I had a power cord for a video light begin to spark, and rather than buy a replacement, I went to see if I could get it fixed. I went down to Newport RI, where there’s a little shop by the movie theater – “Small Repairs/Lamps/Clocks/Appliances.” I thought this guy could fix it fairly easily. But he never seemed to be there. I was looking through the window and a woman walking up the street said, “Is he ever open?”
I crossed the street to another small shop and asked the proprieter.
“Oh, him? He’s been dead for two years. Nobody ever really cleaned out the shop.”
Blogs can be like that – you leave and everything stays like that shop window, filled with unclaimed items.
I won’t be blogging for the time being – working on my own film, which I hope to complete by summer, plus fiction writing to follow the excellent reception of my most recent novel. But I hope the site is of some use as a repository of information I gathered doing it. Happy 2013!
The HDSLR revolution will be fondly remembered some day as the tool of new filmmakers, much like the old Bolex 16mm film cameras were a staple of film school. The EOS 5D Mark II introduced the big sensor to video, with all its attendant “film-like” qualities of shallow depth-of-field. It was only a matter of time before those sensors were put in big camcorders. Sony, Canon and even newcomers like BlackMagic have rolled out their big-sensor cameras, but at a price point multiples beyond HDSLRs.. The next effort, it seems, is now narrowing the gap in price.
Sony’s NEX-EA50 goes a long way toward that end. The $4,500 camcorder actually beats the price of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III if you consider it comes with a 18-200 zoom, and doesn’t require HDSLR add-ons such as separate audio recorder and microphone, ND filters to control light outdoors, and more-typical controls that doesn’t require add-in firmware such as Magic Lantern. The Mark III has a full-frame sensor, but the NEX’s APS-C sensor is ballpark with EOS 7Ds and T4i’s, as well as the Nikon line.
This is likely the early stages of a return of video shooting to a more ergonomic (or at least familiar) mode, and will begin to phase out the odd artifact of the middle phase of development, namely the super-tricked-out DSLR, using such high-priced aftermarket gear as produced by Zacuto, Cinevate and other small suppliers.
In some respects, the love affair with the large sensor has created to narrow a “look” as everyone overcompensated for the aesthetic older small-sensor camcorders couldn’t provide, and I wonder of filmmakers will build back out of it. I can imagine certain filmmakers using a larger-sensor camera such as the EA50 for interviews and detail shots, while having a nearly identical-looking smaller-sensor camcorder such as Sony’s PMW-EX3 for fast moving action that requires deeper focus.
The specs for the EA50 include full HD and 24p, something some lower-priced efforts such as the NEX VG10 lacked. It’s another example of how filmmaking is becoming an ever-more democratic art, not as limited to the trust-funded or the credit-card-maxed.
Philip Bloom has a good post about what it takes to do the work, and I especially liked the lower end of the list:
10: An expensive camera won’t make you a better cameraman. It will make you more broke! Want to upgrade your T2i to a Scarlet? Why? Skills are learnt with lesser tools. Not expensive ones.
11: Learn how to do EVERYTHING. Learn how to produce, to direct, to edit, to shoot, to do graphics etc . Why? It gives you a greater appreciation of what everyone does. Don’t do it all, but knowing what is needed to do a certain job will make what you do better.
12: If you really have no talent at all yet still enjoy shooting for fun, keep at it. Eventually you will get better, and if it makes YOU happy who gives a crap what the critics say?
13: Gear…do you need it to make yourself better? Of course not. It may lift your production but it won’t make the content any better. Remember if you polish a turd it will still always be a turd. Concentrate on content, that is where the value is. Then if you have some extra cash go buy some nice toys!
It really is about the notio of mastery, of doing the repetitions, again and again, and finding the joy in it.
When Editshare rolled out its new editing program Lightworks last month in both a free version and a $60 “Pro” version, it entered a market that has changed dramatically in the last few years. FCPX came out at $299, a fifth of the price of FCP7, and the downward price drive is good for everybody.
In the weeks since Lightworks V11 was made available for download, following a beta version that’s been out there for a year, the product has earned its share of likers and dislikers — this thread on the Sony Vegas site is a slice of how people are feeling — but a company spokesman says he’s pleased by the response so far.
