Alexander Film Works

Archive for the ‘film’ Category

The Sincerest Form?

In activity, digital video, fault, film, It Bugs Me, Just Because..., Roughly About Films, Think About It on February 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Sometimes I wonder…

Television executives, whoever and whatever they are, keep throwing new series at us.  Something worked once, so they change it slightly, and put it up again.  Cop shows are popular?  See ten or twenty copies come up.  Doctor shows?  All TV is falling sick with exotic diseases.  Private eyes?  You’d think half the population had a license.

And the sad thing?  This is not new.  Sketch comedy shows were big from the late 40’s through the 70’s, with Your Show of Shows, Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle, The Jack Benny Program, carrying over from radio, Burns and Allen, Garry Moore, Red Skelton, and Carol Burnett… Westerns, once a staple of Saturday matinees in movie theaters, dominated early TV, with shows like Gunsmoke, Have Gun, Will Travel, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wagon Train, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rebel, Branded, Rawhide, Bonanza, High Chapparal, The Big Valley, and so many more.  Dragnet, another transplant from radio, led the police parade starting in the 1950’s, along with other shows like The Naked City, M Squad, Burke’s Law, and their private eye kin like Hawaiian Eye, Surfside Six, 77 Sunset Strip, and Checkmate,ringing the changes.

For every show I’ve mentioned above, I’m sure there are probably six or seven I’ve missed.

As I said earlier, imitation is a way of life in television… network executives want it “the same, but different“.  Series are sold, premiered, and, if they don’t get traction with an audience immediately, cancelled.  A series getting picked up for a full season’s worth of shows these days is news because of the infrequency of its occurrence.  The trade papers are full of stories of a series getting “the ax” after three episodes aired… and one was even cancelled before its first episode premiered.

Market research, focus groups, “target demographics”, the “Q” rating (a measurement of a performer’s “likeability”), and other quantifications are attempting to objectify the highly subjective field of audience taste.  These methods have been moderately successful, at best, mostly in providing the broadcast and cable networks with a means to set their advertising rates.  The highly coveted “18 to 49 male” demographic, supposedly the group that spends the most money, is the group at which most of the programming is aimed.  (No surprise.)  So, there are action-filled shows, adventure, sports, scantily clad women, and things on the order of “X-Games”, “Wipe-Out”, and “American Ninja Warrior”.

Since research is now showing that females are becoming more of a desirable audience, based on “purchasing power”, we have shows like “The Real Housewives of Wherever”, “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”, and nighttime soap operas which show both men and women in various stages of undress.  This, too, is not new; witness the 70’s and 80’s phenomena of Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest.  Today it’s Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Revenge, or True Blood.

This fractionating of the audience because of the proliferation of “new media” has also been going on since the beginning of our perceptions of media… The “legitimate theatre” begat vaudeville, which spun off burlesque… Movies arrived, silent at first, then gaining a voice and raiding theater, vaudeville, and burlesque for talent, as did its main competition, radio.  When television came into view in the 1940’s, the movies, reacting to losing some of their audience, came out with big gimmicks like stereophonic sound, Cinerama, CinemaScope, VistaVision, Techniscope, Technirama, Todd-AO, and other forms of wide-screen panorama projection… Sensurround, Dolby Stereo, THX from Lucasfilm, 5.1 and 7.1 stereo systems, and so much more became the buzzwords buzzing in our heads.

And all of this in the service of putting YOUR entertainment dollars into THEIR pockets.

And what are the net results of all this maneuvering, jockeying for position, and technical innovation?

I think one song sums it up… “500 Channels and Nothing’s On”.  In my opinion, there is precious little worth anyone’s time out there… and even with the growing trend of “rolling your own” with the now-ubiquitous portable video recording and editing equipment, which also started back at the beginning of movies with home cameras and projectors, is not a guarantee of anything worth watching.  (Think about it… the most popular things to see on the Internet are cat videos and pornography.)  The taste of audiences is a fickle thing; rapidly shifting, difficult to pin down.

It always was.

