Friday, May 18, 2018

New Art and Cool Actors

As a reader of this blog, especially if you've seen any of my unedited posts, you have probably noticed that I am not much at typing.  I do it all the time.  Partially for a living, some may say, and yet, I find myself having to correct a lot of mistakes.  I blame short fingers and a lack of concentration.  Largely, I get two or three words ahead of myself as I tend to compose and type as I go.  I'd blame my wrist injury from three  years ago, but that's mostly healed and I was a pretty lousy typist long before that.

Anyway, that makes me a bit leery when it comes to typing out credits.  Actors really like to have their names spelled out correctly.  I mean, for most of them, my getting their names and faces on the screen is a large portion, if not all, of their pay.  So, when the third render and export of the finished "Jack vs Lanterns" had a typo at the very end of the movie, I was a bit..."miffed".  I was  hoping to move onto the DVD Build, but that wasn't looking too promising.  It would be another few hours of rendering and exporting video and as my readers know, Spring into Summer is the busy time for my "day job".  I have a few social obligations coming  up, and as an anti-social (except when I'm standing behind a bar) kind of guy, those use up a lot of my energy.  Pushing this movie a few more weeks back after nearly two years may not seem like much, but to me it was a weight I really didn't want to deal with.

So, I emailed the actor, pled my case and within a few moments got the coolest response ever.  Read this bit of trivia that let me off the hook.  I just want to say that Micah Christein is one cool guy.  Very talented too.  He's nothing like the asshole character he plays in "Jack vs Lanterns".  In fact, I had him slated as a possible for a different role, but the fates changed that.  I guess that will be another piece of trivia down the line.


I'm still awaiting approval from IMDB, but I hope to have this up as our primary photo there soon.  It's a bit of a work in progress, but the layout has been in my head since the beginning (much like the "Lumber vs Jack" monster carry poster was always what I wanted to shoot).  Since this mock-up I've cleaned up quite a few things mostly only models and graphic designers will notice.  That's roughly 50% of my friends and family.  

I give you the first "poster" for "Jack vs Lanterns"! 

Rough Draft of what will likely be the Amazon Art for "Jack vs Lanterns"

There is a slight chance that I will have to make some changes for Amazon.  They don't like weapons to be the primary focus of a poster, but in general, I find that they allow a gun to be a prop like this.  Pointed straight at the camera may cause a bit of a problem. We'll see.

By the way, if it looks a bit like an  homage to a 70s TV show with a monster in the background, that's not an accident.  Jack takes a bit of a back seat in this sequel (Don't worry.  I still swing an axe here and there.)  I thought all of the phone calls and information sharing he did with the real heroes of the movie harkened back to my days of playing Bosley when the neighbor girls wanted to be the Angels.  The fact that there are three here is a happy coincidence.

I hope you're all looking forward to the movie.
Like many sequels, it's even sillier than the first, but I think a fun time.
If you haven't seen "Lumber vs Jack" yet, it's FREE until the end of May on Amazon Prime.
After June 1st you'll need to be a member or pay for it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

More on Day for Night.

If you follow my YouTube channel and the "Jack vs Lanterns" page, you've likely seen me do some talking about relighting things in post.  It's not really "easier" and it's a "digital trick" I've tried to avoid in my movies up until now in keeping with my retro style, but sometimes it's a necessity.

A shoot we did at a house once, in 3D, a camera captured some light from a room that gave away the time of day, so I added a shadow obscuring that room entirely.  It was very helpful.  You can't really use the feature to fix a scene that isn't lit at all (it can make terrible a bit better, but not good), but you can take an over lit scene and add some mood, color and depth.  It's much easier with a static camera.  When you plan for it, the post process will be time consuming, but reasonable.  I don't suggest shooting with an eye for digital lighting unless you've used it a lot and there is no way to get the lighting situation you want in camera.  Lab Day on "Jack vs Lanters" was a good example.  I lit it cleanly for the blue screen.  Adjusted lights to make sure the actors looked their best and then tweaked everything in post.  Colored gels in a small bluescreen room don't work well, so post lighting was the best choice for efficiency and effect.

We talked about that in this video.

Other situations are thrust upon  you.

Due to schedules I had ONE night at the cabin to shoot the scenes with Christina Daoust and Brewier Welch and because of the mountain location I had what is a strange situation for a filmmaker.  We weren't losing the light fast enough.  It was well past what I would consider night time, and I'm sure it was getting dark in town, but up on the mountain, it was still pretty light.  I wanted to get their two shots in before some extras arrived, so I shot as soon as the sun was basically down.

Deck Scene as shot with Fog F/X added.

