Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Music in the Air

By Tom Inglesby

While I cut my cinema teeth on a Mitchel BNC, Arriflex 16 and Éclair in the 1960s, I found my niche in audio. I was the “sound guy” on dozens of educational and documentary films, did studio recording and mixing for soundtracks, and generally made noise with a variety of Ampex, Studer, Nagra, and Tascam tape recorders. We dubbed tape-to-film and mixed on a vertical Moviola. It was, to be sure, a primitive way of doing music and voice over for film compared to today’s digital wonderland.

I came away from those halcyon days with two things: awards and memories. The memories, of course, are good and bad: Long nights in the studio, but the joy of watching your project come to life; take after take versus the pride of having gotten just the right take, regardless of how many it took. Standing on the side of a volcano to get SFX while your boots are melting compared to hearing the announcement the film those effect went into was up for an Oscar. Good and bad.

When you are the crew, not the writer or director, most of the awards your films win don’t end up on your shelf. All I have to show for the 37 festival awards won by films I worked on are clippings. But I still have those clippings more than 40 years later.

I laid a lot of SFX tracks, and we’d use local studio musicians when we could afford it; we were also lucky to have some great musicians on staff, as well. I still have tapes – probably turned to oxide dust and acetate by now – of music and effects we cut late into the night, after our day jobs were over.

And not all the excitement was from the music. We were in Chicago’s Boulevard Recording Studios the night of the protests at the Democratic Convention in 1968 and had to stop work due to the sirens outside. Tear gas even seeped into the control room as the police chased “hippies” through the streets.

Although my memories of studio sessions are clear, I must admit we used a lot of stock music, too. Most educational films didn’t have the budget for original music and if they did, it was for a major theme, not for stings and bridges. But stock libraries had it all, conveniently arranged, labeled and with rights.

Considering the vast music libraries now being used for everything from YouTube to theatrical features, it’s fitting that an award be created to honor those who best utilize this resource. Markee 2.0 is privileged to be the named sponsor of just such an award for best use of stock music in a film or video. The Markee 2.0 Magazine Award will join the list of honors presented by the CINDY Awards (“Cinema in Industry”) in the coming year.

CINDY began in 1959 as an industrial film awards event. They currently present 14 different CINDY Award events each year honoring theatrical, broadcast, non broadcast and interactive media professionals around the globe. In 2015, the Markee 2.0 Magazine Award for innovation in the use of stock music will take its place with the others. As the rules and procedures are finalized, you’ll find more information on the Markee website and in our eNewsletter.

If you use stock music, or if you know of an innovative user of music libraries, get ready to fill out a nomination form and join our little party. I can almost promise: no tear gas!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Three? Four? Eight? What’s next?

TNDV used Red Epic 4K cameras for live concert performances for the ABC series, 'Nashville.'

By Tom Inglesby

Trends these days seem to have numbers attached. There is 3D, 4K and now even 8K. As hard as it is to keep track of the alphabet soup of HD, SD, SSD, and who knows what else, throw in the many numbers we have to be aware of and things get complicated.

Markee 2.0 Editorial Advisory Board member Nic Dugger sees this as a challenge, but not in the way you might think. His company, TNDV, became one of the first mobile production companies with an SD/HD/3D truck when Aspiration first appeared in 2011. However, Dugger quickly recognized that the 3D element would play a nominal role in his productions at best. As the broadcast and production industry awaits the arrival of the next-generation format, he is helping his clients through creative, customized solutions that leverage current technologies with cost-effective packages.

“The 4K message was inescapable at NAB, and for good reason as the technology itself has arrived,” said Dugger. “However, with 3D we learned that nothing is assured. In reality, we are still in a lull between HD and what’s next. We think it is 4K, but from deeper conversations with vendors it’s clear that the research and development dollars are moving onto 8K. And there remains the possibility that 1080p production could pick up the slack in the meantime.”

Based on this, TNDV is putting more emphasis on custom-built flypacks, while also maintaining a fluid infrastructure across their five mobile production trucks. While the company’s philosophy has never been to force design specs on clients through fixed solutions, the need for flexibility in mobile production is at an all-time high. The ability to customize flypacks and trucks means lower costs and more options for clients, while keeping his company’s investment costs manageable until a clear next-generation format emerges.

