Announcing Exploding Short Month

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been doing some soul searching. It’s been four months since I put out the last Diary of a Mad Filmmaker vodcast, and that’s a shame. Unfortunately it’s a sacrifice that had to be made because it takes a lot of time to shoot, edit, encode and publish a vodcast—time I just don’t have. This is not to say that the vodcast is being discontinued, it’s just on a hiatus for the time being and will certainly be back by the end of the semester, if not sooner.

That being said, it’s rather sad to not have a regular source of video on this site since it is, after all, a site about making films. And so it is with great excitement that I announce that March will be Exploding Short Month. I will be premiering two new, never-before-seen-on-the-internet shorts every week in the month of March. In addition, there will be other events occurring during the month, and the festivities will culminate in a big announcement.

I’ll just say right now that not all these shorts will be good. Some will be shorter than others, and undoubtedly some will be… disappointing. But there are also a few real gems in here that have never before been publicly available, including 2005 Silver Spoon Film Festival honoree Hear, Speak and See, 2006 Poudre High School Film Festival honoree and cult sleeper RRRR, and 2006 Boulder Shoot-Out honoree Selfless Self-Indulgence. These films and many more will be made available for free online viewing in perpetuity starting this March.

I am also announcing a contest, judged solely by myself and solely for my own amusement. Anyone who makes and sends me a short film (or a feature film, if you are… INSANE) will get said film posted on this site, and the maker of the best film will win a free copy of the Wholesale Souls, Inc. DVD. The same applies for two additional categories: screenplay and… let’s say interpretive dance (I’ll need to see a video of the latter in order to judge it).

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: Tape yourself doing an interpretive dance and send it in, and you’ll probably get a free Wholesale Souls, Inc. DVD. I mean, odds are you’ll be the only person crazy enough to actually do that, so you’ll have very little competition.

There are exciting things and new possibilities coming up, but right now everything is in its nascent stages and I’m not really at liberty to discuss them. (I’ve always wanted to say that!) You can expect lots more activity from Exploding Goldfish Films in the future, and for the moment, TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT EXPLODING SHORT MONTH! The festivities begin on Thursday, March 1st.

Art History Milkshake: a seminal moment in modern American literature

Art history test this morning. Modernism through Russian Constructivism, including (but not limited to) Realism, Neoclassicism, IMpressionism, EXpressionism, Fauvism, Der Blaue Reiter, Cubism, Futurism, and (of course) Cubo-Futurism. When did Manet paint Dejuner Sur L’herbe? 1863? That seems right. Wait… what’s that? She’s setting up the computer and a slide came up… ohhh… it’s that one Cubo-Futurist guy. Russian. Not Popova (heh… “pop over…”), no… something “-vich.” Sarapova? Sarapo-vich? That doesn’t seem right. God, I should have studied more.

“Okay, this is the first slide. Please identify and discuss the work. You have one minute.”

Oh, I know that one! It’s Nude Descending a Staircase, by Duchamp! 1912! Pre-futurist, post-cubist. I drop a No. 2 at the end of the title just because I can and briefly consider also including the French title Nu Descendant Un Escalier, Numéro Deux, but decide against it on the grounds that it’s probably too snarky. Throw in a remark about representation of movement and the end of Cubism, and I’m done in time for…

oh crap…

I’ve got no idea about this one. Don’t recognize the style, don’t recognize the period. It’s sort of like Matisse but not quite. Oh… what’s his name? Not Cézanne, the other guy. Starts with a G. Period… Fauvist? Come on! Concentrate! I must know…

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they’re like,
It’s better than yours…

…what? What the hell is…

…Damn right, it’s better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

…that song’s like five years old! What the crap is it doing bouncing around my head?

I know you want it,
The thing that makes me,
What the guys go crazy for.
They lose their minds,
The way I wind,
I think its time

…OK, this is no time to get distracted. Just let it go.

OK. Next painting. Manet. Olympia. 1863. Easy. Caused a sensation because it…

La la-la la la,
Warm it up,
La la-la la la,
The boys are waiting,


This one was the guy with a first name for his last… Marc! Franz Marc! The movement was… um… Kandinsky’s… not Fauvism… Der Blaue Milkshake–Reiter! Der Blaue Reiter! Painted in… hmm… 1904? Maybe? I know it’s not actually 1904 but it could be close, kind of around the time of early Cubism, and why did I think of 1904, anyway? That’s a strange date to just make up out of thin air. I had a dream last night where I had to pick a number from 1 to 10, and I had this huge revelation when I realized that nobody EVER picked three! Most people picked 7 or 6, sometimes 2, but NEVER three documentary rough cut due tomorrow I should sit down and do that or really what I should do is sit down tonight and do my taxes. Taxes… 1040… is that–next slide.

