Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Location, Local, Location

By Tom Inglesby

The real estate sales mantra, “Location, Location, Location!” can fit nicely with the independent filmmaker’s mantra, “Keep It Cheap.” The majors can send scouts to find just the right location for a film or TV show based on the script writer’s concepts. It often seems that the big budget productions send crews and actors around the world looking for the perfect spot to resemble another spot that didn’t quite look like what it was supposed to look like, even though it was the actual spot being portrayed. Case in point: shooting the latest Pirates of the Caribbean… in Australia. Or Portland, Ore., sited for Boston in the TV show Leverage.

Okay, we recognize that several factors come into play when a studio looks for a site for a project that, according to the writer—or the author of the book that the project is based upon—is a particular city or area. For obvious reasons, Game of Thrones and The Hobbit are not going to be shot in Westeros and Middle Earth, respectively. The former travels to Northern Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Iceland, and Croatia while the multiple parts of the Lord of the Rings franchise have been shot in New Zealand and touched up in the UK.

But why choose these locations over others? Often that come down to money, or to put it in the term many producers prefer, incentives. Where will they offer the best tax breaks, local crew rebates, quickest and easiest permitting, and so forth? States compete to land those blockbusters-in-the-making and some literally go broke doing so. Not the whole state, but the film commission office, where the budgets can fluctuate wildly year-to-year and success is measured in tourist influx. Few locations, outside of LA, Las Vegas and NYC, have achieved this better than Albuquerque. The six-year run of Breaking Bad has made “Duke City” a choice vacation destination for fans to come and explore the sites familiar to them from the show. Car wash, anyone?

Scenery, of course, plays a role in the choices producers make. How exotic, how typical, how outlandish; the camera can catch it all in long shot and close up. Game of Thrones seems to pick shooting sites for the visuals, uncommon to most of the world, that convey an other-worldly—or at least other time—feeling. And once the fans find out where those scenes were shot, the tourist trade goes up. And find out they do with fan sites on the Internet hounding the production for inside information.

But those are big studio productions. What about the indie producer? Not likely to have a budget big enough for the film and location scouts, many turn to another mantra, that of Fiction Writing 101: “Write what you know.” Or in paraphrase: “Go where you know.” That can help in many ways, not the least of which is cutting travel costs. Shoot in your home town and you can go home every night. Well, maybe not. Check out the philosophy of John Putch in our June issue’s Spotlight feature. His low-budget shorts were shot in his hometown area, southern Pennsylvania, but still required cast and crew to stay in hotels and motels.

And that brings up another cost savings, if you have the chutzpah to work on it: trade outs. “No promises, but we can make (fill in name of motel, restaurant, car wash) famous by showing it in our film. Oh, in return, we sure could use (fill in trade: sleeping rooms, meals, car washes) on the house.”

Hey, it works for travel writers…

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Sony Vegas Pro 13

By B.I. Diamond

When Sony Vegas first emerged about 2004, its competitors in the Non-Linear Video editing (NLE) game were few. Today, however, Sony Vegas Pro 13 is way ahead of the small fry, and fits right in as one of the major players in the digital editing universe. Indeed, in the “how to book” Vegas 6 Revealed, written by Doug Shalin more than a decade ago, a line apropos then, and certainly applicable to today’s version reads: “Vegas is an incredible application, but it isn’t overwhelming.”

Many reviews of software get into the weeds, and that can be helpful if you like weeds, but personally I enjoy giving the application a spin and see how it feels – and Vegas Pro 13 handles beautifully. The program comes in several “flavors” – Vegas Pro Edit ($399.95) includes a package of plug-ins (effects) from FXHOME, the Pro connect iPAD app, as well as Vegas Pro. At $599.95, you can purchase Vegas Pro that comes with everything found in Edit, but also includes DVD Architect 6, the Vegas disc authoring title, a collection of NewBlue FX effects, and iZotope’s Nectar Elements dialog processing plug-in. If you’re into Dolby sound, the program also includes a Dolby digital encoder. The extras alone are valued at more than $250. The last and most versatile bundle, at $799.95, is the Vegas Pro Suite. Everything that’s in the first two versions, but you’ll also get Sound Forge Pro, Hitfilm 2 Ultimate, and royalty-free music tracks. With the plug-in collection and the other apps thrown in, you’ve saved yourself more than $800 by investing in the suite.