I actually liked the sort of "dusky" look of it, but when cut with my footage shot at "true night" in other locations that were being intercut with this, the differences were too much.  You can see in the photo above that I used some shutter control to minimize the exposure and I added some digital fog to tie it into some studio shots, which helped with the lighting a bit (and with audio helped bridge the indoor and outdoor scenes brilliantly).  What you can't see here is that I was using a handheld camera and at one point I caught a blue sky behind the house.  That had to go.

So, I added post lighting.

Deck shot with shadows added.

If you look to their sides, you'll see tht I added some shadows.  I also then relit their faces with a bluish filtered light too cool the light of the overall scene.  The difference is subtle, but it will help with continuity.

I did all of this to the layer behind the fog, so as to not effect the fog's orange tinge, which was also accomplished using post lighting.

Overall, I'm happy I put in the effort.  This effect can be addictive and  you can definitely overuse it or depend on it too much.  I know I did in this film.  Between weather forcing us into the studio and only having limited access to some locations, the time of day we shot during wasn't always a choice or the studio lighting was just too "clean" to match with the outdoor elements of the scene.  I do encourage people to shoot some shorts, light them way too evenly and work on adding depth and mood in post just to get a feel for it. The day you need it, you'll want to know how it works.

In X-24, the ability to use negative lights to add shadows was also SUPER HELPFUL.  One shadow hides a camera that snuck into shot because we forgot to move it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Property Manager / Filmmaker Crossover

Those of you who make movies probably have an on set toolkit with the basics like Gaff Tape, Zip Ties and a Multi-Plier (or similar rool) to make quick repairs happen.  Over the years you've probably added some things that came in handy on a specific occasion which you can see happening again.  I keep a hot glue gun, some glue sticks and liquid latex handy on shoots involving props or monster suits. I generally carry some patch up paint too and instant glue too. Most of these things don't fix problems permanently, but they fix them for the moment.  They allow you to rig things to get through the shoot.

If "time is money", down time on a set is lost money and most films, especially indies, can't afford much of it.  The trick is to remember what needs permanent fixing later or you wind up with an on set failure  you could have avoided.  The person who can "fix anything" quickly, neatly and safely, especially in an isolated environment, is handy to have on set.

Often this person has to "think outside the box".  I know it's a tired, overused phrase, but it applies in some situations.  Way back on the set of "Hoodoo for Voodoo" ( Available Here ), we had a shot that needed a test tube.  Somehow it got broken before we got the shot.  Tight budget, so we only had the one.  I think it was a Sunday, so our resources for getting a replacement were limited.  Two production assistants were running all over town looking for a chemistry set at toy shops and Wal-Marts (You can find them at Michael's and Barnes and Nobles sometimes, FYI), but to no avail.  Finally, someone, it may have been me, thought of cigar cases.  One of the crew knew where a good tobacco shop was and they streaked over to get there before it closed.  Watch that test tube carefully.  It used to hold a pretty expensive cigar.  The shot was made and the day was saved.

Rental housing isn't too different.  Tenants, and especially vacationing guests, want things working A.S.A.P. If you can help it, you never want them to experience things broken. Sometimes you can get a pro out in time.  Sometimes you can't.  Certain things, like electrical concerns or gas heaters, have to be left to the professionals for safety's sake, but a squeaky door or stuck window can be fixed "for now" and dealt with permanently later.

Today, this was more of a home situation, but I was doing the lawn and the little guard on the side that keeps grass and rocks from ejecting and hitting me in the face, popped off.  I ran the mower about two seconds without it and decided that it wasn't a good idea. (I wear protective eyewear whenever I work outside, but I don't like to push it.) I was home, so I had my choice of wire (always keep some strong, but bendable wire with you) and zip ties.  I went with the wire, but the flexibility of the zip ties probably would have worked.  Anyway, five minutes later I was mowing again.  Not as important here as if I had driven out to the property to cut the lawn and the mower went down.  It's 20 minutes to Home Depot, then I would have to buy the new mower. I'd lose about an hour to 90 minutes of prime daylight work time.  Forget it if I had to order a part.  Two guests would be there before I could cut the lawn. The situation here though was that the weather has been unpredictable and I need to mow the lawn when I can so the HOA doesn't get made about my long grass.

Creative fixing and experience saves time and keeps things on schedule.  Schedules are hard to make and even harder if you have to keep breaking them.

So, when you meet your Mr. Fix It or Girl Friday.  Your one person who can creatively keep things moving on your set or on your property, safely, cleanly and affordably, hold on to that person.  Work with them whenever you can and learn what they have to show you, because some day, they'll move on and you'll be left with a roll of a duct tape, a coil of wire, some scissors and a rock and have to figure out how to repair that tripod someone stepped on while you were unloading the equipment truck (or your friend's Mom's station wagon).  Maybe you should add some flashlights to your handy bag.

