Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Make a Rubber Band Mount for your Boom Mic and Spend Just $3

After using a cheap mic to record dialogue, I ran out and spent $400 on an excellent shotgun mic, the Sennheiser ME-66. It's a great mic and I have never regretted that purchase. What I have regretted was not getting the proper mount for my boom pole. The mic came with a holder that screws right onto the pole, but that direct connection will pick up every hand movement that the operator makes. Not wanting to spend $50 for a "real" rubber band mount, I knew I could make one for next to nothing--it was just a matter of doing it.

Here's what you'll need for this project, most of which I found at the dollar store:

1 wire mesh pencil cup (with mesh bottom)
1 piece of 1/2" PVC pipe scrap cut to length of cup
2 medium length rubber bands
2 hose clamps

The cup cost $1 and the clamps came in a variety pack of twelve that also cost $1. The elastics came in a wonderful bag labeled "One pound of rubber bands" (also $1) that I have used for many a project. I already had the 1/2" PVC scrap laying around, but even if you buy a ten foot length it will only cost $1.50. Cutting the PVC is a real pain unless you get some ratcheting pvc cutters, which I highly recommend. PVC pipe has so many great uses (it's sometimes call "the Tinkertoys for adults") that these cutters are a wise investment. Get them for a scant $2.49 at Harbor Freight Tools.

The first thing you need to do is remove the bottom mesh of the pencil cup. I first tried cutting it out with small wire cutters, but found that pushing down on the mesh would break it free rather easily.

Once the bottom of the cup is removed, check the edge for straggling bits of metal that someone (like you) could cut their fingers on. Get some needle-nose pliers (I used the Gerber multitool that I always carry) and pull them off. I'm all for expending blood and sweat on a shoot, but tying up loose ends like this will save you some.

Next, lash the PVC pipe to the cup vertically using one of the rubber bands. Then, using a marker that can be seen against the color of your cup (I used a yellow crayon), make a pair of short lines where the pipe meets the cup. Do this at the top and the bottom.

Remove the pipe and use your wire cutters to cut a path where your marks are.

Feed the hose clamps through the newly opened holes. This will take a bit of work and may deform the clamps, but don't worry.

Run the pipe into the clamps, and tighten. The clamps will wrap around the pipe and the pierced cup and reform into shape.

Finally, wrap a rubber band around the cup twice, so you have two bands next to each other. Do the same with the second band, placing both in an "X" formation in relation to the PVC. This will suspend your mic nicely in the center of the pencil cup.

And that's it! Run your mic through the center of both pairs of bands, attach the mic clamp to the PVC, and you are well on your way to cleaner sound, unmarred by any noise your boom op may make as they reposition themselves. The only thing else I might do is spray paint the PVC black so the whole thing matches and looks more professional.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vantage Point

Forced Perspective

The idea of seeing the same event from different points of view is very compelling. What appears to be one thing to one person, can be seen as something totally different to someone else. This method of storytelling was pioneered by the late Akira Kurosawa in one of his greats, Rashomon (1950). Since then it has been done numerous times, and now we get it again in Vantange Point, which involves the retelling of an apparent assassination plot seen from too many different pairs of eyes, none of which we really care about.

U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending a “War Against Terror” summit in Spain. Upon approaching the pulpit to speak to an outdoor crowd, he is gunned down from a nearby building. A muffled explosion is heard, then an enormous one rips through the plaza. The event is retold through five different points of view: A TV director, a secret service agent, a videotaping bystander, the President himself, and the terrorist mastermind behind it all. But what really happened?

This method of revisiting the same incident can be interesting when done right (see the short-lived TV series Boomtown (2002) for a good example). The problem here is that it’s used to cover the fact that this is a short film padded out to ninety minutes. After ten minutes or so, everything “rewinds” and we go back to the beginning. The filmmakers use this effect every time we switch perspectives, and it gets annoying fast. Equally as annoying is that not one of these characters we ride along with is fleshed out enough to generate one iota of sympathy. Why should we care what the truth is?

The cast is peppered with veterans (Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker) and they are always good, but the script gives them nothing to work with, and paints their characters so thinly that we hardly know them. Quaid is the Secret Service guy that once took a bullet for the president and is now just getting back into service. We get about two lines of dialogue (and one brief flashback) that explains this, but we never get a real sense of how messed up he’s supposed to be. Quaid plays it very intense, but it’s a waste of his ability when he’s not allowed to bring us into his torment.

The movie also breaks it’s own rules. We get the rewinding thing about five times and then it is suddenly dropped, and the story plays on in real time. Huh? Why did we bother seeing things from different eyes only to resort to a conventional narrative? Does this mean the whole film could have played out this way? Probably. What it says to me is that the “switching perspectives” is so much of a gimmick that even the writer didn’t trust it to carry the whole film.

