Making the Movie


Your Wednesday Links: Wrap on Ramis

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

RIP Harold Ramis - As @NotoriousJLD pointed out: "In an 8-year span beginning at age 34, Harold Ramis created Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Back to School."

Filmmaker Mag: Making a film is like having a child. - The responsibilities continue after birth...

Tim Berners Lee in WaPo, Josh Gans in Digitopoly - Some different perspectives on the recent Comcast/Netflix blow to net neutrality.

Q. Will this Comcast/Netflix deal harm indie filmmakers? A. Time will tell. Not a very conclusive answer, but accurate.

Q. Why did it happen? A. Looks to me like Netflix read the tea leaves, found net neutrality was going to die a slow death and decided to get a lock in an early sweetheart deal. In return, Comcast has bought out one of the biggest opponents to the merger with Time/Warner Cable. Welcome to the brave new world of pay-for-cable-play.

Movie Morlocks: Jean Renoir’s Less Grand Illusion

Daily Beast: An Oscar Voter Spills Secrets on Woodygate, Wolfgate, and Awards Scandals

Vanity Fair: The Most In-Demand Composer in Hollywood Shares Stories About His Latest Collaborators

John August: Scanning scripts on your iPhone with Weekend Read + Prizmo

Steven Soderbergh on Joseph Von Sternberg

SlashFilm: Watch Extensive ‘A Field in England’ Making-Of Footage

A new goal for myself: make more eye contact with performers and less with screen/paper. #recording
-Audio Craftsman @RandyCoppinger

Only Connect: An Interview with Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza - The trailer for his Kickstarter success, Know How, a musical by and starring foster care youth, is now online.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Reel Breaks - Added more information on reel length standards and rules for where to split reels.


Your Wednesday Links: Guns in Theaters 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.

FilmDrunk: Follow-up: The Man Who Killed Another Man For Texting During Previews Before Lone Survivor - This is a sad story. Surprised it is not getting more attention given that other "violence and the media" stories saturate the news.

LATimes: Richard Linklater's 12-year project Boyhood to premiere at Sundance - Super excited about this film. What an epic project!

BuzzFeed: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Fight Club - Well, I knew some of them.

Forbes: Negotiating Dynamic Changes Between Netflix and the Studios - You heard it here first, of course.

No Film School: How to Set a Living Room on Fire with VFX in 4K

The Dissolve: The Simpsons pay an inspired tribute to Hayao Miyazaki

Top Rated Films by Location They Were Shot - Created by a Reddit user using IMDb data

Martin Scorsese's open letter to his daughter about the future of cinema

"Bored by the scene you're writing? Cut away. Maybe cut the whole scene. Get out of there, man." -@jonspaihts

Free Film Leader Download - made some changes to the files, now improved for v2


Avid Error of the Day: AvidBinIndexer works locally but not on external Unity drive

Search Data FolderWhen I encounter an odd software error 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.

Running MediaComposer 7.0.2 with a fiber Unity on MacOS 10.7.5. The project was originally set up locally and Avid Search worked fine, finding lots of sound effects by name across multiple bins. Once we moved the project to a Unity drive, the search no longer worked, even after deleting the SearchData folder to force a rebuild. Even after changing Find > Settings tab > Search Data Folder to "Local Default" from "Default" (the Project Folder).
Avid Find Window
I tried all kinds of things, including re-importing the sound effects manually in various projects. Search would find sequences and audio mixdowns but it just wouldn't find the video or audio media, even if the clips were moved into fresh bins.

The project was at the root level of the Unity workspace. Moving it up another folder level made the search work. Simple and Avid recommended, no hacky-panky. Thanks to my friend JCB for helping figure this out. (more…)


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Reel Breaks

A holdover from the days where films were shipped as individual reels of film, modern editors still break feature films down into 10-20 minute sequences called "reels".

These reels are a convenient length to send to the sound editing team, the composer, the colorist, etc. This is called in the biz "turning over a reel" or "turnover".


