We’re all flawed – Final cut achieved

We’re all flawed – Final cut achieved

We’re all flawed… Very much me. Very much whatever I produce. But isn’t that what makes us unique?

I think if anyone ever consciously creates anything it usually doesn’t match what the original idea was, once executed. Even a child. I doubt anyone truly conceived the thing that has become me. It’s all one happy accident – a combination of numerous random factors and lots of added road miles and chemicals.

It’s very rare that the film you set out to make is the one you release. It’s no surprise that the editing process is often described as the third stage of the writing process – you write the film, you rewrite it in pre production and during the actual shoot (problem solving and adapting to reality) and then you rework and refine it in the edit, based on what you actually shot. Often compromise is heaped upon compromise and small changes reset the whole, as a result of the effect of collaboration with others.

This film is definitely not what I set out to make at the start. In fact it is bigger and more ambitious. Plotwise, it was a fun way to make a simple short, which could give Darwin and I something to do. Technologically, it would be a useful test of the Gh5 camera I purchased. Scopewise, it was simple – shoot it at home, mostly in a controlled environment and with a limited crew. We didn’t know anyone. We wanted to establish ourselves in Sweden as filmmakers and build a small network of likeminded collaborators. As with many endeavours, our desires overtake our ability in some ways and soon the plot became more ambitious, making the radio DJ and Studio a much more significant part of the film. Then I thought “why not throw in some FX in to the mix?”. This all impacted the Scope, the duration and the budget and the time to get it all done.

The shoot was chaotic at times, but mostly went well for our first shoot working together, despite cinematographers not showing up and not having enough people. With enthusiasm we shot stuff we hadn’t planned on getting. Brief moments became much longer scenes. And we also didn’t get stuff we planned to shoot – partly due to losing control at a few brief but significant moments. All of this added to the complexity of the edit task and once it grew beyond the script it became much tougher to reshape. But it’s all in the past now…

For my part, I inherited the edit, 4 months after having shot the film and having to start it from scratch, due to cross-compatibility issues with files across Premiere and FCP X. Mainly because I refuse to keep paying monthly fees for a buggy sluggish editing programme. Darwin had realised that our estimated 3 week edit timeline was unrealistic and then he’d begun to doubt and move on to other things and it was clear he was not moving forward with it. But I then had to pay the price of a blank slate and try and make up for lost time, when I took it all over. And in that time, the 6.5 months that followed, I had to first identify every shot I liked, then get that timeline down from 33 minutes of footage that told the story I wanted to tell, to the 6.45 mins of finished film that I have now. Constantly trimming and rearranging clip orders and trimming some more. – While also having a day job, writing a new script and shooting that film this summer…

Throughout, I’ve doubted myself constantly. Am I making the right choices? why didn’t I shoot X? How can I weave a narrative from this? Have I weaved a worthy narrative from this? Am I going insane? I must be insane to try and do this for an October 31st premiere? etc. And will anyone even care?

I’d like to think that there are less flaws with each successive project that I work on. That’s definitely what I aspire to – to improve upon everything I do. I think in many respects, this is my best film yet. But despite this, I am well aware of every flaw. How could I not be, after seeing the same shot hundreds of times and each one in a gamut of variations? And all while knowing what my original vision was for each tiny moment.

Essentially, I guess you could say that I am now in the Fine Cut stage. Which means that we have locked picture. We are now working on sound mixing and scoring and colour grading the film for its premiere screening. Is this merely like rolling a turd in sparkle and trying to make it something better than it is? I hope not. I hope the film is well received when the cast and crew see it. I hope that it doesn’t get a drudging by the critics and viewers and I hope that festivals treat it kindly. I hope for all of these things. But even if it gets a kicking from all quarters, I know that I am proud that I have seen it through this far and also will hopefully soon do so to the very end. And that is what I set out to do. I needed to finish this film. I have much more to make. And getting this film done is key to boosting my confidence to tackle more ambitious projects. It’s not perfect, but what films are? I will love it, despite its flaws. I will love it because of its flaws…

So far only a select few have seen the film in its current state. Darwin has suggested edits that have helped (especially one that revealed a continuity error) and others that sought to make the film more linear, until it then highlighted other shots we never got, that would have made that plan work. But it did highlight the fact that two shots I’d considered getting since the original shoot, were still needed to provide a more pleasing ending. As soon as Darwin came back from the US, we got the crew together again to do a fun pickup shoot and snag those shots in true guerrilla style (pics below).

