists, and Directors, and took all of the top DSLR cameras, the Canon line up, a Nikon 3Ds, Panasonic GH1, as well as Fuji and Kodak Film cameras and put them through a bunch of tests to see how they perform.

The Fuji and Kodak film cameras were used primarily for comparison, however, they prove to have some short comings compared to the DSLRs, mainly in low light, and high ISO speeds. Despite the gratuitous use of technical terms, it's easy to understand how things stack up throughout this hour and a half series. *spoiler alert: the short comings of the DSLR cameras seems to consistantly be a loss of detail in highlighted areas, however, many of the experts agree, "if you know this, you can plan your shoot accordingly".

The end conclusion, digital technology is still no match for the tried and true film cameras, however, that wont last long. The footage taken from these cameras is sooo close to looking like film today, that it will only be a few years before technology will advance to where the DSLR may replace the film camera.
Check out the tests, they really put this cameras through the rigors

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A True Loathing for Yahoo

I attempted to send out an email to a large number of the people from address book at, and they locked me out of my account.

Twice now, I've filled out all the verification crap, gave a blood sample, and an eye scan, and I still can't access my email. Sure, I can sign in and read the crappy news feed, but God forbid I be able to read the three new emails I have.

Let's ignore all the phishing emails I've received disguised as yahoo customer care agents, and think about this. I've verified who the hell I am, and I still can't get into my email. I'm super pissed right now.

Finished Promotional Video

Here is the promotional video for the Bococa Arts Festival, kicking off in Brooklyn tomorrow. I shot, edited and color corrected the video using my Canon Rebel T2i, Final Cut Pro 7, and Magic Bullet Looks, among other things.

The camera performed outstandingly well, and I was working with a great group of people. The actors were upbeat, and willing to try different things. Eileen, the Producer was also quite chipper, and was great at getting what she wanted out of the actors.

Early on in the shoot, the group of us started thinking that the original script...well left something to be desired, so we made some changes as we made our way around Brooklyn, and I think the final short is better because of it.

The pigeon scene was actually the most difficult shot to get. Originally we tried getting that shot in an alley way next to Cobble Hill Park, but the trees were dropping seeds, and the pigeons had no interest in our stale bread crumbs.

We then shot the bridge scene, when I remembered from my college days, all the birds in the Brooklyn Bridge park, so we tried our luck there. At one point we had about 50 birds covering the BoCoCa sign, until a truck roared by and scared them off. The shot I ended up using wasn't 50 birds, but it still looked pretty cool.

In conclusion, it was great working with such a flexible, fun group of people. Film is a creative process just like any other art, and I've found the final product is always better when you involve members of your cast and crew in the process. When everyone is an active participant in the creative process, and not just standing by taking orders, the energy of the shoot is totally different, and I love it. That's how I like to work. At times I will draw the line and say something can't be done, but all and all, I like to go with the flow.

Oh, and next, sun block is a must. We all got wicked sun burn. It was difficult to hide it on the actors, and I think it can be seen in some shots. Oops!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Question on Speed

I've seen and read lots of great tutorials on making beautiful slow motion, and awesome timelapse sequences with DSLR cameras. My question is, how do you remap the time of a clip, essentially combining the two? To clarify, I once took a clip shot on a Canon HV30, a consumer grade camera, recording in 24p to HDV tape. After all the transcoding, I dropped the clip in the timeline, and using the time remap tool in Final Cut Pro, slowed the clip down, and gradually brought it up to normal speed.
Is this possible with DSLRs, and how?

Granted, I've haven't done a lot of test with the camera, so I still have a lot to learn and figure out, but I've tried using the time remap tool, and despite looking cool, it doesn't look as smooth or natural.

For anyone with more experience, please feel free to drop some knowledge on me. To give another example of what I'd like to achieve: I have a clip of someone kicking a soccer ball. I like to have the player running up to the ball at faster than normal speed, gradually step down to slow motion as his foot contacts the ball, and then snap to normal speed as the ball goes flying off.