The program itself is user friendly, and if you started with the lower end version – Vegas’ Movie Studio platform, transitioning is a breeze. Still, if you’ve never used Vegas and tried other brands, you’ll find Sony’s software easy to use and learn. And, to help you get started, Sony provides a complete “show me how” option when the program opens.

Once opened, the design of the editing screen puts everything in front of you. Toolbars in Vegas Pro 13 are located below the timeline, and for those of us who’ve been around Vegas awhile it was a bit of “where is everything,” but it soon wears off. Users will find Importing media a snap and most media formats will easily import; and here’s a feature that some other timeline based digital editing apps may not include – import and export of projects files to and from among others, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, and AVID.

Digital editors also will find a host of powerful features, such as the multi-camera editing tool (a bright spot for those of us who like “takes” from various angles); and the plug-in collection, the variety of which grows more enormous by the day. Indeed, in Vegas Pro you can chain 32 effects and apply them to an event, a track, or a project.

One of most useful tools included in Vegas Pro is the Loudness Meter. This is a response to legislation known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. Broadcasters who fail to adhere to the audio guidelines outlined in the act are subject to penalty. The act was a response to the problem with “television commercials” blaring at higher volumes than the show surrounding them. CALM required the volume of commercials and programs to be consistent. Hence, the introduction into Pro 13 of the loudness meter.*

One other tool that professionals will adore is proxy editing. You’re on the move, covering an incident for your television station; or shooting a film somewhere. With Vegas Pro 13, if you’re shooting XDCAM footage and have a Sony Wireless Adapter, you can transmit your media as a low-res proxy to your editor who massages your rough media into a stunning piece. Then, once you’re back in the editing suite, you can relink the proxy to your original hi-res media, and render it as the edited piece.

In Vega Pro 13, you also can archive your work, definitely an advantage when you need something you shot a week or a year ago. And unlike a project where some things change as you make alterations – an archived file takes everything with it and files it away as a single file in a single location.

By the way, output is simple. There are customizable templates allowing you to render your output in an array of formats such as WMV, MP4, AVI, etc. There also is a YouTube upload option.

Finally, there is the Vegas Pro Connect app. This gives editors using iPADs the opportunity to share video and a host of other aspects of their project with other users, or clientele. Its setup is not difficult and its usefulness is extensive.

Vegas Pro has been around for years now, and as with every piece of software, it has its great, good, and poor points. Having been a proponent of the Sony software for a decade or more, the great and the good definitely outweighs the negative. Hence, if you’re looking for a moderately priced NLE timeline based digital video editor that does everything “but the dishes,” check out Vegas Pro; it provides the power and the ease (that user-friendly thing we hear about) that others can’t touch. Try before you buy and undoubtedly, you’ll find that Shalin was correct when, a decade ago, he wrote: “Vegas is an incredible application.”

Product comparisons available at: Pro 13 (tested): Purchase $599.95; Upgrade from Vegas Pro 12 $249.95
Vegas Pro 13 Edit: Purchase $399.95; Upgrade $199.95
Vegas Pro 13 Suite: Purchase $799.95; Upgrade $449.95
Trial versions available

Technical Specifications:Operating System: Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 (64-bit)
Minimum CPU: 2GHz (multicore or multiprocessor CPU recommended for HD or stereoscopic 3D; 8 cores recommended for 4K)
Minimum RAM: 4GB (8GB recommended; 16GB recommended for 4K)
Minimum Hard Drive: 1GB required for program installation
Graphics Card: GPU-acceleration requires OpenCL supported NVIDIA, AMD/ATI or Intel GPU with 512MB memory; 1GB for 4K

*If you’re interested in examining the standards set by the Advanced Television Committee regarding audio, see the following: ATSC Recommended Practice: Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television. (A/85:2013) Doc. A/85:2013. 12 March 2013.