So, I still wonder…

Endings, Beginnings, & All Points In Between…

In beginnings, film, Film and Related, writing on December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I resist writing about the ever-increasing maw of consumerism that now has coopted Thanksgiving, and threatens Halloween next, in the mad dash for Christmas profits.
That’s something I see no need to add an opinion to.
Instead, something a bit more personal…
The middle of the month of December, from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (all you Catholics, or recovering Catholics like me, know that’s the 8th of December) until the Solstice (usually the 21st), has never been a time of resounding joy for me… at least, since the year 1963.
Fifty years ago.
On the 13th, I was living with my grandmere and Uncle George, and Grandmere laid down for a nap before tea. In the early afternoon Uncle George sent me in to ask her if she wanted a cuppa… I found that she had passed on in her sleep.
Not exactly a pleasant memory for a boy three days shy of his seventh birthday…
The succeeding days, including my birthday, went by in a hazy blur, and I was brought to the funeral home to see her lying in repose. (She was not an official of any kind, other than being in the Altar Society at our parish, so she did not “lie in state”.) Her casket was driven to our parish church, a short distance, and she was brought in for the funeral Mass. (If I remember right, since this was pre-Vatican II, it was a Latin High Funeral Mass.) At the conclusion, her casket was taken out to the hearse, and I was brought to the cemetery along with the other mourners, to see the graveside service. (They still did those at that time.)
The sixteenth, of course, is the day of which I speak somewhat fondly, the anniversary of my arrival. 9:07 AM, Central Standard Time (10:07 Eastern Standard Time), in Chicago, Illinois. The hospital is no longer in existence, and I am given to understand the location is now part of the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, on the South Side. (Chicagoans know that particular locations in the city are Capitalized that way; Old Town, the Near North Side, et cetera.)
Within fifteen days from my birth my grandmere, of whom I spoke earlier, had taken the bus to Chicago and brought me back home to Detroit. (I was baptized at our parish church on the 31st of December.)
Three days after my birthday, the 19th, is the birthday of My Beautiful Wife Megan’s baby brother, Bobby. Bobby was the last of six children my mother-in-law had borne, and was therefore that much more precious to them all.
My wife’s family had a tradition… there was a gentleman in the American Legion who played Santa Claus for a few special people, and he showed up at my in-laws’s house for several years. This time, on Christmas Eve, when he showed up, he said he had a special present for my wife, who was then almost eleven years old. He handed her Bobby, bundled up like a doll. Well, she took that to heart, and was going to bed him down in the doll crib in her room (which he fit quite well); when her mother came in, she didn’t want to give him up, saying “Santa gave him to me! He’s mine!” {Or words to that effect.}
Needless to say, there was a special closeness between the two dating from that very day… and when Bobby was killed in an auto accident in 1977, there was a great deal of shock and trauma.
My being born nine days before Christmas (and Bobby being born six days before) had an influence on how we viewed the holidays; forming my perceptions more deeply was the fact that my Uncle George worked for the Post Office as a clerk, which meant from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, the P.O.D. (remember, until 1971, it was a part of the Department of the Interior) would have mandatory overtime… I still have an award Uncle George received for working twelve hours, coming home, getting an hour or two sleep, and going back in to work another twelve hour shift during the season. For six weeks or so, I barely saw him at all. There was no real time to be festive, to decorate everything, to be filled with the “holiday spirit”. Before Grandmere died, we had an early artificial tree; it had the aluminum tinsel branches on twisted wire, inserted into a wooden dowel for a trunk. After Grandmere died, that tradition pretty well faded out, too. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were at about two o’clock in the afternoon, so Uncle George could watch football befoe getting some sleep before his midnight tour.
I don’t have a lot of festive memories of the month of December; any traditions Megan and I have are agreed-upon between us, and have been honored more in the breach than the observance this year… It’s not been a great time.
Still and all, we have each other (for whatever that’s worth), we have our two cats, Gabrielle and Babe, and we have a small cadre of friends.
Sometimes I hope it’s enough…

Television (Or The Lack Thereof…)

In digital video, film, Just Because..., Roughly About Films on August 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Somewhere in the world, among the reputed two thousand channels of program material on broadcast television, cable networks, low-power TV, and net-based programs, there may well be a good, engaging, intelligent, well-written show that doesn’t insult your intelligence, use stereotypes for a cheap laugh, or act patronizingly toward any religious group, ethnic community, race, demographic, or geographic region.
There may be. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
The closest thing I’ve found to acceptable television so far is shown on PBS. The latest adaptation of The 39 Steps, the original book by John Buchan written in 1915, starring no one I’ve ever heard of, was almost 90 minutes of suspense, surprise, flashes of wit, romance, and strongly constructed story. Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the book in 1935 ventured farther afield, but this was taut, lean, and cut to the bone.
To date, the only series television that’s met that criterion in my opinion (and mine is the only one that counts, since it’s my blog) consists of these shows:

  • Elementary
  • Castle*
  • Inspector Lewis
  • Endeavour
  • Agatha Christie’s Poirot

