Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How To Shoot A Martini

We're headed boldly into the last day of shooting Dead Residents.
Lessee. We still need a robot. We're low on zombies. We have a million pages with ten million lines of dialog all in one small apartment set. To which I say "eek!"
Ian Hubert made our CG robot. It looks rather photo real. Here it a version of it on an alpha channel.

I am (I hope you're sitting down) actually storyboarding this series of scenes. Good grief. What has it all come to? I need to make the scene:
  • Good
  • Easy to edit
  • Easy to shoot
In about that order. 
I always get concerned about annoying actors by doing a stop-and-start version of a scene where we are continually stopping, going back a line, starting up right through to when another character talks at which point we stop, back up, and start shooting the new character until another character speaks. It's very herkey-jerky. But it's very effective in the edit room.
A substantial amount of the movie has been edited. It looks good. I'm happy with how the story works.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Abby Singer Day II

... because one Abby Singer Day isn't enough.
That's right, we've done our penultimate day of shooting twice now. But at least that means that schedule-wise we're right on time.
You know, if you don't count the fact that we added a whole extra day.
We shall begin the illustrative portion of this blog post with a series of pictures of our Martian Queen.

Today we shot almost entirely in my building super's office. And he gave me some coquito he made. And all I can say is ho-ly-cow. That was some good stuff. Rum and coconut milk. Cinnamon. It tasted like there was some cocoa in it.
Oh man. I'm glad I had that toward the end of the shoot day rather than the beginning. I'm also glad I have auto-focus on my camera.
Ho. Ly. Cats.
That's some good stuff. Not good for one's diet.
The lovely Virginia Logan.

The. Er. Lovely Virginia Logan.
 Did you know that Virginia is in Sleep No More? Because she is. And it's awesome.
Virginia Logan, Steve Deighan, and Mary Murphy after the nanobot release.
 Today we shot almost entirely robot POV. You know, just like it is in the script! ;-) I love this cast.
Maya Graffagna after being shot by Virginia. We kill Maya twice in this movie. Ha!

Virginia had to be her own camera operator for this shot of being hunted by her own robot.
 The very ambitious goal I have is to have all of the movie cut together except for the scenes we need to shoot on January 5 by January 5. We absolutely must do it though, as we have to be done with all post-production (animation, composites, sound edit, music, final mix, color - correction, commentary track) by February 1.
The Marsian Queen does some robot acting for us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Just some notes

We have two more official days of principal photography on Steve Niles' Dead Residents. I'm enjoying the way this picture looks. I don't want to say that it looks good because we're shooting on a GH3 instead of a GH1 but the GH3 certainly helps. 
I find that in post I'm lifting up the tones which are just above the black levels. The image below is a bad example because there's so much black in it to start with. But yeah, basically, we've been lifting the bottom part of the image. Note that we're just blending Magic Bullet Looks with the un-color-corrected image (about 64% color-correction in the "power mask" in the Magic Bullet Looks controller in Final Cut Pro).  
This scene where we fight the robot has been the one scene which has stressed me out the most. I've been worried about getting it to look right. 
My super has been extremely awesome about letting us use the basement of my building. I mean, it's really really nice. Every room down there looks art directed. We have one or maybe two more scenes to shoot there. We'll have to see. 
So far we're behind schedule by one scene. Which, you know, isn't too shabby for being 10 days into a 12-day shoot. 
Virginia Logan shoots robots in Dead Residents.
We did our first shooting with CO2 cartridges. The handguns offer very little kick when they're belting out CO2 actually. In that shot above we've put baby powder in the barrel and we get one frame of floof coming out of the gun. That's kind of funny because we're muzzle-loading. But I don't feel scared about crossing in front of a charged paintball gun. I mean if there were a paintball inside and if I were shot at close range it would hurt. But my eyes are protected by the camera itself (the lens would not be a world of happy if a paintball were shot into it point-blank).
The only charged and loaded paintball gun is the one we use to shoot at actors. Ha! No. We don't actually shoot at the actors. We shoot near them, sure, but not actually at them... er... all the time.
If you hit the right surface with the dust pellets you can kick up some nice fun stuff on walls and such without being nearly as dangerous as using something crazy like squibs. Yes, I do sound cavalier about the gun safety on our sets but we're actually sort of particular and we take some time making sure we're not going to get hurt.

