A VFX Oscars protest demonstration to raise awareness for Visual Effects Professionals has been scheduled for this coming Sunday. For full details on the protest, visit the VFX Soldier blog, and follow the #vfxprotest hashtag on Twitter.
Two of the most common problems I see when looking at web video produced by smaller, independent, content creators, are issues with sound and color correction. Both problems are easy to address, especially if you are shooting indoors in a controlled environment. I’ll get to sound at some other point, but for now, I want to talk about some color basics that starts with properly white balancing your camera and getting a standard color reference that you can use in your editing and/or color grading software.
As a photographer, there is nothing that saddens more than seeing a video where the flesh tones are off, values are clipped, or the blacks have been crushed to the point where the whole dynamic range of the scene is so compressed that most of the detail is going, and nothing looks good…Unless you’re shooting some kind of post-apocalyptic thriller and trying to convey the image of a nuclear winter. Even if you are shooting for something highly stylized, like a noir look, or emulating a bleach-bypass process, you need to start out with a good baseline color profile for whatever you are shooting. Shooting well exposed images with details across the entire dynamic range of your camera is essential…You can always lose detail later on, but you can’t put detail back into an image that was lost on set.
In the attached video, photography guru and master trainer, Rich Harrington of Rhed Pixel, and the new, and quite excellent, Power To Create podcast, shows how to set a custom white balance on a DSLR using a calibration target with white, gray, and black zones on it. As Rich explains, using a custom white balance with your DSLR can save you from a lot of issues down the road…You won’t have the problem of the AWB (Auto White Balance) drifting during the shoot if lighting conditions change, and you have a reference to use in your color correction software later on.
This is a good start to improving the quality of your color pipeline, but there is a bigger picture, one that starts with monitor calibration, and being able to insure that the colors that you saw during the shoot can be reproduced accurately on your monitor in studio. This is where the 3-zone calibration target reaches its limitations.
During the video, Rich briefly flashes a device with a set of color tiles on it. This is a tool called a ‘Color Checker Passport’ from X-Rite, and is a part of a simple, yet powerful, system that can help any content creator improve the quality and consistency of their video color workflow.
It should be noted that there are many devices out there that can be used to achieve the same end results as the X-Rite product, in fact ColorChecker describes a specific standard for a set of color tiles used for profiling and reproducing color in photographic media…If you’d like a deeper dive on that, you can start with this Wikipedia article that talks about how the standard came about.
The Passport is a small device that opens into two sections; One section is a white balance target, and the other is a set of color tiles which, used in conjunction with a calibrated monitor, can match the color you saw on set to the color you see on screen. The Color Checker Passport also comes with software for creating camera profiles and other advanced tasks that are out of the scope of this conversation, save that they are very powerful. Just know that the color tiles are made to very exacting standards, guaranteeing that the colors on the tiles are exactly the colors that they are supposed to be (there is math involved.)
One of the reasons I prefer the X-Rite products is that they are part of an overall color management system that is relatively inexpensive, but simple and effective to use. The back end of this system is a monitor calibration system that insures that the color you are looking at on your display, or projector, is, from a scientific/technical point of view, tuned to a specific standard. I’ll get into that more in a future post, but for now let’s just say that if you calibrate your monitor using an X-Rite calibration device, such as the i1 Display Pro, or ColorMunki, you’ll know the display device is locked to a standard, and anyone in your production pipeline who calibrates their monitors to the same standard should be seeing the same colors on their display that you are seeing on yours. Mostly…
Did I mention that color is a very subjective science? Especially since nothing in nature is really in color, and our brains make up the colors in our head based on the wavelength of light being reflected off of the object, so no two people really ever see colors exactly the same way.
Anyway, back to the videography…
You can set your camera’s custom white balance using a 3-zone calibration target, as Rich Harrington uses in the video, or you can buy a similar target from X-Rite that is manufactured to a tighter set of standards for white, gray, and black…For web video you don’t have to get that scientific. I usually use the white balance card on the ColorChecker Passport…It’s just easier to carry around in a pocket.
The next step is to capture the set of color tiles on the other side of the ColorChecker.
The bottom set of tiles is the set of colors that specifically defines what a ColorChecker (you may hear it referred to as a MacBeth chart by some folks…It was originally called the MacBeth ColorChecker), the 4×6 layout of colors, including a row of monochrome targets at the bottom. They are supplemented on the top section of the passport by an additional row of color tiles, two rows of white balance targets that are called warming tiles and cooling tiles (more on this in a minute, as they are pretty cool for doing quick look adjustments with your color tools), and a row of eight shades of monochrome targets from black to white.
There are a number of ways you can use this on set…Have your subject, or assistant camera if you’ve got a larger crew, hold them, or just tape this to the bottom of your slate. The important part is to have the tiles pointed slightly towards your main light source.
Now when you get into post, you can use these captured color charts in your NLE or color grading software to dial-in your color correction. Just use the technique Rich talks about in his video…Bring up whatever flavor of color-wheel tool your software has, and use the eye dropper to select your white and black points. Now with your white and black levels set, you can dial in to a basic color correction. Even if the overall color correction is going to be handled by your DP, an editor, or a colorist, making sure that your camera is white balanced, and color reference is recorded on set, will make the entire color management process easier for every department in your pipeline.
Now for the cool part. Remember the two roles of warming and cooling tiles on the upper part of the passport? These allow you make very subtle changes to the color temperature of the scene by either warming the overall tone of the scene, or making the colors cooler. This makes some basic stylization very easy.
If you’re a photographer and use Lightroom, or any of the Adobe projects, you can use the ColorChecker plugin to create DNG (Digital Negative—An Adobe-developed standard for an image container) profiles for your cameras, so that for any given set of color conditions (Daylight, Clouds, Tungsten (or Warm CFLs these days)), you can reproduce the same colors in photos from different cameras. Pretty cool, right?
Of course, all of this gets you to a starting point, and this post barely scratches the surface on color—the point here is not necessarily to make you, the content creator, a colorist, but to have an idea of what needs to happen during production to insure that your images are being recorded in a way that will make it easier for your editors and colorist to produce quality images. Being a good colorist is a highly specialized field, and there’s a reason that colorists are the highest paid artists in post—creating dramatic color effects takes time and experience, but by using a simple color management system such as the techniques described here, you can make the overall job of managing your color pipeline easier.
Here’s a tip on finishing graphics: I’ve seen quite a few shows where the creator has done a pretty good job of coming up with a distinctive look, but didn’t apply that look to the titles, graphics, and lower-thirds in the show. This is really noticeable in white titles where the white point is significantly different that the white point of the video, and the titles will be jarringly bright. Color correct your graphics into the scene, and your overall look will be much more consistent.
Amazing footage from Eastman Kodak, of a 1922 Kodachrome film test.
Read more about the details behind this on the 1000 Words blog.
This is the first in a series of tech articles aimed at helping content producers run the more technical aspects of their studios with greater ease and confidence. As a whole, the series is intended as as a guide to technical subjects for non-technical producers, or content creators, who focus on the creative tools, but not necessarily the engineering behind them.
I received a distressing email from a producer friend of mine a couple of weeks ago. We had talked a while back about some problems he was having with a storage system his studio was using to “back up” the video assets from their web series…We discussed a number of solutions, but the unit wound up failing before they could get around to backing it up or archiving the files—taking a few years worth of production materials with it.
Ouch. That hurts…and I think we’ve all been there. My MacBook hard drive went south on me about five years ago, and it took with it about 10 years of archived correspondence and other stuff that I hadn’t backed up…Which is ironic when you consider that I started out my Hollywood career doing data I/O and storage work for one of the big digital labs in town. Since then I’ve been fairly diligent about backing up to a Cloud server, as well as making periodic local backups to a hard drive.
It only has to happen once, and you learn. Budgets in the web content world are small, and usually spread very thin, and telling a producer that they must spend money on backups system and software, taking take time to create and implement a formal backup plan for all of their assets is a hard sell—Until you lose all of your data, and years of your life (and livelihood.)
