Friday, October 29, 2010


I got a complaint from our distributor that I've been sending him USB drives when they're so dang slow. I don't think they're that bad -- an 80 gig file seems to take about an hour to transfer. But he wants Firewire 800. So eventually I'll get some Firewire 800 portable drives.

But that's not the weird thing I've found.

We've shot two features with the Panasonic GH1 camera, transferring the footage to ProRes422 "SQ" ("standard quality") using the Neoscene software. The first movie (Day 2) we did with a stock GH1. The second one ("Earthkiller") was with a cracked camera with a 30Mb/s data rate.

Now, when we first did sync tests and the like, we found we could edit just the way we always had. I've been using USB2 drives to edit HD movies. You're not supposed to but that's what we've been doing and it works (and the USB drives are cheaper.)

For some reason we simply could not edit Day 2 without playback stuttering and hiccuping on a USB 2 drive. I had to order a more expensive Firewire 800 drive. And (knock on wood) it's performed just fine and flawlessly. My buddy Mitchell, who has edited dozens of projects from his GH1 (transferred via Neoscene to ProRes422) thought that going to Firewire 800 was just nuts -- he'd never had to do it.

Robin Kurtz as Helen in Earthkiller
But then one day he had a project which simply would not play back smoothly from his USB drives. Just the one project mind you.

And our movie Earthkiller doesn't seem (again, knock on wood) to have any problems at all playing back from a USB drive. Remember, this was the movie which started out at a higher bandwidth.

So yeah. Who knows? Just some ghosts in the Pandora Machine.
Giant among men, Ian Hubert publishes a tutorial on lighting for outer space in Blender. The "sun" lamp with some ambient lighting is the trick. The man knows how to light in 3D.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And Other Things

The Asylum explains why they title their movies with numbers. They're not kidding. That's why our movies have names that begin with "Alien", "Android", etc. Or at least they will with greater propensity.

Video Copilot is giving away a free stock pack of movies for you to composite with.

Ian Hubert is building our space station for Earthkiller.


I screwed up. Maybe not "big time" but not "small time". I'd say "medium time".
I did everything -- got all the visual effects uploaded we needed to get up. Shot all the stills we needed. Dotted "i's" and crossed the "t's". But...
I forgot to make the screener master for Day 2. And the screeners are the things which will make the buyers go from "What have you got there?" to "OK, we'll buy it."
So the priority of getting those screeners made is pretty high. Especially if my kids cats want to have Christmas this year. The screeners are the things which actually make the sales. So I'm on it. Rendering now.
In the meantime here's another un-color-corrected picture of Tina.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tina Tanzer in the Avengers

We shot many and multivarious stills of Tina Tanzer today, for use with key art. You know it's really all about the Facebook.
The structure on the dress she wore is amazing. I know, I spend the whole day shooting a beautiful woman and all I can talk about is the structure of her dress.

Holographic Dead Sister

Robin Kurtz and Lucy Rayner as Helen and Raze in Earthkiller.

Lucy Rayner as Raze.
Today we had to shoot the lovely Tina Tanzer for to be the holographic dead sister of the character Raze (played by Lucy Rayner). Maduka thoughtfully sent us these reference stills (because the scene was shot in two parts with a greenscreen) and we looked at these pictures... er... after we shot the other side of the scene.

So these are the unused reference images for the scene. Tina will be "in" the greenscreen (which otherwise is an image of the earth below them). Robin Kurtz as Helen is also in this scene.
Oh, and in battery news the big Sony NP-F960's are both dead. One won't take a charge and one acts like it isn't charged even when the charger says it's charged. We use those on the Sound Devices 702 recorder. I don't know what the issue is. Looks like I'll have to blow a hundred bucks in replacing at least one of the batteries.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Has Over 3000 Views?

Bill Cunningham, the man on the cutting edge, pointed out that Maverick (the North American distributor for Alien Uprising) has posted the entire movie on YouTube. Watch for free!
The comments there are exactly what you'd expect from YouTube.

Hungry Zombies and Crashing Shuttles

Hungry zombies eat David Ian Lee while a space shuttle lines up to crash into the Earthkiller station.

