Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

Your Weekend Viewing: Turning a Cheap Tripod into a Stabilized Camera Rig

Call it a Steadicam or Glidecam or Flycam or SteadyCam or what have you, stabilized camera rigs give you that smooth, free camera motion that’s just plain cool. To do it on a truly professional level, you need a very fit, well-trained operator with a vest-mounted rig that has a gimbal. Oh, and he or she needs an assistant to hold the heavy rig when it is not being deployed.

Fortunately, you can approximate these pro camera rig results yourself with a little bit of practice and some way to lower the center of gravity for your camera. The good folks at Mike’s Production Corner have a quick video that shows one way to do this, simply by inverting a cheap tripod and fanning out the legs.

Happy filming!

Avid Error of the Day: Filmscribe Crashes Making Audio Change Note

When I encounter an odd error message and its solution, I make a note. This is one of those notes. I want solutions to turn up better in searches for other Avid users (and myself). As with all error posts on the site, the casual reader can just skip ahead to other less-technical content.

After trying many solutions, the problem boiled down to Avid FilmScribe not being able to work with stereo tracks. Duplicate your sequence, ctrl-click (right click) on the track and split it to mono. Do the same for your comparison sequence. Now it “works”.

Work for Avid? Know more about what’s going on? Know a better solution? Leave a comment below.

Movie Review: Jurassic World (IMAX 3D)

Jurassic World is a remake of Jurassic Park in a world where John Hammond’s dream has curdled. It’s twenty years later, and the dino theme park on Isla Nublar is bigger and better than ever. But to keep attendance numbers up, Hammond’s successor Simon Masrani (Irfan Khan) and his corporate minions have to keep introducing “attractions” that will goose public interest.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, one of the corporate types. She’s just secured sponsorship by Verizon of the new I-Rex, a genetically-modified T-Rex. Guess who escapes and wreaks havoc in this film?

For an inexperienced director, Colin Trevorrow has a sure hand. The movie delivers all the dino action you could want, and it has some decent banter and performances to boot. There’s a story about a family crisis in the background of the plot, but it is woven in deftly. (Of special note, the always excellent Judy Greer shines as the mom.)

Chris Pratt continues his rise as the second coming of Harrison Ford. He cracks wise while making Indiana Jones-style last-second escapes. His character is sort of a combination of Dr. Grant and Ian Malcolm. He understands dinosaurs but he also understands that nature is a powerful force not to be hubristically underestimated.

Michael Giacchino provides the score, which samples from the famous John Williams theme from time to time — enough to make you miss it. I love Giacchino, but besides the losing battle of following in John Williams’ footsteps, I thought his score several times tipped the story’s hand, letting you know the characters were safe when there was still more suspense to be had. I hope Trevorrow will grow into more confidence and know when to let Skywalker’s sound design take the lead over music.

I saw the film in IMAX 3D. The sound was great. The 3D conversion, however, showed tons of artifacts in all the foliage. I presume dimensionalising a bough full of leaves is a difficult task, but the rough edges were distracting. Also distracting was how the characters sometimes appeared to be the wrong size in relation to each other, and how Jake Johnson’s nose geometry was comically extruded. There were no “3D moments” per se, except maybe the trailer shot where the mosasaur launches itself at the camera. I conclude the film was not shot with 3D at all in mind, so I recommend just seeing it in 2D, with a crowd of dino fans.

Movie Review: Spy

Poster for the movie Spy starring Melissa McCarthyEarly on in Spy, an infestation of bats drops from the ceiling in the CIA’s basement. It’s never really explained. Just, in the world of this film, ace intelligence personnel must shrug their shoulders, swat away vermin, and carry on calling in drone strikes. Oh wow, I thought, this film is prepared to take on the nonpareil of silly secret agent movies, Austin Powers, random-joke-to-random-joke.

But, sadly for me, the bats were not a portent of more giddy zaniness to come. Instead, Spy‘s plot unfolds dully into a Europe-hopping tour of flimsy of excuses for Melissa McCarthy’s self-deprecating humor. That this film has done so well with critics is a testament to her commitment to the character of Susan Cooper, a dowdy CIA desk agent who, whenever it is convenient to move the story forward, stops acting like a fearful klutz and more like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.

There is no denying McCarthy is funny, and so are the supporting players. (50 Cent had my favorite joke when he opens an Eastern European concert with a shout out to goulash.) I would watch anything with these guys working so hard to generate laughs. It’s just that I expected better.

Despite having ace d.p. Robert Yeoman and legit action star Jason Statham, the action in this movie isn’t anything to write home about. The James-Bond-on-his-most-self-assured-day orchestral score, by Theodore Shapiro, nailed a tone I wish the visuals had also managed. This is the second action spoof comedy team-up between Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig (who also gets full screenplay credit, although he did have his The Heat write Katie Dippold on set). The Heat made me laugh more, and it did a better job, in my opinion, of sending up the genre upon which its sights were drawn.

