Making the Movie


Universal Leader – Head and Tail – Free Download

As I discussed in the post about film reel breaks in editing, "leader" is the bit of picture that gets attached to front (head) and end (tail) of a film reel to minimize scratching and help tell lab technicians where picture and sound are supposed to begin and end. I made a "universal" leader for a project I'm working on and am releasing it free for use.

Right now these are available to download from the Vimeo account as .mp4 files. I also am trying to figure out the best way to distribute versions as uncompressed TIFF sequences and an Avid bin (.avb) for easy remixes. If you'd like to see that or just want to show appreciation, make a donation.

References Used

For help in designing the head leader, I am first of all much indebted to Job ter Berg, the Dutch film editor who has made an excellent Academy/SMPTE/Framecounting countdown as a free download. I also looked over the official SMPTE Universal Leader specs (PDF) and a couple of examples provided to me by AE (assistant editor) friends.

For the Tail Leader, I modeled after a version titled "SAA Universal Leader" that's floating around the editing community. Near as I can Google, I'm guessing it is from the Society of American Archivists. It only runs 6 seconds, but I padded out my version to eight seconds for symmetry between the head and tail. For a 6-second tail, you can easily crop the last two seconds, and end on the frame labeled "6 END 6". Some places like even more tail leader. Soundelux asks for 20 seconds of tail leader. You can always extend with black slug or one of the "END OF REEL" frames.

Disclaimer: I don't pretend to know the function of many aspects of these elements. For example: I know the C F C F in the last frames of the 4-count are Control Frames but what they control, I know not.

Are you a lab technician who knows what all that's about? A filmmaker with requests for alternate versions? An expert who wants to tell me all the formatting mistakes I made? Leave a comment below.

Filed under: free, tiffs No Comments

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…)


Make Your Sh*t Right Now: An Interview with Kestrin Pantera

Filmmaker Kestrin PanteraKestrin Pantera is a party girl who is not ready to settle down. Or she plays one in the movies. It's hard to tell, because the indie feature that she wrote, directed, edited and stars in, Let's Ruin It with Babies, is more than a little autobiographical.

I interviewed Kestrin over email about throwing caution to the wind and making a film, and how similar that leap of faith can be to making a family...

Making the Movie: How did the idea for the story of Let's Ruin It with Babies arise? I understand that at a certain point it became a case of life imitating art...

Kestrin Pantera: I run the RVIP Lounge, a mobile karaoke lounge housed inside a customized RV. We throw guerrilla karaoke parties at big events like SXSW and Comic Con. It's a fast-paced party lifestyle, one I was in no rush to interrupt with having children. When my husband wanted to kickoff 'project family' I asked for an extension: I'd yet to write and direct a film -- one of my life goals. He replied, 'Hurry up and make a movie, then.'

Lets-Ruin-ItI channeled my breeding doubts into Let's Ruin It With Babies.

While filming, I felt alive in a way I hadn't for years -- until I woke up one day mid-production feeling very sick, and discovered I was pregnant.

I suddenly had a very hard deadline: finish the film before I started showing.

The ensemble has a very natural feel with each other. Did the cast know each other before the film? Did you use improvisation?

My husband, Jonathan, played my husband in the film. I thought of casting a professional actor, but we had just gotten married and the idea of writing my own sex scene with another dude felt weird. So I conned him into it. He's a natural -- it wasn't hard. The rest of the cast were friends, some whom happen to be professional actors. All made me laugh in real-life and were available/interested/"Freelance." They all have real jobs now, so I have to get a real budget or a new cast for the next movie.

Some scenes were meticulously scripted, others were improvised, some were a combination of the two. By which I mean, actors improvised, I'd bark out lines -- seemingly arbitrarily -- they would say them, and I'd cut together the scene I'd written in my head without them knowing.

The most personal scene, the bedroom scene, we shot in our bed at 8am with one other person in the room.



Your Weekend Viewing: How Lighting Changes a Face

This video will make you appreciate the work of d.p.'s and gaffers everywhere...

This model literally looks like a different person depending on where the light is coming from. Color and quality of light goes a long way toward conveying emotion, too. Actors, you're welcome.

You'll notice from the closeup shots the ring light reflection in the eyes. Putting lighting around the lens is a trick from stills photography that has gotten a lot more feasible for film thanks to lightweight, small LEDs.

And now with the motion rigs used on Gravity, there is a whole new lighting sandbox to play in. According to the Vimeo comments, Mr. Guzman's rig is custom designed. If I had to guess, I bet the filmmakers here were using some kind of motion controller (modified electric train set) with LEDs attached.

Here's how the footage was used in the final music video...


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.


Your Wednesday Links: Twitter Tips for Indies

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

Craft Truck: 10 Tips for Indie Filmmakers on Twitter

TheUncool: Almost Famous Revisited

The Wrap: How ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ Overcame Disney’s Resistance to a Movie About Disney

MovieMorlocks: 10 Films You Will Likely Never See from 2013

Hurlbut Visuals: Accessorizing Your 1DC for Cinematic Capture

Hollywood Reporter: Oscars: '12 Years,' 'Gravity' and the Perils of Being an Early Frontrunner

Bleeding Cool: Poster Quotes From People Who Aren't Even Pretending To Have Seen The Film

Editor Thelma Schoonmaker at a Wolf of Wall Street talkback: "Improv is hard because you end up with bad cuts. But we will always go with bad cuts rather than lose a great performance."

List of Streaming Movie Outlets - Added Warner Archive Instant

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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.