Monday, June 25, 2007

OPM - Great Rule of Filmmaking

Cyndi Greening writes a very interesting article in her filmmaking blog on the number one rule of filmmaking - using OPM or Other People's Money! She writes:

The number one rule of independent filmmaking is always use Other People's Money (OPM), preferably a studio's money or a distributor's money. How many times did I give that lecture? Don't use your credit cards. Don't use your family's money. Don't use your friends' money. Statistics say that it is almost certain that your film will not make money; that you'll lose your friends and alienate your family.

How I love to agree with her!! She further states -

The students always argue with me during this lecture. They talk about Morgan Spurlock's film, SUPERSIZE ME. Some folks will talk about Kevin Smith's success with CLERKS.

Occasionally, someone will remember the more obscure but equally surprising Robert Townsend film, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE. They like to recall the miracle filmmaking stories, stories about the people who do just this sort of thing and end up with a wildly, financially-successful film. It's my job to remind them that there are THOUSANDS of filmmakers who follow that film financing path into a very dark tunnel. If a distributor or producer gets behind your film, chances are that they see an opportunity for financial success. Since they've made a whole lot more films than you, that's a good thing. If the money people don't get behind you, they may be doing you a favor in the long run. They may be saving you a lot of heartache and a lot of money.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to get distributors to fund educational projects ahead of time. They want to see the finished product to know if the story hangs together because, well, let's be honest, it's students learning by doing. They're cautious about giving money to that sort of thing

Read the full article here

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lighting for High Definition (HD)

by Michael Brennan

Is it faster to light on HD
This is down to technique and communication. Nothing mysterious. There are two aspects to this. One is the use of HD monitor the other is taking advantage of greater depth of field of 2/3 inch imagers (compared to 35mm) for given amount of light

HD Monitor
Communication is faster, gaffer sees the shot sees what you are up to faster with a decent monitor. During blocking he watches. He knows what is in shot and what isn't. Point to the monitor, a slash here a flag there, you are not gesturing in space you are pointing at the picture.

The monitor empowers the gaffer. Lots of finger prints on the monitor! In frame practicals, reflections, are faster to adjust.

Dropping light sources into a scene, observing where the light falls from the cameras POV is really useful. This helps gaffers and electricians drop in cutters fingers ect.

Light measurement across the image is instantaneous. No need to use a spot meter measuring 10 different parts of the picture, as a good monitor has 1920x1080 spot meters that you see at a glance. Their are also zebras for the real enthusiast.

Communication with a director is fast. It is very easy and quick to nail a look under the black cloth. (this is particularly useful when working with a new director)

Night scenes can be shot with absolute confidence. Worried about a colour temperature of a neon or a dodgy looking fluorescent?
Worried about subject failure? Strange casts?
Bounce light in particular is great fun and fast to play with on HD. The brain doesn't need to number crunch. No estimating what colour shifts are happening, you have a ringside seat on the image plane.

Lighting continuity is a breeze if you record a few seconds of every scene on a separate tape. recalling the scene file and switch between playback and live image to swiftly compare moods and tones from one location to the next. Particularly useful if something unplanned is occurring.

Depth of Field
Greater depth of field on 2/3 inch imagers. Less light required usually equals faster setup/derig reposition.

Can use ambient light levels, say in a night exterior as a base, rather than calling in Muscos.

Bluescreen, less light for same depth of field. Do you want to light a bluescreen studio and subject to T5.6 or T2? All the subject must be sharp for blue screen

No question pack shot lighting is faster on HD. Positioning products in respect to reflections, mini bounce cards ect is a breeze with a big HD monitor a few feet from the table. Assistants look at the monitor. Greater depth of field plays a roll here too. No need to hang a 1.2 with a Chimera from a truss or goal post, use a 800 watt bug light with chimera on a right angle arm. Easy to adjust. Extreme close-ups are much easy to light/meter. Fiber optics are great for close-up work but moving them half an inch equates to a few stops if they are close to a subject. Instead of setting the light then metering your are metering while you set the light.

These are lighting techniques that have lent themselves to video and have been practised over many years on video.

DPs and gaffers without video experience may not be tuned in...

My first feature I worked with a very established Italian gaffer who had worked with the greats. He had just come off his first HD feature and was looking stressed! After a week with me he was over the moon. In his words he felt after 25 years in the business he was actually crafting the light exactly (to the 1/4 stop) the way *we* wanted it and seeing it live he felt closer to the image than he had ever been on film. I invited him into my decision making process and gave him confidence in the HD monitor.