The editor I'm currently working with cuts individual scenes as dailies come in, quickly grouping them together into short sequences. From 87 scenes, he ended up with 21 groups. When those were all done, the groups were stitched into the first assembly.

Traditionally this "editor's cut" would then be shown to the director. This typically will make the director suicidal, as they must confront the movie that was shot, not the perfect vision imagined in their head.

Another way to go is to break the assembly into reels immediately, and go through these one-by-one with the director, which will help keep the director from being overwhelmed. The editor can do quick notes passes on each of the reels. Only then is a longplay assembly made. This way, the first time the director sees a whole cut, there will be no rude surprises.


At whatever point in the process you decide to "break" the film into reels, there are some things to keep in mind...

- Maximum length of reel for 35mm 4-perf will depend on the studio specs. The longest my sources have seen was just under 2100 feet (that's 23 minutes, 20 seconds according to the Panavision footage calculator). UPDATE: According to the book Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures, 2nd Ed., the limit is 2050 feet.
- To find the break, add 2000 feet to the previous break and work down, looking for a picture cut that is a good break point. (Most reels lose length during the editing process. See "rebalancing" below for what to do if they get too long, or short enough to combine.)
- Having as few reels as possible makes the film less costly to deliver down the road. This thread says the industry average is around 1800 feet per reel.
- Look for a place where there is a clean sound break, preferably between scenes. Sometimes you'll need to break in the middle of a scene. If so, look for where the camera reverses angle completely, which will hide any color shifts between film reels. Always choose to break between shots that can be rolled out a little longer.
- Also, according to Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures, "Avoid splitting within a musical cue or a place likely to have one later. ... Don't allow any significant sound within the first second of a new reel. This sound will fall within the changeover and could cause trouble."
- The first reel should be shorter to leave room for credits and studio titles. Absent any specific direction, 1500 feet is the rule of thumb -- or so I've been told.
- You will also want to leave 800 - 1000 feet on the last reel for the end crawl and any "main on ends" -- main credits sequences that are increasingly placed at the end of films.
- If questions remain, ask an experienced sound editor.


- Leader is added to head and tail of each reel. The 8 second (12 foot) Academy Leader has been superseded by the longer SMPTE Universal Leader, but in my experience people are using only the last 8 seconds of SMPTE Universal to match the timing of the Academy Leader. SMPTE Universal Tail Leader is 6 seconds, and again my experience is people extend this another 2 seconds to make it 8 seconds. Learn more and grab a free download in this post.
- Each reel starts with the hour of the reel. Reel 1 starts at 01:00:00:00, Reel 2 starts at 02:00:00:00, Reel 3 starts at 03:00:00:00 etc. As of Avid MC5, this setting is accessed by right-clicking on the timeline and selecting "Sequence report..." You will then click "Apply changes" and, unintuitively, "Cancel".
- The edgecode (EC) starts at 0+00 for all reels.


- While cutting, some reels may get too long or too short and the film will need to be "rebalanced."
- The same rules for finding new reel breaks apply.
- Most films end up being 6 or 7 reels long. Shorter films can do it in five.
- Fun fact: Early screenplays were written in sequences meant to correspond to reels. In those days a "feature" was a movie with four or more reels, while "shorts" were anything from a "two-reel comedy" to a single "newsreel".
- To get a change list (from Avid FilmScribe, at least) to play nice after a rebalance, you may have to create versions of the old sequences which match the same cutting point. Sound auto-conforms then hand-conforms using a hand-written change note with what is added or subtracted from the head and the tail of the reel.

Anything to add? Still something you want to know? Leave a comment below.

[Special thanks to AE reader MT for the fact check.]


Your Wednesday Links: Happy 2014!

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

Mentorless: 34 Things Christopher Nolan Shared About Making His First Feature Film and Learning From It

Sam Adams: The 'Wolf of Wall Street' Debate in a Single Tweet

TechCrunch: Netflix Testing New $6.99 Single Screen Plan - Optimal for people who watch movies on smartphones. Cue heads exploding.