Our production assets are the most valuable things we own, yet they often get less care and attention than any of our other production equipment. Depending on the size of the production company, there are some steps that can be taken, at every stage of a company’s growth, to assure that your assets will remain safe for the long haul. But before we start talking about strategies and solutions, let’s talk about a couple of terms: Backups and Archiving.
Data Backups are something that are made periodically, and are intended to get you out of short-term trouble when a file gets deleted, corrupted, or, in the worst case, a storage device fails. Backups can be made a number of ways, from a simple file-copy of a drive to another disk, using backup software like Carbon Copy Cloner, or Apple’s Time Machine, or by using a vendor-based Cloud storage backup solution, such as Carbonite or Crashplan.
Data Archiving is something that is done for preserving your data assets over the long term…Usually 10 years or longer. Tape is currently the best archival medium, with the new LTO-6 tape drives offering media that can hold up to 6.5TB of data and is rated to last 30 years. Archival tape systems come in various sizes from single-drive machines to robotic silos capable of holding hundreds of tapes that can back up many terabytes of data to multi-volume data sets spread over a number of tapes. The latter usually being reserved for large facilities, including the data centers of VFX houses and DI facilities. Archival systems are also used to create data backups.
Regardless of the size of your studio, or content creation operation, finding an appropriate backup and archival process and strategy, one that can scale with your needs as you, hopefully, grow, is vital to making sure that the programs that you produce, and all of the elements that go into them, are protected and available, both now and into the future.
I’m going to outline a few different approaches, based on studio size, but first a word about systems integrators.
At any stage of the game, it’s very beneficial to make friends with your local production/post systems integrator. They have the most experience dealing with the best solutions out there at any point in time, and can suggest solutions that are right for a particular studio size and level of expertise. You may wind up buying a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) or tape drive from them, and wonder why you didn’t buy it online for 20-30% less (although most integrators are staying price-competitive these days.) The reason is simple: Support.
An integrator will be there for you, providing you with training and ongoing expertise when you have questions. They can recommend a backup strategy for you, and make sure that there is some consistency when support needs arise. They are source for knowledge, and knowledge transfer, and will bridge the gaps when your staff/crewing situation changes. You will never be without a go-to when a crunch situation occurs.
Here are a few strategies for data backup and retention:
Micro Studios (1-3 people)
In these situations you may not have many terabytes of data—maybe a few PCs, perhaps some storage sub-systems for editing. You probably can’t afford the expense of purchasing a dedicated tape drive for archiving, and are using hard drives for backup copies of your assets, and hard drive backups-are okay, as long as you remember to make backups of these drives, and factor in that most hard drives have a life of a couple of years, max.
The simplest solution for the micro studio is to use cloud backup providers, such as Carbonite or CrashPlan. Both companies allow you to sign up for monthly or yearly plans, with a cost-savings associated with committing to a longer term. For home & small business solutions, data is backed-up to the vendor’s cloud, and in the case of CrashPlan, they offer a utility to create backups to a local disk as well…This way you have a local backup, as well as an off-site backup of your data, to protect in case of fire, flood, or zombie apocalypse.
Both Carbonite and CrashPlan offer apps for mobile devices, and web access to your files, as well as options for getting your data shipped back on a hard drive. They both also offer higher-end services for Enterprise clients, and I expect that both companies will continue to expand the variety and scope of their services as time goes on. Either way it’s a solid investment in data protection, starting at about $10 per PC a month. Also, there a numerous other vendors out there providing similar solutions, not just the two companies mentioned here.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you will need to have a broadband account that has sufficient monthly bandwidth to keep your data backing up, as well as support your day-to-day Internet usage…I have my machines at home scheduled to back up between midnight and 7am, so that it won’t interfere with my surfing, video streaming, and normal video uploads to YouTube. The more data you have, the more bandwidth you will need, so be sure to figure this in to the overall cost of this type of backup strategy.
Another good practice is to back up all of your production assets to a central storage device…Something like a large network hard drive, an Apple Time Capsule, or a RAID system, like a Drobo. Again, keep in mind, you need to back up your central storage to another device, and the best practice is to keep a copy of your backup data somewhere in secure, off-site, storage.
Small Studios (4-10 People)
At this stage in your development, cloud backup can still be a cost-effective solution, but buying an archival tape unit and backup software starts become a more practical approach. LTO tape units start at about $1500 online for an LTO-5 unit, and go up from there.
There are a number of software solutions for creating and maintaining tape archives, and this is where it really helps to have a relationship with a local systems integrator for choosing the best solution for your needs, as well as getting training and support. The chief feature of tape archiving software is that it will use a database for creating and cataloging datasets, and keeping your data organized for future retrieval.
At this size, it may also be time to start exploring Digital Asset Management, or DAM, solutions. Digital asset managers are workflow-oriented library system that will provide cataloging and extensive meta-data tagging capabilities when storing your data, which will allow you to search and access to all of your studio’s visual assets and production data, from photos and graphics, to VFX elements and video. A DAM can also provide a host of other services, such as proxy creation, file transfer, and even production workflow management and finished output delivery. These systems range from the small, and relatively inexpensive, to large-scale systems, such as the PIX System. Pix is used by many of the major motion picture studios, and is capable of supporting a globally-distributed production team.
One very interesting asset management system on the market right now that is directly applicable to the smaller studio/content creator market is Axle from Axle Video Systems. They have a system that is flexible, scalable, and billed as “Radically Simple” to use. The starting price for the software is about $1300, which provides a very low barrier to entry for even the most frugal studio.
Medium Studios (11-30 People)
At this point the studio has dedicated office space, and there is a network infrastructure in place, even if it’s just an Apple or Windows network. Data storage is shared on NAS (Network-Attached Storage) or a SAN (Storage Area Network.)
Again, cloud storage providers are a possibility, however “Enterprise” solutions are coming into the business conversations a bit more. CrashPlan has some interesting options here, as well as some options that involve use of their dedicated hardware installed locally within your studio. It may be more cost effective to invest in a larger backup and archival system to handle this in-house. The direction at this point will largely be governed by how much of an in-house IT and/or data management staff you have, or whether you outsource your IT to a contractor.
Some type of DAM system becomes more of a must-have at this stage of growth.
At a point where a studio has more than 30 people, office space, including a data center, and at least a solid-core of an IT department. Data management will be primarily handled by your engineering or data I/O department, and you can stop sweating the small stuff, and just wonder why your CTO is spending so much of your company’s budget on things that you used to be able to do yourself.
I hope that this type of post is useful to the folks in this community, and I would love to hear your feedback, as well as any ideas you might have for future Tech Talk posts.
Yesterday, the folks from the Creative Pro User Group, or CPUG, game rolling into San Francisco for the annual SuperMeet, a convocation of editors, cinematographers, producers, gearheads, and other assorted folks that are interested in visual content creation.
Having volunteered to help out with social media, I was ready to do the usual live-tweeting of iPhone photos and running commentary on the stage show, but to wanted to use the opportunity to try out some new tools and bring a bit of spontaneous video into the mix.
One of the things I love about the smartphone age is the ability to create and share media instantly, anywhere you can get cell phone access, and to do so without carrying around a ton of gear. Gear, although both useful, and essential to most production situations, limits your freedom and, depending on what you are creating, can weigh you down with a lot of stuff that you may, or may not, actually use on the day of whatever event you are covering. My goal is to be able to go to a convention, or trade show, wearing no more gear than a backpack, and some small video/audio capture device, and be able to create and webcast photos and videos almost immediately.
I’ve been a fan of Taz Goldstein’s Hand Held Hollywood site for a few years now. Taz covers every aspect of portable content creation, with an increasing emphasis on iOS devices such as the PadCaster for the iPad, or the ALM mCAMLITE for the iPhone 5. In fact, Goldstein has just completed a reference guide to portable production with iOS devices, called Filmmaking with the iPad & iPhone. The book is an idea-generator, and will give content creators interested in this kind of filmmaking plenty of food for thought, as well as gadgets to buy…I highly recommend it.