Three Movies§Three Things

I have three movies sitting in post-production right now. That's less than awesome actually. Two of the movies have picture lock, or are close to it. But the one I have to get out right away has only just begun being edited.
We're not going to make any major changes in our post-production process just yet, but a couple things have come up of late. Final Cut Pro is, of course, becoming creaky. Old age is getting to it. I haven't heard any whispers of Apple updating version 7 or making version X actually, you know, work. And that leaves us with Premiere. Yeah, we could go Avid but, er, no. We won't.
The other thing is that Samplitude, which we use for audio, has cancelled its Apple port. So Samplitude is going to stay PC-only.
The other main programs we use are Blender (which is PC/Apple/Linux), and AfterEffects (PC/Mac).
You'll notice that if we jump off the Final Cut Pro bandwagon we won't need any Apple computers in our studio.
This dude, Stephan Bugaj, has a blog and he's been writing on the production and post-production process. For a nano-studio like ours some of the steps are fairly delusional but overall it's a fairly accurate overview of even how we deal with things. Things we don't typically do include an iterative process between sound editing and picture editing. We lock picture and then deal with sound. It's more old-fashioned the way we deal with it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Abbey Singer Day

Day 11 of 12 on Dead Residents.
Maduka Steady, Virginia Logan, Mary Murphy.

My super let us use his office today. We really have to figure out what to do for him for Christmas.
Matthew Trumbull, Clark, and Mary Murphy. About to meet their collective doom.

See the mirror reflects our reality that... oh who knows.

Future cop with robot. Ha! Which is which??!
The Queen of Mars says "I am my own PA." ;-)
There is little more satisfying to me than a paintball gun loaded with baby powder.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

1202 Day 10

Today was a pretty quick day. But I think we got all of our plates which we need so Ian Hubert can do our CG. Jim Boyett was in today. This was super helpful because it meant that the Marsian Queen could deal with makeup and various on-set things like putting baby powder inside the barrel of guns so that some foof would come out when they're shot.
Clark needed a picture for his Facebook profile.

I haven't been taking enough pictures of Virginia Logan. So here's one.

Maduka Steady was our robot today. Here he is with Virginia Logan, squaring off against an evil robot.

I got to shoot at Virginia a lot today. I then began to cackle. I then realized that when the director is laughing maniacally while shooting dust pellets at the actors it's not exactly the most comforting of sounds. For the actors. Personally I was perfectly fine with it.

Squaring off against an evil robot.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day One Versus Day Two

So this is sort of strange. There's a book called Day One by Nate Kenyon.
You might recall that we made a movie called Day Two. The name it was released under was Battle: New York Day II.
Let's look at the cover art, shall we? Here's the key art for the 2011 North American release.
And this is the cover art for Day Two.
Um. Really? Really? I... okay then. So did someone actually look at the art for Day 2 and think "Hey, we'll do the same thing, just with a guy in the picture"? I have no idea.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mandira Movie

Our own Mandira Chauhan has an entry in the Doritos commercial contest. Check it out! Zombie Apack'o'chips!

Vote early! Vote often!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh, for Full Duplex

How to use a walkie on set. I cannot over stress how important it is to wait for the tones to go across the network (after pressing the talk button) to speak.
Note that the sound department almost never uses walkie talkies (typically called "radios" by professionals). This is primarily because they're listening all the time and can't be interrupted. Also, they're intimately involved with set and the sound of a walkie would destroy a take.
The few times when I've needed a cue from a walkie I've asked that a PA with a radio stand near me and relay the cue to me. (On other kinds of big shows I used to mix the communications were crazy-time complicated with multiple channels of hard-wired and wireless communications. That's not the case here.)
Press the PTT button. Take a breath. Then talk. Why? Because then the words "Don't move the truck" become "Move the truck." I have seen that happen way too often to count. Truck gets moved. "Why are you moving the truck?!" someone squeals. But it comes out as "Are you moving the truck?!"
The response is "yes". But they don't wait and the response becomes "... phtht".
So then an AD runs, yelling at the truck driver, avoiding the use of technology in order to communicate: "Why are you moving the truck??!!!"
"Because that's. What you told me. To do. On the radio."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Front Light

