Monday, April 30, 2012

Experiments in UV Mapping

So I'm experimenting with UV mapping. This groovy model came from Blend Swap. The artist is KHUNO362. I applied what we might think of as my default spaceship texture map to the whole thing. The process is somewhat complicated. Honestly, I don't understand it. But I did it anyway.

Could this be the Venom? It could be.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 4

We only did 76 takes today. Compared to last Sunday when we did 137 takes that means we're really slacking off. I think we did about 50 takes with sound. Joe Watson was with us today doing sound. We have a... unique way of slating takes which he picked up on right away.
Sarah-Doe Osborne as Artemis in The Prometheus Trap.
Today was very dialog heavy. Call was noon on set and we got everyone on the 7:09 train.
Michael Shattner as Finn in The Prometheus Trap.
Ramsey Scott did a super bang-up job on the costumes on this picture. All these tiny lights and a whole bunch of little gags (like androids having lit-up data ports and such) — it's a whole lotta work. And it's just beautiful. It makes shooting very easy.
Rebecca Kush as Captain Haskin.
 Did I mention how perfect the dog tags are in this movie? It's like Ramsey came up with the single costume piece which represented the visual aesthetic of the entire movie in one palm-sized thing.
James Edward Becton as Cornell.
Today we shot on Jason Birdsall's brilliant cockpit set. I just love this thing. Dig the groovy blue LED panel lights — those are Christmas lights we got off of Amazon.
James Becton.
My favorite moment today was when I was carrying a couple lights from one set to another and the Queen of Mars yelled at me "What are you doing gaffing!"
That amused me ever so.
Rebecca Kush.
I make a joke that I'm really just shooting everyone's Facebook photos but ya gotta admit there are some pretty sweet Facebook pictures in these shots.
Michael Shattner.
We're letting the flares get out of hand. I'm grooving to it. That pattern on Michael's jowl is actually flare from the LED's in the shot — it's not a pattern reflecting up onto him (although that would be awesome.)
Sarah-Doe Osborne.

To see how the day ended click here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

David Frey on Day 3

I'm only now looking at stills from David Frey's camera. He has the Canon T2i which is arguably a better camera than the GH1. Especially now that I'm manually focusing.
Andrew Langton, Michael Shattner, and Rebecca Kush.
The Queen of Mars on sound.

Andrew Bellware directing Michael Shattner in The Prometheus Trap.

Day 3

Today we shot day 3 of The Prometheus Trap. The day was slightly wack in that we had to have people back on the train by 7:09pm when we had a call of noon on set (which turns into 12:30 because we have to make three trips to pick everyone up in the little Honda.)
Andrew Langton as Rhodes, Michael Shattner as Finn, and Rebecca Kush as Haskin, entering the Prometheus.
So we're both a little bit behind and a little bit ahead. It's hard to say exactly. But I'm blaming my producers for the fact that they had to get back to the city early today.
David Frey plays a dead man. 
David Frey came in and shot second camera for us. It'll be fun to color match! Woo. I amuse me.
We also had to shoot some bluescreen.

I have to send stills to our distributor.
I have to sit down with the schedule. Our sets are... different than we thought they'd be up until two days ago.
Michael Shattner contemplates the end of the world.
We shot many pages. I think that starting tomorrow we'll be exactly at the half-way mark of the movie.
Will people thing that Kate Britton (Trent) is an android because of this shot? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Light, Fog, Crew, Bodybag

I just bought 40 of these tiny LED's. I ordered them on Sunday night and they arrived today (Wednesday).
We're clearly using them everywhere. Costumes, weapons, helmets. It is, apparently, the look of this movie.

We need some anti-fog spray. For space helmets. Apparently baby shampoo is usable too. Nobody is going to spit in the helmets.

Chuck Hartsell of Crewless has a new sci-fi short called "Transfers". Check it out.

TRANSFERS - Teaser from Chuck Hartsell on Vimeo.

We're flopping back-and-forth about cryo chambers or clear body bags. Right now the clear body bags are winning.