Watch Clonehunter Online

Well it turns out there are other places to download Clonehunter. But those sites are illegal! You don't want to do that. You want to watch instantly on Amazon!

Steal Clonehunter (No wait! Video on Demand!)

Oh look, Clonehunter is available on illegal bit torrent! I'd advise not trying to download it though, who knows what kind of yukky virus your computer will get?

I suppose someone should send a takedown notice. How is this movie at 23.98fps? The original files were that bit rate but the only way anyone would have had access was via a DVD of the picture (which was 29.97). Did the movie get RE-converted to 23.98?

Actually, I can't even download the movie. I can't figure out where the link is. And, well, I don't really care.
That's not what's important. The important thing is that now the movie is available as video-on-demand from Amazon! Wahoo!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This is Why I Have a Blog

Yes, this is why I have a blog. So that my friends can tell me about things like this (see comments on previous post).

Here is the key art out rep will be using at this year's American Film Market in order to sell Earthkiller.

Did I have a half-dozen back and forths in email with my distributor over the last two days about a variety of topics about the marketing of these two pictures (Earthkiller and Day 2)? Did any of those emails coming from my rep include the words "we have the provisional artwork up on our site for Earthkiller"?

Nope. But luckily Joe had my back and sent me (via comments in post below) to my own distributor's site to find this piece of artwork. Ha!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Title Unknown

Maduka Steady as Mach in Earthkiller.

Yes, those are the dreamy bedroom eyes of Maduka nee Henry Steady. The actor and the editor/vfx supervisor.
Today we spent $79 at FedEx getting a hard drive overnight to Beverly Hills from New York City so that the trailer editor would actually have material to edit. To which I say hoo with a waa in front of it.
Doing a big ol' render in Blender 3D now. Some of the frames in this 250-frame sequence take 12 minutes a piece. Others are shorter -- like 6 minutes. But there's a LOT of movement (and the resultant motion blur) for each frame to render so hopefully it'll all be nice and dynamic and interesting looking by the time we're done.

Better Earthkiller Morgan

You know who's better than I am about publicity? Project London, that's who. Look at how many followers they have! I can't wait to see the movie.
I have an Earthwar question:
When his wife turns to him and tells him "I'm so hungry" should we jump-cut to her attacking him, jump-cut to her tied in a chair, jump-cut to outside the building and we see a flash of light and the report of a blaster set to Full?
Or does Morgan show up and restrain her?
It'll determine how we go merrily into act III. And yes, another movie with a dead wife in it. She isn't holographic this time.
I suspect there's too much stuff in this movie. We might get rid of the Android. Heck, we might get rid of the witch and just make her a soldier. Or the other way around. Or both. Simplify simplify. We're keeping the digital cat though...


The Earthkiller Station is being built by the always amazing Ian Hubert.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Today is Stupid Day

Today is a day where I'm making up for things I should have thought through before. "Thought through" looks like a typo, doesn't it?

I'm just going to put Guilliaume Seignac pictures wherever I want.
In any case, I have to get the footage to Earthkiller to my overseas distributor so that his trailer editor can get a trailer cut before the American Film Market (which is less than two weeks from now so the distributor is understandably anxious to get the footage). My stupid is that I just looked this morning and discovered that the camera footage, converted to ProRes Quicktime movies, is over 600GB. And I don't have a portable drive that's that big. So I went and splurged on a 1TB rugged drive for $115 at J&R.

But that isn't the big decision made today based on me not thinking through something I shoulda thought through many months ago. No, rather this is what happened: I was mixing the first act of Day 2 and realized that "OMG!!!11 Dis Iz BORINGZ!" We have to get into the action of the picture faster than we do. But we need that long scene where we open the movie and we need the sequence where our heroine walks through the empty streets of Brooklyn.

So what do we do?

We insert a new first shot into the picture! Wide on the planet Earth, a GIANT EVIL SPACESHIP enters the frame. Two more ships enter right and left. The invasion has begun.

