Vamp X and Gen Con

Next month I'll be fulfilling a dream I've had for most of my life - I'll be going to Gen Con! I've played Dungeons and Dragons since I was 8 years old, and other games too. As I've gotten older and my interests have expanded, my love affair with Role-Playing Games is a bit on-again, off-again; but fantasy, games, and storytelling are a constant presence in my life. I've wanted to go to Gen Con since about 1982/83 when I first saw an ad for it in the back of (I think) my AD&D Player's Handbook, but for whatever reason I've never gotten round to it.

But now I have the perfect excuse.

"Vamp X," a short comedy-horror film I shot a few years ago - before leaving Texas - is being screened at the Gen Con Indy Film Festival (Indy as in Indianapolis, not indie as in movie). So I'm going. David Glenney, the man behind Vamp X has kindly hooked me up with a badge and so off I go to fulfill my childhood dream. Can you say Nerdgasm? You can find the full version of Vamp X on Vimeo, but I'll drop the trailer here for you to check out.

Vampire X Trailer from David Glenney on Vimeo.

I'll be there to check out some film making and writing panels, and, oh yeah, do some gaming. I may also drink a little and take photos of cosplayers. I'm very excited about this opportunity and I really owe some thanks to David Glenney for entering the film and for inviting me along. I owe you at least one beer, Dave, maybe two. 

Additionally, Vamp X is screening at the Indie Gathering Festival in Cleveland, OH that same weekend, and the Horrific Film Fest in San Antonio, TX later in August. It seems our little film is having quite the whirlwind tour - not that it doesn't deserve it; it's just coming as a pleasant surprise a few years after shooting it. Good work Mr. Glenney. Glad I was part of it.

Update (1/11/2013):

Looking back on this post and I thought I'd give it an update. I didn't make it to Gen Con for Vamp X, unfortunately because my stepfather passed away the week before. Well, perhaps I'll get a chance to go again someday, and go there just to game!

Also, turns out that after a round of Festivals, David Glenney decided to take down the trailer link and post the full short so the video above has been updated accordingly.

The Times are a-Changin' (part 1)

So I thought I'd throw together a bit of a segment on my blog to discuss my thoughts on changes that are going on in the cinema-making industry these days. Note most of this will come from an "indie" perspective - after all that's the world I'm currently in and I'd be pretty big pompous turd if I pretended to be making observations from an ivory tower. As per usual, my thoughts are just thoughts and definitely open to critique. But first, a little website business!


For a while now I've been calling this blog "LDLA," an acronym for my personal filmmaking creedo: "Live Digital, Love Analog." Unfortunately I often found myself trying to fit my content into the philisophical context of that ideal. Not working so much for me. The problem with that is that it's just the root of a personal philosophy and that's awfully muddy ground. Sometimes I stopped myself from writing about something because it was hard to be coherent in this context. Somehow, probably through self-criticism, it occurred to me that my ideas are often fuzzy. Well, a great man once said a thing about fuzzy ideas and I use that thought as a filter sometimes - if an idea is fuzzy I might be reluctant to talk about it. But then I thought a little about the Hegelian Dialectic - thesis, antithesis, synthesis - and realized that the only way to overcome fuzzy ideas is to put them through the forge of dialog. Even if that dialog is really just a schitzophrenic inner monolog. To which anyone who's ever read my ramblings can attest is mostly the case. So in the spirit of actually writing a little more often, even if what I have to say is complete and utter bullshit, I have re-christened my blog "Fuzzy Ideas," with much thanks to Jean-Luc Godard for the idea.

And now... On to the meat of this post:

Post-Production Wonderland

Last week was the 2011 NAB Show and there's much to talk about. I've waited a while and weighed my thoughts on what some of the offerings meant, but I think I can say that my initial feelings were true: 2011 is a landmark year for independent filmmakers in terms of post-production. There's a lot to be excited about, but the main thing is that the barrier to entry has been lowered.