North American Deals

The movies Earthkiller by Montserrat Mendez and Android Insurrection by David Ian Lee and Nat Cassidy — even though David and Cassidy used absurd pseudonyms for their screen credits — have North American Distribution.
Yes. They'll be coming out on DVD and VOD in the US and Canada. And relatively soon, too.
I know that for many of our people the most important part of this news is that means these movies will get IMDB credits. ;-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Prometheus Day 2 (part 4)

Maduka Steady came today to fight direct for us. I always feel safer with him around. The Queen of Mars bloodied up some noses.
Rebecca Kush has been in a lot of bar fights.
Maduka designed a couple nice, simple, safe, and photogenic fights.
The lovely and talented Kate Britton collapses to the floor.
My parents made me take a chocolate cake to set. It was a cake someone had given them. So it was a chocolate cake that was unfortunately very good which was being passed around and around to avoid caloric intake. Luckily our crew is appallingly thin, so they needed the cake.
The delightfully photogenic Rebecca Kush does not always win her bar fights however.
We were handheld 100% of the day. My arms ache like crazy.
Kate Britton peers around a corner.
Today we used various pieces of sets we had around. We also used a couple parts of Tale of Two Cities. Yes, the Broadway show. The sets are being stored at the warehouse. And yes, they did actually tell us we could use them a couple years ago but we could never figure out how. Until today.
Kate Britton (Trent) with absurdly photogenic Fight Director Maduka Steady.
Right this minute I'm not feeling like we want much color-correction in post-production. I don't know what anybody else will say but that's where I am right now.
Rebecca Kush is about to whump you.
The rest of our sets were really hard to put together. And structurally they would have been a lot more sound if only we'd found some clamps to hold them together. Luckily with the length of the lens, the shallowness of the focus, and the number of flares, we didn't really notice that on-camera.
Kate Britton having been whumped.

Prometheus Day 2 (part 3)

So far we're shooting this movie on the GH1 with a Canon 50mm lens at f1.4. That's about the equivalent of a 35mm motion-picture camera with an 85mm lens as far as the field of view goes. I set up a color temperature for the movie but I don't know how to write it down. It's stored as "user 1". I should figure out how to write it down.
Andrew Langton.
The Canons take flares in an interesting way. And we're shooting at 1600 ISO with that camera so wide open so we can get the pretty kick in everybody's eyes. This means that any sort of traditional lighting we might do has to be very subdued unless we just want it to blow right out (which we frequently do).
The Queen of Mars in her own lighting but without LEDs on her.
Michael Shattner. Yeah, we're all JJ Abrams with the flare in this picture, but we kind of like it.

Michael Shattner.
Andrew Langton.

Kate Britton with LED's on her collar. I think she's about to shoot an android here.

Prometheus Day 2 (part 2)

The Queen of Mars is the best gaffer. I know some terrific gaffers. But when our producer comes in to move a light, just get out of her way. The whole scene will be much better with her subtle hand.
Andy Langton operates his butane torch. 
Rebecca Kush is all about the flare.

We also did a version of a scene but with space helmets still on. These were built by Anthony Jones.
Andrew Langton as Rhodes.

Michael Shattner as Finn and Rebecca Kush as Haskins.

Prometheus Day 2 (part 1)

We did a bit of a "proof of concept" of shooting characters who all lit themselves. Yes, we do put a little bit of fill light in there, but the key and hair lights are all actually attached to costumes. Ramsey Scott set the lights so that they would trace the contours of the faces.
Michael Shattner, Andrew Langton, and Rebecca Kush as Finn, Rhodes, and Haskin.

Rebecca Kush.
Andrew Langton.
The very blue character of the LED lights offsets nicely with the warmth of fluorescents. And yes, I did just call fluorescent light "warm". But on this set, they're the only thing to give us skin tones.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prometheus Trap Day 1

Today we started principal photography on The Prometheus Trap.
Michael Shattner as Finn.
We had Michael Shattner and Ramsey Scott on set. The spaceship is by Jason Birdsall.
Michael Shattner at the end of the movie (different light from above).
Ramsey did quite an extensive costume build for this picture.
Here's Michael with the lights on his spacesuit in the "on" position. Ramsey shaded the lights so they don't blow out the camera (as much). 
And the one decision I made was that the actors should be lit by the lights on their own costumes. We shouldn't hardly light them at all. That's going to make tomorrow's fight scenes interesting! ;-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Firearms in Space

