Diary of a Mad Filmmaker: Equipment Overview

Finishing the movie just got a hell of a lot harder.

I was going to do an overview of the production equipment used in the movie, but there was an accident, so… here it is.

The endless, throbbing march of technology…

Do you remember back when a gigabyte was a heckuva lot? I sure do. “A GIGABYTE? Why would anyone need THAT?” Of course, that was back when “Avid” was an adjective and RAID was a bug spray. Now gigabytes are where it’s at. Megabytes are a thing of the past.

I awoke yesterday to a startling realization. I’m almost out of room. Of my 400 gigabytes, I only have 20 free. That’s not enough. So last night I went down to Best Buy (in my considered opinion, one of the most unpleasant places on Earth) and bought another hard drive. 500 gigabytes. That puts me right smack dab at .9 terabytes, a word I didn’t know five years ago. Now I have enough room to move, and I can finally keep a backup of all the movie files (I didn’t have any backup other than the tapes before, so needless to say I’ve been rather paranoid about possible drive failures and such.

It’s come to my attention that there may be a couple of fellow filmmakers watching the vodcast and perhaps reading the blog, and since filmmakers talk about such things, I’m going to bore the rest of you with a quick run-down of the hardware and software comprising my editing system:

  • PowerMac G5 1.8 gigahertz single-processor
    • 1.5 GB RAM
    • 400 GB internal storage
    • 500 GB external storage
  • Cheap, low-end MiniDV camcorder (This is my tape deck and analog/digital converter)
  • Two computer monitors
  • VHS tape deck/TV set (for live video preview when editing)
  • iPod video (for personal use, but I also use it to review edits when I’m away from the computer, and with an AV cable I can hook it up to any TV set to show work in progress to clients)
  • Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.5
  • Final Cut Studio, which includes:
    • Final Cut Pro 5
    • DVD Studio Pro 4
    • Soundtrack Pro
    • Motion 2

So nothing too fancy, but it gets the job done and is still pretty zippy for being over a year old (and low-end even when it was new). Just goes to show you don’t need a sixty-thousand-dollar production suite to edit. This is the new age of editing; the digital paradigm. The cool thing is that I’m doing things now in Final Cut that would have been impossible not only on a flatbed editing system twenty years ago, but even on a hundred-thousand-dollar Avid system ten years ago. Ain’t technology grand.

Magical Mirth featuring Gumby & Felix

A quick review here before I go off to my half-day (due to standardized testing in lower grades, juniors and seniors would be literally thrown out of the building if they show up before noon).

A couple days ago, my mother was shopping for school supplies in the dollar store…

WARNING! POLITICAL ASIDE!
Thank God our education system is so underfunded that teachers have to shop in the dollar store!
END POLITICAL ASIDE.

…when she stumbled across this DVD which proclaims on the case, “the silly, heart-warming antics of these extraordinary characters will have you believing in the impossible.” Well, I seriously doubted that, and so I’d been putting off watching it for a couple days. Finally, last night, I popped it in my computer and I was rather shocked.

The first thing to come on was a groundbreaking piece of cinematic history which I wasn’t expecting: a 1955 theatrical short by Art Clokey (the creator of Gumby, the walking, talking piece of gum) titled Gumbasia (a riff on Fantasia). This is perhaps the first significant example of clay animation EVER. This was before the days of Gumby, and this animation is simply swirling clay figures set to somewhat cacophonous modern music. Easily one of the most mesmerizing things I’ve ever seen on film. Granted, the transfer is one of the worst I’ve ever seen (especially considering that the case proudly proclaims that the animations are “digitally remastered”): the colors are faded, the picture skips and is improperly framed, dust and scratches abound… but it still immediately earned a place of honor on my iPod.

The three actual Gumby episodes are unremarkable, except for some mild anachronistic racism when Gumby and his pal Pokey the horse go out digging for gold and end up prisoners of the Pesky Indians.

On to Felix the Cat. Felix was one of the first animated characters ever, and this DVD includes one short from 1929, and two others from its 1950’s revival. The 1950’s television cartoons are absolutely horrible. The cat has been reduced from the surprisingly catlike antics of the original cartoons to speaking in a cheerful, child’s voice and looking around underwater for a friend for his goldfish Annabelle.