Yes, we're going to add a 10-second visual effects shot right at the top of the movie. I'm rendering it right now using the Whirleydoomer model (one of the big wheel-like robots). Which, you know, kinda makes sense because where else did those things come from anyway?

So we're sending finished shots for Day 2 as well as a couple visual effects shots for Earthkiller to our distributor's FTP site and you just know that the new trailers are going to have some of the two movies mixed up, right? ;-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The guys at Figure 53, the brilliant company which brought us Qlab for playing back sound effects in theater, made a program called Streamers which exports... well... streamers for ADR and composers.

A still from Clonehunter.
Using streamers is kind of old-fashioned but there's a lot of merit to the method, especially if you're already used to working with them. That's so not the way I tend to work though. We tend to not even do ADR -- we will just match up other dialog takes or dialog takes we do in the field as "radio versions" of scenes instead of having actors come in and doing the dialog in the studio.
If we did do ADR, streamers might be nice.
And if you're recording with an orchestra and no click track, streamers are also the way to go.
But I don't even do audio on a Mac so I'm out of the loop anyway.

[Am on page 62 of Earthwar.]

What I have learnt

What have I learned from watching Caprica on Hulu?

Don't put the mind of a petulant teenage girl into the combat chassis of a military robot.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Answers about Writing

A writer asked about my "pool" of writers. Here was my semi-lucid response:

The best writer in my "writer's pool", I'm afraid to say, is me. And I'm not the best because I'm the best at writing or have even the most experience writing screenplays -- I've just done a number of them, very quickly, and produced them, so I tend to know what works. And I'm able to do it quickly.

Did I mention the "quickly" part?

Our last movie, Day 2, I wrote entirely. The movie we're doing now was re-written from page one (although ironically contains more of the older versions of the script the same writer who had handed in). The movie before that had an extensive rewrite done by me. I'm a very good re-writer. I'm the rewriter you want on your script.

I'm also an almost religious follower of Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" books and especially the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The one place in writing where I fall down is in story structure. That's most writer's problem too. Blake Snyder fixes that problem. Almost any other problem can be fixed on-set (although it's better to fix beforehand).

We need creature features and big monsters. That's what everyone has been clamoring for.

What I specialize in is science fiction -- usually with a big political subtext.

The sign outside the writer's room.
What I don't like about what we do now is the relative slowness of writing. We really need to find ourselves in a position where we can have a finished, polished, screenplay in 30 days. I can do maybe 60 days now, but it's gotta get down to 30.

And just to publicly shame myself I'm on page 52 of the Earthwar script.

Arthur is Tired of Yowling

This is the third version of him. Ian Hubert correctly pointed out that the light behind him didn't raytrace. That's because it was a "hemi" light in Blender. So I added another light which did raytrace (hemis don't for whatever reason). I like the look of the hemi light so I didn't just change it to another source. I just turned it down a bit and added a sun.
Arthur goes "Aargh!"

0801 63.60 v3 from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Making a Business Plan part 9 (I think it's 9)

Hi. I don't really know what I'm talking about but I write stuff in my blog. And as much as I'd like to use some real numbers I just don't know them. I've been going over and over the numbers and working out just what makes sense for us and figuring out a sustainable business plan (which may, in fact, be impossible -- all business plans have to be in flux). And I've come to the following non/half/part-conclusions:

SyFy. It would be nice to be one of their approved producers. It ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Sure, we could blow a couple hundred thousand dollars (of, er, somebody's money) on making two or three movies with some name talent and a giant dino-cobra. "Cobrasaurus", I suppose. And if we could then sell a couple of those movies to SyFy for, what? $35,000 each? And then hope that they like the pictures so much that they decide to let us produce Cobrasaurus IV and V. So we're only at a loss of maybe a hundred thousand dollars or so and we have a chance at maybe getting a deal to produce for one network.

Egads! That's a lousy business plan.

The problem is that I've yet to see a better one.

OK, so what else do we do?

Well, we can keep plodding along.

I mean it's not like we're not going to make movies. So maybe just making some more movies is what we need to do 'till somebody figures out (or lucks into) how we can make money at it.

