Filmmaking

One Year of Posts

Wow.

I made it.

I managed to write a post each day for a year, sometimes (rarely actually) even more than one.

My personal and work life has changed in the meantime, former for good, latter for “so-so”. I finally surpassed my 10000 pictures, I suppose that the worst is gone (cit. HCB) :)

I learned a lot, I acquired a lot (of cameras). My current collection is 24 cameras. I use them all, most of them on a whim, I take serious pictures only with a couple.

I’m not a professional photographer, I’m not interested in becoming one. Nonetheless I’d like to give my little contribute to the photography world trying to improve my work, so from now on I will reduce the number of posts in favor of a better quality and detail. I’ll post more pictures, too :)

Meanwhile, join me celebrating my little achievement. Thanks to all my regular readers, to all occasional curious that sometimes stumble into this blog. Thanks to Bellamy Hunt, for finding me my GR1s and publishing my bag shot.

Thanks to my wife, without her this wouldn’t ever happen.


VFX Solidarity International

Today we’re not talking about photography, per se.

I just want to express my personal solidarity to all people at Rhythm&Hues, who won an Oscar for Life of Pi, and got laid off a few weeks ago. No one dared to mention that during the event.

I can’t do much to help, so at least I wanted to dedicate a post to them. You don’t know me, probably you never will, so I just want to say THANK YOU.

#VFXPROTEST


Call for videos – An Experiment on Social Filmmaking

A little while ago I wrote about Viddy and how to tell a story in 15 seconds, in my post “I shoot my life 15 seconds at a time. For those 15 seconds, I’m free”.

I’d like to invite all my followers to join me in a little project: submit each a 15 sec video somewhere (Viddy, Youtube, Vimeo, whatever) on the same subject and see if we can tell a story. It could be fun :)

I’d like to propose the theme “Journey”. It could be travel or something more spiritual, but I’d like to hear your comments on this first.

I will then edit all of them together, only arranging the order, leaving each piece as it is, and post it here. I want this to be OUR work, not just mine.


How it all started

When I look up at my bookshelf there are three books always a little misplaced. The reason is that I take them out and browse quite often, because they are some sort of comfort and inspiration to me.

Those three books are the reason I started filmmaking.

I’ve always been wondering about making movies, crafting stories, telling dreams, but it was just talk. Reading those books gave me the slight push I needed to actually go out and make one.

The DV Rebel’s Guide:

While being out a while now, it’s a must. Stu made an outstanding job summarizing all those tricks and tips to actually leverage on digital tech available today. I bought a Panasonic DVX100BE after reading the book. You can judge the amount of time I spent on this book by the number of post-it.

Rebel without a crew:

Robert Rodriguez’s diary about making of “El Mariachi”, the movie that made him famous. Inspiring. How he did it, the passion, the commitment, the creativity to overcome issues are invaluable information even today, when we just need an iPhone to make a movie.

Directing Actors:

I would never get to the end of my first short without it. You cannot make a movie without actors, but you cannot make a good movie at all without a good director. Actors need to be guided to express themselves at their best. Otherwise your movie will be just a school’s play. It’s not obvious at all how to talk to your actors to achieve the result you need and this book proved essential to understand how good directors should work.

So, quoting my mentor Stu Maschwitz: “Movies aren’t broken. So don’t try to fix them and go make one”.


Which DSLR camera to shoot movies?

I’ve been following a lot all 2012 releases to find if we finally have a good and viable option to shoot movies with a step up in quality.

Question is: do we really need DSLR to shoot movies now?

I’ve watched carefully this review by Philip Bloom about 5D Mark III, D800 and D4.

There is evidently no winner here. I’ve seen promising NAB reports about another option from Blackmagic Design, the Cinema Camera.

Then, these amazing people started an impressive project, the Digital Bolex.

I’m not thinking to even consider for Indie filmmaking any C300 or FS100, given the cost. Canon, Nikon are not cheap anyway. The only viable option is to invest in better lighting and stay on 60D/T3i for video and keep going until we can have full test of both Blackmagic design and Digital Bolex next July.


iMagination

I love this word. Should probably thank Steve Jobs for that, but I’m not strictly referring to a certain line of products. It’s the meaning that a little small capital “i” that adds what I mean to the message this word delivers.

