Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where is the Move Scene these days? Where is the best place to work in film

The other day a friend of mine told me that I make better films on zero budget than Peter Jackson made before he found fame.  "Thanks! I needed that" was my reply.  He told me the cinematography, coloring and most everything else was just better.  As I let my ego absorb the comment I began to think about what he said and why, if this is true (which it is), am I not making something else besides commercials?  
There was only one distinct answer to this question.  I am living in the wrong place.  You see, I live in North West Arkansas.  Until about five years ago there was no movie scene.  Yes, there were films being made here by a handful of people but there was no "scene".  The advent of affordable DSLR cameras, and the like, have given birth to the area's film scene, for what there is of it. To say that it is burgeoning or becoming something to admire would be an overstatement.  There are still only a few of us around here that actually work at making films of any kind.  What's worse is the fact that many of us don't know each other nor do we talk very often.  Why this is, I really do not know.  We have a local Film Festival and some 48 hour film stuff going on, which is neat.  We do have a couple of film schools as well.  The Springdale High School has a film program that is rather large as well as two Colleges that offer programs, John Brown University and North West Arkansas Community College.  John Brown has a full on film studies where the students are required to make films of their own while NWACC is just getting off the ground.  Even if we did have a larger group of filmmakers, we would have no place to show the films.  There are no art houses or small boutique theaters to place a film.  You either have to have a party at your house or rely on the internets.  

So, since I am living in the wrong place I decided to narrow down places to move too.  This is where it starts to scare me a little.  You see, film has been struggling the past few years resulting in lower pay and fewer jobs.  In fact, Paramount just laid off 5% of their staff and that makes anyone wonder about moving to L.A. for a film job.  Even more scary is the fact that many Hollywood big budget movies insist on the VFX (Visual Effects) companies they work with do the job at prices that leave the VFX guys in a negative balance at the end, even if the movie makes money.  Top that off with the plan to move more and more VFX work to China and you have a recipe for disaster.

Of my choices I have narrowed it down to five; L.A., N.Y., Georgia, Vancouver and Texas.  The obvious reasons for going to L.A. we already know, Sun, Sand and Movies.  However, there have been less and less films made in L.A. every year.  Add to that the fact that I know virtually no one in L.A. that deals in the film business.  This makes moving to L.A. something of a pipe dream.  In fact these reasons could apply to N.Y. as well.  The subtle difference for me that keeps me thinking about moving to L.A. or N.Y. is the talent pool.  No where else are you going to find people that want to be in the film business more than life itself than in these two towns.  I have heard rumors of people quitting their jobs to work on a film that has zero pay.  Hell yeah, where can I find that sort of dedication here?!  The other choices are far more nuanced than the arguments for or against L.A. or N.Y.  With the exception of Vancouver, I can bet that I would be able to find work making commercials, just as I am here, in Georgia and Texas.  The reason I leave Vancouver out is because it is another country and I have never left the continental US, so I really don't know the process or the area.  Texas has a thriving film and art community in Cities like Austin and Ft. Worth.  The amount of people living in those areas dictates that you can find talent and like minded folks.  Georgia is where the hot action is.  Or at least where it is rumored to be.  The state gives tax credits to folks that make films in the state and the state actually pays the money.  Louisiana tried that but somehow they forgot that eventually you will need to write a check to keep the films coming.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Georgia will not do the exact same thing next month forcing all the jobs back to L.A.

So you see, I do not want to put my cart before my horse and move to a place where I will end up being right back in the same situation I am in now.  I want to make the best decision I can with as much info as possible.  The last thing I want to do is fall for Hollywood-itis and move out there with no job, no prospects for a job and low cash reserves.  

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

iPhone 6 the last camera you will ever buy? Not Hardly

I have been an iPhone owner since the first one hit the market.  No, I am not a tech nerd or a Hipster, I just want a good product that works.  I know, I know... I can already hear the iPhone haters and the Droid fan-boys mantra coming across the interwebs on why the iPhone is crap and Droid is best.  Just stop now and keep reading.  This isn't about the phone, its about the incessant blog posts on why the iPhone camera is the last camera anyone will need to buy.  It is, unfortunately, quickly becoming the latest urban myth.  If you ever wanted to take photographs like a pro, well, the iPhone will not get you anywhere near shooting like one.  There is so much more to taking a photograph than the camera.  Yes, you can take great photos with the new iPhone 6 but just because you have a great camera does not mean that you will automatically take great pics.

