Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Other Worlds Than These" episode 012.

012: is a great resource for all of your cinematography-related questions. The site's forum membership includes several industry professionals, and they're always willing to share their knowledge with the less-experienced. Whether your query is about film cameras or digital cameras, on-set lighting or post-production issues, it has probably already been answered at On the off-chance it hasn't, you can register with the forum and post the question yourself.

Darkness DVD.

Meant to mention this a while back...

Not long after I wrote about Hearts of Darkness, the Apocalypse Now documentary, Paramount announced (finally) a DVD release.

Said DVD is now available. Don't just sit there -- go get it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wade scout.

Trap and I went out to the quarry at Wade on Sunday to do a little scouting. Mainly, we were trying to find some areas with enough scale for some wide shots. We didn't find anything as cool as the dry lake bed in Vegas, but, for a rock quarry... not too shabby.

Here are a few photos, with Trap posing for scale...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Things..." episode 012.

012: Critics are your friends.

Some filmmakers have an antagonistic relationship with the critical community. I don't get that. Critics write about movies. They might write positively or negatively about a particular film, but they're still writing about movies.

Before people can watch a movie, they have to know that movie exists. You can advertise a movie, but that's expensive. The only thing a review costs is a DVD screener and some postage. And maybe a little pride, in the case of a negative review. But if you're making indie movies, you have more pride to spare than cash.

Critics don't just write about which movies are "good" and which movies are "bad." They write movie news stories and interviews, too. So there's always the possibility that a positive or even mixed review can turn into an interview, or at least a notice when the movie is screened in theaters, released to DVD, or shown on television. Or maybe a separate story for each of those events.

I've stayed in touch with several of the critics who praised Hide and Creep. I've met a few of them in person, even drank a few beers with one of them. I just received an email from a critic who wants to help me find a new distributor for Hide and Creep. Good critics are like good filmmakers -- they love movies and want as many people as possible to see good flicks.

There's a lot of talk these days about how inexpensive technology has made it possible for just about anyone to shoot a movie. More movies means the independent movie scene is more competitive. It is less often mentioned that inexpensive technology has also made it easier for people to write about movies, creating more opportunities for people to read about any given movie. Make life a little easier for all those critics -- send 'em a screener of your movie. They might respond by making life a little easier for you.

*I'm not talking about random hecklers, but actual critics who write actual reviews with complete sentences and everything.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Something in The Mist.

Take a few truly terrifying horror setpieces. String them together with some slightly heavy-handed social commentary. Cap it all off with an awful, ill-conceived ending, and you have The Mist.

Here's Ebert's two-star review. Not that he and I necessarily give the movie two stars for the same reasons...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Other Worlds Than These" episode 011.

011: Grindhouse.

I was going to direct you to Grindhouse, a great example of filmmakers working to give their audience maximum bang for the buck. When it played in theaters, Grindhouse included two full-length feature films (Planet Terror and Death Proof), plus a few fake "preview of coming attraction" trailers.

I guess people thought Grindhouse was too good of a deal, because they mostly didn't go see it.

As a result, the powers that be (Dimension Films), didn't release a Grindhouse DVD. They released the two features separately. And you have to look around on the internet to find the trailers.

Like this one (particularly appropriate for today):

That link is not even safe for work, by the way.

If Dimension ever releases a real Grindhouse DVD, check it out.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brothers Coen, 2007 edition.

For a movie with such a pessimistic world view, No Country For Old Men manages to be awfully funny. That's no real surprise, considering No Country is the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, two guys who know a little something about pessimism and comedy. It's also no surprise that No Country is really, really good, as the Coens' filmography also includes Miller's Crossing, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski.

Check out Ebert's four-star review.

New teaser options.

The first Interplanetary teaser trailer is now available on YouTube for any non-QuickTime folks out there:

And here's a version you can download and put on your video-enabled iPod or iPhone:

EDIT: Link changed to reflect new server address (2008-Oct-01).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quarry day one.

After many scheduling mishaps, we finally did some filming at Wade Sand and Gravel, a quarry right outside of Birmingham. The cast and crew count was low, but we had a lot of fun. And I think we got some cool footage.

Stacy and Taylor, Trap's wife and daughter, respectively, came out early to set up the Mars Base Two exterior set that Stacy and Trap had built earlier in the week. Stacey (that's my Stacey) and John were there, of course. And Kyle and Michael did some fine acting, along with Damon, who was nice enough to come out early to film a small speaking role.

Pictures below, most courtesy of Stacey...

That's Stacy; Damon; Trap and incognito Stacey; Kyle through the video tap; Michael; John; me; Trap and Michael.

"Things..." episode 011.

011: More fashion tips for the set.

