Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apple Through The Ages

Many of us in the film and TV production industries – if not all of us – use Apple products at work. You likely use them at home as well. Through the years, Apple has managed to create a fan base like no other company in history. Their annual product announcements are much-anticipated events that attract millions of online viewers. This past week, on September 9, Apple announced the redesigned iPhone 6 (now in 2 sizes) and the new Apple Watch.

Following that event, presentation software developer Prezi produced a short video on the history of some of Apple's most influential product developments, including the first home PC with a graphical user interface and mouse, and the iPhone. Have a look:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

 By Tom Inglesby

When a legend dies, people dig into their memory vaults to find something to say, something to recall that might be comforting to others, something that puts them into the picture with the legend. Robin Williams, a true legend in many media, died on Aug. 11, 2014 at the age of 63.

I wish I could say I knew him; I didn’t. I saw him in a live performance once, in the 1980s. I saw his work in several films, some more memorable than others, at least to me. In reading the reviews and comments online, his best films were apparently those I never saw: Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society.

What I remember Williams for was some of the work that is easily overlooked by the professional critics and commentators doing their best to eulogize him. Remember him in Popeye? How about Awakenings? The former showed his talent for facial comedy, the rubber face approach; the latter gave him the chance to be both calm and excited, a range that he pulled off admirably. Not great work but memorable.

His signature shout-out of “Good Morning, Vietnam!” will stick with you forever if you ever served in that country. I was there months before Adrian Cronauer, who Williams played—somewhat loosely I understand—started on "Dawn Busters" on Armed Forces Radio, but the film was a strong reminder of those days.

Williams hit another peak, in my mind, when he transitioned to killer in Insomnia. Here he played so far against type that no one gave him a thought as the villain; we expected him to end up another victim. Come on, this was Robin Williams, not Jack Nicholson in The Shining. How can Peter Pan be a villain?

His acting, however, was only part of the man’s legacy. He won Grammy Awards five times for Best Comedy, Best Children’s, and Best Spoken Comedy recordings. I envied him since those were the categories where I had nominations—without a win—in earlier times. But he deserved the awards, just as he deserves the accolades being heaped on him after his death.

What Robin Williams didn’t deserve is to get so depressed that he considered suicide. He has four films in post and just finished a TV series, The Crazy Ones. Why would such a respected and successful man be depressed? And why didn’t he listen to his own words: in World's Greatest Dad, Williams’ character, Lance Clayton, said, "If you're that depressed, reach out to someone. And remember: Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems."

Did he reach out and find no one there? Will we ever know?

Robin Williams reportedly once said that if he finds himself in Heaven one day, he hopes there will be laughter. If not, he’ll be providing it now.

Our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, those who have worked with him in the industry and his fans around the world who will continue to honor his memory—through laughter on Earth.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gasket Studios Animates Film Noir With Sponsor Reel For Provincetown Film Festival

This past June, the city of Provincetown, Mass., held its 16th Annual Provincetown Film Festival (PFF), which is dedicated to showcasing new achievements in film and honoring the work of acclaimed and emerging directors, producers and actors. This year’s theme: Film Noir.

Gasket Studios, a Minneapolis-based design, animation and VFX company, was tasked with producing a stylized 3D-animated sponsor reel for the festival, which they pulled off in spades. Written and directed by Alex Boatman, The Oystercatcher Catcher, was inspired by the film noir theme as well as Pecker, the official PFF mascot. The delightful animated story reveals that Pecker is no ordinary fedora-wearing private-eye. He is actually a thief.

“Gasket took this year’s sponsor reel to imaginative new heights,” says Andrew Peterson, PFF director of production. “Not only does it embody the caliber of creativity and storytelling our festival celebrates, but also it’s a cleverly fun ode to this year’s film noir theme, which we chose to honor the late Evan Lawson, former president of the Provincetown Film Society Board of Directors, who was a huge fan of the genre.”

“The client directive was specific about staying true to the original Pecker illustration in the festival promotions, as well as portraying his irreverent personality,” remarks Boatman. “Otherwise, they were very open to our ideas and encouraging with their feedback, which allowed us to focus our time on refining the artistic whole of the film.”

Boatman first researched the tradition of film noir – vintage and modern – to create a reference library of images and videos for inspiration. After exploring common themes like jealousy, adultery and betrayal, she settled on the genre’s most iconic and powerful storytelling device: the detective.
Aspiring to translate the instantly recognizable aesthetics of film noir though animation, she imagined a painterly 3D world. A restrained color palette, which was desaturated to virtually black and white, maintains the film’s vintage look. Heightening the mystery and atmosphere, Gasket employed digital lighting and shadows to create fog, mist, street and sign lighting. Feather-textured vignettes enhance the dark, grungy mood of the story’s bird-infested world.

Sit back. Relax. And enjoy.

The Oystercatcher Catcher, Provincetown Film Festival 2014 sponsor reel from Gasket Studios on Vimeo.

The Oystercatcher Catcher created by Gasket Studios
Director: Alex Boatman
Creative Director: Greg Shultz
Producer: Eric Mueller
Technical Director: Justin Greiner
Look Artist: Tiffany Borchardt
Animation: Brad Jacobson
Modeling: Brad Jacobson, John Zilka
Rigging: Alex Boatman, Justin Greiner
Simulation: John Zilka
Additional Backgrounds: Jenna Workman

Music by Ken Brahmstedt
Sound Design and Mix by Dan Kramer

Mixed at BWN Music

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.