Saturday May 29, 2010

Reverse Cinema

I was a bit disappointed that I had pulled such long hours to get a working version of our project done for the group's benefit (as well as mine of course), and submit it by 10am on Tuesday, missing a couple of bibliography links in my submission, for instance I read an entire book, one of the recommended readings, but being in somewhat of a hurry and dazed by lack of sleep I didn't add it. It was a short book by the way, only 100 pages. That's how I read the whole thing. My written statement which was to discuss the meanings behind our work was in my opinion garbage. It also was less than the word minimum. But I was disappointed because despite my grand efforts to meet the deadline, people in my class were submitting their work well after the deadline, in some instances 12 or 1 pm, maybe later. If I had done that perhaps I could have produced a better statement. I'd definitely have remembered that I read an entire book and noted it. Not that I have any hold any grudges, it's just... annoying.

Tuesday we sat in the computer lab and opened Final Cut Pro, also pre-installed on our MacBook Pros. We were given a brief run down on some basics of Final Cut and some of the fundamentals of television standards, such as PAL/SECAM and NTSC. I separate PAL and SECAM with a slash as they seem awfully similar as opposed to NTSC which is quite different. These are broadcast standards for Standard Definition (SD) TV. SD is what came before HD. It's lower resolution. SD wasn't always called SD of course, in much the same way WW1 wasn't called WW1 until WW2 came along. Also, resolution is a fairly new concept too comparatively speaking. Resolution is a term that came along with computers, but SD TV is analogue and didn't really have a set resolution. But it's normally expressed as 720x576px for PAL these days. Which is what NZ, Australia, Britain, China and Parts of Europe use. This is the resolution that DVDs are encoded as. They are encoded at that resolution whether it's widescreen (16:9 / 1.78:1 aspect ratio), ultra wide screen (2.235:1) or the old box shape (4:3 / 1.33:1). The pixels are not necessarily square.

I'm interested in learning Final Cut, perhaps for slightly different reasons than most people though who I assume want to learn such things because they either want to work in the film industry and believe it's an industry standard or because they want to edit their own films and have heard how wonderful Final Cut is. My reason is just because I want to evaluate it to determine how much of the greatness of Final Cut Pro is just Apple marketing hype. I have an acquaintance who works in television and uses Final Cut so there is no doubt that it has penetrated the professional market, taking over suites like Avid but having worked in the printing industry, I know what Adobe had to do before InDesign started to be taken up seriously over Quark Xpress. It was painfully obvious from version 2 that it was better than Quark but it probably wasn't until CS1 and even CS2 (2 versions later and some very competitive pricing) that designers started to click on en mass. Even then the pricing of site licences is what made large media companies change. It was a decision made largely by the bean counters. InDesign was a total re-write of an application called Pagemaker (which started the whole desktop publishing revolution but in it's last years was collectively known as Ragemaker). Similarly Premiere Pro was a total rewrite of Premiere but I wonder if for the first few versions, it has been unfairly regarded. So basically I want to learn it so I can have an informed opinion about it as an application.

Our homework for the night was to produce a 30-second video from stock footage made available to us for presentation the next day. This is where the folly of my all-nighters for the sake of Project 3 becomes apparent, I went home, watched the clips and fell asleep and snoozed my alarm clock right up until I had to get up to get to class on time. This kind of upset and annoyed me as I was only able to view other's work and now show my own. Not completing homework is perfectly congruous with my 4th-form self in maths class however. I will be finishing it before the end of the project though as it's part of the final hand-in. I wont be able to post it up here due to the copyright of the source footage not extending as far as posting it on the web. A slightly ridiculous win for copyright...

Wednesday, after showing our videos we learnt the next part in the creation process, which was DVD Studio Pro, part of the Final Cut suite. The Adobe equivalent is Encore, which I have used. Our homework was interesting. To chop up the 1930s classic The Wizard of Oz to make a 5-minute movie with a different story and to a genre that we all pulled from a hat. I got Western, which on one hand is good because it's a challenge due to the fact that I'm not really familiar with westerns as a genre. It's a fairly broad genre, but the first thing that comes to mind is the cheesy 50s and 60s B/W Bonanza type, followed by spaghetti westerns. Lots of Cliché's one can drop though. On the other hand due to the cheesiness that it first conjures up  it didn't excite me very much. It sort of felt like I'd been given a set of state of the art tools to make a wonderful piece of art and then asked to produce something that's kitsch. But as I've analysed westerns more I realise that there have been some truly great films and a number of modern ones too.

