Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Had a read-through of my screenplay for the anthology movie tonight with the three lead actors (that'd be Mia Frost, Sanford Hardy, and Kyle Holman). I am now officially excited about the project. Well, I was already excited, but I'm more excited now. Even though this particular script doesn't have a lot of dialog, it's great to hear the actors put their spin on it. Aside from being good actors, Mia, San, and Kyle are good guys to hang out with. The read-through was fun and productive, and the actual shoot is looking to be even more fun.

That shoot starts up in a little more than a week, by the way.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Zacuto (maker of camera gear) has posted an interesting camera comparison video on their web site:

It's the first of a three-part series comparing the new batch of video-enabled DSLR cameras with the big boys (i.e. 35mm motion picture cameras). A little long, but definitely worth a look for the camera nerds.

Spoiler: the DSLRs hold up surprisingly well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's on your Mac?

A new Apple Mac computer is a beautiful thing, and it comes preloaded with lots of useful software (QuickTime, GarageBand, and TextEdit to name three). But I don't feel like a Mac is really ready to go until I install these (free!) apps...

  1. VLC Media Player: a "highly portable multimedia player and multimedia framework capable of reading most audio and video formats (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, DivX, MPEG-1, mp3, ogg, aac ...) as well as DVDs, Audio CDs VCDs, and various streaming protocols." And, though I haven't tested it extensively, VLC seems to be able to play DVDs from any region.
  2. Handbrake: maybe my favorite freeware ever. Great for ripping your DVDs for playback on your iPod, PS3, or home theater computer. (Handbrake requires VLC to rip some commercially-produced DVDs.)
  3. Perian: enables the awesome QuickTime player to read just about any video format (including the popular DivX and 3ivx formats).
  4. Silverlight: why would you want to install a Microsoft (!) product on your Mac? Because you need Silverlight to take advantage of Netflix's groovy "Watch Instantly" video-streaming feature.
  5. Flip 4 Mac: Speaking of Microsoft, if you come across any pesky Windows Media video files you need to watch with your QuickTime player, Flip 4 Mac makes it possible.
  6. Firefox and FireFTP: Apple's Safari is a fine browser, but it's not as customizable as Firefox. And my favorite Firefox plug-in is FireFTP, a clean and simple FTP client.
  7. Celtx: We no-budget filmmakers need to save money any way we can. Thank goodness for Celtx. It's a solid screenwriting app, and it's free. Which is to say, it's much more affordable than Final Draft.

If there are any cool free Mac apps I didn't mention, leave a comment and let me know about 'em.

One tech note: if you have a newer Mac and want to install the 64-bit version of Handbrake, you'll need a 64-bit version of VLC, available at:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A couple of stills from Sunday's shoot.

Here are those stills I promised yesterday...

As you might guess, this thing is a period piece.

My only regret--we didn't have any blue gels to cool off our "moonlight." Still, I'm happy with the lighting. We managed to set it up so we could get wide shots and close-ups without moving any lights.

Also, I'm noticing that Apple changed their video gamma settings for Mac OS ver. 10.6 ("Snow Leopard"). Arrgh.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Trying out the new gear.

Trap and I helped Chuck shoot a little trailer/commercial thing last night (starring Kyle Holman and Rod Robinson from Interplanetary and Hide and Creep). We got to put some new gear to work, including the soon-to-be-infamous Trapdolly, the Britek lights, and the Zoom H4n audio recorder.

I think everything worked pretty well. If Chuck doesn't mind, I'll post a still from the shoot later this week.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My mom is awesome.

Regular readers of this blog know that my mom is awesome. She's always been supportive of my creative endeavors, recently sewing many of the space suits featured in Interplanetary. Now she's made some sandbags to help keep the Trapdolly tracks straight.

Stylish sandbags at that--dig those pinstripes. Thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Four degrees.

I was in Hide and Creep (uncredited cameo as a dead guy) with Kyle Holman. Kyle was in was in Alice's Misadventures in Wonderland with Kevin Wayne. Kevin was in Under Siege with Eddie Bo Smith, Jr. And Mr. Smith was in Stir of Echoes with Kevin Bacon.

I guess that means my Bacon number is 4.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

1080p x 2.

I now have two 1080p monitors in the living room: the Samsung LCD TV and the all-new iMac. And both are, to some degree, Mac-powered!

Yeah, I'll admit it's a bit decadent.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Man, I'm beat. It was a jam-packed weekend of pre-production for the anthology movie. Trap and I scouted a location Friday night, and Chuck and I (and Kelly Marshall and John) held auditions on Saturday.

On Sunday, Trap and I fine-tuned the awesome dolly he built. I also played a show with one band on Saturday night and had rehearsal with another on Sunday, but I guess that's neither here nor there.

Here's a little camera dolly test footage, via Vimeo. First shot features Trap as star and dolly grip, me riding the dolly and keeping an eye on the camera. Second shot features Trap as star, me as dolly grip, camera riding with no operator.

UPDATE: Embedded version of dolly test footage...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lights! (Finally.)

I somehow managed to produce two low-budget feature films without owning a proper light kit. For lights, I did a lot of the old "relying on the kindness of strangers." Friends, actually. You know what I mean.

Since I have a short movie coming up really soon (and maybe a feature shortly after that) I decided to break down and order some Britek lights from Rostronics. I have fired up the 200W, 300W, and 600W, and they're looking to be pretty awesome lights for the price (so far).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The best trailer I've seen in a while.

Color me excited. Tron Legacy hits theaters in December.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Did I mention I'm getting ready to direct another feature? Well, at least part of a feature.

