Friday, March 22, 2013

Canon HV20 Feature Film, Part 2

Canon Hv20 Feature Film, Part 2

Ready for round two of our interview with the Director of the movie Throwback?

I Forgot to mention that the interview is being conducted with digital filmmaker Travis Bain. You can find his website at You can find the fan page for the film Throwback at

Most film makers never get enough of technique answers. Robert Rodriguez teaches that even if you are creative you have to learn to be technical if you want to be a modern film maker and it is in that area that I wish to go into with the next few questions. Okay lets talk about editing. What type of computer did you use to edit?

Up until late 2011, I used an off-the-shelf Dell Dimension PC for all my post-production work. It was great for Mini DV editing, but cutting HD on it was sluggish and it crashed a lot. Then, in December 2011, I got hit with a very bad virus which forced me to nuke my entire OS. Rather than reinstall everything on my ageing PC, I decided to upgrade, so I built my own new PC from scratch. I'm running Windows 7 Ultimate with 8GB of RAM, a GTX570 GPU, a Core i7-2600k CPU and a solid state system drive plus a 1TB hard drive which Throwback's 40 hours of rushes are residing on. I can now edit HDV smoothly at full motion, with no stuttering or crashes, even with effects added.

What kind of software did you pick?

I use Adobe Premiere Pro. I've used Premiere since the late 1990s and see no reason to switch to a different NLE. It does everything I want it to do and I'm used to it and comfortable with it, so at this stage I have no desire to jump to Avid or FCP or any other NLE.
Were you happy with the results?

Very happy. Now that I'm using a powerful enough PC, Premiere basically never crashes and I never have any glitches. It edits native HDV as easily as if it was Mini DV. The export options are also great and there are a lot of cool plugins available. Working on a PC instead of a Mac, you also have more codec options available. When I create intermediate files, I use the Lagarith lossless codec so there's no loss of quality whatsoever when you go through multiple generations. In fact, I usually export all my digital negatives as Lagarith .avi files before transcoding them to DVD or Blu-ray or whatever their final distribution format is going to be.

If you are considering an upgrade, to what software would it be?

My next computer will be even more powerful because I'll want it to be able to edit 4K down the track. I know my current PC can't edit 4K because I've tried and it just can't keep up with the frame rate. I'm not looking at jumping into 4K in the next two years at least, but it is something I'm looking at for the long term. I just want to wait for the technology to develop a bit more and for prices to come down. I love the look of the new Sony F55 camera with its global shutter, but it's way outside of my price range at the moment. But hopefully in a couple of years, you'll be able to pick up a decent quality prosumer 4K camera for a couple of grand. If someone brings out something similar to the low-cost JVC handheld one but with a larger sensor, I'm there.

I understand that you directed and edited your film yourself would you recommend that to other film makers?

Definitely. Having to edit footage you've shot yourself is a great way to learn what works and what doesn't, and it helps you shoot better material next time you go out in the field. Knowing what sort of coverage an editor needs to make a scene work is essential for any director, I think. I'm sure there are a lot of Hollywood editors out there who are handed great-looking footage by big-time directors and it just doesn't cut together, because the director has no real understanding of montage. It's great for directors to know how to work with actors or what lenses or lights to use, but without knowing how to "shoot for the edit", as Michael Bay termed it, it's all for naught. Going forward, I may not always edit my own films, but when you're on a low budget, you kind of have to to save money.

From the trailer it looks as if your movie is heavily dependent on standard special effects rather than computer generated effect. I think that the old school approach to visual effects looks better. So many film makers are grabbing what they believe to be as cool piece of software and adding a CGI creature into their film. In a Hollywood style blockbuster these creatures look good, but at the micro budget level they usually come out looking like characters from Wreck It Ralph. Nothing spoils a creature feature faster than a killer bear or T Rex from a playstation game. My favorite movie going experience of all time was when I got to see the US debut of The Descent at out local film festival. I got to see it in a packed theater that rocked from opening scene to last. The creatures in that film are all makeup and lighting with only a small amount of background CGI(the wall climbing scenes).  So the question is would you have gone CGI if your budget was larger?