There were problems though. The file we had to work with was uncompressed and 22gb in size. We soon discovered that Final Cut wont open such a large file. The solution was to scrub through it in Quicktime and export out the bits we wanted. Apparently you could copy and paste but I couldn't get that working when I tried it (at home in the evening). I started to find it a bit too tedious but it wasn't until quite late that I decided to re-encode the film to H.264. At the same time I also decided to copy it across to my windows machine and try opening it on a trial copy of Premiere CS5. CS5 is compiled to 64bit while  CS4 and Final Cut Pro are both 32bit applications. Basically this means that CS5 can open a 22gb file natively unlike the 32bit applications that either have to resort to some sort of (slow) trickery or just lock up when you attempt to open a file more than 4gb in size. Networking my Mac and PC has caused me so many issues which is ridiculous in 2010. I've since discovered the secret (you have to give your user account a password on windows). But getting the file across was a bit painful and took just as long as re-encoding it. I also had frustration getting Final Cut to edit in widescreen, and the help files weren't really... Plus is became apparent that Final Cut hands over titling to Motion, part of the Final cut suite, and it was getting late. Or early rather. So over to Preimere CS5 I went. I didn't finish it, by 4am I decided I was not going to pull another allnighter, I'd had far too many recently... Which is why come morning I switched my alarm clock off in my sleep. This is getting ridiculous.

Thursday, we got the main brief, which is to group up with other people who had our genre, view everyone's submissions and re-shoot it with modifications. We have to plan the script, storyboard, locations, props, shooting order and other elements that elude me right this minute before next Tuesday, which is the day we start filming. We have 48 hours to finish shooting and we have a few small things we have to add to the final piece: A character called Elvira (the witch), red shoes and the line "There is no place like home". I know this because I read the brief online.

Friday morning, feeling better I joined my pre-designated group (to their surprise) who had already decided the story and parts people were playing and were now going to draw a storyboard. I've never worked with them before. The script lacked any real action or plot but I didn't feel like I could just wander in late and change everything especially as I currently had no ideas of my own. However we had to see a tutor to present who also said the same thing so we had to re-write it anyway. Not too impressed with the re-write either, it was done far too quickly and with not enough group input. I'm trying to determine if it's motivated by some defensive mechanism or just unwillingness to work hard at this particular project. But I want to make a good film, and I'm sort of over being frustrated by groups and my one opportunity to do something good on my own marred by my domestic situation at the time (although I didn't get a bad mark for it after all my complaining). My plan is to write a story that has a plot and elements of a Western in it this weekend. And then produce a digital storyboard, perhaps that flows on it's own and has sound. I want to do this because if it's good enough it will hopefully capture my group's imagination and also demonstrate just how much work is required to plan this, and just why it should be planned in advance (like it says in the brief anyway) rather than getting a bunch of shots and hoping to produce something from the editing process, which is a distinct feeling I got about the current approach. If I produce something decent, also then future suggestions I make (like taking photos of places we are going to shoot later so we know what we are doing beforehand - would have been handy on Friday before attempting a storyboard, but oh well) wont be met with scepticism. Once again, not sure if it was defensiveness at my attempt to lead on important issues or just because it sounded like too much work.

So I hope to inspire because I really don't want to become the ******** just to get things done properly. Never really been my style.

The only issue with the story and storyboard is I now have one day to do it if I want to present it on Monday. - And I'd really like to just relax for once.


    Monday May 31, 2010

Blah Blah Blah Freezies

The title is a reference to some advert and no one, even people my exact age remembers it. No it has nothing to do with anything here, I just can't think of a title.

It's only the next day since my last post but I feel a little bad for being mildly cynical about my group's efforts so early. It's based on frustrating past experiences from well before this course, and some of them are rather old experiences now. Once upon a time  I was very interested in film production, and when given the chance to really do something... well, as good as one could do with 2 home VHS recorders in a group project at high school, it was borked up by my peers. Never really trusted other people with my work ever since really.

My class is full of talented individuals or they would not be doing BCT, and the people in my group have produced impressive work come presentation every time in the past. I just tend to take this stuff a bit seriously, wanting to produce a genuine product, and I really don't like the idea that if there is something that I never supported, it will still rub off on me because I happened to be involved. But I had a read of my past entries on the weekend and spotted a theme forming. I've also probably put far too many hours into things in the past (although the I'm never happy with the time taken vs result achieved). So I didn't try to re-write the plot on the weekend, I thought I'll go along with it. It's a bit thin but this is a group effort and I have to have some faith.

