Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eight Random Facts

I've been tagged by Stewie for a second time.

(1) Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
(2) People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules.
(3) At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
(4) Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

  1. I love to watch old black and white movies, but if I get too comfortable in my seat, I fall asleep nearly every time.

  2. I can't say I get teary watching chick flicks, but the end of Field of Dreams gets me.

  3. Three famous musicians whose songs I absolutely despise are Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, and John Mellencamp.

  4. I take long, very hot showers.

  5. I've studied eight martial arts, some for years, but I've never received a black belt. Two browns, though.

  6. Currently, my favorite TV show is Medium. Laugh it up, Stewie. :lol:

  7. My best friend for more than 20 years was murdered in 2005. I miss you, Harris.

  8. I used to eat spaghetti with ketchup. Got that nasty idea from my mother.


The following lucky folks are tagged: Rob, Joe, Rakesh, Andy, and Kelly. I don't get many regulars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NBC: Please Don't Cancel Journeyman!

According to Scifi wire, NBC let the deadline pass for ordering new episodes. That's a shame. Of all the new series this fall, many of which I enjoy, I really connected with Journeyman. I like the main character, Dan Vassar (Kevin McKidd), and the complex dynamic in which he finds himself.

When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be a Quantum Leap ripoff. It isn't. Sure, it has the same premise, a guy travels through time righting wrongs, but that's where the similarities end. Journeyman is edgier. Dan does have to fix some poor sap's life every week, but he also has to deal with his rocky marriage, and a brother (Reed Diamond), a police officer, who thinks he's off his rocker and into some bad stuff. To make matters worse, there's a whole subplot dealing with his ex-wife (Moon Bloodgood), who everyone though was dead, but is a time traveler herself.

Journeyman is filled with conflict, suspense, and some great acting--particularly from Gretchen Egolf, who plays Katie Vasser. I would much rather watch a great scifi-drama than crappy reality show.
So, NBC, please rethink your decision. Or at least let the Sci-fi channel pick it up.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review: The DV Rebel's Guide

dvrebelbook.jpg

The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap.

Author: Stu Maschwitz

Are you a DV Rebel? You might be if you know your way around a camera, NLE1, Adobe After Effects, or any of the million CG programs out there. Or perhaps you've made, or were involved in making, a short film or low-budget feature. If so, you are a DV Rebel--and the DV Rebel's Guide is just what you've been looking for to make your next project even better.

The Guide is for anyone with a passion for good filmmaking, and the drive to learn and improve the final product. As Maschwitz puts it:
"It's for anyone whose cinematic ambitions extend beyond the self-imposed restrictions of standard indie fare. If the story about which you are passionate involves exotic locations, visual spectacle, weather, Kung Fu, or any other stuff that makes movies better than plays, then welcome to the book that won't try to talk you off the ledge."

Just because you don't have a big budget doesn't mean you can't make the film you want. Maschwitz says he hopes some of what you read in the book will make you "throw down the book immediately and go try it out." He was right. In fact, I constantly found myself thinking, Yes! That's what I do, or Holy shit! I never thought of that.

Rather than limiting your film to one location, shying away from interesting shots, or avoiding special and visual effects like the plague, Maschwitz encourages you to trust yourself to make the film only you can make. And The Guide has the tools to help. Included in the arsenal he provides are: where to find affordable and convincing prop guns (and how to make them appear to be fired); how to effectively light your set with lights from your local hardware chain; and how to dolly, slide, and steady your camera for under $100. In return, he asks that you don't skimp on three things: The camera ("for the Rebel, HD is an option; 24p is a must.")2, a professional NLE, and Adobe After Effects. Four things if you include Photoshop.

Indeed Maschwitz's approach is "postproduction heavy," but that doesn't mean he advocates a fix-it-in-post style. In fact, it's the opposite. Postproduction begins during pre-production. The key to his approach is production value, "that nebulous quality that makes a film feel big." By using the resources at hand to their fullest, and acknowledging your limitations, you can make a film that appears you spent a lot more that you actually did. "[Y]ou won't be making Terminator 2 -- but if you stretch and strain and get really creative, maybe you can make The Terminator."

Also notable is Maschwitz's writing style. He addresses his audience as peers, in a friendly style that strives to motivate Rebels to make better films. He's indeed one of us, a Rebel. Barnes and Nobel is filled with filmmaking books that either dig so deep into a subject that it scares away most potential readers, or are so general you have to be a complete newbie to get anything from them3. But the DV Rebel's guide speaks directly to DV Rebels, and tells them exactly what they need to know about the craft. Sure, he could have written 300 more pages or separated the chapters into different volumes, completely dumping his brain onto paper, but that's not what The Guide is about. It's about getting out there to make films; not merely reading about it.