The Composer (Flora) and Sound Mixer (Luca) obviously need that locked cut / edit in order to help them achieve their roles. The VFX Designer (Albin) needs them to work his magic etc. The only question for me is will I have to colour grade again or can I get some much needed professional eyes on this? Oh and the bonus question is always – will we get it done in time? The timeline is ridiculously tight. I am well aware of that. And it’s all my fault. If I had been quicker, the pressure would definitely be on me and not on others. I apologise profusely. But sh*t happens. But let’s hope that something marvellous happens under that pressure and things come together. And let’s hope that no one is broken because of the pressure of this deadline.

And regarding speed. How can you rush your way through an edit, where you essentially don’t know what the final point needs to look like – because the story you shot is more complex than the one you wrote? You can’t. Not really. And not when you have a job that has overly ambitious deadlines you also need to hit. Because. Wages… and then factor in a laptop needing a completely new keyboard and having to go away for two weeks, and software updates breaking the software – which took time to fix – and crashes, not just for me but also while Albin is rendering VFX. oh and having to edit a trailer you never knew you were expected to produce – because who puts trailers together for short films? – apparently it is a thing now. Lesson learned. All of this slows things down.

But there is always value in this process. You learn. All through the doing and failing, you learn and you improve. The lessons learned on this film helped make SVEN GUNNAR a much smoother shoot and edit I am sure. And, the way I feel about this short, is that the effort I have put in is akin to that of what working on a feature must be like. So why not tackle something bigger and more ambitious in the future? it certainly hasn’t put me off – although in the darker periods I’m sure I felt very differently about the struggle I was going through. …

In fact yes, there have been some very dark times. There has been sickness and stress, tears and self-recrimination and illness. There has also been laughter too, sometimes giddy and hysterical or drunken. And the metre has swung from abject loneliness to feeling like I belong to a tight-knit group of co-located professionals and also wondering why no one gives a shit about this epic one-man struggle of creation? Who will see anything other than a flawed, odd, film just shy of the 7-minute mark?

In the scheme of things, does any of this matter? No. Do I matter? No. You are always the only one that cares about your own movie. No one else will ever love it as much as you. And in this time of short attention spans and scrolling timelines, who can get anyone to really care anymore? So why do it? God knows. I only know that despite all the pain, it is a damn sight more interesting than the rest of my life and at the end of it I’ll have something to show to mark the time. And thanks for all the fish…

If you want to learn more about the film editing process, to understand why I’ve taken so damn long, READ MORE.

And as always, if you read all of this, thank you. But why? What makes you tick? What flaws do you obsess about?

And let me know if you want to watch this film when it’s finally done? And tune in after the 31st to find out if we made our premiere and if so, in what form?

DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE – 10th laurel and more…

It’s been a while! Not a particularly great period – but I’ll get to that in a bit – but there has been some good news:

DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE has made it into the Aasha International Film Festival India. Nice. Not only is this just great news because a film festival wants to screen our film, but it’s also the 10th laurel to date for our film!

 Don't forget to breathe film poster with laurels

The keen eyed will notice that the next festival we’ve been selected for is next year, in May. So it will be awhile before we find out how we placed in that festival.

But DFTB has also been selected for potential screening, subject to contracts / agreements, on TV in Latin America. This is also great. Every bit of exposure and every new viewer is most welcome.

So that’s it for the film festival / screening news…. so what else has been going on?