Variety: Samsung's $150,000 110-Inch Ultra HD 4K TV: Why Hollywood Should Worry

First Showing: Jeremy Picks the 10 Best Soundtracks/Scores of 2013

EOSHD: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Review – Final Part

No Film School: 8 Somewhat Unusual New Year's Screenwriting Resolutions for 2014 What's new in Final Cut Pro 10.1?

SlashFilm: Germain’s Top Ten Films of 2013


My Year-End Top Ten Movies Because Why Not

I know a lot of sites do these lists as gimmicks but I swear this is more for my own purposes. I wanted to collect my thoughts about the films I have seen this year. And yeah, I wanna boost some films I think deserve more attention. So here goes...

10. Pacific Rim

It's a fun popcorn movie. It's a metaphor for global warming. But mostly it's a movie where giant robots fight sea monsters SMASH SMASH SMASH! Read the review.

9. Wolf of Wall Street

A movie with ginormous balls that sends them straight to the wall, Wolf is a super-entertaining satire of the frothy world of finance. And it's made by the unlikely comedic duo of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It's about the thrill of greed and lack of Wall Street oversight. That almost every impossible detail is true only makes this tale more absurd. Read the review.

8. The World's End / This is the End

Two very different end-of-the-world comedies, both with much deeper themes than you'd expect from movies where you laugh so much -- and totally different from each other. In This is the End, we get a story of friendship set amidst a Hollywood apocalypse. In The World's End, we get a story of recovery from addiction masquerading as an alien invasion masquerading as a story of friendship.

7. Frances Ha

I know this one is going to be divisive because, hey, not everyone wants to watch a movie about a mid-twenties blonde white chick who can't get her shit together. Hollywood has made plenty of films about male losers, so it's about time the fairer sex had their shot at the (wo)manchild paradigm. Nevermind the pretentious black-and-white photography and French New Wave touches. To me Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote and stars in the film, is doing something very recognizable and real in this film, while also being funny and sharply observant.

6. 12 Years a Slave

Although there were some uneven performances in this raw, harsh film, the central role played by Chiwetel Ejiofor is hypnotically good. When this movie is firing on all cylinders, it is a powerful work of cinema. You will be hard-pressed to forget the feet struggling in the mud, the hopes and desires invested in a bar of soap or the face of a man seeing his family after twelve years in bondage. Read the review.

5. Gravity

For out and out pure cinema -- creating the joy and terror of floating in space -- this movie wins the year hands down. The sound design and camera moves are incredible. Like a good animated movie, it was years in the making and went through many iterations. Do I wish the story was a bit less mystical? Sure. But I love that such an uncompromising vision has been embraced by general audiences. Read the review.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

Another year, another Coen Brothers masterwork. I can't stop listening to the soundtrack for this film. In addition to being great music, it reminds me of all the pleasures, small and large, of this shaggy cat story about a down-on-his-luck folk singer. I don't know if this film will ever attain the cult status of The Big Lebowski, but it has the same quotable characters and the same atmospheric world you just want to curl up and sleep in. Read the review.

3. Her

I love this film. In an earlier draft of my list, I had this film ranked number one. Just like the next two films I've ranked higher, Her is funny, knowing, and profound. The only strike against it is my fear that it is too of-the-current-moment to endure. It's an Alphaville, not a Breathless. It's a Fahrenheit 411, not a Jules and Jim. It's a Lolita not a 2001. Read the review.

2. Short Term 12

Hopefully you've seen this film, or at least heard of it. It's a small-budget movie, but it has a billion dollar heart. Writer-director Destin Cretton has crafted a jewel of a story, sparkling with brilliant moments. You could focus on the dazzling central performance by Brie Larson as the head of a short term housing facility for children caught in custody limbo. Or you could spread your attention to the half dozen kids the story also tracks. Those characters broke my heart and lifted my spirit in many and surprising ways. Every once in a while a group of filmmakers comes together and creates something honest and beautiful. This is one of those times. Read the interview with the filmmakers.