I have to compare the stage set by Popova to that Cubo-Futurist painting by… Sarapovich? Well… Russian Constructivism and importance of machines… 1917 revolution, democratization…

…What happened in the year 1040? That would have been the Dark Ages and… the Ebbo Gospels? No I’m pretty sure they were 12-something. Malevich! That’s his name! 1240… 1243–There’s that three again!

Oh, once you get involved,
Everyone will look this way-so,
You must maintain your charm,
Same time maintain your halo,

Symbolist painting of the haloed head of John the Baptist, dripping blood, hovering in midair and staring at Salome. Write something about the femme fatale archetype and there’s also that whole Freudian thing about beheading being symbolic of castration but I don’t write that because I have too much self respect and it’s ridiculous. I mean, if anything, castration is symbolic of beheading because let’s face it, beheading is way more traumatic in that it actually kills you, and if it came right down to it…

Daguerre. DaguerroTYPE. Paris, dead city, ghost city, except for the guy with the fancy shoes. 183…7? 1837. Seven! DAMN!

Just get the perfect blend,
Plus what you have within,
Then next his eyes are squint,
Then he’s picked up your scent,

What if I was in a coma? That would SUCK.

Gaugin! Paul Gaugin! THAT’S his name! Go back and fill it in. At least… I THINK that’s who did it. Expressionist, primitivism… a better guess than nothing at all, but I don’t know the date… I’ll just go with 1904 again…

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And their like
It’s better than yours,
Damn right you pretty things (oh, you pretty things)
Don’t you know you’re driving your
Milkshakes and
Fathers insane

Dammit! Two at once! Lucky we’re almost done, and… last question. The Painter’s Studio, 1854, by Jacques Louis-David. Bonus question identify the person on the far right… HA! Charles Baudelaire! …was his name Charles and / Fathers insane? Better play it safe and just put his last name. Check the spelling and

The earth is a bitch
We’ve finished
Our news
Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use

name on the top and… done!

And that, friends, is what my history test this morning was like.


What the hell is THAT all about?

I Go To Film School So You Don't Have To: Lesson 4 – Authoring & Distribution 101

Today I’m again departing from my own class syllabus in order to talk briefly about what the hell you’re supposed to do with your movie once it’s finished.


  • Your finished movie
  • Your computer
  • (optional) A DVD burner and a stack of DVD-R media
  • (optional) DVD authoring software (iDVD, Ulead DVD MovieFactory, Encore, DVD Studio Pro)
  • (optional) Apple QuickTime Pro ($30; Mac or Windows)
    • This is for compressing video for the web. More full-featured software titles include Apple Compressor and Sorenson Squeeze.
  • A false sense of hope

And by “out there,” I mean “somewhere you can send your movie so that you won’t be able to work on it anymore.” That’s right, it’s time to let go. I don’t care about the mistake in minute two. I don’t care. You’re done. Put down the keyboard. YOU’RE DONE.

Now pick up the keyboard again, because you’re not done yet. You have been working with your video in a format that most people won’t be able to view. Time to go over a few different distribution media:

MiniDV tape – It’s easy to send your project back out to MiniDV tape at pristine full quality—it’s just like capturing video, only in reverse. You should make two tapes (these are called masters) for your personal archiving purposes. Read your editing software’s manual to find out how.

Unfortunately, as much as we’d all like to just print our movies out to MiniDV tape and let our viewers watch those, it’s not going to happen. Ordinary people don’t just have MiniDV tape decks hooked up to their home entertainment systems. So here are some ways to get the video to them in a format they’ll understand:

35mm film print – This one’s right out. Don’t even think about it.

VHS tape – Of course, if you release on VHS you’ll have to also release on Betamax. You know, just to be fair. Oh, and obviously you’ll also want to put it out on Laserdisc. Have you thought of putting out a soundtrack? You could release it on 8-Track! But if you do that you’ll also have to release it on those old-timey hand-cranked wax cylinders. You know, jut to be fair.