This approach is most noticeable with TNDV’s increasing integration of 4K cameras into productions. Recent examples include a live shoot for the ABC Television program Nashville, which incorporated Red Epic 4K digital cinema cameras for concert performances. TNDV also incorporated Canon C300 digital cinema cameras into several live event productions, including Madonna and Amnesty International concerts at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Dugger is keeping costs low and remaining nimble by renting these and other 4K cameras as required, and integrating them within a proven HD production architectures to maintain reliability, redundancy and flexibility. Take for example, TNDV’s recent shoot for Taylor Swift’s “Red” music video, where the specification required several different 4K cameras married with a traditional broadcast production infrastructure.

“We’re giving our clients that want the advanced capabilities of 4K acquisition the comforts they deserve across the rest of the workflow,” said Dugger. “By bringing in multiviewers, the director of photography realizes how powerful their productions are when they can monitor all ten of their cameras. We’re providing a high-end, matrix intercom system akin to what would be found in a top-of-the-line HD production truck structure. And we’re providing a rack of AJA KiPros for backup recording, timecode-locked with audio, in the event of issues with the 4K media.”

The flexibility allows TNDV to scale for each show, designing each system around camera counts, switching inputs and other varying technical specifications. “We’re quickly moving away from the days of relying on a fixed list of components and specifications, especially as we await the arrival of the next big thing,” said Dugger. “I would rather my clients express their needs and allow TNDV to make it happen, presenting custom working solutions tailored for each show. This is really about a la carte TV production.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Buzzing Headache

By Tom Inglesby

While at the NAB show, we saw a lot of people offering illegal substances. Now, in Las Vegas, a lot of out-of-towners would expect that, considering the town’s reputation. But this was different; these were exhibitors at the show offering attendees a chance to break the law. Considering the number of people swarming these booths, it was a booming business. When asked why they were so interested in something that was illegal, several offered the classic excuse: “Well, other guys are doing it so why can’t I?”

Ah, the allure of the forbidden. And the dealers? Like good entrepreneurs, they pointed out that what they were offering wasn’t really illegal if used in the proper manner. This, of course, was the same comment you hear at gun shows across the country, or from the guy on the corner with a bag filled with OxyContin tablets. Perfectly legal unless you use it illegally.

In this case, the addiction, if you will, has hit a number of big names in our industry. Martin Scorsese, for example, has been known to partake; the results showed up in his recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street. We don’t mean to point a finger at Scorsese; he’s hardly alone. Watch a little TV these days and the commercials that pop up, the bread and butter of so many in our industry, will have images that suggest the producers are hooked on the same stuff.

They want to share that excitement with others so they offer their “stash” to their neighbors, friends, co-workers, others they’ve never met before. And the dealers of these instruments of addiction, the pushers who acknowledge their offerings can be used illegally, but that’s not their problem? They set up shops near schools and offer their product to kids!

Makes you wonder how high these folks can get while acting so low, doesn’t it? Well, legally, they have to be under 400 feet and no closer to an airport than five miles. But that’s when they are operating as a hobbyist; unfortunately, as the dealers should tell you, they can’t be used commercially at all.

Yes, the illegal substance we’re talking about comes with wings, or more often, rotors. These are the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that carry cameras aloft to film everything from car chases to picnics in the park to speeding power boats for commercials. But the FAA takes a different view of flight than a lot of film makers. To them, commercial use of a UAV is illegal, no matter how many users tell you differently. The FAA recently fined a UAV user for providing video for commercial use that was obtained with his aircraft. The case was ruled in the filmmaker’s favor, but the government has appealed the ruling. An independent journalist used his UAV to record footage of a police crime scene and was fined; the station that ran the footage was not and disavowed any responsibility.

The current status of using UAV for commercial purposes is, well, it is up in the air. On June 2, 2014, the FAA said they are considering a waiver from the no-commercial-use rule for seven aerial photography companies. If that waiver is granted, the flood gates will be open. Every cinematographer with a model airplane-loving kid will be rigging cameras to ‘copters.

