Sunday, September 28, 2008

Book Review: "Acting for the Camera" by Tony Barr

I will grant you that most of the topics we deal with here at JC relate to what happens either behind the camera or once the camera is turned off and everybody has gone home.

But when you are directing, do you not expect the actor to trim his or her movements and expressions in an extreme close-up? Do you expect them not to whip quickly all over the frame in a choker? Well, that's because either explicitly or implicitly, you want them to respect the challenges faced in the editing room with matching motion and physical pacing. There are dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny little things actors do that aren't necessarily related to the emotional truth of their performance or character, but rather are geared toward making the job of everyone else on the film easier. As a result, their performance is more effective.

Good, experienced actors do these things as a matter of second-nature. And at least on some level, they have an intuition or knowledge of how their work relates to what is happening on the other side of the camera.

Well, wouldn't it be nice if the same went for directors? Many, many times I have seen directors so focused on a checklist of shots and simply recording the dialogue on the page - to the point where the ability of the actor to prepare or even give a good performance is largely hindered. Just watch the latest low-budget horror being filmed in your neighborhood.

"Did she say line X?"
"Was she in frame?"
"Did the audio peak?
"Okay, moving on."

Acting for the Camera by Tony Barr is written for actors. It is not written for directors or editors, but it could be. In 300-some-odd pages, you should be able to glean a pretty good understanding of what a (professional) actor goes through, both in terms of preparation and research, as well as on "the day."

Quite frankly, I think this could be the most concise and efficient instructional piece I have come across regarding the method of acting. I came from an acting background myself and have studied the field full-time. I would not be exaggerating by saying that there are many acting schools and teachers out there whose curriculum is basically a chapter-by-chapter implementation of this book.

And that does not necessarily make for a bad program. This book is not the only place where you are going to find a good structure to the principles of solid acting. There are some universals in these pages that, should you so choose, you will find elsewhere if you look. But there is a reason that this book is generally considered one of the fundamental pieces of reading in the field.

The words themselves are not important; it is what makes the words happen that has significance.

Always choose to care about what is happening as much as you logically can within the context of the material.

The book is filled with memorable axioms (related to acting) that are not given as Morpheus-like faux-wisdom, but rather are presented as conclusions to fully completed instructions and arguments. They will sink in.

The covers are filled with praise from screen luminaries such as Karl Malden, Sharon Gless, Henry Winkler, David Paymer and Eva Marie Saint, all of whom have themselves produced some memorable work. "Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy..."

So anyway, whether you are a director (in which case I recommend this book) or an actor (in which case I highly recommend this book), you are likely to benefit from the wisdom within. If you are a director who focuses primarily on visuals or checklists but is not terribly attentive to emotional truth, knowing something about the other side of the camera may help you spot it when you see it, not settle for imitations, and even improve your casting decisions from the audition room.

A link to the book can be seen below, where you can take a look inside the covers if you wish.

Paul Newman: 1925-2008

It does not bear directly on most of our topics, beyond Mr. Newman's numerous and immeasurable contributions to all things entertainment-related, but today the JC: Digital Media flag is flying at half-mast.

Rest in peace.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Canon XHA1: "New Soul" by Steven Tapia

Whenever I see something noteworthy achieved with one of the prosumer cameras we tend to look at, I like to bring it to the attention of readers, prospective camera buyers, and the public in general.

The following is a video piece put together by director Steven Tapia. While it benefits greatly from the post-production and effects work done in the editing room, it was shot on the Canon XHA1. Just don't think you're going to be able to buy the XHA1, pull it out of the box, and whip together something that looks like this without putting in your hours.

No more RED SCARLET, at least not as we know it...

Well, in the words of the RED people themselves, "We have changed everything about Scarlet because the market has changed and we have discovered a lot of things in the process. We have a new vision."

Given all the stupid ergonomics that can pop up with first models, as well as the troubleshooting that guinea pig early buyers often have to go through, this may be a wise move if it results in the (not too distant) introduction of a model with increased practicality. However, I know not what goes on in the minds of the RED people.

"Wipe you[r] minds of the past announced Scarlet. Forget the design and forget the price. It is all different now. We think you will be surprised. Glad we didn't take any deposits..."

I know a few people who were holding off on purchasing an XHA1, HVX or even EX1 because they were worshipping at the RED altar and couldn't wait for the ultra-affordable Scarlet messiah camera to appear. Well, with the interest they have made by not spending that money a year ago, they can now get whatever camera they were thinking of getting...and some Pez.