ADRIENNE PITTS, London, United Kingdom
Here is a great example of great photos taken with the last iteration of the Apple magic wand.  Is it the photo, the resolution or the eye of the photographer?  You already know what I am going to tell you, its the photographer.  Lets say this photo was taken with the old silverback iPhone 3G, would that have made it any better?  Probably not, in fact there is no way it could be better but it would still be a great photograph.  Even if this photo was poor resolution and the colors were slightly off it would not have made a difference.

The iPhone 6 is an impressive camera as well as a video camera.  It is not, however, a professional camera.  It has flaws, I could go into those flaws but why waste your time?  After reading this post you would undoubtedly say "well, it is a phone after all".

To say that this is the camera to end all cameras, that is tantamount to saying the new Fords will be the last car you would ever have to buy.  Please don't send me emails hating on Fords, it's sarcasm, get over it.  Anywhoo..  Yes, soccer moms and ego driven selfie takers are going to go gaga for the new found prowess of the camera mixed with great software emulation of actual photographic techniques.  They will post millions of these photos promptly after activating their new toys.  People will comment on the photos, like them and some may think that they can go into business as Pro-Photogs because they take such great selfies.  I am looking forward to laughing at the photos actually.  For that is what I do, I laugh at narcissism put on display.  (ok, this blog is getting really mean)

This is actually a more common problem in the photography world than you would expect.  Many amateur photographers who do really nice work are of the mind set that the camera is the most important thing.  They buy a great full frame camera for about 5k and a wonderful lens for another 4k and the pictures still look just like the ones they were taking with that Cannon T2i they bought at Sam's Club.  These cats show off their pictures to the rest of the world and proclaim them to be some of the best ever, they submit to the photo contests and tell all their friends how they must give up a full time job to pursue a career in photography because they are so great.  Many a camera company has gotten rich from the promise of better photos if you buy their newest model.  It never works.

Cameras will always be evolving.  The tech will get better and better with easier interfaces and new ways to focus like the Lytro camera.  It is a really cool concept that I would not mind using for web site design.  It allows the viewer to click on the area they want to see and the photo then focuses on the pixel area that was clicked on leaving the formerly in focus area with a nice Bokeh.  It really almost gives you a Harry Potter Wizard Picture feel.  Over the next ten years you will see even greater advances.  Eventually we will be able to pick our brains for the photograph we would like to take without even picking up a camera.  Ok, maybe that one might be in 2215, but you get my point. This alone is why the iPhone 6 will not be the last camera you need to buy.

In closing this amazing, colossal and spirited blog that tends to rant on and on about seemingly nothing, I want to share with you a photograph you have seen before.  It was taken at my Uncle's lake house this past July (2014).  I used NO photoshop (other than to convert it to a jpeg) or digital effects.  No color was added or altered in a computer.  I did not even set the white balance to some crazy setting in my camera.  What I did do was use old school photography skills to make a great photo.  This is something that you cannot re-create on an iPhone.

Recreation at Sun Down
Paul G Newton
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Monday, September 8, 2014

What lens should I use? 35mm vs 70mm

What lens you use for shooting your film really depends on what you are shooting.  Is it an interview, action or something else.  For the most part I like to stick to my 35mm 1.5 and my 55mm 1.5 lenses. I like to shoot with these lenses because they are very versatile.  No matter the light, I can usually get the shot I am looking for.The background becomes soft while keeping the subject fairly crisp.  However, when shooting with such a large aperture light tends to leak and can cause more fuzziness than is intended.  Some highly expensive lenses can correct for this but in most cases it always happens.  If you are shooting, say, an interview and you want the subject to be as crisp as possible a smaller aperture might be what is needed.  What if you do not have enough lights?  Well, then it becomes a little tricky, but you can overcome any obstacle if you have the right knowledge.

