Monday, April 28, 2008

Shoot me!

Here's a shot from yesterdays enormous outdoors shoot. None of the score of extras we had in this still, just Brian and Nadia being shot at by a passing car...

As always, these stills are just a tad darker on your computer monitor than they are in "real life".


I have every reason to believe that Planar RGB compression is lossless. There is very very little information about it on the netterwebs. But we certainly lose a lot of file - size "weight" by using it. I can't see any difference when looking at individual frames between uncompressed video and Planar RGB. I suspect that it does a great job at compression because it sees that letterbox which is just black on the top and bottom of the frame and doesn't need to re-render that part of the image.

If anybody knows anything about Planar RGB (which is a standard Quicktime preset) please tell me. It seems to be able to handle 32-bit float (I know, I could do some tests, but I haven't yet). And it doesn't seem to cost a lot of processing power. I tried to read the white paper on it but I didn't understand it. Is it really lossless? Is there any reason not to deliver in it rather than uncompressed?


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Big Shoot Day

We must have had about 25 extras today. Out on the streets of Cobble Hill. The only reason Brian and I aren't dead is that we had Tony Kenner handling sound and the angel who is Maduka doing 1st AD duties and directing extras all day. Really, it would have been a nightmare. But now that I have two zombies in me everything's all right.

Tomorrow we'll find out about schmutz on the lens adapter and how to rid ourselves of a few pixels of guk in the lower right quadrant. At dinner I was able to take the adapter apart -- and the schmutz just disappeared, I didn't even blow it off with air. Feh. Well, we'll be using the paint tool on those frames in After Effects and taking some adjacent pixels. That's how the big boys do it...

Looking for the Mouse

Here's an article by Clay Shirky. When talking to a TV producer about projects people are doing on the interwebs, she says:

"Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."
This made me for to laugh.

He also mentioned LOL cats and Gilligan's Island. Go ahead, read the article. It's short. You'll like it.


Yesterday we shot car inserts on 0704 The Shriven. We'll see how those go in the cold light of morning when I transfer the footage and color correct. Some of them definitely worked, some might need some tweaking and matting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Color Correction

So I've got three computers running right now. I've had up to four going at one time, but that's only because I'm doing more than one project at a time.

Here are some color correction tests.

The darks on a computer monitor are a little darker because of the gamma. But even so, they almost hold up with this new look we call "Galloway gamma 4".

These images are of James Becton and Jef Betz.

Slowtime Ten Thousand

So, I have 5 acts to Solar Vengeance. And with the exception of acts 1 and 4, each of the acts is further divided into three parts ("a", "b", and "c".) In order to render an act, or part of an act, I have to start the render on an average of three times due to Premiere crashing while rendering.

Now, I thought that by rendering out .tga ("Targa") sequence files I could reduce some problems. Targa sequence files render out a separate, numbered, file for each frame. So if you have a failure in the middle of a render, you can just pick up where you left off.

Well, not so fast. Premiere doesn't understand that when you start a render at, say, frame 701, you want it to begin numbering at 701. It always starts its renders at frame 1.

So you put the new render (which starts at 701) in a new folder and you use some shareware utility you found to rename all of the thousands of files you've created starting at frame 701.

And it still doesn't work because Premiere doesn't really seem to be that accurate about which frame it actually starts at. So your whole sequence is somewhat out of sync.

So you go back and start your full render from Premiere a number of times more and you finally get it rendered out before Premiere encounters a "fatal error".

Now you'd think that as advanced a program as Final Cut Pro is, that it would accept Targa sequences. It almost does. But what you actually have to do is to open the Targa sequence in Quicktime Pro and then export a movie (either self-contained or not) which either has all the data you need, or points to the data you need, which you then bring into Final Cut Pro.

But oh ha ha! Quicktime seems to have a limit on the number of frames it can import. A little over 10,000. Hooray! You lose!

So you divide up the output again and put the first 10K frames in one folder, and the remaining in another folder. You import each of those frame sequences into Quicktime and export movies.

And sometimes that works! Other times, Quicktime just hangs up and it's all over for you, buddy.

So you go to the other method of bringing in frame sequences to Final Cut: you import the whole folder and , having set the "still image" length to 1 frame, you try to put those on the timeline.