However, the 1929 short, Forty Winks, is fascinating. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “I hear opium was very popular in the 1920’s.” You’ll understand why after this quick summary:

The cartoon starts out with Felix directing an awful-sounding choir of alley cats. A man sleeping next door is angered by their noise, throwing a bowling ball at them and then, when that doesn’t shut them up, spraying them with ether. ETHER! They all fall asleep and Felix starts looking for a place to sleep. He tries sleeping in a house, but a baby shoots him with a toy cannon. Then he tries to sleep in a pair of pants hanging from a clothes line (complete with the sawing log thought bubble), but the saw cuts through the log and continues on to sever the clothes line, dropping the cat (by my estimation) a good 150 feet. Felix spots a dog house where he might sleep, so he lures the dog out of it and runs inside, then making the door disappear. The dog, naturally, is heartbroken, and cries copious tears. So copious, in fact, that the kennel floats away and the dog (now adopting a fericious expression) dives in and pursues it. Felix climbs out on the roof and sees the dog. Two exclamation points appear over his head, which he uses as propeller and flies away. He loses the propeller and falls into the mouth of a hippopotamus, which spits him out and chases him. Felix lures it off a cliff, where it lands on a lever that launches up an enormous mouse which Felix gets in a fight with, eventually knocking it unconscious. He then beats it on the ground (presumably breaking every bone in its body) and then (honest to God) FASHIONS IT INTO A BED, WHICH HE GOES TO SLEEP IN. The end.

Is this going on my iPod? Hells yeah! One of the best parts of this is the sound, which was new technology at the time and could not be synchronized to the picture particularly well. Therefore, there is no dialogue, but a lot can be communicated by the ‘meow’s Felix produces (literally, just made by a guy sitting in front of a microphone saying ‘meow’ over and over again).

So out of 10 animated shorts on this DVD, only two are any good, and even those have terrible picture quality. But well worth a dollar. Unfortunately, I have no idea where you can find it, other than looking in your local dollar store.

They love Jerry Lewis in France, and…

…as bizarre as it seems, I’ve got a fan in Australia! I was absolutely floored when I got this e-mail last night from Ciara, who lives in Sydney and apparently has nothing better to do with her time than to watch my vodcast (swear to God I’m not making this up):

Hey there Andrew,

I have absolutely no idea how i came across Diary of a Mad Filmaker but for some reason it appeared on my ipod on my bus to uni thismorning. So i watched your wrap party film and then the intro to Wholesale Souls, and seriously it struck me.

I dont really know what to assume, you could be this mad internet film maker famous high school dude from Colorado (?) or you could just be some mediocre lame film nerd (which seems a whole lot more appealing), or like you might not ever even read my email.

Anyway, I think your awesome and from what ive seen so far you should have your own TV show. I left a comment under your uber-popular photoframe competition, but id prbly just submit some mad photo of myself.

but yeah im 19 and live in Syndey, Australia, i study Art Theory at uni so im a massive art nerd but my main obsession is photography. ive made a few short films in my time but nothing thats even worth mentioning.. yeah. that bad. apart from that mostly lame stuff of me and my mates penetrating streets with wierd street names and causing havvoc as young ruthless high school students. but thats another story.

unfortunately i dont have a theatre or a contract thing or really any money that i can send you… but i might just be your first fan? in australia i mean. im sure your website was full of comments at one stage but youve just deleted them out of modesty etc.

out of only watching the wrap party and your trailer, i really dig yourself and Paul. but you all seem like top blokes, i had to stop myself from laughing out loud on the bus to avoid anarchy + riots etc.

so ill watch the rest of your podcasts things this week on my super 2hr bus rides into uni and get back to you.

Happy editing man.

love ciara

This is really fantastic. For one thing, I’ve never been called a bloke before. For another thing, I can’t believe anyone in Australia even knows I EXIST, much less watches my vodcast. It really makes me wonder how many subscribers I actually have. Unfortunately, I have no idea because iTunes doesn’t offer any sort of statistics to show these things. For all I knew up until yesterday, I had maybe three subscribers at most, all people directly involved in the movie.

I sent back a rather flustered and grateful reply, and I just got another e-mail from her, in which she tells me that she will be telling some people about the vodcast. It looks like there’s a good chance that my Australian audience may soon outnumber my American audience! But again, I really have no clue how many subscribers I have.

She also suggests I wear a shirt reading “HEY EVERYBODY LOOK HOW GREAT I AM.” I’ll get on that.

