Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 4 of Android Insurrection

We wrapped today at 9:01pm.
We shot MOP (mit out producer).
Only missed two scenes!
We're cutting so much dialog in this picture a fear has been expressed that we're going to have a 45-minute movie.
I've promised to put in a big dialog-heavy scene.

Nat Cassidy, Virginia Logan, Joe Chapman, Tom Rowen, Juanina Arias, and Jeff Wills all want to kill you.
Without a producer I tend to laugh and talk and not get much done. But Tom (!!!) and Libby would scowl at me when I wasn't shooting, so we stayed mostly on schedule.
We missed out on one scene because we felt we needed a bigger set for it. And another shot or two we're going to get tomorrow when our android feels like throwing a German-speaking sniper with goggles over her back.
Sarah-Doe Osborne as Yurra-1.
There was Chinese food. Oh and I got some pineapple-infused Skyy vodka. Which I of course had with pineapple.
Later on Joe brought out some orange juice and vodka.

Steambob Coming Along

There are two classes of robots in our Android Insurrection. One is the arachnidroid you've seen as the key art. And this here is the beginnings of the bipedal android -- the one that's used as the standard 'bot for almost everything else.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Our own Jeff Wills blogged about his experience so far making Android Insurrection. Anything good he has to say about us is of course lies brought on by a slight bout of Stockholm Syndrome. For instance he doesn't recall that he was actually attacked by a giant robot. Hopefully he'll keep those memories repressed.
Furthermore we're taking great delight in exploiting Jeff's skills as an acrobat to make him do fight choreography for us. And we've developed a new carry called the "robot carry" which you use when you need to carry a robot but want to look good while doing it.
Here Jeff Wills acts with a microphone on a boom.  
Please do not hit the robot's head on the door as you run through though.

The problem with Jeff Wills is his unrelenting and smoldering sexuality. You can't avoid it. Just look at the guy. He just oozes sex. It gets all over everything. We have to wash the set down after each take. I have to wear a damp towel over my head because I just get so hot and bothered.

I'll be in my bunk.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Me of Little Faith

I don't actually believe in shotgun microphones. Uh. That's actually a long and complicated subject.

Here's the thing: even the very best shotguns (and I'm talking Schoeps and to some degree Sanken here) sound somewhere between "meh" and "poopity" off-axis. When you get to editing dialog it's much easier to have a nice hypercardioid that sounds good off-axis (I'm talking Schoeps again, with the cheap exception of one of the good Oktava mics like we use.*)
So what do you get with a shotgun? Well you get less sound from off-axis. But that sound you do get sounds more yukkity. Will the airplane flying overhead be a bit quieter? Sure. But when you move the microphone from one character to another you'll get a little squonky "swish" sound.

The advantage to wireless lavaliere microphones is that they sound equally crappy all the time, so you don't have to worry about them getting "swishy". The biggest issue with lavs is that they're prone to clothing noise when you try to hide them under shirts. It's very difficult to not hear the damn mic rubbing against whatever jacket or jewelry the actor has on.

The main "Hollywood" boom mic is the Schoeps CMC6. They're good mics. They sound good indoors, outdoors, wherever-you-want. They're a bit sensitive to moisture, but that's probably just because like many "pencil" mics they have interchangeable capsules and a bit of schmutz can get in there if you keep removing the heads.

Now, I'll tell ya, I just looked up the price of those Schoeps and they're not as expensive as I thought they were. Less than a thousand bucks.

This is the Oktava you want. It's nigh on $300, which is a little less than 1/3 the price of the Schoeps. I've done tests on both mics. Off-axis I'd say they're both equally as even - sounding. In other words if you're turn the microphone just as someone starts a line you won't hear a "swish" in the sound of their dialog -- they'll just get a little louder as the microphone turns toward them. The Schoeps has a little "rise" in the upper mids which can sound "better" on a lot of voices, but ironically the Oktava is more "neutral" sounding. In either case, you're not going to immediately notice that one sounds "better" than the other.