For confirmation and some ensuing discussion, feel free to visit this SCARLETUSER FORUM THREAD

Either way, it should be interesting to see what incarnation of RED prosumer camera comes down the pipe. Their foray into the higher-end cameras has visibly affected the market and the $3000-$8000 camera battlefield can only be made more sleek, versatile, practical and efficient with increased competition.

Monday, September 22, 2008

HVX: Bronx Bottom Feeder

Well, I remember hearing a bit about an independent gangster flick that was in the works not too long ago called Bronx Bottom Feeder and for some reason it sprang to mind. Anyway, it is relevant for our purposes because it stands as an example of work done with the combination of the Panasonic HVX and the Brevis35 Adapater by Cinevate.

I'm not sure what ultimately came of the flick, or even if they eventually finished and polished the final cut. But they did post this "rough cut" scene a little while back and it does serve as a decent example of what can be done with the aforementioned pieces of equipment if motivated.

If you want to check it out, click on the link below. It shouldn't take too long to download.


And THIS .MOV CLIP is some behind-the-scenes outtakes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canon XHA1: VISION02 Preset by John Hope

In the continuing search for the perfect XHA1 presets to combat its drab out-of-the-box color rendition, we have a new and pretty effective entry. As we know, there have been a wide array of presets developed, including some fine work by Steven Dempsey and Paolo Ciccone, among others.

Here, John Hope has developed VISION02.

Feel free to take a look at it in action in the following clip.

New VISION02 preset test from John Hope on Vimeo.

The preset is also used in the Phil Kneen video I refer to in this other POST of mine (the seagull footage only).

If you like what you see from this preset, you can download it HERE.

And be sure to thank John Hope. Here is his VIMEO PAGE.

But at least now you have another option.

Canon XHA1: SGPro Adapter Footage

Courtesy of Phil Kneen, we get to see the XHA1 combined with the SGPro depth of field adapter.

**Addendum: Unfortunately, the embedded video, "Videodoodle by Phil Kneen" was deleted by the producer. Please explore the site for additional footage of your camera of choice with your adapter of choice.**

In this instance, he has used two lenses, a 17-40mm, and a 70-200mm.

The shot of the seagulls was using the VISION02 preset by John Hope.

All in all, some pretty nice work. Hopefully the kid grows into the sunglasses one day...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cinevate's Video University: A Useful Tool Whether You Buy or Not...

Canadian independent film supplier Cinevate has been around for a while, and is best known probably for their development of the Brevis 35 depth of field adapter, generally considered to be one of the primary players in the oligopoly that also include Letus and Redrock, etc.

I am not here to promote Cinevate products in particular, nor to drive traffic to their site. I personally don't have a great deal of experience with their items and can't give a well-educated recommendation on whether to use or not use their dollies or mattebox. I certainly can't recommend against using them.

But one thing I can suggest that is worth your time, whether you are interested in buying Cinevate products or not, is checking out their VIDEO UNIVERSITY, which includes tutorials on the setup and use of various items in their catalogue.

Granted, these videos are intended as promotional materials for their products, but that doesn't mean they don't have informational value in general. These tutorials can be of particular use, in my opinion:

(1) If you are pretty new to the field or to film equipment and just want an orientation as to the purpose and basic function of items such as dollies and matteboxes.

(2) If you are a DIY fanatic and like to build your own equipment, you may get some ideas and benefit from the more extensive R&D that the professionals have been able to do.

Anyway, the videos include tutorials on their dollies, adapters, matteboxes and such. And the company has a pretty good reputation for product quality, as well its founder Dennis Wood being known for a pretty helpful disposition. So, feel free to check the video university out. If it's too basic and you find the videos too commercial, feel free to move on. But if you learn a little bit from the videos, all the better.

TwilightFest at DVXuser

Just a quick note to let everyone know that TwilightFest is now on at, a forum that both provides discussion on media production and filmmaking matters as well as housing regular short film competitions. The theme is six-minute (maximum) films in the vein of The Twilight Zone.

The community over there is pretty good. Constructive feedback is generally given and it is a great place for Q&A about almost any area of the business.

Anyway, here is the link to the COMPETITION RULES, and be sure to let me know if you submit something. I'd love to check it out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Are you posting your HD work only on Youtube??? Vimeo, Vimeo, Vimeo...

If you have looked through the posts in my Camera Battle comparisons between the Canon XHA1, Panasonic HVX, Sony EX1 and so on, as well as the comparisons of depth of field adapters and camera stabilization systems, you will see that there is not a whole lot of pixelated YouTube-hosted footage in there.

It's not because I hate YouTube. It's because generally speaking, people with cameras costing over $1000 are tending to shoot HD and want that high resolution to be presented to their audience, even if that audience is online. And they are turning to other video-hosting options that have developed to fill this niche.