For the SuperMeet, I brought an iPhone 5, iPad (4th Gen.), the ALM mCAMLITE, and a Mophie reserve battery to keep my devices charged throughout the day, along with a smallish LED video light and accessory cold shoe bracket.
This was my first real opportunity to shake down the mCAMLITE. I’m going to do a video review later, but the first impressions of the unit mentioned in my post from Tuesday still hold up: The base adds weight, stability, and a decent form factor to the iPhone 5. The mini boom mic is not really suitable for any but the most quiet, noise-free environments (in other words conventions and trade shows are out), and the wide-angle lens is very nice. One other thing to note is that the built-in cold shoe, as well has additional 1/4″/20 threads, allow you to build out the device very easily with accessores, such as outboard mics and lighting.
I was able to shoot two short pieces with the SuperMeet producers, Michael Horton and Dan Bérubé, including the 30 second on-the-spot promo included with this post. Both videos were uploaded in standard def to YouTube and Tweeted out before the event, which had the desired spontaneity. The video looked serviceable, for what it was, but the audio left a lot to be desired, which was to expected. The big take-away for me was that in order to do video with the iPhone, and come out with a professional-looking result, it still requires the camera rig to be built out with additional hand-holds, a video light, and an improved microphone…Oh, and BTW, because of the funky headphone/earphone jack on the iPhone, an additional adapter is required to make your video mic, or boom mic with a mini jack, compatible.
Right now, I’m not sure the trade-offs in quality are worth it, with the availability of small HD camcorders like the Canon HF100, which will take all of the same attachments and get vastly superior footage without a significant increase in carrying weight…Unless, of course, the point of the exercise is to have bragging rights to having shot your video with an iPhone.
There are some additional challenges in getting your media from the iPhone up to YouTube (or any other Internet destination.) The YouTube app for the iPhone is inhibited from uploading HD video unless you are on a WiFi network (most apps, including my favorite audio book and podcatcher apps are similarly hobbled…and will likely stay that way as long as cell carriers try to get the most money for the lowest bandwidth from the consumer.) I wound up having to tether my AT&T iPhone to a Verizon iPad in order to fake the YouTube app out. In the end, it just wasn’t worth it, so I uploaded SD on the day, and transferred the HD footage later, at home.
Bandwidth will be the primary determinant in just how successful this type of on-the-fly videocasting will be, the the tools are getting there.
Also, the mobile YouTube apps for Chrome, and other native iOS apps, lack most of the functionality that is found in the regular “PC” (anything running MacOS, Windows, or Ubuntu, I guess) browser apps. Better tagging, access to annotation and basic editing tools are going to be needed if a tablet is ever truly going to become a replacement, or alternative, to a traditional “PC”.
Another part of this workflow has to be editing. There have been some iOS-based NLE’s out there as of late, but one of the apps shown at the SuperMeet looks to have a lot of potential at bringing the power of a full-featured NLE to the iOS Market. It’s called TouchEdit, and is being developed by editor Dan Lebenthal A.C.E. (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens…He works a lot with Jon Favreau.) Lebenthal demoed the current beta last night at the show. It will be available in the Apple App Store next week, and will be selling for $50. Check out the TouchEdit site for more features and info.
A couple of the best shares of the night came from the new Vine app, a social media sharing app that allows the user to shoot a short section of video that is immediately uploaded to cyberspace and made available for tweeting or Facebook posting, where the clip will loop ad infinitum. I captured a couple of clips of key moments last night, like this one of Adobe Product Evangelist Jason Levine performing his trademark presentation high-kick while singing the praises of Adobe Creative Cloud, and another moment where Jeff Stansfield, of Advantage Video Systems, demonstrates the proper attitude to display when winning a prize in the world-famous Supermeet Raffle.
Vine is brilliant at capturing the essence of a moment in video and instantly presenting it to the world in a way that turns an otherwise “you should have been there” moment into a shared experience with your community. This app, which has only been out about a week, is going to be huge.
So…More experimenting, and gadget testing to come. I’m pretty sure that the way of the future in light-weight, portable, video production, and spontaneous net-casting is right around the corner, and will keep on digging until I can create content that is both compelling and of high quality. My gut feeling is that spontaneous post-production and sharing is entirely doable within the range of phone and tablet devices, but it will be some time before we can fully replace our camcorders and professional camera gear with them.
The mCAMLITE is one of the many tools featured in the new book, Filmmaking with the iPad & iPhone by Taz Goldstein, the creator of the Hand-Held Hollywood website. The book is a veritable treasure trove of gadgets, gizmos, and software, for using iOS devices in your content creation workflow.
The mCAMLITE is basically a cradle for the iPhone that allows the shooter to add additional lenses, and other devices, via a cold shoe mount, and a couple of 1/4″/20 threads on the bottom of the unit. It comes standard with a 37mm wide-angle lens, and a mini-boom microphone that plugs into the iPhone’s ear jack/microphone plug.
Received the unit this afternoon, took it outside for a quick shoot at lunchtime, and uploaded the video to my YouTube channel.
A full product review will follow over the weekend, but here are a few immediate thoughts:
Upside: The unit is made of black power-coated billet aluminum. The form factor is nice, and it adds enough weight to the iPhone 5 to make it more stable as a camera platform. The ability to pop on extra screw-mount lenses is also nice. A rubberized iPhone case is supplied that fits securely into the mCAMLITE body and prevents scratching the phone. The unit feels good to hold, and eliminates a lot of the fatigue of trying to hold the iPhone steady while shooting.
Downside: The supplied boom mic is pretty bad, as you can hear in the video. It is susceptible to all kinds of static and popping due to something with the electrical connection. Also, the case does not provide any access to the shut-off button on top of the phone.
At this point, still not sure if this unit is a buy recommendation or not, but I want to try using my Rode Stereo Videomic on it to get better audio quality, before I decide. I’m going to be shaking this down tomorrow at the CPUG San Francisco Supermeet, and will have some more footage with my full review.
It’s that time of year; Mac lovers are converging on San Francisco for MacWorld/iWorld (Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2013), and that means it’s also time for content creation and post production folks to come together for the 12th Annual Creative Pro User Group (CPUG) San Francisco Supermeet. This year the CPUG Supermeet returns to UCSF’s Mission Bay Conference Center, with a day of educational and product seminars capped off with an evening food, drink, and presentations by a variety of Industry luminaries, including special guest speaker Jay Cassidy A.C.E., the editor of the Academy Award-nominated ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and Al Gore’s environmental documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’
Tickets are still available through EventBrite, or on-site at the event. Use the discount code ADOBEVIP for a $5.00 discount. For details, visit Supermeet.com.
I’ll be there, and will be live-tweeting the event at: @DougLuberts.
I’ve been a bad blogger for some time now… Simple equation is Time Available – Stuff to Do == <= 0. BUT!
I’ve been running a paper.li digest for the last year or so called “The New Media Daily“. I don’t know if it’s a great name, but it’s drawn from articles and posts tweeted by a list of folks in, and of interest to, the New Media community.
The paper publishes daily, and usually shows up in my Twitter feed at about 10am Pacific time, and I’ve been getting some pretty good readership numbers for some time now. I just updated the paper to a more customizable format, and added an option for subscribers to receive it by email…You know, if you don’t get enough email already.
Also, if you’re into Geek Culture, I’ve created a Geektastic! News digest on paper.li that tracks all things geek from Comics to Comic-Con, Celebrities to Cosplayers, and comes from my @GeektasticTV twitter feed.
Saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” last night in 3D HFR/48 fps (The so-called “eXtreme Digital Cinema” version.)
Naturally as a photographer and digital content creator, I was just as intrigued by the technology as the chance to see another one of Tolkien’s beloved classics adapted for the screen. There has been a lot of talk about the aesthetics of HFR since Peter Jackson first showed a segment of the film last year, with a lot of folks complaining that it looked too much like video…An often-used analogy seems to be that the finished product looks a lot like a BBC documentary.