Anyway, this has inflated my ego to near the bursting point, and it really makes me reassess my life. I mean, does this mean people are ACTUALLY WATCHING MY VODCAST? Like, people I don’t know? Damn… maybe I should get a haircut.

If you watch my vodcast and/or you think I need a haircut, you can leave a comment or e-mail me. I love getting e-mails because I’m a very lonely person and because I really truly honestly have no idea how many people subscribe to my vodcast. Also, feel free to send me money. Because although, as the Beatles so famously put it, “money can’t buy me love,” but it can buy a whole lot of other things, including milkshakes and senators.

But my mind wanders.

And now it’s time to stop feeling self-important and start editing. Thanks for the confidence boost.

Diary of a Mad Filmmaker: Late-Night Editing

This is something new I’m trying: I’m going to have a blog entry for each episode of the vodcast, in which I will include show notes and leave the thread open for comments.

My guest today is Parker, who plays Samuel the hacker and is also our sound recordist and now assistant editor. Since this week is spring break for us, we had a lot of free time that we chose to spend doing what? Editing, of course! We spent almost 30 hours this week, sitting around in my bedroom, cutting scenes, complaining about lack of coverage (my fault), and occasionally throwing food at the ceiling (don’t ask).

The scene we’re showing you today is a rough cut of scene 17 (in which Samuel orders something over the phone and discovers that he is the Lord of Darkness), which we cut between the hours of 4 and 8 A.M. this morning. It features an absolutely terrific performance by Laura Parker, who plays the operator. Please note that this is nowhere NEAR the final cut of the scene; the sound mix is unfinished and the shots have not been graded or cleaned. So seeing a bright yellow light fixture in the operator scenes is perfectly normal at this stage of the game.

I would also like to draw your attention to the WHOLESALE SOULS, INC. HADES PICTURE FRAME CONTEST EXTRAVAGANZA, as well as the recently updated www.WholesaleSouls.com.

Late-night editing part B: the symptoms

I was tidying up this evening, getting ready for another all-night editing marathon with Parker when I found them. I saw them lying there next to my pillow, and at first I didn’t understand. Why? What in God’s name could they mean?

Then the memories came flooding back.

I’m still adjusting to the late-night editing schedule. Last night, as practice for tonight, I stayed up until 6:00 in the morning. Then I set my alarm for 1:15, put on my brand-new copy of Dr. Strangelove and went to bed. What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary.

I should preface this by saying that I have been known to do some unusual things when I’m barely awake, but this one beats them all.

I awoke to the haunting strains of “We’ll Meet Again” and the flashes of nuclear explosions on my monitor. Harsh, hot sunlight flooded in through the gaps in my bamboo window shades. I sat bolt upright, and grabbed my watch. I think it was around 8:20, but I can’t be sure because the numbers on my watch were spinning around crazily. Deciding for some reason that I was grievously late to return to my editing (and, because I lacked simple subtraction skills, unable to determine that I had only slept for two hours), I fought my screamingly tired eyes and got up.

This was my first mistake.

I stumbled over to my computer (this was made difficult by the fact that two hours earlier, realizing that I probably wouldn’t want to wake up with only six hours of sleep under my belt, I had put my alarm clock on the other side of the room and built a makeshift barricade out of furniture to prevent me from quickly turning it off and going back to bed) and did something (I think I may have installed some software), and then realized that I wasn’t wearing my glasses, without which I literally cannot see. I lurched back to my bed and grabbed my glasses case.

Only my glasses weren’t in my glasses case.

Unfortunately, something shaped vaguely glasses-like was.

I’ve got those magnetic clip-on sunglasses, and they stay in a little bag inside my glasses case. I saw them there and went into what is perhaps the closest thing to a bloodlust I have ever experienced. I snatched the bag out of the case and feverishly undid the velcro latch. I snatched the clip-ons and stood up, holding them daintily up to my eyes with the thumb and forefinger of my right hand:

Wait... these aren't my glasses!

After looking around for a moment and realizing that my vision hadn’t improved, I realized that I still didn’t have my ACTUAL GLASSES. I panicked. I might never see again. I searched frantically, and eventually found them lying on top of a book. I put them on and fumbled for a moment until successfully attaching my clip-ons to them. I stood up again (I think I might have actually stood up on my bed), only to realize that everything was brown for some reason.