But FCP only imports the frames at about 2 frames per second. You have an entire feature you have to get into the timeline. It will take days considering that you just know the dang computer will crash numerous times..

So I thought maybe I'd take some of these Targa sequences and bring them into After Effects and then export uncompressed Quicktime movies.

And so After Effects gives and error that "Error buffer multiply overrun" or some such words to equally meaningless effect.

And then you're back at square one trying to export uncompressed .mov files from Premiere so that Final Cut can import them (and render them over night.)

And you figure you have to do the export three or four times for each sequence you have (in my case there are 14 of them.)



And between that and shooting on weekends I wonder why I'm tired...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DFN test

Here's a test of day-for-night with Cheutine.

You can see the vignette, and we'd have to motion track her face (perhaps) but it's interesting that the sky has some color.

If there were any lights in the background though, there'd be no bokeh blur the way you'd expect there to be. I think I shot this with an ND filter on...

I feel like we're shooting at approximately 200 ISO.

Update: wow, I wish the letterbox came out black rather than white. Is that because I originally output to .png?
In any case, be sure to double-click or open the image in a new window to look at it for color-correction evaluation.

Oh and remember, it's always somewhat darker on a computer monitor...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


"Although forbidden to do so, Carol ascends the stairs to the attic only to find the first Mrs. Brady still alive and quite mad."

Today is work-from-home day in the Pandora Machine. I do that while filling out the many-page application for an apartment. Gotta go have some blood drawn later so they can analyze my DNA...

"The electricity is shut off, someone is shot, the city is on fire, rabid wolves patrol the tenement halls and everyone loses their job in just another typical episode of the ironically-titled Good Times."

You know, that sounds like the theme of my next movie.

O Wonderbar

Just got word that the music the editor cut into Solar Vengeance isn't actually licensed. Sure wish I knew that a couple months ago so I hadn't wasted so much time locating and mixing it all those cuts -- that was probably about two solid weeks on the music alone.
The work I have to do in order to make deliverables has just gone up exponentially.

Whew --
Just look at the puppy...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Shriven Color Tests

Final Cut Pro does not export still images that are at the same aspect ratio in square pixels as the image is in the camera. Thanks guys! Who would ever want to export images from the timeline to use on webpages or anything? I know you probably don't want to change the aspect ratio of any still image sequences, but someday you just might want to use images from the timeline for other purposes. But you know what they say, Apple is Perfect. And thanks for not making that an option!

So far all I can figure to do is to export the stills from the timeline and then open them in Photoshop and stretch the 960x720 image to 1280x720 in order to create images for web pages and blogs and suchly.

This is the "Cold and Hot" (or the "Hot and Cold") look from Magic Bullet. I made a version which is two stops brighter and two stops darker in order to cover our bases. I dunno, it might make a decent look for the whole picture.

Brian Schiavo.

Nadia el-Dassouki.

Cheutine Fong.

Brian and Nadia.

I got all the footage of Solar Vengeance out today to our sales rep so they could cut a trailer. He gave me plenty of time to get that material rendered out and delivered to him. He told me on Friday.

Aargh -- there's a bit of vignetting on these shots. I saw where it happened too. Brian asked me to go in to be an extra in a shot so I had to tell him where the "big red button" was on the camera. But after hitting it he also hit the zoom on the camera, which yanked it slightly out of alignment. Poopity. I didn't notice it (because you can't see the problem in the viewfinder really) 'till working with this footage.

I'll reset the camera for next week.


Mac Rogers writes on directing (or acting?)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More and more

From The Shriven, here are some screen grabs (no color correction, no letterboxing):

Lucy Rayner

Nancy Melleo, Eric Bailey, Cheutine Fong, Dan Berkey. (Yeah, it looks a bit dark on a computer monitor because the gamma on your monitor is different from real-life, that is to say NTSC).

Eric, Nancy, Cheutine, Dan, looking at device.

I've got two Macs here, almost ground to a halt over these renders. That's why I'm not color correcting this first reel. Plus, silly Final Cut Pro doesn't output stills at the correct aspect ratio just by default. I gotta go smack it later. Better yet, I'll tell it how much better PC's are. Yeah, that'll get them to shape up...

