Sunday, September 28, 2008

#115 CDIA Screening and Graduation

As you know I've handed in my final project and this show is about my class's screening and graduation at CDIA. Yes, I'm done, but it's not over, it's never over.

Working up to and over the last minutes of my deadline left me very tired. As a result the remainder of the week's activities were a blur. I should have been able to talk about events in greater detail, but the truth is that I had very little capacity to absorb the experience. In some sense I was living in the moment, not anticipating the future or recalling the past.

I'm not much on ceremonies or "special events" in any case. They are what you make of them. I think the people who share them with you carry more weight in your memory, so I guess you could say that what I recall here is what I considered the important part.

I certainly was nervous about the screening and showing my film in front of a lot of strangers, it went off well though. People laughed in the appropriate places and I got a number of kind and constructive comments, which demonstrated more than anything else, that some people were paying attention.

The I want to give a special nod to Bob Daniels, the guy who runs the school, for some intelligent and brief comments about what lies in the future for the graduates.

What's next. As I said, it isn't over by a long shot. I'm doing a little polishing of the film so I can submit it to a local film festival, coming up shortly in Boston, called the Ruff Cutz Festival. As the name implies, you can submit the film where ever it is process. Some money is on the line, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm more interested in preparing my film for submission, and if it makes the cut, having the chance to watch another crowd of strangers judge my film.

Independent of that, I plan to meet with several instructors over the next month and discuss ways to enhance the film. Essentially I'm going to have the critiques I didn't have time for, before I handed it over for graduation screening.

Once that's done, I'm not completely sure what to do with it, other than use it as a calling card. I plan to create a site for it as well as other videos that I produce about craft - all crafts I hope.

There are two reasons I want to do this:
I want to continue to exercise all the skills I've been exposed to and hone this filmmaking craft. I don't want what I've learned to atrophy due to disuse. I don't have any plans at all to set out on a filmmaking career, I don't know yet what the next step for me is.
I really like this subject matter, it's really a big part of who I am and finding the stories are sort of like discovering parts of myself. I also think there's a lot of people out there who have the same feelings and creating a link between us seems like a the way to begin this odyssey.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

#114 Panic on Day Zero

Day Zero - Project Due

It's fitting that this show, which is about the final day of my film project for the Film program at CDIA at Boston University ends with a lot of energy and emotion, because, up 'til now I've been holding it in, quite well I think.

I wouldn't say I lost it, but it was close, it was more like clawing my way back onto the cliff edge that I was sliding off. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I only want to say that over these past 4 weeks the excitement and fun of editing and completing a film has completely leached away to frustration, stomach gnawing stress and all other kinds of unpleasant feelings due to having too much to do in way too little time. In the end I have to confess to dreaming too big.

I'm not apologizing for that, nothing I've experienced so far will change that about myself, but I have learned that I never want to do a film this way again. We'll see if I can hold true to that promise.

Today was a race against time, right up to the wire to complete color correction and titles - how many times have I talked about getting those two things done.

I seem to have gotten on a rag about various features of Avid, GUI in general, but Titles really took me for a beating. In the end I had to bail on using titles in Avid and did something quickly in Final Cut Pro. Don't do this at home, it's very, very painful and time consuming. Bringing an exported Quicktime file from Avid into FCP requires that you render the entire timeline and the titles will have to rendered each time you tweak them. But it was necessary to meet the deadline. I would be better to know how to use the tools within Avid. I'll let you know how difficult that really is in the next few weeks, once my head clears and I can approach learning it with a little more time.

I also plan to do a review of working in Avid, talking about the pros and cons. I know that most people listening are not using Avid, maybe not even using Final Cut Pro, but it is an industry standard tool, for the present, and I would like to give the benefit of my experience, as painful as it sometimes has been, so that you know where it sits in the pantheon of NLE gods.

Avid, FCP, FCS, titles, color correction, transcode, tape transfer

Sunday, September 21, 2008

#113 Abiding by Murphy's Law

Day 2 & 1

As a result of excellent feedback from Linda, my wife, I've made some significant changes to the order in which speakers are introduced. I had begun with discrete, self contained blocks, where an individual presents themselves. Of course I intended to mix individual's comments together where they touched on the same topic as the film progressed, but it was made clear to me through Linda's perspective that I could begin that earlier, so there wasn't an obvious transition from one person speaking at a time to many people speaking.

It was a real structural problem for me and I'm grateful for the insight she provided. You know, I know what I want to do and could have acted alone, but I had nagging doubts that my perspective was too inside, too familiar to be trusted as far as how much I could ask the audience to accept as they were introduced to the film's characters and ideas. Things such as the pacing, I'm using a lot of rapid cuts. It really pays to have someone you can trust who can offer concise, intelligent comments.