1. Before Midnight

This movie, with its long, talky scenes and confined timespan feels much like a play. But that's in keeping with this series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset) which has gently, methodically probed the nature of love and relationships. As co-writers with director Richard Linklater, stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, allow their characters to be unsympathetic as well as charming. It's real and it's magical too, because of the amazing Greek scenery. I could sit and watch these characters talk for days. Read the review.

HONORABLE MENTION: Blue Jasmine, Fruitvale Station, The Great Gatsby, Captain Philips, Spring Breakers, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, The Place Beyond the Pines, Dallas Buyers Club, All is Lost, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

MIGHT'VE MADE THE LIST IF I SAW IT: The Act of Killing, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Mud, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Post Tenebras Lux, To The Wonder, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Computer Chess, The Wind Rises, The Grandmaster, The Great Beauty, Stories We Tell, Nymphomaniac, The Spectacular Now, Enough Said, Rush, The Conjuring, Leviathan, Frozen, In a World, Broken Circle Breakdown

MORE: Movie Reviews Archive


Movie Review: Her

Her is one of the great cinematic sci-fi films. It may seem narrowly confined to a few characters and locations, but it is grand in philosophical scope, interrogating big questions like the nature of human relationships, the nature of consciousness -- really the entire nature of humanity, come to that.

Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, a lovelorn writer who activates a new computer interface, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, dubbing over Samantha Morton, who performed the role live on set). Samantha begins as a servile Siri-like AI but soon becomes very human. For many intents and purposes (love, comfort), the arc of Theodore's relationship with Samantha is indistinguishable from his previous relationship with his estranged wife (Rooney Mara). Meanwhile his neighbor (Amy Adams) is experiencing a deep friendship with another "conscious" OS.

The OSes at first are jealous of the people they interact with, wishing they could inhabit physical space. Eventually, they embrace the otherness of their form, moving to places beyond what Theodore and his fellow humans can understand.

All this is told with beautiful, very digital-looking cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema with additional scenes by Spike Jonez regular lance Accord). The imagining of a future world and it's design elements is impeccably done, but all nicely tucked away in the background while characters and their emotional lives take the foreground.

The soundtrack choices are as impeccable as impeccable the design elements. I'm sure there are some who will find them, like the film itself, too twee. But not me. Other than a short sequence involving a character played by Olivia Wilde, I can think of nothing about the film that could be profitably altered. It's a remarkably sincere film that is nonetheless often hysterically funny.

As a bonus, it proves that grand, romantic sci-fi need not be a baffling slog. (I'm looking at you, Solaris.) Her should be seen immediately. I'm worried something this fragile and beautiful will evaporate -- or suffer the fate of most sci-fi, falling into retro kitschiness. The idea of falling in love with a talking OS seems so on the cusp of both possibility and absurdity at this very moment. Eventually it will teeter and fall to one side, leaving this film but a fraction of its former self.


Movie Review: Liv & Ingmar

Movie Poster - Liv & IngmarFans of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman -- and the films that they made together -- should put the new documentary Liv & Ingmar on their radar. Returning to Fårö island, to the house Bergman built on the site where they first fell in love, the still-radiant Ullmann opens up about the joy and the darkness of their headline-making love affair. And, like a late-career Bergman film, the story continues after the love affair and the breakup into a new and deeper territory: the intimacy of long friendship.

Director Dheeraj Akolkar using clips from Svensk Filmindustry's Bergman/Ullmann films -- Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries & Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Saraband (and others) -- beautifully to illustrate the story, aptly demonstrating how autobiographical these films were for both of them.

Ullmann is a polyglot, but she does the entire interview in English, sometimes translating the letters she and Ingmar wrote to each other. These letters are clearly deeply personal, as is the coded diary that they kept on a door of the house, but the film omits interpretation, leaving them mostly mysterious.

As a viewer, I wish the filmmakers had pushed even further into the inmost thoughts and feelings of these two artists. (Maybe it is unnecessary, since it is already embedded in their films.) As a filmmaker, I wish there had been much more discussion of their working relationship and how these great works of art were made. As a fan of both Liv and Ingmar, however, I am grateful that this document exists.