Shooting this weekend

We shot some this weekend. Some exteriors, some interiors.

Here are some stills from Saturday.

This is Cheutine Fong posing with some art which Laura put together.

Our wonderful makeup artist Cristina Atkin flashes a peace sign.

We really overworked the actors here. What are they doing, watching a movie?

Eric Bailey (who pitched in and helped build those dang shelves), Cheutine Fong, Lucy Rayner, and Dan Berkey.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vinnie Marano

Why isn't this guy a movie star already? Vinnie Marano as Charlie the pimp in The Shriven.

The French

... kicking our asses again in the cool sci-fi department (and this one even starts with American sci-fi!)
Cedric Delsaux is the photographer.

Here's a bunch of stuff from this Star Wars collection.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shriven Shooting

Here are a couple stills from the shooting we did yesterday (Sunday) in the beautiful community of Gowanus. That still of Brian walking in front of the eloquent and erudite graffiti is the kind of look I was sort of fantasising about getting on this picture.

This eye closeup is of Shelleen. Got me one of them fancy-pants macro lenses on eBay and I gotta say: it does the trick.

Yesterday was a hard day but we learned that our makeup artist, Cristina Atkin, is as brilliant as we thought. This broken open head gag looked awesome.
Here she is working on Shelleen. And then putting blood on Brian. To render out one reel of dailies, I've got a Mac G5 doing a 19-hour render. Same thing, I'm sure, to get the second reel up.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My New Apartment

Well, not really. Or not yet at least. For the next week I'm going to be working on my application for a studio here. 266 square feet. $635/month including electric and heat.
The application looks like it'll take about 60 man-hours to complete. But there are a hundred units available. So we'll see. It's due by April 30th. There was a web announcement that the place would be completed by June 1. It sure doesn't look like that's possible, does it?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mixing Suckiness

So... I've been having a terrible time with audio. First of all, I have to do the gross edit in Premiere because I can't get an OMF out of Premiere (which is just stupid). But worse than that, Samplitude has been making it so that I can do exactly three edits or presses of "play" before it crashes and gives me an "out of memory" error.

I think I solved that problem by going backwards three versions of Samplitude. There are some things I like about the new version which I don't have in version 8. But version 8 doesn't crash. Version 9 does. Version 10 does. And I have a quad-core machine (brand new) and a dual - core gaming machine and I get a dumb "out of memory" error.

This is the kind of thing which has cost me an extra month of time on this picture. Feh!

I'm just about at the point where I can move picture over to Final Cut. I can't wait...

I have to look at pictures of cats now...

Build Your Own

Here's a guy who's building his own Star Destroyer.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I Love Computers

And none of that "if you had a Mac you wouldn't have these problems". No. We bring Apple to it's knees here in our studio.

(That being said, Final Cut Pro is objectively better than Adobe Premiere).

I think I figured out the crashing thing on my audio computer. It might be that I was assigning the outputs for my left and right rear speakers to the same outputs as my left and right speakers. This lets me hear levels correctly, I just have to "guess" the sound-stage. Yes, I'm aware of the pitfalls. But I do it anyway.

Now I just don't listen to the rear speakers. I could hook them up. And I will... eventually. I just want to finish this round of mixes. So I guess the final output and I monitor in mono. Ahh... mono.

I'm monitoring as -20dB FS at 72dB SPL (um, I forget, either "A" or no weighting with band-limited noise). Nobody cares. I'm just complaining...

Update: the "out of memory error" is not solved by that "fix" I did. I've never had this problem before. I have no idea what's causing it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Drew With Guitar Through The Ages

So we're packing up the house where I grew up and have been living in since I was born. My sister found this picture of me.

I had thought that no pictures of me this young existed (I was the last of 4 children and my parents had got bored of taking an endless number of baby pictures by the time I came around.)

But here I am. My dad estimates I'm three years old in this first picture. I have a vague memory of that bell-tree and that airplane. My sister and I both have tactile memories of that corduroy jumper thing I'm wearing. I think it was one of those things I wore every single day.

I'm holding the guitar backwards, which is the intuitive way for a right-handed person to hold it. I didn't actually learn how to play the guitar until I took "Guitar I" in the 8th grade with Mr. Wasalition (sp?).