*You need to buy from the Sound Room. They have the "good" Oktava mics. The difference is in the quality control -- the QC of the Oktava mics you get elsewhere can really suck.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Battle: NY, Day 2 artwork

The evolution of the name of this picture is a bit unusual. Our working title was "Day 2" and that came from Montserrat Mendez saying "Day 1; aliens take over the earth, Day 2; we take it back." That logline really stuck (and we have to thank Mozz for that.)
But then the Battle: LA movie came out and, well, clearly our movie is "Battle: NY". But I think "Battle: NY, Day 2" is even more amusing.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stacked against us

Welcome to the exciting world of low/no-budget world of independent filmmaking! Whee!
So, New York City is charging $300 for a permit application. At least they're still not charging for police and street closures. I love how all the people they interview are like "that's just a drop in the bucket". Yeah, for a multi-million dollar picture it is. But for a micro studio like us that's upwards of 5% of our budget.
Of course, the entire system is stacked against us. The big soundstages made sure the law giving filmmakers tax credits doesn't apply to productions that don't use their soundstages. Which, of course, we cannot afford.
So yeah, it's hard being a small business.
Oh, and on that same vein, we've discovered of late that cable VOD stations are insisting on closed-captioning of movies. For an outside company to do that for us, it looks like that'll be $900 to $1500 out-of-pocket money to get those done. Which economically makes the deliverable requirements of closed-captions  them simply absurd -- we can't make any money with VOD if we have to spend a thousand more dollars just to get them the movie. There's a slight chance we could figure out how to do this in-house, but I'm sure that 1. it'll take a long time to figure out and 2. we'll expend a lot of hours only to have to make a DigiBeta tape (hello 1995) and make a mistake on it somehow and we'll end up owing the VOD service more than we get paid.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Android Insurrection

The new art has been created.
And that's the overly-handsome Joe Chapman with his very own BFG. We couldn't show his face because his handsomeness would be all distracting.
This makes me think that maybe these big 'bots can fly. Or at least drop from the ceiling some some creepy spiders or something.
Ian Hubert designed the robot (yes, that's the actual robot in the movie).
I don't know exactly who did the art but Ray Haboush at Halcyon was in charge of it.
And yeah, I really wanna see this movie.


 Here are some creepazoidalicious pictures of props from Brian Schiavo's new movie Lifeform.
 Brian and Christine have been sculpting away like mad. Looks awesome.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Depth of Field

You know what I don't hear about anymore? Depth-of-field.

There was a time when distributors and buyers would complain about people shooting on video vs shooting on film because of the noticable difference in depth-of-field (in other words, how out-of-focus the background is) in 35mm. Shallower focus is "better".

And distributors and buyers could actually recognize that video "look" of an all-but-infinite depth of field caused by the tiny imagers the video cameras use(d). They prefer(ed) the look of 35mm where the subject is in focus and the background falls out of focus.

So then a whole bunch of companies like Letus made adapters so you could use 35mm still lenses with video cameras -- with similar depth-of-field results. Those things were clunky as all get out to use, but they looked great. The result was big portrait-like looks where the background and lights would get soft and bloom in a way that cinematographers (and buyers) liked.

And then Nikon and Canon and everyone and their grandmothers made DSLR's that had the same (or even larger) imagers than 35mm motion-picture cameras. And those cameras look even more awesome.

Here's a picture of Pushkin. Taken with an iPhone.
And the end result of all these advances? Nobody cares about shallow or deep focus anymore. Nobody cares if you shoot on a Red, or a four-thirds, a Canon 7D, or a Panavision with Kodak 500T. No buyer or distributor cares what you shoot on anymore. Sure, if you shot on a video camera from the late 1990's they might say "this looks like poo" but other than that, you can pretty much do what you want.

Which is good, because pulling focus is a major pain in my chops on set. Shooting with deeper depth-of-field makes the picture look a little more in-focus all around. I mean, even when I miss a focus mark, it's still in focus. And the slightly smaller four-thirds imager on our Panasonic GH1 (slightly larger than 16mm motion picture film) works out great for that.

