Starring Richard Nixon in Attack of the Giant Clams

Happy Halloween to you all. As an extra-special Halloween treat, I have for your reading pleasure a short script I just wrote. Enjoy!

Attack of the Giant Clams (PDF)

Also, I’d just like to point out that voting on our Insomnia film The Adventures of Les Brady, Narcoleptic Detective closes on November 9th! Remember that I said that if we get into the top 25, the vodcast is coming back! Note that if you really want the vodcast to come back, you’ll not only vote yourself, but you’ll get everyone you know to vote too!

To vote, just go to insomnia.exgfilms.com, from where you’ll be redirected to our page on Apple’s site. You need to have an Apple ID to vote, but it’s easy enough to set one up. Also note that it’s not enough to just select a star rating from the drop-down list on the side. You then have to click the continue button to submit the rating. If you have successfully rated the film, it will tell you so in the rating sidebar.

That is all. Have a happy Pagan Day.

Vote for us!

Les Brady, P.I.: The Narcoleptic Detective

I promised more upcoming blog entries, and here’s one of them (and it comes with a film!):

Two weeks ago I and two other MCAD students, Matt Kane and Fernando Brandi, took part in Apple’s 24-hour Insomnia Film Festival. The goal is basically to make an entire three-minute short film from start to finish in 24 hours—much like the Boulder Shoot-Out, the only difference being that you’re allowed to edit (in Final Cut or iMovie only, of course).

Anyway, so we did it. And it was fun and exciting, and I got to wear my good (read: only) suit and play a narcoleptic detective. We went with a film noir angle, and never looked back (we didn’t have time to turn around). We wrapped photography around 10 pm, edited for a few hours, endured an arduous render (in retrospect it was probably overkill to shoot in HD), encountered a nauseating error and had to re-render, lost hope that we’d be able to make it in time, regained hope, cried a little bit, barked like a dog, and finally got it uploaded with five minutes to spare.

Now it’s time to ask you all for a favor.

For our film to be viewed by a very cool panel of judges and get showcased on iTunes, we need to place in the top 25 most popular films, determined by a public vote. And that, I think we can all agree, would just be way damn cool, plus if we are either the most popular film or the panel favorite, we each get a new MacBook Pro and a sweet software package, which would mean that I could drop-kick this piece-of-garbage MacBook of mine right into the hands of the nearest street urchin (does anybody still call them that?). Unlikely to happen, but a man can dream.

So, here’s what I want you to do: vote for our film! You’ll need an Apple ID (this is what you use to log into the iTunes store and Apple’s support forums and if you don’t have one, it’s easy to register), and you need to register specifically to vote for the Insomnia Festival, which is even easier than getting an Apple ID. Once you’ve done that, go to this page: http://edcommunity.apple.com/insomnia_fall07/item.php?itemID=827 watch the film, and give us a nice high rating, pretty please! And tell everyone you know to do the same thing!

Now, I know this registration process is a bit inconvenient, perhaps even requiring upwards of three minutes of your time (OH NOES!), so here’s a little enticement for y’all: If we place in the top 25, the Diary of a Mad Filmmaker vodcast is coming back in twice-a-month installments and with comparatively grandiose production values! If we don’t place, no pudding for the lot of yas.

vote Vote Vote VOTE VOTE!

Thog make experimental short: adventures in Neolithic filmmaking

This is just one of many posts that will be coming out in the days and weeks to come, so stay tuned. I just have a moment of render downtime and this is what I’m thinking about right now. It’s somewhat technically involved (I wanted to go into enough detail that someone could do this themselves), but if you don’t care about the technical stuff you can just skim this for the funny bits.

Some time ago I got it into my head that it would be way cool (and totally free) for me to process my own super-8 motion picture film. Hand-processed film isn’t lab-perfect, but it looks nice if you like that sort of thing, and you can achieve some very interesting effects. Here, then, is the story of how I processed my first roll of super-8 movie film—a test roll of Tri-X:

First of all, a deceptively large amount of planning went into this. I did a lot of research online and found that black-and-white reversal movie film can be processed as a negative using normal 35mm still film chemistry. I worked out all the logistics of how I would process and transfer the film, I even spent a good ten minutes walking around outside, looking for an acceptable rock (more on that later).

In the MCAD photo lab, I gathered my equipment:

  • a two-reel 35mm processing tank
  • my exposed super8 cartridge
  • 30 oz. of water
  • 30 oz. of D-76 developer mixed 1:1 with water
  • 30 oz. of stop bath
  • 30 oz. of fixer
  • scissors
  • a hefty rock

The first order of business was to liberate the film from its lightproof, molded plastic enclosure. Hence the rock. I went into one of the changing closets and in complete darkness, I bashed the sucker open (theoretically a hammer would also work for this, but it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting).

Let me tell you, though, that those little carts are stronger than they look. I couldn’t get enough leverage on the counter so I had to put it on the floor and hit it a good 10 or 12 times before it finally popped open.