Let’s talk a bit more about the inconsistencies in McCarthy’s character. She is clearly mistreated by many of her CIA colleagues, and despite being very sharp, she can’t see how strongly she has been friend-zoned by Jude Law’s agent Bradley Fine. (Strangely, Law is inexplicably forced to use a bad American accent while other Brits — Statham and Miranda Hart — are allowed to speak the Queen’s while collecting US government paychecks.) We saw McCarthy be both hilarious and sympathetic in Bridesmaids and Identity Thief. But to do so requires a character that is credible. Spy tries to have its cake necklace and eat it by having Cooper be a master spy one minute and a clueless doof the next. She continually asserts herself and saves Statham’s character, yet puts up with the handsy handler played by Peter Serafinowicz. It’s a female empowerment movie where not one but two simulated rapes are played for laughs. The second is when Serafinowicz’s Aldo ungracefully unbinds them. The first is when Cooper uses airplane controls to repeatedly slam the crotch of a dead body into Rose Byrne’s character’s face.

Speaking of Byrne’s character, she’s a less-than-stellar foil. She would seem to be the big-bad villain, with an unlimited army of henchmen. But then the film reveals she’s easily duped and that her henchmen resources are down to a tall, pale weeping Northern European.

The potentials of the film are likewise diminished over its runtime. Still, it’s not a bad time-killer and clearly my less-than-ecstatic reaction is outside the mainstream. So if you like your comedy stirred, not shaken, check it out.

Your Weekend Viewing: What Cheer?

What Cheer? – starring Richard Kind from Five Eyed Films on Vimeo.

Red Depth: A New Must-Read Movie Blog

Red Depth Will Tordella Blog LogoFrom colorist and cineaste extraordinaire Will Tordella, a new manifesto on the emotional content hidden within the color spectrum of a video image: “Red Depth”. Knowing Will, I suspect his “Red Depth” blog will become a must read.

Here’s an excerpt from his first post:

The problem is that human perception of the color green is not as receptive as our appreciation of the red spectrum.

The reason is red’s long wavelength and that our eyes respond more to long wave ranges. This results in wrestling with it. In the video realm this has some very practical outcomes. (Most of the following can also be found on Wikipedia.)

For us to perceive the colors as equal, the green and blue are compensated for in the video signal. This causes red to have a “weaker” representation in the signal and during its life cycle with signal deterioration red suffers first which results in increased noise and smear.

In the past with analog signals the green was prioritized color. The issue with the red component is the same for analog as well as a compressed digital signal. The red’s area is reduced, hence it is more pixelated. Problems also can arise with focus when shooting in predominately red light.

And so we have a little “Red Death,” if you will, like the light of a star begun it’s descent to the end of life.

Things get more technical here. (But don’t let it put you to sleep. Red Death is Life and Death when we’re talking about the effect of an image on audiences.)

Red Death is not an illusion – it arises from something called chroma subsampling. Most video codecs do not represent color in full resolution as a way of achieving greater compression by taking advantage of the way that the human eye is more sensitive to brightness (“luma”) than color (“chroma”).

It’s slightly more complicated though: the brightness is actually made up of the sum of the three color components: Red, Green and Blue. And they’re not encoded as RGB, that would be require more bandwidth, they’re encoded as YUV. Y corresponds roughly to the green component, and the U and V are Y minus the red component and Y minus the blue component (a gross approximation, actually – if you want the whole formula look here).

In most codecs, the U and V components are sampled at a lower resolution than the Y. This is expressed in the three-way ratio you often see if you hang around video forums too much, e.g. 4:2:2 or 4:2:0.

A common example of this notation is in the codec name “ProRes422″ the 422 bit comes from 4:2:2 meaning for every a 4×2 rectangle there will be 4 Y samples in each row 2 UV samples in the first row (half the horizontal resolution) and 2 UV samples in the second row. So ProRes422 has half the chroma resolution of the luma.

This means the red channel on its own has one quarter the resolution of the overall picture.

And yet…

Our eyes literally have a greater physical capacity for immediately responding to the color red than they do any other color.

So actually that is more breadth on the red side then, isn’t it? It is therefore our responsibility (as can be true outside of the color spectrum) to provide the depth. We must plumb the depths as it were. Red seems to beckon us like a siren of the rainbow, with its sweet, sultry song.

So let us accept that single invitation as an excuse to stare deep and longingly into the whole sumptuous image. Let us be seduced, and perhaps provide some flirtation ourselves. Let It passionately and boldly course through our veins (as if we had much choice.) Let it bleed into our psyche. The color is caught up in life and death. It gushes, it spurts, and it imbues. It vibrates, it glows and it captivates.