But here's the thing: that's not a Debbie Downer concept. Plodding along and continuing to do work is a business plan. Sure, at any moment we could just say "This is too hard, forget it". Because having a business is very hard. Running (for instance) a theater is hard. Running a fabricating shop is hard. Gee whiz, life is hard! ;-)

But we're still alive when many companies aren't and so we'll just keep making movies better and better. There's no real magic golden-egg-laying goose that we'll stumble upon. Or at least we won't rely on stumbling upon one. We'll just keep on making movies that don't suck and we'll cut more corners and make them cheaper and be nice to the boom operator and everyone will have fun.


That means I gotta get back to writing this screenplay.

Here's Arthur again. There's a mistake in the animation. Oops. But overall I like the composite.

Arthur Yowls Again from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.

Very important science-fiction news

Maria De Aragon played Greedo.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yowling Robots

Dig Edward Jay Epstein's blog:

The deal-breaking issue for these strategists is not the intrinsic merits of the film but whether it contains the necessary elements to attract a target audience in seven-days of intensive30-second ads on TV programs leading up to its opening weekend.

Arthur Yowls from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.

Here's a test video of Arthur as he yowls at Helen in Earthkiller.We're playing around with the gamma and with various kinds of occlusion -- just trying to get him to fit into the background. I think I'm going to make him open and then close his mouth in the final version (which is due to the trailer editor next week.)
Friday we'd planned to shoot at the Shore in order to fake a "desert" but we got rained out. And tomorrow (Sunday) we were supposed to shoot the sequences inside the Earthkiller gun itself but logistically it just didn't pan out. So we're rescheduling both those dates.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Robots All Around

Nat Cassidy, Danielle Quisenberry, Tina Tanzer, Tom Rowen, David Ian Lee, in Day 2.
No need to fake it.

Here's a still from this big shot Maduka has been working on so hard. It's a hand-held shot and we have moire which is (I think) responsible for preventing us from getting nice automated tracking points off the corners of buildings. So it's being done by hand. Egads!

Picture-Taking Day

Robin Kurtz as Helen in Earthkiller.
Today we took pictures of Robin Kurtz. Remember when our distributor sent us pictures he wanted us to emulate? Well we did those and more.

We shot against the bluescreen in my apartment (no household is complete without its own screen to key against). Then we went out for Filipino bread! Whee!

Now I have 3 gigs of pictures (including RAW) and am making selects and uploading. I'll put some more up here.

Note that this particular shot is de-saturated and the curves did a little "S" in Gimp.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Overthinking It/ Popularity / Pictures

Overthinkingit looks at female characters.
The lovely Betty Ouyang, who was in the movie Pandora Machine and now lives in California, made a movie called POP-U-larity. The trailer is pretty funny. And Betty is great. She's just great in general.
Hey, you know that the American Film Market is coming next month? That means that I'm going to be getting yelled at by distributors. Constantly. There will be all kinds of things they need RIGHT NOW. Things I hadn't ever guessed at. First up: photo session with Tina Tanzer on Thursday so they can have more pictures for key art.
I assure you there will be many other last-minute "WE NEED THIS RIGHT NOW" things coming.


We need stills for the new key art for Day 2. So we'll shoot 'em. Here's what the artist wants us to get. We'll shoot similar poses from similar angles in front of a bluescreen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I've been watching a bunch of stuff on Hulu of late. And doing so, I'm wearing headphones. And wearing headphones means I can hear all the clothing rustle on body-mics which used to drive me absolutely bonkers back when I was a production sound mixer.
The funny thing is, the people who complain the most about body mics are the production sound mixers (and the poor boom operators who are frequently responsible for placing them). Dialog editors, on a show where they sound crew really fought to keep the clothing noise from being a problem, don't have so much a problem with them. And honestly it's fairly easy to mix body-mics.

But of course, production sound mixers, boom operators, and, well, me watching on Hulu, are pretty much the only times a pro listens to body mics on headphones.