No. Even if we'd had a huge budget, I wouldn't have wanted a CGI monster. I probably would've commissioned a kickass animatronic costume from Stan Winston Studio or Jim Henson's Creature Shop. I think CGI has been grossly overused in the past decade or so, and we're really seeing a backlash against it, as evidenced by the failures of "John Carter", "Battleship" and "Jack the Giant Slayer." I think the backlash may have started as far back as "The Phantom Menace." Like many, I mourn the lost arts of miniatures, matte paintings and practical effects. Granted, CGI is essential for some types of movies. I don't think Roland Emmerich's "2012" would have been quite as visually impressive if it had relied solely on practical FX. But when I see CGI gophers, scorpions and monkeys in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, I just want to shake my head. So no, I wouldn't have used a CGI monster in "Throwback." There's no substitute for a good old-fashioned man in a costume. If you film him the right way, with careful lighting and camera angles, you can get some great results. We've taken the "Jaws" approach for Throwback in that you only ever really get glimpses of the creature, you never see him full-on in broad daylight. I prefer this approach. It's scarier, because when you can't see the monster properly, your mind fills in the blanks. Even the creature's glowing red eyes in this movie were done practically, using special LED lights. I was determined to avoid CGI as much as possible. There is a little bit of digital FX work in the movie, but it's restricted to gun muzzle flashes and things like that, because we couldn't afford blank-firing guns and all the safety requirements and red tape that go with them. We've done all our gore shots practically, with prosthetics and fake blood. Moviegoers
can tell the difference. Even if I get to work with bigger and bigger budgets, I think I'll keep insisting on doing FX practically, as "old-school" as possible. I have an idea for a pulp adventure story featuring a lost city and dinosaurs, and if I ever get to do it, I want to create the dinosaurs with stop-motion as a tribute to Ray Harryhausen and the animators he inspired like Phil Tippett. I know stop-motion is out of vogue (except for films for the younger crowd like "Paranorman" and "Frankenweenie"), but I'd rather do my dinosaurs with good stop-motion than lousy CGI. I think audiences would respond well to a revival of stop-motion for a retro fantasy adventure. Here's hoping "Throwback" is enough of a success that I can afford to commission Laika to do my dinos for me.

I'm glad you mentioned "The Descent." It's one of the best horror films I've seen in recent years and I'm a big fan of Neil Marshall's. He's clearly inspired by John Carpenter and "The Thing", which for my money is the best horror movie ever made. Marshall even uses the same font for his titles as Carpenter, which is a cool homage.

 The final part of this interview will focus on post and distribution. Please take a moment to stumble us on stumbleupon, bookmark this post and to share it with a friend. Final note for today. For those of you who only use Youtube could you check out Vimeo. The traffic is not as good as Youtube, but the video quality is great. Also if you post your work at Youtube there is no law that says that you can not use Vimeo as well. You will be reaching a larger audience if you use both. Part of being a successful digital filmmaker is to go out and find the audience. Finding the audience for your digital film is sometimes taking advantage of every possible chance to reach them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crowd Funding On Mars

Crowdfunding On Mars

Most of your know what crowd funding is. For those of you who do not it is basically raising money through donations from fans and followers by using sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. These sites have helped thousands of independent artist and film makers to get funds to help with their projects. Some times it is for money to start a production and others it is to cover post productions and or distribution.

I question whether or not that it was indented for what has recently happened. The producers of the cancelled series Veronica Mars, in order to make a feature length film from the series, went on kickstarter with the goal of getting a full production budget of two million dollars. Yeah, can you hear doctor Evil saying “Two Million dollars”? Most are using these sites to get anywhere between a thousand dollars up to a high end of one hundred thousand dollars. In other words well with in the budget of the average low to micro budget digital film. They gave themselves a thirty day window to hit the two million dollar mark and within three days they are well over three and a half million dollars.

This could end up being something that benefits all of us in the micro budget world or it could be a disaster. It could benefit those who use the site by the simple fact that this massive event has gotten kickstarter and indiegogo like sites a great deal of attention and those who donated to the big project may be willing to donate to other projects in the future.

Then again it could mean the start of a flood of Hollywood types who do not need this venue, but look at it as a way of funding their over blown vanity projects. Well I am one of those people that believe there is no level to low for the Hollywood elite to sink to and I see this more as a negative than a positive.

You doubt that huh?

Have you watched the independent Spirit Awards lately? It use to be a venue where little films got recognition. Where film makers made their bones. Lately it is the place where Bruce Willis hangs out to pick up chicks and free drinks.