Left is Sony 16-50    /    Right is Tamron 70-200
Here is a side by side comparison of two of my variable zoom lenses.  The shot on the left is a Sony 16-50 2.3 constant aperture and the left is the Tamron 70-200 4.0 constant aperture.  Arguably, the Sony is the better lens due to it being made in the same way the Zeiss version of this lens.  The workmanship and the tolerances are the only difference.  The Sony 16-50 is a great versatile, heavy lens that, at one time, was considered the best kit lens Sony had.  The Tamron, on the other hand, is a good lens but it does tend to get a little fuzzy when out to 200mm.  The color profiles are slightly dissimilar and the lighting is quite different.  The left is lit with room lights and a soft-box, the right is lit with a soft-box and one 60 watt fill.  As you can see, if you look closely, the subject on the left is fuzzy and is not as clear as the subject on the right.  My focus was perfect, according to the Sony peaking meter anyway, so they should have been just as crisp, they obviously aren't.  The reason for this disparity in focus is due to the aperture of the lens, or how much light it is letting in.  The Tamron cannot go below an f4 but the Sony is at 2.3.  

Sony 16-50
Needless to say, I will be using the Tamron for interviews from now on.  That is, if I can get far enough away from the subject.  You see, the drawback of using the 70mm is that I had to be more than 8 or 10 feet away from my subject.  Something very hard to do in a 10 x 14 foot room.  If that room I used the 70mm in was any smaller, I would have had no choice but to use the 35mm or the 16-50.  
Tamron 70-200

The other upside to using the 70mm is the fact that it has less inherent lens distortion than the 16-50 lens has.  Because it has such a wide angle at 16mm, the lens tends to bend the shapes coming in the sensor.  Good lenses will get most of it out but even then you have to zoom to about 25 or 35mm to get that distortion out of the picture.  You could do it in post, but it is better to do it in camera, trust me on that one.  A good 35mm or 55mm prime lens will have little to no distortion and you can trust that those lenses will perform just as good as the 70-200.  

An example of Bokeh
So far you have heard me tout the goodness of the Tamron lens.  It is a decent lens, for $400 you get every pennies worth.  However, there is something this lens just isn't as good at as the 35mm and the 16-50.  This is something called Bokeh.  This is when the background has become blurred out of focus to the point that the only thing that is left is a round blur or shape.  It is a highly sought out effect that makes beautiful shots that much more beautiful.  It is possible to get some bokeh out of the Tamron but nothing like the lower aperture lenses.  It is a must if you want to utilize an artistic focus pull on some close in objects.  This would not be highly recommended to use on a dialogue heavy scene between two characters, best use the 70 for that.  But, you know, it's your movie, If that's what you want to do.  Go ahead!  

So, which lens is right for your shot, well...  Landscapes you need to use an aperture of about f 14 during the day and maybe a little lower at night.  Interviews you want to get that aperture number as low as you can and still keep the subject sharp (move them further away from the wall would help loads btw)  For action scenes during the day, you should use a smaller aperture (a higher number) to make sure the subject is clear, at night use the largest aperture (a smaller number) as you can without increasing that ISO too much.  Dramatic scenes are great for using a softer focus so it might call for an f 1.5 aperture number (Larger aperture) instead of making it so clear you can see the pours on the actors faces.  I mean, its supposed to be slightly dreamy this thing called love..  Isn't it?  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The fuss over Mac and PC

In the world of graphic arts and Film-making there is a general rule that you just have to have a Mac.  I, of course, am always bucking trends and have a PC, and I really had no choice.  For some reason the world of artists believe that the magical Mac will automatically make you more creative and make the world a better place.  Um, no.  If only, I'll take three.  The difference is that there is a between a Mac and PC and sometimes it is quite noticeable.  I'll admit that I really enjoy the luxury of the Mac operating system with all of its beautiful integration and quirks, but being pretty doesn't always get the job done.
PC Vs. Mac Ad

Recently, I had to purchase another box (computer) and because I am part geek, part artist and part logical thinker, I tried all of them.  I bought the super high end MacBook Pro with all the whistles.  I took it home and put the Adobe CC applications on it that I needed and went to work.  I made a 3d Ray Traced graphic and went to town.  I thought the MacBook Pro would chew it up and spit it out, or at least take less time than the current PC I was using from 2010 that took 72 hours.  The MacBook Pro did a good job at making the required render but it was still a whopping 7.5 hours to create.  To me, that is still way too long.  Now, granted, what I was trying to do was so complicated and hard that no one in their right mind would have made it the way I was doing it.  I was creating it in Adobe After Effects without any third party plug-ins.  There is almost nothing more difficult for the software and hardware to create than what I was attempting, but that is exactly why I was doing it.