Filmmaking is a team effort the HD monitor is a brilliant communication tool. Even a small one is useful in this respect.

It just a matter of knowing how to do it, the right approach, ideally from all departments.

If you have a generator or butterfly frame it is simply a question of more fill or go up a level of diffusion on the silk, pop in a pola, or .6 grad, ensure makeup do their job, craft the image to look good. You will only be "stuck" if you and the director have an unrealistic expectation of what the combination of set, crew equipment format grading can achieve. In the whole scheme of a production, films superior dynamic range may be more critical for some projects than others. But one of the first HD movies was shot in a snow field. Are there special video cameras for the winter Olympics?

Now the above comments are more relevant to a tightly scheduled tightly crewed production.

Bear in mind whenever I talk HD it is usually across features docs commercials, not only high budget features where the established working practices of a production crew numbering 200+ remains pretty much unaltered regardless of format.(perhaps bluescreen movies is an exception).

About the Author
Director of Photography Michael Brennan specializes in shooting High Definition and is Europe's first HD owner Operator. He is experienced in High Definition Aerial Photography using Cineflex V14 as well as using Viper Filmstream for TV and theatrical release. In 2004 he began editing High Definition Magazine Europe's bimonthly specialist publication. In 2002 he founded ClipHD the worlds first HD specialist stock footage library.

Future Technology in Filmmaking and Film Exhibition

When we talk of future technology in filmmaking and film exhibition, a lot of things come up in our imagination. Things like HD, 3D projection systems, spectacular special effects, multi-channel sound systems and so on...

There are quite a few companies involved in the the business of film exhibition technology - after all, it is a lucrative business. But there are few who deliver quality; and Edwards Technologies Inc is one of them. They provide services in Corporate, Entertainment and the Hospitality technology sector.

ETI's services in the entertainment technology include:

- Specialty Theaters

- 3D-Theater Special Effects

- Sound Systems

- Show Control Systems

- Audio Effects

- Multiscreen Shows

- Video Monitors

- Video Programming Servers

- Multimedia Control Centers

- 3D Theatre Projection Systems

- Surveillance Systems

ETI's achievements in 3D digital theater technology and audio video systems are especially commendable. Theme parks, entertainment centers, casinos, sports facilities, performing arts centers, special events are other avenues where ETI delves in into the entertainment services sector.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guide to Camera Formats

Before we start this let me just say that any camera is better than no camera. Checking out camera magazines you can easily catch some equipment fetish, where you only wanna shoot with the coolest equipment. Its a waste of your time (and money) and gets in the way of making movies so forget it.

Its what's on the film/video that's important. You never know, that grainy, crappy image you get might be just what your film needs to give it some energy.

OK camera formats really means tape formats. The gubbins up front - the lens, the buttons etc. don't vary much from camera to camera, but what the camera records onto alters what film you see at the end of the day.

So lets look at the pros and cons of each of the formats (oh yeah, and the price range is the recommended retail price, if you buy mail orders you will probably get it cheaper, and obviously the camera is going to cost less if you buy second-hand).

Price Range £350 - £500


* Reasonable picture quality
* Good sound quality (mono or stereo depending on model)
* Compact tapes (about the size of an audio cassette) giving 60 - 90 minutes recording
* Cheapest camcorders available
* Popular format so lots of choice
* Lightweight cameras

* Can't be played on normal VCR - Although you can transfer to other formats for editing
* Very few 8mm editing VCRs


Price Range - £450 - £800


* Good picture quality (near broadcast standard - 400 horizontal lines, your TV does 525)
* Top notch stereo sound
* Tape a bit more expensive than 8mm but still compact and you can record up to 90 minutes on standard play.
* Can use 8mm tape as well (although the picture won't be as good as with proper Hi8 tape).
* Lightweight cameras


* Like 8mm it can't be played on normal VCR - Although you can transfer to other formats for editing
* To retain picture quality you will really need a Hi8 editing deck
* Costs more than 8mm - boo!


Price Range £850 - £1400 RRP.


* Same tape as you put in your normal VCR, so its cheap, easily available and you can edit easier.
* Because the tape is bigger than 8mm, the cameras are also bigger. This means you look like a proper film-maker and you can shove it on your shoulder which means more stable shots.
* Picture quality about 8mm standard - which means its not that bad.
* Long recording time (3 to 4 hours)
* Extra Punk Points! Robert Rodriguez (Director of Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn) cut his teeth on a VHS camcorder. Using his camera and the family VCR he edited his first short films.