DVD – NOW we’re talking. DVDs are far from perfect and require some intensive compression, but for the time being they’re pretty much the be-all and end-all of home video distribution. And to boot, pretty much every film festival on the face of the planet accepts entries on DVD. We’ll be covering DVD authoring in a bit.

The internet – The internet is a perfectly viable content distribution system, especially if you want to give away your content for free (and that’s no bad thing, especially if you’ve made something really cool and you want to get noticed). There’s a lot to be said about distribution over the internet and I don’t have the patience to say it all, so I’ll just be covering the basics.

HD-DVD – If you shot and edited your video in high definition, you will in the near future have the option of releasing said video on HD-DVD, a next-generation DVD format that supports high-definition video. Of course, if you release on HD-DVD, you’ll also have to release on Blu-ray. You know, just to be fair. Oh, and WMV-HD. And you’ll want to sell your movie on Xbox Live, and…

The internet is a great way to get your video out for public viewing. Perhaps the best way. But here’s the problem: You’ve been working with the video on your computer in pristine, uncompressed, full-resolution 720×480. This is great for editing, but lousy for distributing. You see, the internet is a series of tubes. And when you dump a big file like that into the tube, the tube gets clogged up. And when the tube gets clogged up your internet service provider gets angry at you because they have to get out their special plunger, and those things aren’t cheap. Luckily, there are ways around this.

One way is to use YouTube, so named because their servers employ a special U-shaped tube that traps large videos and squeezes them down to a smaller size. The unfortunate side effect of uploading your video to YouTube is that your video is then posted on YouTube. If you don’t see a problem with this, then by all means, post away!

The other way of avoiding a clogged tube is to compress your video before you put it up on the internet. The term would imply that you stick your video in a vice and squeeze it until it is reduced in size by an order of magnitude, doing all sorts of violence to your picture quality along the way. If you thought that, you’d be about right, except for the part about the vice. That’s just stupid, and you’d probably beak your computer.

Instead of a vice, you use software. And instead of squeezing really hard, you use something called a codec, which is just a little piece of software that compresses video into a small file and then decompresses it when you want to play it. There are many different codecs to choose from.

A short list of video codecs: H.261, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, H.263, MPEG-4 Part 2, MPEG-4 Part 10, H.264, DivX, Xvid, FFmpeg, 3ivx, VP6, Sorenson 3, Theora, WMV, RealVideo, Cinepak, X264, Huffyuv, Lagarith, Sorenson Spark, Apple Pixlet, MPEG IMX, Motion JPEG A, Motion JPEG B, JPEG 2000, DV/DVCPRO NTSC, DVCPRO PAL, HDV 1080i50, HDV1080i60, Uncompressed 10-Bit 4:2:2, Uncompressed 8-Bit 4:2:2, 3G, Planar RGB, OpenEXR and of course XDCAM HD 1080p25 (35 Mb/s VBR). Truly proof that the world is a horrible place.

These are all good codecs, depending on how you want to use your video. The rub, though, is that the codec you use to encode your video must be installed on every computer that wants to watch that video. Which means you have to go with standards. For example, if you were insane and wanted to put up a piece of uncompressed high-definition video on the internet, you might be tempted to just upload it as HDV 1080i60, because that’s probably the native codec (the codec the video was originally recorded in and the codec you have been editing with). The problem is that the HDV codec is very specialized and hardly anybody has it installed on their computer. So you’d have to find a more common alternate codec to use.

For most web applications, I recommend either MPEG-4 or H.264. H.264 makes smaller, better-looking files, but MPEG-4 is a bit more commonplace and puts a little less stress on the viewing computer’s system resources. There’s also WMV, which is short for “Windows Media Video,” but we’ll be ignoring that because WMV is basically Satan in a little blue box. This gets even more confusing when you realize that these codecs are contained in wrappers. QuickTime (.mov) and Audio Video Interleave (.avi) are the two most common. That’s as may be. We’ll be using QuickTime because it’s simple and everyone has it.

I could make some tasteless joke about your dead grandmother here, but I won’t. Instead I’ll give you a lesson in the history of analog video, because that’s SO much less painful.