Go watch some of my movies!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Super Hero and Sci-Fi Boom vs Indie Niche Movies

I remember, a long, long time ago, in a Borough far, far away, the Sci-Fi channel was a big deal.  And no, I didn't misspell that.  Way back then "Sci-fi" stood for science fiction, not Science Fiction and Fantasy and the channel was mostly made up of OLD shows and movies.  Super hero shows and movies like "Spider-Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" filled up Sci-Fi's broadcast hours.  It was a specialty channel for a small audience.  A niche market.

Independent filmmakers often fell into horror and monster movies for a similar reason.  Younger audiences ate up the "mindless" action, but Hollywood and major studios wanted little or no part of it because it was difficult to make a lot of money with. Then some popular "slasher" movies came along,  made a bundle and horror was big for awhile.  Independents could still get in with overt gore and truly strange storylines or offensive material, but the gap between major and minor pictures has been closing.

For awhile the F/X that digital filmmaking has allowed us to do on smaller budgets was a good thing.  It lifted the limits of doing imaginative science fiction.  No longer would we read a script and say, "We can't do that."  Rather, it was a matter of whether or not we could afford the software or stock footage to pull it off.

But now comic book movies, science fiction and horror have become super mainstream.  Any day of the week you can watch a super hero  do super things.  Most channels have something scary, creepy or suspenseful in their line up.  You're hard pressed to find shows that don't involve time travel, space, technology or someone with an uncanny ability.  Sci-fi, fantasy and horror are no longer a specialty market and therefore the smaller movies are now competing with blockbuster budgets toe to toe.  Storylines and characters have to be more compelling.  No longer are formulaic three act scenarios that people have seen over and over feeding an unquenched thirst for monsters.  Digital F/X are being used by major studios that spend $1 Million an episode and $200 Million for a feature film.  That cool fire burst you can do in After Effects isn't impressing anyone anymore.  Kids have access to CG overlays in phone apps.

Horror movies are scarier and more intense than ever and everyone wants to see them.  "Boobs and blood" is still the mantra of many, but how much longer will audiences be excited by that?  It's mostly nostalgia now, isn't it?

So, do indies bow out?  Do we admit defeat by the almighty dollar?

We can.  Or, we can go back to basics.  The things some movie makers never lost, but that nobody seemed to care about before.  It's actually cheaper to write a compelling story, look at things in a slightly different way and create characters with some emotional depth.  Your actors will appreciate the extra work they have to do to sell a character with a deep past.  I do think that this all changes the landscape a bit, but in a good way if we can keep up.

I'm working on what is likely my last "feature" for awhile.  Digital online serials are where I'm focusing after Jack vs Lanterns.  Short episodes that are as long as they need to be to tell the story and develop the character condensed into easily digestible, binge worthy watches.  I like this new format of flexible story telling.  Six episodes may add up to a feature when it's done, but the pacing can be faster while the build to the final stroke is still slow and suspenseful.

Keep the casts small, the stories tight, but the stakes high and universe big.  That's our plan.  What's yours?  How are you tackling the new horizon of horror and sci-fi being so popular that it's practically the new Western?  Will you switch genres, methods or both?  Will simple real world based dramas be something people hunger for again now that escapism has become the norm?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Syncing Audio and Video

I may have posted this one here before, but because we recently posted the recording in wind demonstration, I though following up with how to sync your audio recorder sound with your video would be helpful.  The is especially useful in noisy situations, when shooting through car windows (or windows in general) or when filming from a distance.

We used it for distance shots extensively in "X24".

Monday, April 30, 2018

My Love-Hate Relationship with Digital Media

I started this journey of independent production before digital had become nearly as accepted as film, especially for feature movies.  Even television shows were separated into the categories of "lesser" sitcoms and talk shows that used a 3 camera, shot on video, mixed "live" and tweaked in editing format vs. those that were shot on film and transferred to video for editing, more like a theatrical movie.  Usually film was reserved for serious dramas, but some notable sitcoms, such as "Cheers", were shot on celluloid for atmospheric effect. 

Especially back then, film was a much more expensive affair than video.  It not only cost more as a format, but took longer, was more "light hungry" and didn't allow for live switching from one camera to the next while recording a master tape.

Snapshot of some old film cameras given to me over the years.

Back in my day!

Even way back when I used to ride my Brontosaurus to college classes I knew that video "was the future".  I knew it would eventually rival and likely replace film as the go-to format for production.