… Well I’ve been editing. At a snail’s pace, it feels. But I’ve been editing. Namely I’ve been working on polishing the teaser trailer for MR CLEAN, working our excellent composer Flora Cheng, our talented sound mixer / designer Luca De Sensi, on getting the sound mix just right, struggling to get Darwin’s After Effects animations working in FCP X and then rebuilding them all the way I wanted them in Motion instead and trying my hand at colour grading – and no I am not a colour grader! But hopefully, soon, I can release the MR CLEAN teaser trailer and resume editing on the film.

I have been editing the short film of MR CLEAN as well, of course, but I’ve been facing some technical challenges, including a failing keyboard on my Macbook Pro, which resulted in the machine being taken into the shop for a replacement – which if you don’t know, is a major piece of work! And it left me with no option for editing for 2 weeks. That and a stress-related illness has meant for a fun summer I can tell you. lol. The self-imposed countdown to a premiere is approaching. We’re hoping to screen MR CLEAN on Halloween. So every minute counts. There are some VFX in progress, thanks to Albin Larsson – so I can’t wait to see them and share them with you.

But the main battle I’ve been facing is pushing on, despite doubting whether the film will even be any good? Will it be worth it? The fact that a film takes longer than you expect to produce seems to add more and more weight and expectation to the fact that it was shot as a bit of fun, to give me something to do – and has instead become a veritable burden. It is a challenge. I must complete it. But in no way is this fun. This is war.

Anyway, enough. Back to it. Mush!

Sometimes you need to step away…

Sometimes you just have to step away from the computer. 

Seriously. I will explain:

On Sunday, I’d worked hard creating a layered graphic in GIMP (the free graphics tool), and imported a .PSD file into FCP X – my video editing programme – to edit the end title card of the teaser trailer – the bit that just says ‘coming soon’….. It was a copy of the intro title card, with some slightly different wording. Exactly the same as the Intro Title card in design / no settings changed. 

I imported it into FCP X and it came out blank. All the layers were black. There was no visible workable data. Even changing the file name and reimporting or trawling GIMP and FCP message boards didn’t help. In the end I just gave up.

I sat before the same computer this afternoon, and I was planning to recreate the same title card, to find a workaround, but figure that before I do that I will give it one last go. And… It worked first.f@cking.time! WTF!

I’m kind of Hapgry… or Angpy… not sure what is the best combination of the two emotions in one word. Happy that it now works, but angry that something that should have worked first time did not and all that has changed is that I have not had time to tackle it again since Sunday!

But if you want to know why editing can take so damn long some times, hopefully the above clears a few things up. But maybe life was just telling me to step the hell away for a bit and do something else for a while.

If you google the issue – in the past it seems that this was caused by people doing 16-bit graphics, and changing to 8-bit fixed it. And of course previous FCP X updates addressed this issue with PSD files not displaying correctly. But what do we do when FPC X doesn’t play well with perfectly good files? What do we do when a reboot won’t fix it? What do we do when we’re up against an urgent edit timeline and nothing logical seems to fix it? – Personally I don’t like those stakes. But it’s something that should be considered if you’re ever working with layered graphic files in your edit.

Anyway, now the edit of MR CLEAN can continue…..

Transcoding DSLR footage and Radial Dolly

Great article video on using FCP Studio’s Compressor app to Transcode footage for your editing workflow. Obviously the same principles apply to working with iPhone 4 footage etc.

The article: http://filmmakeriq.com/2010/01/the-dslr-filmmakers-workflow/ – and check out all the other articles on the site. There’s some really useful material on there.

The video:

Here’s a great example of what can be shot on the 550D – if you know how – and combined with CG to create a stunning final product:

The 3rd Letter (aka “36 stairs”) trailer from grzegorz jonkajtys on Vimeo.

Nice.

Here’s another great video to show the kind of audio setup you can use to record separate audio and when to use software like Plural Eyes to sync it up later on your timeline for post:

How-to: Shooting ENG style with Dual System Audio on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II from Createasphere on Vimeo.

