Monday, December 31, 2012

Wherein I Contemplate a Part II Class III Gun License

I hate having blank-firing guns on set. I won't have live-firing guns on set at all.
The biggest problem for me is safety. When I'm behind the camera I know my ability to rationally determine when something is safe or not goes right out the window. Specifically it goes out the window through which I'm looking at everything — the lens of the camera.
So I hate blank-firing weapons. They're still dangerous. Flame and junk spit out the front of them. They can kill you. Let's go through all the things I hate about them.
  • They're dangerous. A semi-automatic round has to have the same load as the full bullet that would be in a similar weapon. So you have to treat them like real guns.
  • They're loud. Everyone, even the actor shooting, needs ear protection.
  • They're unreliable. They're more unreliable than real guns because all the gasses and schmutz get blown back into the receiver. So you have to clean them and hope that they'll work and actually cycle shells.
  • They don't always read on camera. A normal gun flash is frequently less than a frame in duration. 
  • They're expensive. Ammunition is not super cheap. To which I say "bleh".
So with the ability to add muzzle flashes in post, why would anyone use a blank weapon on set?
It's because CG muzzle flashes look like poop, that's why.
I can't quite figure out the reason for it.
Here are some real muzzle flashes from the movie Heat. Notice that even in a fairly reflective environment (sunglasses, car roof) the muzzle flash does not really light up the scene. There's some specular in the glasses and the roof, but it's not really affecting the exposure on his face that much.
Notice too that the "classic" muzzle flash of the M16 is more distorted, with bigger holes in it than the typical stock-footage M16 muzzle flash.
The other thing is that (at least it seems to me, not having actually fired one) that the .223 assault rifle does not actually drift or kick that much. Not as much as a handgun kicks certainly. Actually, here's a video.

I'm going to guess this video was shot at 29.97fps. That's going to be about the equivalent of a 60fps shutter. You'll notice that there's no muzzle flash at all. There's a bit of smoke which appears a couple feet ahead of the rifle. The kick the gun gives is very difficult to replicate "by hand". By that I mean it's hard to "pretend" that a rifle kicks like that if you're not actually shooting it.
So briefly I thought to myself, we need to get our guns to look better. And if I wanted to use blank-firing 3-shot-burst weapons, I really should just get a Class III gun license. Which is a major pain to do (but you actually need the full license even to own a blank-only firing machine gun because those are all made from actual machine guns and even though they've been disabled from having live rounds put in them the law still considers them machine guns.)
But if I did that, what would I do? Modify them so that they looked like futuristic space weapons? We're starting to talk about a lot of money when it comes to buying real guns and modifying them and getting licenses and... already I'm bored. I'd rather get an exoskeleton robot suit.
Nope. I'm not going to get an (additional) gun license. I'm going to figure out how to make fake muzzle flashes actually work. It may be making them less flash-y. I don't know yet. But if I can keep gunpowder off the set I'll be happier.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Science Fiction Shorts

Jonathan Newman turned me on to the best sci-fi shorts this year.
There's "Memorize":
I can't quite put my finger on what the problem is with this movie. The locations are cool enough but there's something that just looks limited in the budget. And I realize that things like muzzle flashes and 2D fire always look a little... funky. But there's something else that's bugging me. I don't know what it is. Otherwise it's a fine-looking picture with good sound editing.
Factory Fifteen made this movie, sort of a future alt history. Sort of what I was thinking about for that war-between-worlds picture.

Hmm... I wonder if the frame rate of "Memorize" is higher than 24fps?

Faux Documentary

So. I have this notion of a faux documentary that takes place in the future. I was thinking it might be nice to model it on a Battle of Britain documentary. There could be talking heads from both sides of the war. The aliens are from a parallel universe and look like us you see (of course).

A parallel Earth appears and ships descend on a bombing campaign followed by invasion. The invasion is eventually repelled

1. The aliens attack. They have superior firepower in their combat exosuits. Devastation reigns.
2. An unlikely ally -- the combat android -- emerges. The aliens underestimate the strength and numbers of the androids.
3. "Behind Enemy Lines" -- stories of the prisoners captured by the aliens.
4. "A Last Desperate Attack" -- the aliens use a terrifying automated weapon, a nanobot mind-control. But they can't manufacture enough of it to turn the course of the war (or, alternately, any better idea which someone could put in here.)
5. "Peace Through Superior Firepower" -- the alien planet is decimated, their war machines left in shambles.

By the end of the movie we realize that androids are among us now. And what was thought to be a secret program to create androids was actually a secret program to find them. They had been popping up all over the earth, dropped by satellites presumably. But we actually don't know where they came from or why they helped us win the war.

The story is told through talking heads -- interviews with survivors and former soldiers on both sides. With some found footage and some footage of battles interspersed. We'd visit the now unused command centers, etc. to trace back the history of the war. There may be an on-screen narrator. Maybe a tweedy guy with crazy hair who talks excitedly about the cities that used to be there.