Elementary, being an updating of Sherlock Holmes to New York in the current time, with a female Watson, is cerebral without being stultifying, quirky without being ridiculous, and constantly surprises me about the depths that Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu find in their characters. If it keeps up the way it has been, it is in line to become my new favorite.
Castle, which is coming back, much to the surprise of both of myself and my wife, since we’d heard that this would be the final season, has had a dynamic run, with Nathan Fillion showing his range and versatility in the role of Richard Castle, but there is always the problem of the possibility of the sexual tension developed over the previous seasons lessening since Castle and Beckett have been together. {If you haven’t heard this yet, I’m sorry for the spoiler.} I hope that they can find a way to keep things going. But I won’t hold my breath.
Inspector Lewis, an ongoing detective series set in and around Oxford, England, with characters carried over from the previous series Inspector Morse, has proven to be intelligent, gripping, and brutal at times, without being gory like any of the CSI shows. I wonder why it is that British TV has the ability to produce such gems, where we produce dreck like Two Broke Girls?
Endeavour (I give the title its British spelling, since that’s how it was billed) chronicles the early adventures of Inspector Morse when he was newly promoted to Detective Constable in the 1960’s. It was only four episodes, but these four were jam-packed with detail, rational ratiocination (in case you didn’t know, it means the process of logical reasoning from a beginning to a conclusion), and backstory of the character of Morse before the original series broadcasts.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet as the Belgian sleuth, has been around for thirteen seasons, including some just recently filmed and broadcast on the BBC. I find it to be a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience.
Other than these shows, I don’t really see any “appointment television” out there. This may be a personal failing on my part, but so be it.
About all I can see to look forward to is Agents of SHIELD on Tuesday nights starting in September. If Joss Whedon’s touch is still magic, we just may have a shiny thing here. (Can you tell I’m a mighty Firefly fan?)
Until sometime again…

Diversions, Distractions, and Detours… Oh, My!

In blogging, film, Film and Related, Just Because... on June 29, 2013 at 8:56 pm

It’s a bit of an understatement to say I’m not exactly timely with this post… especially since my last one was twenty-three days ago.
I could explain myself… but that may be as confusing as the actual events I’d be attempting to describe. So, then, let me say merely that I have had, over that twenty-three day span, more things to do than time to do them in.
Some short (and hopefully pithy) takes on various events…
With the amount of rain we’ve had here in the Detroit metropolitan area of late, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Noah floating down my street with his ark.
Bill Cosby was more right than he knew in his old "Noah" routine… it wouldn’t take but forty days for the sewers to back up in Detroit.
Humidity and polyurethane adhesive for tub surrounds are not a good mix; when you can’t open windows because of air conditioning, the fumes make it hard to breathe.
Computers can be exceedingly subtle in how they screw with your data. And your programs. And your messages. And your lives.
Why is it that so-called "smartphones" make you feel less and less smart the newer they get?
And why does the Internet, in all its "glory", begin to look like a ragtag collection of one-sided political screeds, moronic human tricks, and cute cat videos? No intelligent discussion without the hate-slinging, no dispassionate analysis of current trends, no proposals for solving what problems can be solved without rancor, bitterness, or calumny…
If I didn’t have too much to do, still and always, I would probably be sinking into the gloomy muck of despair. As it is, my digestion (which is being helped by my almost-food-free diet – see that post for a bit more explanation) is sending signals of dislike, distrust, and "stay close to a bathroom" almost every day.
This much, at least, I can deal with.

Seth MacFarlane: Oscar Threat Or Menace?

In arts, film, Film and Related, Just Because..., screenplays, writing on February 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Well, Seth Mac Farlane had his turn at hosting the Academy Awards® ceremony last night.  The reviews were, to put it generously, mixed.

Personal opinion?  I didn’t much have a problem with him.  He did better than Letterman (remember “Uma… Oprah.  Oprah… Uma.”?)  did.

Critics are going to find fault with everybody… even if Bob Hope or Johnny Carson came back from the dead to host the awards, there would be people criticizing.

So be it.

The surprises of the night (for me, at least) were the wins for Anna Karenina and Life of Pi – and Argo winning Best Picture.

Jennifer Lawrence?  Christoph Waltz?  Anne Hathaway?  Okay… I can deal with that.  Searching for Sugar Man?  A happy time… since Rodriguez, the subject, actually lives here in the D.  Skyfall as Best Song?  Sure.

Argo winning Best Adapted Screenplay?  Tarantino winning Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained?  I can deal.

Ben Affleck getting shut out of the Best Director nominations?  Spielberg losing to Ang Lee?  Hey, these things happen.

The Best Sound Editing tie between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall was a surprise… there usually aren’t ties in Oscar® voting.

It just goes to show you that award shows are funny (not in the sense of humorous, but in the sense of odd)… they don’t always listen to the same “conventional wisdom” that gets put out in the hype for these shows.

Discuss among yourselves.

The Oscars Are Coming! The Oscars Are Coming!