The big thing that editors talked about during the age of analog video when the beer ran out and they couldn’t think of anything interesting to say was generational loss. You see, even back when cameras used vacuum tubes and video tape was an inch wide and only recorded in smeary black-and-white, people wanted the best quality they could get, and this was accomplished by always working from an original master tape and never making copies of copies. In the olden days, editors would sometimes go as far as physically cutting the video tape like you would a film negative. Crazy, huh?

If you have free access to a Xerox machine, try this experiment. Get a photograph and make a copy of it. Now make a copy of that copy. And make a copy of that copy. Do that ten or twenty times. Actually, keep doing it until you start getting suspicious looks and have to flee the scene. Now take the last copy you made, and compare it to the first copy you made. Big difference, right? This is caused by generational loss. In other words, every time you make a copy of something, you lose some quality.

This problem has mostly gone away now that we’re in the digital age and can make exact, bit-for-bit (lossless) copies of video files. But it’s still relevant when we talk about compressing video. You see, video compression works by examining your video and throwing out information that the codec doesn’t think is too important. This is, by definition, a lossy (not lousy—lossy. The opposite of lossless) process. It’s okay to do once because it’s necessary to get the video down to a reasonable size. It’s maybe okay to do twice, as long as you’re moving from higher quality to lower quality. But it’s not okay to do three times because you won’t be able to see a damn thing. So when you compress or re-compress your video, make sure to always work from the original timeline or uncompressed video file, or your audience will live to regret it.

NOTE: For this example, I will be using QuickTime Pro. It’s only $30 bucks and a good investment if you don’t already have some way of compressing video for the web.

Let’s say I’ve finished working on the example I was using last week, of Betty Jo talking about motor torpedo boats. Let’s say that I want to put this up on my web site, which happens to be all about motor torpedo boats. I would first need to compress this video.

To do this, I would export a full-quality uncompressed video from my editing software and open this file in QuickTime Pro. I would export this file to a QuickTime movie, and I would use the following settings to obtain a video of decent quality and reasonable size:

Dimensions: 320 by 240 pixels
Bit Rate: 220 kbps
Frame rate: No lower than 15 fps, no higher than 29.97
Audio: Mono, 80 kbps

Experiment from there to see what you come up with. Try to keep file sizes under 20 megabytes, depending on how long the video is. Remember that over a dial-up connection, it takes about 10 minutes to download a single megabyte. Consider how long you want to make your audience wait, and weight that against how good you want the video to look.

Of course, to get this video up for the public to see, you need to have server space. The best option is to get your own domain name and server space, which all told can cost anywhere from $30 to $200 dollars per year, depending on the features you need. I won’t cover all the ins and outs here because I’m bored of this topic. Get in touch with me if you need further assistance.

I love simple, extensible technologies that work exactly the way they’re supposed to. That’s why I’ve always had a soft spot for DVDs. Sure, they’ve got quality issues and they’re not as reliable as tapes, but gosh dang it, they just WORK.

Of course, there’s things you’ve got to do to MAKE them just work. The first thing is that you have to get the audio into either uncompressed AIFF or compressed Dolby Digital format, and you’ve got to compress your video as MPEG-2. The good news is that every DVD authoring software title on the face of the planet has a built-in encoder for precisely that purpose, and it usually happens automatically when you bring in the video you want to use.

The other thing you have to do is build a menu system. Well, that’s not exactly true. You CAN just have a disc that automatically plays your video once and then stops. I actually use that a lot and it’s a great way to show around rough cuts of your work. But if you want a menu, or you want to include multiple videos on a single disc, they’re pretty easy to create, especially with a non-expert program like iDVD. Just experiment. You’ll figure it out.

When you’re done, you have to build the disc. While this is happening, you may get a message that your computer is “muxing” your tracks. This is perfectly normal. I have no idea what it means, but for some reason it must be done. My theory is that it’s just an excuse to use the word muxing. Then, once the disc is built, you can burn it. Put a blank DVD-R (never use DVD+R media for anything other than data storage) disc into your DVD burner (oh yes—you need a DVD burner), and let it do its magic. If it says the burn was successful, go and test it in a few different DVD players. There you go. Now you know how.

We’ll be covering more advanced distribution later in the semester when you have something worth distributing. For the time being, you’re done with the assignment.