The first big piece of news for me was that Adobe is offering a subscription model in CS5.5. If you're an Adobe fan (and I've spoken here before about my Adobe advocacy), this is very cool. Essentially, what cost $1,700 two weeks ago can be had for $85-129 now, depending on the subscription model. You can have Adobe CS5.5 Production Premium for as little as $85 a month with a year-long commitment. If you consider that Adobe has a product cycle of about 18 months this means you're paying $1,530 over that period. Of course, that's where the downside kicks in because if you own the suite outright, then it's only a few hundred dollars to upgrade you and keep you up to date for another year and a half. Or, if you're like some people and upgrade every other release, that gets you even farther. So, to be clear, the subscription model isn't cheaper in the long run; but for a filmmaker starting out $85 a month is a whole lot more digestible than $1,700 outright. And to be honest, Production Premium is the only way to get everything you need in one package (plugins and whatnot notwithstanding).

But there's more! And there may even be a reason here not to get a full subscription to CS5.5.

Another big piece of news was Apple's preview of FCPX (we don't say "X," it's "Final Cut Pro Ten"). Apple finally showed the world the complete, ground-up rebuild of Final Cut, built for 64-bit multiprocessing, etc., etc. It looks beautiful. Like it's made of Jolly Ranchers. I want to lick it. To a lot of people it also looks like it should be called "iMovie Pro" and that's not an unfair assertion. But if there's one thing that Apple does well (and actually there are several), it's user interfaces. OSX 10.7 is borrowing from iOS because there are some very natural things about iOS that translate to a better all-round user experience. Likewise, there are some things about iMovie that can probably be borrowed for an improved user experience. Yes, this means a learning curve, and No, I don't believe in change for change's sake; but evolution as a process is a good thing and sticking with old interfaces, models, and paradigms simply because we understand them is not good. Hopefully some good will come of this and Apple should be applauded for taking a bit of a risk. What is most concerning about FCPX though is how much we don't know. There's still no truly solid information about whether any of the suite survived and if it did not, how much of that functionality is integrated into the core application and how deep is it. Are Apple pandering to enthusiasts at the expense of the Pros? We'll soon find out I suppose, but one thing we know for sure is that the price for the core application is great. $299. Again, assuming - even if it isn't a full suite - that FCPX is a pro-level NLE, the barrier for entry has been lowered. Rejoice!

I love color. I like playing with it. It's one of my favorite things about post. It's one of my favorite things about cinema. I often use After Effects for color grading and recently I've picked up Apple Color. Last year, Black Magic came out with Da Vinci Resolve for the Mac at a cool Grand. That was awesome and I've been wishing I had the resources to use it ever since. Well, now they've come out with Resolve Lite! And it's free. As in free beer. It's limited, of course, but definitely not crippled. You can color SD and HD footage (no 2K or 4K, but if you're shooting on these professional formats be professional enough to fork out a little money for the real thing) and have a maximum of 2 nodes - which takes care of your primaries and secondaries; OR you could always use a 3-way corrector in your NLE for primaries and then use this for the heavy lifting. Anyway, once again on a professional platform, the barrier to entry is lowered.

Now none of these things will make you a master. There are a ton of people calling themselves editors, colorists, or even cinematographers because over the past few years it's been easier to approach parity with the pros in terms of provisioning. (I'm occasionally among these people). But having access to Resolve won't make you a master colorist and a cheap version of FCP won't make you the next Walter Murch. But you can get started on it and that's the point. Will the structure of the industry break down because of things like this? I doubt it. While the barrier to entry is lowered (sorry I keep repeating myself) the shit flows the way it does on a $100M movie for a reason and that won't change any time soon; but the paths into the business, and, more importantly, to expressing your own creativity, are growing.

The Trifecta

So I think there's a great, cheap, post-production suite setup now that can be had for chump change and I want to put it out there and get some feedback on it. Apple is very hard to ignore with their $299 price tag even if that doesn't include everything that's now in the suite. (By the way, the Total Cost of Ownership for a Mac-based editing system just went less than a PC. A $2,000 Mac with $300 of software is cheaper than a $1,000 PC with $1,500 of software). I love Adobe CS but the price tag is a bit hefty in comparison. There are things that you get for that though. For one you get After Effects which is a staple of my workflow. It beats Motion hands down for motion Graphics and is a great all-round compositing app. If you have to worry about anything in those realms that AE can't handle, then this budget filmmaking talk probably doesn't concern you. That said, I personally use After Effects 80% for color work, and not a lot of heavy lifting. It's nice to have when I need it for those things, but it's a big price tag and, as we see, I can do a reasonable amount of that color work for free now.

So my budget post-production suite is FCPX - Resolve Lite - and AE (as needed).