B.I. Diamond is a professor at Georgia State University, and contributor to Markee 2.0.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tab, You’re It

By Tom Inglesby

If you are reading this on a tablet or a smartphone, you are among the majority. Not that we’ve done a survey or anything, it’s just the idea that busy people, unless they are tied to a desk—like us writers—are more likely to use a portable device for their communications and information. At work on a set, a far-flung location, or post-production studio means you don’t have the luxury of a 20-inch monitor and tower case computer. Not that you need one; today’s laptops are as powerful—often more powerful—than a desktop and a lot more portable.

But the true portable computer has become the tablet. What Apple tossed into the mix, the iPad, has spawned a new generation of flat screens-with-computing that come in so many sizes there is one for every possible pocket. As tablets get bigger, smartphones follow suit. The Samsung Galaxy Note, my phone of choice, has a screen bigger than some tablets. Makes these old eyes suffer less strain when reading texts—as one pre-teen said, “Who calls on a phone anymore?”—and offers a reasonable alternative to the tablet for daily, on-the-go communications and information gathering.

Years ago, when the iPad was the supposedly only game in town for tablets, my wife was in China and bought me an “iPad” on a Shanghai street corner. Her thinking was, iPads are assembled in China so seconds and rejects easily find their way into the black market. And the price, about $125 after currency conversion, was much better than the $600-plus for the U.S. marketed version. And it had the Apple logo on the back! What could go wrong?

Fired up, it turned out to be an Android OS tablet with minimal memory and almost no apps available. And, of course, no service, warranty or support in the U.S. (probably none in China, either). So much for bargain hunting.

Today, I have tablets of various screen sizes to choose from depending on the reason I’m carrying one. Trade show? Take the iPad—a real one—to show Markee digital edition to exhibitors. Conference? Go with the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The 7-inch screen is fine and the tablet fits in a pocket instead of a case. Mixing OS is no longer a problem as almost every app is replicated on iOS and ‘Droid.

There comes a time when the technology we employ dictates the way we do business. The printing press allowed the newspaper industry to develop; radio begot television. The Internet has caused any number of changes in how we approach communications. Markee, like every successful magazine, has long been part of that technological advance with a digital edition you can read on a tablet—or smartphone—and a website, blog, Facebook pages, Twitter and every possible social media method known to Western civilization. Some of which this old guy never heard of before!

To paraphrase an old quotation, “The handwriting is on the tablet.” Markee is moving its magazine to a fully digital edition in 2015; the last paper printed version, Winter 2014-15, will soon become a collector’s item, I’m sure. If you attend NAB this year, be sure to pick up a copy and preserve it for generations to come.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Post Post

By Tom Inglesby

Photo by hyena reality
We sometimes get caught up in the WOW factor in this business. And by “business” I mean yours, film making, and ours, writing about film making. When we see the latest whiz-bang animation or VFX or whatever, we get that “insider” feeling that we are the cool cats who know what is going on and can explain it to the outsiders. But we also are the ones who get a little twinkle in our eyes and a “golly whiz” in our throats when we really don’t know what is going on.

After all, there are so many aspects to the film and video production business that few people even in the business can know it all. That wasn’t the case a few generations ago. The indie filmmaker who did it all—conceptualizing, writing, shooting, cutting, and even release printing his or her work—wasn’t uncommon at some pretty high levels. Some even did the acting, directing, and marketing. This was especially true at the industrial, educational, and documentary levels of the business. Without the deep pockets of the studios, indie producers had to try, if not do, everything.