Write a pitch for a more complex short, clocking in around five to ten minutes. What is a pitch? It’s a production concept and synopsis all rolled into one, and all in no more than a couple sentences. It should explain why the movie is worth making, and if possible, you should explain why you yourself are not just a waste of oxygen. It is important that you are able to present ideas to peers because otherwise nobody will listen to you and they won’t be able to offer you helpful advice. That’s why I’m asking for a little participation here. Get a pitch ready and post it in the comments here by Friday. We’ll get a discussion going and see if we can generate some useful feedback. Then next week we’ll talk about lighting, and the logistics of working on a more complex project.

Mr. A. D. Gingerich (non-union)

I Go To Film School So You Don't Have To: Lesson 3 – Sound

This week I’ll be departing a bit from what my intro to filmmaking class actually covered because to be quite honest, what we covered was… well… not too worthwhile. Instead, we’ll be talking about sound acquisition and editing.


  • Your camera
  • Your computer
  • Patience and a desire to inflict pain on yourself


  • A shotgun microphone, like this one
  • A “fish pole” boom arm for your mic, like this one
  • 10-20 feet of XLR cable
  • An XLR-1/8″ mini-jack transformer so you can plug your mic into your camera
  • Oh, and if you go the route of getting an external microphone, you’ll need to have a mic-in jack on your camera.
  • Since the world is far from being perfect and is instead full of bitterness and misery, none of these things are required.

Now before we get started, I need to preface this discussion by pounding something into your head.

Sixth Rule of Filmmaking: (Write this down. No, it doesn’t make sense that I’m telling you the sixth rule of filmmaking first. No, I don’t care. Write this down.)

Sound is HARD.

You heard me, sound is hard. REAL hard. Harder than picture. Picture’s easy. Sound isn’t. Got it? Sound is hard. You may think it’s easy because it sure seems simpler than picture, but it’s not. It’s really, REALLY HARD.

You have been warned.

I can’t remember exactly what I assigned in the first class, but I didn’t expressly prohibit sound. Which probably means most of you made something with sound. Which probably means your movie sounds like crap. That’s OK. You didn’t know any better. The problem is that since your movie sounds like crap, it also looks like crap. This is called… (it doesn’t have a name and so I’m naming it for myself) The Gingerich Theory of Crappitude. You would be amazed how good your movie would look if only it had good sound.

You see, the audience is like a bunch of really stupid lab rats. And not only that, they’re incredibly cruel really stupid lab rats, and they like to focus on your faults. Their little tiny brains don’t distinguish between picture, sound, story, acting, writing and all the other aspects of your film. They just mash it all together and if there’s one part they don’t like, they just ASSUME that the whole movie must be bad. You do it too. Try and remember the last time you walked out of a theater thinking, “I hated that movie, but it had really good editing.”

So how do you trick those idiotic rodents into thinking your whole movie was really good? Unfortunately, you can’t. Remember how I said they’re incredibly cruel and they like to focus on your faults? You can’t get around that. The best thing you can do is give them as few faults as possible to focus on. When people start complaining to you about minor continuity errors, that’s when you know you’ve made a good movie.

You can’t see sound (unless you’re on acid), and so you tend not to think about it when you’re shooting. (Incidentally, don’t shoot if you’ve just dropped acid. Someone’s liable to end up dead and knowing your luck it probably won’t be you and so you’ll wind up in court trying to explain it.) So inevitably what you will happen is that you’ll set up a very nicely-composed shot and it will sound REALLY HORRIBLE. To not do that, you’ll have to train yourself to think about sound.

Professional productions use what is called a microphone to capture sound. That’s what you do too. The difference is that they tie it to a long stick and hold it over the actors’ heads. Granted, it’s usually a really expensive stick, but that’s the general idea. Because the microphone (or mic, if you’ve got a crew member named Mike and you want to confuse him all the time) is so close to the action, it gets very clean sound. Additionally, the mic is pointed down at the actors, and so you hear less ambient noise (basically just white noise produced by the environment you’re in: wind, traffic, etc.).

If you were to buy the mic, fishpole (the stick the mic is attached to, sometimes called a boom), transformer and cable I mentioned in the beginning, you’d be set to get great sound. If you plan to continue in film with any seriousness, these things are probably a good investment.