To me that makes so much financial sense. $299 for FCPX, $0 for Resolve Lite, and on the occasion that I really need it, After Effects on a monthly rental for $75 (which, unless it's a personal project, the client should pay for). These products will be out early this summer and I'm looking forward to trying this out. I may end up with a full-Adobe workflow in the end - after all, it is a really great suite - but I think this is a great and workable budget-minded combo. 

Heralds of Armageddon

Even though I don't think that any of this really spells doom for the filmmaking establishment, a lot of people talk as though it is. And honestly, while production is its own world and has a lot to deal with these days, the executive end of this industry really does need to wake up to the 21st Century. There're a lot of things changing that can't be stopped. In this spirit I give you this photo, aptly titled "Heralds of Armageddon."


I Want to Believe... in the Invisible Camera

I listen to a lot of podcasts and read quite a few blogs. One podcast I've discovered recently is photographer Chris Marquardt's "Photography Tips From the Top Floor." One of my favorite things about this show is that until very recently it was called "Digital Photography Tips from the Top Floor," But the name was changed after the host recently rediscovered his love of analog photography. It's not just analog now, but Chris essentially acknowledges that the width of the photographic landscape can not be measured in megapixels.

For a couple weeks Chris has mentioned that he would soon be talking about a project of his, "The Invisible Camera." This was interesting because he had been also openly discussing a pinhole camera he was prototyping. To be honest I was just amazed and excited that a podcasting photographer was coming out with a product that wasn't an iPhone app. When he finally put up the web page and video discussing the Invisible Camera I was just blown away.

I instantly posted this on my facebook with a little stab at the "film is dead" people. I got a couple excited comments. Then the truth started to unfold. "I think this is an April Fools gag," one said. And then another sourced a quote from the Invisible Camera website indicating that applicants to the field test should check back on April 1st. And what a dunce I felt like. But then I said, "meh," and declared that I was happy to be part of the fun.

The science was a little wonky and I'd probably realize that if I'd scrutinized it a little more but, really, I'm not going to be ashamed of getting excited over a breakthrough in photographic technology, even if it was a prank. Honestly, I'm happy to be the kind of person who fell for it. I think it says something about me. The same way, when I read a book or watch a movie I often don't see things coming that other people said they knew were coming long before. And when they do come, I think I get so much more enjoyment from them. It's good to not be jaded.

And I feel even more vindicated in that spirit after having read Chris Marquardt's "reveal" on the Invisible Camera Website. "We did not do this to mock you. The Invisible Camera is our humble attempt to bring back wonder and amazement... If you believed in our story, congratulations on being an openminded individual who still can dream and be amazed. That is a wonderful ability to possess."

Good Joke Chris. I really appreciate the spirit of what you did, and even if my excitement was short-lived it was intense while it lasted. Happy April Fools Day.

The Betty

It's been a while since I posted any news here. There's been a little here and there but mainly I've been doing two things: ramping up for the 52 Weeks Project and working on The Betty. The Betty is a (somewhat) short film I directed a couple years ago in Dallas with HateCity Pictures, my ongoing collaboration with Glenn Bailey. I've been working on it off and on since then and have finally come to a point with it where I'm comfortable sending it out to some film festivals for consideration. There's still some polishing to be done on it, but I have what can basically be considered a final cut. I'm not unleashing it upon the world just yet but I'm letting cast and crew take a first look at the work they did.

The Betty is a heist movie about a couple of misfit criminals who botch a job and continue to make their situation worse. It's a moderately comedic flick starring another long-time collaborator of mine, the perpetually funny Eric Rhoades. Pretty much the entire cast, myself included, came out of Dallas's R.E.A.C.T. actor's studio and did a wonderful job. The crew were amazing as well. This film was shot on weekends over the course of a year and a lot of people contributed to making it what it is.

The Betty is also the film that made me decide to pursue cinematography. While my friend Eric Gunter started off as our Director of Photography, the movie took over a year and in that time he got an irresistible job offer in Germany. A lot of people sat behind the camera after that but I pretty much had to step in, create the shots, set the lights, and when I wasn't in front of it, work the camera. It was the first material I ever shot that I was really proud of.

Any way there's a lot of history and love in this movie. I'll let the world see it soon, but for now I want to celebrate with my cast and crew the fact that we finally have a real movie to show for it.