Now on set it's very very difficult to get body mics to be hidden on a person and pick up their dialog nicely and otherwise not rub against any clothing. With women wearing bras my first choice is to put the mic on the inside of the bra right at the "cross your heart" part dead in the center of the bra. Normally that part of the bra does not actually touch skin and is not rubbing against whatever the actress is wearing.
Men, on the other hand, are frequently nightmares. I asked a semi-famous actor once what the sound team on his TV show did with him when his costume was just a T-shirt. He told me that the sound guy would send him back to wardrobe and insist they put a sleeveless undershirt below the T-shirt. Of course, if your character is only wearing a "wife-beater" then you can just forget it. You're taping the mic directly to a piece of moleskin which is on his skin and you're hoping it doesn't show through the shirt.
For the last few years I've all but given up on wireless lavs on Pandora Machine shows. We've used them maybe... twice(?) on Day 2.
Back in the day Sebastian was the king of micing men. I have no idea what he did. A couple pieces of tape and the mic would sound great -- no rubbing on shirts, jackets, ties. And Alexandra was great with women. But ultimately nowadays all Pandora Machine pictures are done primarily with an Oktava hypercardioid mic about 18" from the actors' mouths. Directly into a Sound Devices 702 mixer. And the dialog is easy and great. No muss, no fuss.

What Are We Doing? I mean now...

We have acts 1-7 on Day 2 locked. Which means I do the mix of act 1 over the next two days and then beg our distributor for a few more days to get the rendered picture out to him in California so he can re-edit the trailer.
We have this awesome shot where our gang is surrounded by giant robots. The shots look fantastic but somebody thought it would be a good idea to shoot them hand-held and let me tell you the tracking on those shots is simply... crazytime.
I have no idea why it's so freakin' hard to nail the tracking. Maduka has taken to going in and doing the tracking by hand. Frame-by-frame. There are a number of good long and held moments where the robots are just locked in 3D space, they totally look like they're in the practical background. And then there's a couple seconds here and there where their mattes "bounce" a bit for seemingly no reason. Nope. I got no idea how they/why they do that. But when it works it works and you just know those shots are going in the new trailer.
On Earthkiller it's time to animate some robots. Dinosaur-robots. Evil, evil, dinosaur-robots. They brutally murder David Ian Lee (a long-time fantasy of mine), and also take a bite out of Katie Hannigan's arm (again, a long-time fantasy). And then an unmanned shuttle crashes into the dinosaurs, Katie, and David, causing a fireball which ends up blowing a wormhole through time. It's based on a true story.
Our distributor wants an assembly edit of Earthkiller in what, two weeks? We don't do assembly edits. When Maduka finishes an edit it's pretty much a final edit. I make maybe a dozen tweaks every 10 minutes, the producer gives about 60 notes on a punch-list for sound and picture (which we divide into 1. "we can do this", 2. "we can do this if we have time", and 3. "this change isn't going to happen") and then we send the movie to the lab.

So I don't know what we're doing about the assembly. We'll have... something for him.
The brilliant director Chance Shirley stopped by the studio today. If I were half as good a director as him I'd be so full of myself I'd just be impossible to be around. Hmm... maybe I already am. In any case, his amazing movie Interplanetary comes out on the Ides of March baby! I will be the first one to order that movie on both Amazon and Best Buy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Not To Do

This article well, it gives you sentences like this:

If you are willing to step forward to build and lead a group of interested individuals who have not been mobilized or you are willing to identify and connect with already established groups and make quality content only for them, you will sustain.

WTF does that mean?

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

OK, anytime anyone uses the words "monetize effectively" just run away. Preferably screaming. That way we can all know we should be running too.

Here's the deal right now. If you're lucky someone will give you five thousand dollars up-front to distribute your movie in North America. But you are a lucky boy when that happens for your under $100K budgeted picture. But what they (your distributor) needs is to do is get a Blockbuster deal so they can actually make some cash. 'Cause lord knows they're not getting anything out of a Best Buy deal. And good luck with any of that if you don't have name talent in your movie. Which means that for a non-theatrical direct-to-DVD? Good luck making a $100,000 on a movie which cost you $20Million to $40Million.

Most video-on-demand will (again, if you're very lucky) pay between $1200 and $2400 for, like, 8 months of exclusive VOD (that's talking about Netflix and the like.)

