Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ancient History

By Tom Inglesby

Photo courtesy of Ben Weiner via Flickr.

‘Tis the season to be …cleaning out the garage in my case. An annual event that should, in all honesty, happen six or seven times a year, not just once. Our small section of Southern California has been experiencing a very unusual weather pattern this year with summer-like temperatures well into November and then a sudden return to “normal” temps (i.e., from 88 to 65 days and 65 to 35 nights) as we came up to December. Good weather to stay inside and clean, rearrange, reorder, and recycle. It’s also when memories come out of hiding.

When I left the sanctuary of being an audio producer at Encyclopedia Britannica Films to go out on my own as an indie, I already had been active sub-rosa—freelancing in my spare time. This was common knowledge at EBF since some of the work I did was for their producers, those not willing to stand in line waiting their turn for the studio time they needed. To keep a wall between the day job and the night one, I scarfed up a lot of used equipment to build up my own mixing studio in my basement (obviously, not in California where the term “basement” draws looks of bewilderment). The big recording studios would generally have time available for voice and ADR work at a reasonable rate for me in the hope that I’d bring the company’s work along. Going indie removed that leverage, but the audio community wasn’t that large and we helped each other when we could.

I mention those days because I keep coming across reminders whenever I start moving things around in the spare space in the garage. This time it was a four track, half-inch Ampex AG440 tape deck, packed away in a shipping carton, sans electronics. The 440 was the workhorse for studios in the 1970s, replacing the older AG300. Why I had the deck without the amps I still haven’t figured out.
In the bottom of the same crate were some of my infamous (in Chicago, in the 1960s) SFX tapes. At least that was what the boxes were labeled; the tapes themselves had long since deteriorated into Mylar ribbons and oxide dust and memories.

Once I had gotten my hands on the EBF Nagra IV-L portable recorder and a selection of mics, I started to record everything that made a sound. Growing up with radio as a constant companion, I was in awe of the great radio dramas and their story telling sounds. Music, sure, but the squeaking door, the growling engine, the horse clopping, those were the things that made you know what was happening without the visuals in films and the nascent TV shows. I wanted to learn the methods to making sounds that could be easily understood and add to the impact of the visuals in the films I worked on. I wanted to make radio shows with pictures! My most gratifying film work was on an Oscar-nominated short call Fire Mountain that had no VO, no music, just sound effects.

But all I have to show for all those years of recording is a box full of boxes full of dust. And the memories, of course. If you are still working in film, or have a collection of your work still in sprocket media, visual or sound, don’t waste another month, transfer it to digital, make copies, store them in Cheyenne Mountain (if you’re a government producer), buy a cloud and upload everything, do whatever you can to protect those hours, days, months, years of work. Or someday you’ll dread going into your garage to clean, knowing what you’ll find isn’t what you remember it to be.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Roots and Branches


By Tom Inglesby

The old adage “Everyone has to start somewhere” is both obvious and somewhat profound. In the digital age, however, the “where” sometimes gives the starter a false sense of accomplishment before it is earned. What I mean is, the Internet is filled with videos “produced” by people with cameras who become celebrities and instant filmmakers without the traditional training and experience. If anyone with a camera is a filmmaker, where will professional filmmakers work?

Ages ago, I learned the trade incrementally. Back then, we actually had apprenticeships, learning opportunities at the bottom of the stack. I had a background in radio and educational TV from my college days before I landed my first real filmmaking job, as an audio engineer—the sound guy—for Encyclopedia Britannica Films, the premier educational film producer. In the late 1960s, I developed their in-house recording studio and found myself going on locations to record everything from natural sounds to voices with a Nagra tape recorder.

By working with the producer and crew in the field, I was learning by observation. And being there when something went wrong—these were, after all, basically documentaries and we know that things go wrong in docs—gave me both a chance to see how to deal with problems and be available to help solve them. There is nothing scarier than having a respected producer yell at you, “Hey, kid, get on that second camera and get to work.” Especially when you’ve never touched an Arriflex before.
Back in the studio, we dubbed the voices and sound effects on magnetic film so the editor could match it to the visuals using a Moviola. It was primitive compared to today’s digital editing, precluding easy entry by those with interest—and often talent—who didn’t have access to the resources. And that, perhaps, is where the traditional methods let us down. Professionals came up through the ranks before getting their big chance; classic story line. But talented people found many doors closed if they didn’t go down the university path or union apprenticeship. Another old adage: “You need experience to get experience.”

The cost and ease of entry today marks a change, one that lets talent be the driver not experience. But ease of entry also builds, it seems, an uneasy relationship between professionals and wannabes. When we have film festivals honoring the value of shooting a feature with an iPhone, those who labor long hours with an F65 might feel a little dishonored.

Some companies in the business understand the need to get more opportunities for talent to come forth through education. VideoBlocks is one, sponsoring a College Film Contest. Filmmakers at the undergraduate and graduate level are eligible to win a first prize of $5,000 by sending in an original piece that incorporates VideoBlocks content. Four runner-up prizes of $1,000 will also be awarded, in addition to a $1,000 prize for the sponsoring professor of the first place winner—a total of $10,000 in cash prizes.