It was then that I suffered an epiphany.

“Wait a minute!” I thought, “I don’t need SUNGLASSES!”

Some more fumbling and they were removed.

“WAIT A MINUTE!” I thought, “I’VE ONLY HAD TWO HOURS’ SLEEP AND THERE’S NO GOOD REASON FOR ME TO BE AWAKE RIGHT NOW!”

My eyes were unendingly grateful to my brain for finally realizing this. They went shut right away. As I lay back down in bed I tossed my clip-ons carelessly next to my pillow, where I found them no more than an hour ago and remembered this whole saga.

And there’s nothing much I gained from this experience, other than the knowledge that thank God I’m not an on-call surgeon. And you can be thankful that you’re not one of my hypothetical 4 A.M. patients.

WholesaleSouls.com updated

Yes, I have doubled the page count of WholesaleSouls.com from one to two. In keeping with the tradition of movie web sites like Requiem for a Dream, I’ll be doing the whole “confuse-the-viewer-to-get-them-interested” thing. Don’t expect anything really informative. Just sit back and enjoy the experience. There’s a little video there now.

…an exploding contest!

That’s right, I’m going to have a little contest here, and the winner will get their art into the actual theatrical/video release of Wholesale Souls, Inc.

A month or two ago, I invited Paul Binkley onto my backlot set (yeah, right. More like “entry room with dropcloth on wall”) to play the role of Hades—upper-management Satan, if you will. He lives down in the 9th circle of Hell and governs his vast corporate empire via telephone.

Anyway, when we shot the scenes, I had the notion to put a framed picture on Hades’s desk. Well, I had the frame, but unfortunately, nothing to go in it. So I decided to just throw some greenscreen material in it and find something later:

Hades's desk

Now that it’s time to edit this stuff (actually, Parker edited this scene; I’m just doing the compositing), I’m not quite sure what to put in there. I’ve had a few ideas, none of them great, and quite frankly, I’ve got bigger things to worry about. So I thought I’d leave it up to you. Hence:

THE WHOLESALE SOULS, INC. HADES PICTURE FRAME CONTEST EXTRAVAGANZA!
That’s right. All you out there in internet-land have here an opportunity to get your art put on display in my film (albeit, on the desk of a creature so evil it cannot exist in the physical world as anything more than an idea). All you have to do is make a picture that meets the following criteria:

  1. 5″x7″ portrait orientation picture
  2. No text
  3. No use of copyrighted/trademarked symbols, logos or imagery
  4. In color
  5. I personally think a photograph would be the way to go, but I’m open to other art forms as well

E-mail a high-quality JPEG or PNG to me at andrew@exgfilms.com and you will be officially entered into the WHOLESALE SOULS, INC. HADES PICTURE FRAME CONTEST EXTRAVAGANZA! (in other words, I write your name down on a post-it note and stick it to my wall).
I will judge all the entries and make the final decision of which entry will be used. Of course, I reserve the right to make something myself if I feel none of the entries are suitable. I will notify the winner on the eve of the premiere.

What will the winner get? My… um… heartfelt thanks? And… the knowledge of a job well done? And I suppose I could throw in a free DVD.

Of course, none of this makes any difference if nobody’s reading this blog. Which is a distinct possibility.

I use freeware on my lovely Mac

The folks over at FreeMacWare.com have had a really cool idea: have all their regular visitors with blogs post their five favorite freeware apps on FreeMacWare.com’s site. The fact that there’s a $100 Apple Store gift card in the picture has only partly contributed to my enthusiasm about this.

I love searching for freeware because, well, it’s useful and it’s free. But I also love freeware because it represents a new concept of what the computing experience should be. It should not be closed and proprietary, it should be open and free. This sort of utopian idea is really inspiring to me because it’s really dangerous to giant, user-abusing companies like Microsoft. And anything that is dangerous to Microsoft is good by me. (Speaking of which, I’m happy to report that I have been completely free of Microsoft software for over a year now, since my switch to Mac!)

Anyway, here are my five favorite Mac freeware titles featured on FreeMacWare.com, in order of how often I use them:

1. Adium – This is what all instant messenger clients should be. It’s a tiny program that runs in the background all the time and maintains simultaneous connections to all of your IM accounts. I hear from a lot of people who disdain instant messenging, but since I have a dial-up connection and no cell phone, this is a great way to remain accessible even when I’m online.