Ouch. True, but ouch.
It’s true that the there is a video-like quality to much of the live action plates…The only way I can describe it as looking like a TV series shot in HD, when the lighting is off, and you can instinctively tell it’s not film. The dynamic range and contrast of the imagery just doesn’t approach that of film, or digitally acquired media shot at 24 fps. Again, one mostly notices it in the live action plates, as opposed to fully CG images, and particularly in high-contrast or dimly-light sequences. It just doesn’t look like what a paying customer should expect as professional-quality cinema.
A lot has been written/said about the HFR choice by Peter Jackson, and others, including Jim Cameron, opining that this is “the future of cinema”, and it well may be. The key take-away here being that the future isn’t here yet, and this tech has a long way to go before it is suitable for any paying audience, let alone one that is paying upscaled prices for stereo projection (I think my ticket for last night ran about $17, including electronic “convenience” fee.) Audiences are basically paying to see an advanced prototype, and, as a viewer, that’s just not acceptable to me.
Cameron managed to take digital cinema, and stereo projection, to the next level with “Avatar”, but also managed to deliver a product that was visually compelling in a state-of-the-art, game-changing (can I work in any more cliche’s here?) way, and not one that says “Hey, guys, this is the future, and it will be really be cool in a few years if you let us continue to go down this road by subsidizing our sub-par product until we can get it right.”
Okay, so I guess I’m not on board with this.
On the plus side, the overall reduction in motion blur is the real win in this technology. There is no longer a moment of dizzying disorientation when the camera does a whip-pan, and long, intricate, camera movements are crystal-clear and free from motion artifacts. Since the likely standard for HFR will probably be 60 FPS, this will continue to improve, and this is probably the key aesthetic improvement to be gained from high frame rate technology…Once the dynamic range and contrast issues are sorted out.
Motion blur is an artifact of that lower frame rate technology that we have all bought into over time, one that filmmakers and VFX people put a lot of time and money into compensating for on CG features, as we actually have to create fake motion blur in CG animation to match the motion blur inherent in the live action photography. It’s just another aesthetic convention that we’ve all become used to over time, as part of the inherent trickery of creating cinematic images…The same could be said for the look and color of film.
It’s said that the net result of this will be more realistic imagery, but whether those images will be better, or aesthetically interesting or appealing to audiences remains to be seen. There are reasons that audiences like the look of Kodachrome-y images…Those better-than-real life recreations of a world that we wished we inhabited. While HFR technologies bring the promise of more realistic digital cinema imagery, the question that still remains to be answered is whether or not audiences will find this new realism more satisfying. In any event, we’re just not there yet.
Also, “The Hobbit” isn’t representative of some of Weta Digital’s best VFX work. The FX were very uneven, and a lot of the digital doubles work, particularly in the cave battle sequence, clearly reads as cg animation…And I think the HFR deficiencies highlight, and call attention to, any defects in the VFX work.
Tech considerations aside, “The Hobbit” is more-or-les classic Tolkien, with some liberal alterations to plot and story structure. The translation of the book into 3 films is giving us a very detailed adaptation tfor the screen, which is fine given Tolkien’s finely-detailed world and character building. “An Unexpected Journey” takes its time in establishing the story, and introducing the gallery of characters, including the corps company of 13 dwarves, elves, hobbits and wizards. There are some great fight scenes, plenty of orcs, goblins, trolls, and wargs, and it sets the stage well for the eventual encounter with Smaug, the big bad of the story. It’s a well-told tale, even if the visual elements kind of pull you out of it from time-to-time.
Last week, a number of blogs broke a story about a YouTube video produced by Brian Kamerer, which had been aired on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ and subsequently flagged for a copyright violation and blocked on YouTube.
The video in question was a campaign ad that Kamerer created for his friend, Travis Irvine, who was running for mayor of Bexley, Ohio, at the time. It had been sitting in YouTube’s inventory until Leno’s staff unearthed it for a bit they were doing on campaign ads in 2009.
Apparently, Kamerer went to search for the video recently, and found that it had been blocked on YouTube due to copyright infringement reasons by NBC Universal, prompting Kamerer to pen an open letter to Leno on Splitsider.com.
Yeah, I’d say he was pretty well pissed…
‘The Tonight Show’ didn’t notify Kamerer that they were planning to run his piece in advance, or advise him afterward that they had done so, which wasn’t at all cool, and most likely not legal, although, in the long run, I don’t know that a lot of small content creators would turn down an opportunity to get their work shown on Leno’s show in any event. Not really the point.
The bulk of Kamerer’s rage was directed at Jay and company for ‘getting the video removed’ from YouTube, and I have to throw a flag on that play.
As much as anyone would love to dump on the big, bad, corporate media empire for stompin’ on the little guy, this really isn’t Leno’s, ‘The Tonight Show’ staff’s, or NBC Universal’s fault…The blame here lies with Google/YouTube, and the well-intentioned-but-faulty Content ID program. Also the way YouTube, and its policies, generally favor the large corporate players at the expense of small content creators, as well as YouTube’s appalling, and generally irresponsible, lack of any meaningful Customer Service program.
The latter problem is by design, and symptomatic of large tech companies who simply do not wish to interact with their customers real time, and via humans…Which is discussed by LA Times columnist, David Lazarus, in last week’s, ‘Searching for a way to get a human being on the phone at Google‘.
YouTube and Content ID
Content ID is touted by YouTube as a feature designed to allow content creators to protect their IP. It’s pretty simple: The content creator uploads reference content and metadata, YouTube’s algorithm scans uploaded content against the reference, and flags it if a match occurs.
As a content creator you have several ways to handle a match…That is allowing it, allowing it but taking the monetization for yourself, or having it pulled from YouTube.
There is a procedure for appealing Content ID matches (I had it happen once on a political satire video I created, and the owner of the content, a campaign ad, agreed that I was making use of their content appropriately, which is a rarity), but it is stilted heavilly in favor of YouTube Partners and large companies, largely due to the access that bigger players have to direct connections at YouTube…The bigger the player, the more likely they are to have a access to people at YouTube who can resolve things for them, leaving smaller content creators to the mercy of YouTube’s automated systems. If a dialog box says you’re screwed, well then you well and truly are…
Kamerer’s Problem, and Why NBC is not to blame (this time.)
The problem that caused Brian Kamerer’s video to be blocked is two-fold.
First, NBC likely doesn’t interact with YouTube users on Content ID matches. They have probably made a blanket decision to have YouTube pull all of their copyrighted IP, no questions asked…Which may or may not understandable, depending on your point of view. They may have decided that there is just too much content out there to want to mediate every single item, and they have no reason to negotiate on use of their IP.
The second part of the problem, and where it gets fuzzy, is when a content creator embeds another content creator’s video in their show… In other words Kamerer’s campaign ad is embedded in ‘The Tonight Show’, and it is getting included in their Content ID reference video as part of ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’. The video is not distinguishable as someone else’s content embedded within the NBC program content. This is potentially a HUGE problem…for the little guy.
Let’s say you are the creator of a hit web series, and you go on a talk show and show a clip…The next thing you know that clip is embedded as part of some network, or syndicator’s, reference video in a Content ID database, and your webisode suddenly gets flagged and removed from YouTube. That’s not just a hypothetical…It’s already happened to one content creator that I know of, and created a real problem. But for whom?
I’d say it’s YouTube’s problem, and a problem that needs to be addressed, as it’s one that is only going to become a more prevalent…But…At the end of the day it’s the small content creator’s problem, because they can’t pick up a telephone and call someone who can deal with the issue. If your problem is not covered by a checkbox on a YouTube page, you are out of luck.
In reality, if the Content ID program was designed properly, when the talk show with the embedded content uploaded their reference, and the small web creator’s content was embedded in it, YouTube’s algorithm should throw up a flag saying, “Hey, this content already exists here and belongs to someone else…What’s the deal?”
