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.

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.

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:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Making Commercials: Luxury Made From The Land

By Michael Fickes

In a spot called “Details,” Lucky Post animates the details behind the western spirit of RAM’s Laramie Longhorn Truck. 

A recent spot for RAM’s Laramie Longhorn Truck pretends not to tell a story. It is a series of animated iconic images from 19th century Texas juxtaposed with the RAM truck. No voice over tells you what is going on. Instead, a surprisingly (because it could be found at all) fitting needle drop track of music combined with subtly presented sound design creates a Western aura. Four wrought iron signs tell you what you need to know. Everything – all the images and sounds – emerge from a sepia-toned map of Texas.

The assignment
“Everyone knows that RAM trucks are rough and tough,” says Sai Selvarajan, editor/designer with Dallas-based Lucky Post, the post house that produced the commercial. “This commercial is about the brand’s high-end, luxury model with interior finishes done in wood grain, chrome accents and leather stitching.”

In short, the assignment was to make a point about Western-style RAM luxury by associating it with iconic, historical Western tools and a historical map.

Lucky Post got the nod from The Richards Group, RAM’s advertising agency, which provided references from an earlier print campaign that embodied the desired aesthetic. Lucky Post Animator Seth Olson and Selvarajan then collaborated with the agency creatives to develop the concept.

“The previous campaign developed a visual style related to the historic West,” Olson said. “The agency wanted to continue that theme, and we liked a sepia map from that work.”

The spot
The commercial begins as a virtual camera pans west across the map from the Gulf of Mexico into Texas. The camera pulls back and dotted lines denoting original cattle trails shoot north on the map.

“Those are the actual cattle trails,” said Selvarajan. “All the details we used are accurate.”

The RAM truck drives into the scene from the direction of the Gulf. It appears as a sepia sketch. Almost instantly, it develops layer upon layer of crosshatched lines. Eventually, the crosshatching fills in and turns the image into a photo of the truck. The effect looks like ink or paint washing across the sketch, creating a photograph.

“Old maps were drawn with ink and painted with watercolors,” Selvarajan continued. “That led to the idea for ink and watercolor reveals. Maps from this era also have crosshatched detailing done in ink. We used layers of crosshatching to turn the sketch into a photo.”

“We made the cut-outs of the truck and other photographic images in Photoshop,” Olson added, “then we animated with After Effects.”

Back to the spot: The Laramie Longhorn logo materializes above the truck using the layered crosshatching paint. A pickaxe and sledgehammer modeled after 19th century versions of the tools appear.

The music and sound design effects begin with the first scene. You can hear the Gulf lapping the Texas shoreline and the sound of the truck’s tires on gravel. Selvarajan roughed in the sound design using Final Cut, and Scottie Richardson, Lucky Post’s sound designer/mixer, handled the final track and finish.

Another pan to the southeast draws the scene across typed paragraphs – if you pause and read, you’ll see advertising copy about the truck. On the bottom right of this scene is a historical fencepost with barbed wire set before an heirloom platter.

The point
Copy points come up as signs: “WOOD: That’s felt the bite of barbed wire.” The words are arranged on an ornamental iron sign.

A photo of the interior with its wood accents paints itself into the northeastern part of the frame.

The camera pans north, following a cattle trail past an image of an old lantern, and arrives at another sign: “CHROME: Etched with the pride of an heirloom.”

A chrome-plated revolver materializes.

The camera keeps moving, and a stitched leather belt with a buckle materializes followed by a third sign: “LEATHER: Sewn with the soul of the West.”

Then comes the fourth sign and the whole point: “Luxury born from the land.” From the land represented by this Texas map. That’s a clever story.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Shooting TV Scenes That Stand Up To The Movies

Copyright NBC – Grimm 2012

By Mike Fickes

Can you believe the way that television drama has taken on – and in many cases whipped – feature films? 

Television cinematographers look to feature films for inspiration – not today’s feature films so much as yesterday’s. “Our basic style is modified 1940’s movies,” said Fred Murphy, ASC, cinematographer on the CBS hit The Good Wife. “The camera is not a character. The characters are the characters. My job is all about making the people look dramatic and beautiful and glamorous.”

Oliver Bokelberg, ASC, and the cinematographer on ABC’s Scandal, likes to dress Olivia Pope, the lead character, in completely white outfits. “Television usually doesn’t use the kind of harsh contrast that white creates,” he said. “But in one of my favorite movies, A Woman Is a Woman, a lot happens with white. It was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and was his first color movie. The design is beautiful. Ever since seeing it, I’ve stopped arguing against white.”

Peter Levy, ASC, ACS, on Showtime’s House of Lies, harks back to Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 film The Conformist for inspiration. “That movie left in the reflections and glares that came with the camera shots,” he said. “I think it looks more real that way. If a scene looks too clean, it seems fake to me.”
Cinematographers that shoot today’s television dramas freely acknowledge a debt to classic film cinematography – and then they use what they’ve learned to shoot riveting television dramas with stories that go on year after year.

House of Lies. Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime.
With this column this year [Making TV], Markee covered five of these long-lasting shows: The Good Wife, Scandal, House of Lies, and NBC’s Chicago Fire and Grimm. The cinematographers on each of these shows have taken what they’ve learned from classic films and tailored shooting philosophies that bring their shows to life.

“A rule that we have is that the camera is always with the firefighters, so the audience always discovers the issues with the firefighters,” said Lisa Wiegand, the director of photography on Chicago Fire.

Wiegand likes to keep it real, too. All the fires on that series are real. Wiegand and the special effects coordinator carefully plan the fires. Then the crew designs and installs a pipe network that juts out of the floor and ceiling. The crew pumps fuel into the pipes and lights them up.

Grimm is about a descendant of the Grimm family, which has for centuries hunted beings that look like people but shape-shift into fairy tale monsters. Marshall Adams, ASC, the cinematographer on Grimm, wanted to develop a look for the show that could bring out its dark and horrific moments. “Many network shows compress the depth of field and only show the foreground in focus,” he said. “This show is different. We use very wide angles with a wider depth of field and everything in focus. And we don’t do a lot of close-ups. The show plays wider all around.”

Once considered a wasteland, television today is offering better stories and production equal to or better than feature films.

Don’t take my word for it. Media journalists and film and television reviewers are saying the same thing – have been for years now. Here are two examples:

  • Back in 2010, long-time New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote: “The traditional relationship between film and television has reversed, as American movies have become conservative and cautious, while scripted series, on both broadcast networks and cable, are often more daring, topical and willing to risk giving offense.”
  • In October of this year, Stuart Heritage, who writes about film and television for The Guardian, blogged: “If I had to pick sides, I’d go with television every single time. Television, especially the television that’s being produced now, is wiping the floor with film. It’s kicking film’s arse.”

You can Google dozens more examples if you want. The point is, television seems to have entered a new Golden Age. In it’s first Golden Age in the 50’s and 60’s, television discovered itself. In today’s Golden Age, we’re discovering television.