* Only has a mono soundtrack
* Bulkier cameras also mean lugging around something which is heavier - nurg!
* Very few cameras available.

VHS - C (like VHS only smaller, so I guess the C is for compact)

Price Range - £280 - £500


* Essentially VHS-C is smaller VHS tapes, meaning the tapes are more compact.
* Like VHS picture quality about 8mm standard - which means its not that bad.
* Compact, lightweight cameras.
* All the advantages of VHS as far as editing goes as you use an adapter (which looks like a VHS tape) that allows your VCR to play VHS-C tapes like normal videotapes.
* Cheap cameras!!


* Only has a mono soundtrack
* Because of the decrease in size the tapes are shorter (30 - 45 mins).

Price Range £900


* Excellent picture quality
* Stereo soundtrack
* Can also record onto VHS tapes (although the quality isn't as good as using proper VHS tapes) or S-VHS-C tapes with an adaptor.
* S-VHS VCRs are top notch - a wide choice with excellent control over editing of sound and pictures.


* Despite being the same size as VHS tape, tapes can only be played back on S-VHS VCRs.
* Expensive.
* Bulky machines - although this isn't necessarily that bad it makes for steadier shots
* Few cameras to choose from.

S-VHS-C (another compact format - like S-VHS only smaller)
Price Range £370 - £450


* Like S-VHS excellent picture quality (near broadcast standard)
* Stereo soundtrack
* S-VHS VCRs are top notch - a wide choice with excellent control over editing of sound and pictures.
* Compact little cameras


* Because of the decrease in size the tapes are shorter (30 - 45 mins).
* Needs a S-VHS VCR to playback tapes.
* Not cheap.

Mini DV
Price Range £700 - £2700


* Offers bloody good pictures - high on TV quality (500 line horizontal resolution)
* CD quality sound
* Designers are experimenting with design of cameras so they are some nice machines out there eg. JVC's metal fag packet and Panasonic's Tube Cam (not the official names)
* No loss of picture quality in editing provided it is all edited on DVC VCRs or non-linearly using a Firewire card.
* The price is coming down.


* one of these and have to be nice to your bank manager for a long time.
* Editing VCRs are available, but damn expensive.

Price Range £??? - £???


* DV quality pictures using compression ie. 500 lines resolution
* CD quality sound
* Uses cheap 8mm and Hi8 tape
* Can play back old 8mm and Hi8 tapes
* No loss of picture quality in editing provided it is edited via Firewire.


* It's a Sony technology so you have to buy a Sony camera

Price Range £5 - £2000


* Its film, so everything looks nicer and more, err...filmy. Y'know like home movies and pop videos.
* On the whole they are well built - ie. metal etc.
* Inexpensive - because everyone's Uncle Bob had one of these you might find someone in the family with one, or as everyone else is getting rid of their you can pick them up cheap in second hand shops - I got 3 for a tenner the other day.
* You can also pick up editing equipment cheap as well.
* Full on retro style.
* I saw a film shot on Super8 the other day and frankly you couldn't tell the difference between that and 16mm.


* At the moment it costs about £12 for 4 minutes of film (including developing). This makes it pretty expensive to lark around with if you don't know what you're shooting.
* Don't expect to find autofocus or any to other 'latest features' type stuff on them. Almost everything is manual - but this is no bad thing, at least you learn.

Source: A Rough Guide to Camera Formats

The Best Film Editing Software

Generally there are two types of systems used in professional and prosumer film editing:

Software Only
The cheaper of the two options, as the name suggests, software only solutions provide the editing program only. The advantage of software only products is definitely price, as the costs tend to rise pretty quickly the minute you start adding hardware to the bundle. Which package is best largely depends on whether you are a PC or a Mac user.

For PC users, the best all-round option is Avid Xpress Pro, however with a price-tag starting north of $1000 (for the software-only version), it can be a little out of the price range of many users. Price aside, the fact that you can edit both analogue and DV video, whilst familiarising yourself with the industry-standard Avid interface is definitely a plus.

A good alternative for price-conscious PC users is Adobe Premiere Pro. Premiere has always been the market leader for prosumer PC editing, however it's had a mixed reputation for a long time because of a range of issues (some of which are a result of Premiere and some which were limitations in earlier versions of Windows. Enter Adobe Premiere Pro, written completely from scratch by Adobe to be the "Final Cut" for PCs. It's certainly a far superior product to the previous version (6.5) and probably the best choice for PC-editing if you can't afford Avid. It will only run on Windows XP.