There are other scenarios that are problematic as well…You want to create a news show, or movie/tv review program, and show sample clips for review/commentary? That’s almost impossible to monetize with Content ID, unless you’ve got enough clout with YouTube to address all of the matches with studio inventory that will come up, either immediately, or at some point in the future (You can upload something today that is fine, because it’s not in the match database, but that could change and your content can get flagged down the road.)
YouTube needs to address these, and other issues in a meaningful way…In other words, if these use cases can’t be accommodated algorithmically in YouTube’s program code, they must provide some intelligent way of specifying licensed content within a Content ID upload, or providing an interactive customer service mechanism for all content creators to get these issues resolved in a reasonable, timely, manner.
The Bottom Line
So as much as I’d like to get behind Brian Kamerer and his rant at ‘Da’ Man’, ‘Da’ Man’ is YouTube, in this case, and he should be ranting at Google/YouTube and demanding that they start moving to put a meaningful customer service to deal with all of these kinds of nuanced, soft issues that their beloved algorithms just can’t handle.
As Lazarus points out in his LA Times column, it borders on irresponsible for a company with a $10 Billion profit margin to refuse to put a customer service infrastructure into place that makes it possible for content creators to have their issues addressed via personal contact with representatives of the company. Especially when those issues can result in having work removed, or monetization denied, due to copyright issues that are sufficiently abstract enough to require assessment that goes outside of the confines of what computerized systems can address.
I’ve been following the ‘NLE Wars’ with quite a bit of interest for some time now. Like many, folks who have been using FCP for years, including all of my own current work work, as well as a number of feature films in the past, I am very concerned about the end-of-life for FCP/FC Studio in the wake of the release of FCP X, and am really, really, not motivated to switch to another platform. Switching costs time, switching costs money. Switching means that a video that could take a half a day to edit in FCP could take days more.
Switching is also an inevitability.
Although FCP 7 has been running like a champ on OSX Lion, there’s no reason to believe it will continue to do so on future version of Apple OSes, and every reason to believe that FCP will, at some point, just cease to function entirely, or that components will begin to break as Apple’s core architecture continues to advance into new areas.
This simple truth has caused no end of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) for professional editors and content creators alike. What to do? Where to go next?
We all keep on hearing in the major publications and blogs from NLE pundits, that editors must be open to working with multiple platforms, and that no single NLE is right for all situations, and that is true…But at the same time mastering a handful of NLEs to cover all contingencies is also not a reasonable solution for editors who need to get the job done in the best, cheapest, and most efficient way possible.
While being open to multiple platforms is certainly a worthy goal, the practical reality is that we can only master so many pieces of software, and have room for only a certain number of tools in our noggins…Considering we all must be able to not only master an NLE, or two, but a compositing/motion graphics package, an audio suite, an image editing tool (i.e. Photoshop), and something for color correction…Depending on the scope of your work the list could extend well into a dozen packages, not including plug-ins and add-ons.
What editors need to be looking at right now is finding something that will allow them to create their best work in a package that will address the broadest needs of your work…I want to invoke the 80/20 rule here, but that doesn’t seem entirely applicable. Whatever tool is chosen needs to meet most of your needs for the least effort in terms of time and re-training.
So here’s my completely non-scientific thoughts about all of the major platforms, and why I would choose/avoid any one of them:
It’s generally agreed that Apple really screwed the pooch with the release of FCP X…Strong words? Yeah, but deserved. Apple literally pulled the rug out from under thousands of professional editors, and facilities that have come to rely on Final Cut Studio as the backbone of their editorial pipelines. What’s worse, Apple has done this before, with Shake, and they do so with no remorse, or promise of something to abate the pain.
In FCP X, Apple has created an advanced version of iMovie which, for the most part, leaves the professional editing/content creation crowd in the dust. To Apple’s defense, they really did need to pull the bandage off the wound, with respect to getting a 64-bit editor out there, but from a professional perspective, a re-engineered FCP 8 would have been a much more reasonable way of getting there…Wherein also lies the problem.
Apple is a giant consumer products company and, regardless of what anyone tells you, that’s where their product focus is going to be. Professional Editorial and Motion Graphics was a niche market for them that didn’t sell anywhere near the kind of hardware that they would need to sell to justify an ongoing commitment to this market segment, so iMovie Pro is likely to be the direction for all of their product innovation.
Don’t get me wrong, FCP X is a pretty cool product…I’ve seen demos, and it boasts a lot of really nice features, including a great green screen keyer, some pretty nifty titling tools, and built in audio editing functionality, to name a few.
The biggest problem with FCP X is that it is not friendly with the kind of collaborative workflow that is dictated by professional production situations, where you are handing off cuts to different departments. The trackless editing paradigm may be the future, but it’s not how people are working in the industry now, and since this is a ‘get it done yesterday’ kind of business, what people are doing the here and now is kind of key.
If I were strictly working on one-off web videos of my own, and wanted to do everything in one place, with one tool, FCP X could serve those needs very well. But I don’t always work that way, and there is just too much of a learning curve with FCP X for to risk that large an investment of time in a niche-market tool that will not service other types of work, for different clients.
Avid Media Composer/Symphony
Avid has come a long way in the last couple of years. Partially guided by new management, with a new philosophy towards hearing their customers and, as a result, has introduced greatly improved versions of the Media Composer line.
It’s still a pretty complex tool, and even with its shift towards a more flexible, FCP-like, UI, Media Composer is still pretty rigid in how you interact with it versus the Final Cut way of doing things.
That said, if you’re working on small projects, or big projects involving many departments and vendors, or if you are working on a film workflow that is originating from, or going back to a film conform, there is no better tool for editing and managing your media than Avid Media Composer.
Most importantly, if you put your eggs into the Avid basket, you can be assured that you are working with a company that has the professional film-and-video market at the core of its business model, and never need to fear that a product that you’ve come to rely on for years has been suddenly dropped from their product line.
Also, any changes to UI and functionality from one major release to another will be handled in an incremental fashion, that doesn’t involve the inconvenience, and associated expense, of learning to reinvent the wheel. Also, most current post-production workflows have originated with Avid as the driving environment, so collaboration is not an issue.
So, while Avid MC and Symphony may not have the greatest built-in compositing and effects capabilities of a Final Cut Pro, you will get most of your editing work done while only having to jump out to another package, such as Adobe After Effects, or Photoshop, for advanced compositing tasks.
Finally, if you’re working in the pro editing marketplace, or want to be, you can’t go wrong in terms of future employment prospects if you make Avid your go-to editor. It’s still the industry standard for NLEs, if there is one.
Until the end of June, 2012, Avid is offering an upgrade/crossgrade offer for the latest version of Avid Symphony for $995 if you are an FCP user, or have a license for Avid Xpress DV or Xpress Pro. A very good deal that will pay dividends.
I hate to call Premiere the ‘new kid on the block’ as its been around since the ’90s…But it’s really only been getting a lot of attention from professional editors, outside of the broadcast marketplace, in the last couple of years. Adobe has put a lot of effort into, first making the package viable, and now putting it into a position where Premiere, along with the other tools in the CS suite, is a serious contender as an end-to-end content creation package.
Adobe Premiere CS 6 had taken another giant step forward in this regard, and more and more folks are stepping up to try the tool, if not switching to it outright…And why not? Many of us have one of the Creative Suite packages on our computer, and the latest version is almost a freebie when we upgrade. But now there’s a better reason than free…Adobe Premiere CS is a truly competitive tool in the pro NLE marketplace.
The overall suite integration is the best out there, exceeding that of the last version of Final Cut Studio, and there’s not a lot that any working editor needs to get done that can’t get done within the Adobe Creative Suite. Further, since Adobe implements a fairly standard tracks-and-timeline paradigm across the suite, along with very flexible ingest/output/import/export capabilities, content creators will have no issues sending work to collaborators using different tools and workflows, making this a highly collaborative toolset.