A Thousand Years of Quality

First of all, it's a myth that most modern guns wouldn't shoot in the vacuum of space. Although it made for a nice Firefly episode, the fact is that most all guns shoot perfectly fine in space. Do remember to have yourself tethered to something you want to go home to before firing your weapon because the bullets are like little rockets in reverse and you are the payload.
Boy-O-boy! That sounds like a real problem!
But that's not the problem.
No? What's the problem then, Chief?
The problem is long deployments in hypersleep. Is your sidearm going to be ready to go as soon as you wake up and need to put some hurt on the baddies?
To start with, you can't rely on springs. So the springs that hold the flechettes in your magazines? Those are gone from Alliance Airborne M28-G's.
Then how will my AA M28-G weapon system cycle properly?
Relax, soldier. We live in the future. We have inert silica hydraulic technology. Guaranteed to last for a thousand years in the cold dark of space (ISHT will ISHT you not!) After firing your weapon a new round is always in the chamber. And best of all — there are no user-servicable parts inside. That's right soldier, get a good night sleep because you won't be cleaning your gun at all.
So you've replaced the springs — what about the lubricants?
Regular lubricants will dry up. But organic lubricants are always working for you. They live practically forever and "feed" off the dust in the air or from the flechettes running through the weapon. And when there isn't any dust, they just rest! Quality... for a thousand years.
I noticed the AA M28-G doesn't have a velocity selector. Don't I need to worry about punching a hole in the bulkhead?
Not anymore. The barrel of your weapon recognizes what you're aiming at. A reading of soft-body targets automatically "gears down" your weapon system to a more appropriate velocity. Fire away at all the baddies without worrying about explosive decompression.
But this gun is so short — it's like you removed the butt-stock.
Recoil is a thing of the past, my good man. The flechette rounds emerge from the barrel at a very low velocity only to speed up when they get to target. More comfortable for you. Less comfortable to the baddies.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Today's Conversations with Maduka

Me: Oh man, sorry. I'm an ass. I left my stuff all over your desk.
Maduka: It's OK. I'm used to it.
Me: ...
Maduka: Stuff being on my desk, I mean. I'm thinking butane over oxyacetylene. Plus I want to get a couple fire extinguishers...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Who is the beautiful genius who came up with those practical lights on this TV set? I love you. I want that light fixture over the table. Those lights aren't even on in this scene, but oh, they will be. They will be.
You just know that in every scene at night around that table somebody's just gonna adjust those ever so slightly for each shot.
I love them.
I need one of these things. Not want. Need.


How are things in the world of trends in genre motion picture delivery?
I'm here to tell you.
Here are things I've noticed from the required deliverables from our last couple o'movies.

  • First of all, the 2257 Compliance is now becoming a standard boilerplate of text to slap on the end of a movie. And it's even going on movies where there's no nudity. Why? Just to be on the safe side.

  • We've also been given the opportunity to deliver on hard drive a few times now. Delivering a multitrack Quicktime ProRes 422 is beginning to look like something buyers and distributors fear much less now. That's not saying we aren't having to deliver some PAL Digital BetaCam tapes, but those tapes are starting to become an exception rather than the norm. This is a big deal. 

About the "multitrack" part of that though, we're generally also delivering a folder with mono .aif files labeled with their uses. Left and right English stereo mix, Left and right M&E mix, 5.1 English (which is six tracks of audio), 5.1 M&E, and a stereo commentary. That's a minimum of 18 tracks of audio.

  • And finally, freakin' finally. I've seen a contract which specifies audio in terms of dB Fs. Yes! "Fs"! Something we can actually measure with our computers. Not some vague notion of decibels based on some 25-year-old analog tape decks. You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this. Interestingly the contract I'm looking at specifies that peaks should be no more than -9dB Fs. That's 3dB more than we've been mixing to! On our next movie I get to back off my limiters to -9dB from -12dB. 
Yeah. Trying to guess what they mean by "0dB average with peaks of +8dB" based on some very old-school analog Vu meters was very frustrating to me because I haven't even SEEN an analog deck in more than 10 years so who knows what Sony thought "0" meant? I certainly don't have a spare $40,000 lying around to buy one to find out. Now we have some real numbers. [Ha! How many people did I just lose complaining about this one thing?] ;-)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Beware Producers (Including Me)

How do you know when a producer is lying? His lips are moving. Ha! Yes. I love this joke.

The dudes at The Asylum are very savvy. And they're pretty straight-up honest dudes. Their BS level is quite low. Still, be then thou wary of any producer who actually gives numbers when talking about movies.

Producers lie for a couple reasons. The first is to make everyone think they're really poor so they don't have to pay anybody — either before or after making the movie. But they also lie about how expensive their movies are in order to make sure their distributors are not feeling ripped off by selling them a cheap movie. These two lies tend to make producers tell you they haven't brought in any revenue from a given picture and that they're spending a whole lot of money on a picture. Except when they're bringing in lots of money (they might say this to investors or their parents).
So never trust a producer when they're telling you numbers. I mean, unless they've decided to be candid with you. How can you tell? It's very hard. Maybe you can't. But like I said, the Asylum is relatively malarky-free, there are just a lot of political reasons for them to not give you the truth and the facts straight up. You'll note that I'm not judging anybody here. Why? Because I've been there, man, I've been there.
Now that I've made that disclaimer, I'd like to point out that The Asylum's Paul Bales talks some numbers. And, honestly, I believe him. I mean, with the caveats that everybody in their production and sales chain doesn't want to hear real numbers.
"Our sexy comedies like "18 Year Old Virgin," and "#1 Cheerleader Camp," and our "found footage" films like "Paranormal Entity," have budgets around $100,000; our regular "mockbuster" and creature films are between $200-750K; and our network originals like "Zombie Apocalypse" are $1-2 million. In terms of gross, it varies widely. Our sexy comedies and found footage movies are usually the most profitable, with margins upward of 50%."
If they really are making those kinds of margins on their cheap pictures then they're getting $200K in sales from them. I would think they're really spending about $75K and making maybe $125K on the pictures.
Or: he's dead-on and those are all totally real numbers.
If so, their revenues are better than anybody's in the indy world. Which makes some sense because they're clearly more successful than anybody else in the indy world.

