Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stakeland in July

Man, Jim Mickle just blows me away. His latest movie is Cold in July. Jim's directorial style is what I would ignorantly call mannerist. All these very precise images assembled together for effect. Of course, his being able to do that makes him such an amazing horror director. Cold in July is not a horror picture as much as a thriller. A crime thriller I suppose. It's very Cohen Brothers in its deliberate and macabre humor. And sometimes very Kubrick-y in the framing.
This "looking at the bottoms of feet" motif is something that's in at least a few of Jim's pictures. This image really pays off when you see their POV. And not to get too precious about it but notice that the "bars" in this shot are on the far side of the subjects, unlike how (in this movie) they're frequently between us and some very bad people.
See, the lead character owns a frame shop. He's a "framer". And the movie has you looking through frames, frames that change, frames that hold different things. Frames.
The movie has this very specific aesthetic vocabulary what with repeated patterns and bars and obstructions between the audience and the subject. I mean it's just really well thought out. The frame shop and the locksmith shop are pretty awesome.
Nick Damici wrote the screenplay with Jim and again they get the tone of the movie just right.
I want, nay, need this owl lamp.

It is beyond my ability to understand how the economics of these kinds of movies works. I just wish he'd make more of them. In fact, I think they should have expanded Cold in July to be an HBO series. Because that's just how cool it is.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


For so long I have been struggling with what that sound is in Roundabout that the arpeggios are played on. According to the Man Who Knows (and childhood friend), Aaron Leone, it really is a Hammond organ. Here are Aaron's notes:
Here is what's happening with the Roundabout keys... If i understand your question correctly, your talking about the arpeggios which start @ 4:51 under the vocal "out 'n' out.. its a Hammond organ with a plate reverb on it. @ 4:58 Eddie Offord pans the organ left while Steve Howe's acoustic guitar theme is recapitulated... The 1st Em9 arp the roll is ( B F# D B D B D F#) No root is used in the arp. 1st B is an octave higher than the other B's The 2nd arp is C (C G E C E C E G) again the 1st note is an octave higher... Then Rick changes the Em arp to a straight Em alt with C (B G E B E B E G). This is definitely and organ... It could be a B-3 or another hammond.. Keith Emmerson or Tony Banks didn't always use a B3... The Mellotron enters panned right @ 5:35 with the lyric "In and around the lake". Sounds like the same tape bank John Paul Jones used for "Stairway" 
The chords for the solo really provide a groovy vibe for his solo. which really gives him the tonal platform to jam on. ||: G G C/E F C/E F C/E G | G G C/E F C/E Bb Bb :||
always liked a F bVII and Bb bIII sub to jam over in G 
§ §§
I'd thought, wrongly, that particular sound might have been the Mellotron mentioned in this article.

Friend turned me onto the band Rhinoceros. Which Pleasure for the Empire and Tyrannosaurus Mouse kinda resemble.
The top 40 Free VST plugins of 2014.
 Here are some tips for mixing and mastering.

Oh That I Would...

This plot generator tried to make a noir story for me.
This is a leather choker. Or a bracelet. You decide.
The Microsoft Band is two hundred bucks. It might tell you things.
Googling myself I found a number of books which mentioned me in some way. There are these books that list theater productions. I've probably designed several hundred shows but obviously they don't all show up in these kinds of books. Still, Ernest Abuba and Don Arrup. You can't go wrong.
So, I have this rack o'gear. This is (pretty much) everything turned on:
Things not turned on include a tube amp or two. But keyboards and psychedelic lights ARE on...
How much does that draw? Barely 120 Watts.
"But Ma, I'm tryin' to get to 120!"
The purpose of this was to determine my need for a UPS. But do I really need a UPS? I used to keep them on my gear almost religiously. Are they important really? (Would they have saved my last two computers? If so it ain't this rack which needs a UPS, it's my studio.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Various Noise

Notwithstanding Billy Bragg's argument (which may very well be legitimate) that her management is disingenuous regarding her recent brouhapickle over Spotify, Taylor Swift is by far the best of the modern pop artists out there.
We've been living in an age of female singer-songwriters what with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry et al but as much as I might like the Gaga, Taylor Swift has the best songwriting team out there.
Perhaps I am mistaking Taylor Swift for Max Martin who co-wrote most of the tunes I think are the most skillful.


Various nose.
This dude reviewed the Hello Kitty Stratocaster. Twice. Actually I really dig Joe Gore's blog. All about guitars and suchwise.