“Thousands of people have activated the product in the first week alone,” said David Shapton, the managing editor of Lightworks Publications. “The figures are building very well, and this will increase over the coming weeks, but we still feel we’re only scratching the surface.” Lightworks is only available at the moment for PC, but comes at a time when there’s still discomfort among longtime Final Cut Pro users, many of whom were underwhelmed by the features of Final Cut Pro X.
Add now there is talk that Apple could discontinue production of its Mac Pro towers, which MacRumors notes has been decreasing in popularity. “There’s been a rift in the status quo,” Shapton said. “People have received a bit of a jolt. Where they otherwise might not have been looking for another solution, now they are.”
Lightworks, which had begun its life in the 1990s as a high-end — and high-cost — editing tool, is now attempting to become the tool of the masses, competing with programs that are also dropping in price. Lightworks has been working to promote its pedigree, history and quality, hoping it will gain a solid base of users who opt for the Pro version.
“We don’t want to make a big splash where a million people download it, but then the next day, 99 percent of them have forgotten about it,” Shapton said. “We’re not so interested in huge numbers, we’re interested in realistic numbers. We want to build up our user base. We’re on a par already with the other big hitters in this industry. We want to be there in terms of how many people are actually using Lightworks.”
There are currently around 300,000 registered users, including beta testers, and Shapton says Lightworks is pleased with the proportion of users converting to the Pro Version. He’s optimistic about grabbing hold of the tier of users who have done some editing and are now “getting serious.”
“We think a lot of people are converting to Lightworks because they want to be part of the project, and support this idea of this professional software at a very, very low price,” Shapton said. “They like the way that we are led by the ideas and feedback from the community. What we have is a pyramid of users. The lower end, the largest group, are new, inexperienced users. But what gets really interesting is the next level up, still a large number, people who’ve done some editing but now they’re getting serious.”
For now, Editshare is monitoring the forums (where users are asking “genuinely illuminating questions”) and maintaining a list of bugs. And for editors locked into their Macs, Shapton says there’s good news on the horizon: “We are looking at releasing a Linux version later this year, but we’re not making any firm commitments on a date at this stage. The Mac version would follow after this.”
Has Apple’s shift to Final Cut Pro X last year, and the dissatisfaction of a legion of editors with it, created a market opening for PC-based nonlinear editing systems? PCs are demonstrably less expensive than Macs with the same computing power, and programs such as Premiere, Sony Vegas and Avid have already made their appeal to editors on a budget.
In about a week or so, on May 28, 2012, a new competitor enters the market. And at a price that’s hard to beat. Lightworks for Windows, which will have a free version and a $60 “Pro” version, will be released to great anticipation. Filmmaker Chris Jones noted, “Using it feels very logical, like editing film back in the day. Plus it has all the bells and whistles of many new digital tools. It is a professional tool, not a semi pro or domestic tool that has been dressed up. So expect to invest time in learning how to use it.
Lightworks is not new in itself. It began in 1989 as OLE, then went through a variety of owners before EditShare acquired it in 2009. Lightworks has been used to edit narrative films such as The King’s Speech and Hugo. EditShare’s plans to develop the product as open source did not materialize, but the beta was made free to download. It’s now been downloaded by 250,000 users.
The official release boasts support for AVCHD, H.264, AVC-Intra, ProRes, RED R3D, DPX, XDCam HD 50, XDCam EX, DVD and BluRay. Paired with a 64-bit PC, it creates a perfectly serviceable setup for nearly all the kinds of editing a documentary filmmaker would need. (One disappointment for Mac users is that while EditShare is working on a Mac version of Lightworks, there’s no definitive release in sight.) Features of the system are here
The Pro version will support the DNxHD codec and such features as file sharing, a titling system and stereoscopic editing for 3D filmmaking.
The Pro version also includes the codecs. Lightworks offers a $140 dedicated keyboard, but users can import their FCP or Avid preferences so they don’t have to re-learn their way around the workflow. While the comments out on the web from beta users are favorable, and the program seems to be quite fast on the latest generation of PCs, we’ll know more in the coming months. It seems unlikely anyone who is seriously going to use the program isn’t going to fork out the $60. It’s more than likely that the free download will serve as a proving ground for a lot of editors looking to see what it’s got.