Here's a thing. This movie would have to be shot immediately because we'd want it to be available in time for Pacific Rim.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Proto Slattern

I, naturally, have Google Alerts send me a thing whenever the Web offers my name up in any sort of search. Mostly what I get are sites for torrent downloads for movies we've made.
But sometimes I get something especially weird.
It's funny (to me at least) because I completely forget that our movies are distributed internationally. I mean, in the big scheme of things it's not much but a lot of people see them. Sometimes they review the movies. And sometimes the reviews are awesome. And... odd.
This review of Android Insurrection contains an ideological checklist. Which. Is. Awesome.
This picture is anti-war, pro-slut(??), and racist. Which is a fair analysis. Why are all the people in that movie white? (And Gen X? No, I assure you that at best most of those kids are Gen Y, most are post-gen-Y). I don't even remember. I have this whole thing on casting and race but it's way too much to go into while I'm bonkered from antibiotics. Suffice to say that the review reads just a bit too much in the way of the racial backstory. I vaguely recall our realizing the cast was all white on this picture at some point in production. But we didn't do anything about it. The sin we commit is the typical Hollywood sin of omission rather than commission.
Like I said, it's an important issue. One I'll address when I'm not on drugs that make me loopy. Because if I address it now I'll say things like "Harmfph. Pithemboom haragnaglark mizzenmoof. Kerthump?"

Your toaster hates you and will destroy you if you allow it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Alles Gut

Groove to the German version of Earthkiller. Die Entscheidung.
The names means something like "The Verdict" or, as far as I understand it, "The Reckoning" or something like that. It's a pretty badass name for a movie. And no, I have no idea what the "Blade Runner 2" is all about. I love that they use strapping tape to hold the gun together. We're totally going to do that. And not because our guns won't hold together. No. No sir. For aesthetic reasons only.
Note that this is the Blu-ray version of the movie. The DVD uses different art. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Abbey Singer Day

Today we shot our second-to-last day of the Dragon picture.
Andrew Bellware, looking about a hundred years old here.
 John Dillon was our cameraman today. The Martian Queen handled art (and mustaches), whilst Tom Rowen was 1st AD/sound/bubble tea acquirer.)
I got this watch just for this movie. I was all about getting a closeup of it.

Andrew Bellware (The Monk) and Nat Cassidy (Reynard) look at a vial of dragon's blood.
We shot in a corner of the Forbidden Palace. We forgot spirit gum remover but that doesn't seem to affect me because the mustache just won't stay on anyhow.
Meredith Newman is the reason my character is called "The Monk" in the first place. Which, in turn, inspired us wearing monk's robes. Which, in turn, made the whole movie much better. ;-)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Civil Calculus

The Twilight Calculator is good for finding your distance from Kristin Stewart. (Joke thanks to Ken Grumer). No c'mon, it's really awesome. It gives you sunrise and sunset directions as well as moonrise and moon set, from any latitude and longitude and date.
I've been doing a terrible job at keeping this blog NSFW. Luckily Chance's movie Interplanetary is on Hulu.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rolling Sound

When we first began as Pandora Machine we were very pro-wireless lav microphones. This was because I had a set of them and a recorder for them and that's the way it was.
By the time Angry Planet came around we'd gone almost 100% boom mic. (And I don't even like shotguns, so we use a hyper-cardioid, but that's another issue altogether.) Until Prometheus Trap we shot almost entirely with a single boom for recording dialog.
This used to be our boom operator but he went union and now works in TV.
Now the thing is that lavalier mics are obnoxious to listen to on headphones. But they do isolate the person speaking a little bit better -- when you can avoid things like clothing noise and rubbing on the microphone itself (no easy feat). And it's true that a boom (a nice hypercardioid like a Schoeps or one of the good Oktavas we use) edits a bit more easily (when you have a quiet room to record in and actors aren't scuffling.)
But, we have a devil of a time getting and keeping a good boom operator. I do not believe, as some might suggest, that this is because I am "mean to the boom operator." I may very well be mean but that's not what the problem is.
The problem is that being a good boom operator is an enormous achievement. And they tend to get paid once they get good. And paid well. When I think of all the boom ops I've trained who went on to get bigger work I just sigh.
In any case, I'm a-thinking about going back to lavs. Recording isolated tracks from different lavs.
What inspired me to do this practically was the fact that Greg Bartus from the City Samanas owns one of these cute little 2-channel Fostex recorders. Them Fostex folks make a pretty nice $600 recorder. So rather than getting a $4200 Sound Devices (which, admittedly, is pretty darn nice) we could just throw another 2-track recorder in our bag next to the Sound Devices 702 we already have. Then we could record four tracks at a time (by pressing two record buttons).
To be sure, the Fostex does not have God's Own Limiters on the inputs the way the much more expensive Sound Devices does.

But overall it should work just fine. Right?
Are there issues with this? Yeah. One is that the slate has to be heard on both machines -- at least by one mic routed to each machine. Somebody has to be paying attention to that. Yesterday I was shooting a thing as a one-man-band (doing camera, slate, and audio) and the first take I totally blew off actually rolling record on the 702. So derp.
At this point we'd have to get three more wireless lavs. I have one very good lav. It's a Lectrosonics 411 receiver with the miniature transmitter. So it sounds very nice. Eats batteries but sounds nice.
Is it worthwhile to get the cheap Sennheisers? I don't know. I do get very cranky with audio gear that isn't pro (and made of metal). But I might not hate them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Which Day?