Yes, my brief encounter with a Canon 550D DSLR has inspired me. I am geeking out on the kind of footage that can be acquired. Especially when you factor in this cunning design for a tabletop Radial / Micro Dolly!

here’s the video to show you how they made it, with example footage:

Of iPhone 4 film shoots and more

Zombie Mints - Litter

Yes, I’ve been a busy film geek of late. Not only have we attempted to shoot a short film entirely on the iPhone 4, but I’ve been getting to grips with FCP Studio and learning how to edit the footage; as I am sick of trying to do it in the totally unintuitive and limited iMovie 09 or iMovie app.

It has not been the easiest of times. But as with each of my shoots I have learnt from it.

The main objective was to shoot a spoof commercial / short horror comedy film in 1 day, with mainly found objects / objects I already had, amateur actors, natural light and do it all on the iPhone 4 – and for £50 including food. It did not go to plan.

The End result – was shot in 4 hours, on the iPhone 4, is not edited on it though as that was doing my frickin’ head in, features the usage of one red head light as the weather was not with us on the day, I had to buy makeup and marigolds as props. Total budget – including feeding the crew was about £60.

Firstly, always check your makeup prior to prepping your shoot. I found that the latex and powdered makeup I intended to use for my zombie makeup had gone off, since I bought it after a special FX course that I took. Cue hurried calls and a mad dash by one of the crew to go and pick up some replacement makeup; only to find that it was vastly substandard, but by then we had to crack on and make a go of it. Not ideal. Periodically check your makeup, just like you would any piece of equipment.

Secondly, I must say that if you’re going to attempt to shoot anything meaningful featuring actors, that requires intricate zooms or moving the camera, don’t bother using the iPhone 4 unless you really want to keep retaking your shots to get them right. It’s difficult enough to shoot anything with actors and enabling them to hit their marks without having to ensure that you capture the shot. All it takes is the focus to suddenly become unresponsive or a slight knock to the camera itself or the tripod you’re using and the shot is ruined. This happened often. It’s fine if the shoot is simple or just shooting live action as it happens – after all that it what it was designed for.

I have noticed also that the compressed format of the iPhone 4 AVCHD footage doesn’t hold up well in blocks of colour, especially on blacks of shadows. It often looks blocky or patchy, even when the scene has plenty of light. My main actor brought a Canon 550D and I have heard amazing things about the video capability of this camera. If he had known how to use it and I could have quickly learned, I would have been sorely tempted to ditch the iPhone and do it right. However, the object was to have a fun shoot, using the iPhone 4 and not falling back to any of my other cameras – not even the fully charged Semi Pro DV cam I had upstairs; no matter how tempting it was!

Zombie Karl

The real point of contention for me has been the edit. iMovie just doesn’t cut it as an editing app, not when you’re shooting multiple viewpoints / angles and intercutting them. A 30 second sequence took me 4 times longer to edit in iMovie and it was far from polished at the rough cut stage compared to the same edit in FCP. That is the point though isn’t it. Although you may want to shoot a fun movie – fun is relative and if you approach it with a Semi Pro sensibility then you must use Semi Pro tools.

But the iPhone 4 footage is still relatively new. Few programmes automatically come with the codecs / settings as standard, so I found that FCP did not have suitable setting for me to use, which would retain the audio on the timeline. That is, until I stumbled across the article “Topic : Iphone4 video to Final Cut pro – giving away a droplet to help you out.” – which came with a link to download a droplet. This droplet converted over 62 clips in an hour – into better quality ProRes 422 LT footage that FCP could understand and could play back the audio. Nice! Thanks Jeff Greenberg!

Anyway, it will be while yet before the finished movie is ready for derision and mockery. But I am in the middle of editing it right now, and must stop procastinating. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.

Colour correction – film looks

Rich at AE Portal News posted a great vidcast by Stu Maschwitz (Author of DV REBEL’S TOOLKIT now Creative Director at Red Giant), showing how you can achieve the same film looks of current blockbuster movies (TERMINATOR 4, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 remake etc) by using Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista in After Effects CS4. Check out the vid here: http://vimeo.com/5298634

Within the video there is also mention of this new tool from Adobe called KULER –  where you can explore, create and share clour themes. A perfect tool for all your colour grading needs!