Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cheap Shoulder Rig Gets a Look



If you're in need of a shoulder rig for your DSLR (or video camera if you roll that way), the DSLR Film Noob has one he's been testing for awhile. Found under many names (Spider Rig, X-Rig, Movie Rig), this articulating creature can form into just about about any configuration you can come up with. Not only that, but it folds up into a small package that you can fit into your camera bag. For all the details, watch Deejay's video. He covers everything and more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Does a Feature Film for the Web Look Like?



Here's a question: what is Film 2.0?

With my goal of making and releasing a "web feature" looming in the near future, I am beginning to question even the very nature of what that means. We all know what a traditional feature film looks like, and we can still see them in the theater, on TV, on DVD and streamed to our computer or smartphone. They are still viable forms of entertainment and creative satisfaction (with the potential for profit) for the filmmaker. So why am I worried?

I've had this nagging at the back of my brain that, for the microbudget creator, we need to do something different that hasn't really been done yet. It seems that while we acknowledge that the internet is still the Wild West with all kinds of possibilities, we still want to shoehorn old models into it. I strongly believe in a free web release of whatever project I end up making, but why should that project come from the same box that I'm trying to escape with an unorthodox release model?

In other words, if I want to try new and unusual distribution methods, shouldn't the project itself be new and unusual?

This idea makes me question everything about what I already know about filmmaking. Narrative structure. Character development. Presentation. Running time. I'm not saying I should throw everything out and reinvent the wheel. Not at all. It would not only be stupid and arrogant (who am I to say that over a hundred years of filmmaking history is wrong for the web?) but crazy. We should learn and adapt what we already know, taking the best things about story, character, training and experience and letting them inspire us to take chances and be adventurous.

Take YouTube for example. Right now, it's the best place to host content. Sure, Vimeo may look slightly better, but YouTube offers the chance to make a little money from what we are doing. You make partner and the doors of time open wide open and the profit window cracks a bit. No other service can claim this. Not only that, but the annotation feature is a creative embryo that practically dares us to do something really cool. Linking to other videos and director's commentaries is just scratching the surface. We need to scratch harder.

This begs another issue--interactivity. Give the user (again, within YouTube so you can make a little bit of money) something else to do other than watch and they won't click away (or to another point in the timeline). Keep them involved. Become a partner with them in the story. Make them part of the story. Make them the story.

Video games. Alternate Reality Gaming. Role Playing Games. Choose Your Own Adventure books. It's all interactive storytelling. What can we learn (read: "steal") from these sources?

Another important component in all this is still cost. I don't want to trash frugality. Having some grandiose idea that takes years to fund and implement is a giant step backward. Use the inexpensive tools we have at our disposal to create. We can't compete with Hollywood and big corporations, but we aren't bound by their rules and formulas, either. Make something they won't in a way they wouldn't touch and begin carving a place for yourself.

Obviously, I don't have all the answers. This is more of a rant to get us all thinking. I want to hear your ideas.

For a continued discussion on this topic, click here for part 2.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie of the Web: "The Waiting List"



Released by Front Ave. Productions. Comedy-drama written and directed by Mike Vogel. Featuring Teresa Decher, Amanda Englund, Bryce Flynt-Sommerville, Jayme S. Hall, Audrey Walker and Mercedes Rose. Would be rated "R" for language and adult situations. Available for free on YouTube.

A motley group of parents must spend the night in a highly-regarded preschool to insure their child's attendance. A waiting list is dictates the pecking order of who will get in and who won't. The catch: if anyone leaves, they lose their spot in line.

The Waiting List is an above-average ensemble piece that puts together an interesting mix of characters and then stirs the pot for some nice chemistry. There's the teenager Ella (Decher), who's holding a spot for her sister and may be pregnant herself. Sexy Kathryn (Englund) is the no-nonsense divorced mother who will do anything to get her daughter into the school. Ben (Flynt-Sommerville) is Kathryn's college boyfriend whose own marriage is on the rocks. Chris (Hall) is the punk of the group, who apparently has no filter between his brain and his mouth. Very pregnant Audrey (Walker) is the most experienced parent, with two kids and one one the way.

Confining all your characters in one place with nothing to do except talk could spell disaster to a lesser project, but Vogel and company are up to the challenge. An intelligent script has some great observations about parenting and human nature (what Disney characters are you attracted to?) and demonstrate a mature talent at work. The actors also do a fine job bringing their various characters to life and they are all strong enough to make me forget I was watching a movie and connect to them emotionally. When they all separate at the conclusion of the film, I was a bit sad to see them go.