In activity, blogging, film, Film and Related, Just Because..., Roughly About Films, writing on February 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm

On Sunday evening, at about 4:00 PM Pacific Standard Time, which is about 7:00 PM here in Detroit, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present the 85th Academy Awards® at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
Back in the mists of time, when I was just a youngster, the show was the ultimate in what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be one day. Now, after several decades, and roadblocks galore, I find myself no closer to that goal than I ever was.
The only thing in my way now is myself; I have learned the technical tricks to get a film made, and some of the ways to promote it so it’s seen. I have the tools, I (supposedly) have the talent, but it remains to be seen if I have the WILL.
Could I win an Oscar®? Sure. Anything can happen; events have proven this over the years.
Will I? That will depend entirely on whether or not I can get the motivation together to get out and DO something.
To DO… or not to do…
THAT is the problem.
More later…

Video blog (of sorts) upcoming!

In blogging, digital video, film, screenplays, writing on April 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

And hopefully, not your lunch with it…

What I intend to do with this forum is continue to write about film, production, and effects… and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to do this on a somewhat regular basis (kudos, Scott Eggleston).


Back from the Abyss…

In activity, film on January 31, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Well, this is a rising from the dead, more or less… although I think of it more as an awakening from suspended animation, on this site.

Where we are is in transition. I am attempting to finish my last term at Wayne State University, despite the roadblocks the bureaucracy tries to fling in my path.

Such is the way of things, I suppose.

I have a few more things to say from time to time, and I’ll try to refer then here when I can.

For now, so long until next time…

(Whenever that may be.)

Plus ca change…

In film on April 3, 2011 at 11:09 am

Well, we’ve had a new governor in Michigan for four months, and he’s already pissed off many of the people who didn’t vote for him, as well as some of those who did.

The most vocal of those unsatisfied customers are those who would benefit from the film incentives. Governor Snyder (Snidely?) says that, in order to balance Michigan’s budget, he intends to ask for a rescission of the current system of tax credits, and replace it with a grant system capped at $25 million. (I’m not sure if that’s per film or total per year.)

Either way, that’s basically a death knell for Hollywood film studio involvement in the state. The business is notorious that way; they’ll go where they can get the best deal, and go quickly. Anybody who tells you different is either misinformed or deliberately lying to you.

Governor Snyder, in my opinion you’re following the lead of your Republican predecessor, “Pothole Johnny” Engler. Will there even be a State of Michigan when you’re done?

I don’t know… but one thing’s for sure; you can’t move Michigan offshore to get a better labor deal.

Uncle Al’s No-Budget Filmmaking Primer

In film on July 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm

No-Budget Filmmaking Primer
by Al “Uncle Al” Bouchard

As excerpted from “Uncle Al’s Midnight Movie Mania”,
the blog at

Part 1: Visual Eyes

Since this (talking about film/video/photography/other visual arts) is the purpose for which I started this blog, let’s begin, shall we?
Starting from the beginning…
A spinning ball of hot material began to slowly cool, throwing off lighter elements as it slowed its spin… [Nope. Too far back.]
Let us assume, for the moment, that you’ve got a camera. You’ve read the manual, several times, and have shot enough with it to be comfortable with it.
You want to make a movie.
Okay, so now what? With a $100 camera from Big Buy, or whatever, you’re not going to be shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even 201: A Spaced Oddity. {Well, maybe… Aaah, not.}
You can, however, shoot something you can be proud of. “How so?” you may ask.
Follow the Five P’s.
Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
Yes, for those of you who were in the service, it’s one of those little mnemonics they drill into you so you don’t forget something critical, and screw up yourself and your buddies. That doesn’t mean it has no value; on the contrary, it’s an important part of your toolkit, as much so as C-47 Media Attachment Clips (wooden spring clothespins, to civilians) and Gaffer’s Tape.
Preplanning has the value of preparing you for the unexpected… which, despite public relations puffery, happens all too often, and all too easily.
Now, to the stages of making a movie. There are four main stages, in order:


We’ll discuss them in order, in the next four installments of the blog. For now, just remember this lesson from the collected wisdom of no-budget moviemakers: “The camera doesn’t lie… but watch out for the cameraman!”