What I didn't see coming until about sophomore year was the "digital revolution".  Someday, digital editing would make doing movie like F/X super affordable for everyone.  The 90s became a golden age of cheesy glowing visuals all over television thanks to devices like the "Video Toaster"

Chroma-key (Blue Screening and Green screening ) were put into the hands of everybody with enough cash for a fast computer or a decent home "switcher".  I had a Videonics that I used on my first few films.  I wonder what Joel Wynkoop every did with that.

The Early Days of Production.

I shot my first few films when SVHS was still the format of the masses, but finally, just before I produced "The Lunar Pack", I received my first Digital Video camera, a Sony Digital 8, as a Christmas gift from my wife.  I was AMAZED at the quality (looking back now that makes me sad) and shot with it immediately, producing two shorts and eventually the Anthology movie, "The Lunar Pack".  The first few things were still transferred to SVHS for editing, but finally, for the werewolf anthology, I sprung for a Sony VAIO with a whopping 16GB hard drive (you read that correctly) and did my first digital edit. I recently backed that entire computer up to a thumb drive I bought for about 10 bucks.

I LOVED the "lossless" video editing.  Compression was still a thing, but the idea that what I shot would look nearly the same when it got to the final tapes astounded me. (DVD was just coming around.  The laptop could burn "VCDs".)  We used to lose so much quality during edits because every effect took a "generation" of tape to get and those cost quality.

I LOVED the effects I could apply. My vampires exploding into bright white lights were certainly an improvement over my attempts at making this happen on my previous movies.

And I LOVED the ability to adjust audio levels in post, although I abused this privilege terribly at the time and clearly had no real idea of what I was doing.

What I HATED was the memory consumption.  Still do.  As memory has gotten cheaper, digital photography and video has gotten more prevalent. Quality has gone up, and so has the amount of memory needed. Everything we do now is digital and there are precious few hard copies of anything.  We live in a digital world with monthly subscriptions for "gigs".  When was the last time you looked at a "developed" photo?

Gone are the days of video tapes and rummaging through tiny little cassettes to find old masters.  Now you have to keep transferring masters to new hard drives or cloud spaces and hope they don't crash or get lost.

Which brings me to my current situation.

Kids Today.

"Jack vs Lanterns" is being composed from over 7200 files shot over the course of about 720 days. (Not nearly that many shoot days, just spread out that long.  We probably had three shoot weeks total with principal photography being about two. )  The amount of digital information is massive.

While working on it last night I noticed a lag in my laptop.  This has happened before, usually when a scan decides to start while I'm working, but a quick check showed that my operating system hard drive was filling up fast.  I had never emptied the thing.  So, now I'm sitting here waiting for the 4000 files I'm moving over in order to clear space to finish copying, so that I can delete them and get back to work, hopefully on a quicker machine.

Old guys get nostalgic.

Not seeing the physical copy of stuff I'm about to send into the ether causes me distress.  It's silly, I know, but I grew up in a tactile world of film and then video.  Neither of these were ever as "sure" or indestructible as my memory makes me imagine.  I had entire rolls of film lost to leaving them in closed cases on a window sill in college.  I remember cameras used to back up a tape about 2 to 5 seconds every time you "stopped" recording in order to keep a constant signal and so you might lose the end of a scene if you weren't careful. Magnets were terrifying and 800 ISO film was susceptible to airport X-Ray machines no matter what the TSA agents said.

Tape was far from perfect, but you could hold onto it.  Capturing footage from tape automatically backed it  up.  The tape was the original and now you had a digital copy.  It was time used to pre-edit and log footage.  The process has changed a lot, but with HD and 4K looking as good as they do, having access to DSLR cameras and affordable lens options and being able to do so many visual F/X in my home office, I wouldn't give up the advances for anything.  I feel like today's filmmakers are spoiled, but really, they're bogged down with so many options that being able to just tell a simple story and learning  how to use camera angles and music to set the mood are getting lost in the shuffle.

It's a brave new world and the people born into it will hardly notice.

Anyway, this was mostly the result of my other computer being  held up. I guess I'll catch up on some outdoor time while it finishes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Audio on Windy Days

While editing "Jack vs Lanterns", I came across a scene we shot on a particularly windy day.  It was a tight day, so there was no rescheduling to be done.  The shoot had to happen then.

In the past I have shielded microphones from wind in some pretty creative ways, including driving my car around to the location and placing the mic and recorder inside while pointing it out the open window.  We did that for the scenes under the tree in Alien Vengeance and it was far more effective than I expected.

In this particular situation, that wasn't an option, so we handled it like this instead.


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