Free VST emulations of the VCS3 synth (probably most famously used by Pink Floyd in On The Run). I'm gonna try the KX77.
Wait. Why am I going to try that out? I can't think of when I'd use it. I'm not smart enough to use synth sounds. I can barely figure out what to do with a Hammond. Heaven knows what all those drawbars actually do.
The XLIS3 is another emulation. I'm honestly so confused by that review that I have no idea what's going on.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

For Me, Your Bear is Pretty

Among things going though my head are Bei Mir Bistu Shein. Interesting things about the history of this song. Composed by Jews, performed by African Americans, made into a hit by the then-unknown Andrews Sisters, popular in the Soviet Union AND Nazi Germany. This particular artist, doing the "original" Yiddish version, does some phrasing things which I feel are really quite special. Probably this is Katica Illényi. This all started because of watching A Christmas Story, looking up something about Jean Shepard, and finding the parody version of "The Bear Missed the Train" which, as a parody, still cracks me up.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Robot Revolution March 2015

So apparently Robot Revolution is being released on March 10, 2015.

Order early. Order often.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sound Design Tips and Tricks for Stage and Screen s1 ep05

Here I introduce the mixing board (very introductory) to the reluctant sound designer.

Ooh. The name of this series really should be "The Reluctant Sound Designer" shouldn't it?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pleasure Two

I don't know what the best quote of the night was. It could have been Marc's:

"So. You named the band without talking to any of us first?"

Or it could have been Mike Kessell's:

"It's like being in a band will all next-level stuff and great musicians but they give you a Rockband controller to play instead of drums."

Either way, even though both were at my expense I am still amused.

Marc played his 4-string. I was on the Les Paul. Mike was on the Rock Band controller Yamaha electronic kit.
Marc also had this brilliant idea of playing this huge and dirgy version of The Sound of Silence. My playing on this is simply terrible but it's interesting how much Simon and Garfunkel end up sounding like Neil Young just by adding some distorted guitar.
In order to get us away from that whole "guitar panned to center, bass panned to center" thing I did a little panning with a send going to a reverb that's on the other side. With bass I went for some different sounds including sending to an amp simulator which was mixed back in (sometimes panning it, sometimes not) just to widen things out a bit.
I'm worried about running out of Guillaume Seignac paintings. I really wish I knew more about this model, she's in a bunch of his work and she's always very interesting.
There is a lot a lot a lot of compression on these tracks. Like too much. I have LA-2A emulations and then heavy limiters and multiband limiters and... well you get the idea. Too much. But I wanted everything to be very loud.
We're still working on our musical vocabulary. That said we seem to have an instant vocabulary. Yeah, I keep yelling "play more fills" toward the percussion section, but a very melodic bass with my guitar style works quite well. Our vocabulary... it seems to involve playing 9ths somehow. It also involves me not having the foggiest idea of what I'm doing. So there's that.
I also like how 35 Million Miles From Earth ends up being a suite. And The Dance of the Turquoise Mouse ended up pretty good, especially seeing how it was just a last-minute thing which we play after it got kinda late and we didn't want to be too noisy.
Gwendolyn Wormsign is perhaps my favorite because of the way the the bass goes 100% counterpoint to my riff. Which leads into that very trollopy melody toward the end. I feel that should be the music on some very hip talk show. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Android Insurrection Australia

Coarse language!
Our Australian distributor sent along these pictures of the Australian version of Android Insurrection today.
Man's final stand 'gainst the automaton foe.
I dig the back cover. I think that's unique to the Australian version.

Monday, December 15, 2014

High Priestess of a Dead God

Last Wednesday Marc Schmied, Mike Kessell, and I played in Jersey City.
Marc went through the Peavey Vypyer as a "bass amp" and I played through the Kemper. I liked the Peavey better than my amp-emulation pedals for the bass when I was experimenting with it. The "clean" Plexi and Twin sounds seemed to be the best.
I'm playing my Les Paul throughout. Drums are Abbey Road Late '60's.
Later I put in a bit of Hammond organ on some things.

There's a lot a lot a lot of compression on these tracks. Mostly an emulation of the LA-2A, but also some of Samplitude's brilliant M/S compression just to give the whole thing a bit of "finish" to it.
More more more...

That's all I got

Via John August Marco Arment's podcast guide, Dan Benjamin's podcast guide.
A wooden keyboard for your Chiclet-style keyboard.
As much as I made fun of font nerdery, the Typeset in the Future blog is pretty darn sweet.
Here's a free version of the Eurostile extended bold.
Weller's Words of Wisdom is a great blog on prop and art techniques.
Eric Ian Steele on the best screenwriting books.