Things to consider when going this route: Congratulations. You’ve made the right decision. Remember that your microphone needs to be placed in a shock mount (the mic I linked to includes its own), which is basically just a way to suspend the mic in between an array of rubber bands. This prevents vibrations in the fishpole from being transmitted to the microphone and onto your soundtrack. You’ll also need to know the proper way to hold the fishpole. You (or one of your slaves) hold it with both hands (on the vibration-absorbing rubber grips) up over your head and parallel to the ground, so that the mic points straight down. Hold the mic about 12-18 inches above your actor’s head. If it gets farther away than that you’ll get background noise. If it gets closer, you’ll get distortion. More on that later. Make sure the mic is turned ON and plugged into your camera. Remember to keep the mic out of shot.

Things to consider when using your camera’s built-in microphone: Congratulations. You’ve made the wrong decision. The problem with using the built-in mic on your camera is that the farther your camera gets from your actor, the farther your MIC gets from your actor as well. This results in muddy sound and a fear of using wide shots. The solution: dialogue replacement. As long as your actor gives consistent performances you can take the sound from the close-up and line it up with the wide shot. This method is far from perfect and will cause you great pain and anguish when you go to edit, but it’s better than than hearing audience members whispering to each other the words that no sound recordist ever wants to hear: “What did he say?”

Whichever method you use, you need to eliminate as much noise as possible from your location. Turn off all fans and air conditioners to reduce airflow. Close all doors and windows. Unplug the refrigerator (hint: leave your keys in the refrigerator so you remember to plug it back in when you’re done). Try and get the neighbors to turn off their radio. In short, it must be SILENT. If you’re shooting on a tile floor, put down blankets, pillows, rugs—anything—over non-visible areas of the floor in order to reduce reverberation. NOW you’re ready to shoot.

Take a break. We’ll meet back here in 20 minutes.

The simple summary is that editing sound is just like editing picture. Most of the time with sync (short for synchronous—as in synchronized with the picture) sound, the audio clips just sort of go along for the ride while you edit the video. This is a good thing because it’s easy. But there will inevitably be things in the soundtrack that you’ll want to fix once your picture editing is finished, or locked. This is where your editing software will show its true colors.

Good software will let you work with sound independent of video. Bad software won’t. If you’ve got bad software, you’re done now and probably not very satisfied. Goodbye. If you’ve got good software, you can use it to make your movie sound good. Methods for working with sound separate from video vary from program to program, so read your manual.

Trim your sounds. Slide them around and line them up. Make something that sounds good. Be sure to keep dialog in sync with lip movements. Remember that you can use the sound from one take and the picture from another, although it might take some fine cutting to line them up. This is a surprisingly viable option for getting clean sound in wide shots.

Say hello to your good friends the L-cut and the J-cut. These are good methods of adding editorial quality and interest to your project, by not cutting picture and sound simultaneously. For example, let’s say you have a movie where Betty Jo is talking about motor torpedo boats. You have one shot of Betty Jo and one shot of a motor torpedo boat, and you want to cut from one to the other. The simple way is to cut them at the same time, so you start hearing the motor torpedo boat as soon as you see it, and no sooner. But with an L-cut, you see it while Betty Jo is still talking, and THEN you start hearing it. With a J-cut, you start hearing the motoring and torpedoing while you’re still looking at Betty Jo, and THEN you cut the picture to show the boat and the fiery firestorm it is creating. The letters L and J are fairly descriptive of the cuts, because they describe the shape the edit will look like in the timeline:

L-Cut and J-Cut

These are especially useful for scene transitions.

I warned earlier about keeping the mic from getting too close to the actors to avoid distortion. No, that doesn’t mean they turn into a Dalí painting. Instead, it means something way less cool: audio that’s too loud and sounds all… buzzy. It’s not good. Well, that distortion that you have to avoid during shooting—you also have to avoid it in editing. Here’s how: If your software is good enough to cut sound independent of picture, it is hopefully also good enough to have a VU meter, which is a little bar (or two bars, if you’re working in stereo) that bounces around to reflect the loudness of your audio track. If you don’t have one of these you’ll have to play it by ear and will probably fail miserably. Good luck!

If you DO have a VU meter, it’s easy: never get to the absolute maximum volume. That’s how you avoid distortion. Theoretically if you shot your material distortion-free and didn’t increase the volume when you were editing, you should be fine. But if you’re increasing levels (again, check your manual to find out how) or layering audio and adding effects, things can get a little out of hand and you start maxing out.