Final Cut Pro became the tool/suite of choice for low-budget and web video makers because of its low cost, flexibility, and end-to-end content creation capabilities, and for these reasons, I believe that Adobe CS 6 is an excellent choice as a direct replacement for Final Cut Studio for these applications.
Smoke needs to be mentioned, as it is a significant tool from a professional finishing perspective. Coming from a lineage as part of the hardware-coupled Discreet line that, at one point, ran upwards of around $85k per installation, the $3k-plus-your-Mac cost of Smoke today is a bargain, and it is certainly a very powerful tool…But it’s extremely niche, and unless you’re doing ‘online’ assembly and finishing as your mainstay, it’s not the best investment.
My Personal Solution
I’m going to keep using FCP 7 until the wheels fall off, and forget that FCP X exists until such time as Apple really steps up with a professional release of the product that is embraced by the content creation marketplace…The Avid Symphony offer is enticing, but as a content creator on a budget, I’m going to put my software dollars into upgrading my Adobe CS Suite and Lightroom software, with the idea of moving to Premiere Pro CS 6 in the future. It’s a strategy not without some minor risks…For example, Should I return to the feature film editorial market at some point, I may wind up having to purchase Media Composer at a higher price than the current crossgrade offer, but nothing is without risk in this business, especially software strategy.
In the end, while editors and content creators must be open to a variety of platforms, having a good idea of the kind of work, and workflows, that are your bread-and-butter will largely dictate what approach you take towards solidifying your software strategy, and put an end to your personal ‘analysis paralysis’, keeping in mind that it can all change…Almost overnight.
A few years ago I reluctantly ventured to WonderCon at the Moscone Center, at urging of some friends who assured me that it was what all the cool nerds would be doing that weekend. I say reluctantly because, even though I had been self-identifying as a geek for years, there was something about the whole con scene, particularly the nerds getting dressed up in costumes, that I just didn’t grok…No doubt a view prejudiced by the rather stilted view of fandom presented in the documentary ‘Trekkies‘.
Well, I went, had a great time, saw some panels, and especially came to appreciate the passion, and commitment to their craft, that was evident among the cosplayers. Every year since I have been back, taking as many cosplay photos as possible, and putting them on my Flickr page, to celebrate all the hard work that these folks do just to have fun!
When it was announced that WonderCon was going to be in Anaheim this year, I wasn’t sure I was going to make the trip, but WonderCon is just too much fun to miss…Not to mention that these conventions are one of the few times a year when a lot of folks in the web content community get together ‘IRL’, as the saying goes. Also there was going to be a very special panel with my friends from ‘The Guild‘, launching their new Geek & Sundry channel, and there was no way I was not going to be there for that.
I got down to Anaheim late Thursday night, checked into the hotel, and got my mobile editing rig set up…I was thinking about doing some ‘Skippy’ videos, and other coverage, and wanted to upload as many photos from Friday as I could after shooting.
Friday was all about shooting cosplayers…Usually things get really crazy on Saturday, but there was a wide selection of Superheros, Zombies, Sith, and Jedi to choose from.
I also shot a video interview with the Rebel Alliance, a Star Wars ‘Good Guy’ cosplay group, and another with Kenny ‘GeekyFanBoy’ Mittleider, from the ‘Knights of The Guild‘ podcast, who was also cosplaying as Frodo Baggins…Those will be up on the Geektastic Nebula YouTube channel next week.
Friday night was a quick dinner of taquitos (which you really can’t find to easilly in the Bay Area for some reason), and then back to the hotel for ingest and color correction of photos and video…By about 2am I uploaded the first set of about 150 photos to flickr, to give the fans who couldn’t make it to the con something to look at.
Saturday was going to be a big day…In addition to the Geek & Sundry panel, I’d been emailing with Greg Benson (@mediocrefilms on Twitter) about plans to help him shoot some nerd/hottie-on-the-street interviews with his character, Yeshmin Blechin. This was going to be a lot of fun, and I was really looking forward to it.
I’ve known Greg, and his wife, Guild/Geek & Sundry Producer, Kim Evey, for a number of years, but never met Greg, IRL, until about a month ago…He’s a really nice guy, and we had a great time going to a local content producer’s event when I was in Los Angeles…We both share a kind of singularly-demented sense of humor, so I was very excited about working with him on one of his crazy-ass Yeshmin videos involving, well, uh…Yeah, ex-actly.
I spent the morning dealing with the 45-minute Starbucks line, fighting off cheerleaders, volleyball players, and soccer moms, for my morning fix of a 5-shot, iced, venti, skinny mocha (a basic eye-opener)…and oh, the cheerleader thing…
There was a cheerleader convention, and some sort of volleyball event, going on at the Anaheim Convention Center. It kind of had me thinking about how many nerds were re-living high school traumas at the hands of cheerleaders and athletes (But not me, of course…No major damage there. Much.) At points the cosplayers and the cheerleaders were taking turns getting photos of each other, and it appeared that some really strange crossover meme potential was gathering in the air.
And speaking of strange crossovers…
After a few hours of shooting more photos, this happened…A spontaneous worshiping of a Knight who says “Ni”, by a bunch of sword-and-sandals wearing cosplayers. It pretty much stopped traffic in the convention center hallway…The cheerleaders seemed particularly perplexed, but I think that’s just their baseline anyway…
Next up it was time for the Geek & Sundry panel…Well, more like it was time to go to the DC Comics panel and make sure you had a good seat for the Geek & Sundry panel, which was immediately thereafter…Members of “The Guild of Extras“, an elite commando unit and group of friends, formed by a cadre of Extras from “The Guild“, activated “Zaboo’s Seat Savers” network, and commandeered the best seating real estate in the hall. Well done, Guildies!
The Geek & Sundry launch panel took off with Kim Evey introducing the panelists, including Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Comics, Veronica Belmont, and Tom Merritt (I’m not making introductions because, with the exception of Mike from Dark Horse, if you don’t know who any of these folks are, you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog in the first place. )
Felicia introduced a trailer highlighting all of the new shows for the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel…It looks like a lot of fun stuff, including a vlog from Felicia called, ‘The Flog‘ (which was the original name for, what is now, feliciaday.com, bitd), an animated series from Dark Horse Comics, called ‘Dark Horse Presents‘, and a re-imagined web tv version of Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt‘s ‘Sword and Laser‘ podcast that I’m quite excited about.
‘Sword and Laser’ is being produced up here in the Bay Area, and anything that brings more web tv production up here is something to stand up and yell about (which I’m not doing, because it’s undignified…But I’m ‘woo-hoo’-ing internally in a major way.)
Wil Wheaton is doing a celebrity board game show called ‘Tabletop’, and there is also a kids’ show from nerd singing-duo, Paul and Storm, called ‘Learning Town‘ that I can’t wait to hear more about (love those guys!)
Geek & Sundry has a full line-up of shows, and there are trailers and full information on all of them at the Geek & Sundry site…The programming kickoff is set for April 2, 2012, but you should go on over to the G&S YouTube channel and subscribe now, so you don’t miss out on any of the new programming.
After the panel, it was time to go shoot some Yeshmin with Greg Benson.
It was a little touch-and-go on Saturday morning, as Greg messed up his ankle a while back and was scheduled to have surgery on it this week (today, in fact. Get well soon, Greg!), the cold, rainy, weather was aggravating the injury, so we weren’t sure it was going to happen, but it did, and the results are hilarious.
Greg is an extremely talented, and knowledgeable, filmmaker…Shooting with him was not only fun, but an amazing learning experience. He can slip in and out of character instantaneously, doing some pretty outrageous, not to mention quick, improv with his ‘victims’, while maintaining complete situational awareness, being on the lookout for interview opportunities, and making the folks he interviews feel completely comfortable and at ease (despite Yeshmin’s propensity for being, well…provocative?) Anyway, it takes a lot of talent, and experience, to pull that off and make it look easy.
Also, the shooting style is very run n’ gun, using just a simple HD camcorder and hand-held audio recorder. It really made me re-think the need to carry around as much equipment as I usually do (although I come armed for video and still photography.) Great stuff.