Day 1 ends and I still don't have the film transfered to tape. I spent a number of hours but between working with HD footage in Avid and moving it to HDV tape, or SD for that matter, there were lots of unresolved problems. And I lost a lot of editing time in the process.

Not that this isn't my own fault for starting late in the first place.

I mention a number of suggestions made by one of my constant instructors, Howard Phillips, for enhancing the movement of the story and I did a poor job of explaining J & L cuts, so follow the link to find out a little bit more. I've added them throughout the film to ease the audience from one cut to another. It's a subtle thing. The difference it makes is not so much what it adds, so much as what it removes, which is often an abrupt, gawky cut between two speakers, or scenes.

Another point I missed in the excitement of reciting my day, is that the 90 second segment where I introduce a new character and I thought I was going to have to scrap it because I didn't have B-roll to cover several jump cuts. I forgot to mention the solution, which was to use dip-to-color between the cuts. It's only a second where the clip fades in, then out to black, but it heals the jump cut wound quite nicely.

Now, I know how to do this and had used it sparingly in other parts of the film, but I thought it was too much in your face, it would be too jarring to the viewer if I did it several times within 90 seconds. I was assured by people whose opinions matter that it was fine and acceptable. I don't know if they meant in general, or under the circumstances of the looming deadline, but I gladly accepted it like a get out of jail card. We'll see how people react at the screening.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

#112 Room to breathe

Days 5, 4 & 3

Still working on the rough cut, focusing on story pacing, removing things that take you out of the story.

I'm reflecting a lot on the meaning of craft, the subject of my film, and being as tired as I am I'm afraid I'm not completing whole thoughts. I'm gaining spontaneity at the price of coherency when I'm not reading off a script. You tell me if it's worth it!

About five and a half minutes into the show I'm trying to make a point about the life craftspeople try to lead and I'm using a sports competition metaphor and it utterly fails. What I'm trying to say in this instance is that the measure of success is the process of work and learning they're engaged in, their life's journey, not a specific accomplishment or feat.

Trust is a perennial issue for me, and exercising trust in the audience is what I need to do as I continue this edit. Just as Jay Moonah said At Podcaster's Across Borders this past June, the content is the audience. They create meaning out of the context of their experiences, in this case, watching this film when it's done. Learning to trust that people are paying attention and pulling all the disparate pieces and ideas within the film to create a whole that leads them to… what, my way of thinking.

No, this film is not like driving cattle through a narrow, fenced in path (don't know the name of the path, sorry), but I do hope that it will direct people to think about specific ideas with new understanding. Providing some understanding, that's sufficient for me.

editing, video, filmmaking, rough cut, craft,

Thursday, September 18, 2008

#111 Holistic Film Editing

Day 7 & 6

Originally I thought I'd name this show Recognizing Mortality. I've heard that if you want people to find your posts you need to give them names that reflect the general nature of your content. I thought that fit because editing requires you to face the death of so many things, ideas, hopes, illusions, favorite bits, not to mention your own inflated ego. However, oblique, inside-joke titles, while clever, don't have much value if no one gets them, or listens. So I decided to change the title to something that at least will show up in a search on film or editing. Am I selling out my art for convention or monetary sake?

I don't know if Holistic Film Editing is any better, but I think it's appropriate because in this show I'm all about working the entire story on one timeline, making sure everything works together. There I go repeating myself. Forgive me if it seems like I'm continuously in search of what I mean, but, well, I am.

One of the requirements for graduation, besides finishing this film, is to give up a minute of the film, uncompressed, that will be shown during graduation. It's a great idea, but I begrudge every distraction at this point in time. My film is very rough still, so I had to pick a minute of footage and clean up the audio, do a little color correction and make sure i t was coherent before I could export it. Fortunately I had a segment that I had already done some finessing. Still, a distraction.

Right now I'm taking the segments I've created and place them in order on the timeline so they work as a whole. That involves making changes at the beginnings and endings of each, so there's a comfortable, natural transition in terms of ideas. This is pretty tricky and I'm finding that, where it's difficult to accomplish that, I may have to choose to radically change one segment or the other to make the transition coherent. Either that, or I need to add more footage to make the transition, or lead-in make sense. And you know, by transition, I don't mean a transition effect, I mean adding clips that allow the viewer to make the leap from one idea to the next.

Here's a couple lessons that I've been learning during the past few days while editing. I'm pointing them out here because doing the edit is where they've become real. All the preparation, classroom instruction, friendly advice wasn't enough to take this to heart. Editing, especially against a tight deadline is what has really brought it home to me.