My good pal Arik Sokol is putting together a horror/science fiction anthology movie. It will consist of five short films by five different directors, including Chuck Hartsell (co-director of Hide and Creep, star of Interplanetary), Robb Rugan (director of Alice's Misadventures in Wonderland, DP of Hide and Creep), and Mike Harring (director of The Mountain, the River, and the Road). And me.

After Interplanetary, I'm looking forward to tackling something a little more... well, simple. Not that a movie with five directors will be simple. But I'm hoping to have my piece of it shot by mid-April. (Yes, mid-April of 2010.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Mars...

...Interplanetary is coming back to the big screen. The good folks at Sidewalk will be showing the movie on Tuesday April 13 at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama.

That's all I know at the moment. More details when I get 'em.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five-digit ISO.

Quick primer for any readers who are not camera nerds: A particular filmstock's light sensitivity, or "speed," is referred to as "ISO." The more sensitive the stock, the higher the ISO number. The fastest motion picture filmstock available these days (last I checked, anyway) is ISO 500.

The Canon 7D's CMOS chip (which takes the place of film in this particular camera) has a user-adjustable ISO. It goes from 100 (fairly slow, requires a good bit of light) to 12,800 (ridiculously fast).

This increased light sensitivity comes at a price. In the film world, an image captured on a faster stock is grainier than one captured on a slower stock. In the digital world, faster chip settings lead to noisier images. So, to capture the cleanest image, more light is usually better. I say "usually" because there is such a thing as too much light. But that's a different discussion.

I mention all this because I shot a little bit of ISO 12,800 footage for Monster Hunt. It's noisy as hell, but still more detailed than what I was seeing with my naked eye. Here's a grab:

I'd say all that chroma noise makes this shot pretty much unusable. However, if you were shooting some low-light stuff with the intent on finishing in black and white...

...that might be kind of cool. It's cool enough that I'm interested in doing some more ISO 12,800 experiments at some point.

If you want to see video of the above examples, check it out on Vimeo.

And speaking of low-light shooting, I hope Noktor comes out with a Canon mount version of their f/0.95 50mm lens. That's some awesome glass for 750 bucks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Operator error.

Looking through some of my 7D footage, I started to notice missing detail in the shadows in Final Cut Pro (my editing software of choice). However, Apple's Color software seemed to have no problem with that detail. Here are a couple of examples, with the black levels boosted to make the point more obvious.

Final Cut Pro...


Yeah, it's subtle. (Depending on your computer and monitor, it might be imperceptible.) But I shot several Monster Hunt bits in very low light, knowing I'd have to push the footage in post. So I need all the shadow detail I can get.

I did some research and finally found some info regarding my issue at David Newman explains...

"Canon selected to place black and white [at] YUV Luma level 0 and 255, rather than the far more common 16 and 235. Many NLEs handle the extended range poorly and clip off the supers, so much so, originally the Canon cameras where thought to be very contrasty (there were many reports of this.) Later there was a patch to Quicktime that addressed this..."

(You can read the whole thread here.)

A patch to QuickTime, huh? Yeah, I guess I haven't ran any software updates since... aw, heck, since I don't know when.

Short story long, I updated QuickTime, the "Pro" apps (including Final Cut), and anything else that looked like it might affect video playback on the MacBook Pro. And now my 7D footage has a lot more latitude than it did yesterday.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Viva la Revolución?

I've been hearing about the "digital revolution," the idea that digital technology makes it cheaper and easier to create good-looking movies, for years. And for years, I've been a skeptic. Some high-def video cameras that produce a very film-like image have made it to market, but they ain't cheap. According to my calculations, I was getting more bang for the buck shooting my "serious" projects on 16mm film, so I stayed that course.

Late last year, I started reading about the Canon 7D, a digital SLR camera with video capability. Then I watched some footage shot with the 7D. It looked pretty damn good. Good enough that I threw my skepticism to the wind and bought a 7D for myself.

I've been impressed so far. I don't love the 7D like I love my Aaton LTR-54 16mm camera. But I do love the fact that I can shoot for hours with the 7D without spending a dime. It records video to reusable compact flash cards. When you fill up a card, you just copy the footage to your computer, wipe the card, and get back to shooting. With 16mm film, I'm probably dropping 400 or 500 bucks for every ten minutes of footage I shoot.

The 7D is far from a perfect camera. The ergonomics suck. It eats through batteries. Its images suffer from aliasing and rolling shutter issues. But there are workarounds for these problems.

And I can live with workarounds for a camera that set me back less than $2,000.

The low cost-of-use is encouraging me to do less planning and more shooting. Since buying the camera, I've shot a short snow documentary, a web ad for a local restaurant, three commercials for an upcoming television show, and that Monster Hunt thing I keep mentioning but never quite explaining. And I'm hoping to shoot a more ambitious short film with the camera later this month. And I'm really looking forward to shooting an inexpensive (but good-looking) feature with the 7D, possibly as soon as this summer. Exciting (and busy) times.

As happy as I am with the 7D, Canon's new Rebel T2i might be even cooler. From what I've seen, it creates 7D-quality video at half the price. You can read more about the Rebel and see a sample video at Stu Maschwitz's excellent ProLost blog.

Monday, March 1, 2010


We wrapped Monster Hunt with James and Kevin on Saturday.* Here's a frame grab...

Worked late last night finishing up the second draft of the screenplay for another short movie. More on that later this week.

*Except for the inevitable pickup shots, of course.