Even YouTube's "high resolution" clip hosting is not really going to cut it. Pro and semi-pro videographers and filmmakers are turning more and more to sites such as VIMEO where the clear and crisp resolution can be made apparent to the online viewer.

Vimeo isn't perfect. It generally has a 500 MB / week uploading limit, so if you send up your magnum opus and realize there was a spelling mistake in the end credits, you may be stuck until next Monday. And it is not the only option out there. But if you are one of the people with a decent camera who is relying exclusively on YouTube to reach your internet audience, get out there and take a look at your options and alternatives. And while you're at it, make sure you update your MySpace page, heh heh...

(Note that a courteous reader posted a correction in the comments, stating that "Vimeo does allow you to re-up the same footage as a replacement without docking you more MB. That way your incorrect titles can be fixed without penalty.")

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Depth of Field Adapters: REAL Stops of Light Loss...

This is going to be another one of those posts where the seasoned veterans are like, "oh come on, thanks again Captain Obvious," but for someone just learning about lighting and cinematography and how they relate to proper exposure, or someone just entering the depth of field adapter market but not sure where or how to start, the following information will be of some assistance in determining:

(a) Whether a depth of field adapter is for you, and

(b) How to prepare yourself to properly take advantage of this tool if you do indeed acquire one.

So they're out there: The Redrock M2, the Letus Extreme and Ultimate, the Brevis, and a myriad of other adapters, most of them generally claiming that their adapter loses "only half a stop of light". While these claims themselves are the subject of much discussion and debate (we'll assume them to be true for our purposes), one fact that anyone new to the concept of adapters should consider is that even if your adapter brand of choice loses only half a stop of will lose much more than a half-stop by incorporating a depth of field adapter into your filming.

For those without a photography background, a decrease of one f-stop means that half as much light is being allowed into the camera to reach your sensor. And in these terms, a decrease in f-stop would actually mean increasing the F value on your lens. So going from, say, F2.0 to F3.0 would cut your light in half.

So a half a stop of light... Not too big of a deal. Maybe you can just open the aperture on your camcorder itself if it wasn't wide open and you haven't lost anything, practically speaking. Certainly shouldn't be much of an issue shooting outdoors in the daytime.

But here is the reality with your adapter.

Not only will you lose the half-stop or so that is inherently lost by the adapter mechanism. You will also lose light in additional ways...


In order to focus your camcorder on the ground glass in the adapter (where the image is projected), you have to zoom in so that the ground glass fills the frame. If you have your camcorder fully zoomed out, your image will be small in the center of the frame, surrounded by a black rectangle (elements of the adapter). You have to zoom in until these black edges are not visible.

What happens when you zoom your camcorder in? The aperture shrinks and the f-stop value increases. And you lose light.


What do you attach onto the end of your depth of field adapter in order to film your nice, shallow depth images? An additional lens.

Depending on the lens (smaller minimum F-stop lenses increase greatly in price), you may have a very fast one (perhaps F1.4) or something slower, with minimum values from F2.8 to F4.0. That means that the lens itself is already costing you possibly two stops of light before the image even gets inside the adapter, where it loses more light and then hits the (zoomed in) camcorder sensors.


So what does this mean, that adapters are crap and the manufacturers are liars? No, of course not. But it means that you will really need to augment your indoor shooting methods from what they may have been with a bare camcorder. You will be losing 2+ stops of light and getting some seriously underexposed images if you don't attend to lighting much more enthusiastically.

If you want to get a feel for why you will have new lighting requirements, set up your camcorder in a fairly dark setting that is still reasonably filmable with your bare camera. Maybe your living room at night with the main light on. Make sure your camera has its aperture wide open and no ND filters operating, pretty much the way it would be if you were trying to get usable footage in this situation. Then just start dialing down the aperture. Increase the f-stop by 1, then 2, then 3, and you'll get a rough feel for how you may end up fighting the darkness as you add all of this wonderful gear to the front of your camera.

And anyway, this "drawback" is actually not such a drawback, because if you haven't paid this level of attention to your lighting design so far, chances are that your images have suffered for it. Now, as you're making sure you fill your nighttime indoor set with enough light to get that image through all of that glass, it really isn't that much additional work to focus on some foreground / background separation, or toy with the contrast ratio. You're setting up the lights anyway...

Monday, September 8, 2008

DVD Review: Sound for Film and Television by Barry Green et al.

I recently had the opportunity to view the instructional DVD Sound for Film and Television by Barry Green, Art Jimmerson and Matt Gettemeier. The DVD came with good reviews from colleagues and rave reviews on some forums, and particularly at DVXuser, where the makers of the DVD are frequent posters and/or moderators.

