Chris Carter’s Green Set for X Files Sequel

First of all, I’m posting this from a BUS! Yes, indeed, I have finally tried out Bolt Bus, and the wireless internet is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Image from Eleven Eights Photostream

Image from Eleven Eight's Photostream

In honor of Jewish tradition this week, I rented a bunch of movies that I missed in theaters, including the long-awaited X Files follow-up, I Want To Believe. The movie itself is much like a big long X Files episode, except that Mulder has a beard and Scully has really long hair.

However, I really like the extras on the DVD.  The blooper reel is outstanding (as, by the way, are all of the blooper reels from the original show).  In addition, X Files creator Chris Carter gives some insight into how he made his set more ecologically friendly.

Ford donated hybrid cars to transport cast and crew to and from airports, the crew limited the number of scripts and sides photocopied each day, and biodiesel generators powered equipment.  The crew had a no-idling policy for all vehicles, and used sand instead of salt on their snowy location shoots.  All food was produced less than 100 miles from the set.  It’s actually not that different from the suggestions I made in a previous post about green production and the potential for “slow film.”

Carter says that he had “lost some interest in what I do, because of the waste. . . and the mentality was spend a lot of money, make a lot of money, and don’t think about the product of your process.”

The X Files often dealt thematically with how humans encroach on the natural world, and I think it’s great to hear that Carter takes his own message so seriously.

Canon 5D Mark II Video Footage

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Image from Steve KeysCanon lent a prototype of the new 5D Mark II to New-York-based commercial and editorial photographer Vincent Laforet for 72 hours, and this short film is what he put together: beautifully shot, put to music (no sync sound), using only footage from the 5D Mark II. The footage is 1/4 size (from the original 1080P) and shot with mostly L-series glass. The 5D Mark II retails for about $2700 (body only) from B&H. The combination of excellent lenses with the full frame sensor yields some gorgeous low-light shots.

I’m certainly interested to see some of this tech make it over to the prosumer video side of Canon. After seeing this kind of result, would you consider shooting your next project on a DSLR?

Slick or Real?

Gritty VW Bug
Image from iboy_daniel
Seth Godin, with yet another interesting post, talks about the idea of being stuck between gritty realism and hyper-produced slickness. Things that fall in the deadzone tend to fail the appeal test.

This idea is perfectly applicable to films as well. Think about some that you’ve seen recently. Chances are that the independent ones traded well on being real and honest while the large studio films leveraged their budgets to produce something more stylized.

One great film that comes to mind for me when I think about the “real” end of the scale is “Once.” At the other end of the spectrum, think about the last action movie you saw. Chances are, it was glossy, heavily edited, and expensive. What’s the learning for independent filmmakers? If you can’t get all the way to slick and glossy, don’t try for it. Embrace the realism and frankness that come with the territory.

Update: client k has a post on a similar topic today.

Slow Food, Slow Film?

Lately, media-makers of all stripes have been doing their part to let us know that the world is going to come to an end if we don’t start taking our environmental impact more seriously. It’s a great message to put out there, but one that is especially tough for media-makers to follow in their own companies. Media-making requires a lot of resources.

Image from 416style

Image from 416style

I’ve been coming up with ways that media production could take a cue from the folks in the Slow Food and Slow Travel movements. The idea behind Slow Food and Slow Travel is that, in order to conserve resources, respect other cultures and foster a healthy planet, we need to do things like buy environmentally sound products, avoid wasting fuel, and support local economies. When I googled “slow film,” all I got were a bunch of negative reviews of movies. In film and new media, “slow” is a dirty word.

What if it wasn’t? What would “Slow Film” entail?

Slow Film

  • Cutting down on travel costs by maximizing fuel economy of rental cars and skipping extra scouting trips.
  • Minimizing equipment: Taking only the lightest and most power-efficient equipment.
  • Shooting using mostly natural light.
  • Hiring a local crew instead of bringing your own. Hiring local on-camera talent, or in a documentary, allowing local voices to tell the story themselves.
  • Choosing to make a film with a local setting or subject matter: This connects a film company to its community, and can be a boon to local businesses.
  • Patronizing local camera stores, restaurants, and other businesses while shooting.
  • Distributing over the web rather than burning DVDs.
  • Turning off power when not using post-production equipment.

What else would make good environmental sense, without compromising the quality of your project? Are there film companies out there that are dedicated to producing media in “slow” ways?

Panasonic’s AG-HMC70 falls short

Panasonic AG-HMC70
Image from Panasonic Press Release
I’m excited about this announcement from Panasonic. Or more accurately, I’m excited that the camera has finally launched. This shoulder-mounted camera, clearly targeting event videographers, offers quite a sweet spot of price and features:

  • 3×1/4″ CCDs
  • 12x Leica Dicomar Lens
  • 1440x1080i AVCHD (a.k.a. H.264 or MPEG 4 Part 10)
  • Records to cheap SD/SDHC cards
  • XLR inputs
  • BNC and HDMI outputs
  • Headphone jack (OK, this should really be standard, but still worth noting)
  • Street Price of around $2100

What more do you need, right? Then I get to the sticking point: 13Mbps bitrate for the AVCHD. That’s significantly lower than the limit for the spec (24Mbps) and is disappointing in a camera that is otherwise very promising.

ZDNet has a good description of the problems with low bitrate “HD” as well as an at-a-glance comparison of 13Mbps AVCHD and 24Mbps HDV (MPEG-2).

As you can see, there’s “HD” and there’s HD. This camera still has some utility, but mostly to institutional videographers. Handy for a school or church, but filmmakers looking for quality HD can probably find a better match for their needs.

More Steadicam from Garrett Brown

Steadicam
Image by mikefats
B&H has Part 2 of their interview with Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam. We featured Part 1 last month. In this addition, Brown talks about his early experiences using the Steadicam on film sets, the advent of post-production tools for correcting shaky footage, and combo-shots using the Steadicam along with dollys and cranes.

B&H also has a video with Garrett Brown demonstrating the Steadicam Pilot, one of the lightweight and lower-cost alternatives to the full-scale film camera version. If Garrett Brown’s Steadicams are a bit of your price range, take a look at Johnny Chung Lee’s $14 Steadycam.

Johnny Chung Lee: My newest hero

Steadycam Pieces
Image by ElDavid1
Chances are you haven’t heard of Johnny Chung Lee yet – but it’s probably only a matter of time. Lee has demonstrated some pretty neat tricks with the Wii remote, and actually tells you how to accomplish them at home (I could devote an entire post to how awesome he is at explaining technology, but I’ll refrain). If building Minority Report style finger tracking and a home-made multi-input whiteboard isn’t enough for you, Lee makes his own $14 Steadycam. He has some really nice demos up on the site, too. The side-by-side comparison between his Steadycam and a camera on a folded tripod is pretty impressive.

What I like about all of these projects is that they are not focused on the most perfect means of exploiting technology, but the fastest, cheapest and simplest. Teague is quite taken with the $14 Steadycam.  Now you all know what to get him for his birthday.

Planning ahead. . .

Steadicam Operator
Photo by Reinis Traidas

One of the things I’ve learned in two years of production is that no two shoots are ever, ever, ever the same.

Before you go into production, it helps to not only visualize the scene you’re trying to create inside your camera, but also the scene on set. Who will play what role? What “props” do you need? (A table is really helpful for snacks, a couple chairs are awesome for tired actors and directors). Does it really make sense for a sound guy to be there if the whole set-up for the day is a single actor and a boom? Can you dismiss your costumer halfway through the day, or will that mean that someone’s bowtie gets droopy?

On our shoots, everyone is expected to be “helpful.” This means that if you’re standing next to the extension cord, you can be the one to hand it to the director (whether you are sound, costumes, an AP or an actor). Nobody is anybody’s “assistant.” The Associate Producer is expected to do 99% of the administrative tasks (the three M’s: Money, Meals, Mistakes – Mapquest would make four). When I was an intern for a small production house, I made up a “shoot kit” for the AP’s. Basically, I bought a plastic tool box, and filled it with all the things you might need on a shoot:

– office supplies (envelopes, pens, scissors)
– first aid supplies
– gaffers tape
– clipboards
– a slate
– white paper (for white balance)
– extra tape stock

Most importantly, I stuck in a list of what belongs in there so that it can be restocked as needed. I would always rather be freakishly organized than lose shoot hours to a pointless pen hunt.

Steadicam for Indies

Steadicam Operator

Photo by Reinis Traidas

B&H has an video interview with the inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown. The Steadicam, for those who don’t know, is a stabilizing mount for a camera that isolates the camera’s movement from the camera operator’s movement. On terrain that is too rough, or other situations where a track and dolly are not practical, Steadicam allows smooth, moving shots.

Interestingly, Brown focused specifically on the drive to bring the Steadicam to smaller scale productions:

“The things that the Hollywood guys with their $50,000 rigs have, someone wants with a little HDV camera,” says Brown. “It’s our job not only to supply the gear, but also to help educate people to use it with the same degree of freedom and panache that the big boys have.

Brown’s mission to bring the Steadicam to the masses fits within the general trend of democratization of technology and it is particularly exciting, if not altogether unexpected, that stabilized camera mounts are becoming more widely available. Guerrilla filmmakers in particular may find great value in being able to get stable, smooth shots without the burden and setup of a dolly.