When I’ve heard Martin Scorsese was working to bring a book about cinema I was thrilled to see it. Not because of his name, but because it was about The Dream. Making movies has been so franchise-stained that we forgot what movies are about. They’re dreams and filmmakers have the honor to build them.

It’s not about being famous, not about the money, not about popularity.

We are alive because we have emotions, movies are just a medium to convey them, a little gift, a contribution, a karmic giveback.

I do love movies because I’m a dreamer. I do really enjoy smiles, excitement, happiness, commotion, even sadness on the face of who watches a movie, because it means that they got a hint of what makes us humans.

To weave dreams we need only one thing, imagination, or iMagination. Because we’re over 100 years from geniuses as Georges Méliès, and the way to convey dreams is changed, just a little. We do it digitally, but nonetheless the goal is the same.

I probably don’t have much talent as many great filmmakers, yet I do love dreams and I believe that one day I’ll manage to give at least a little emotion to someone watching my movie. Until then, I’ll put all my passion and effort on trying.


Free Filmmaking: is it possible?

Well, yes.

At some degree, at least. There are a few gifts from important companies that are often overlooked, yet we can leverage on them. Let’s begin with a list of what we need, regardless of the movie we’re creating:

  • We need a camera, but I already stated here and here that you can do with an iPhone 4/4S
  • We need an NLE, Non-Linear Editor (think of Premiere, Final Cut)
  • We need a compositing software (After Effects, Nuke, Combustion, HitFilm Ultimate)
  • We need iMagination, but that’s built-in ;)

For each point I found a decent viable solution that I’d like to share:

  • Use what you have. Yes, iPhone has ugly rolling shutter, so you need to be creative with shots (less panning, more cuts)
  • Look for DaVinci Resolve Lite. There is function-limited (not so limited) FREE version, that has a NLE embedded in the Conform tab. VERY simple, but definitely better than Windows Movie Maker and you have on top the best grading software around!
  • I’d recommend to use a trial version of After Effects CS6, but if you want a totally opensource permanent solution, Jahshaka project has been relaunched. You can download the latest version here.
  • Just watch a lot of movies and get inspired. Learn from the best, first copy, then invent.

Good Luck.


iPhone Filmmaking – Part 2

I few days ago I wrote about Filmmaking workflow with iPhone. I’ve anticipated about this, so next part is: Gear.

This is what I’ve found as the most convenient gear to shoot movies with my iPhone on budget (front to back):

  1. Tripod. Silvercrest brand, bought at local LIDL store for €3.99. Not very stable (cheap stuff) but it does the job pretty well and it’s extensible to 1m.
  2. Monopod, extensible, unknown brand, part of a set with mini tripod (which I don’t use). Same store, €2.99. Good because it’s extensible as well and has a 1/4″ screw at bottom, so you can easily put it on top of the tripod for more height.
  3. Fishey 180 lens, bought on Ebay for $14.
  4. Telephoto and transparent case (that I use also for the wide angle lens, which has a magnetic ring) bought from MiniInTheBox at the spectacular price of $11.
  5. I also bought this adapter: from Maclife on Ebay at $6.99.

With this gear you have basically everything you need to shoot. The only problem is that you need the tripod to use the telephoto, otherwise rolling shutter will kill your footage. Even using my Glidecam it’s impossible to get rid of it.

You can’t imagine how ridiculous you appear shooting with an iPhone on top of it ;)


Filmmaker’s Apps

The iPhone has become a viable means of filmmaking since its 4th release. The new 4s improved camera quality and added a little power for hungry video apps. Nonetheless not many really useful apps for filmmaking surfaced, until recently.

I’ve made a list of my must-have apps, those I’ve found useful for the dream weaving :)

  1. Filmic Pro: first app that inspired me to use the iPhone to shoot video. It has all you need. You can shoot from 1fps to 30fps, 24fps included, obviously. You can lock focus and exposure. You can shoot at higher rates up to 24Mbps (iPhone 4) or 48Mbps (iPhone 4s).
  2. Cine Pro: new entry, yet it rocks. It lacks bandwidth control and focus/exposure control is a little less user-friendly, but it has an extra feature very handy: you can change virtual lens length and aspect ratio.
  3. iMovie: at the moment it’s the only decent app to edit. Let me correct the statement: it’s the app that suck less. I really wish that Adobe would release a Premiere for iPad… Avid is an alternative, but there are still serious stability issues.
  4. Movie Looks: amazing, literally. Of all the apps around it’s still my favorite for grading. You can select a preset and then adjust it to your taste. Not bad, especially because it works like a charm even on iPad 1. Would love a DaVinci resolve iPad interface, but let’s stay focused on the matter,ok?
  5. iMotion HD: perfect time lapse tool.
  6. iMagination: this is an app installed in your brain, your heart and your soul.


iPhone Filmmaking – part 1

A couple of months ago I started a little side project, a challenge, something to prove myself that I can do it.