Apple’s Final Cut Pro X was met with a lot of upset when it was launched announced a year ago (and launched in June 2011) at a price point significantly lower than previous Final Cut Pros, and with largely reconstituted features that resembled Apple’s amateur editing program so much it was mocked as “iMovie Pro.”
eBay pricing on sealed packages of Final Cut Pro 7 shot up, as a fine vintage would leap in value. Pro editors cursed Apple and tried to make sense of the new program. Apple responded by doing upgrades that slowly began to restore some features deleted from FCP7.
Now that the dust has settled, where do we stand?
In a post last week on FCPX, Philip Hodgetts noted one possibly-surprising fact: FCPX installs in just these few months have now surpassed those of FCP7. It makes sense in a lot of ways: At $299, more people can make the leap than with the $1,599 price point they had confronted in the past. For newbies, the program builds from their iMovie experience.
Hodgetts notes that according to research, Apple’s share of the “Pro” market has likewise dropped from 55 percent to 52 percent, with users shifting to Avid and other programs. Hodgetts also notes some of the initial FCPX purchasers may have been people simply willing to try it.
First challenge is that they all purchased Final Cut Pro X “to test it out” and no-one’s using it. Well, Apple have already demolished the “no professional is using Final Cut Pro X” canard the week before NAB with the Final Cut Pro in Action stories. But could it be that only one copy was sold to each facility and that gives them 52% of the “pro” market. I don’t find that particularly credible, given that we know that Bunim Murray alone purchased at least 40 or 50 Media Composer seats in that time.
So are professionals warming up to FCPX?
Tor Rolf Johansen of Post Magazine feels FCPX was rolled out prematurely, but has gained back some credibility with its updates. FCP 10.0.4, he says,
…has returned to stake its claim in the pro NLE market. Many of the pro features missing from FCP 7 have been restored and many of those features are actually better and faster now than they ever were in FCP 7. FCP X is lightning fast with get-up-and-go performance. The speed gains (from 64-bit code and multicore support), the two-thirds price cut, and some innovative new edit tools make this update a true contender.
Not all agree.
In the April/May 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine, Jan Ozer’s “How Apple Took The ‘Pro’ Out Of Final Cut Pro” says that while some features of FCPX are commendable,
Overall, though, I abhor the program. When I run FCPX, my reaction is visceral; I feel the walls pressing in and my blood pressure rising. I adore the clean slate of Adobe Premiere Pro and its doppelganger Final Cut Pro 7. FCPX has so much structure, so many completely foreign concepts, that it feels like my 31″ monitor has shrunk to 17″. With such a supposed focus on simplicity, how could a company run by (Steve) Jobs produce such a program?
Meanwhile, programs such as Adobe Premiere CS6 are gaining some ground. For serious filmmakers balancing cost and performance, the variety of choices for editing is making Final Cut Pro less of the go-to program it was.
For years, Blackmagic Design has been associated with products meant to help connect the camera to the computer — basically unassuming tools that help get the job done. They’re products you don’t see — capture cards hidden inside a Mac or a switcher tucked out of eyeline. So when Blackmagic announced it was introducing a camera at NAB 2012, the crowd was taken by surprise. What isn’t surprising is that it has the look of something built out of a computer rather than out of a traditional film camera.
Blackmagic Cinema Camera, launched Monday, basically looks like an external hard drive with a lens stuck to its side. It has none of the panache of the in-development Digital Bolex I wrote about recently, but it also promises some mighty specs (see below). The camera will go for $2,995 starting in July 2012, but the total “dress-up” package of the camera will be higher when you account for lenses and other accessories. The Blackmagic will accept Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses, and it lends itself to aftermarket bits from companies like Zacuto and Cinevate. And because it is devoid of the ergonomics of other cameras, the camera looks eminently droppable — it does not seem suited to handheld work. The dress-up will include handles (Blackmagic Cinema Camera Handles sell them for $195).
It’s either a 1080p or a 2K, depending on whether you output in a codec like ProRes or as RAW footage. In RAW, it produces 12-bit files, meaning more robust footage that lends itself to post-production. The camera promises a 13-stop dynamic range, meaning it will reach deep into the blacks while also capturing usable detail high into the whites.
Blackmagic’s announcement signals a change in the industry: The making of cameras is no longer the provenance of traditional film-camera and tape-based camcorder manufacturers. The quality of any camera has become more about the processing abilities of the device, so it isn’t a surprise that a company well-versed in moving footage from one place to another could jump in. The ability of filmmakers to get their hands on equipment that rivals the high-end stuff is getting better and better…
Here are the tech specs from the manufacturer:
- High resolution 2.5K sensor allows improved anti aliasing and reframing shots.
