Tuesday, March 20, 2007

To HD or not to HD.

All this talk about the lab reminded me of something I've been meaning to write about -- making a decision on video format. These days, there are two basic options: standard definition and high definition.

From a resolution standpoint, high definition is the obvious way to go -- 1080 lines of resolution versus 486 lines of resolution for standard def. With the new high def home formats available (HD DVD and Blu-ray), there's the posibility that Interplanetary might be released in high def one day, and it's easy enough to downconvert a high def image to create a standard def DVD. The downside is cost -- a high def transfer is about twice as expensive as a standard def transfer.

Since we're counting every penny, I decided I'd let the marketplace decide. If having a high def master of Interplanetary would make it easier to find a distribution deal, I figure it would be money well spent. I contacted an acquaintance who is a producer's rep (someone who helps filmmakers market and sell their movies), and she said that a high def master would, indeed, make the movie easier to sell. So that's the way we're going.

One additional cool thing about the high def transfer -- we're able to bypass tape and go straight to computer disk. High def tapes are expensive, and I don't have a high def VTR, so the direct-to-disk route is relatively cost-effective and convenient.


When I was looking through the latest footage (from Days Two, Three, and Four), I noticed very subtle glitches in the image. Nothing you could see in the frame grabs I posted Friday, but visible when watching the stuff run at 24 frames per second. It was so subtle that I got Jimbo, Chuck, Hilleke, and Steve Ashlee to look at it to make sure I wasn't just seeing things, but they agreed there was a problem. Which meant there was either something wrong with the film to video transfer (maybe bad for the lab) or something wrong with the camera (definitely bad for Interplanetary).

I emailed a bit of sample footage to the lab, and colorist John tracked down the problem. Seems the lab transferred some archival footage earlier in the week, and the old film stock left a bit of residue on the transfer machine rollers -- just enough residue to put a bump in the road for our footage.

So the problem didn't end up being bad for anyone -- John cleaned the machine and said our negative was looking fine now, so he can re-transfer it whenever we need it.

The odyssey.

One of my favorite things about starting a movie is the trip to the lab. Actually, I hate the trip to the lab, because it involves driving the gauntlet that is I-20 from Birmingham to Atlanta. The lab itself is great, though.

(Wall o' equipment at CineFilm...)

The lab in question is CineFilm. They take the exposed 16mm negative, develop it, and transfer the developed image to video. That's the really simple version -- motion picture negative film contains a lot of information, and it can be tweaked in many ways on its journey to video. I usually leave the details of the transfer to the colorist, the person who runs the machine that allows for all those tweaks to the image. But I like to sit down with him for the first batch of footage to discuss the project and the look we're going for (not that I ever go for anything too fancy, image-wise).

(The big machine that scans the negative...)

So Carl, John, Jen (John's girlfriend and occasional member of the Interplanetary art department), and I loaded up in the Honda Element for a relaxing trip to the lab. Yeah, right. We left a half an hour early and got there 45 minutes late, due to road construction, accidents, cops... everything but hordes of locusts. The drive to Atlanta is usually a bit of a grind, but this one was the worst I've ever experienced.

Thankfully, the guys at CineFilm didn't have another appointment near ours, so we had plenty of time to check out and discuss the footage.

(Colorist John and I check out some footage of Amanda...)

And I'm happy to say the footage looked pretty darn good. I recently had the camera serviced and bought some new prime lenses for it, hoping to get a sharper image than we got from our old zoom lens. And the new lenses are, indeed, sharp. To my untrained eye, they look about as sharp as you could want.

We really got to check out the sharpness when the guys piped the feed from our negative into their new digital cinema room. The cinema room is basically a smaller version of the kind of digital projection theater you see more and more new movie releases on (locally, many of the projectors in the Rave theaters are digital). I think there were 9 or so (very comfortable) chairs in the room, and the screen was 8 or so feet wide.

So I'm watching a high def feed of our footage shot with our sharp lenses on this huge screen... and I realized that all those little details I thought no one would notice were very noticable. I even saw a safety pin we'd used to secure part of Chuck's space suit. Needless to say, we've been paying much more attention to sets and costumes since seeing everything larger than life.

