Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Movies You Should See

I've started a new list of links over on the right called "Movies You Should See." I've actually started it with Tora, Tora, Tora - not exactly an independent film, but considering it was just Memorial Day, one that's on my mind. It's a fantastic movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor that is told from the Japanese point of view as well as the American Point of view. It's almost like two movies in one. (The Japanese part is in subtitles.) Anyway - if any of you went out and bought that Michael Bay travesty please sell it to one of those places that buy used DVDs and go buy this one instead. As the days go by I'm going to add movies to this list - basically just my favorite movies - but they are all great - and hopefully there will be a few you haven't seen yet. I'm also going to do books - but there are really very few truly great film books - so it won't be that long a list. Of course, as I write, titles are starting to pop into my brain, so maybe I should go ahead and amend that right now. Nah, I'll just leave it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Finally have some video up

So I finally have some video up, here and here and here. The first is Suicide Drive - the video I spoke of below. You'll be able to see the use of the hand-held light I was talking about. The others are also great uses of inexpensive lights and 24 Frame video. In fact, all of them, including this one were shot in 24p except Suicide Drive which was shot on regular video, then deinterlaced. I also used a process on it where you add a video layer of noise under the whole thing, then bring down the opacity (very slightly) of the top track so that it has the appearance of grain. It's a pretty neat effect. Take a look.

On Invasion and She Likes Skulls, I had a Lowell kit with me, though due to some bad prep on my part - no spare bulbs. The kit contained two Lowell omnis and two totas. THOUGH - only one of each had good bulbs. The thing is, since I was feeling flush with my "professional" lighting kit (though it's probably 30 years old) I didn't bring any of my other "kit" so I literally shot those two videos with only two lights. Both of those videos were shot in the same day. Skulls - I literally shot in 20 minutes. It's an interesting story and one I'll have to write about later. In the meantime - enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

For those of you who went thundering off to Home Depot.

So I was at the Depot tonight and took a look in the flourescent light section. There were no Optimas to be had. I'll have to chat with a gaffer about this - but there were some flos that were 3000k (a little warmer than regular tungsten) and lights at 5800K a touch bluer than daylight. Interesting. They also had the usual ass colored flourescent lights.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Wow, it's been a few days since I posted.

Today I'm going to post about - lights. Yes, finally lights. This is going to be a kind of general posting regarding what to look for, then as the days and weeks go by I'm going to post more specifics.

Let me start by telling you about a music video I shot with lights from Home Depot. What I had was two of those silver clip-on shop lights, a fluorescent fixture with two bulbs and one of those silver shop lights that are in a kind of oval cage that have a little hook on top so you can hang it anywhere. You tend to see guys using them to work on cars. I also had a collection of lightbulbs of various wattages. Most were incandescent household bulbs - but I had a few of the spot type bulbs as well - also in various wattages.

Now the key thing to remember about light is that it comes in two flavors (well color temperatures really,) 3200K and 5600K. 5600k is daylight - the sun at noon - 3200k is your reading lamp next to your bed. What's the difference between them? Well in a nutshell, 5600k is blue light and 3200k is yellow/orange light. This is why we white balance our cameras. While our eye adjusts - the camera can't (though some can but that's beside the point.) What white balancing means is that it tells the camera's computer what white is. From there it can interpret all the other colors. There are ways to play with this - white balancing on different colors, but that's a whole other post. But if you'd like an example of this - white balance your camera inside - with the house lights on - then point it out the window. All will be blue. (There are also color temps besides 3200 and 5600 but unless you have a color temperature meter and are shooting film - I wouldn't worry about them.) When you shoot film - you buy film specifically for a certain color temperature.

All the lights I was using on this video were 3200K - including the fluorescence. Most flos are hideous lights sources and turn up in nasty greenish tones when you balance for other colors but I was using Optima bulbs - meaning that they were balanced for 3200k. You can find these at HD, but you may have to look for them.