So we have a screening of the movie and I just can't sit through it without the excruciating pain of seeing every single mistake.
That's right. It's all about me.
There's a whole act which needs a pass on the audio to smooth dialog transitions. Meaning that every time somebody speaks, the background hiss jumps up. Then it cuts off when they're done. It's entirely my fault and I don't know how it got through.
Then there are some render errors. Final Cut Pro does not always appreciate multiple layers of video being composted atop one another. We go to great lengths to avoid this by making lots of pre-renders but somehow there were a handful of shots which had that strange "overwhite" look where the bright patches in the frame actually go black because they're so bright.
And also a couple boom shadows which I had at one time dealt with by putting a "tunnelvision" effect on the robot's point-of-view. My guess is that we lost that effect when we put the movie in 3:1 aspect ratio but then when we pulled back out to 2.35:1 I didn't put the effect back on.
So I spent Sunday re-editing dialog and re-rendering picture to send out again.
My distributor's exact words when I told him I was sending him yet another version of the movie were "You're killing me."

I said "I know, I'm killing myself too."
Of course we didn't just have rendering errors. The dumb DVD took a dive in the middle of the movie. Luckily we got it started again off a computer (which is what we should have done in the first place.) I told people that if the DVD doesn't work we all have to go and act out the entire movie for the audience.
Apple killed DVD Studio Pro. Adobe has abandoned Encore. Honestly I don't know how professional houses make DVD's anymore. I am hoping that I never have to make one in-house ever again.
That said, dramatically the movie almost works (this is the director talking). There's always a problem in these small indy pictures where one misses a bit of the action, the impacts, that sort of thing. And I feel like we still missed some of those. But not all of them. Some of those moments we got right. Even though we had to shoot a lot of this picture where different angles of the same scene were not shot on the same day. Or month.
The movie is very well acted. It gets laughs where it's supposed to. And I think the story makes sense. The music is great. I dig the costumes. It looks different from our previous pictures. Steve Niles banged it out of the park on his end. And we have a couple good cg robots.
This movie is the least excruciating picture of ours for me to watch. Faint praise is all I've got for myself. But it's a step in the right direction.
I got the latest picture to UPS today. Hopefully it's the last version. It's been more than a year since we had shot the movie. That's a long time for us.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Indy Film Again

So Kevin Smith, who is an excellent public speaker, talks about how he wants to change indy distribution. This, to the Internet, is him "imploding" because he wants to distribute pictures himself.

The logic was that they made the picture Red State for $4,000,000 and whomever they would sell it to would probably put in another $20,000,000 in prints and advertising, so that ultimately the movie would have to make back about $50,000,000 just to go into "profit".
So he figured he'd tour around with the picture and sell out some movie theaters and do the distribution themselves.

Now we hear that we're going to finally break the mold, make a paradigm shift, and disrupt the dominant culture all the time. And in motion picture distribution it pretty much hasn't worked once.

Kevin Smith and his team are no spring chickens. They went in with eyes wide open. And they took a flippin bath on the movie.

Red State is actually Kevin Smith's worst-performing movie ever (at something like 1.3 million dollars worldwide.)

This does serve as a warning to all who are all "We got this whole indy VOD release thing figured out, we're gonna leverage our social networks into monetized actuarial pods with cash - based numberwang overflow."

You don't. Smith and company are rather sophisticated. And they've been through the process on pictures which made people money. If Smith (who can draw a fair sized crowd just by showing up) can't have numberwang, what makes you think you can?

UPDATE: As per Kevin Kangas below, Kevin Smith is saying that the picture is actually in the black due to $3M from non-theatrical North American rights plus $1M US theatrical and $1.5M overseas.
But those seem like gross numbers to me still -- surely the venues take a cut, no?
And note that this article speaks on being close to closing on that $3M deal. That was 2011.
So maybe they did actually see black on the books?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sound Design Tips and Tricks for Screen and Stage s1 ep04

Basic things about speaker placement.

The Internet Hate Machine

You know, when I make a comment on this or any of my other blogs about Jack Conte's numbers on the Pomplamoose tour, I'm just putting on a public notebook whatever my current thoughts (coherent or otherwise) might be.
But that post of Jack Conte's is tremendously important. Nobody, and I mean freaking nobody puts any real numbers about anything on the Internet.
But boy did that post of Jack's activate the Internet Hate Machine™.

And the cold hard reality is that way too many people are insanely, derangedly, and incorrigibly jealous of other people.