O! That we could make $125K on offworld sci-fi without name talent. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First Up

First day of principal photography of Steve Niles' The Prometheus Trap will be on April 15th.
We have what will be a relatively short day shooting in the small cockpit of the Venom.
The only character on that set will be Finn (Phoebus) — Michael Shattner.

  1. He will have his radio and headset (That means we need at least two of the other radios for communications and recording — three radios in total.)
  2. He will need his neck rig -- that's some sort of PORT on his skin with (maybe) an optical cable attached? 
  3. We will need a blue or greenscreen. We will fret about how it is lit. It won't matter we'll have to rotoscope it heavily anyway.
  4. We will shoot Michael in the hallway. The hallway will be something we're going to make out of Joe Chapman's pieces which will be very very cramped. Does it amuse us to try to do a gag where only Michael's eyes light up? Maybe. Briefly.

WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW THE MOVIE ENDS YET. Yes. I know. Blame the director. We will shoot a couple options which include Finn going to the Venom cockpit and remotely operating the Hercules gun (which is what we're calling the "Big Gun" or the "Earthkiller".) We don't know what the big gun looks like. We don't know where it is or where it will be.

We need to know if we should have another version of the costume Michael wears for when he is "hit". How do we show that? Is he just hit on the face? What do we do? Who has thoughts about this?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Glamorous Life

People ask me: "Why do you make films?"
I tell them "It's the glamour."

It's the sexiness.

Size. It matters. Just not the way you think.
In today's theme-park world of The Pandora Machine we got some flashlights. These are perfect for us. They're cheap and they put out a lot of light (the top picture my front light is another one of those lights which you can just barely see. The bottom pic the second flashlight is just off-camera, you can see it reflected in my classes.)

There's no real reason to not get 30 more of them is there? Oh, and the big deal for us is that they can lock in the "on" position.

Paper in Post

Today we had a table read of The Prometheus Trap. All the actors were there. Steve Niles was able to Skype in. It was all good times.
We don't usually do a table read. We don't typically have rehearsals before we get to the shooting stage. So it was fun to be able to do a read-through. Folks got to see the helmets and look at the radios and see costume pieces.

John and Craig talk about different color drafts and the naming conventions of scenes in locked scripts. These are all things we absolutely do not do. We don't change colors and we don't put letters in scene names.
The letters in scene names has always irritated me because shot names are typically lettered. So if you have scene 45, your first setup is 45 A. Dig? But if you end up putting a scene between 45 and 46 then you end up with scene 45A A. And that's gonna get ugly real fast. Craig, I believe, points out that sometimes that becomes scene A45 A -- not much better in terms of alphabetization and general confusion.

We do it the way people used to write programs in Basic. If you need to insert a scene between 45 and 46, the new scene becomes 45.5. It's clear. It alphabetizes correctly in the computer. Everybody understands it. And 45.5 A is the first setup.

Actually, we don't bother to slate takes with more than the audio take number. We start at 001 and we go to take (about) 600. The editor has to figure out what scene we're doing. It's not that hard to figure out usually.

On using the script vs the footage:

John: [...] Sometimes I get a little bit sad when I go into the editing room and I see, like, “Oh, they assembled the scene based on what was shot, but it is actually…” I don’t know. There is no recognition that, like, oh, it was actually…

And that's exactly why we don't bother taking very detailed notes on-set. First of all, we don't shoot enough footage to warrant extensive notes -- once you get to the edit stage the script itself can become somewhat useless. We try to shoot the whole damn movie but the only way you're going to be able to edit the picture is to sit and watch all the takes -- not read about the takes. You kinda have to make a movie out of what you've got.
The only place where I get a little yowley about wanting to have some documentation is when we do a wild sound take. We can usually find those because they'll be the big long take that has no in and out to picture that's numerically near the other takes in the scene. But it would be nice to have that in a book in the edit room. I mean if we had space on a table to put a whole script.

Art: Chad Michael Ward