Here’s why: look at those numbers on the VU meter. They go from 0 to negative infinity. What the hell kind of scale is that? It’s a damn stupid kind, that’s what! Anyway, we have to use it. The loudest your sound can be is 0 (what?!) and the quietest it can be is negative infinity (abbreviated -inf), which is no sound at all. You usually want dialog levels to peak anywhere from -12 to -3 db (decibels), depending on audio quality and what other sounds you have playing in the scene. Bring levels up and down on clips to appease the VU meter. If you want to gradually change an audio clip’s output levels over time, you can use a method called keyframing.

You will be using keyframes a lot when you get into more advanced editing. Their simplest editing application is in setting audio levels. Put a keyframe in the clip levels (check your manual blah blah) on the frame where you want the change to start. Set it to the starting value, let’s say 0 (no change in audio levels). We’ll pretend you want to, over the course of two seconds, go from a value of +0db to +3db. You’ve already set the +0db keyframe, so go forward 2 seconds (60 frames) and add a second keyframe. Then set that keyframe to +3. You will probably see some sort of graphical representation of this keyframe change, something like a diagonal line between two points. The diagonal line represents the value of the levels setting at that frame, and the points represent your keyframes. You’ll notice that the audio level rises gradually over the course of two seconds rather than jumping immediately from 0 to 3. This is a good thing. It’s always best to do things gradually when dealing with sound. What you just did was animate the levels property. Congratulations! You’re an animator! Put it on your résumé!

And that’s it for this week. You have a choice in your assignment for next week. You can either clean up (or, if you’re daring, re-record) the sound you got for your short film (if you did a silent film, add sound), you can re-shoot your original short film, applying your new aesthetic and technical knowledge to get really good picture and reallllllly good sound, or you can shoot an entirely new film with realllllly good picture and realllllllllllllllllllllly good sound. Your choice. Finish it for next week, because we’ll be talking about putting your movie onto DVD and other methods of releasing it into the wild.

– Dr. Mr. Prof. Sir Rev. Lord. A. D. Gingerich, M.D. emeritus, Esq.

Paul & Andrew Talk Movies: Garden State, Children of Men

Over the past year or so I’ve been reviewing movies, which is fine, but it’s much more fun when there’s a dialog. To that end: I’ll be talking about movies with faithful reader/Hades, Paul. Let us know what you think.

Garden State

PAUL: I finally saw Garden State and Children of Men.

Garden State was amazing—there are so many things in there that were perfectly done. Love stories normally bother the hell out of me, but this was unique (and only partially a love story). This worked to convince me that Natalie Portman really is a good actor. V for Vendetta did a good job of this too, but this really proved it to me. It was also interesting to see Ian Holm in a non-hobbit and non-face-covered-with-Alien role. It had extra personal meaning because I have been on anti-depressants to the point where I couldn’t feel anything before.

ANDREW: I wouldn’t say Garden State was amazing, but I’m pretty sure every director has a movie like this in them (basically: “let me show you all the amazing people and places I know”), and it IS a really exceptional example of that. I’d also say that Zach Braff may be the first in a new wave of American auteurs. I’m anxious to see the next movie he directs (NO WAY was Garden State his last). I’m not all that crazy about Natalie Portman, but that WAS a good role for her. And Ian Holm is just downright my favorite actor, an opinion I’ve had ever since I saw him do King Lear for PBS.

There is a deleted scene on the Garden State DVD that is not to be missed, taking place in his parents’ bathroom, in which Large discusses with his father the possibility that his mother committed suicide. I completely understand and agree with the reasons why the scene isn’t in the final film and I would also have cut it, but the bitter irony is that, aided especially by Ian Holm’s acting, it’s the best scene of the movie. And it isn’t even in the movie!

PAUL: I have yet to check out the deleted scene on Garden State, but I also have yet to return it. I haven’t really seen Ian Holm in anything but the Lord of the Rings (he is EXACTLY the Bilbo I envisioned all my life) and the nameless victim in Aliens.

ANDREW’S SUMMARY: It took me a long time to decide to watch Garden State. I was afraid it would be whiny. It wasn’t. To be balanced, I think the movie is too slow and towards the beginning it exudes a sense of ennui so powerful that it could knock out even a highly motivated horse. But that doesn’t mean that it was a whiny “oh woe is me” ode to personal inadequacy. To top it off I was impressed by the acting, the production design and the script. This is a positive movie, but not syrupy. There aren’t enough movies like this in the world.