No matter where you're filming, don't wear anything that you want to keep clean. Making movies, even at a location that would seem to be neat and tidy, is dirty work. Spider-Man director Sam Raimi wears a suit and tie to work every day, but I bet he isn't crawling around on his hands and knees setting up low-angle shots.

Speaking of, don't do like I did last weekend and wear jeans with ripped-out knees. Those low-angle shots are murder on bare knees (especially in a rock quarry).

Friday, November 16, 2007

First teaser trailer.

Greetings, people of Earth. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the first teaser trailer for Interplanetary, in the glorious QuickTime format.

Big version (40.9MB)

Small version (13.4MB)

EDIT: Link changed to reflect new server address (2008-Oct-01).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Other Worlds Than These" episode 010.

010: The Business

Like The Treatment, which I wrote about in "Other Worlds..." episode 001, The Business is an NPR-produced radio program available as a free podcast.

Here's a description, courtesy of the KCRW radio web site:

Hosted by Claude Brodesser-Akner, The Business looks deep inside the business of entertainment. A half-hour of thoughtful and irreverent dialogue with Hollywood's top deal-makers, filmmakers, moguls, artists and agents, The Business will clue you in on who's making pop culture pop and what's keeping Hollywood's Blackberries juicy.

Don't let that cheesy "keeping Hollywood's Blackberries juicy" bit scare you -- The Business isn't a cheesy show. It's a must-listen for anyone looking for insight into the more arcane aspects of Hollywood filmmaking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Teaser premieres Thursday.

It's almost here -- the first "official" teaser trailer for Interplanetary. Actually, it'll probably become known as the "please don't sue me, EMI" teaser, as it contains a Radiohead song from OK Computer. But, anyways...

Carl Ross and Todd Hornsby will be showing the trailer at a public screening Thursday. Here are the details if you're in the area and would like to attend:
FILAMENT presents
A Screening of Shorts

Thursday, November 15th at 6:45 p.m.
Films start at 7:30 p.m.
Beverage Cup & Snacks available with $5 donation

1816 3rd Avenue North - Birmingham, Alabama
Limited Seating

Other than the teaser, the screening will feature several short movies, including Chris Hilleke's Cup of Joe, which I still haven't seen. And James Brown's awesome Lunch. And Sam Frasier's latest. And more.

I'll get the teaser posted to the web late Thursday or Friday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Things..." episode 010.

010: More fun with pixels.

You're obviously familiar with television, known these days as "standard-definition television" (SDTV). And you've probably at least heard of high-definition television, or HDTV. But what about enhanced-definition television (EDTV)?

The EDTV format lies between SDTV and HDTV, quality-wise. Though it is seldom referred to as such, the common DVD player is actually an EDTV device. While a DVD player can generate a signal for a standard-def television set, it can also generate a higher-quality signal for a widescreen high-def set.

The actual resolution of this enhanced-def image is the same as the standard-def image I wrote about last week: 720 x 480. But, where the SDTV pixels are interpreted as "skinny," the EDTV pixels are interpreted as "wide." Instead of the boring old 1.33:1 aspect ratio, an EDTV image is displayed in the glorious widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16:9, to be exact).

So, what happens when you play these wide pixels on a standard-def television, with its skinny pixels? The DVD player is smart enough to decode this image on the fly and output a "letterboxed" SDTV image, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to keep the image at the correct aspect ratio.

Here are a few examples, featuring Mr. Kyle Holman in a shot from Interplanetary...

EDTV image as encoded, 720 x 480 pixels.

EDTV image as displayed on a widescreen television, 854 x 480 pixels.

EDTV image as displayed on a standard television, 640 x 480 pixels.

Since television resolution is all about the "lines" (vertical resolution), the EDTV scheme is pretty clever. It is a way to display a widescreen image and still use all the available vertical pixels. With standard letterboxing, a significant number of lines are basically wasted, displaying only black bars.

I mention all this because many video cameras can record EDTV images. And, if you're shooting film (yay!) and composing for widescreen, you can have it transferred to video in an EDTV format. An ED transfer isn't as sharp as HD, but it is usually a lot cheaper. And, of course, better than letterboxed SD.

I think two posts about pixels are enough for the time being -- I'll move on to something less esoteric next week. But, if you have any pixel questions, email them to me or write them up in a blog comment, and I'll answer them in a future post.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Now playing.

Chuck and I caught a matinee of Mulberry Street on Saturday. It's kind of like 28 Days Later relocated to Manhattan with rat-zombie-monster-things. I think the theatrical run was just for this weekend, but Mulberry is worth tracking down when it arrives on DVD.

EDIT: Just realized the After Dark film series, of which Mulberry Street is a part, is playing through Thursday. Check your local listings for details.