The rules will be rewritten, perhaps in favor of the cinematographer, perhaps not. But the industry, including the MPAA, will be making appeals on a regular basis until the FAA sees the (camera) light. In the meantime, we hope no accident happens that makes the public – as well as the government – see filming with a UAV in a bad light.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Carnival is Leaving Town

By Tom Inglesby

"Carnival Bokeh" by Ocean.
One of the big reasons certain states, and even cities, seem to get a lot of film work is that they want it. Like the old cliché goes, they want it so bad they can taste it. But for the past few years, that taste has been getting more and more bitter. Of course, the reason is another cliché: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

When we read the employment statistics each month, the unemployment rate seems to go down and the new jobs number seems to go up. The economy is improving, the government says, but slowly. Some industries are still under the employment levels of 2008, before the most recent downturn — what some refer to as the "Lesser Depression" or the "Great Recession." What you find if you dig down into the numbers is that private employment is slowly improving while public employment is decreasing. The "Small Government" mantra has taken hold.

One aspect of this is an unwillingness to fund new programs and, in some cases, existing programs that have shown good results. The impact for the film industry shows up in cancelled incentive programs. States and cities that compete for productions, where they offer great locations and a good talent pool, have been using incentives as a sweetener. Now some are getting that bitter, no funds available taste. It ain’t sweet, that’s for sure.

“It’s ironic,” recalls Jeanne Corcoran, “when I left the Nevada Film Office after a decade there, we had already experienced several years of the production community clamoring for ‘incentives,’ but the legislature there wasn’t in the least interested in joining that parade.” Corcoran left there to accept the position as Sarasota County, Fla., film commissioner.  “I was delighted to see that Florida had an incentive program. However, in the years since, it has been a roller coaster ride as Florida’s program has dipped and soared, from $25 million to $10 million to a low of $3 million in a cash program, to a whopping 5-year program of $292 million in tax credits in place 2010 thru 2015.”

Unfortunately, that fund actually ran down to zero available tax credits in 2012. “Now, even Nevada has joined the incentives carnival,” Corcoran sighs. “We’re somewhat like midway barkers, trying to draw the folks to our booth, we have to yell louder than the competition with more prizes and giveaways than the booth next door.”

The Florida legislature, which meets for 60 days each year, left town before agreeing on funding for the next cycle. As Corcoran says, “We were blindsided and brokenhearted by the collapse of the House/Senate efforts to find common ground and companion wording for a pair of bills, resulting in a second year in a row of zero dollars being infused into the state’s existing tax credit incentive program. We are, in effect, trying to sell from an empty wagon on a statewide level.”

It’s not easy to overcome a deficit in funding of that kind. But cities like Sarasota are scrambling to find ways — and funds — to keep attracting productions, knowing those projects infuse money into their economies. As Corcoran admits, “When the ‘box’ is empty, it is definitely time to think outside the box. In Sarasota County, we are rolling up our sleeves and putting the innovation to work to dig up creative solutions to bolster and strengthen our local cash rebate incentive, to continue to draw projects and productions our way. I assume other regions in Florida are brainstorming solutions for ways to fill the void left by lack of film, television and entertainment tax credit dollars.”

This is going to be a frustrating period for Florida cities and counties, but they are not alone. The economics of tax incentives for productions doesn’t seem to be as high a priority for some cities and states as building a multi-million dollar stadium in hopes of getting a new football team. The tax dollars spent on stadiums, collected from the locals, line the pockets of a privileged few. Tax incentives for film and TV productions can result in hundreds of people working, putting those tax dollars back in the system. Seems like a no-brainer, but then again, these are politicians were talking about.

“Now is the time for bold and new offensive strategies, not defensively hunkering down in fear after the defeat of our state’s incentive replenishment efforts,” Corcoran says as she rolls up her virtual sleeves and starts making telephone calls.

Monday, April 28, 2014

NAB Summary

Atmos booth. Photo courtesy of

By Tom Inglesby

The big buzz at this year’s NAB show was 4K. It was everywhere. Cameras to shoot it, post-production gear to process it, and special file transfer protocols to move those big files across the country – or across the world – for editing and then into archives and storage, in the cloud or in NAS systems. In fact, the second biggest thrust for a lot of companies was to provide archive storage, workflow, asset management, file transfer speed and The Cloud all aimed at managing the increasing file size of 4K.