  • Try not to edit with blinders, you have to always keep your eyes open to the entire story, not just individual segments

  • Getting feedback early and often helps a lot. Early because it's then that you can afford, ego-wise, to surrender ill conceived ideas that are apparent to others, but hidden from you.

  • Trust the intelligence of the audience. Once they are engaged in the ideas you're presenting, they will be able to follow on their own, they don't necessarily have to be lead to conclusions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

#110 Critiques: Scaling Illusions

Day 8

Over the past year I have been trying, without success to figure out how to use a calibrated monitor to display video coming out of the computer, as I color correct. Today we had a color correction class for Final Cut Pro, something that was arranged outside of the program, based on specific requests from our class. I think that speaks volumes about how flexible and generous the school and the instructors are towards meeting the needs of students.

Anyway, I'm going to create a screen cast, post it on YouTube and you can link to it to see how it's done.

The unfortunate thing is that you can' display HD footage through an SD monitor. So there you are, I have HD footage and I can't monitor my color correction, I have to go solely by the scopes, the Waveform or RGB Parade monitor, VectorScope and Histogram. Of course the trick is making sure you're viewing your results on a calibrated monitor.

Of course, that's not nothing, it counts for 90% of the way home, but that last 10% is the difference between a vacant stare and a smile.

I've used a monitor for color correction on SD footage shot for a Practicum film back in May. (Show 91) It made a big difference, not only in terms of quality, but also in building my confidence in my own color correction technique.

Howard Phillips, a frequent instructor screened my latest revision and gave me a very good critique. There's so little time, so every intelligent comment is greatly appreciated. The big problem is that I'm making the same point over and over again. I couldn't see it myself, but once the scales were removed from my eyes it was embarrassing how obvious it was. That's half the value of having others review your film. And getting that input before you're too attached to the cut is the other half.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

#109 How the days run down

A really long, typical, frantic day

Arrive early at school to pick up equipment and I trigger the alarm

Once back at work I quickly set up for the shoot at 1:00, so the shoot in short order, quickly tear it down and capture it before I run off to school to return the equipment

I'm trying to squeeze in a little editing and hand off copies of a rough cut and end up wasting most of my time.

Really, the day is an example of how lack of time leads you into making stupid mistakes that waste more time.

After wrapping up the day I include a few comments about coping with the stress and allowing the film to work itself out in the moments between getting things done.

Friday, September 12, 2008

#108 Editor's Confessional

Countdown to final project delivery. Days 11 & 10.

A lot of hand wringing, but there's hope too!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

#107 Roughcut on the run

Day 14 Editing
Day 13 Shooting
Day 12 Driving home through heavy, sticky traffic

I'm still pulling together the entire story of my film, still in rough cut mode. I'm just beginning to set boundaries and eliminating individuals wholesale, because the film isn't long enough to include more than a certain number of faces and voices. I don't know what that number is, but I've already eliminated 1 of 4 key interviews I did with potters. I found that when I introduced each person at the beginning of the film, one individual didn't fit. It was an odd experience that I had never had before and I it hit me like a vague itch as I was assembling the cut. It was completely apparent when I saw it full blown, along with my class, during the screening I reported on a few episodes ago.

It's one of those gut feelings you need to cultivate. As painful as these choices are, I know that hanging on to scenes, footage or characters that don't move the story ahead is like driving full speed ahead into a mud-hole. And nobody wants that.

Wise or not, I chose to give up a night I would otherwise be editing, in order to attend a series of talks at school by professional editors and filmmakers. Jay Rose was one of the highlights, as was Michael Phillips of Avid. The main message was geared towards the younger students, about finding your way into the media business, even if it means being a coffee toting intern. The critical thing to achieve is contacts and develop a set of work references that will lead you to your ultimate goal.

Five speakers, they all said the same thing: Be persistent and persevere.

The next day I used my evening to take some hirez stills at Sawmill Pottery, Dot Burnworth's studio. I have great interview footage of Dot, but I had to leave early the day of the shoot and got very little B-roll, particularly of her work.

One of things I realize I must, must, must do going forward, whenever I finish a shoot, is right away, within 24 hours at the most, review the footage. I didn't and a lot of time passed before I reviewed it. When I did and realized I had little to no B-roll (poor planning and poor execution) and by then it was too late to arrange a 2nd shoot. The best I could do was take digital stills and use them in a pan and zoom effect. I haven't tried this in HD before, so I will have to see how well it works. It better work, because I'm counting on B-roll to hide a lot of jump cuts.
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