2. QuickSilver – Now here’s a program that does twice as much as you can imagine it doing, and about a thousand times as much as you need. I use it as an application launcher – hit Control-Command-Space and type in the first three letters of the application’s name, then hit enter. It’s a lot faster than navigating to the Applications folder and I can no longer imagine living without it.

3. Camino – My web browser of choice. I switched from Safari a few weeks ago when I started longing for find-as-you-type searching. Little did I know that Camino is also a lot faster than Safari and supports a few little widgety things like advanced text entry forms that you can’t use in Safari. And as a plus over Firefox, it’s Cocoa-based, so it uses native OS X services and has the look and feel of a Mac application (and I found it more stable than Firefox on my G5) If you’re a power user, be sure to also get CamiTools and CaminIcon.

4. CyberDuck – A really good FTP application. It looks and feels Mac-like (a requirement for any freeware software I use regularly), supports SFTP, and does a darn good job maintaining a connection, even over dial-up.

5. HandBrake – Really useful for anyone who owns DVDs, especially for those of us who have video iPods (or is that iPod Video’s?). This program takes any DVD and can convert it into a number of video formats, including the MPEG-4 and H.264 formats supported by the iPod Video. I used it on Garden State and The Life Aquatic just yesterday. NOTE: Don’t steal movies. You could use this program to rip rented DVDs, but just don’t. I have no problem with Paramount not getting richer, but directors and actors receive substantial royalties from DVD sales, and they’re the people who really need the money. If you like a movie, buy the DVD and THEN rip it. NOTE: This is still technically illegal. This is why the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is, was, and always will be a bad idea.

AND NOW: SOME MORE OF MY FAVORITES, NOT LISTED ON FREEMACWARE.COM:

Celtx – Cross-platform script writing software (that means you Windoze users can try this, too). It’s based on Firefox, and allows for online multi-author script-sharing (although it’s not perfect yet). Even for single-author scripts, this is a really amazing too that beats out even professional software costing hundreds of dollars!

VODcaster – A really wonderful tool for building iTunes-compatible video podcasts (vodcasts). I use it for my Diary of a Mad Filmmaker vodcast.

WordPress – What this blog is built on. It’s web-based, so it is absolutely completely entirely cross-platform. It builds its own page structure, allows commenting on posts, and auto-generates multiple RSS feeds. Who knew it could be done with open-source software?

FINALLY: FREEWARE I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE PORTED TO THE MAC:

OpenOffice.Org – A full-featured office suite. Sure, I can run it in X11 or use NeoOffice (what I have been using), but X11 doesn’t integrate well with other applications and NeoOffice doesn’t support OpenOffice.org version 2. There are aparently plans to build a Cocoa version for Macs, and I am really looking forward to it.

The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) – A potential Photoshop-killer if I ever saw one. Sadly, the interface is decidedly un-Mac-like and it can only be run in X11, with no plans to develop a Mac-native version.

Voodoo Camera Tracker – Currently Windows-only, with porting to the Mac underway, this is a program that takes any video file, asks some basic questions about how it was shot, and then tracks any camera movement in 3D space, allowing you to then export the resulting data in numerous formats, including Python Blender scripts. I see HUGE potential for this software, especially for filmmakers: adding motion blur, advanced image stabilization, compositing, anything that has to do with extrapolating information from 3-dimensional movement. I REALLY want this on my Mac!

The freeware available for Macs is one of the major reasons I switched from Windows, believe it or not. Because OS X is UNIX-based and includes bunches of developer tools free from Apple, it is a very developer-friendly environment, which means that there’s tons of free software out there. Much of it is completely useless or appeals only to a niche audience, but every once in a while you find a few gems like these.

What happens when you edit all night…

Disoriented, Sleep-Deprived EDITORS

Hello. I am Andrew.

It is 11:16 A.M. Parker just left my house about ten minutes ago. We have been editing essentially non-stop (a couple breaks for food and renders) since 8:30 last night. We completely cut two scenes and now almost all of the last 30 minutes of the film is locked. More importantly, however, my confidence has been renewed in this film. It was touch-and-go there for a while, but I’m now pretty sure that it WILL be a good movie. And that is a nice feeling.

I would write more, but I haven’t slept in a very long time and I’m not sure I have anything else to say anyway.

Oh well.

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