We’ve come full circle. The current crop of small, high-quality cameras, lights and audio equipment makes it a lot easier for a creative individual to attempt a full-scale assault on the entertainment industry. Fall back: YouTube!

Software and computers are replacing cameras and lights for filming, from animation and special effects to green screen and dubbing. All the editing functions that we used to do with a grease pencil on film are done with a mouse on a desktop.

One thing remains consistent, however: value. The end product, regardless of cost to produce, is valuable to the producer, the crew, and the distributor. Their work is wrapped up in what might be a single hard drive worth of space or a hundred terabytes of online storage. This post post-production requirement is rarely thought of in advance. Hey, archiving isn’t sexy; storage is just another cost center.

And then along comes Sony and the Hackers, a title for a film that no one saw coming, it seems. Where and how you store your work during and throughout the lifecycle of a project can be critical in how you monetize that project. Security is just as important as cost up front and space in the backroom. Best to consider that before you spend all the funding on pretty, new camera gear.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Allied Pixel Produces Sexual Assault Education Video

Allied Pixel, a digital studio that specializes in online video, social media and web development, has produced an educational video on sexual assault for colleges and universities. It is part of Allied Pixel’s Higher Education program. 

The video addresses a growing problem on college campuses through frank conversation about what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior – and strategies to avoid dangerous situations. Customized versions of the video are being rolled out to colleges nationally. 

“This is part of our ongoing relationship with partner schools,” says Allied Pixel’s Bill Haley. “We want to help them change attitudes and behaviors for the better.” 

More information about Allied Pixel’s Higher Education program is at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Will a Non-Neutral Net End Up Looking Like Cable TV?

By William Mainguy

Photo by Waag Society
Net neutrality—the principle that all data is served over the Internet equally, has rapidly become a contentious issue in the United States and on the world stage. The Federal Communications Commission, backed by the ISPs, have proposed a two-tier concept whereby a new “fast” lane of Internet connectivity would be provided, for an increased fee, in addition to the current Internet service offering. The proposal is being viewed by the public as a thinly veiled strategy for ISPs to begin regulating and "throttling" bandwidth for select businesses of their choice depending on what they’re transferring and who is using it amongst other criteria. In effect, this new regulation could allow ISPs to reduce the speed of, for example, Netflix’s video service to force the company to pay for the “faster” pipeline. In fact, some evidence of this has already occurred.

Because video has the heaviest payload on the Internet today, the end of net-neutrality possesses a serious threat to the heart of the film industry and independent filmmakers alike.

Originally, the traditional film distribution model was convoluted, restrictive and reserved for only a fraction of elite filmmakers who manage to succeed in it. The Internet, like in all of the other entertainment industries, has been the great equalizer, providing creators of any background with a free and open marketplace to reach their audiences directly. The advent of self-distribution and streaming has democratized video distribution—thousands of films that would have never seen the light of the day are now enjoyed by viewers. The end of net-neutrality would reinstate a classist supply of video content, whereby only the owners of top content will be able to afford a model where they can pay the ISPs' “fast” lane rates.

And we’re not just talking content—the innovative culture of new startups and companies that strive to offer new services also will be at risk. Larger corporations may be able to weather the storm by making deals with the ISPs—just like Netflix has with Comcast. However, new entrants that have ideas on how to disrupt and improve the industry may be presented with an insurmountable barrier to entry—effectively ruling out any form of new competition. Both content creators and viewers lose, facing no innovation in business model or experience.

Currently, we are enjoying an unprecedented era in which we can effectively watch whatever we want, whenever we want. The Internet has meant that we are no longer stuck with limited programming bundles and content from only a limited number of suppliers. It costs a fraction of the price of cable to do so and that is the source of the ISPs' fear—continuous loss of revenue and control. But this innovation is the fruits of a great Internet economy based on competition within a free and equal marketplace. This is what we must protect.

Simply put, the Internet should not be seen as the telecoms' business model. They are middlemen that should be providing broadband Internet as a “common carrier service,” regardless of what we use it for—just like other utilities we use.