- Super wide 13 stops of dynamic range allows capture of increased details for feature film look.
- Built in SSD allows high bandwidth recording of RAW video and long duration compressed video.
- Open file formats compatible with popular NLE software such as CinemaDNG 12 bit RAW, Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD. No custom file formats.
- Includes no custom connections. Standard jack mic/line audio in, BNC 3 Gb/s SDI out, headphone, high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology, LANC remote control and standard DC 12-30V power connection.
- Capacitive touch screen LCD for camera settings and slate metadata entry.
- Compatible with extremely high quality Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses.
- Supports 2.5K and 1080HD resolution capture in 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps.
- Thunderbolt connection allows direct camera capture via included Media Express software and supports live waveform monitoring via the included Blackmagic UltraScope software.
- Includes a full copy of DaVinci Resolve 9.0 color grading software.
Montreal-based director Mathieu Roy is not afraid of tackling huge and existential questions within the wrapper of an 86-minute documentary.
That he begins “Surviving Progress” with a primate confronting a geometric curiosity – in the case a block it must balance for the payout of a banana – Roy knowingly evokes Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and warns us we’re in Big Think territory. In this case, “Has the human race progressed so remarkably that we’re about to put ourselves out of existence?”
With so many wonderful documentaries taking the macro view of issues and questions (I just again viewed Danfung Dennis’s remarkable “Hell and Back Again” and its story of a war through one man’s journey), it’s yet again heartening to see a director (along with co-director Harold Crooks) take on something so massive, so important and so troubling.
“It took six and a half years to make the best film we could,” said Roy, as his project goes into release. “We thought at time, ‘Should we take it a bit easier on the audience? But this is the way the world works, and when you learn it, you do feel more pissed.”
The film, with executive producing by luminaries such as Mark Achbar (“The Corporation”) and Martin Scorcese (whom Roy worked for on “The Aviator”), the film is a chilling omnibus of Wall Street misdeeds, environmental plunder, and cultures in collision. Its ambition is an example of what the best documentaries do, which is unflinching truth. It kind of started that way.
“Harold and I didn’t want to scare off our producers and distributors!” Roy said of the early phases. “But the opening movement from a chimp to an astronaut sets the tone. What took so long was that it became an effort to make a coherent structure. The more the film unfolded itself, the more it became a bigger snowball.”
Starting with the inspiration of the book “A Short History of Progress,” by Candadian author Ronald Wright, and it reveals the ultimate plot twist: Have we become so productive our consumption is killing the planet? Has medicine become so remarkable we don’t know what to do with the booming population? Has the lust for progress itself sent us hurtling into the ultimate regress?
The film takes us from such far-flung places as the rain forest of Brazil to the “new” China (with a priceless open-camera argument between a tourism-business son and his Communist-era professor father sitting on their sofa); it brings in people as diverse as primatologist Jane Goodall to economist Michael Hudson, a chorus of voices saying all is not well, and American Idol isn’t going to fix it. Documentaries such as this make for hard viewing in one way, but is infused with imagery that makes it a worthy journey. Roy says 100 hours of primary footage was supported by edits out of another 100 hours of secondary and archival footage, conducted at the hands of editor Louis-Martin Paradis. One quirky aside was the primary interview subject looking dead-on at the viewer, made possible by the EyeLiner, which in turn comes from Errol Morris’s Interratron.
The film was shot on HD tape, and funded by $1.8 million mostly due to Achbar’s Telefilm Canada-funded “performance envelope”: The success of “The Corporation” success set aside funds for the exclusive use of Achbar’s production company, Big Picture Media Corporation. Achbar, in turn, moved those funds in support of “Surviving Progress.”
“Mark had other projects, so the envelope funding supported four separate film projects,” Roy said.
Scorcese’s contribution was not funding, but mentoring. “He looked at cuts and sent me notes, because he just supports projects he likes.”
The film, especially as it explicates on Wall Street’s shark-like affinities to accumulate money to degrees that go to the greater detriment, premiered at Toronto Film Festival last September, but it may have caught a Zeitgeist. The Occupy Wall Street movement luached a short time later.
“I thought, after what I learned in making the film, ‘Why aren’t people coming out on the streets about this?’” Roy said.
“And then they did.”