The next step for me was to look at PC offerings.  The box I really needed to get the job done would have been a six core beast that cost north of Six Grand.  Needless to say, that was outside my comfort zone.  The MacBook Pro was actually outside my price range as well at about $3,000.  So I settled on trying an Alienware with two GTX 770's bridged together.  Yes, I know, it is geek speak and nothing I just said makes any sense.  Anyway...  I got the Alienware to the house and put it to the test.  Same render, same programs and the dang thing did it in Thirty Minutes.  Holy Cow!  

Some will say that I am comparing a desktop to a laptop, that is true.  However, if you look at the specs of the MacBook Pro, it has the same graphics card that the iMac does, the same i7 processor and so on and so forth.  What more would I be getting from the iMac than I get from the MacBook Pro?  As far as tech specs on paper, not much.  I also considered the MacPro but that thing is too pricey and I couldn't afford it.  
Yeah, This is a Hipster.
So, I kept the Alienware computer and use it daily, but I do miss the Apple interface and all its fun stuff that I absolutely do not need to get my job done. I will miss looking cool at the coffee shop and bookstores.  My hipster friends seem to be a little bit more withdrawn ever since as well.  But I'll never regret purchasing my Alienware, and I damn sure will enjoy the extra $700.00 I got to keep in my wallet for going PC over Mac.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The first thing to know about filming a movie: Move The Camera!

One of the first things that I learned about making films was that most Indie productions looked the same.  I tried to figure this out for a long time until I came across the fact that they are all using static camera angle.  In the film lingo world a tripod shot is sometimes called a "pedestal" shot.  That's where the camera is put on a tripod or something similar and it stays there.  Yes, we have the ability to pan left and right, up and down but that is still very... well, uninteresting.  There are times that it is necessary to make sure the camera is not moving but, in my opinion, that isn't something to be done all the time.  In fact, there is even a feature in the editing software that adds camera shake.  That right there should tell all of us that movement of the camera is essential.  What other reason could there be to add a preset to a program that makes perfect footage shake?

There are several ways to make a camera angle live.  No, that's not the correct term for it but maybe it should be.  One way (and one of my favorites) is to shoot with a Jib.  A jib brings heavy motion into the frame and when used correctly, can make ordinary footage look like a Hollywood production.  A jib usually is used to move the camera vertically from a high angle to a medium or low angle.  If you have ever watched an episode of "The X Files" you have seen the product of using a jib.  I think they did it in every episode at least once if not every other angle.  To use it correctly you generally need something in the foreground to show the motion of the subject that is further away.  The faster motion of the foreground piece generally gives the viewer a sense of depth.  The cost of a Jib can be a couple hundred dollars to thousands to purchase outright.  

Kessler Crane Phillip Bloom Slider

Another great way to keep the camera moving is the use of a slider.  This allows for the camera to move left to right (or right to left) with precision and without any shake.  You basically take the same thought process that you use for the Jib and turn it around making the subject the foreground object.  You will get a nice little motion going on in the background that keeps the eye happy while adding an artistic look to your shot when using a shallow focus (this means the background is out of focus).  Most medium priced TV commercials utilize this to make the production feel even that much more expensive.    

Zacuto Shoulder rig
One of my go to camera angles is accomplished using a shoulder rig.  Swaying side to side and keeping your subject in a certain portion of the frame is a great way to emulate a slider.  I also use the shoulder rig for a little more than that.  You see, with a shoulder rig you can get yourself in crazy positions that make the angle just right.  Plus, the rig isn't just made for your shoulder.  Many times I have watched a film where the DP (director of photography) seemed to forget that you can put that rig on your knew, carry it like a bag, put it on the ground or anywhere else that is even remotely stable. Even the shake from the rig can give you that extra umph you need to make the shot less Sterile.  

Ultimately, what I am saying is Keep That Camera Moving!  Especially if it's an indie production.  Camera movement can be used to cover up bad acting, script slumps and poor sets.  Always keep an eye out for that crazy angle that is rarely seen because it is so hard to get.  Don't be afraid to shoot from the floor or from a tall ladder even.  It will be worth it in the end.

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