Part 2: Pre-Planning Your Pre-Production

All right, you’re ready to begin.
You need a story. Since this would be your first attempt, a small story will do. (Remember, War and Peace this ain’t.) Let’s use, as an example, a simple story.
Geeky looking man walks up to pretty girl crying on a bus bench. He asks what’s wrong, and she says her dog was stolen.
Geeky looking man ducks into nearby phone booth; with a flash of light, he becomes GeekyHero. GeekyHero dashes off at super speed to find the dog.
A disreputable-looking character sits nearby holding a dog. GeekyHero sails in, coldcocks the disreputable looking man, and takes the dog.
Back at the bus bench, GeekyHero hands the dog to the girl, expecting to be made much of for his heroics. She looks at him and says, “This isn’t my dog.”
GeekyHero faints.
See? That wasn’t so hard… which is why I shot this one myself about thirty years ago. (The footage is still around here somewhere…)
I was going to say “for the moment, we won’t bother with proper script format”; but if I do that, then you might get into bad habits that would take much more time and effort to break, and replace with the right ones. So we’ll give you the right habits now.
Since I’m assuming you are impecunious student types, or maybe just cheap (like me), there are places where you can get free script formatting software. I’m putting in a partial list here;
places like ScriptNurse Screenwriting Site [], Celtx Production Software [], Cinergy Script Editor [], Page2Stage Screenwriting Software [], and The DV Cafe – Free Downloads for Filmmakers [] have downloads you can get. And if you Google™ “screenwriting”, you’ll get an absolute overload of sites to search. (Great time wasters.)
So, once you have your script in proper format, you have to do what they call a “breakdown”.
(And, no, you aren’t having an impairment of mental function, nor are you having mechanical problems. This refers to listing all the cast and elements [costumes, props, locations, special effects, special make up, and the like] that you need to shoot this epic.)
This is an approximate breakdown of what you’d need:
Scene One – girl on bus bench crying, and geek asks about it.
Scene Two – Geek turns into GeekyHero, and runs off.
Scene Three – Disreputable-looking man has a dog; GeekyHero punches him out, takes dog.
Scene Four – GeekyHero hands dog to girl; she says “Not my dog”; he faints.
Cast Members: Girl, Geek, Disreputable Looking Man (DLM).
Costuming: GeekyHero Costume (in addition to regular clothing).
Props: Dog, Handkerchief/tissues (depending on the preference of the actress).
Locations: Bus Bench, Phone Booth, another location where DLM sits.

The next part of preproduction is figuring out how many pages of script are shot per scene. (This is a lot more important for a 120-page script than a 12-page one… )
If you have your script to the point where it’s done, and you don’t expect to make any more major changes, it becomes “locked”. Any further changes are done on what are called “revision pages”, which are printed on a different color paper and added to the copy of the script. Say Scene Four is on Page Four, and is revised to run onto a new page; the new page is not numbered Five, as you might expect, since the stuff that’s already on Page Five stays there; the new page is Four-A. Additionally, if a scene is deleted, a notation with the scene number is put into the script to keep the scene numbers constant and consistent.
Confused yet?
Anyway, pages are measured in eighths. Half a page is not half a page, it’s “four eighths”. The script supervisor (if you have one) is supposed to keep tabs on how many scenes are shot, how many eighths each scene runs, how many takes were done, and which take the director thinks is a keeper.
By the way, you’ll probably be doing this all on your own, since this is a simple project.
You need to find a location where you’ll be shooting, cast the actors, which in this case might not be too difficult if you have enough friends, get the dog, costume, and camera, film, tripod (DON’T FORGET THE TRIPOD!) and batteries, and set up when you’ll be doing it.
A few other things to consider, while we’re talking about pre-production…
Will you be paying your actors anything? Will you be feeding them?
(Tip: If you’re not paying them, feeding them is a really good idea;
they might want to work with you again if you do.)
Will you be supplying the transportation?
(Do you really want to have three actors and the dog in your car with all your stuff?
On the other hand, if you don’t put them in your car, will they be able to get there?)
There are a lot of things to think about.
Well, we’re now progressing to the Production phase; that’s the next section of this article. Until then, be happy… it could get worse.

Part 3: Results of Productions

Okay, then… Last time, you had your script, your cast, your breakdowns, your equipment setup, and your locations.
With all this done, what’s left but to stick your actors in front of the camera and shoot?
[Do I disillusion you now, or wait until later? Aaah, better you know now…]
There’s a very old saying that goes, “There’s many a slip / Twixt the cup and the lip”;
the reason some of these sayings get to be very old is because they’re very often true.
You could have planned everything to be shot in bright, sunny weather, and the forecast is for exactly what you want…
but a rogue storm cell could dump rain all over your location during the entire time your actors are available.
You could be setting up to shoot, and a police cruiser could roll up, take a look, and ask for your permit.
Which you don’t have, since you didn’t think you’d need one. Which you try to explain to the nice officer.
You could conceivably be making your “one phone call” from the local police station.
Or, depending on the whims of the officer in question (and they can be quite whimsical, believe me),
he could confiscate your equipment and issue you a citation to appear in court to show cause why you should get them back.
Your leading lady could be having her period. Your leading man could be dealing with a case of near-terminal acne.
The dog could be suffering from worms, and dumping mounds of malodorous manure at the slightest provocation.
[My, didn’t that roll trippingly off the tongue? Occasionally, I come up with some alliteration that astonishes even me.]
[And no, that isn’t always hard.]
Now I don’t bring up these nightmare scenarios to stop you from making a film; on the contrary, I just want to prepare you
for situations that could happen, so you’ll be prepared to deal with them as best you may.
For a short film like the one we’ve outlined in the previous instance of this conversation, chances are that none of the things
I’ve described above will happen.
But they could.
But, for the moment, let us assume that everything goes superlatively well, and you’ve completed all your shots just as you planned them.
You feed, thank (and possibly pay) your actors, take your footage, and go home.
Onward to POST PRODUCTION… which is next time, unless I come up with some interesting sidelights about production to add first.
We’ll see what develops.