I doubt that any of us will be able to fight this trend once it gets rolling, but we can survive it.

How do we as digital film makers manage to use Crowd funding to our advantage?

Look first to how Veronica Mars managed to pull this off.

 It was a cancelled tv series with a loyal following. (If it was Babylon 5 or Andromeda or even Heroes, I would not have written this post.) The producers of the show used this following to get the word out and then to get the cash to pour in.
The loyal following is something that has to be considered. If you are going to do well with crowd funding then you are going to need either a great product with a great trailer in hand or you are going to need a loyal and focused fan base for the project you are looking to have funded. Not all of us can have two seasons of a network series to generate press for our future crowd funding project, but we can have a active web series to generate a loyal following. We could have a series of short projects behind us that have introduced us to the world. If your work is good people will talk about it. Fans of your work will want to support you in the future if your feature length project appeals to them.

I am not much for constantly being on facebook and twitter (social media) to grow my brand name. This is very time consuming and I have always believed that if you do great work others will do the social marketing for you. I have not decided about Google Plus yet. The circles that it provides could come in handy when you have a project or wish to start a conversation with those who follow you. It may be a great place to do some branding and I get a lot of information from followers on Google plus about their projects and in return I tend to write about them and or post them on one of my blogs.

If you have a blog it is good to reserve a page for crowdfunding notices. Not just for your own, but for others who you believe in. This can be a way of giving back to the digital film making community. I admit that I have not done this, but I am going to add a page to this blog for Crowdfunding announcements. If most of us who have Blogs and websites with a decent following did this we could create an atmosphere where it would be possible for someone like me or you to launch a campaign with a fresh new project that could pull a million dollars in donations. Some of the best film makers on earth are making web series and digital shorts with no budgets. They are out there and if given the chance they could and would make amazing features. Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan were low budget film makers who were given big breaks by the big studios. It would be great in the next great film maker was given a big break by a crowd of fans.

Please take a moment to share this post with someone. To stumble us on stumbleupon and to add me to your google plus. The next post will be part two of my interview with Travis Bain the maker of Throwback. I am a writer by nature which means that I fall into the category of being a creative type, so I have always loved learning from those who are technical in nature. Ask me about writing a script or working with actors or even the financing of a project and I am your guy, but the behind the camera aspects of film making and or editing and I am still a novice. I am learning as I go. Mr. Bain has given a great deal of insight into an area of film making where I am by no means an expert.

Okay that is it for today. See you guys soon.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Digital Feature Filmmaking With The HV20 Part1

Digital Feature Filmmaking With The HV20 Part1.

I hope that this will end up being a three part series on a feature film shot with the Canon HV20. If you are a regular reader of this blog they you know that I have my favorites and of all the consumer camcorders ever made my favorite is the HV20. This camcorder along with its big brothers the Canon HV30 and HV40 were well on their way to becoming a staple of micro budget film making and then the Dslr revolution hit. People quickly jumped ship and this camera sort of got lost in the shuffle.

I am here to remind the film maker that is just starting out that there are advantages to using a camcorder to shoot your first digital feature film.

The first and most important advantage is that it is designed to shoot video.

The Dslr cameras even with their hacks are at heart stills cameras. That is what they were designed to do. They do a great job at it and can shoot awesome video, but you have to work hard to do this.

Second there is the price. Camcorders like the HV series cost less. And can recorder for a much longer time. You can have your camera and be ready to shoot for less than three hundred dollars. And I am including extra batteries and dv tapes in that three hundred dollars.

Three and this is an important third, they are better at recording in camera sound. You can add a good mic and a sound mixer and get great sound that you will not have to sync later.
Let’s look at the production of a HV feature that was shot in Australia. This is the first part of an interview that I am conducting with the film maker.

Here is a look at the trailer for the Canon HV20 digital feature ThrowBack.

Here is the beginning of what I hope to be a three part interview with the talented film maker.

How did you pull it off and were you ever tempted to go with the crowd running head long of the Dslr cliff?