What I wound up using mostly were the silver shop lights with fairly low wattage bulbs in them. DV is pretty sensitive to light and two 35 watt bulbs made the place look like high noon. But that was the lowest I had, so I used those, but wrapped some tinfoil over the lights (poor-man's blackwrap (which is heavy tinfoil painted black)) to cut it down a bit. Depending on the shot, I would move these around, and clip them to whatever piece of furniture or doorway or tripod was nearby. The nice thing about them is that they are a fairly soft light to begin with. You can also plug them in to a dimmer to lower the intensity a bit.

I also used my flos as fill here and there - but they're a little more cumbersome to work with - though they looked great when laid - say - behind the drummer - on the floor shining up.

I also used the hanging shop light as a practical. I had the lead singer hand-hold it in shots and that was the only light on. He would move around the various band members and light them - or himself - as the song played. It looked very cool. And that was it - the whole lighting kit. If I get the chance, I'll post the video on my website. I'd love to hear - and post - other ideas people have for lights - just shoot me an email.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I mentioned lights

I was going to talk about lights wasn't I? Well I will - mostly because I just remembered that today - but I'm going to talk about lights.

Just not right now. I'm way too tired. I've been staring at FCP and DVD SP for the last two weeks straight (apart from my mini-vacations to write here (which were actually a few hours I had while my Mac crunched some video down to MPEG-2) - and my Sunday off to shoot Grande con Carne) so my brain is a little fried. Maybe you can tell.

But lights, lights, lights - I will talk about lights - and sound. I want to talk (well, write, really) (blues/jazz really) about sound! Because it's important you know. I mean without sound, we're all just doing... well silent film. But without film - sound is just - radio. And a day without sunshine is like - night.

TOO much time in front of the computer - too little time in front of real people.

David Lynch is shooting DV

By the way - I hope my post yesterday didn't come off as bitter. I'm really not. It's just part of the whole frustration inherent in the film business. It's just the struggle - you know? (which is a joke from a great film festival I went to (in any case - I get it.))

ANYWAY - there was a blurb in yesterday's Variety (actually it was from Wednesday's issue) about David Lynch shooting a movie on DV under the radar for the last two years. He's funding it himself and working with family and friends. Hmmm - that sounds awfully familiar. If it hadn't been going on for so long I would swear he was ripping me off. I haven't always been the biggest Lynch fan - but I have LOVED some of his stuff and think he's a talented filmmaker. It's really comforting to see that he's finally come down to my level. Go David!!! Of course he has a few slightly bigger names in front of his camera than I do - but I'm sure that situation will change.

It's funny because with the way DV cameras appear on the market - new ones quickly making old ones obsolete (or at least seem that way) I wonder how one works on a film for two years with the same camera. I mean I own a DVX100 (first generation) and I'm starting to feel like I don't have the "it" camera anymore. Which, of course, in terms of what is "it" I don't - but it's still a great camera.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I just added a counter to the Blog

I added a counter a while ago and I've been getting a ton of traffic. Lots of people reading - but I just figured out how to open it up - in other words - make it so everyone can see it. Though the number it's showing now is lower than than what the Site Meter report tells me. I'll have to work on it.

Oh - I see- that IS the right number of visitors - but the page views numbers are much higher.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mother, where do Directors come from?

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend. We were talking about production companies that make the straight to video monster/horror/slasher/erotic/thriller films that seem to fill up the halls at AFM. Now the reason we were talking about this was because we were wondering - 1: who do we talk to to get hired at one of them and 2: if you directed a film for a company like that would it hurt or help your career?

Then a month ago or so there was an article in the LA Times Calendar section about the new tidal wave of horror films and there was a quote from an executive at one of the companies (maybe the one that made Saw) who - when asked about older horror film directors who have experience vs. younger first-time filmmakers who have no experience: he said (and I'm paraphrasing) I'd rather hire someone who is going to do something new and fresh even if they don't know what the fuck they're doing (which is basically what Saw was - a great pitch followed by 90 minutes of film.)

