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Inakamichi: Visions - Official Movie Website

Production Journal, Page 11














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15 February 2007-
It's sad to see that Los Gatos Camera is closing down, and I suppose it's quite cruel to say that I took great advantage of their liquidation sale- 50% off of MiniDV tapes means I managed to get 10 for the measly price of $22.99. (at a store like Target, by simple division one tape is $4.25) That's gonna last me for quite a bit, and it might get me carried away in my experimenting.

More ambitiousness, but for once, my creative surge is back- I'm now aspiring to make an animated film using construction paper. Unlike the flat images and simple animation of "South Park", however, I'm planning on pushing it a step further. This will likely be a short due to its time-consuming nature [last year, it took me an entire week to complete 12 seconds of dumbed-down, simplified animation], but I probably have enough material to make this feature-length. It is likely that the entirety of this project will be shot in MiniDV instead of a digital SLR or something of higher resolution, mainly because I want some moving elements shot in live-action, and it is my belief that a background plate being sharper than the foreground image creates a more convincing composite.

[I really can't be too hard on "South Park"; that show and its cheap look told me that I could make films, too! Just needs construction paper, imagination, and a camera to animate with]

More than ever, I'm really starting to buy into David Lynch's arguments for MiniDV- except the one that says "film is dead". For the still photographer and hobbyist filmmaker, it definitely is; but plenty of our directors are still very, very loyal to celluloid, and it won't die so easily. Not soon, anyway.

(and I still take photographs on celluloid. Black-and-white C-41, the kind that you have to take to the drugstore to be developed- not real B&W that you use in photography classes)

Seeing "INLAND EMPIRE", there were really only two things that bothered me about the cinematography, and both were due more to the camera settings and techniques used than the video medium itself:

1. Blown-out, overexposed backgrounds. David Lynch uses a prosumer Sony PD-150. I'm using a consumer Canon Optura60. If I can control exposure on my $700 camcorder, Lynch could have certainly done the same on his high-end camera. Adjusting white balance in post-production may make the video "grainier", but all 3 hours of "INLAND EMPIRE" already is.

2. Signs of what is obviously post-production cropping, used for extreme close-ups. While he argues that DV's being less sharp than 35mm and HD gives the audience more "room to dream", when it's zoomed-in and pixellated like that, we can clearly see it was an MS Paint job.

...and I really don't buy the anti-DV arguments that it looks overly grainy or pixellated otherwise. The grain/noise looks quite good and almost comparable to film, and if they know that much about resolution, they'd know about anti-aliasing, which keeps a natural DV image from looking pixellated around the edges like that. Only in the aforementioned extreme close-ups did the pixels really show.

If one aspiring independent filmmaker keeps himself from going into debt by saying this, it will have been worth it: you really don't need to shell out the money to shoot your debut feature on 16mm. DV is cheaper and it gives you good experience if you ended up screwing up majorly. Keep the camerawork, focusing and exposure competent, and it really shouldn't be that bothersome. As well, creating DVDs and otherwise screening copies for film festivals is cheaper when it's already in video, than some cheap telecine house for 16mm... or that telecine is going to drag you even further into debt!

I say this not from (feature-length) experience, but common sense and mathematics... and stories of other peoples' projects. Save the money for film when you're an even more competent and experienced filmmaker, on your second feature when some banker just might invest.

...and unless you have money and talent to build some really authentic-looking sets (or props) where the seams don't show, don't use sets or don't use HD.

Back to Dead Moose, Inc. business, the status on "Code of 'Con'duct I" I can only summarize in one word:

DAMMIT!

I didn't want this to happen, but it appears to be so- we can't film more scenes unless we can locate our actors and find out what times they're available. ...or get new cast membets. We need to get something new finished, and soon!

21 February 2007-
*Whew*! Been a very long day, creating the new Dead Moose, Inc. website, but it was worth it! Now I have a web address I can give to people, and am a little less embarrassed about.

http://deadmooseinc.tripod.com/

It's easier to navigate through, easier URLs (i.e., fmii.html, not id82.html for "Fight Movie II"), and a dark background that's easier on the eyes.

I've also started a new set of filmmaking rules, entitled "AUTOFOCUS-O7", for a day of fun for the seasoned filmmaker. It's been getting mixed reception at Vimeo, with "but that's what I already do!" comments; I know this will have its participants, though, so I'm going to shop the concept around to people who are more likely to understand where I'm coming from... mainly, student filmmakers who deal with boom mics and manual settings. And they'll possibly understand the fun that comes from the challenges it presents.