The devil is always in the details and Vantage Point screws a lot of them up, too. The TV director never says “take”. Secret service guys shoot warning shots into the air, then into a crowd of people. A female terrorist hesitates to kill someone she hardly knows, then flippantly kills one of her own comrades. The final scene plays out around an event so unbelievable from what went before that it generated an audible moan from this reviewer. In a good movie, stuff like this is forgivable, but not here.

Some things in Vantage Point did work for me. It was somewhat exciting, and I really liked things that were taken in different ways by different characters (a threatening grasp of a woman by a man is misinterpreted as a passionate embrace). The action was also well done, despite being a little too Bourne-ish. It was never dull, and clocked in at a tight hour-and-a-half.

Vantage Point is an okay movie that squanders its nifty premise, under develops its characters, and doesn’t play fair. It’s a so-so diversion that will quickly be forgotten as you exit the theater. For a more satisfying experience, try Rashomon. Try Boomtown. Skip Vantage Point.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Festivals Don't Work

From Here to Awesome is an online community whose sole purpose is to get your movie out into the world. It's been founded by four filmmakers who have experience in self-distribution, and are eager to not only pass on their knowledge, but help us to do the same thing.

In this video segment, they touch upon a classic myth of the festival system: getting into a prestigious festival will garner you a distributor and a wad of cash. The reality is just the opposite, with "sweat distribution" the only real way to make your low budget masterpiece pay off. I enthusiastically support this philosophy, and will be sharing FHTA videos with whenever I can.

Be sure to check out their site, and get your movie involved!

Monday, February 18, 2008

'Middle of Nowhere' Spotlighted on Indy Mogul's '5 Minute Movie House'

I'm usually not one for horn-tootin', but it's always nice to see your work appreciated. I submitted my last short film to a simple contest being held over at Indy Mogul. They just ask for a link to a movie you've made, with the main requirement being that it clock in at under five minutes. My movie won, and is now featured on IM's blog, hosted by Wes Scoggins, who said some nice things on this forum page.

Be sure to read the comments as well. It's always interesting to see what people think, and even more so when the subject matter leaves a lot to interpretation. The intentional vague and open-endedness of this piece gets people debating, and I like that. It's also good for hiding plot holes and continuity issues which could be explained away by what is (or isn't?) apparently happening here.

The 5 Minute Movie House is a cool idea for any filmmaker with their stuff already uploaded somewhere. It's stupid simple to submit (just provide a link and basic information), and there is a new winner every Sunday. You don't win anything other than the honor, but it does get more eyes on your stuff, and isn't that what we all want anyway? Click here for the complete rules, and enter today!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Something's Been Eating Me

Two weeks since the last post has probably keyed you in to the fact that I'm facing a creative dearth that has more to do with filmmaking than blogging. It has been more than a year since the completion of my last narrative project, and I'm feeling some right-brained atrophy. The lag in blog posts here is a direct reflection of this, and is something I want to fix. Badly.

Some things are going to be different, however. It seems I have become more of a reporter and less of a filmmaker, and I'm not liking that so much. I get a lot of gratification from producing my own stuff (a feeling any creative can relate to), and am pretty jealous when I see all these pioneering types blazing ahead while I stagnate. This is, of course, something I'm completely responsible for, and is something I desperately want to mend. I want to be more of a doer and less of a watcher.

The online world is in a current metamorphosis of content distribution, and I don't want to be left behind. It very exciting when I see sites like sporting ad banners from NBC. The big shots are paying attention to the smaller guys because they are getting people to tune in to their work. Their budgets may be smaller, but in the Wild West of the internet, that no longer matters. Create a good story and get the word out, and they will come. They will come to you.

As a result, I'm thinking of moving more toward more original content in this blog, and less "coverage" of other stuff that everyone else is already talking about. I'm not talking about commentary, but the "go here and read this" type of post that doesn't contribute to said posting, but merely acts as an arrow with no thoughts from me. I have no problem giving other people traffic, but I would like to do it in way that will satisfy me, and give more incentive to read the original article or watch the video or whatever.

I hope the change will be good. I need to dust off my imagination and do something fun, and take this blog in a new direction. A direction that will be entertaining, instructive and nifty. So stay tuned.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Stepping out of the Freezer

If it feels like I haven't been publishing anything original lately, I must confess, I really haven't. Aside from the occasional movie review, it feels like my idea flow has halted, and it has nothing to do with the writers strike. No, the answer is much simpler. I haven't been making any movies. Life has wriggled it's grip around me, and I just haven't been able to produce much, aside from the occasional wedding video or photo montage (which really doesn't count). As a result, the wellspring of writing has seemingly dried up. I think I need to do something creative, and then I'll have something creative to write about.

Is it chilly in here?


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