Monday, June 14, 2010


The every time I use my camera, I start thinking that I may have bought some things that aren't best suited for my needs. I bought some lenses before getting my camera, and am beginning to realize that they were premature purchases. For the type of filming I'm doing, I don't really see a need for the Canon 70-300mm lens. I've been thinking about doing some trading and swapping so to speak.

I saw a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8-4.5 which looks pretty nice. I'm thinking about trading my Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 for that. Although the Sigmas come with mix reviews, this particular lens is much faster, has nearly the same focal length, has a shorter minimum focal range (meaning objects at a foot from the lens are still in focus) and the length of the lens doesn't change during focusing or zooming. This is important, as it means I can use this lens with my follow focus, something I can't do with the Canon kit lens.

A Few Thoughts On Indy Film Making

A Friend of my girlfriend wrote a script for a web serious, which I think has a lot of potential. It's kind of like the McLovin side story in the movie Role Models, where the character plays dungeons and dragons, and a live action version of World Of Warcraft. It's not really my thing, but it's got some good one liners. In any event, I thought it would be a great chance to put some miles on my new Canon Rebel

Yesterday, I brought all my gear out to Queens, where most of the show will be shot, to do some test shooting, to figure out how we will work in the space. Here are some "Aha" moments from that experience.

It's amazing what $30 worth of clamp lights and incandecent bulbs will do for the relatively poor lighting in an apartment. It's also amazing how damn hot it gets with 3 of those suckers on at once. I think we may switch to CFLs.

Actually shooting in an NYC apartment isn't as easy as I thought. I bought a Canon EF 28-105mm lens off of Craigslist for a sweet price, but I don't think I'll get to use it much. I had to use my 18-55mm at the 18mm mark to get every one in frame.

I really think it's important for writers to let their actors rewrite lines on an indy production. Drew Bellware introduced this concept to me, and I think the production really benefits from it. Unless the writer has several successful scripts under their belt, or is Blake Schnyder, the script probably needs some help any way.

There are a few lines in this script that the actors really had trouble with yesterday, a few line changes, or a bit of improv would fix the problem, and let the actors seem more natural. However, the writer was reluctant for that to happen. I think we will have a little chat and see what we can work out, because I really don't like doing more then 2, 3 takes at most on each shot. It wears out the actors, it wears me out as the camera man, and is a pain in the ass when I take the footage back to post for editing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Craig and His Stupid List

Every so often, I take a stroll through the pages of Craigslist to see if there are any interesting postings for film jobs. Every time, without fail, Craigslist manages to remind me of how stupid human beings can be. It's really my fault for expecting anything else.

The majority of the ads read: Popular NYC-based band seeks talented videographer, experienced in all aspects of production/ post production. Grad or post grad student prefered. Must have own equipment and 3 years working experience. If interested send us a link to your resume and reel. We can't pay you, but if your interested in adding to your reel, and working with an awesome band, this is the gig for you.

Compensation: Possible Collaboration with soon to be hit band

At some point they stop being funny, and just become really obnoxious and a bit insulting. These people are basically asking editors to whore themselves out, because they are too uninformed/lazy to learn to do their own work, and too cheap to pay someone to do it properly.

Having my own equipment and 7 years experience editing, I think I might start trying to land these jobs, and when I do, do a terrible, horrible, out right shitty job, just to make a point.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Color Correction, The Next Frontier

For the past two days I've been plugging away on this promo video I shot for the Bococa Arts Festival. For my first shoot with the camera, I'm happy to say that the footage came out much better then I expected. After putting some clips down in the timeline, and getting pretty close to the final edit, I decided it was time to do some color correcting.

Admittingly, I really don't know a hell of a lot about color correction in general, let alone how to do it well in Final Cut Pro. I know what images look good, and which ones don't, so that's general my method for correcting color.

I found this easy tutorial on using the 3 way color corrector in FCP. I gave it a shot, and it's not half bad. It certainly went faster then when I used Magic Bullet's Looks effect. However, I think looks has more of the tools I need to get the job done.