Now we have the best of both worlds -- a nice balance between shallow depth-of-field and blowing focus all the time. It also means a lot fewer retakes. Just ask our actors how many times I have to do another take because I blow the focus. Probably no more than a half-dozen times a day. Right?

OK, maybe a dozen...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dual 6-core

So, it turns out that if you really want dual 6-core processors, you're still talking somewhere near $5000 if you go PC or Mac. But as PSA points out in the comments below, there's a lot of value in building a Hackintosh. The approximately $1000 hack-n-tosh described in that article is about the equivalent of a Quad-core Mac Pro.
But I want a whole lot more computer than that.
And, as it turns out, my theory that as the machines get much more expensive (like $5K expensive) the Macs and the PC's start to be about the same price (even if you build one on your own) seems to be correct.
I guess this is a bomb disposal suit but the helmet is awesome.
For five thousand bucks the computer sure as heck better last me five years.
But it does look like getting a Mac in the $5K range is about the same as getting a PC in the $5K range. With the advantage that the Mac will dual-boot (for the PC applications I use, running Windows in a "window" is probably not practical.)
But oof. I don't want to spend that kind of money.
Actually, all of this is academic. I don't have that kind of money.


According to our man in the field, Maduka Steady, the 12-core really is significantly faster than the 8-core we have. The fact is that the computer we'd end up getting would be about $6000. That's $500/month for a year, which is more than we pay on rent in our office.
So option B is to build a simple hackintosh for about a thousand bucks. Hoof. We've managed to get away with not having to buy a computer for at least 4 years now (we got the dual quad-core for Alien Uprising I think...) but we're just going to have to.

Stake Land

This is my buddy Jim Mickle's second feature.

I thought his Mulberry Street was pretty brilliant. And I was fortunate enough to get to see a work-in-progress cut of Stake Land (I actually took David Frey as my date -- man, I gotta get out more --). So I'm very excited to see Stake Land in the theater.

Remember, it's all about the first weekend. The picture plays on Friday through Sunday at the IFC in New York and then goes on to a limited theatrical run.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So, I screwed up

I was supposed to be finished with Earthkiller by now. And I'm not. And that puts our distributor behind for Cannes. And I feel bad.
We're working very hard on getting visual effects shots up on the server. But we're behind. And it's all my fault.

Sara-Doe Osborne and Virginia Logan in "Android Insurrection 3020 AD: The Fall of Man".
I've been told that I should be more proactive with forcing all our post-production people to communicate with me. Maybe each Monday and Friday will be "What have you done, what are you doing?" Day.
It's just that I feel like that jerkbucket producer who's always harassing the writers and the post-production people. Of course, that may simply be the producer's job. So now I'm gonna be that guy.

Now: everybody. Get back to work.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cost of Computers

Now, I suppose one could argue that working on computers is what we do here. So there's a good argument for having a top of the line machine at my desk, if only to keep me from yelling at it.
But really, a 12-core Mac is $5000? Somebody better pay me a lot of money for one of our movies then!
Here's my dilemma -- I need a second Mac for editing/compositing and I need a new PC because my PC's are dying. So a big option for us is to simply get a bad-ass Mac and run it dual-boot.
But then again, you can get a pretty bad-ass PC for about $2500.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Robowar 3010 AD: The Fall of Mankind