Today we all made storyboards of the plot, each of us had a scene. This cut down on the work involved in that particular part of the pre-production and gave us all a chance to try our hand at it. Hopefully this wont make the film look somehow disjointed with 4 different styles, but regardless it was good to share the work around, keep us all occupied, work as a team and enjoy producing that particular result.

The idea has been floated that we're all going to edit and all going to try bits and pieces. This is a pretty non-standard say of doing things and I'm sure might be frowned upon. But I'm not protesting because I can see the point of view behind it. We all want a go and all want to shine, we're not all sure of each other's abilities so we all get a bit that we have control of. I'm working with some pretty smart people, I think we all will produce a decent result in a different way and we probably all have the ability to actually collaborate and make it come together despite the odd approach.

It may not be standard, but it might be kind or appropriate for a bunch of first timers, especially as we aren't competing for something like the 48-hour film fest.

I took the finished storyboards home and scanned them. Chopped them up into their frames and saved out tif files. I've imported them into Premiere and I'm piecing them together as an animated storyboard. I'd like to add some sounds and the dialogue but I didn't grab a copy of the existing script which would have helped me understand the storyboard a bit more. Anyway I thought this would be good to give us all a slightly similar vision and see anything that is missing or whatever.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) we are apparently going to the shooting locations with a digital camera to check out everything and be prepared for shooting the following day. I wish we'd done that today really, we had plenty of time, but a couple of my team members don't like sticking around longer than they absolutely have to. But as I said, I've seen their previous projects and they work despite the amount of studio time, so I have some faith.

Oh yeah, I relaxed on Sunday and watched a movie (for once), but it wasn't total complete and utter relaxation. The movie was The Good the Bad and the Ugly.


    Wednesday June 2, 2010

Shooting

Tuesday we didn't go out to check out the locations and one team member didn't make it in. Such preparation would have been valuable, but I guess we'll survive. I could have just gone and done my own research but I don't have a copy of the script and I'm not entirely sure where the locations are. There was a Google map of the original script I've just remembered, I'm not sure if the location was current on it. It's also one of those things you sort of need to do as a team anyway.  And I'm feeling a bit apathetic about it all really...

However one of the team members showed me his work in producing a visual effect of a gun fight. He recorded himself shooting a toy gun, added a smoke and fire effect and of course the sound. It was rather impressive.

While the class in their various teams planned whatever they were planning, a video was put on for us to watch, Cream Master 4 directed by Matthew Barney. An avant guard piece of cinema had everyone scratching their heads.

Wednesday we started shooting park scenes. I was given position of director which you'd think would suit me as I so desperately want to control the quality of the shots, but it's a learning experience. Quite unexpectedly my team really did look to me for guidance on what to shoot and how to frame it and how the shots go together. But I think I really needed to take on the role better and actually give that guidance properly. I found some of it difficult as the portion of storyboard that we were working off was not visualised by me and so I had to visualise it as we went and also reconcile it with the actual location. I was also concerned with continuity of shots and that the camera didn't find itself crossing the line. Various challenges presented themselves such as a construction worker having morning tea and perching himself in shots from a certain angle rendering them unusable. Unless we want to add the element of mystery in the case of the disappearing and reappearing construction worker.

We only shot the park scene leaving quite a bit to get done tomorrow which is a mild worry but I suppose at the same time it allows us to review the current footage and determine if we're doing anything wrong. The idea was floated that we take the footage home and edit it and review each others work and the best edit wins. Once again, not how you'd want to usually do things but at the same time it appealed so I agreed.

I'm currently reviewing the footage and I really don't like the camera work. All of the shots I have looked at so far are far too loose. I wish I'd been a little bit more assertive on that front now. I didn't want to be too controlling of the camera work but now I might have to reduce the quality of the shots by enlarging them. Others are not framed well - one in particular cuts the subjects head off as she approaches. One I asked for an extreme close up and got something in between a mid shot ant a close up. I didn't use the shot anyway as it conveyed nothing that it was supposed to.

....

Right, just looked at everything and really... we need to re shoot all of this properly. It might it a hard sell. We've just created a lot of work for ourselves, no one can go home at 1 tomorrow, this is getting out of hand and I'm kind of getting sick of of winding up in these situations.