Now came the really tricky part: I needed to unspool that fifty-foot mess of film (if it’s all neatly rolled up the chemistry can’t get on all the surfaces and the film doesn’t develop). Unspooling was (comparatively) easy: I pulled on the end of the film and soon wound up with a tangled mess sitting on the counter. Now I had to dunk that in water (this helps the chemicals get onto all the surfaces), which, in the dark, is trickier than you think. It took me a while to find the water container, and then I had to run all the film through it.

By far the toughest step, though, was getting the film into the little developing tank. I knew from my calculations that theoretically the film should all fit, but the one thing I forgot to figure in was that fifty feet of film, narrow though it is, is a lot of film, and stuffing it into my tank in the dark was quite a task. It kept wanting to climb out and catch itself in the lid. Eventually, though, I got it to work.

Then it was back out into the light for the actual developing. I basically made a wild guess at processing times, and they seemed to work. Here is what I came up with:

  • Water: 2 minutes constant agitation, tapping every 10 seconds or so to dislodge bubbles.
  • Developer: twice the normal processing time. For me, that was 19 minutes. Agitation 10 seconds every 30 seconds.
  • Stop: 1 minute constant agitation
  • Fix: 5 minutes, agitation 10 seconds every 30 seconds.

Only after that was I able to open up the tank and see if it had worked. I was expecting marginal results at best, so I was surprised when the first thing I saw was crisp, clean frame lines! I pulled out the film, stuffed it in the washer for a couple minutes, swished it around in the PermaWash, a couple more minutes in the washer, and a dunk in the Photo Flo. Then I stuffed it back in the tank and took it back to my apartment, where I taped up a wire in the shower, untangled the film (easier said than done), and hung it to dry.

It dried very quickly (although it picked up a bunch of airborne dust), so in short order I was able to spool it up, splice on a leader, project the negative, transfer it to video, convert it to positive, and post it here for you all to see.

Without further ado, I present you 7266 Hand-Processed Neg Test #1: The Musical (it’s silent, so you’ll just have to make up the music as you go).

Filmmaking vs. the environment

As part of blog action day, I thought I’d take a moment today to write about how fillmmaking doesn’t have to destroy the environment.

I keep reading reports about how the film industry (especially in Los Angeles) is one of the pollutingest industries per capita on the planet. This has to do with a lot of factors, the major ones being electricity and fuel consumption. A lot of gas gets burned moving equipment and people from place to place, and a lot of coal-generated energy gets routed into those 10,000-watt solarspot lights that big productions like to use. But that is (slowly, far too slowly) beginning to change.

First, there’s a really quick way to drastically cut energy consumption: stop using tungsten lights. Most energy on the typical film set goes into blasting light all over the place, but the tungsten lights that are the bread and butter of manufacturers like Mole-Richardson, Lowel and Arri are not efficient beasts. A great deal of the energy running through them gets converted to heat instead of light. Not only is this not environmentally friendly, it makes them incredibly inconvenient to work with and they make the set uncomfortably hot, often leading to even more energy being pumped into massive air conditioning units.

The solution: more efficient lights. Fluorescent bulbs use four to six times less energy per lumen than traditional incandescent bulbs, and can be manufactured to match daylight color balance. Need a demonstration? Go buy a compact fluorescent bulb from any hardware store. Use it to replace any traditional 60-watt bulb. Turn it on. Same amount of light, right? Well, that fluorescent bulb is only 14 watts. That’s a tremendous energy savings. Of course, fluorescents aren’t perfect. They contain mercury, and they can’t really be used to produce hard, directional light. But they’re a step in the right direction.

Fuel consumption is a tougher issue, but there are people leading the way on this issue. In fact, one of those leaders is MCAD adjunct faculty Ali Selim, whose 2005 film Sweet Land was one of the first major feature films to be certified carbon neutral, a process in which an attempt is made during production to reduce emissions and the remaining emissions are offset through the purchase of carbon credits. This is, again, not a solution to the problem, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Selim mentions on the DVD commentary that one unintended benefit of making the film carbon-neutral was the amount of positive press and public attention it generated.

These are a couple ways us filmmakers can reduce our energy consumption. Most of all, though, we just need to be conscious of it. This sounds like a totally lame thing to say, but I am positive that a tremendous amount of energy could be saved on film sets by simply turning off the lights when they don’t need to be on. My point is that we just need to pay attention to the impact we have on the environment, and that in itself will be enough to make a big difference.

Irrelevant: Ig Nobel ceremony 2007

Last year, the Ig Nobel Prize in ornithology went to Ivan R. Schwab and Philip R. A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, for their paper Woodpeckers and Head Injury. This year, it is likely to go to Doug Zongker of the University of Washington for his enlightening paper Chicken Chicken Chicken: Chicken Chicken (see also his PowerPoint presentation on the subject). Why do I speculate so? The theme of this year’s ceremony: Chicken.

The 2007 Ig Nobel ceremony is tonight, and you can watch the live webcast starting at 7:15 PM Eastern/US. If you can’t do that, you should at least check www.improb.com tomorrow to read about the honorees.

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