The second picture is me at the age of somewhere between the age of 13 and 16. (You can see that early on I gained a predilection for smoking jackets.) I contend that we still have this couch, it's just been reupholstered. Long hair didn't actually work that well for me, it took me a while to figure out.

Lastly, here I am at 42.

The very odd thing is how these pictures of me are all in exactly the same place and playing guitar. You can see that the sofa has changed (and that so-ugly-it-looks-fantastic wallpaper is gone). But the sofa is in the same place in the living room.

You know, I'd have thought I'd be a better guitar player by now. ;-)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Adobe Premiere = Crap

Have I mentioned what a piece of crap Adobe Premiere is lately? It won't output OMF, of course, so I have to render out each track as a mono file one at a time. But sometimes, it decides to just not bother to render anything. So I have to go back and render out the audio again.

Why does it take over 20 minutes to render out 45 seconds of mono audio with a quad-core machine? Who knows?

I don't even know how much more than 20 minutes it'll take. Looks like an overnight render. Oh look, we're closing in on 30 minutes. . .

Speaking of which, when I try to render out Targa files, the program will crash 3 out of 4 times rendering out less than 20 minutes of video. Now you might think that because you're using Targa files, you can just pick up where you left off. Not so fast. I think Premiere doesn't keep accurate track of its frames, so when you start to render from the middle of a sequence it doesn't actually start at the frame number it says at the top of the timeline. It's a few frames, maybe even 15 or 20 frames, off.

Which is, of course, awesome.

I promise, promise, promise to go back to Final Cut after we're done with this picture. In fact, I'm going to edit the opening logo and the closing credits in FCP on this picture so that I can get out of Premiere as fast as possible.

I don't think this surfing cat is all too happy about surfing...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

I just saw an interview on the Colbert Report with Clay Shirky, who wrote "Here Comes Everybody". He's written a couple other books about social organization and the interwebs.

I ran into him a couple years ago on the street when I was walking home from the New York Film Academy.

Clay worked as the production manager at the Wooster Group when I was there. That would be long about 1992 or so. Clay was one of the people at the Wooster Group who wasn't actually dysfunctional himself. I always liked him. Kinda wondered what he was doing there. Obviously, he escaped.

(Once he got really mad at me in Lisbon because I just laughed when he told me that our truck was, like, two days late coming from Zurich. My attitude was that when there's nothing to do about something you just laugh about it, I mean I was just one of three (!) sound designers, but I'm sure for him it was an enormous amount of pressure.)

And in the meantime I got my Warmoth neck. I like the headstock more than I thought I would. It's darker than the Bear headstock. It needs a nut. I gotta get Ethan to cut a nut. I'm going to say that again. "I gotta get Ethan to cut a nut."

Obama Cool

This is for my brother-in-law Dave (who lives in Pennsylvania) and who told a Clinton telemarketer who called him, "Give it up, Dude..."


Sure, we've all seen these before. But these images can be hard to find on the interwebs so I figured I'd put them all together (in my order).

Obama cool
Obama cooler
Obama coolest


I actually think that Infernal does a better job with the Ultravox song Vienna than Ultravox did.

Note to all non-Americans: no American has even heard of Ultravox. You might find some guys in Chelsea who know who Infernal are. But except for that 47-year-old woman who wears her bleach-blonde hair very short and owns the bead store at the mall, nobody here has any idea who Ultravox are.

If you've never heard the song you might want to look at Infernal's first so as to not prejudice yourself.



But here at least there's nudity in Ultravox:

5 in 2 or Two at Once

So what's it like being in production of a new picture, while in post-production of another picture?

Well, it's busy. But fun. And not entirely impossible. I try once a week to get a day off. Today is that day, for instance. "Day off" might just mean that I work from home and have scheduled heavy computer-processing work to occur all day, but it's a day off to me! ;-)

Two things make this "shoot 5 pictures in two years" plan (as it's going right now) easier:

First of all, the new picture, The Shriven is a co-production between my company Pandora Machine and Brian Schiavo's company StrangewerksFilms. So we split up a lot of the work. (Sure, sometimes we do a lot of redundant work... Brian! ... ahem...) And as long as Brian isn't re-writing the schedule that works out fine. Brian knows much more about effects work and has assembled a team of talented yet sans-website-owning people.

