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 www.mobilfilmfestival.com. See you—and your cell phone film—in San Diego April 25 and 26, 2015.

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

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.”