(Jen and John watching the transfer...)

The trip back to Birmingham was miserable, but not as miserable as the trip from Birmingham -- we got back in three hours or so. Thankfully, with John, Jen, and Carl along for the ride, the company was good.

As cool as it is to be there in the lab and watch the footage as it comes right off the negative, I think I might skip the drive the next time. CineFilm is offering something new, a "virtual" telecine session, where you watch the colorist work from the comfort of your own home, via QuickTime and an Internet connection.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Been going through the footage from Day Two, Three, and Four. Here are a few frame grabs. Click a grab to see the hi-def version, and dig that 16mm grain.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A weekend off (sort of).

We're taking the weekend off from shooting to work on other movie-related stuff, including checking out the footage from Days Two, Three, and Four, which just arrived on hard disk via Fed Ex.

Maybe I'll also get some more blogging done. I'll definitely post some stills from the footage, assuming we got anything good...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More on Day Four.

Just got in from the Hold Steady show at Bottletree. To me, the Hold Steady sound like Elvis Costello and Lou Reed backed by the E Street Band, circa 1978 -- a terrific group and well worth your patronage. And Teen Getaway, the best band in Birmingham, opened. That's a good night of rockin'.

Before I hit the hay, I'll try to get caught up a bit on the blogging. Or, at least, show you some more photos, courtesy of George Smyly.

Here Carl and John are bloody-ing up actor Michael Shelton.

You rarely get to shoot a movie in story order. It seems like Interplanetary is more out-of-order than usual, which makes keeping up with continuity from scene to scene a challenge, to say the least. Sunday was our first day of shooting with Michael in his space suit, but said suit gets very messy earlier in the story, so we made an educated guess on the amount of blood involved, and John mixed up a little using his secret recipe.

Then Carl made a few tweaks to Michael's costume and collar after we got him on set and figured out the blocking for the scene.

Actors Mia Frost and Sly Little found time for a laugh before rolling.

Here's a nice wide shot that'll give you a feel for what it looks like on the set between takes. We're careful when actually shooting to keep the tops of the walls (and lack of ceiling) out of the frame.

John and Carl "backstage," working a little of their magic.

Along with Steve Ashlee, who came on board recently and has been helping us out with all kinds of electricy-related stuff. I'm a "220, 221, whatever it takes" kind of guy, so having someone who really knows how to wire up all the batteries and AC cables we're dealing with has been really nice.

And here's Julia Lewis, our documentarian, hard at work getting behind-the-scenes footage. I looked over at Julia at one point, and she was operating a video camera and still camera at the same time, with a second still camera hanging around her neck. That's the kind of work ethic you gotta have when you're working on an indie film.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Day Three and Four.

Got two more days of shooting done last weekend, including the first footage of Mia and Sly, who are playing "Beth" and "Jones," respectively. I'm still way behind on blog updates, other movie stuff, and the day job. So, until I can write some more, here's a fun picture of Michael and Mia in action-movie mode from Sunday...

Monday, March 5, 2007

Good news, bad news.

The good news: Day Two of Production happened yesterday. The bad news: Day Two was supposed to happen the day before yesterday. A couple of cast members (Melissa and Kevin) were on hand, along with most of the usual crew suspects. But we just didn't have our set for the day as ready as we'd planned. So I sent the actors home after lunch and the crew went to work getting the set finished up and tweaking the lighting.

We tried to shoot again on Sunday with much better results. All the extra time the crew had was put to good use. The set, especially all the stuff Carl built, looked really good. Actually, it looked better than good, because of the amazing lighting work of Jimbo and Hilleke.

I'm starting to realize that this movie is not going to happen as quickly as I'd planned. My original idea was to shoot a down and dirty genre film the same way Roger Corman would have done in the 1970s. But Roger Corman's movies at least had SOME budget, which meant they had a decent-size crew working fast. Our crew is working fast, but it's a tiny crew where all the members have day jobs. So, at the end of the day, it ain't that fast.

Anyway, here are a few photos from Day Two. I'll post more later.

Jimbo contemplates his next move in his campaign to bring the Sexy back...

Hilleke and I get some video footage of Melissa...

Reverse of previous -- Melissa on (video) camera...