The rules are at http://deadmooseinc.tripod.com/autofocuso7.html

The first entry in this project is a film of my own, titled "The Mugging"... even though I've received criticism that it's "too slow and clean" to be a mugging. It was quickly concieved at 12:00 noon, with the prop used built at 12:35 and finishing at 12:40, then the roughest script imaginable drawn out at 1:00. Filming finished at 3:00, and editing was finished around 4:00, and released soon after that. Not since "Fight Movie: a pilot" has any of our productions gone through the whole process that fast!

What I've learned shooting this is stuff I learned from "CHASE: a documentary"- keep things planned, and stop ad-libs if they get in the way. With luck, it so happened to be the same two cast members.

The camera used is a new one that I got: a Canon ZR600, bought for the purposes of being a VCR, only to upload footage to the computer. This is the once that it sees some action in the field, mainly because I called for a cheap, consumer-level camcorder. The ZR600 is quite limited- manual focusing and exposure control are both difficult, you can't hook up headphones and you can't control the audio levels manually. Since manual options are prohibited, it was simple enough to go to EASY mode. The lack of control over the picture lead to some planned shots were people were rendered as silhouettes, and therefore new angles had to be picked.

Editing on Windows Movie Maker (as opposed to my regular Adobe Premiere) was easy enough to learn- it just didn't stop being a very annoying tool to work with. The limited tools available did add to fun, and I'm allowed very limited brightness and sound timing. The sound effect used was recorded from an archival sound effects CD as played by my boombox, and the rotoscoping was done in Microsoft Paint; due to shifts in brightness between frames, the effect is obvious.

It really is like seeing what you can do going back to crayons again, now that you've had more experience at drawing. If you've worked with tons of equipment and advanced editing software, I invite you to make a film under the AUTOFOCUS-O7 system.

22 February 2007-
We started filming on a short project, another experiment from Richard Davis: "Recurring Nightmare", which was at one point (or still is) intended as a "pilot" for a bigger project using the same style. What he wants is to push the limits of Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 and see how much we can do effects like Photoshop- I did warn him that if I felt the effects were too distracting, I'd nix them entirely.

It took around half-an-hour to get the mask on Kevin for his role as the Killer, and we didn't stop hearing about how painful it was. Nearly every take took forever to set up, but especially the first shot outside, in which there was a pan down and onto Kevin. Little kids were watching us, and laughing, so we guessed the mask wasn't scary.

Finally, we progressed into indoor shooting, and after a couple of successful first takes, we got upstairs into the closet where things were significantly different. It's hard when you have a boom mic recording essentially nothing, but it's better to have that sound that could be potentially used, than raw camera noise which would have to be deleted for a sense of continuity to when we do record dialogue with the boom mic. Lessons in lighting were learned, as plenty of the shots were too dark; a lamp was brought in and was our main light source.

From the beginning of the shoot, I insisted we screen dailies after we wrapped, just in case there was stuff we needed to reshoot, and also to get an idea as to what takes will be used. It turned out to be useful; even though I judged Richie's TV to be far too dark, we re-shot a couple of things and changed the angles entirely.

Right when I got back home, I recorded more foley effects for "N" while I was still in the car. Getting back in the house, there was already an e-mail there of "lessons learned"... which I feel are useful enough to repeat here:

"1. I wanted to make a shot list but was unable due [to] my need to direct the costuming.
2. When crunched for time (as we were from the start) if something isn't working (like the costume) just drop it and go to a work around.
3. When timing is required, as with the pan from the cherry tree, spend time on it only if necessary. It may be usable, we don't know yet, therefore I think it was appropriate that we spent time on it. However, we should have tried to find a way to make the timing less sensitive due to our lack of ability to calculate the timing exactly.
4. If there is no plan in advance expect anyone to change their mind. I'm planning out loud and therefore it should be considered planning and not the final direction.
5. If things looked rough and you only have that day to film, use dailies.
6. Yuki's case taught me something. At the beginning of a session where there are people with uncertain time availabilities, have them write it down at the beginning. That way there are no nasty surprises later on.
7. Ten seconds takes a long time, even without dialog, when you're working with an unstable costume, tricky lighting/timing, and semi-improvised shot planning.
8. Wait for the person with the camera to say they're ready.
9. Film as soon as possible no matter what you think about the weather or the ability to do it tomorrow. if we started Wednesday we would have finished today."