Using the HV20 for Throwback was mainly a question of economics. I had an extremely limited budget and it just made more sense to shoot with a camera and accessories that I already owned than spend thousands of dollars on a new camera, new lenses and all the add-on bits and pieces that I would've had to buy to go the DSLR route. I didn't want to hire a DSLR to shoot my film on because I believe an indie filmmaker should own their own gear. If you accidentally destroy or damage it, you only have yourself to answer to, but even beyond that, it's so incredibly helpful to have a camera with you 24 hours a day and know that if you need to go out and do reshoots or whatever, the camera's there, not rented out to someone else and unavailable. And I didn't know anyone in Cairns to borrow a DSLR from, because I was only fairly new in town, so it just made sense to shoot the movie on the camera that I'd already owned since 2007. I knew the HV20 was capable of stellar results so I wanted to push it to its absolute limits and get some amazing shots out of it, and I think we've achieved that. There are shots in the movie that aren't in the trailers which are just going to blow people away.

I kept an eye on the DSLR revolution and followed its progress, and it all looked very interesting to me, but there were other factors, besides the cost, that kind of put me off shooting on a DSLR initially. Throwback started production back in 2010, and back then, DSLRs were still plagued with problems like moire, line-skipping, poor dynamic range and rolling shutter artifacts like wobble and skew, which I hate. The HV20, on the other hand, wasn't a still camera that was being used to shoot video, it was a VIDEO camera that was designed for videographers, so it had a lot of features that you couldn't get (and still can't) on DSLRs, like zebras, a low-contrast cine mode, 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks, continuous autofocus (which I didn't use often but it was very handy for moving subjects as it's very hard to pull focus on an HV20), manual audio level controls and many others. Plus, in 2010, I kept reading horror stories about how DSLRs would overheat and break down, and because we were going to be filming in hot jungles, I knew I couldn't work with a camera like that because it would be too unreliable. And in fact, we actually shot a couple of night-time scenes on a Canon 5D MkII by firelight, because we needed the larger sensor, and all those horror stories came true because the camera kept overheating and shutting down all the time. But when I used the HV20, however, it very rarely gave me any hassles. It just made sense to use a camera that I'd already invested money in, in terms of not only the camera itself but also filters, lenses, accessories like a Hoodman LCD and so on.

Now, of course, the GH3 is here, which is probably the first stills camera designed specifically for videography, instead of a stills camera where video is an afterthought. It would've been cool to shoot on a hacked GH2, but as I mentioned, money was a big factor, and I decided that rather than spend more cash on camera gear, I should save that money and put it into something else instead, like props, costumes, road trips to cool locations and things like that. And I'm glad I did.

People look down on the HV20 now that the 7D and GH3 and so on are all dominating the indie filmmaking market, but they forget that the HV20 is still a great HD camera with excellent manual controls and, if you use a quality mic, great audio. It's basically just a cut-down XHA1, which was a great camera from Canon towards the end of the last decade. Obviously you can't achieve the same ultra-shallow depth of field on the HV20 that you can with a DSLR, but you can come close to it. On Throwback, I used numerous tricks to get my DOF as shallow as possible, including shooting wide open with a neutral density filter in daylight, and quite often zooming in slightly. As a result, you'll see shots in the movie which you would swear were shot with a DSLR, but no, they were done on the HV20 shooting a max aperture with an ND filter and a slight zoom factor. Exposure-wise, it was just a matter of letting the camera set the exposure and then dialling down the gain until I saw a pleasing image on the LCD screen. I just exposed everything by eye, and of course the zebras came in mighty handy too. I just tried not to let the highlights blow out and everything was hunky-dory. Prosumer cameras are always factory set to overexpose everything so you have to compensate for that in each shot, which is why the trailers for Throwback look like an actual movie and not home video. We also tried to avoid shooting in high-contrast situations wherever possible. Most of our filming days started at about 6am when the sun was still low in the sky and the light was soft. Magic hour. It works for Terrence Malick and it sure worked for us, too.

That is it for part one of this question and answer. Just remember we are talking about being digital feature film makers. The word digital being important. You do not need an expensive camera to shoot your micro budget film. You can do it with video camera and the price point for many of them are becoming more and more appealing. If you want to become a digital film maker go out and start shooting footage. Get use to using what ever camera you select and keep shooting. It is better to have a two hundred dollar camera or camcorder that you are familiar with rather than a two thousand dollar camera that you are afraid to touch. Digital Film making is about having fun, if you are not enjoying yourself then you are doing something wrong. You can do it with an iphone, a Sanyo, a 8mm camera, a Vixia Camcorder, a Dslr or a Red one.
Good luck guys. Please take a moment to share this post with a friend.