Sheri Candler and Jon Reiss always have great advice for DIY filmmakers working to get their project to its audience, especially when it’s a film that will be appreciated by a focused group of viewers who might not be found through the traditional film channels. With an estimated 35,000 films a year on the festival circuit, that’s a lot of content; if you’ve done your film well, having small but enthused viewership can still be thoroughly fulfilling, and a bit profitable.
and discuss decisions that made for a successful run. Not everybody lives the Sundance/PBS/national release dream, but “Joffrey” has found its happy audience.
The advice that Jon and Sheri give is testament to the technology that has turned documentary filmmaking into something democratic, grassroots, energetic. From the ever cheaper gear to shoot with to laptop editing, the task of making a film has changed immensely.
But so has the task of distributing.
Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance.
Two major elements are huge: The ability for digital projection at theaters, auditoriums, universities and libraries, to name a few. And the use of social media to get the word out.
In their piece, they say this.
Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences. You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend. Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.
The event can be something that creates larger word of mouth, and the social media came in strongly.
Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.
The work in launching one’s film cannot be overlooked, but the methods of doing so now often work around the standard benchmarks.
In the documentary world, filmmakers rarely know what they’re making when they start making it. Instead, they move through time, chronicling changing situations, in the hopes that something great might happen. But the best filmmakers are adept, knowing when to raise, when to fold and when to exchange cards, when the game allows it.
All In: The Poker Movie, which begins a theatrical run this month, is one of those documentaries that started one way and ended up a wholly different story.
Directed by Douglas Tirola of 4th Row Films and produced by collaborators Susan Bedusa and Robert Greene, All In started out with a gamble.
The project started in 2008 when poker was in the midst of a boom. “We started making the film so many years ago, it’s hard to remember,” said Bedusa. “But I think we made with the goal of having a profitable film. And Doug had a soft spot for poker — He used to play with his father and grandfather.”
4th Row Films has had a series of documentaries find success recently, including those directed not only by Tirola (An Omar Broadway Film) but by the editor of All In, Robert Greene (Kati With An I, Fake It So Real). The company uses its documentary chops to bring in commercial work, which fuels the business and occasionally leads to a story idea.
“We have the other side of our company that does marketing work for brands,” said Bedusa. “And through that we were covering this big New York City poker tournament. It was run by a Wall Street guy who put on a huge poker tournament every year for his clients, and his celebrity friends. We would go and film it with 10 cameras. We realized how cinematic it was.”
Not only was it cinematic, but the filmmaking team also connected the visual potential to a potential in the online video marketplace. “This was just at the time when people were starting to download stuff to watch,” said Bedusa. “Our feeling was that there are so many poker players out there, and the audience is worldwide. And so many of them playing online that they were already used to signing in, and putting down their credit card number and spending money that way, which is an unusual trait.”
The film is interview-driven, ranging from top poker players, such as the aptly named Chris Moneymaker, to such poker-playing celebrities as former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, basketball coach Denny Crum, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, journalist Ira Glass and actor Matt Damon. Most speak in the film of poker as a piece of Americana, but poker fans will also remember Damon as the star of Rounders, a film that’s iconic in that world.
“It’s more of an essay film,” Bedusa says. “It’s not so character-driven. Doug really wanted to explore the why.” Through these revolving interviews and a thread of Moneymaker’s rise to, well, moneymaking, the film tells the story of the rise and fall and rise and fall of poker. The film was scheduled for release in July 2011, after it had won top laurels at Cinevegas in 2009, but then the FBI moved to shut down online poker, which had been fueling the poker movement in the United States, and the game changed.
“We decided not to release it, which was a tough decision,” said Bedusa. “The film had already won awards and been in festivals, so it was already out there, in some sense. Then Black Friday happened.”
The film was re-conceived around the headlines, with the ban on online poker as its frame, and in the time it ultimately took to make All In, 4th Row Films released three other films. A look at the film’s credits highlight its evolving nature. Nine people are listed as cinematographers.
“The number of people who did some work on the film is huge,” said Bedusa. “We shot in 14 states, and while Doug was involved in it all, we didn’t have one director of photography… We have our L.A. guy and our Nashville guy, people we’ve worked with on the marketing side, so they kind of all shot the film.” So, three years after it could have been released, All In is going into theaters this month a different, and better, film. Which makes the point that in documentary, going all in can be a good bet.