While the subject matter does deal with kids, this is not a kids movie. There is profanity (I always cringe when I hear the F-bomb in the first line of dialogue) and some pretty frank adult-speak, so don't say I didn't warn you. If you find even the idea of this offensive, steer clear. To be totally honest, I felt a couple scenes did go too far, but not enough to dissuade me from a recommendation.

The film is technically strong. Vogel and his cinematographer, Brian Mohr, do a great job visually. Shots are composed well and lit properly. The editing works well. The sound is clear. Nice appropriate transition graphics help bridge scenes together. If I had any complaints, it's that some scenes remain on a wide shots too long. I really wanted to see the actor's faces better. In Vogel's commentary (see below) he explains why he did this (and one time he wish he didn't), but I cared enough to want to look them in the eye more often.

There are several traditional microbudget elements at work in The Waiting List, all of which serve the plot and save the filmmakers some money. There is one main location (an actual preschool, so production design was built in). The time frame is short (one 24 hour period) which means only one costume per character. The running time is a tight 80 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome. These "limits" work well together and demonstrate the potential of our medium.

Vogel has also put some things into place that take advantage of web delivery. The first is releasing on YouTube. Anyone with a computer or smartphone screen can watch The Waiting List. Nothing frustrates me more than reading about an interesting film, then learning that I can't see it anywhere because it's playing in an obscure festival somewhere waiting for a distribution deal. Vogel made the film very accessible and I applaud him for that.

The other thing he's done is taken advantage of YouTube annotations and created a text-based director's commentary. I've seen these on DVDs that utilize a subtitle track, but Mike's film is the first I've seen to do the same on YouTube. It's entertaining, educational and fun. It makes the movie that much better and adds a nice level of re-playability.

So, if you're looking for an entertaining movie this weekend and don't mind the more adult-oriented content, check out The Waiting List. It's a solid film that transcends it's microbudget roots and involves you in the story and characters, especially if you have kids of your own. It's well worth your viewing time that you "can never get back".

If you like this film, be sure to check out Mike Vogel's blog and his YouTube channel. There is a lot more that he has done (and is working on) that should please anyone satisfied with this movie. Especially good is a web series called Did You Cast Anyone? which was used to crowdfund his latest project, Did You Kiss Anyone? Very funny stuff, especially if you are an actor or director.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can You Hang a Lav Mic?



I'm a little late on this one (Dave posted it last week), but it's still a good video and worth noting. This time Knoptop takes Quick FX in an audio direction, testing the theory that you can hang an inexpensive lav mic and get better sound than the normal position on clothing. He gets this from the stage, where actors typically get the ol' "mic on the forehead" trick which Dave sort of replicates here.

It's an interesting experiment, but I think this proves that below the mouth is still the best position for a lav. Actually, I think it sounds better mostly because it's closer to the mouth than the hung version. Even when hidden under the hairline, the mic has less distance to the mouth then when suspended just above the frame. That's one "secret" of good audio. Get the mic as close to the speaker's mouth as possible, no matter where the mic may be.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What is a Scissor Clamp?



Knoptop has a new segment! Departing slightly from his Quick FX format, Dave shares with us things we didn't know, we didn't know. In this first episode, he shows us what a scissor clamp does and how we can hang lights from it. Okay, you have to have "real" lights for this to work (my hacked work lights won't cut it here), but if you didn't know you could hang lights from a drop ceiling, now you do.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Episode Workflow



After a barrage of emails asking me all kinds of different questions about various tidbits concerning the show, I get proactive. Today's episode is about my episode process and what goes into it. If you can't find anything you want to emulate here, consider it a lesson in things you don't want to do.

Camstudio screen capture software

Exporting with Vegas for Vimeo HD

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Variable ND Filter Comparison



The DSLR Film Noob returns with a valuable side-by-side of two variable ND filters in different price ranges. A basic ND filter will restrict the amount of light entering your camera, relieving your aperture to do other things (like adjust depth of field). These come in different levels of light restriction, which means you have to unscrew and screw them on to adjust the amount of light you want coming in.

A variable ND filter lets you make these changes on the fly. One variable filter handles the same job as three normal ones. You pay for this convenience, but it it is handy. Deejay gives us the skinny on how well the cheap version holds up to the more expensive one.