So we've been shooting shorter days than I was expecting. Yeah, we may have front-loaded the picture schedule with shorter days, but that's not entirely the case. I was expecting set building to take longer than it has. But few of the sets require much "special" stuff (like working ceilings you can crawl up into). So the builds have gone quicker than I estimated.
Also, because we're shooting in what I ostensibly think of as a looser and more "documentary" feel, I'm not doing as many retakes for focus issues.
Virginia Logan with her BFG and pleather pants. What more, exactly, do you want?
Are we getting all the dialog in closeups? Yup. Are we getting all the coverage? I think so. But, for instance, we only did 40 takes of picture yesterday. And no more than a dozen sound takes. We even did reshoots of a closeup from an earlier day.
But we're still finishing pretty early.
And that even includes a day like yesterday when we spent a considerable portion of the day doing something else entirely -- taking still photos for our sales rep to make the key art with. He (and his artist) had/have something very specific in mind so we were actually taking pictures early in the day, uploading them to his server, and getting notes at lunch time so we could shoot more stills to upload to him.
As we all know, actually making the movie isn't what's important. Delivering stills and properly formatted DM&E tracks is what's important.
It's critical that we get stills to our rep for this movie by the end of yesterday, and that we get as many visual effects shots for Earthkiller by Wednesday, and that we get visual effects and footage for this movie by next Tuesday, and we get screener DVD's of Day 2 to our North American rep by tomorrow.
So I can't really complain when I'm being harassed for our movies. Nope. Karma police will pick me up and gimme a ride downtown if I do that.
Sara-Doe Osborne as the lazer-sword wielding android Yurra-1.
And the one thing I've learned to be thankful for is how incredibly prepared our actors are. Even when we pull really jerktard moves like removing pages and pages of dialog just before we go to shoot. Everyone's really en pointe and it means the only time we have to cut in the middle of a take is my freakin' fault (usually because I "cut" rather than push the shutter button down halfway for autofocus.)

Joe Chapman as Hammermill with an EMP grenade in one hand and a BFG in the other.
It also helps that all our actors are gorgeous.
I don't know what he was referring to in a recent email, but Joe used the title "Robowar 3010 AD: The Fall of Mankind" which is basically the best title of any movie ever.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Awesome Libby Csulik

The awesome Libby Csulik shot some inserts of our art director Joe Chapman as Hammermill in Alien Robot Holocaust today. And, like I usually do, at the very top of the first take she snapped off a still instead of rolling. And here is that still.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your Things for Today

David Frey shows us the unpainted BFG that Moony parties with. We've had to move Sunday's shoot date, which makes everything easier on everyone.
David Frey rockin' the BFG. Hey ladies -- notice the wolf on the wall behind him!
SLAM is a circus place in Brooklyn.
Circus Warehouse is another place in... LIC?
Alex Epstein's TV writing FAQ.
Image Entertainment is releasing The Asylum's Mega Python. Which is... interesting.


Dialnorm is like a briefcase full of bunnies. 
You are having trouble with Dialnorm, aren't you? Yes. You are. You're mixing for TV broadcast and you have questions about these new silly standards. You say "why can't we just make sure our peaks don't go above 0dBfs and be done with it?" Silly girl, you can't do that.

So... dialnorm. The idea is that we want to have all the dialog levels be the same across all kinds of television programs and stations.

Here's a thread about it.
Dialnorm is just the averaged perceived loudness over the course of the program. Dolby later refined their measurement method with the "Dialogue Intelligence" algorithm, but every program, with dialogue or not, has a perceived loudness.
You can use Audioleak to find the A-weighted Leq. This will be your dialnorm.

You want to know what LAeq is, don't you? Heck, even has an answer:
LAeq is pressure level measurement parameter. Full form of LAeq is " Equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level". It is widely used around the world as an index for noise.LAeq = 10*log[1/(t2-t1) * Integration of (P2A/P20) between interval [t1 t2]]
LAeq = equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level [dB]
p0 = reference pressure level = 20µPa
pA= A-weighted pressure [Pa]
t1 = start time for measurement [s]
t2 = end time for measurement [s]

Read more:

None of that is particularly helpful, is it now? No. It isn't. I tend to mix my dialog slammed into hard multi-band limiters peaking at about -12dB FS. The real question is where is the average level in the program? And that isn't something I bother to measure. I'm not saying it's good that I don't measure it. I'm just saying we don't do that here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TV series

We made a big schedule change today, moving back one of our days of exterior shooting in order to gain the possibility of shooting in a rock quarry.
You could argue that's a wus-bucket move on my part so I shoot less this weekend.
But that's not the real question. The real question is: why isn't this a television series?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Working the Robot