About the author:
William Mainguy is CEO & Co-Founder of Reelhouse, an online distribution platform that enables independent filmmakers, studios, film distributors, and traditional retail outlets to market and sell movies directly to viewers.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I Am A Camera*

By Tom Inglesby

Since the earliest days of photography, one of the driving forces has been to make the camera smaller, easier to use, and with more capabilities. The camera obscura was a walk-in room with a pinhole at one end; the Kodak Brownie added film and a lens in a handheld version. Both were simple, but the latter created a world filled with photographers. Everyone was taking pictures.

Motion in photography came about long after still pictures. Cameras to record the moving images were heavy, mounted on sturdy equipment stands and minimally movable themselves. Scenes had to be blocked out carefully so the cameras could be positioned well in advance—hopefully out of sight of one another. By the 1940s, handheld cinema cameras were following the action on battlefields and sports fields, producing images to be seen by millions. 

Today’s cine cameras can fit in a shirt pocket, produce digital output at the highest resolution the delivery systems can reproduce. And, once again, everyone is taking pictures—only motion pictures this time.

In keeping with the “smaller, smaller, smallest” trend in everything electronic, the ubiquitous cell phone has become a cine camera. And where there is photography, there are competitions. We are a competitive industry, awards being the proof that what we did, what we created, is accepted by our peers as well as the general public.

Which brings us to the concept of the mobile film festival. Or more accurately, film festivals. They are popping up all over the world, it seems. But let’s focus on the celebration of cell phone cinema right here in the USA, the International Mobil Film Festival being held in April, 2015 in San Diego. 

The driving force behind the festival is Susan Botello of S. Botello Productions. She is forming a mobile film resource center for the world to access. “A strong emphasis is on connecting the world of filmmaking to mobile filmmakers around the globe via new technological advances with mobile phone cameras,” she explains. “The purpose of our film festival is not only to create interest and spark creativity in people of all ages with limited income or resources, but to actually inspire creative filmmakers to live up to their potential and realize the opportunity to fulfill their dream. The International Mobil Film Festival is for everyone! All ages welcome.”

The 2015 event will be the fourth and expects to entertain a record number of entries. According to Botello, “Our mobile media film festival will take place in San Diego, where we’ll have a live event venue in which we feature the films competing, film festival partners from around the globe, our global Community Stories program and much more. And all the films will have been shot on mobile phones!”

The festival isn’t the only place for artistic release using a cell phone. Botello also launched Mobile Film Television (MFTV), an online mobile film distribution network back in 2013. The mobile television channel, while still in its infancy, is a venue for mobile filmmakers to distribute their mobile phone films via a channel that will play their short films on just about any device or screen with web access.

“This new medium is ready for filmmakers,” Botello exclaims. “Films will be available around the world from filmmakers around the world. The films can be displayed on screens of any size. We’ll be showcasing them at the International Mobil Film Festival on big screens as well.”

The distribution network is separate from the film festival, although both require that all films are shot on mobile phones. Films for MFTV do not have to be submitted to the film festival and the duration of the films differ. As with any other distribution company, a filmmaker will need to enter into a distribution contract and release their films for distribution by MFTV. There is no limit to how many films a filmmaker can submit for distribution or how many films a particular filmmaker or production company may submit or be distributed.

“The criteria for films is simple, it is strictly for films shot with mobile phones,” says Botello. “We are not seeking just films that are traditionally cinematic. We hope to include quality experimental films from mobile filmmakers. Throughout both the festival and the MFTV channel, production values are important. We want these to be quality films, just shot on mobile phones.”

So if you have a cell phone filled with motion pictures, apply your professional talents to making them into a true “film” and enter the contest. The information is available online, of course, at See you—and your cell phone film—in San Diego April 25 and 26, 2015.

I Am A Camera, 1955, Henry Cornelius, director.