You see, I had read, that due to the compression on most DSLR cameras, it's better to over expose in production, and pull it down in post to keep good quality. On top of most of my shots being intentionally over exposed, I think I unintentionally forgot to set the white balance when I switch from indoor to outdoor shots. BAD DAVE!
Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me.

If anyone has suggestions for how to do simple and effective color correction, feel free to drop me a comment.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Camera Lens

After yesterday's promotional shoot, I've done some thinking on lenses for my camera. Right now I have a Canon EF 50mm f1.8, a Canon EF 75-300mm f4-5.6, and the Canon EF 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 which came with the camera. I marched around with all three lenses yesterday, but only ended up using the 18-55mm. For that kind of run and gun shoot, it just seemed like too much work to keep switching lenses.

The 18-55mm really worked wonders and accomidated most of my needs, but in hindsight, there were a few shots it might have been nice to use the telephoto lens on. An advertisement from amazon got me thinking a bit. They had a Tamaron AF 18-270mm f 3.5-5.6 lens on sale. It's more then I can afford at the moment, but I think down the line, I may get one of those puppies.

For a run and gun day of shooting, it would be nice to have one lens with the focal lengths of the three I'm currently carrying. Then I could get all different types of shots without ever switching lenses.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Today's Shoot with the Canon T2i

I would like to start by saying, I now know why so many people buy cameras and make indy films. It is a hell of a lot of fun to do.

The camera performed amazingly. I knew going into this that keeping focus would be a problem, and it was, but nevertheless, the shots still came out great. If I had my shoulder mount and follow focus, I think it would have been less of a problem. Instead I did a lot of run and gun with a monopod.

Two things to add to my camera bag: extra battery. It ran furiously for about 5 hours, and died. Not to bad, it just slowed down the shoot to recharge, but by that point it was lunch time anyhow, so no real time lost.
The second thing for the camera bag is sunscreen. I have the craziest looking farmers tan ever now.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oh, the Power of the Internet

Before I went out and shot tomorrow's promotional video, I wanted to pull the test footage I shot off the memory card so I could start tomorrow's shoot with a fresh card. This brought up the question "how the heck do I get these .MOV files into Final Cut

I had done some research prior to buying the camera, so I had some sense of the problems I would encounter, and some possible solutions to them. FCP doesn't play nicely with .MOV files so they have to be converted to another format which is easier to edit, usually one of the PoRes codecs Apple now offers. Canon, being market savvy, and making their products more marketable developed a free plug-in for FCP users, allowing them to easily transcode to ProRes.
Canon EOS Plug-in E1 is pretty simple to install and utilizes the log and transfer function in FCP. The only problem is that it doesn't work with the Canon Rebel T2i yet. However, the Bui Brothers have this very easy video tutorial which shows you how to use text editor to make the plug-in work. It took me about 5 minutes to do, and it works perfectly.

Drew Bellware also explained the advantages of purchasing Red Giant's plug-in, Grinder. The main advantage Grinder has over E1 is that if you shoot in 720p60 on your DSLR you can use the plug-in to convert back to 24fps. The technical end of that is complicated, but as Drew explained it to me, it's like speeding up the frame on an old school film camera in production, and slowing it down in post to make for very smooth slow motion clips.

I think in the near future I will end up buying Grinder. I certainly see myself doing a lot of slow motion clips, so $50 seems like a pretty reasonable investment for smooth slow motion.

Houston, We Have A Problem

Well I'm happy to say that my camera rig is just about complete, at least for now. I made a trip over to Adorama yesterday to pick up some Neutral Density Filters, UV protectors, and a Hoodman Loupe.

However, there seems to have been a problem with my shoulder mount. The company was backordered on the gear boxes for the follow focus, so since I ordered the two parts together, the shoulder mount didn't ship. This will certainly complicate tomorrows shoot, but I'll figure something out. Anticipating this I purchased a monopod in Maryland, so I'm not completely unprepared. It just would have been nice to have the sholder rig with follow focus.

Oh well. I'll work with what I have.