So. Front-light. I've seen behind-the-scenes where someone is throwing an inky on actors -- you know, by hand. They're just carrying it around.
Well on this picture it's written such that it's all POV camera. That's, er, not the way I'm shooting it but that's not the writer's fault.
In any case, I realized that the robot (whose POV we mostly are) has a light on in his eyes. So of course the camera should have a light on board. Right?
Here's an iPhone picture of our camera rig -- that's a florescent light which operates on 4 AA cells, just below the lens; and a weird little 2-LED light which attaches to a 9V battery there next to the lens.
So here's the thing. You always want to have your light "modeling" the foreground by having some big huge amount of light coming in from the back or side of the image. That helps keep the image from being too "flat" looking. But counter to that you want to fill in eye sockets and have a bit of kick from some light in the eyes. The fill is to make people look better, the kick is so you can see what they're thinking (no, really).
The lights turned on make the iPhone's camera go nuts. I kind of like it.
Now you may have noticed these are two opposing things in light. And they can be a pain to make both work.
Attaching a little light or two to the camera works fantastic. Especially at a 1600 ISO at f2.8. You can light from behind just like you want to, but you don't need to worry so much about the kick and filling in the eyes.
And it's a relatively subtle effect too. You don't have to worry about everything looking like a bad television documentary where they attached a SunGun to the camera and went walking around in people's backyards.

We may slap a light to the camera rig just below the lens on all future movies. We just may. It sure makes the lighting director's job easier. I mean the DP's job. I mean the gaffer's job. I mean the Queen of Mars.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Your Three Things

Does anyone have a spare $25,000 I can have so I can get one of these Freefly M10's?

Stu Maschwitz on coloring.

John J. Bruno on producing guerrilla-style. I'm trying to count the number of things in his post which we straight - up do the opposite way. We don't pay our grips, we make our lighting director order lunch and do props without paying her, we consider budgets (and revenues) to be public knowledge and we absolutely never at any time ask anyone to sign an NDA. In fact, I want people to sign a "I will post many pictures to Facebook and Tumbl and whatever" agreement.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Walls II

So I think I have about 112 square feet of wall I want to cover.
Just as a side note: look at the carved wooden "cap" at the end of this room. Who doesn't want that? I don't mean in real life, I just mean in a movie. You want that thing, right? 

We're going to get a couple boxes of these from Home Despot. I'm gonna hang them on my wall. We'll shoot movies in front of it.

Check out all the ThreeDWall designs.

If you like, groove to the much more expensive leather panels. They'd make excellent accents.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


A very exciting part of the whole filmmaking process is walls.
Okay, maybe not.
But walls are the things behind the actors. So you have to make them look right.
We have right now, in my apartment, two different kinds of walls which are more than awesome.
There is a wall of painted molded pulp packaging (mostly for wine but I think there's a couple humidifiers and a number of hard drives' packing materials in there.) Marcie Kintish did the scenic painting on those pieces. I found most of the pieces in the trash.
That molded wall looks awesome. I can't say enough about it.
The second wall is what we (I) call the "Pepsi wall". It's made of delivery containers for one and two-liter bottles of Pepsi. I know. Most of them were in the trash at my apartment building. Others were found by Marcie and lashed together with plastic zip ties.
Now the brilliant Queen of Mars has found another cheap and beautiful wall material. This threeDwall stuff is amazing looking.
You know you want this in your own living room. 
We're totally going with this. It's going to rock. Our voles.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Double Robot Composite.

This is a quick shot we did with both robots in the room. Camera's locked and there's a garbage matte for when we put Rik in the other helmet and in the chair. The camera got bonked (probably from me hitting "record" but it re-lined itself up seemingly just fine. A little "neo" from Magic Bullet Looks with a slight increase of exposure and less contrast.

Day 9

Today we had the lovely Kimball Brown and the excessively handsome Walter "Barny" Barnes.
Walter gets fixed up by Maya before a take.
My building's super -- I don't know what we have to do for him for Christmas but it's gotta be awesome. We got permission to shoot in the basement and the basement is... amazing. There are so many completely different environments down there.
Note this is the "ARGUS II" which enters with Yerkov. Totally different helmet.