I wrote a very simple and linear screenplay, with only 2 actors, and I will shoot and edit everything with my iPhone. It has been already done, yet it sounds interesting. Limitations are purely technical, but I’ve found means to overcome most of them.

First and foremost, you need proper gear. Since it’s a side project, I’m not supposed to spend any money on it, so forget about all those fancy stabilizers, micro-steadycam, whatever, you can buy for your phone.

Guerrilla filmmaking, so spend the minimum, but on what? Filming app, phone mount and lenses. Total budget? $30 max. I nailed it with $28.50, saving money for a coffee ;)

In this post I’m going to write about workflow, next will be a review of my equipment (with maybe some pointers where to find the cheapest stuff)

So workflow:

  • Shoot with filmic pro, max quality allowed (great option, this one). Save in the app and export to camera roll (if you shoot max quality for long, there are chances you lose everything if you close the app before it finishes exporting)
  • Connect iPhone to iPad with camera connection kit
  • Copy all relevant footage (avoid b-rolls for now, unless you’re so rich that you have a 64gb iPad)
  • Fire up avid studio or iMovie (you need at least an ipad2 for avid to work without crashing)
  • Edit your cut without sound/audio to keep video size as little as possible
  • Export to camera roll
  • Grade with movie looks
  • Open your editor and add sound/music
  • Online

There are obvious limitations. You don’t have layers, so forget about compositing. You need an iPad. It’s impossible to cut complex stuff on a small iPhone screen.

Your worst enemy is rolling shutter: keep any moving shot as limited as possible, use a tripod and think Spielberg when planning shots. You need to move people, objects, not the camera. Using after effects IS cheating ;)

I have a big complaint for app designers, though. Even if it’s available, most apps do not support export to other than camera roll or social networks. Exporting directly to other apps could avoid useless rendering and compression!


24

 

Screenwriting is definitely a challenge. It becomes even more when you have to create your entire movie in 24 hours…In this case you can’t rely on regular screenwriting techniques, you need to adapt and practice what I call “speedwriting”, aka speed screenwriting. Usually you have a theme and some kind of constraint, something you need to put in the movie, that usually has nothing to do with theme.Genres are still valid, the problem is that the structure will shrink heavily: in 24 hrs you can realize an 8-10 minutes movie, and you’ve basically no time at all to waste. You need a solid screenplay after 5 hours, because the rest will be filming and postproduction. Maybe I’ll write later about workflow…My speedwriting technique is based on fixing the number of scenes, create index cards and fill them as soon as I figure out the basic plot. We’re talking about a subset of a typical movie, but to give an idea (I’m using terms borrowed from the Blake Snyder’s beat sheet):

  1. Opening, Theme & Setup
  2. Catalyst & Twist
  3. Fun & Games (no B-story, unless your theme is very good)
  4. Midpoint & Bad guys close in
  5. All is lost & dark night of the soul
  6. Finale

 

It’s all about compression. There are critical parts of a screenplay you need. This way you focus on each scene, knowing already what should be in it. You “just” need to fit the theme.

 

The constraint is not that difficult to place. Either it’s an object, a phrase or a double-meaning concept, once you know the structure it shouldn’t be too difficult to place it.

 

 


I shoot my life 15 seconds at a time. For those 15 seconds, I’m free.

Telling a story in 15 seconds, that’s a filmmaking challenge. Can we condense an entire story in 15 seconds?

I’v seen social platforms like Viddy and it looks like they’re all “Instagram-wannabe” for video.

As I’ve seen crappy photos on Instagram, I expect to see even crappier videos on those. But I’ve also seen beautiful photos, so my question is: “Is there anyone willing to step further and make awesome videos?”