AND a year or so ago I had a meeting with a VP of Production for a major film company (that a friend of mine had gotten me) and he said, "you should make a short." To which I responded - "But I've already directed two features." To which he responded, "yes, but the sad thing is that most people who would hire you to direct a whole feature don't actually want to take the time to sit down and watch a whole feature."

And then there was an editorial by Peter Bart in Variety recently talking about George Lucas. Now the article kind of talked about what a dork Lucas is but it also talked about his being friends with Coppola and them starting out together. And I started to think about that whole generation, which is, of course, the generation of filmmakers that I grew up admiring (especially Coppola (being an Italian kid from back east - he was kind of hero to me.) And people like Peter Bart and Robert Evans and all of them who were responsible for all those great movies - and I can't imagine them hiring someone to direct a $50 million film based on a short - and it occurred to me that maybe people in Hollywood these days don't really like movies all that much.

That could be why so many first-time directors get the chance to hack away at a few dozen rolls of film and tens of millions of dollars. Because where do Directors come from? They come from - film school, writing, festivals (which is OK - I guess, depending on how they get there - which is a WHOLE other long post,) music video and commercials.

But where did the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls come from? In essence they came from the same places - (those minus festivals and music video (and to a large extent commercials.) But they didn't leap off the page and start shooting the Godfather. How did they work their way up? Coppola made a film for Roger Corman called Dementia 13 then went on to direct a bunch of nudie movies before getting a real break. Scorsese (is that spelled right) Made a film on his own, then one for Corman (Box Car Bertha) then put together Mean Streets, Spielberg Sugarland Express and The Duel - but the point is these guys were making movies! That's how they learned! AND they were making movies that these days would get you a one-way ticket to palookaville. But here's the point. Making a movie is a task - a craft unlike anything else in the world. Making a 3 and half minute music video or a 30 second commercial does not qualify you do it. The only thing that qualifies you - trains you - for directing features is directing features. Now - of course there have to be first-time directors - of course people have to start - and doing all those other things IS a great place to start. It's a fantastic place to start - but making films for AFM and places like that is an even better place to start - it's a great place to go to from music videos or commercials and some people do. You can learn the craft without that much at stake. Because it's a hell of a lot better to make your mistakes when the film cost $1 million rather than when it costs $20 million - or more (or even $10 million.) And it's a great place to build a body of work that says - hey - I know what the fuck I'm doing.

Then again, if that's true - why do I want so desperately to take Sex Substitute 2 off my resume?

Dollies and doors and mass

I've decided I need movement and inertia. I'm not talking about my career - which already has more than enough inertia and not anywhere near enough movement, but I'm talking about my camere. The BIGGEST problem with these little miniDV cameras - specifically my DVX100 and others like it - is they're TOO GODDAMN LIGHT. There's no weight to them and handheld shots looks ridiculously jerky. It needs a little mass. Something beyond those little stedi-cam rigs that don't really work all that well. (although they're not bad) Something that keeps the camera small and compact. Something that just gives it a little weight so a twitch in your forearm doesn't look like the San Andreas fault just gave out. I'm going to work on this.

I also need movement - fluid movement - DOLLY movement. Most of this film so far has been shot either handheld or on sticks (or the recently invented laundry-room-door cam,) and I need to vary that. I need a dolly. AND there just so happens to be an article in MovieMaker magazine this month about building one. So I'm going to give it a shot.

Also - this may be a two post day. I have another topic I want to write about but it's going to take a few minutes to get it down.

Monday, May 09, 2005

New pavement, laundry room doors and a hooker

We shot yesterday. Started out shooting a dialogue scene in a car. It's funny because sometimes you get a little lucky and this may have been one. We met at Connie's house at 9:30 (well - most of us got there at 9:30) and it turns out there was a road at the end of her street, with a long straight run, no traffic, and brand new pavement. It was wonderful.

I strapped them up with lavs and we shot.

