Finding A Community For Your Work

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January 28, 2011

Finding A Community For Your Work

 

Let’s face it, without a community of people who support your work and your individuality as a creative force, who will be pushing you to be a better artist? The likelihood of success on any front and at any level isn’t as good as it is when you have some kind of fanbase, an average viewership/readership that is providing constant feedback. You need people consistently checking up on what you’re doing, fans of your work that beg for more and if you don’t do something right they call you out and provide feedback necessary for you to get it right the next time.

This is important and many filmmakers, writers, photographers and so forth are establishing their community via online websites. Youtube is infamous for this (among other things) as are sites like FilmAnnex.com and Vimeo.com. I have accounts with all of these sites and have tested the waters as far as their communities go for some time. FilmAnnex is relatively new and I don’t feel they’ve quite found their footing – but they’re getting there and they’re getting there fast. They’re also incredibly generous when it comes to promoting their users as “independent filmmakers” and whenever a user uploads a film they are quick to tweet the link. I look forward to the day when they can provide this amazing service without all the auto-playing commercials. Aside from that, they’re doing everything just right.

Vimeo is one of those sites that is infamous for its “community interaction” – and also one of those sites that charges a fee for “professional” services – in that you get the ability to upload larger files, more gigabytes per week week than their free account and a bunch of other quarks that YouTube actually offers for free. I have had Vimeo “Plus” for two years now and my renewal is coming up. I have ultimately decided not to renew my “Plus” account and let my profile slide back into the abyss of “free” status. Yes, I will surely be looked down on by many a users who have pledged their allegiance to Vimeo but it matters not. I’ve been very dissatisfied with the site, with its staff and the community at large. Their only redeeming quality is just that – their quality. The quality of their video is impeccable and everyone knows this. In fact, they are my preference when it comes to embedding videos on my website as their player is non-obtrusive and crystal clear. But this just isn’t enough.

You see, to understand Vimeo you have to understand that they seem to want to be the primary online resource of independent film – and the home where our kind flock to. But it seems their interest is in trivial material and not so much quality content. “Cool” videos less than three minutes long, with “viral” potential seem to get more attention than thoughtful, well scripted short films between five and ten minutes. Truly independent films that clearly have a story take a backseat to skateboard videos and scenics shot specifically to promote such devices like the “Indie-Slider” or the latest Glidecam jib. Likewise, all of their selections for their Vimeo Festival was material which clearly had larger budgets than most Vimeo users are able to generate for their projects. Because of this, the Vimeo Festival, in my eyes, was nothing but a corporate gag – a joke at the expense of its users who all flocked to that iceberg building of theirs to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do at these events. Go oogleboogles over other people’s work? Hell no, not me. Many of these projects weren’t as independent as they could have been and its clear that Vimeo’s staff just doesn’t have the necessary set of eyes to judge any of the work it features. I’m sorry if this hurts feelings and I know some of the users won’t appreciate this opinion, but a one minute video of a kid doing flips on a bicycle is not an independent film. It’s viral content and nothing more. A music video which clearly had a plus $100,000 budget is not a low budget affair and for many users to be competing against this sort of work shows just how in the dark many of its loyal user ship actually resides.

This isn’t entirely an attack on Vimeo. I am constantly researching various video hosting websites, especially those geared towards “independent film” and believe me when I say that I have my beef with all of them. The funny part is, the one I have the fewest complaints about is YouTube. Sure it gets a lot of flack for allowing a lot of bullshit to go up, but the site recognizes when people are trying to be unique, different and original. They may not have the best customer support out there but they have many different options when it comes to the quality of video playback and they’ve got a larger user ship which means more hits on your movies. Lately they’ve been granting certain accounts the ability to upload videos that are longer than their standard 15 minute restriction. YouTube has come a long way since their early days and the progress actually shows in the way they are rewarding their users.

I don’t endorse any service or website. This review is my opinion as a user, one who has purchased the service either with monetary compensation to the service provider or through dedicated use. I look forward to seeing how these different communities develop in the future.

-E

Snow – A Visual Stimulation

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January 26, 2011

Snow

 

How about a little visual stimulation folks?

Today I was inspired to start shooting the falling snow.  Laying about on this lazy day I felt inspired, for the first time in a long time, to just go out and film.  I started by filming the snow through the window.  Some shots with the window closed, most with the window open.  I proceeded downstairs, where my building requires tenants to store their trash.  The site was perfect for filming.  The view of this area from the lobby worked well for this piece.  I proceeded out the front door and shot a few quick angles but the snow was coming down so thick I didn’t want to risk damaging the camera.  But I got what I needed – something to work with.

Watch the video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/19217525 

I cut the piece in about five minutes, editing to a few piano riffs I pulled from one of my stock catalogs.  Color correction was relatively simple in that I crushed the blacks and brought down the saturation slightly thus making the snow much more clear – and white… apart from everything else.  The camera I used (and use for almost all of my personal projects) is the Canon XH-A1 – that’s right kids, a camera that uses video tape! Ahhhhh… no memory cards! Settings on the camera were 1080/60i, various shutter speeds.

Some days you just need to be artistic.

-E

Finding The Right Crew

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January 11, 2011

Finding The Right Crew

There’s an expectation of money when making films, so getting a good, dedicated crew is a challenge when you’re paying out of pocket.  This has always been the hardest part in producing independent films.  For many years, the acquisition of labor was cheap for independent film, even today actors seeking exposure will give a project their time and talent without thought of compensation, provided the project has merit.  Let’s face it, a lot of people have no reason to work on your film if it isn’t paying market rate for their talents and most resumes you will receive are for people looking for a job, not a creative outlet. Anyone creative will likely find side projects of their own – or contribute to works their friends are producing.  This is your film, not theirs. For the most part (unless they’re amazingly passionate) they will have no problems turning down your offer, no matter how generous you may think it is.  For you, this project is about blood, sweat, tears and emotional security galore – for them it’s strictly monetary value.  Just because you may think that your project is unique and rewarding, most other people would beg to differ.
Before I begin let’s get a few things straight: this is independent film. Indie-film use to just mean “independent of the studio system”. This isn’t so much the case anymore, as movie makers have come out of the woodwork in every form imaginable, thanks to the proliferation of HD technology in standard consumer grade video cameras. So while indie-film use to involve a fairly large production with a substantial budget (anywhere between $25,000 and $500,000), more and more filmmakers are able to get their productions to the point of assembly for less than $500.  This means less filmmakers are spending time raising financing and using it to actually work on the creative aspects of the project at hand.  We’re talking about well produced, aesthetically correct features shot on video format. This has created a problem for a lot of indie filmmakers because when it comes time to round up the post-production team, things get tough when trying to work out a fair price on various things like sound design, visual effects (if absolutely necessary), color grading, mixing/mastering and so forth.  Production crew aren’t like actors, they’re for the most part not willing to work for deferred pay or on the cheap. You’re going to find that the absolute best ones have steady jobs that pay them market rates, or may not be interested in any projects that aren’t guaranteed to go mainstream. The price of such elements used to be a percentage of the overall budget, so when you have filmmakers able to bring a film in for a mere few hundred buckskins, there’s no way in hell a professional sound designer’s going to accept a small percentage of that absurdly low budget. I can’t say that I blame them. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there and the difficulty of finding the right passionate people doesn’t necessarily make it a fool’s errand, you just have to sell your project to the right person.

Students are often revered as being a great way of getting cheap, adequate labor, but I haven’t found that to be true. I find a great deal of arrogance in many of their personalities and that they don’t necessarily know everything they should about the field they’re studying and expect too much for their efforts. This is mostly because they are inexperienced in dealing with the business aspects of the field. Most art schools only teach the actual art and not so much the business (although there are courses/classes but they’re not that detailed and often only delve into “big industry” procedures and so forth). No one actually tells you how to deal with a studio, how to pitch a project or what have you.

There are two types of people that are most likely to help you out with your film: the artist who wants to try his/her hand out on other projects to gain experience or fulfill some creative need but don’t have the resources to start their own projects (budding actors are big on this) or a freelancer who is just realizing how difficult it is to land high paying clients and needs money to pay a few late bills.  For each position I like to come up with a questionnaire and casually ask three general questions, to gauge how dedicated and driven the candidate is.  You may not be paying them much if anything, but it’s still important that you put them through the same hiring trials you would for a salaried position.

Top five positions you’ll have trouble filling on a low budget:

Cinematographer: more and more indie directors these days are shooting their films themselves. DP’s are difficult to land because they know half of the movie is picture while the other half is sound. They will use this fact as a way of controlling any negotiation.

Editor: it’s funny, editing has always been the easiest part of making movies for me and just about every filmmaker I know. It’s certainly one of the toughest jobs to get so when an editor digs his/her heels in about price, that’s when I usually decide to edit films myself. Whilst I’ve always wanted to hand the footage off to another editor, just to see the results, I have never been able to for this reason. To this day I have edited all of my own films, commercials and music videos.

Sound Recording Staff: getting good people are hard to find regardless of budget. Getting them on practically no or deferred pay – good luck.  A good fix?  Get a portable digital recorder (the Zoom recorders are excellent) and have the off-screen actor or helper record for you.  It may seem unprofessional, but it’s better than nothing and the results work.

Audio Repair Technician/Sound Designer: ah, yes – the position that prompted me to start this installment to begin with. They are talented, come in great numbers but are for the most part not willing to negotiate a fair rate (fair to you – not to them). They know that every movie hinges on a great soundtrack and will try to use that to their advantage.  I have networked with many sound designers in the years I’ve been producing independent films but only those who worked on client projects could I afford to work with.

The key to getting your film made without pulling your hair out is to learn every job inside and out. As a director, you should know what everyone else does and how they do it. You’ll find that your ability to be a visual director will increase dramatically. Your ability to pre-visualize what a scene will look like after it’s edited will increase ten fold. More and more you’ll be able to shoot for the edit, rather than simply copy a storyboard shot for shot, thus giving your film scope and unpredictability.

Cheers,

-E

Coloring

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January 07, 2011

Coloring

One of my favorite stages of post-production is the coloring of the picture.  Color correction whether through old fashioned color timing techniques or digital color grading – is perhaps the most magical of all the different processes your movie will go through.  From crushing the blacks to easing up on the yellow… whatever needs to be done to make the raw picture the pristine work of art that it is destined to become, coloring, in my opinion, is one of the few times you see true wizardry happen right before your eyes.  Most of the process of making movies can be slow, mind numbing and ultimately make you want scream.   Some elements drive me crazy, like sound design.  But there’s something about coloring that has always chilled me, allowed me some peace and security… assurance that I was on the right track.
I’m now at the point with the post-production of Caroline of Virginiawhere I’ve been color grading the final picture cut.  The scenes that are completed have provided me with that assurance that I had been desperately seeking for over a month now.  This is definitely one of the longest stints of post-production I’ve been in and to see the final coloring was well worth the wait.  Some shots were so perfect in how I wanted them to look that all I had to do was crush the blacks ever so slightly utilizing the Final Cut Pro 3-way color correction tool.  It’s amazing what a simple technique like this can do to a shot.  The FCP effects are normally disregarded by many editors in favor of programs that “specialize” in this that or the other.  For coloring Apple actually has a program called Color, which I’ve used to some extent but was never that please with the results.  There’s also Magic Bullet, which is extremely popular.

Here is a before and after sample of a scene I recently graded:

Before: the tones were about as right as could be.  The illusion was to create a magic hour look, with the falling sun giving everything a golden hue.  The problem with the raw footage was that the gold was coming on a little too strong, the blue shirt wasn’t as defined as I wanted and the shadows weren’t deep enough.  Aside from that this was a perfectly exposed, well lit shot and all it needed was light touching up.

One simple solution fixed all of that: crush the blacks.  You’ll see in the still on the right, the effect the solution has.  The shirt is more in tone with how it looks in reality, the gold tones aren’t coming on as strong but still provide the illusion of magic hour and the shadows are darker.  Even the different books in the background are more individually defined.

Coloring also allows for scenes that are shot over the course of different days to be color graded to fit one another and give the illusion that it was all shot the same day and at the same time.  Advanced coloring techniques are the reason movie productions can go on for as long as they have to.  The best method of learning how color grading works is to start by looking back at how film stock is color corrected.  They call this color timing and it’s a laboratory process that is still in use today (although digital color grading is quickly taking over thanks to such films as “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” and other films and television shows.

-E

Editing: Don’t Be Conservative

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January 04, 2011

Editing: Don’t Be Conservative

 

This past week I had been rushing to get a final picture lock on my latest work “Caroline of Virginia“.  I had previously taken my leave of the film during the month of December (give or take integrating a few off-the-cuff ideas that I didn’t want to forget to do later on).  Upon “rediscovering” my film I found myself more capable of removing elements that are unnecessary and not supportive of the story or its characters.  Some years back I probably would have been more reserved and retained these extra scenes, actually I know I would have.  But the greatest achievement a filmmaker can develop is the ability to omit and cut the hell out of your film without argument, sentiment or reserve.

Some key things to remember is that if there’s something that doesn’t push the story forward, support your characters’ true ideals (or lack thereof) or your overall intention with the story at hand, then nine times out of ten it’s got to go.  Many filmmakers do rationalize the inclusion of inappropriate material or elements that aren’t relevant at all.  This is a natural impulse and some actually waste their energies putting up arguments with studio executives or their financial backers to include such material, but I find this to be a waste of useful time and creative energy.  Sometime that truly belongs or obviously doesn’t belong won’t create an argument.  That’s not to say some arguments aren’t for the support of story, character or to improve aesthetics, but it’s extremely rare that these arguments warrant endeavor (which is why many of these arguments are lost).

In the beginning it has always been difficult for me to let a project go, but as time goes on and with the more projects I create I have found it much easier to call a film finished and let it go.  I believe this to be the most effective way of creating a body of work that sufficiently allows for growth as an artist, story teller and filmmaker.

-E