    Friday June 11, 2010

Shooting, Post production, Presentation.

I got in on Thursday with my costume - large cape and a wig. I was to play Elvira. Talking to friends in the class in other groups, it sounded like some of them are getting actors in while the actual teams worked on production. It made me feel like they were working on a whole different level with this project.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I came in, but one member of the group had managed to edit Wednesday's footage together, so I looked at it and I was actually very surprised. Despite the shots looking terrible to me the night before and there being a complete lack of continuity near the end, he'd somehow managed to put it together in a fairly coherent manner.  The biggest problem was, as he'd pointed out himself, the construction worker shots which he'd used, one shot he isn't there, another shot he is, another shot he isn't. This didn't seem to bother my team member so I thought well perhaps we could go and re-shoot that shot at least... maybe...

I've sort of decided to suppress my thoughts and wishes and visions for this project somewhat, I really just didn't think there was much point and I'm feeling too tired and drained from the last project and sort of the whole semester really. What's the point of causing conflict when the group seem happy with what they are producing. So I'm just enabling where I can. But I've been saving my critiques for the blog, it's how I can communicate that I may have some understanding, whatever result we were likely to produce.  My group had nice people in it but they had their own ideas and I feel sort of out numbered - two members have worked together in every previous project (by fluke in this one too) and all members are all younger than me. There have been no conflicts, I've just made my mind up based on my my observations of the members, who are all rather passive and perhaps slightly defensive to ride this one out. While my last group were always open to suggestions, I don't  get that feeling here, though I could be wrong. I have tested it a couple of times and not really been received with the enthusiasm I'd want to continue developing and I don't currently have the energy to pursue things further. As I said, I'm at a point where I just cannot be bothered pushing differing ideas. Not this semester any more.

So we went to our team member's apartment to shoot the rest of the story, and decided to just enjoy the time for what it's worth and not feel stressed about the way we were going about this. Starting from the end of the day before we seemed to drift away from the storyboard, but rather than kick up a fuss, I went with the flow. Well Thursday's shooting was even more off storyboard. So what was the point in making one? Due to the last scene on Wednesday being changed, it made the next scene on Thursday's shooting which follows completely redundant. I privately felt a sense of loss, because it was my part of the storyboard that was that was  effectively binned. Not one bit of it was shot the way it was originally planned.

Perhaps for the sake of clarity I should give a basic overview of the... er... "plot"... Dorothy is in her apartment and decides to walk the dog in the local park despite being grounded or something (I still don't have a copy of the script), next follows a few minutes of her walking around the park, then she comes back, runs into Elvira who wants her red shoes back (she gets them) and walks into the apartment to find a gun fight between her aunt and uncle because the uncle apparently cheated with Elvira. Over the gunshots Dorothy's aunt sends her to bed without dinner for going out.

On Wednesday we shot park scenes, at the end she is supposed to just walk home (and cut to my establishing shot of the apartment) but it was changed to her tapping her feet and disappearing in a cloud of smoke and reappearing in the apartment hallway. Thursday we shot the opening scenes then the scene where she meets Elvira (which I originally storyboarded) and the gunfight. It turned out that the plan was not to follow the gunfight storyboard either but just capture lots of shots from different angles and see what can be put together. I agreed and went along with it but I'm not sure how I was supposed to direct anything. I didn't really direct at all anyway though, - it was clear this is not how we were going to operate. I am mildly concerned that it's my marks that get affected too. I'd like to shoot for A+ for everything in this course, I'm pretty sure that I have the understanding required for this particular subject and I think I could do A+ execution given a team with similar ideas. I've taken part in a number of movie-making & TV production courses at various institutions in my school years (and beyond actually, one course taught with actual film), read a lot of theory (from actual books) and from quite a young age just observed movies from a production perspective. I've also shot footage, edited on multiple platforms (pre-computer) and authored DVDs, learning as I went. I'm not however really prepared to go boasting about previous experiences as a method of getting my way.

I was the camera operator for the gunfight. It was suggested by a member (one who also seemed to be taking a backseat in my observation) that we do handheld camera footage for the gunfight to convey a more personal or immediate feeling, perhaps more of a sense of danger, and I didn't think it was a such bad idea really so that's what we did.

It was nice to be able to have some control over framing of shots by virtue of holding the camera, I wasn't so sure how to control the lighting on it, but the auto settings seemed to work okay.