If there is one consistency in this industry, it’s that speed, power and size all run parallel and all grow exponentially. As higher definition video moves into the mainstream, delivery systems – TV sets and set-top boxes, along with several streaming players – were popping up on the show floor. The need for speed in moving large files prompted many companies to devise new transfer protocols and develop better algorithms. If your editor is across the country from your shoot, the new systems can send dailies back and forth in minutes regardless of size. Storage and archiving is no longer limited by medium; vendors showed optical, tape, hard drive and hybrid systems that can accommodate not just terabytes of data but petabytes and, in at least two booths, exabytes of storage. Coming soon to a NAS near you: 100 zettabytes of storage?

Cameras were, of course, a big part of NAB. From the number of new cine cameras being used at every booth, one would expect the camera manufacturers to be out-of-stock on most of their wares. Smaller vendors were displaying their accessories for popular cameras such as Arri’s Alexa and various Canon models; the manufacturers themselves were showing every combination of body, lens, back and accessory imaginable. The flexibility of today’s digital camera starts with modular design and ends with…well, it hasn’t ended yet so we can’t be sure.

To shoot 4K requires care as the results are so magnified that the slightest flaw can be noticeable. Lighting companies were showing their improved LED systems with color change to match light temperatures from daylight, at different times and climes, to old fluorescents. Fill lights can be adjusted to match any overall lighting temperature and balance is done quickly. No more orange makeup on the star’s close up.

Several lens companies were exhibiting new anamorphic lenses to compensate for the 16:9 and other display formats without distortion. Zooms designed specifically for digital cameras were available in heretofore unheard of lengths.

Indoors and out, there were mobile units: trucks, vans, SUVs and even motorcycles set up with direct satellite transmission of the shoot to the studio or storage. They feature control rooms onboard that rival those in the most modern studio in New York or Hollywood. Many production studios in trucks had extensive camera and lighting gear available for the producer doing a remote location.

The buzz overhead was coming from a multitude of small rotary “model” aircraft. Although not technically drones, many were referred to that way; indeed, they are unmanned aerial vehicles, but at such a reduced size they can be carried in one hand and launched indoors. Mounting a camera and capable of sustained flight for 10-20 minutes, these battery operated ‘copters can provide an inexpensive aerial view for tracking the action or giving a different perspective to the viewer. Caution: they are in legal limbo as to their commercial use in the U.S. The controlling government agency, the FAA, is responding to a judge’s opinion giving them clearance for commercial purposes by examining and most likely rewriting the rules that were rarely enforced but are still on the books.
DJI booth. Photo courtesy of

We’ll be covering the issue of commercial use of remote control model copters in more depth in the summer edition of Markee. We’ll also look at some of the file transfer and storage approaches shown at NAB and, naturally, 4K. See you then.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mistaken for Strangers

Mistaken for Strangers is a new documentary from Tom Berninger that chronicles the budding filmmaker's months on tour with his brother's band, The National. The film is making headlines this month – and rightfully so. (See the trailer below.)

The premise: Feeling bad that his younger brother is just wandering aimlessly through life, Matt Berninger – the singer for the indie rock band The National – invites Tom to join the group's tour as a roadie. Tom agrees, but has an ulterior motive; the young filmmaker (whose work up to that point consisted of a couple of low-budget horror flicks) wants to document the tour and make a movie. Whether or not this was all contrived is unclear, but in the end, it doesn't matter. The result is a beautiful piece of work. Tom Berninger: You have arrived.

Initially, I was drawn to the documentary because of the band. Only recently have I started appreciating The National, which has built a reputation as one of alternative rock's most innovative and intelligent groups for more than a decade. I've never seen them perform live, so I thought Mistaken for Strangers would be a great way to see them in action. But when I learned how the documentary came to be – and who was making it – I was even more intrigued. On the day of its release (March 28, 2014), I downloaded the film from iTunes to see how a relatively inexperienced filmmaker would document something as potentially harried and unpredictable as a rock band's eight-month tour.

