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.

Why should writers have all the fun?

Writer's Strike
Image by hereinvannuys
The SAG is looking at extending or renegotiating their contract with the studios, and no doubt weighing their options in light of the most recent WGA strike. Even though it looks like a strike from Hollywood actors is unlikely at this point, it’s interesting to reflect on this extremely bizarre year for studio-produced media. . .

Looking back on the writers’ strike, I have to wonder if it actually changed the landscape of media consumption at all. Did we spend more time watching YouTube? Probably, but I’m guessing that the only careers launched were those of a few adorable kittens. Did we suffer without our regularly scheduled network programming? Possibly, but I was too busy watching Sex and the City reruns. Unless Ben Stiller plans to go around unplugging everyone’s TV’s and trashing their iTunes folders, it’s really going to be tough to make every screen in America go dark.

In the years since the 1988 writers’ strike, regular Americans have become accustomed to consuming media multiple times a day. And while that means we are able to consume more studio-made media (due to DVDs, video streaming services and bittorrent), it also means that it’s harder for the loss of any one type of media (new television dramas, blockbuster films) to make an impact on our daily lives. There’s simply too much good stuff being produced for us to consume all of it. And too much bad stuff that we’re willing to watch anyway.

Royalties for Digital Goods

Amazon Kindle
Image by jblyberg

Seth Godin recently posted on his blog about the Kindle ($359 from Amazon). He mentions publisher resistance to lowering prices on digital books, similar to studio or label’s resistance to lower prices on film, tv, or music. They all claim that lower prices would mean less revenue for the artists, authors, actors, etc.

If you eliminate the cost of physical products, you should be able to lower the total cost, raise the percentage that is paid to the content creator, and still make a profit. Unless the reason to keep prices high is to maintain the bloated physical distribution arm of a studio/publisher/label.

Maybe the idea is just to keep milking the connections that keep traditional distributors on top of the promotional game before an agile content aggregator/digital distributor/promoter comes along who doesn’t have to keep supporting the whole physical production and distribution department and can afford to simultaneously pay the creators more and charge the consumers less. Imagine what that would be like.

Celtx 1.0 Released

Image by isaleal

Looks like the folks at Celtx have come out with version 1.0. This is a tool for screenwriters of all stripes, and it’s FREE! I’ve been playing with Celtx for a while, and I like what I see.

Review will certainly follow. I’d love to test their theory that this can help people creating non-traditional media (podcasts, games, comics).

Anybody who Legally Downloads Music is an Idiot…

Steadicam Operator
Photo by Carolyn Coles

That’s what record store owner John Kioussis told Steve Guttenberg of The Audiophiliac.

Do you agree with Kioussis? Is legal digital music so bad that it’s not worth obeying the law?

Certainly there have been arguments made that draconian DRM has limited the appeal of legal sources for downloaded music. If media owners and creators do not or cannot provide their media in a format which meets consumer needs, the consumers will find an alternative source for that media.

Consumers in the digital age expect to have flexibility in when, how, and where they consume their media. The popularity of DVRs is driven by the desire to watch programs when it is convenient for the consumer instead of when the broadcaster decides to air it. Podcasting allows consumers to choose when and where to watch or listen. DRM that locks media to a particular device or method of viewing limits the consumer’s choice and, ultimately, pushes some percentage of those users to seek out less regulated formats of the same content, or other content entirely.

There are also the issues of fidelity. A 128kbps MP3 is not the same quality as a 44,100 Hz audio CD. Most legal sources of downloadable music don’t offer lossless file formats (excepting a notable few). There are, however, lossless file formats, such as FLAC, that are extremely popular among concert bootleggers. Thus, fidelity is another justification used by downloaders who choose alternatives to the legal avenues of music distribution.

As for John Kioussis? The rest of that quote is “You can get it for free, why pay for it? Download it illegally, who’s going to catch you? Legal or illegal, they sound the same.”

Regardless of getting caught or not, the best reason to find a legal option is to support the hard work of the artist(s) who created the media that you are enjoying. After all, without continued support, artists wouldn’t be able to continue to produce their art (excluding the independently wealthy and famously successful minority).

Traditional record deals don’t benefit the artists nearly as much as they do the studios, but changes in technology are bringing about a new wave of digital distribution options that allow artists to cut out the middlemen and connect directly (or in a manner closely approximating directly) with their fans.

So, if you want your favorite artists to keep producing art, maybe downloading music legally doesn’t make you an idiot. In fact, by searching out sites that offer the best deals to artists and supporting them, you can help shape the landscape of direct media and further the trend of direct connections from Artist to Fan.

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.