Via Ian, and from here, is a great explanation of the difference between IK and FK in 3D models.
In Blender's armature system, there are two main types of kinematics, or ways motion is calculated.  These are forward kinematics, and inverse kinematics, or FK and IK for short.  FK is the default, where you move one bone and all its children move with it.  For example, you shrug your shoulder and the rest of your arm shrugs up with it.  IK is the opposite, where the child bone "leads" the chain of its parents.  For example, you throw a punch and the rest of your arm and your shoulder naturally follow your fist.  The two ways I know of using IK are 1.) put an IK solver on a bone (this is how a lot of lower body rigs work) and 2.) use Blender's Auto-IK switch.  The Auto-IK switch is much more convenient when you will be going back and forth between FK and IK.  One approach I've learned is to use IK for the general shape of the motion you want, and then FK for manipulating the details.  The convenience of IK comes in the fact that you need only manipulate the leading bone to get the motion you want, instead of rotating each of its parents first.  Returning to the punch example, using IK you could simply grab the hand bone of your armature and move it forward to the target, and the rest of the arm and the shoulder would naturally follow.  To fine-tune your rig for easier IK, you may have to break some connections if you don't want the whole body to follow a single bone.

Raw and Uncut

I'm experimenting with importing RW2 images, which are the raw image format for Panasonic cameras. As it turns out, the open - source GIMP (which is sorta like Photoshop but open-source and free) will import .RW2 files through another open source program called UFRaw.
You can adjust the exposure and the noise reduction. Which is, I suppose, the point of raw images.
Hey, did you notice that we managed to break 3 guns? Arguably one more got broken before it went to set (by, erm, one of the picture editors lets just say) and one of them the barrel kept falling off. Whew. Those M249's look nice but the way the weighted stocks are attached to the rest of the gun make them keep falling off.
Now is the time to render robots for the artist to make some key art with.

Pics from the set.

Add caption
Jeff Wills is the well-mic'ed man.

Jeff Wills as Rathbone and Virginia Logan as Foxwell.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Robot Army

This is kind of my dream. My personal robot army. Sarah-Doe Osborne, Juanita Arias, Andrew Bellware, and Virginia Logan, are here to protect me.

More dreams made reality

Jeff Wills, Nat Cassidy, Andrew Bellware, Joe Chapman, Tom Rowen

Injured robot Sarah-Doe Osborne with Virginia Logan in the elevator.

Virginia Logan has a date with a robot's ass, which is grass, and Virginia's the lawnmower.

My Robot Crew Will Kick Your Ass

Sarah-Doe, Jeff Wills, Joe Chapman, Juanita Arias, Tom Rowen, Virginia Logan.
Oh his knees: Nat Cassidy.

Second Day of Shooting Alien Robot Holocaust

We had a big fun day with almost our entire cast.
Tom Rowen as Tango and Juanita Arias as Cage.
We had a noon call today and we got folks on the 8:37pm train. We had an unusual day for us. Lots of pages but very little dialog. And plenty of starts and stops. But we shot some strobe effect for gunshots (we're not entirely sure that's going to work right because of the very strange way the strobe worked on camera.)
A dangerous gang in an elevator: Jeff Wills, Juanita Arias, Joe Chapman, Virginia Logan, Tom Rowen, and Nat Cassidy on his knees (as always).
Could we have a better looking cast?  I don't think so.

Robowar Settings

Sarah-Doe Osborne and Joe Chapman.
We are, incidentally, shooting on a hacked Panasonic GH1 at 30MB/s in "nostalgic" mode (every setting at -2) using the incandescent white balance.
This is a very fun little movie. Actually, it's starting to look like a fun "medium sized" movie. See those mines Joe and Libby made?

The Gang From Day 1

One more picture with our gang from day one.
Jeff Wills, Joe Chapman, Virginia Logan, and Sarah-Doe Osborne, in Robowar (AKA Alien Robot Holocaust).

Saturday, April 9, 2011


This is the final of the big bad evil robot, by Ian Hubert.

Day 1 of 1101

Today we did our first day of shooting. We deliberately made it a light day of shooting because it's nice to get your bearings on the first day. Our call time was noon on set and we had folks back on the 8:37pm train.