People take Dwight Yoakam for granted. He's been consistently good for such a long time, his new releases seem to be met with an attitude of, "Oh, another Yoakam album, I'm sure it's great, whatever." I'm guilty of this, too, but I'm happy to report 2005's Blame the Vain (I finally got around to listening to it last week) is, indeed, another great Yoakam album.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"Other Worlds Than These" episode 009.

009: Monsters HD.

As far as I can tell, Monsters HD is only available on Dish Network. Which is a shame, because this is a channel everyone needs. As you might guess from the name, Monsters HD shows horror flicks and creature features 24/7 in beautiful high definition (uncut!) (and often in their original aspect ratio).

I caught Halloween III on the channel recently. And they're showing Carpenter's original The Fog tonight! Their programming runs the gamut from the classic to the enjoyably terrible. If you're a genre movie fan, you should really consider getting a Dish system, just for this channel. Or maybe you could make friends with a Dish subscriber...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Notes for Thursday.

  1. Been up late the last couple of nights working on a teaser trailer for Interplanetary -- it should be ready and viewable online next week.

  2. I haven't forgotten about today's installment of "Other Worlds Than These." I'll hopefully get it written and posted tonight or early tomorrow.

  3. Stacey, my better-half and producer, will be exhibiting some of her photography tonight at Rojo, a groovy bar and grill here in Birmingham, Alabama. Interplanetary friends Ted Speaker, Arik Sokol, Tony Diliberto, and Natalie Hummel will be showing off their shots, too. Check out Rojo's MySpace page for more info.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Things..." episode 009.

009: NTSC primer no. 1 (all pixels are not created equal).

Carol recently emailed me with a video resolution question, so I thought it might be a good time to discuss that topic on the blog. The analog signal standard for North American televisions, and many North American video cameras, is NTSC. An NTSC image has a resolution of 720 pixels wide by 480 pixels high* and an aspect ratio of 1.33:1**.

Divide 720 by 480 and you get 1.5. Given that pixel count, how can an NTSC image have an aspect ratio of 1.33:1?

The pixels aren't square.

"Skinny" NTSC pixels displayed as square pixels -- notice how the image looks a bit wide?

The same image, properly displayed as 640 x 480 square pixels.

(Click either of the examples*** for the full-resolution version.)

As a reasonable human being, I find it absurd that somebody created a broadcast standard based on pixels that are not square -- it is an unnecessary complication. But NTSC is littered with plenty of other bad decisions, some of which I'll discuss in later posts.

So, anyway, what do these non-square pixels mean to you? If you're working on a project that starts in NTSC and stays in NTSC (through delivery on DVD, for example), there's not much to worry about. Software editing systems (like Final Cut Pro) compensate for the screwy NTSC pixels, so your images look fine on the computer monitor (which, sensibly, has square pixels).

If, however, you're exporting NTSC video to another format (like a QuickTime video for the web), you'll need to change the video resolution on output to something with the proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. For a "full resolution" video, you'd output to 640 by 480 pixels. I guess that's technically only full vertical resolution. But, in the video world, for some reason, it's all about the vertical resolution (often referred to as "lines"). So, it's best to keep your image 480 pixels tall and adjust the horizontal pixels as appropriate. You can make smaller video for computers at 480 x 360 pixels, 320 x 240 pixels, etc.

I think that's enough math for today -- more NTSC madness next week.

*A "full" NTSC image (available, for example, from a DigiBeta tape) is actually 720 by 486 pixels. Most modern NTSC video mediums (including MiniDV and DVD) throw out six vertical pixels for the sake of simpler mathematics.

**This 1.33:1 aspect ratio applies to a classic "standard definition" image. An "enhanced definition" image has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 -- more on that topic at a later date.

***That sexy guy in the space suit is Chuck, by the way.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Preparing for half a weekend.

Outside the mini storage, piling up props against the ol' Honda Element...

We had to change our scheduled shoot from two days to one day due to a conflict at the location. On the bright side, I have more time to prep for shooting on Sunday.

And blogging.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Other Worlds Than These" episode 008.

008: Scary every day.

As someone who dabbles in the making of horror movies, I like to watch horror movies, both for fun and to see what other filmmakers in the field are up to. But, as there are so many horror flicks out there (with more coming every week), it's hard to keep up.

BC to the rescue. He watches a horror movie every day and reviews it on his blog, appropriately titled "Horror Movie a Day." By my count, he's already written 300 or so reviews, covering everything from the classics (like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) to the crap (like Dark Ride).

There are plenty of horror movie web sites, but I don't know of another one strictly dedicated to quality (and quantity!) horror film criticism. If BC keeps it up, he may well become the Roger Ebert of horror.