Overseas? If you bring in a gross of about $40,000 (out of which you're paying your sales rep) you're doing good, man. Really good. And that's over a 36-month period.

 Alien Uprising's Kumiko and Ben
Maybe you got some sweet output deals for overseas TV -- maybe then you're talking another $100K. Maybe you got a sweetheart deal with a cable station for what... $75K (at best)? But with that deal you may be able to get a Blockbuster deal -- best case there you'll be walking away with $100K after a couple years because of the cable-tv attention you got. But in reality your $40,000,000 (forty MILLION dollar) picture is going to bring in between $100K and $200K.

There. This is how you "monitize" effectively:

Spend less than $10,000 in cash
Make the movie in three months from script to final delivery elements
Make sure your visual effects are good and that there's an action scene every 10 minutes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movies made in Blender

Here's a 15-minute short directed by Colin Levy and created in Blender, called Sintel. We're using Blender almost exclusively as our 3D program nowadays. This short is not meant to be entirely photo-real, although there are certainly parts of it which are pretty photo-real.
The voice performances are very good and the sound mix is excellent.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Getting Arthur Ready

We're close to having this monster for Earthkiller. Ian Hubert has again knocked himself out and given us some design elements that I'd never have thought of in a million years myself. We're going to have at least three of these things eating actors all over the place.
Arthur is getting ready.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's like 24, but with vampires instead of terrorists

A Federal Special Agent on the Federal Bureau of the Supernatural, a trained "vampire killer" whose job it is to take out vampires before they claim innocent lives. Unless those vampires have licences to kill whatever members of society the State has deemed "expendable" in the secret agreement they have with the vampires among us.

Look. I'm just trying to come up with ideas here. Actually the "licences" idea might be one idea too many.

Real Numbers


Look, we're puffins. You wanted bunnies? Go to Australia.
There. That's a real and actual number. A whole positive integer. And is meaningless. I just typed it randomly. If you're in this exciting business which is making movies you've seen many numbers like the above one. With just as much meaning. Hey everybody! 678.387!


BS rules the industry. Malarky is standard operating procedure. Now with my personality it's the sort of thing which simply drives me close to insanity. I don't get why people are so insistent on privacy regarding actual numbers in the movie business. Or any business for that matter.

In fact, many contracts stipulate that you not say what any of the numbers are or any details about the finances of those contracts. I have no idea what everyone's afraid of. This whole thing where I talk about my business plan out-loud and on the internet: nobody does that. Why? No good reason.

For our binary friends, here's another random and meaningless number:

Alien Uprising so far worldwide made A. But then you also add North America (B) and that  =  C.
Clonehunter worldwide made D, plus North America (E, which we haven't actually got all of yet,) and that  = F.

Note that this is money which gets split into the two companies which made these movies. There's my company and my producer's company. We do that because of the complicated way that life is (taxes, fees, etc.) when you have LLC's with more than one member. So we each have an LLC with only one member.

And not until we break the $50,000 threshold do we begin to pay out revenue sharing with cast/crew/writers. We're actually surprisingly close to that threshold on Alien Uprising. But most of the major markets have been sold to on that picture so it still might not happen.

So... Blockbuster. Apparently you're looking at them paying $2 a unit up-front with a revenue share of 25% (meaning you have to rent out the title at $8 worth for them to start paying you more). And of course they're in Chapter 11 (not 13) so they can get out of a whole bunch of leases right now. If I know what I'm talking about (and since this blog post likely either has a picture of a bunny in it or is near a blog post with a picture of a bunny... well... you take your chances...) the leases they had on property was the biggest debit on their books. Some of their stores are profitable. I daresay that something close to most of their stores are profitable. Chapter 11 will get them out of unprofitable leases. It's very possible that (especially because they're on friendlier terms with the big studios than Netflix or Redbox) that they could turn around their business.

Still, you're looking at $2/unit up-front and that's only if they buy from you.

But overall everyone's saying the DVD market is collapsing. It may very well be.

Redbox is paying like $3.50 to $4.00 a unit. No returns. No revenue share.