[rate 4]

PAUL’S SUMMARY: While “selected” by several festivals, Garden State has won few awards. It has, however, gotten a decent fan following and critical acclaim. I have heard it dismissed as pretentious, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I didn’t feel that it was out to make any big claim in life or cinema, or truly move us. Its biggest moral seemed to be “try and enjoy life.” In some senses it is a romance story, which I am almost never a fan of, but if this were to be classified as a romance it is a very unique one.

[rate 4.5]

Children of Men

PAUL: Children of Men was a little different; it was a good movie, but not a great movie. It did an excellent job of what I call “real violence,” the kind that is disturbingly accurate and should make an impact on even the most desensitized of viewers. However, it worked throughout the film to desensitize us to that. Death happened constantly and it dulled from powerful to “aw, hell, there goes another one.”

ANDREW: I think the desensitization to death is a pivotal element of the film, and is most likely something that would happen to you in that situation. This creates a sort of Balkan/Holocaust feel that is used to great effect to get rid of the midwife. Three’s a crowd, right? So we all knew she had to go, but the great thing is that you never really know what happens to her. You assume she’s dead, but you never know for sure. You just never see her again. I’d also like to point out that, while desensitizing death on a mass and impersonal scale (the bombings, mortar blasts, general mayhem, etc.), the movie does a great job of punctuating that desensitization with a few disturbingly prominent, sensitized instances of violence (the woman in the beginning holding her own severed arm, for instance, or the cop being bludgeoned by the car battery).

PAUL: The concepts were great and a lot of the cinematography was great as well, but I got a little nauseous from all the hand held shots. The acting was great, though some of the roles didn’t enable much variation. Definitely a movie worth seeing once, I would say.

ANDREW: I usually despise unnecessary handheld camera work (it’s one of the few things that put me off The Prestige), but this is one movie where it not only works, but is necessary. Not only does it lend a much-needed documentary feel to the film, but it’s good that it makes you nauseous. You’re SUPPOSED to be nauseous!

There are a few things about Children of Men that really won me over: First, there’s a little sound design trick that runs throughout the whole movie and just totally captivated me. Second, Theo’s moment of grief over losing his wife. Third, “Seriously, pull my finger.” The moment of silence on the battlefield while the baby is walked out gave me goose-bumps, and the movie ended at exactly the right time.

PAUL: I agree with how good the silent battlefield was, I got… I’m not sure goosebumps, but some very physical reaction to it. I don’t really know how to describe it. I loved Theo’s breakdown, it was brief, but it was the greatest range the role was given and it was executed very well.

Here is something to think about: Why all the 70s music? Not to mention other minor throw-backs to the era. My theory is that this was a criticism of modern revolution and the modern world. The 60s and 70s were based around a love and peace-themed revolution. In our present day and age, such a things seems all but impossible. When faced with fascism, peace doesn’t tend to be a good method of change. Instead, today’s revolutions are violent and all-too-often obsolete. As such, the revolution here is violent and seemingly unsuccessful. This world seems to be one where love and peace would be almost hopeless. I think the music chose is meant to draw attention to the differences in the idea of a revolution.

ANDREW: I didn’t see old music in general as a motif of the film (I thought there was a fairly good mix of retro, contemporary and speculative future music), but specifically the song Ruby Tuesday, which in this context seems to be a lament for life, humanity, even Earth itself:

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you…

Also notice that most of the retro music occurs in reference to Theo’s father, which certainly makes sense, and in that context I think the lyrics of Ruby Tuesday could also be a lament, as you pointed out, over the loss of the peaceful revolutions of the 1960’s.

PAUL’S SUMMARY: I liked Children of Men decently. It was a good reworking of classic Messianic, and specifically Christian, myths. It is well pared with some of the other more modern visions of new world order, interestingly enough another one that places the U.K. on top. The real violence is the thing I feel they did best. I agree with Andrew’s point that desensitizing us to it may be the goal. The world is horribly desensitized, the best example being the sudden explosion of the cafe at the beginning.

[rate 4]

ANDREW’S SUMMARY: Children of Men is what it is what it is. Documentary? War drama? Messianic action flick of all-out armageddon destruction? The movie does a good job at being something unexpected, and that is the goal of all cinema. Performance, cinematography, effects, editing, above all, direction—all top notch. A filmic success if I’ve ever seen one.

[rate 5]

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