It envelopes.

Let us plunge into the whole spectrum of possibilities. Cinema, at it’s heart is moving imagery given life. We give it life, and we receive life from it. The best can fill it in and from every direction. We are sat down to observe, and so we shouldn’t take that lightly.

Look and listen well. I am best at looking.

So here it is. We will take in all of it. We will obsess. We will squint. We will ponder and mull. We will lust. Review, re-watch and freeze-frame. Follow the motion. Follow the emotion.

We will pull this dying light back from possible oblivion, and see what it reveals. We will listen. Turn your best ear and lean in.

So, that is to say, let’s watch some movies.

(minor editing and reformatting)

Check out the full post on Will’s Google Plus. It goes into great depth on the use of color on the TV Show Hannibal.

Wednesday Links: Crowdfunding, Now with Equity! Edition

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Hollywood Reporter: Want a Piece of the Movie Profits? New SEC Rules Could “Revolutionize” Crowdfunding

Marginal Revolution: Assurance Contracts for Indie Films

Song Exploder: Composer Brian Tyler breaks down the title track for Avengers: Age of Ultron

Geek Tyrant: If We Want Original Films, We Have to Support Them

Reddit thread: What is your favorite “cut to credits” moment in any movie?

Kottke: Movie intro megamix

The Film Stage: The making of Interstellar‘s tesseract (hint: it was mostly practical)

“Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid auteur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot—the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.”
–Billy Wilder in The Paris Review

Your Weekend Viewing: A Single Life

My favorite of last year’s Academy Award-nominated Short Animated films is now available to watch online:

What I love about “A Single Life” is the rather profound way it gets at the regret for the passage of time, and how it uses the unique languages of film — montage, music, visuals — to make a point. And in less than three minutes!

The film is by a Dutch animation company: Job, Joris & Marieke. Here is their website. Nice of The New Yorker to make this awesome short film available to the public! The New Yorker’s Screening Room website hosts a number of interesting video shorts.

JJ&M’s latest video is an experiment involving 3D-printing of frames from a digital render to create a sort of “animated” sculpture. If I take it correctly, it is meant as an art installation:

What do you think of JJ&M’s animation style? What did you think of “A Single Life’s” themes about ‘taking it slow, before you’ve got to go’?

Your Weekend Viewing: Free Video Editing Software Tutorials

Vimeo has a whole bunch of free tutorials in their Video School, including…

  • Adobe Premiere
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • iMovie
  • Windows Movie Maker

No Avid MediaComposer there, but you can find official tutorials for that on Avid’s website and YouTube:

If you want to make a living doing editing (as I currently do), I recommend learning Avid first, then Premiere (fewer job opportunities, but a growing field), then Final Cut X (even fewer opportunities as of right now, but potentially more when they add more pro workflow support). Movie Maker and iMovie will give you the basics, but won’t help you get work.

Some Basic Editing Software Recommendations

Avid MediaComposer is pricey and has a less intuitive interface, but they offer a student version at a price that’s competitive with the other major software solutions. It’s a pain-in-the-ass to get and activate (and transfer between machines). The new Adobe subscription licensing is another major reason I think Premiere is currently on the rise.

For low-budget indies, the Adobe workflow is very attractive, especially if you are doing documentaries and can make use of the auto-transcript features. Happy cutting — and US readers have a great long Memorial Day weekend!

Book Review: Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I, by Shinobu Hashimoto

Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I
by Shinobu Hashimoto, translated by Lori Hitchcock Morimoto

Legendary Japanese screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto’s memoir is drenched in nostalgia. There is nostalgia for the train stations in Tokyo and the post-war neighborhoods which they evoke. There is nostalgia for the pine forest of his youth, where he would go to cry when his parents were unkind to him, every tree of which was torn down to aid in Japan’s futile war effort. And most of all, there is nostalgia for the personalities of the Japanese film industry in the 1940’s and 50’s — chief among them: Akira Kurosawa.

Hashimoto was the sole disciple of director and screenwriter Mansaku Itami, a leading light in 1930’s Japanese cinema. Though Itami died of tuberculosis before his time, he had plans for Hashimoto — at that time a salaryman for a munitions concern who spent his free time screenwriting.

Itami’s designs lead to Hashimoto’s screenplays falling into the hands of Kurosawa and his producers. Kurosawa immediately recognized the potential of one script, which would go on to become Rashomon. Hashimoto’s third screenplay, another collaboration with Kurosawa (and this time adding Hideo Oguni, another ace screenwriter of the era) became the classic film Ikiru.

Writing advice from one of the great screenwriters

The memoir goes in depth into Hashimoto’s writing process, and it all stems, he says, from his mentor Itami’s emphasis on themes: Continue reading

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