The filmmakers have succeeded in making something deeply moving. When Liv says the greatest compliment she ever received was when Ingmar called her his Stradivarius... wow. Maybe its the way she says it, or maybe it's just her blue blue eyes. Whatever it is, it's another powerful cinematic moment born from their great collaboration.

Liv & Ingmar opened this Friday, December 13th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe theatre in New York and at the Nuart in Los Angeles. This review is based on a DVD screener.


Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Yes, The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese, is much like his earlier film Goodfellas -- except with a financial industry backdrop instead of the mob. According to Leonardo DiCaprio, the star and producer, Goodfellas was the express template used by screenwriter Terrence Winter. "The script was tailor-made for Marty." What differentiates Wolf is not so much the plot or the film techniques but the tone: satiric and absurd instead of nostalgic.

Funny movies don't win many Oscars, which is too bad for Wolf, because it is hilarious. A scene where DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort has a delayed reaction to some quaaludes, for example, allows one of our great matinee idols to inch along the ground like a demented earthworm. Most scenes clearly incorporate improvisation -- the dialogue has an Apatovian feel. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker expertly uses single-shot cutaways as punchlines in the manner of 30 Rock.

DiCaprio had initially set up this true tale of the rise and fall of a fast-talking stockbroker around the 2008 financial crisis. Scorsese delayed several years until Red Granite Pictures came on board, promising full creative freedom. The delay is not a problem; the film still feels fresh and relevant.

Nevermind that the movie was quickly trimmed from four hours to three -- Schoonmaker said they did not have to lop off any scenes whole, likening that to losing a limb, and she says that Marty fully supports this cut. The whole movie, long as it is, has a rushed, hyperkinetic pace anyway.

What I want to know is how -- with drug use and/or sex in nearly every scene -- did this film pass the MPAA? Truly this is where the creative freedom was spent: there hasn't been a film this open-eyed about sex and drugs since the 1970's.

It's hard to know where to rank this in the Scorsese cannon. On one hand, it feels derivative of Goodfellas and The Aviator. On the other hand, most directors work in a single style their whole careers. Can we blame the chameleonic Scorsese if he spoofs himself this time out, instead of homaging other filmmakers, as he normally does?

Deep down, I suspect this is DiCaprio's movie, much in the same way Raging Bull was a passion project for DeNiro. I normally find Leo Dio hard to believe except in very particular roles, and this is one of those roles. His brashness and mischievousness work toward the performance, rather than against it. Scorsese has praised DiCaprio's utter fearlessness and here we get to see that put to use for comedy, going absolutely-balls-to-the-wall, embracing the selfish, self-destructive side of humanity. Whatever its merits as a work of art, it's a 100% entertaining film. No small feat, and something I hope the Academy recognizes.


Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is film about grief. It's a movie about suicide in which the suicide happens off-screen, before the film even begins. It's a circular tale, but not like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. It is more like James Joyce's Ulysses, which is like Homer's Odyssey, which is like the Coen Brothers' earlier collaboration with music producer T. Bone Burnett, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. But if it is like another Coen brothers movie, it is most like the Talmudic parable that is A Serious Man. And it may also be, as The Dissolve's Matt Singer suggests, about how bleak life would be if the Coens didn't have each other.

All this can be easily forgotten as one bathes in the mood and atmosphere of the 60's folk scene. Llewyn, in the form of actor Oscar Isaac, seems fully-formed as a real person, perhaps because he is based on a real self-sabotaging folk singer who once served in the merchant marine. Meanwhile, he's surrounded by the Felliniesque character faces we've come to know and love from the Coens. The old couple who manage Davis and John Goodman's voodoo jazz daddy are two highlights of a teeming, Simpsonian world.

For those who enjoy their ironies exquisite, I can hardly think of a finer film. I have little else to say, except a small note about the metaphorical cat that got away -- spoilers...