Today we shot Eva Kriksciun (not at this location) playing Drusilla, the witch.

Deus Ex Filmina

Interplanetary, a movie made by the gods themselves, is on Hulu. For free.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


So it's not just me, right? The number of torrent sites which have our movies has skyrocketed over the last year.

Is that good or bad? I don't know because I can't think.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Movies to come

The remake of RoboCop comes out in North America on February 7, 2014.
Like many facts, this one is important for us to know.

The M. Night After Earth shows up on June 7, 2013. Does anybody thing this movie will actually be any good?
Nathan Vegdahl sketched in this location of a dragon. Wouldn't it be cool if the dragons looked this way? They can't. But it's cool.

World War Z is June 21st. Just sayin'.

City of Bones August 23.

Ender's Game, which to me was pretty boring, comes out on November 1, 2013.

Robopocalypse in 2014.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I'm Not Buyin' It

O! The Internet revolutionizes everything. The Big Studios just don't understand this stuff that we Really Smart People know although can't actually prove. Jamie Wilkinson on "cutting through the myths of digital film distribution."
"Self distribution works"?
I call BS.
Notice that other than Louis CK, Josh Whedon, and Glen Beck he notes no actual numbers whatsoever for revenues. And those three artists are way outside the curve in notoriety.
The best he does is says "Aziz made six figures his first day." Them's some weasel words right there. What do you mean by "made"? What is "six figures"? Does that include the cents beyond the decimal point?
And furthermore four anecdotes are not a business model.
Seriously, everything he says in this video is simply incorrect. He doesn't bust any of his "myths" -- even using his own data.
His first "myth" is that people won't open their wallets and pay for things on the Internet. But note that he actually finishes his entire presentation begging the audience to open their wallets and buy some movies through his website. Uh. The clue meter is reading zero here.
The second "myth" is that self-distribution and traditional distribution are mutually exclusive. Of course, without the examples of Glen Beck, and Louis CK, it is most certainly mutually exclusive. DVD sales are the only place where indy pictures actually make money. Theatrical is a hole in which people pour money. If you can sell to TV, you can get a video deal.
The third "myth" is that this kind of distribution only works for people like Louis CK. But he only responds to this "myth" by uses an example of a couple filmmakers in his own company for which he gives no numbers.
This kind of grandiose crap has been parroted and regurgitated for what, 14 years now? And it ain't worked yet. Believe you me, there's micro-studios 'round these parts run by some very smart people. If "non-traditional" worked, The Asylum would be doing it. But they ain't. So it don't.
Yes, you can make money if you do a documentary about some under-served special interest group. Or if big media conglomerates have made you famous going into it. Other than that, the Internet is doing nothing for us.

Wait, what?

Brian Schiavo found this thing on the Internet. Honestly I don't quite understand what the product is. But they're using a still from our Prometheus Trap. And ain't nobody asked me about it.

Rebecca Kush from Prometheus Trap advertises... something.
The Hulk eviscerates the myth of the 3-act structure. We typically think in terms of a 4-act ourselves. If we had a little more money we'd do 5.
This Times article on movie subsidies actually makes no sense at all. I can't even remotely figure out what happened.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Day 8

We murdered and wrapped a number of people today. Stupidly, I just realized I hadn't formatted the card we shot on, so I simply added today's shooting to last week's shooting on the same CF [ed note: what am I saying? It's an SD] card. To which I say "derp".
Julia Rae Maldonado enters the "tent".
At first we were going to try to make a tent. Because Steven J. Niles when he re-wrote the script put in a tent. As of last week I was all like "Nah, let's just use the break room and it'll be more like a shack." Well that didn't happen either because the break room was a little too gross even for me.
Steve Deighan as Gregor, after being rudely awakened in his own home.
But there's another break room outside of the regular one. And so we used that. And changed nothing. The best part is that there are actual swords on the wall. That's not the art department. They were already there.
Steve Deighan, Annalisa Loeffler, Julia Rae Maldonado. This is how we get down.
We shot two days' worth of stuff today. Well, what we had originally scheduled for two days in one day.
Dave Chontos as Cragnorak with anonymous soldiers in the background (Nat Cassidy and Tom Rowen.)
We moved to prime lenses when we moved to the fabricating shop. Mostly using a 28mm but in a couple shots we used a 50mm (on the micro 4/3rds Panasonic GH1). We're not quite wide open. Er. I should have paid more attention but probably around an f2.8? That's my guess.
Nat Cassidy, a friend, and Annalisa Loeffler.
This is the last day at the shop. We move to somewhat more luxurious environs from here on out.
Annalisa got herself straight-up murdered.
Stupidly the diopter wasn't set properly on the GH1. Or it got bonked out of my prescription. It makes it hard to focus. And it takes me a little while to realize that no, it's not my eyes. It's just the screen I'm looking at. Hmm... sure hope all my footage is in focus.
Nat creeps all over the green-blooded Julia.