In my business I'm sorta lucky in that I'm not beholden to the hipster elite which permeates the music business. Reviews by people who really really wish they weren't too frightened to make a feature film themselves don't actually affect us.

Boy do people in the indy music business really hate one another. The back-stabbery and the jealousy are at levels that really systematically reduce the fun part of music. The joke is that if Pomplamoose hadn't paid their musicians well and hadn't put them up in hotels, the Internet would be out with its pitchforks (ha!) and demanding their heads (see: Amanda Palmer.)
So there's a rebuttal to the rebuttals, but to me it's beside the point. If I fall back into a Marxist mode here I'd say that the indy music press is so freaking bourgeois that they can't stand regular working-class musicians making money. You have to either be starving to satisfy the bourgeois ideology of the starving artist or you have to straight up be one of the rock aristocracy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

144 Hours

Having just finished John Purcell's wonderful book on dialog editing I've come to a thinking. Suchwise:

I think the fundamental difference between the way dialog is edited on big features and the way we have to do it is that on big movies the M & E's come second, with the English-language mix coming first.
We really can't afford to work that way. Our M & E's have to really and truly sound just like the English language full mix -- just without any actual dialog in them. And they are a first deliverable, not something we can wait on if and when more money mysteriously arrives.
So for us doing a dialog edit is really doing the prepping for the Music and Effects mix.
What this basically means is that the dialog tracks themselves get stripped and noise-reduced down to their barest elements. Ruthlessly so.
See, normally a dialog editor works on making a smooth dialog track by fading in and out of each microphone, and leaving the tone up between pieces of dialog so the scene has no jarring cuts of background tone coming in and out.
Big crossfades between dialog tracks are fine, but how do you build an M & E out of this?

Then they fill the spots in-between with room tone.
This doesn't work for me. Why? Because what happens when you mute those dialog tracks?
The scene's audio disappears. All you have left is your Foley and any sound effects you've cut in.
Now, there's a thing called the P-FX track. That's where you put all your production sound effects which the mixer may or may not use.
But the fact is we can't deal with waiting around to try to figure out how to make the mix work without the dialog after the fact.
So what I say is:
1. Strip that dialog clean with dead-on noise reduction and then add room tone to the entire scene.
2. Those "PFX" tracks? turn them into actual effects tracks. Make a decision then and there (during the dialog edit) what production sounds are going to be sound effects in the movie. Drag those production effects down to one of your sound effects tracks.
3. If you're going to use room tone from the actual scene and loop it, that's fine. Just deal with it right then.
4. Now, during the dialog edit, you need to decide on sound effects during the scene in order to make the scene work. Why? Because some of those sound effects will have to sit on top of the dialog. In order to know if your M & E's will actually work you have to deal with that immediately.
5. The PFX track gets a new function -- it (or they) is/are muted while running off the full English mix. This is because the only thing on the PFX track are sound effects which take place right on top of dialog where the dialog track already has the effect on it.
For instance, if you're happy with a line of dialog where the actor says his line but also scuffs his shoe at the same time, you'll need to put another "clean" shoe scuff at the same place on the PFX track. This way when you mute the dialog tracks and unmute the PFX track, the scuff will appear in the same place, just without any dialog over it.
Obviously this isn't the ideal way to handle dialog tracks so I try not to use any of these kinds of PFX tracks if I can help it.
As unbelievable as it may sound to someone who has no idea what I'm talking about, the above system actually does make sense. But what it means is that the person doing the dialog edit on a reel is also making sound effects decisions on that same reel. Because every edit in the dialog requires a careful consideration of the Music and Effects tracks (well, really just the Effects tracks).
This means that a "dialog editor" has to have a bank of sound effects available. They have to have a sampler and a keyboard available. They probably need to have a recording booth available. All to do the "dialog" edit.
Are there effects that can be done as a "second pass" or by another person at another time? Yes. Yes there are.
For instance, any noises created by a CG element like a dinosaur or robot can be presumed to not exist on the dialog tracks so one need not worry about them while preparing the dialog tracks.
Footsteps which don't exist in the production tracks (especially in scenes which were shot MOS.)
So, how many hours should this take? I'm glad you asked. The answer is 144 hours.
That's three days for all the dialog editing (including ADR), all the sound effects (including Foley), on each 10-minute reel for a 90-minute movie. Some reels will take a bit longer, some a bit shorter. And of course you'll schedule your ADR to happen in chunks so you will be spreading the ADR recording over a few weeks. But basically? 144 hours.
Me? I'm gonna write all of this up and put it in our Wiki.