This could be interpreted as a negative in the sense that there may be a bias at that particular forum. However, I will state that having anyone with notable expertise posting on community forums with any regularity is an overwhelming positive for the filmmaking community and especially for those trying to learn their craft. On many occasions, I have come across helpful Q&A sessions in the forums with the answers provided by Barry Green or his colleagues.

That said, when looking at the utility of this DVD, I would have to look at the characteristics of the viewer, their needs, and their level of expertise with respect to sound design and boom technique, etc.

First off, this DVD is very well put-together. Barry Green and company do an excellent job of keeping things moving along and making the subject matter interesting with colorful and creative examples. Not too often will an educational DVD put this kind of thought toward keeping you entertained, and it works well for subject matter that would be considered dry by many. The producers go above and beyond by writing and filming scenes that illustrate their principles in quirky and humorous ways, and it is a credit to their effort that viewers will not have a difficult time getting through this DVD.

While I found the DVD extremely entertaining for its genre, I believe that it is ideally suited for the following user: An aspiring filmmaker or film school graduate who has had little experience or training in proper sound design and recording.

This does not mean that other users won't benefit from the DVD. Even a seasoned professional will probably find it to be a relatively enjoyable couple of hours that reinforces some of their basic and intermediate knowledge. But who really needs this DVD is the director or producer who considers sound to be an annoying hurdle and necessary evil. The director who would prefer to ignore sound altogether if he or she could. The director who still records scenes using the camera's on-board microphone or who doesn't care if his boom operator has the boom mic pointed horizontally from a distance at the talent.

Green, Jimmerson and Gettemeier do a good job of driving home the basics and how to avoid beginner pitfalls that leave many first and second films irredeemable due to fatally flawed audio. They provide some basic rules to follow and while they may seem really basic, many people aren't following them (and many of these people should know better).

I see it regularly when I work, especially when I am around indie productions. Barry Green and company do an excellent job of really hammering in the principles of "Sound 101" and if you aren't already sure whether you know and follow these basic principles in your filmmaking, then you are likely to benefit from their tutelage.

As a minor note, a few of their references to microphone brands may be slightly dated, as models and relative prices change. The Oktava MK012, for example, has gone up significantly in relative price to the other models as North American currencies have slumped in comparison to those enjoyed by the Russian manufacturer. But such details will not detract from the universality of the principles in the DVD.

For your convenience, here are the IMDB profiles / resumes of BARRY GREEN and MATT GETTEMEIER.

If you want to learn more about the DVD, you can also take a look at its profile on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Put a UV Filter on your Camera!

For God's sake, put a UV filter on your prosumer camera lens, people!

If you are on this site, then you are already doing some due diligence and chances are you have long been aware of Rule Number One.

However, you have no idea how many people I know who run out and (apparently on a whim) buy a Canon XHA1, Panasonic DVX or HVX, or even a Sony EX1 and then run around with nothing but the lens hood on front. You shouldn't even be using a remotely decent SLR lens for your still camera without protection. But not protecting your built-in lens on a $3,000 to $7,000 camera?

A UV filter costs $20 (or less) to $100.

Chances are I am preaching to the choir here, but there are many people out there who are not yet converted. And if you don't want the (minor) color tinting that can result with the filtering out of UV rays on your prosumer cam, then just get a clear glass protector. They screw right on the front and you never have to think about them again. Plus, they're much easier to clean with your microfiber wipes than the lens itself.

What are you gonna do when some sneezes or flings stage blood on the bare lens of your $5,000 camera? Or puts their finger on the lens and leaves a permanent thumbprint? Throw a protector on there and the Wrath of God can attack the front of your camera and all you'll have to do is spend $50 for a new filter.

I know this is beyond basic, but there are a lot of people with cameras out there still learning and trust me, you don't want to learn this lesson the hard way.

For your reference, the following cameras have the following lens thread measurements...

Canon XHA1: 72mm

Canon XLH1: 72mm

Canon XL1 and XL2: 72mm

Panasonic HVX: 82mm

Panasonic DVX: 72mm

Sony PMW-EX1: 77mm

Below are a couple links to some UV filters online to give you an idea on prices...

And here is an example of a FORUM THREAD on the topic.

Finally, here is ANOTHER THREAD which shows that some people recommend using a UV filter only in situations where there is a tangible physical threat to your lens (such as sand blowing on a windy day at the beach). My personal choice is to use a filter at all times unless there is a strong tangible visual / cinematography reason to not have the UV rays filtered. You will ultimately determine your own comfort level, visual preferences and risk tolerance.