Cinematographer and director Arthur Albert will judge the contest. Albert has served as director of photography for Breaking Bad, ER, The Blacklist, Better Call Saul, and numerous other film and television hits. The contest is an initiative to support the artistic development of the next generation of directors, cinematographers, and producers.

As one with his roots in educational films, I applaud VideoBlocks for their efforts and look forward to seeing the results.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Get Involved

Markee 2.0 magazine has joined with the CINDY Awards to connect with our mutual audience: film and video producers. If your niche is the educational, industrial, government, corporate, or other non-theatrical segment of our industry you may not be familiar with Markee 2.0. The magazine has been around for 30 years, in print and more recently digital format, addressing the theatrical film and video production market. In this digital age, the technology and techniques for that segment are just as applicable to the non-theatrical side.

Twenty or more years ago, that might not have been true. Equipment was large, expensive, and complex. “Movies” were shot on 35mm or 70mm film; educational filmmakers used 16mm. Today, everybody uses the same gear because it’s much less expensive and hundreds of times more capable. Yes, there are many more switches and buttons on a RED or BlackMagic camera than there were on an Arriflex 16 or Éclair, but that’s because they can do so much more in camera.

Since the gear and technology is common to all segments, why not adapt the techniques as well? That’s where we like to think Markee 2.0 can help. We bring the talent of major film and TV producers and production companies to you in our pages, regardless of the segment where you work. Markee 2.0 strives to inform and educate, entertain and clarify, just like you do in your medium.

If you are new to Markee 2.0—or a longtime reader—we’d like to ask a favor. Like you, we need information to be successful; we’d like you to share your experiences with us and our readers. There are two ways to do this: connect with us as a member of our Editorial Advisory Board or send us a note on what you are doing that could be of interest to our readers.

The Advisory Board lets us know what trends they see in the field where they work and what new and innovative ideas they have come across. It is open to practitioners and vendor representatives alike. Just e-mail me at tom@markeemagazine.com and let’s communicate.

If you have a project that has found a solution to a problem, that has adapted a technology or technique in a unique way, that has stretched a boundary or two, let us know and we’ll work with you to create an article for others to see and to gain the same benefits. Again, contact me for details and to let us know what you’ve been working on.

Already a CINDY winner? Let us know what you did that made that project so great. Others want to know.

Let Markee 2.0 be your two-way conduit for knowledge and expertise. That’s what we’ve been doing for 30 years.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Do You Show?

Tom Inglesby

Photo: Jack Moreh/Freerange Stock

Do you Show? I mean do you go to Trade Shows, like NAB or CineGear? Some industries are totally dependent on trade shows for getting the news out about innovations and upgrades to last year’s innovations. The construction field, for instance, has several major shows that draw tens of thousands of visitors; the electronics industry—or perhaps it’s better to call it industries—has a show that brings in more than 100,000 visitors each year.

One complaint about trade shows is that they are too far away. Doesn’t matter where they are held, it is too far away for those from half the country. New York? Long way from LA. LA? Too far to go for those in Atlanta. Las Vegas? “Well, we might make an exception for that show…”

Yes, Las Vegas draws better than almost any venue for a trade show, regardless of industry, and I suspect it’s not because it’s centrally located. It’s not. So what is the draw? If you have to ask, you’ve never been there.

In the days before near-universal Internet access, what the computer geeks call the “green screen days,”  there were few ways to find out what was new in your field. Weekly, monthly and even daily newsletters and magazines showed up in your mailbox or in-basket, festooned with ads and articles on what was available. A trip to the store, a few calls around, and you felt you were on top of it. Then, plan the trip to the annual trade show! Meet the vendors, network with your friends from all over the country, and at the end of the week, trek home with literally bags filled with literature.

Now? Turn on the computer, scan a few websites, and you have more information than most people can digest in a day. And this is every day. Data overload! It’s becoming a case where going to a trade show is a good way to get away from too much information. Never thought walking all day would be so relaxing….

And you get to actually touch stuff! That’s the real advantage of a trade show: you don’t just get information, you get tactile stimulation. Hold it, play with it, and discuss its features. Hard to do on the Internet when you are talking about “stuff.” No matter how many pictures you see, they don’t give you the same sense of understanding that you get looking through the viewfinder or turning on the light panel.

Markee 2.0 goes to the shows and we like to meet our readers there. But there are so many competing events. Where do you Show? We’d like to know more about your trade show plans. What shows are the most important to you and your segment of the market? How much time do you spend at a show? Where do you prefer to go—or prefer to not go—to attend a show? Why?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Location, Local, Location

By Tom Inglesby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, it works for travel writers…

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Sony Vegas Pro 13

By B.I. Diamond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product comparisons available at:
http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/vegaspro/compareVegas Pro 13 (tested): Purchase $599.95; Upgrade from Vegas Pro 12 $249.95
Vegas Pro 13 Edit: Purchase $399.95; Upgrade $199.95
Vegas Pro 13 Suite: Purchase $799.95; Upgrade $449.95
Trial versions available

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tab, You’re It

By Tom Inglesby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Post Post

By Tom Inglesby

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

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

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

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

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

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