For Mac users, there is only one choice: Final Cut Pro. Final Cut is the main reason for Avid releasing Xpress Pro and for Adobe rewriting Premiere. It pretty much set the standard for video editing on equipment which is accessible to all.

A whole host of other, cheaper editing applications are also available for both PC and Mac (such as Ulead Media Studio Pro or Sony Vegas), however if you’re serious about your editing, you should probably only consider Avid Express Pro, Premiere Pro, or Final Cut Pro

The downside with software only solutions is render time. With most software-only solutions, you cannot see effects and transitions in real time - they must be rendered first. Depending on the power of your computer, this can take anywhere from several minutes to many hours. Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro all offer some real-time effect capabilities, but these are entirely dependent on how powerful your computer is, and generally only perform well on top-end systems.

Hardware/Software Combinations
More serious video editors should consider a hardware/software solution. This involves adding a card to your PC which provides capture facilities and also hardware-accelerated effects and transitions. Many hardware/software solutions offer real-time effects capabilities, however as you can imagine, having hardware in the bundle significantly increases the cost.

At the entry level, programs like Premiere and Media Studio are bundled with capture/render cards from people like Pinnacle, Canopus, and Matrox. Both of these programs are optimised to make use of special features found in these cards, and such packages offer many professional features at reasonable prices. Avid has also recently introduced the DNA series of external video-editing accelerators which add a pretty serious performance punch to systems using Xpress Pro.

The next step up is "badged" hardware/software solutions. With these products, you get a whole computer, optimised for video editing, and including propriety hardware for capture/render/real-time effects. The most well-known systems are those produced by Avid and Media 100. These systems use their own proprietary editing software which is optimised to work with their hardware (or specially selected hardware from third-party manufacturers). These systems are used in broadcasters and professional editing houses, and are therefore priced accordingly.

Original Article: Filmmaking.Net

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Attending a Film School - Pros and Cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to attending conventional university film school programs. Some students claim that traditional film school courses focus almost entirely on filmmaking theory whereas many of the more contemporary film schools pay more attention on actually practicing the various skills of filmmaking.

Also, many of the newer film schools offer condensed courses on fundamental filmmaking processes and procedures such as screenwriting basics and post-production fundamentals. Many film school students prefer these eclectic filmmaking programs because of the greater diversity of information that is presented, as well as the more flexible schedules typically offered by these non-traditional film schools.

There are even several reputable online film schools that make learning and attendance even more convenient. With these internet-based film schools students can pick and choose which topics to focus on, thus customizing their own curriculum to meet their individual goals.

Film school curriculum varies from school to school, so it is worth doing a little comparative research in order to determine what all is offered. Below, we’ll discuss some of the various topics and areas of study that are available.

By attending film school you can familiarize yourself with international cinema and learn about acclaimed filmmakers from around the world. By adding study of international filmmaking, you can expand upon other film theory classes. After all, the best way to build a foundation from which to explore your own creativity is to study the methods and techniques of the filmmakers that came before you.

And of course, any good film school will acquaint you with the basics of shooting and lighting techniques and theory. Even a cursory glance at descriptions of how commonly used effects are achieved can bring whole new depths and flair to your own approach to filmmaking.

If you want to learn a full spectrum of filmmaking fundamentals in as little time as possible so that you can get right down to making and producing your own films, then it would be in your best interest to attend a film school that covers the planning, budgeting and production processes of filmmaking.

Many film schools also offer post-production courses that are most appropriate for anyone interested in producing their own films. Especially if you plan to work with digital media, you should take advantage of courses offering tutorials on using computer applications that allow you to edit and mix sound and video. Since the innovation of digital video cameras, filmmaking and post-production work has become affordable for everyone. Before digital video, every fade in or out, every effect that could be applied to a film necessarily involved the duplication of the film material itself, such that production often involves working with hundreds of strips of film that must be carefully organized and tracked.

Even if you’re more interested in becoming part of Hollywood caliber filmmaking, in terms of budget and star power, you shouldn’t necessarily overlook the smaller film schools. While a degree from a known traditional university will get you in many doors, your own merit and achievements are what will determine your success. For this reason it is most important to choose a school that fits your individual needs and learning style.

In my next few posts I might review various film schools around the world, and especially from US, UK and India where the film industry is flourishing.