Like with "SCHEDULE", Richie will shoot plenty of stuff, then decide what to ultimately keep in the editing room. Personally, I much prefer to stick with only the shots needed, as I just can't make those kinds of decisions in the editing room; otherwise, I could give you that director's cut of "Visions" right here and there.

Richie is hoping to submit this to the Monta Vista Film Festival. As for me, I don't know what I want to do for it yet. "N" is my best candidate, once I get all the sound mixing done; I'm also contemplating submitting to real film festivals, as I've printed out plenty of forms today. Really need to make sure the film is worth it, though, as these cost good submission money.

...and I believe today is 2 years since "another walk in the park" was shot. I don't know if I'll ever get that film tweaked to my satisfaction; it won't be on YouTube or anything of the like until it sounds comprehensible.

24 February 2007-
Well, the Razzie Awards came to a close, and the Oscars are tomorrow. I still think "Babel" deserves to win Best Picture, though if the Academy's gonna do yet another upset, make it "Little Miss Sunshine". It's about time they gave it to a pure, unadulterated comedy (and a very funny one at that!).

Today, due to inability to film, Richie took the opportunity to have a planning session for "Recurring Nightmare", as well as notes on "Productivity", which we've decided to re-shoot everything for a better-planned production. Gives me a chance to improve upon my acting, which I'm completely embarrased about.

As it turned out, the planning session was a good idea. We discovered without actors waiting, what did and didn't work. As I brought my camera and anamorphic lens with me (but not my boom pole), we learned what our limitations were in terms of angles. Estimates were done of what could fit in a boom operator, and what couldn't.

Before planning commenced, I uploaded the footage we shot to test out color adjustments as well as other directions he had in his screenplay (I had to check the downloaded file, as I deliberately crossed any stylistic and camera directions out in the hard copy. Leave those to the director; and even if the screenwriter is the director, the director should have his own notes).

Much rotoscoping is going to happen for a particular effect, which doesn't work with garbage mattes. Color adjustment should be much, much easier than this, especially since I've mastered the "Levels" function.

28 February 2007-
A director's cut may or may not be in place... or very subtle modifications may be made. Upset with the bizzare and inconsistent views I'm getting for the serialized 3-part version of the film, I have removed them from public viewing. However, both Vimeo and YouTube will have better prints when the full version is finished rendering, including using the full horizontal width of the frame, thanks to Premiere 2.0's new possibility of cropping away windowboxing bars. In addition, the new 1.66:1 reframes are far more precise, done by the pixel, shot-by-shot.

Due to the fact that I am very unhappy with the utter lack of views I'm getting on Google Video, I've looked for new video services. I'll use Revver once I turn 18, which is in a matter of weeks. iFilm's Terms of Use, until I get a lawyer to read into what they're really saying, I'm going to assume they own the intellectual property rights to anything I submit. I really can't stand these extremely complex legal terms and run-on sentences used in contracts, as there's always some kind of way they'll screw you over.

Finally, my next stop, YouAreTV, which claims it won't be taken over by any major corporation and supports independent filmmaking. Well, anything's better than the philistine paradise of Google Video, or YouTube, but I don't fully believe them. However, they seem like another friendly community, like Vimeo, so I'm all for it.

I'm going to ask Richie if he can come up with a better edit of Scene 25 for this film, because I've never been fully happy with the released cut currently out. As it turned out, a transcript appeared to help, but when I inked out the stuff I didn't like and found substitutes, the sound was awful! What really sucks is that these could have successfully trimmed the scene by 30 more seconds... enough to keep viewers still watching.

If the re-editing job is successful, expect a completely remastered edition of the film (with the original still there for purists, of course).

"Code of 'Con'duct I" appears to be back on track, and we're planning ahead for a filming session on Saturday. This should be a simple scene, but the 3-hour sessions aren't going to cut it. I'm still pushing for all-day filming; otherwise, with a complex script to work with, this is definitely not going to be done at the same one-week schedule the 19-minute original was.

3 March 2007-
Well, our anticipated filming session for "Code of 'Con'duct I" came to a grinding halt when Yuki sent us an e-mail at around 11AM, telling us that due to his obligations to schoolwork, he probably cannot play the role let alone do today's filming.
 
So it looks like both of the leading roles need to be recast, as opposed to just one. Richie and I are now fully aware at the utter lack of available actors in our area- the ones who can act are stuck in drama productions, and everyone else but us is dead busy with other commitments.
 