Now of course we had no process trailer, no hostess trays, no car rigs. So we might have been limited to hand-held in the backseat, but Steve, my DP - had the idea to put down the back windows and run a board across (over) the backseat. The problem was that we didn't have any wood. But Steve noticed these thin doors Connie had for her laundry room and so we took one off and used that. Perfect. We put the camera on it on top of a sandbag - tossed a little more beach on top of the camera and that was that - perfect. So we shot and shot and then Steve jumped on the running board and we shot and shot and it all looked and sounded and turned out great. Then we did some drive bys, then we jumped in the car and headed downtown to steal a shot in the warehouse district.

Which is where - under the bridge downtown - we saw a deal go down with a guy in a white car and a hooker. Nothing like the spice of life in downtown LA. We just bounced around on sticks and got a lot of coverage of that. It was just a one page scene, so we had a little time to play with it.

It all looked good and sounded good and Connie and Scott did a great job. The rehearsal time really paid off.

Now I just have to start cutting some of this stuff together - oh yeah - and write the rest of the script.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Shooting Tomorrow

Grande Con Carne rides again. We're shooting two scenes tomorrow - one of two characters in a car driving - and one of two characters in a car parked. It's funny because after my last little piece of self-adulation on what a genius I was to figure out certain problems in the script - I realized last night that all I had done was to uncover a MAJOR problem elsewhere. Well, I'll worry about that on Monday.

Here's what we got going on:

Connie and Scott
Me and Steve
Panasonic shotgun mic (which by all accounts is an el-cheapo microphone that I got to use as a backup camera-mounted mic - and turns out has great range and a nice warm sound to it.)
also I'll probably use the two Sony wireless lavs I own.
And I may buy one of those lights you can plug into a cigarette lighter to help boost the ambiance inside the car so the outside doesn't vanish in a fog of superwhite pixels.

Where are we shooting? Beats me - we're going to drive around a little and find a place. But it isn't a lot of work, so winging it doesn't stress me out the way it would if we were, say, shooting a car chase (which I really don't think is going to happen in this film.) I will certainly let ya'll know how it goes.

By the way - does anyone know any good spots to shoot without a permit?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I dream in Final Cut Pro

Man, I've been swamped trying to get these two project finished. They're paying gigs, nothing thrilling so I won't bore you with the details, but for the last two nights I swear to God I've been dreaming in Final Cut Pro. But I will say this about it, I'm getting good and fast at FCP. In any case, when I finish this up, I'll get back to this and start talking about some lights.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Lighting the world

I got an email this weekend from a filmmaker in NYC named Manny who's shooting his film. He's using the DVX and shooting natural light and he's doing it all himself. And I completely DIG that. I really think it's a new art form (I should say craft) that is the principal benefit of the digital revolution. Films can be small and more intimate than ever.

Shooting with natural light can be really beautiful and these new cameras can capture and sometimes make it look more beautiful than it appears to the naked eye. Of course there are two kinds of naked eyes. There are the eyes that just see - and then there are the eyes that see light. Those eyes tend, in the film business to become Director's of Photography or gaffers.

Now coincidentally I happend to watch an episode of a Showtime series called, Family Business, which as you may or may not know is about a porn director/star/producer named Adam Glasser who does his productions under the name Seymour Butts. Now, granted, it's about porn, but - as I was watching it recently there was a scene of him shooting a scene for one of his flicks and there was a brief shot in the corner of his "lighting setup." This lighting setup was nothing more than a couple of yellow halogen shop lights on a stand. And although his films don't exactly look like they were shot by Vittorio Storaro, they don't exactly look bad.

The reason is because of video. You can make it look really, really good with a tiny amount lighting. And a simple trip to someplace like "home depot" will net you a whole crop of gear for little money.

A few years ago I shot my first music video like this - with shop lights and tinfoil (and of course natural light) and it turned out great. The trick - it turned out - was finesse. And those little three prong adapters because the house we were shooting in was wired with only two prong outlets. So in the next few days, weeks, months, I'm going to post lists and ideas of little lights to use. And I'd like to invite others to post here as well because we should all share the wealth as they say.

But right now, I have to go fire up Final Cut and do a little work.