Part 4: Additional Production Credits By…

Okay, then, I may have rattled some of you with last entry’s recountings of problems involved in production… especially
with one as fast and short as what we had in the sample script.
Understand, things like that can and do happen… but there’s no saying it will happen.
Now, on to some things I didn’t discuss last time…
On a larger crew, the director (you) usually tells the cameraman (you) where to put the camera, and how he wants the action “framed”(positioned in the picture).
The gaffer (you) rigs the lighting (sun) to best effect for the picture, helped by the key grip (you) and his chief assistant,
the best boy (also you).
The sound recordist (you) places the boom operator (sometimes you) to get the best sound in the external microphone
while keeping it out of frame. The assistant director (you) gets the actors to their marks for perhaps one, and maybe more,
rehearsals, at the whim of the director. (A point to note: Some directors can be very whimsical; this is not necessarily a Good Thing.)
When all the technical side is prepared, the director will call “Camera,” at which point the cameraman will start rolling. The sound recordist
will report if they have sound, and the director will call “Action.” The actors will go through the scene, and the director will call “Cut” when the
scene is over. After checking with the technical side, to see if they have any objections, the director will either accept the take (“Print”, coming from the old days of making a print of the good takes to show later)
or reject it, and repeat the procedure above.
Sounds really dull, doesn’t it?
Well, it can be… except when your nerves are on edge because you’re doing an effects shot that is not repeatable. (You have two cantalopes to stand in for an actor’s head being run over by a car tire; using the actual actor is not an option.)
For something as short as our sample script, it could probably be shot “in sequence”; that is, filmed in the order you see it on screen.
For larger productions, with many locations, costume changes, and other logistical issues to consider, scheduling is usually done to shoot all scenes
in a particular location at one time, then all scenes at another location… Tearing down a setup and moving it to another location can be time
consuming, so the most efficient utilization of time and personnel is used. This is the job of the Production Department (usually you).
There are shareware programs to help you; I use a few myself.
The theories behind lighting for mood and effect are something I’ll go into another time, just as I’ll explain (one of these days) camera angles, “Dutch tilts”,
and the 180 Degree Line, among other things.
For now, let’s just take our footage, get back, and GET READY TO RRRRRUMBLE!!…

Part 5: Don’t Worry, We’ll Save You In Post…

Well, everything’s shot, and you now want to edit it.
First thing you’ll need to do is get your footage onto your computer to edit.
“On the computer?” you may ask. Yes, on the computer.
Modern computers have enough power to edit, render, and add special effects to footage that would make mainstream
filmmakers from even ten years ago drop their jaws in wonder. What used to take a Cray Supercomputer now can be done with something you can
pick up at Best Buy or Circuit City.
And NLE software – the sanctified “Non-Linear Editing” of a few years back – can be yours for a few hundred bucks instead of the
five figures you used to need to buy an Avid system.
Of course, it’s what you do with it that counts, and that’s what I’m going to tell you about here.
The most common way to get footage shot on digital camcorders onto a computer is by using a FireWire cable – also known as IEEE 1394 cable,
or iLink. Most editing software has provisions for controlling an attached camera by the cable, rewinding it, playing and capturing the footage
on the computer’s hard drive, and stopping the camera when either the tape is finished or the footage ends with nothing after it.
Most analog camcorders, while lacking the FireWire output, can send the audio and video messages through the A/V outputs (the RCA plugs like on a stereo system or a VCR). If you hook up your analog camcorder to the audio and video “in” jacks on your VCR, you’ll record a straight “dump” of what’s on the camcorder. Great for home movies, or those vacation pictures of Junior getting dive-bombed by the seagull flock, but not too useful for editing.
There are attachments you can buy in your local computer store (again, Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s, Micro Center, CompUSA, or whatever), that can hook up your analog camcorder’s A/V jacks to your computer, digitizing the footage. I have one, an older model from Dazzle (bought by Pinnacle Systems, which was swallowed by Avid). This hooks up to a USB (Universal Serial Bus, a newer-fangled way of getting information in and out of computers) port, and the footage is digitized and stored on the computer.
There are also other ways… many are much more complicated, and if you can get them to work reliably, me ‘at’s off to yer, mate.
So… the footage is now on your computer, ready to edit. (However it got there.)
First, you probably want opening titles. (It’s the traditional thing, you know.) Most software applications have what they call a “Titler”.
You select the color you want, the background (if any), and whether it’s still or moving. You type in the information,
and voila! The title is a “clip” in what is usually called “the bin”.
Don’t worry about these terms… they’re hangovers from the “old days” of shooting on film, and editing with scissors and glue. A “clip” is a piece of footage. That’s all. “The bin” is a place to put clips, because they had (and still have) large, cloth-lined laundry baskets with frames sticking up, from which you can hang clips you’re using. The end of the clip that’s not attached spools down into the bin, which is why you have the cloth lining. (Dust and scratches on the film are Not Good Things.)
You then take the pieces of footage you shot and place them in order on what is called “the timeline”.
The timeline starts at 0 hours, 00 minutes, 00 seconds, and 0 frames, which is shown in the following format:

The colons between “hours”, “minutes”, “seconds” and “frames” is used to highlight whether this is “drop-frame” or “non-drop-frame” timecode.
Later…; I promise.

Now, you may have always heard that “film runs at 24 frames per second”. That’s quite true… for film . Video, on the other hand, runs at 30 frames per second – 29.97, actually, but we round up to thirty because unless you work in broadcast engineering, you don’t need to worry much about that three hundredths of a second.
The frames counter will therefore run between “00” and “29”; when it passes “29”, it goes back to “00”, while the seconds counter increases by 1.
Have I confused you yet?
Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.
Oh, and don’t forget to SAVE YOUR WORK OFTEN!!!
Put the first clip (the girl sitting on the bench) after your titles. Then put the next clip (the geek walking up) after that. Continue putting the clips in order, until you reach the end. When you put your end titles (like the stuff you see at the end of a movie, when people walk out of the theater), make sure you save your work. You can then look at what you’ve assembled.
Kinda sucks, doesn’t it?
Most first efforts will.
You need to go back to the start, and remember the editing maxim near and dear to all of our hearts: “Enter Late, Leave Early”. Basically, what this means is you don’t want “dead space” where nobody’s doing anything important to the movie. If the girl hesitates a second before starting to act like she’s crying, that second of hesitation comes out. Maybe even the first little bit of her starting to cry, too… you want it to look like she’s been crying for a while.
Also, when the geek boy walks up, start your shot of him in the middle of a step. Don’t make it look like he’s waiting for his cue.
Don’t cut things too tightly; you don’t want to lose any information. Just leave enough to show where you are and what’s going on.
Now, once you trim things down, it’ll probably look better. This is natural. So you’re tempted to just save it again, and burn it directly to a DVD to show everybody.
You should resist that temptation for now. Because there are more things you could do to make it even better.
I’ll go into that in the next entry… I’ve been running on a bit here.

Part 6: After The Party’s Over…

Last time, I said I’d go into more ways to make your movie better. Well, here we go… and I want to thank Peter John Ross of Sonnyboo for the inspriation. (Even though he didn’t know he did it…)
I told you about basic “straight cuts” last time; one scene ends, and the new one begins. There are many effects in most editing software now that have “transitions” (a two-dollar word for a four-bit concept: cuts) like you’ve seen in Star Wars, or some European films, or things like that.
You don’t need to play with those transitions.
[I don’t need to play with those transitions.]
Those aren’t the effects you’re looking for.
[Those aren’t the effects I’m looking for.]

Sorry… I couldn’t resist the Obi-Wan Kenobi schtick.
What you need are a few simple things… Cut On Motion, Matching Action, and Ell-Cut Audio.
No need to look so puzzled… I shall explain.
Cutting on motion is simply cutting the scene when something is still moving… Say, in our hypothetical film, you
want to cut between the geekyhero running out to search for the dog, and the Disreputable Looking Man sitting somewhere else with a dog. As the geekyhero runs,
you CUT in the middle of a run; when you bring in the next shot, of the DRM sort with a dog, start the shot on DRM doing an action.
Here’s a (very poorly drawn) sample storyboard to try and show you what I mean:

Now, my drawing skills on the computer are something less than breathtaking, but I hope I’m getting the point across, at least.
Matching Action is showing people in one shot performing what looks like a continuation of the same action in two separate shots.
Say the crying girl had received a mysterious note; she crumples it up after reading it, and throws it down onto the sidewalk.
Next we see a crumpled note on the sidewalk, picked up by a hand… which is not hers, but the geek’s, and he deposits the paper
into a trash receptacle. This changes scene on the audience, but they don’t notice as much as they might.
Ell-Cut Audio has the picture from one scene, say the one ending, overlap with the audio of the scene coming in. Say, as an example,
the girl puts her head in her hands and begins to cry inconsolably. On the soundtrack you hear
“I swear, you cry like a girl!” The picture changes to the geek and say, his father. The father’s voice, which was over the previous shot, continues:
“I never saw any real man who could cry like you do!”
There are other techniques, of course… like using something blocking the camera to switch scenes… say, a cab pulls in front
of the girl on the bench, and when the cab pulls away, it’s at another house, with a new character in view.
Or, perhaps, using a letter, or a newspaper, or some other thing of that sort to be the intermediate focus point in the scene shift.
Say, Hero writes a letter to Girl, with whom he’s had a fight. He’s trying desperately to make things right, and he pulls a copy of the
letter off the printer, and reads it. When we pull away from the letter now, Girl is reading it.
These techniques aren’t good to use indiscriminately. Just because a pinch of salt makes your soup taste better, you don’t put a cup
of salt in to make it even better still. Use these techniques in moderation – a pinch, or a dash, here and there, once in a while – and
it’ll make your film better to watch.
Okay, next time, we’ll talk about distribution – for the sake of this series, we’ll limit it to DVD, and
YouTube/Google Video/FaceBook/MySpace. (Festivals are a topic we’ll talk about at a future date… I promise.)

Part 7: Okay, NOW What?

Well, it’s done.
You planned out your script.
You wrote it.
You cast it.
You shot it.
You edited it.
You put titles on it.
A couple more things to talk about: music, for one.
If you’re just going to burn this to a DVD and show it to your friends, and that’s as far as it’s ever going to go, then grabbing
the theme from Superman or Raiders of the Lost Ark and putting it under your dialogue track is fine.
As long as that’s as far as it’s ever going to go.
If you ever decide to enter it into a contest, or upload it to YouTube or Google Video, then you have a problem.
Because, under copyright law, you don’t have permission to use that music.
You could get your video yanked from YouTube or Google Video. You could get a “cease and desist” letter from the law firm
representing Paramount Pictures (in the case of Raiders), or Time Warner (in the case of Superman). You could get sued.
Don’t gloss this over… Disney/ABC, for one, is VERY protective of its trademarks and copyrights, and has gone after a small day care for
having “unlicensed” likenesses of copyrighted Disney characters as outside decorations on their building.
My solution? Royalty-free music .
Most music for films requires licenses: A “performance license” is an agreement between the filmmaker (you) and the performer for a flat fee,
a percentage of any money made with the performance, or both. “Sync rights” means that the filmmaker (you) is agreeing to a license to use a musical composition in a “timed relation” (it’s going to be the same each time it’s seen) in a visual presentation. If you’re talented enough to make a new recording of a piece of music, you need “mechanical rights”, which is a license from the copyright holder, and means paying fees and royalties.
Royalty-free music, on the other hand, is either acquired (in the case of totally royalty-free music) or purchased from the composer. That purchase price gives you a license with all these rights with no further payment involved.
If you Google™ “royalty-free music”, you’ll find any number of sites that offer original compositions for reasonable prices. However, if you’re downright stingy,
like me, there are places where you can get royalty-free music FOR FREE. Peter John Ross, at, offers a selection of pieces he wrote (he’s a musician, too… when you got it, you got it) for free, with the only stipulation that he gets a credit line in your film.
Kevin MacLeod at also provides free music, under the Creative Commons license.
This basically means, as they explain it on their website[], that this is their way of maintaining their copyright, but releasing some of the rights of their work to the public use. They see it as a midway point between copyright (all rights reserved) and public domain (no rights reserved).
Either way, this is something to keep in mind… you don’t want a lawsuit, because they never fit properly.
{Sorry… I’ll try to keep the “puns”manship under better control…}
Now, when you burn your final edit to DVD, don’t forget to make one you can do on the Web… Google Video, YouTube, and many others use Flash Video format, from Adobe, and they convert your video of [NOTE: The new limit on YouTube and Google Video is 1 gigabyte – this is ten times the previous limit] into Flash Video to play on YouTube. Here’s a neat trick… if you convert it to Flash Video before you upload, you have better control, and the video can be bigger! There are all sorts of freeware and shareware programs to convert video files to Flash Video, so I leave that exercise to the reader. [A survey will be in a following article.]
You can also, as I do, post your own videos to your own website… that’s an advanced topic we’ll go into some other time.
As for this miniseries, it’s a bit longer than five posts, but I believe I’ve covered all I said I would… More in another article, and whenever that is, I’ll talk to you then!
Al B.

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