Time for Craigslist, I guess... or time to look further within our own area. Perhaps distance isn't such a hindrance, and availability can compensate for the fuel and environmental harm caused by using actors from 20 miles away.

7 March 2007-
I'm able to (legally) drive passengers now, so that should speed up some aspects of our filming sessions.

Today, Richie, Jessica and I looked around for cast members to fill in the leading roles for "Code of 'Con'duct I". As it turns out, we didn't really need to search around for strangers we're far too afraid to talk to, as local cast members seemed to be available. Three actors are now signed on to our production from within our own group, and the rest is simply extras. While I had volunteered to play a supporting role, it looks as if I only need to play an extra, if even that.

Good. I'm still learning the ropes with this boom mic business. One thing I don't like about the Optura60 is something to do with the monitors on consumer cameras: they don't show the overscan area... meaning, I won't learn until editing if a good take was ruined because the mic popped into the edge of the frame, leading to the trouble of reshooting. I just might have to buy wireless microphones and hide them around the set.

"Productivity" is still going through rewrites, and apparently there's a creative control struggle. I've just been sent a Google Document on it, and hopefully it'll shoot pretty soon.

20 March 2007-
Jessica had a schedule planned out to where, on this past Saturday, we would have filmed Scene 18 for "Code of 'Con'duct I". I claimed that the film would never get finished if we had such a skimpy schedule, so I suggest two scenes. However, she goes the extra mile and creates a full-fledged filming schedule occuping the next couple months' worth of weekends, and it ends up being four.

We end up finishing two, and ironically, neither one of them were what was initially planned. Kevin ended up dressing in costume only to be the best-dressed boom operator on the planet.

Fortunately, the boom was never captured in-shot, something I'm continually nervous about. However, I think I could hear the mic (or pole) tapping in a few of the used takes, and half the dialogue needs to be ADR'd anyway. The actors, for the most part, had their lines memorized (this being Sean and newcomer Mike replacing Yuki and Aniket's roles), but as most of our shoot was outdoors, the problem was the wind... and the stupid cars. I made sure to flip off every single one of 'em, though I think I missed a few. Uploading the footage to my computer was a hassle because we couldn't go by the traditional "3-2-1 action" format, instead saying "GO" whenever my headphones said it was clear.

Listening to the noise-cancelled audio from the first filming session back in February, I concluded that I need to get a new microphone, as it really was a piece of crap. Sound is comprehensible, but incredibly muddy... which might mean incomprehensible for some viewers. At the moment, probably work on getting longer wire or even go wireless with this stuff. ...getting big ideas, gotta watch out...

Cinematographically speaking, I'd have to say the shoot was another disappointment, save the fact that it edited together well and continuity was great. Richie, who was not at the shoot, complained that the shots looked too "cold", and didn't fit the characters. Basically, I was doing what he wanted me to do for the previous scenes shot (with his and Kevin's characters), which would mean that the shot style from the other scenes should have been used here instead. Well, now I know, keep that in mind next time. Jessica was quick to come to my defense claiming the shots in question were based off her storyboards, and I'd say somewhat.

She definitely had storyboards, and they were close to the shots used. In the second scene we shot, though (Scene 5), I deviated completely from what was there.

Original unaltered image
20070319_00_before.jpg
Underexposed to allow definition in curtains.

Same image, adjusted for white balance
20070319_00_after.jpg

The biggest lesson learned? Exposure. After nightmarish adjustments with some blown-out backgrounds in "N", I figured I'd go the other way around thinking underexposure was better than underexposure... beyond what looked fine on my monitor, which tends to look brighter than the final image. So, I set it low enough to where you could see through the curtains.

Yeah, I was able to adjust it in post, making the actors visible and defined... but unfortunately that comes with a lot of video noise. And it ended up giving a blown-out background anyway. Time to experiment with bounce cards, I guess.

Now I'm watching movies keeping in mind how camera angles connect to characters. What a better first choice than Sidney Lumet's "Equus", which, while with simplistic, unpretentious 70s cinematography, has appealing 2-shots constantly, very little close-ups, and with one particular shot I enjoyed: a man insanely marching and circling his desk ranting, all the while with our psychiatrist in the left corner of the room distant, while the camera pans back-and-forth with this man's pacing.

Next film shoot is planned for March 31st, and I can hardly wait. In the meantime, time to get a new mic and some reflective material for indoor lighting. Let's see if we can't mooch off anyone's sun shades...
















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