Walter did an amazing job in the suit.
 Maya made a very cool costume for Yerkov.
We're shooting all ISO 1600 at f2.8 with a color balance of 5300K. This will be important to know in the event we have to do reshoots.
I love this shot with Kimball Brown because we get a slash of shadow across her eyes yet we still have kick in her eyes!
The shoot is going rather well. Every set and location is new (for us). I can't wait to see how it's going to turn out.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

1202 Day 8

Matthew Trumbull, Sarah-Doe Osborne, Virginia Logan, and Mary Murphy look at some newly-made nanobot zombies.
My bathtub is like a crime scene.
I'm really enjoying the "unlit" look of this picture. I'm willing to face reality and note that the Panasonic GH3 sinks the dark part of the image all on its own -- giving everything you put in front of it a kind of "filmy" look. And with a 5300K light balance the image just looks... well kinda nice in my opinion. We have nice colors but they don't get weird on us. 
I have a small 4x "AA"-cell battery-powered florescent light mounted to the front of the spiderbrace the camera rides on. This is working fairly well for us. It really only reads in closeups but in mediums it gives just a bit more "oomph" to the frontmost part of the image.
In-between scenes, Virginia Logan knits in uniform.

 Everywhere we shoot in my apartment building has nice lighting (at an f2.8 and 1600 ISO).
Steve Deighan, Matthew Trumbull, Sarah-Doe Osborne, Virginia Logan, and Mary Murphy. This is a fun gang of people to fight the zombie apocalypse with.
The images we get are very color-correctable but honestly all I really want to do is drain a bit of color from the whole thing and then walk away. But we could swing to blue or green or sepia as much as we really like. Yup, the blacks are unrecoverable (see Sarah-Doe's pants for instance). But the midrange gives us a whole lot of room to work in. Still, the image is pretty nice as-is. As far as I'm concerned.
Bad guys go up the stairs: that's Steve Deighan, Matthew Trumbull, Tarantino Smith, Maya Graffagna, and Sarah-Doe Osborne.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 7

La Reine de Mars waits to roll sound.

Clark on his first day. The awesome super at my building let us use the part of the basement I'd never seen before. This scene Clark blows it up watching his mother/zombie get killed with a baseball bat. On a side note, what rating were we going for here? On another note, I'd asked his mom if seeing his mom get killed would qualify as either traumatizing or awesome and she allowed that for him it would be clearly on the side of "awesome".

Dirk Voetberg as the sleazy landlord Bennicker before he comes to an untimely end by whomever that is behind him.
We stuffed Clark in a closet. He got me back:
Him: "Did you write this movie?"
Me: "No."
Him: "So you're just the director."
Writers everywhere rejoice and smirk.

Annalisa Loeffler going after a robot with a baseball bat. That's a Pandora Machine bag in the background which the Producer took away for the final shot. Many thanks to Virginia Logan for her baseball bat. Apparently kids these days all use aluminum bats. Back in my day you weren't allowed to play with aluminum bats.

Annalisa Loeffler's new Facebook picture.

Dirk Voetberg looks on while Clark slates a scene for Annalisa Loeffler.

Okay, so this is Annalisa Loeffler's new Facebook shot.

Annalisa Loeffler, Maya Graffagna, and the Queen of Mars look at video tap (yes, after years of not having tap, we have it once again) which doesn't actually show up when you take a still (meaning that the duration of the frame that is actually shot is not transmitted to the monitor, we are all otherwise actually looking at the frame you see above.)

Annalisa Loeffler and our little tribute to Sleep No More.

Clark in front of our two walls. These walls were built by Marcie Kintish and are freakin' beautiful to shoot. In fact that wall you see on the left is staying right there -- I'm gonna live with it. It's like a big piece of art on that wall.
Someone left those salt and pepper shakers in the front hall of my building yesterday for someone to take and I decided that someone would be me. It turns out they're electric salt and pepper grinders.
Clark wouldn't touch those pancakes. His loss -- they were delicious.

Die Königin Mars.