There are four videos that came out of it on the MediocreFilms and MediocreFilms2 YouTube channels, plus a vlog that Greg shot during that day in which I make a short cameo, in a highly sleep-deprived state.
Saturday night was about a magnificent dinner with friends at Morton’s Steakhouse…We all tend to work unreasonably crazy hours, and not get out a lot. This was a chance to kick back with a lively bunch of people in a forum that doesn’t require Skype, or a Google+ hangout, and have a good time…The food at Morton’s is spectacular, and the company was amazing. A night of great food and lively conversation with a bunch of smart, funny, and articulate people. It just doesn’t get better than that.
I opted to head out of town on Sunday morning, knowing that if I returned to the con for the third day, I would have probably spent all my reserve cash on priceless objets d’arte…Like this vintage ‘Watto’ character from Episode I, who seemed to be using Jedi mind tricks all weekend to get me to take him home …
It was a great WonderCon, and I’ve still got lots of video and photos to share. Been traveling a lot lately, and will be staying at home, shooting and working on a lot of video projects for the next few months, before VidCon and San Diego ComicCon…Both of which I’m really looking forward to.
So last week I had a whirlwind vacation (?) in Los Angeles wherein I saw a lot of old friends, took a few meetings (I mean, come on, it is Los Angeles, after all), did some sightseeing and photography, and a bit of partying. All-in-all, a really great trip, and I can’t wait to head back down south again…Next trip is for Wondercon, the week after next, which should be about a zillion shades of awesome.
One of the events I attended while down there was an ’80s Movie Marathon Weekend, at my friend Kenny‘s house…Well, I actually went for the Saturday night portion, as I couldn’t be there for the whole thing.
Kenny’s movie marathons are legend…wait-for-it…dary. One of the best parts of going, as Kenny points out in his blog post about the weekend, is that we’ve been friends for years, initially through our involvement with ‘The Guild’, but never actually met IRL, as the saying goes, until this weekend. The Guildie involvement doesn’t just end with Kenny, as pretty much everyone there has been an extra on the show, or worked in the cast or crew. It was a great opportunity to meet other folks who are diehard Guild fans…Yeah, I worked on the show a number of years ago, but started out as, and continue to be, a fan, and friend, of the show. So it was fun to hang out with a bunch of folks who all share the same special geek affinity.
There was a whole line-up of great films for the marathon…I was crushed that I had to miss ‘The Princess Bride‘, due to an afternoon committment, as that is by far my favorite film from that period.
Although the event got me thinking about some of my other favorite films of the period, and that usually means compiling a list.
Both of you.
So here are a few, but by no means all, of my favorite movies from the ’80s, that weren’t on Kenny’s playlist …
1. ‘Local Hero’ (1983)
‘Local Hero‘ was a bit of a sleeper when it premiered in 1983. I was still in San Diego at that time, just finishing up at San Diego State, and working in local theater as a lighting and sound guy. The film played at a local art house in Ocean Beach, for what seemed like forever, and I kept hearing wonderful things about it, and decided to check it out.
It’s an oddball comedy that is both a romcom and a fish-out-of-water story, about a oil company guy (Peter Reigert from ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House‘) who is sent out by his boss, played by Burt Lancaster in a standout role, to buy up a little town on the coast of Scotland to build an oil refinery. It’s a tale of twists and turns that winds up with Reigert’s character, Mac, falling in love with the sleepy little town, and its collection of brilliantly quirky, but charming, people.
Great movie, but one of the things I love about it the most is the score by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame.
Mark is a genius…His music beautiful and lyrical, and, in fact, it is this music that links him together with my other favorite film of the period, ‘The Princess Bride’, for which he also composed the score (but not the title theme, ‘Storybook Love’, which was actually written by a fellow named Willie DeVille, but that is another story entirely.)
There is a fairly recent, digital, version of the soundtrack for ‘Local Hero’, as well as many recordings of the signature song, the ‘Wild Theme’, or the up tempo version of the ‘Wild Theme’, called ‘Going Home’ (The theme of the Local Hero), which Knopfler used to end all of his gigs with Dire Straits, and still plays as an encore in his solo gigs today.
I love ‘Going Home’ … I’ve got no less than ten different recordings of it, in different orchestrations, live and in the studio, and I never get tired of listening to it, especially when I’m on a road trip in the car. If you like ‘Local Hero’, and ‘The Princess Bride’, get a copy of Mark Knopfler’s album ‘Screenplaying‘…It’s great mood music, and has all of the hits from both movies.
‘Local Hero’ … Great film. Highly recommended.
2. ‘Dream a Little Dream’ (1989)
I’m a romcom guy, and not ashamed to admit it. I love a good romantic comedy, hope to edit (and create) many more of them. While I do toil in the fields of big-studio tentpole VFX films, I’d rather watch a small indie romcom any day of the week.
‘Dream A Little Dream’ is another quirky-as-all-getout film starring the ’80s dynamic duo of the the ’2 Corey’s', Corey Haim and Corey Feldman (yeah, I know … but still it works in this iteration, all odds be damned), along with an entirely enchanting Meredith Salenger.
It’s a tale of body-switches, dreamscapes, and romance, all backed up by one of the greatest pop tunes ever…’Dream a little dream with me’, which is another song that has been an all-time favorite of mine, ever since I first heard Mama Cass Elliot singing it in the late ’60s (Cass had this wonderful legato and could effortly bend notes notes to her will, especially in this song…)
To me, it’s often the the music that makes the movies memorable, especially a romantic comedy where the music can heighten the emotions of the story into something sublime, and that’s the case with ‘Dream a Little Dream’, which gets to some very, and delightfully, metaphysical places during the telling.
Get a hookah and a bottle of wine, and watch this one on a Friday night with someone you love (or would like to…)
3. Airplane (1980)
Do you remember back when comedies where balls-out funny, and so politically incorrect that they’d never see the (green) light of day in the 21st Century? Yeah, so do I.
Airplane probably influenced me more, in terms of my own brand of comedy, than any other film except for Mel Brooks’ ‘Blazing Saddles‘ (another film that would never get greenlit today) or ‘The Producers‘ (the original 1968 version, not the musical…The musical version on Broadway rocked, but the movie musical was like a rock…off a diving board…into the deep end of a pool. Mel should have directed it himself.)
There is every kind of the wrong kind of joke in this movie…From blow-up autopilot doll fellatio jokes, to dying kid-on-a-gurney and drug humor (‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue’), it is a non-stop laugh riot. Hell, they’ve even got ‘America’s Mom’, Harriet Nelson, doing ghetto humor.
Oh, and Leslie (“Don’t call me Shirley”) Nielsen … Pure win.
The movie is just so wrong that it’s totally right …
4. ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ (1982)
If you’re talking about comedies that define the ’80s, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘ has got to be one of the first films that gets name-checked.
The Cameron Crowe/Amy Heckerling pairing not only defined the suburban teenage experience of life in the ’80s San Fernando Valley, but it also launched the careers of a number of fine actors, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Sean Penn, not to mention featuring a brilliant performance by the late Ray Walston, as grump history teacher, Mr. Hand.
One of the marks of a true classic is film is how many quotes from the film make it into the vernacular…’Fast Times’ is a movie that still gets quoted often (okay, maybe mostly by me, but that counts … )
5. ‘Heathers’ (1988)
Forget ‘Mean Girls’…Meet some really mean girls…and guys. ‘Heathers‘ is one of those black-as-night comedies that I just love so much.
Winona Ryder gets caught up with (psychotic) bad boy Christian Slater, and visits vengeance on a bunch of high-school bullies, drama queens, and lunk-heads. They even blow up the high school years before ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘ (but there wasn’t any giant snake Mayor-meat involved.)
It’s quite the fun flick.
6. ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1986)
Got to finish this list with a musical … I love a good musical, and ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is, IMO, one of the best movie adaptations of a stage musical ever made.