Cristina Atkin is sculpting the pieces for the monsters our leads turn into. This is an enormous amount of work, taking weeks to make all the pieces (and duplicates of pieces) for each character. These images are of spikes and "brow piece" which are being molded using the cast of the actor's hand and head. (That's good, because I believe that our actor, Nadia el-Dassouki, is in Germany right now. ;-) Cristina has been enormously helpful -- she even came out and shemped a bit for us last weekend. Her work is really beautiful.

Secondly, we're shooting primarily on weekends while scheduling and doing post-production on the weekdays. This makes everything much more do-able. The Shriven shoot is scheduled as a 20-day shoot. In other words, it's a standard low-budget shoot. That's about what they do for Movies-of-the-Week. For us, it's pretty luxurious. But we're spreading it out over 3 months.

Hmm... maybe we'll have a rough cut of the picture by the time we're done shooting. That would be tres cool. I doubt it'll happen but it would be tres cool if it did...


Day off -- right now I'm working on three computers. One is in the middle of an 8-hour backup of all the working data for Solar Vengeance. One is rendering out audio and video files for Solar Vengeance. And this one I'm blogging on and writing dozens of emails back-and-forth to Brian regarding scheduling and suchly.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More Awesome Things

My friend Josh James wrote a screenplay "Down and Dirty Pictures" (which I haven't read), which is reviewed here.

It's sounding like the movie might get made. Awesome!

Muppet Bloopers

I came very close once to working for the Henson company. They'd hired someone already by the time I got there (long story) but I got to hang out for a day. The company seems like a great group of people. They have drawers filled with things like "polka dots" and "Miss Piggy Hats." And the best thing is that muppet bloopers are hysterical.

Here's a YouTube of muppet bloopers (you need to have the sound turned up):

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Good Reason to Hate Computers

I just want to make our own version of this call sheet. This call sheet is a very beautiful example of good information design. You can quickly and easily see what's going on on the whole day. Replicating it with Word or Excel or their equivalents is a nightmare, however.

I'm going to draw this on a piece of paper and use it as a background to a Word document at this point.

There are some significant advantages to typewriters which we no longer use because of word processors. Word processors are great for search and replace. They are lousy for multi-column documents where the columns do not "flow" into one another (taking out the formatting you've carefully set up with them.)

Theoretically there is a way to build this in Excel, but to set up the cells this way is extraordinarily complicated and counter-intuitive. I could do it in Pagemaker but then what? Export as a .pdf? Perhaps to make as an Acrobat form? Well, that would be interesting but why is there a 30-hour learning curve to do something which would take me about 20 minutes on a typewriter?

New Composer Letter


Thank you for sending me information about your music. Your work is excellent. I would be more than happy to discuss working with you on a movie but I want to first of all be very clear that we are a no-budget production company and have zero budget for music.

I just want to be clear that when I say zero budget what I mean is $0. ;-) There's no money for musicians, no money for recording, no money for licensing fees. None at all.

Typically what we do is license a composer's work non-exclusively, in perpetuity, throughout the universe, for a particular film, but the composer retains all rights to use and reuse his work, including soundtrack (in other words the Producer is specifically not allowed to release a soundtrack without re-negotiating with Composer), no work is considered "made for hire" but rather is fully owned by Composer, etc.

On the "upside" if the movie should make more than $75,000 (seventy-five thousand dollars) after the sales reps have taken their cut, we start divvying up the receipts with the composer(s) getting 1.5 percent.

We shoot our pictures for about $12,000 (twelve thousand dollars) total cash budget, which includes all deliverables. I have a mixing/editing/post-production suite which I share with a couple partners where we do most all of our post work. There will be a 5.1 mix for North American home video and possibly for non-English speaking markets if the distributors want 5.1.

So if you're interested (but believe me, I can understand if you just can't do $0 -- zero dollars) I'd be more than happy to discuss our projects with you. Even if you're interested only in doing a part of the picture, or using some pre-existing cues you already have, we would be happy to discuss with you.

Best regards,