I also had my 20 seconds of fame playing Elvira, with some terrible wooden acting and a croaky voice, discovering that I can not imitate even a humorous female voice. We had planned to do some ADR and Foley later on, but I'm not sure how you're supposed to do that when your day finishes at 1 or 2pm. I have audio equipment at home (SM52 XLR microphone and a decent audio interface, a boom stand etc) and I planned to bring it in but the hassle of carrying all of that on a bus (I really miss living in the city) along with the quality of the footage and the likely hood of us actually using it meant that I wasn't really prepared to lug it around with me.

After shooting we went back to class, reviewed the footage and I transcoded it using a free program called MPEG Streamer. I did this for 2 reasons. One is because Final Cut could not read the soundtrack embedded in the movie files that came from the camera. This is because the sound is multiplexed which basically means (I think) that it's tangled up with the video for compression purposes. We could have just as easily imported the files into iMovie as that apparently demux's as it imports, we'd been told that but I had filed it away in my mind as irrelevant because I never intended to use a harddrive-based camera, so sort of forgot.  The other reason is that all of the footage was interlaced to hell. MPEG Streamer de-interlaced the footage.

I didn't really feel all that in touch with the project personally by this time - I sort of felt like some unnecessary appendage to the group - so when the inevitable going home early idea was floated I agreed and said I'd clone out the construction worker. It's a time-consuming task that could have been avoided by a quick re-shooting but, it gave me something small to do and a reason to explore the world of Photoshop's video layers which is something I've never really touched before.

Friday came and the group was busy putting the final footage together, I continued with cloning in the computer lab, and it didn't look like the film would be finished. Despite that, it seemed that there was little for me to do and by this point I felt like I'd be polishing something that's not meant to be polished. To my surprise the movie got finished and put to DVD with a menu. I'd kept out of it's final production which I think probably suited everyone and instead helped with making popcorn for the movie presentations to be held at 4pm. I really had no hand in getting that movie made or authored to DVD, and I was quietly bothered that I would be in the credits for directing and who-knows what else when it was not really my work or something I'd feel comfortable being credited with. The first 2 films were really impressive. I suspected that they would be due to their groups members containing people experienced with film production (and better people management skills/more potentially outspoken I guess). Ours was the third to play. It was surprisingly well edited. This is not an endorsement of the film though, we could have done so much better; We could have made a decent story, made a storyboard and followed it and followed a production schedule as called for in the brief. We could have paid more attention to what a western actually is, we could have spread the load like a proper group and last of all we could have stayed in class longer and discussed things like a group and with more class time we could have polished it properly and replaced the awful sound.

I think our team really missed the point of what a western is and instead followed really superficial cues. It had been tinted to sepia, and the dog-walking scene was backed with generic to country music, and there was a gunfight. But this stuff doesn't make the film a western. Not in any academic sense to me anyway. Westerns feature conflicts between people and about the times that they are in. It's about how they react to those conflicts. It's about morality and sometimes the lack of. This tangibly translates to lots of extreme close ups of people's faces showing exactly how they feel and what they are thinking.  I'm not sure we had any real closeups, certainly no extreme closeups and there was no thought put into the nature of any of our characters. Westerns also can have a lot of very wide shots indicating the isolation and the expanse of land, setting the scene. The movie perhaps should have started with some establishing shots of the city, but it started with Dorothy looking out a window in an apartment.

We watched the other movies, all interesting, quite a few with some nice ideas and then the class finished up. Part of the material we have to submit (individually) is analysis of 5 key shots from the final video and the way they function to communicate a key aspect of the video. I was originally looking forward to writing that,  but it's not when the material that you are using doesn't have enough thought put into the shots in the first place, when nothing was deliberate, when the movie was just cobbled together like a school project, it's more difficult.

I liked our group members on a personal level and see some talent and some industriousness but I felt passively shut out from the creative/production/decision-making process from the very beginning. I would test this occasionally with suggestions but the reactions served only to confirm my opinion. I suspect the tactic was to go home and assume control over the project and just let the group tag along. I'm not really content with tagging along. This difficult position will cost me some marks which is annoying but at least I'm familiar with the subject matter so I don't feel like I've missed much on the learning side. I have just completely missed the satisfaction of a project well done and possibly some kudos.

Anyway, below is the final movie, make up your own mind.

Edit: I notice the construction worker clone out wasn't used anyway.