Not sure, but  I’m confident that brilliant videomakers will jump on it and succeed.

I’m trying, too.


Screenwriting issues

I am an indie filmmaker in my spare time. I’ve written several screenplays for shorts and never filmed one (because I thought none was worth). I directed a short (Shot And Fist, 2011 Keilun Films).

Then I’ve read Blake Snyder’s “Save the cat” book. That changed a lot the way I write and maybe one day I’ll direct one of my screenplays. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to decide if my next work is a “Dude with a Problem” or a “Monster in the House”. Probably it’s a little bit of both (my deepest apologies master Blake!)…

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Blake Snyder in his book divides all movies ever made in 10 different categories. I’m considering only two, if you want to know the rest, go read the book.

Monster in the House

One simple rule here: Don’t get eaten.

The three basic ingredients are vital to the success of this tale. Without the monster, there’s nothing threatening the characters. But without the house, there’s no reason they couldn’t just up and leave, letting others deal with the problem. Stick the characters in a room, a building, a small village; put them in a spaceship, or on an island, or in a quarantined city. Suddenly there’s no place to run. Because a sin is committed, “prompting the creation of a supernatural monster that comes like an avenging angel to kill those who have committed that sin and spare those who realize what that sin is. The rest is run and hide“. The category includes movies from Alien and Tremors to Jurassic Park, along with just about every horror movie out there. The archetypal Monster in the House tale is the myth of the Minotaur: you’re stuck in a maze with a half-man, half-bull guy trying to kill you.You might call this plot the… inverse?… of Booker’s Overcoming the Monster tale, where the Hero leaves home, gathers weapons, and heads across the world to find and destroy the monster that’s been terrorizing the countryside. In Monster in the House, the Hero can’t leave home, has no chance to build his arsenal before the showdown, and either destroys the monster for his own sake or fails to destroy it at all.

Dude with a Problem

An ordinary guy finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.

You ever wake up, look out your window, and realize that aliens are landing on your front lawn? This is the plot that covers how you handle it. As a man thrust into a situation you’re ill-equipped to deal with, you’ve got the audience’s sympathy almost from the get-go. As you try to defeat the aliens, or escape from the killer robot (Terminator), or save your wife from the terrorists (Die Hard), we’ll be pulling for you. And you’ll eventually triumph over the villains – though not through show of force.

My problem here is that the hero is not an average guy, strictly speaking. He’s tough and resourceful, so I need the bad guy to be the baddest-ass ever in order to make this a “Dude with a problem”. Unfortunately, there is also a sin that brings in the bad guy and our hero is trapped in a building with the bad guy. This makes the whole thing more a MITH (Monster In The House), though.

Shot And Fist was easier, being a VERY short Solo Fleece (Kill Bill style).

Bibliography:

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder. Michael Wiese Productions, 2005


Technicolor Cinestyle

I’ve been using this cinestyle on my EOS 550D for a while and I must say I’m very satisfied.

The LUT provided is great to use with both DaVinci Resolve and Colorista Free.

The kind-of-inverted S-Curve used is less flat than Marvel Cinestyle (compare them here). You don’t have the same dynamic range, but I think it’s safer, because when you’re close to clipping white, Marvel pushes a little too far, losing too much in the blue channel and altering colors, especially in the skin range. I noticed the difference when Marvel switched from Standard to Neutral as base (v3.4). I still have Marvel Cinestyle installed but v3.3, and I use it to have a better idea how the shot will look like during lighting setup.


Great & Cheap lenses for Visual Storytelling

After years spent trying to be a good photographer and a better filmmaker, I learned a few things:

  1. What you need is always cheaper that what you want to purchase
  2. Sometimes old does not mean less quality
  3. To tell a good story you don’t need to spend millions

I made a few thousands of photos and a couple of short movies, and this is the gear I’m using with great satisfaction (there is a lot of other stuff, but this is what matters):

  1. Canon EOS 550D (Great budget camera for both video and photo)
  2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens 
  3. Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 (with M42 adapter) – I need to get a new oneflektogon35mm

I still don’t own all lenses I’d like, but I shortened the list. These are a must-have:

  1. Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye 
  2.   Asahi Super-Takumar 105mm f/2.8takumar105mm2.8

James Cameron on China & Filmmaking

Full interview: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/?p=98709


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