Directedy by Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy) this is the odd story of Seymour Krelborn and his ‘Mean Green Mutha’ from Outerspace’ house plant, Audrey II (voiced to hilarity by Levi Stubbs, the great baritone singer from the Motown group, The Four Topps.)
This is a classic musical in its own right…And has songs you will find yourself singing right out of the theater (‘Suddenly Seymour’ is one of my favorites for the shower), but the film is full of great performances from huge talents like Rick Moranis as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, and a brilliantly sadistic Steve Martin as the mad dentist, Orin Scrivello (D.D.S.) The cast also includes such greats as John Candy, James Belushi, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray, just to name a few.
The thing that makes this movie stand out as a movie musical, is that there is no pretense to realism…Oz created a very stylized world from the get go, and carried the surrealistic, sci-fi comic book, look throughout every area of the production…It’s bloody brilliant.
One side note, the play, and the movie, all derive from a 1960 Roger Corman film of the same name, which features a young Jack Nicholson…It’s a horrible film, but so horrible that it’s worth watching.
Okay…So there’s a few of my favorites. Got some of your own? Please leave a comment!
Roger Ebert’s preliminary write-up on the 2012 Academy Awards began with, “It was like an episode from ‘The Twighlight Zone’“, which I wholeheartedly agree with…His rationale for that statement, I can’t agree with, but the overall conclusion was on-target.
It was a strange, strange year for Oscar.
I really have to wonder what was going through the minds of the Academy voters that gave the Best Picture Oscar to ‘The Artist’, an airy souffle of a film at best, or saw Martin Scorsese’s directorial efforts on ‘Hugo’ as anything less than a masterwork. Or if these self-same Academy voters realize the opportunity to place the history of film squarely in the common experience of generations of children that was lost when elevating the French pastry that is ‘The Artist’ over the cinematic masterpiece, and treasure, that is Scorsese’s ‘Hugo.’
It’s not that ‘The Artist’ is a bad movie…It’s a very good movie, for one that is a loose remake of an established classic (‘Singin’ in the Rain’), one that I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s just that ‘Hugo’ is a far superior movie in just about every way imaginable.
I really hope that, in the final analysis, this wasn’t some kind of referendum vote on films made in Hollywood versus those shot abroad, but there’s got to be some reason that the Academy passed ‘Hugo’ over for a film whose main selling point is that it is a very ‘happy’ film, and that’s the only thing I can think of that makes sense to me … No, not that it makes sense, but that it would make sense to a bunch of big-media, old Hollywood Industry professionals that don’t have a clue as to how to save jobs in a town that is now being overrun by a new generation of filmmakers who are making content almost exclusively for the web.
‘Hugo’ is a cinematic masterpiece of Cecil B. DeMille-like epic proportions. In my opinion, there is no praise high enough to describe how much I love this film, or the advances that Scorsese has made in visual storytelling with ‘Hugo’. And I don’t think there are a lot of folks arguing that point.
Had the Academy given the Director, and the film, its rightfully-deserved top honors, the film would have been re-released, it would have garnered the kind of box office that it did not see in its initial run, because there was not a lot of marketing push behind the original release, and an entire generation of parents and children would have gotten a second chance to experience this film in all of its 3D-stereo glory, the way it MUST be scene to fully experience the genius of this film.
Further, it would have established ‘Hugo’ as a classic that would be locked into the hearts and minds of future generations, as their parents passed down the experience, generation after generation. That’s a loss, and it’s a shame.
Part of the opportunity lost was to educate generations of kids on the history of cinema, in a way that seems almost incidental to the story, but would have the result of having every kid who falls in love with this movie, understand the, largely true, story of French filmmaking pioneer George Melies. It’s a lost opportunity that every AMPAS member who voted for ‘The Artist’ should be kicking themselves about for decades to come. Think about it.
Then there was the almost total lack of recognition for Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, which, to me, was only second to ‘Hugo’ in this year’s field of films, and an entirely enchanting work that represents Allen’s best effort in decades.
Oh, and let’s not forget Alexander Payne’s ‘Thanks for coming’ award for ‘The Descendants’. Thanks AMPAS. For what, I’m not sure …
Ebert wrote another piece on the night, which basically painted the Academy’s screw-ups as a Republican Party-like attempt to find a candidate that has the broadest appeal to the base … In other worlds panders to the lowest common denominator of audience members. Thanks, Roger, but you’re not making me feel much better with that thesis, either.
This is what bothers me … The Academy, AMPAS, is us. Well, not me, yet, but the filmmaking community at large. It’s made up of working professionals drawn from its ranks. If Roger Ebert’s thesis is correct, haven’t we forgotten what the Academy Awards are all about? That is, celebrating the best in filmmaking achievement, and elevating the very best of those efforts, showcasing them to the public as the very best of what the filmmaking community has to offer?
AMPAS has lost its way, and is now trying to second-guess the public, and figure out how to reward what its members think the public likes. The system is broken, and the results, this year, were a disaster.
Time’s flown pretty fast since last March, when I wrote this post about first impressions of my new Nikon D7000. Seems like I really owe my readers an update on the camera, and my experiences with it since then.
I love the D7000. It creates amazing images, and finally gives me the level of camera that I need to create images that are as compelling, and reach the same kind of quality, that could be achieved with Nikon film bodies during the analog shooting days.
Not going to get into a big tech analysis on the camera features…Think I covered that in the previous post, linked above, and there’s also a lot of online coverage and fact sheets available.
The D7000 is a strong shooter, build-to-last, and with a control set that will be comfortable to all Nikon shooters as soon as they pick the camera up.
For stills, in conjunction with Adobe Lightroom, it’s a superstar.
For Digital Cinema applications, the D7000 is a major leap forward for Nikon. The D90 was flawed, to the point of almost being useless for video, by a slow sensor and resulting digital artifacts.
Nikon still has a way to go, and I think they actually got there with the newly-announced D800, which is a superb cinema camera with updated features and ergonomics not found in the D7000.
I’m including the Nikon “Joy Ride” video, shot with the D800, to give you an idea of what this new camera is capable of, and you can keep up to date on the D800, and all other Nikon news at NikonRumors.com, which is my go-to news source for all things Nikon.
While I’m still shooting all of my web video with the D7000, and the video is gorgeous, the biggest issues with the camera revolve around the need to set exposure outside of live view mode, and then go back into live view to capture your video…It’s a pain in the butt. Nothing more than an annoyance that doesn’t affect the quality of the work, but the shooting experience suffers for it.
Changes made to camera settings while in live view aren’t reflected in exposure, and live view does not give you exposure information in the LCD.
Also, Nikon just doesn’t seem to care enough about the workflow…Where Canon offers plugins for FCP, and other software, to make the ingest experience seamless, Nikon is an all manual process involving copying files and transcoding, and possibly having issues with Gamma viewing problems in FCP that are just more work than they are worth…I’m going to be buying a Canon, likely a D60, this year for shooting video, as Nikon just doesn’t seem to want to get the workflow right for HDSLR shooters.
The lack of a headphone jack on the camera was a huge mistake…One that I resolved by using a Juiced Link DSLR Pre-amp Adapter for $144, which you should just figure in as part of the cost of the camera if you’re going to be shooting video…It’s worth it, and an absolute necessity if you are doing single-system sound.
The audio quality out of the D7000 is not bad, and good enough for single-subject interviews, but you’ll likely want to go dual system for anything more elaborate than an interview setup. In that case the Zoom H4n is still the best, and most versatile option for web shooters.
Another great thing about the D7000 is that it works with all of the Nikon AF-S/AF-D line of lenses, which you can pick up on eBay for a song. The older lenses are a bit slower focusing than their newer counterparts, and don’t have the VR (vibration-reduction) features, but they do have an aperture ring, great glass, and create awesome images. One big advantage that you don’t find with the red-ring lenses so highly coveted by Canon shooters.
On the whole, the D7000 is an amazing camera, and the best ‘pro-sumer’ (emphasis on the pro) camera Nikon makes before you get into the D800 realm … Something I hope to do within the next year.