As one might expect, the filmmaking itself is rudimentary. For example, Tom seemed to shoot most of the documentary with a stabilizer-free handheld camera. He clearly didn't have a storyboard or solid idea of what he wanted to film before he began. And there are many instances where seasoned professionals would cringe at the editing – or lack thereof. Additionally, one realizes quickly that the documentary Tom is perhaps unknowingly making is about himself learning to deal first-hand with the success and celebrity of his older brother. At one point, Tom complains: "I feel like I'm on the outside of this world [of the band], looking in." By the end of the documentary, however, I was sure Tom began to accept his place in that world and found a sense of purpose for himself.

As Mistaken for Strangers progressed, I became less concerned with Tom's techniques and more enthralled with watching the interaction between Tom and Matt. Ultimately, what this film is about is an exploration of brotherly love, family dynamics, and the emergence of one artist out from behind the shadow of his famous brother. Watching the relationship evolve between these two men is both fascinating and heart-warming. This dynamic completely outweighs the clumsiness of the actual camera work. As the end credits rolled, I found myself smiling ear to ear. Then I called my brother.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Toying Around At The Box Office

(Clockwise l-r) LEGO® characters Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny (Charlie Day), Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet (Chris Pratt) and President Business (Will Ferrell) from “The LEGO® Movie,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and Lego System A/S. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Now that The LEGO Movie is a certified hit ($183.1 million domestic and counting after three weeks in theaters), and a sequel already has been announced for May 2017, I've started to wonder what other toy-based screenplays might be coming our way. Many past adaptations haven't been very good – Battleship, G.I. Joe, or The Smurfs anyone? – and though I am not a fan of the Transformers movies, they have made a great deal of noise at the box office (pun intended).

What's surprising about The LEGO Movie is that it is quite entertaining for kids and their parents. Friends are telling me they have taken their children to the theater for repeat viewings. This is perhaps more than any studio expects from a kids' movie released in February. “The LEGO Movie is everything we hoped it would be, and then some," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures in a news release."...We are thrilled by the overwhelming response and early word-of-mouth that has made this movie a must-see, and we have every expectation that this is just the beginning of a long and successful run.”

What's different about The LEGO Movie is the fact that it is animated. (Much of that workload was handled by Australia's Animal Logic.) To me, that seems a more natural fit for turning playground or playroom nostalgia into box office gold. Perhaps my reasoning for this is because when I was child, some of my favorite toys also were developed into animated series such as The Smurfs and Transformers shows. Today's live-action adaptations just don't have the same attraction for me. Then again, I'm not necessarily the intended audience, but people my age do decide whether or not to take our children to these movies – hence the incredible success of The LEGO Movie – and people my age are the ones writing the reviews for newspapers and the web.

So with that in mind, here are some of the toy-based movies we can expect to see soon, as well some I would like to see:

There are several movies based on board games in various stages of production, including Ouija board, Candyland and Monopoly. Ouija (2014) will be a small-budget horror movie. I'm not a fan of the horror genre in general, so I don't expect much from this movie and I don't expect to see it. The two other board game adaptations mentioned here are still in early development. It's a safe bet I won't see them either.

In other toy-related movie news: Expect to see film versions of the Hot Wheels and Tonka toy lines as well. Think Disney/Pixar's Cars without the cache that Disney/Pixar brings to animated features. Like me, I think most ticket buyers will see them as a Cars facsimile.

As far as what I would like to see get made: I would not be opposed to a modern Peanuts feature that ties in the old Snoopy Sno-Cone machines. Snoopy could open his own snow cone food truck. Crazier things have happened. Or how about a sci-fi take on the View-Master? And I can't be the only one who thinks Chris Hemsworth would make a good He-Man, but this would have to be live-action, and I doubt the actor would tie himself to another super-hero type of film series. And finally, LEGO has an extensive collection of space-themed collections that could be put to good use. The ball is in your court on that one, Warner Bros.

Courtesy of

UPDATE: Turns out a Peanuts movie IS in the works! The first teaser was released on 3/18/14. See it here: