Sunday, October 9, 2011


I can't count the number of filmmakers who have asked me "why doesn't my exported image look like the one I shot?" Getting that question from my students is not only expected but encouraged. Getting it from people who've been making movies for five years or more is a bit discouraging.

Anyway, here's why your image doesn't look right: it's called workflow.

Before you go into production on anything, start with a camera test using the EXACT camera you will use in production (I'm assuming an HD shoot for the rest of this post). Write down your settings for resolution, frame rate, etc. All of them. Write them down. With a pen.

Shoot something simple then get those images into your editing system. That system will need to know the settings at which you shot. Go get that pen and paper thing with your settings and use those to set up your timeline for editing.

Put your footage on a timeline and export it using the exact same settings at which you shot. Same ones. Exactly. Take that high-res export and put it on a Blu-ray disc. Get that Blu-ray projected onto a screen. That image should look exactly like the one you shot (if it doesn't, you may want to check the projector. Otherwise, it should look exactly like what you shot).

Now, if you want differences (color correction, changes in resolution or frame rate for effect, etc.), you can test that, too. The idea is to get the image you want on the screen from a test. Then, duplicate that testing scenario in production.

Remember, your settings in production rule the day. Every adjustment you make subsequently should be derived from those settings.

To avoid future mishaps with image quality, simply hire people who know this process forward and backward. You might be the creative force behind the project, but that doesn't mean you know the equipment. There's no shame in letting a collaborator be the expert on the technology, especially if it gets you the image quality you want.

A Good Read on the Lincoln Center Filmmaker Conference

Donal Foreman's piece on the Filmmaker Conference at Independent Film Week, sponsored by IFP, has a healthy dose of skepticism on what has largely been taken as gospel to this point on the "truly free" independent film paradigm.

Foreman doesn't simply lay down his own take. Instead, he takes elements from a number of viewpoints including prominent filmmakers and new age-ish indie film gurus. The amalgamation ultimately demonstrates how this industry is nowhere near a galvanized model of "truly free" independent film or whatever else it is to be called.

So, the quest for the new model of independent film continues.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't Ask. Seriously, Don't Ask.

The most common question I am asked by student filmmakers is "how will I support myself while trying to become a filmmaker?" And I give the same answer every time: if you are worried more about paying bills than making films, you will become a bill-payer before you'll ever become a filmmaker.

Filmmakers worry about making films and somehow their bills get paid. They take day jobs as waiters or pizza deliverymen or teachers or anything at all so they can focus on making movies. Their bills get paid but, ultimately, they don't care how they get paid. Because they're too damn worried about making the next movie.

Your priorities will dictate your future to a significant degree. If you really want to be a filmmaker, you have to make it first priority. Trust me, somehow your bills will get paid.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Grass Really is Green

If you ever have the urge to ask a filmmaker how she got her feature financed, don't.

Here's why:

1) She doesn't want to divulge a resource thereby possibly diluting it. In other words, get your hands out of her pocketbook. And who can blame her?

2) If it's her first film, chances are very, very good that the money came from family and friends or acquaintances thereof.
If you're worried about financing your first project, chances are great that, if ever funded at all, it will be funded by people who know and love you and will support you because you're you.

3) If it's not her first, chances are her previous successes attracted private equity investment. The best way to get another movie financed is to have the previous project get acquired by a distributor and show a little bit of a return. Or maybe win some awards.

4) It doesn't matter to your project. At all. No two movies are financed alike (other than the family and friends route) and your project will probably be no exception.

It sucks but there is no magic equation for getting financing. So, instead of asking where she got her money, ask her who did the amazing sound editing. Because great sound editors (on a low budget) are almost as hard to find as financing.

And I bet she'll be happy to answer that question.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chapman Hires Marketing Head

Recently my alma mater, Chapman University, announced it was launching a studio that would produce 5-10 "micro-budget" (I still hate that term) features a year. "Yay" for them and "yay" for small movies (I don't really like that term either)!


They just hired a marketing head from Warner Brothers. I have no particular distaste for this person (who I don't know) or Warner Brothers (in general). I do not, however, have much confidence in this move. How has the studio system ever demonstrated a full understanding of truly independent (I like this term a little more) filmmaking and its audience?

"Paranormal Activity" you say. Sure, name the one exception. And even in that case, what the studio had to sell was genre and they do that all the time. Genre films from studio divisions have rarely relied on star power. Generally, fans of thrillers want to see thrillers, fans of horror want to see horror, etc.

But has a studio ever tried to sell something like "The Exiles"? "Putty Hill"? "Killer of Sheep"? Have they ever tried to sell something with no star power, an original concept told by a unique, perhaps even new, voice?

Hell. No.

This move tells me the micro-budgets my beloved Chapman will produce will all or mostly be genre pieces and very little envelope pushing will be afforded. It doesn't mean great movies can't or won't be made, but it does reduce the chances.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thank You Los Angeles

Thank you to everyone who made our screening at the Downtown Independent a huge success. I would especially like to thank the great people at Film Courage who hosted the screening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

California Love

The Los Angeles premiere of south loop is Monday, May 30th at 7pm at the Downtown Independent.

Actor/Producer Juan Ramirez will be there for a probing, detailed Q&A after the screening. Make sure to ask him about taking his pants off in between takes.

And he'll be selling DVDs. Of south loop.