Which doesn't mean we're not tired.

We shot at f5.6 so that I could zoom during shots without changing exposure. I was probably still more elegant than that "documentary" style I think I'm going for because my instinct is to go for these nice balanced frames. But we get nice lens flare, and that's the whole point, isn't it?

It's all good.

Joe Chapman as Hammermill, Virginia Logan as Foxwell, Jeff Wills as Rathbone, and Sara-Doe Osborne as Yurra-1 in Robowar.
Jeff Wills is attacked by a giant robot (this is the robot POV).

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Bible

So I'm looking around on the interwebs for a Firefly bible and I can't find one (which means, apparently, that it just doesn't exist.)
But I do find this post about show bibles. In it, the author Lee Goldberg references the "Diagnosis Murder Writer Guidelines". I like these guidelines, my only quibble is that much relies on negative direction: "We aren't 'Murder She Wrote'" and the like. But sometimes, if applied with caution, negative direction can be helpful. Especially if it's coupled with positive direction: "Do make the murderer argue with the protagonist."
The most important part of the Bible/Writer's Guidelines is probably this:

Just about everything you need to know about the show you will find from reading the scripts and viewing the episodes we've given you. 

At some point I have to kind of wonder what the purpose of a show bible is. Theoretically the pilot is the "bible".  But the pilot is frequently so different from the rest of the show -- no matter how much like the rest of the show they try to make it. I sort of agree with the notion of writing the second or third episode as the "pilot" and just getting all that exposition over with.
I'm the only one bothered by this, right? Obviously his sweater was noisy and they went to a lot of trouble to tape it down. But my eye goes right to hidden mic rigs every time. 
The big exception might be "Firefly", as the pilot was really quite good. But I should give up talking about, or watching, "Firefly", for Lent.

Robot (with alpha channel) finds you tasty

Hey, check this out: The Asylum talks some real numbers.

Our two biggest budget films cost around $2 millionMEGAFAULT worked out because disaster movies sell everywhere in the world. But we’re probably only going to break even with MEGA PYTHON VS GATOROID, because giant creature movies only work in certain territories. 
Interestingly, 100 MILLION BCMEGA PIRANHA, and BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES also premiered on Syfy with comparable ratings… and these films cost less than a quarter of the budget of the other two. 

Marcus Is Here

Ian Hubert sent me the latest versions of our "Big Bad" robot. This is the mutherscratcher which takes out much of our crew.
He can frighteningly vary in height -- by a lot. If he stands straight up his shoulders can be nigh on 12 feet off the ground.
Hmm... I'm suddenly hearing Maduka's voice in my head about how we should have something of the right size on set to make sure we keep this robot in scale...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Don't say I ain't never done nuthin' fer ya

Or: It's all Juanita's fault.
You see, she came in wearing a groovy, big, red, watch. Which was the impetus for the idea that everyone gets something red.
So I went to Canal Street and bought a couple watches. They were both $20 but I "talked them down" to $18 and $12 respectively. I actually said "Can't you give me a better price?" about one of the watches and the guy actually said "For you, $18." The other watch I pointed out that it was all scratched up, so he came down $8 off the asking price. Which doesn't mean I didn't get rocked for them. But I did get them. And, I believe, it means I'm at the end of the prop-buying part of my day.
Here's the Chinese symbol for "heart". This is one of the very first words one learns in Chinese, because it's relatively simple and ends up being inside other symbols for other things.

I say we shoot the closeups we need of these watches on day one of shooting because who knows how long these watches will keep working. I have zero idea about how to set either one of them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Contracts Day in the Pandora Machine

Indeed it is. We've made the decision today that the cast and crew will end up with about 50% of the revenue generated from the picture on all moneys in excess of $50,000. If the movie makes 1,050,000.00 and you have 3%, that's $30,000.
One day we'll make movies which bring in over a hundred thousand in revenue. Then we can just pay people instead. That day isn't today.
The following is supposed to be the embedded version of our standard contract (not filled in with personal information. I have no idea why it doesn't work. I don't know much about anything.