The book covers planning and storyboarding, shooting, effects, editing, and mastering--providing information essential to maximizing production value and keeping the recorded image as pristine as possible. Most of the chapter called Onlining4 digs deep into After Effects. The color correction section alone could make a newbie's head explode, but as a DV Rebel, I was exhilarated. I felt the book was written at my level of experience, filling many holes in my knowledge, but not spoon-feeding me stuff I already knew.

The Guide also comes with a companion DVD. The video portion has a short film called The Last Birthday Card that Maschwitz wrote and directed. It's a true Rebel project, and he uses clips as examples throughout the book. In addition to the film itself, there is a version with commentary, and an FX breakdown. The commentary is great. I do wish, however, that he included more in the FX breakdown. There were two major FX sequences in the film, a helicopter and a car crash, but the featurette only covers the helicopter shots.

Also included on the DVD are some Rebel tools for post-production. You'll find some nifty After Effects scripts, including a palette that will make you crave a cigarette when you're finished playing with it. OMG!

There are a couple of topics I wish he had expanded on further. Sound and lighting are, to me, the most neglected elements in low-budget films. Maschwitz does cover both of them, offering pointers, but I would have loved to see more detail on both. Of course, he admits he's no sound expert and doesn't want to come off sounding like one. I can accept that. And his pointers, dos and don'ts, are specific and direct in true Rebel fashion.

Lighting is covered in a little more detail, offering some great advice. But lighting is one aspect I feel needs more than just pointers; I feel the foundation should be laid out, even for Rebels. I've seen too many films where the lighting showed the DP's lack of experience. And nothing takes me out of a movie faster than when something doesn't look right.

But these are minor quibbles. I found The DV Rebel's Guide extremely informative in nearly every aspect of filmmaking. More than that, Maschwitz's love of the craft shines through on every page, which made me want to get out and make a great movie.

About the Author:


From the back cover: Stu Maschwitz is a commercial director and cofounder and CTO of The Orphanage, a San Francisco-based visual effects and film production company. Maschwitz spent five years as a visual effects artist at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and went on to create the award-winning Magic Bullet software, used in his 1999 short film The Last Birthday Card. Made with the very first DV camera for a budget of around $5000, Birthday Card shocked viewers with its high production value and killer effects.


Maschwits also publishes a blog called ProLost, and hosts a forum as a companion for the DV Rebel's Guide called The Rebel Cafe.

1 NLE stands for Non-linear editor. The most popular professional NLEs are Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Avid.

2 The Canon HV20 is the first consumer-level camera (under $1000) that shoots 24p (with some tweaking when capturing). It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of prosumer cameras, but it has become increasingly popular--and seriously pimped out. More about the HV20 in future posts.

3 There are a lot of other good books on filmmaking. But sometimes it gets frustrating to sift through the mediocrity to find a gem.

4 Onlining is a term I'd never heard until reading the book. Maschwitz defines it as: "...a noun and a verb that refers to the process of creating the final, high quality version of your film."

I'm a Semi-Finalist in Screenplay Festival

Two out of three ain't bad.

I was elated when I heard I placed in Red Inkworks. It takes a lot of work to write a feature-length screenplay, and I can't think of a better way to gage one's writing ability than becoming a finalist in a contest (other than an option deal, I guess). Plus, the feedback they offered was excellent.

And today Screenplay Festival announced their semi-finalists, and there I was in the Horror/Thriller category. Boy, that felt good. Of course there are about fifty screenplays in each genre, so the competition is pretty stiff, but I'm hopeful.

My plan is to enter one more contest with this script before possibly starting to query production companies and/or agents. Placing in two out of three contests has given me some confidence, and I feel the changes I've been making to the script have greatly improved it. So it seems the time is approaching (after the strike, of course) when I need to get out there and build some interest. I do, however, plan to research the dos and don'ts of querying before navigating those treacherous waters.

By the way, the final contest I plan to enter is the Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Its early deadline is Jan 1, and I should be finished tweaking by then. Bluecat is not only high profile, it offers coverage to all entrants, and a hefty cash prize.

Three out of four would be awesome!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Horror Writers Exorcise Studio Demons

WGA horror writers chime in with a genre-themed video about the strike. It's cute, and you get to see who wrote some of your favorite horror flicks.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/kl2f8Duqdyw" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]