Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Black Magick Goes Hollywood - 2 New Projects!

So this post is about good news, bad news, and more good news.  The good news:  Black Magick has been noticed--and picked up--by a production company in La La Land.  This is good because they will have a much bigger budget to spend on the film than we would have--but with it comes the knowledge that we will no longer be shooting the movie here in Memphis!  Unless of course, the script languishes in development and the rights revert back to me--something that does happen on a regular basis, but can't happen for Black Magick for 22 more months.  That is the bad news (if you can really call it bad).  But this brings us to more good news...

We are officially announcing two new feature film projects.  The first is titled Far From the Evening and it will be shot Dec 2011 thru Feb 2012.  This film is being developed with the good folks at IFC who have been chiming in with their two cents--and we've been listening!  Since IFC would be a great place to end up for distribution, we are developing and shooting the movie with them in mind.  We are actively seeking crew positions for this shoot--as well as casting very soon--so stay tuned for most postings in the near future concerning this production.  Here is the official description of the movie:

After eleven years in prison, Lester Hall is going home.  Journeying by river from Cairo, Illinois to Memphis, Tennessee, Hall confronts a world that has passed him by.  Guided by a fate that seems inescapable, Hall confronts the ghosts of his past crimes, a family that's suspended in time, and an ex-fiance that he's dreamed of killing for the past decade.

As for the second project, it is titled The Mighty Winter and it will go into production mid-to-late 2012--though I will be shooting B-roll for the film as early as this November in the Smoky Mountains.  With a longer development time--and most likely production schedule as well--this is a much more ambitious project as it will incorporate VFX and more unique locations.  Here is the official description:

Daring the harsh nuclear winter, Finn searches for the ultimate piece of old world tech--a means to unite the remnants of humanity.  Guided only by a pre-war journal and the writings of the Eddas, Finn's quest will take him through poisonous environs, the shattered remains of civilization, and the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains.  An area now inhabited by the feral descendants of the Appalachians.

More information about Far From the Evening and The Mighty Winter coming soon! 

Thursday, July 07, 2011

DSLR Advice for Filmmakers

Since purchasing and using our new DSLR package (Canon EOS 60D), we have learned a lot about using these cameras for filmmaking.  Here are ten tips for shooting your first movie using a DSLR (HDSLR) camera:

1.  Know your workflow.  What editing program will you be using?  Will you need color correction in post (most likely)?  Are you shooting separate sound (also most likely)?  Knowing what post-production programs you will be using will dictate the settings for the camera and what additional equipment you will need while shooting--like external audio recorder, filters, boom or lavalier mic, etc.  This also includes your workflow on the set.  Will you be dumping the video files off your camera's memory card as you shoot, or will you purchase a lot of cards to avoid this on the set?

2.  Experiment with lenses.  Just because somebody slams a particular lens on Amazon.com, it doesn't mean that it's bad.  Conversely, if somebody raves about one...well, you get the picture.  Most reviewers of lenses use them for still photography, so they have extremely high standards.  They have to:  high-end DSLR's shoot 18 megapixel (and higher) photos.  But HD video clocks in just under 2 megapixels.  So a lens that might be mediocre for stills can actually excel at video.  So try them (rent them for a day if necessary) before you decide whether they are good/bad and if they will work for your shoot.  Concentrate on getting quality prime lenses instead of zoom lenses, too.

3.  Do camera tests.  This goes hand-in-hand with experimenting with lenses.  Actually shoot sample video with each lens you try--under different conditions (night, sunset, day, indoor, etc.).  You can really determine the best lenses for your movie after doing camera tests.  Here is a sample test of the Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 lens that we use:

4.  Take advantage of advanced picture styles.  There are a lot of different automated styles you can add to your camera to create a desired 'look' for your footage (just Google it).  These make great starting points for you.  Technicolor even offers a free downloadable picture style that is awesome.  If you're going to tinker with your color, etc. a lot in post, though, you will want to start with a 'flat' look.  Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut (Terminator Salvation) suggests setting your camera to:  Sharpness/Contrast all the way down (-4) and Saturation -2.

5.  Prepare for shooting external/sync sound.  This means purchasing a great audio recorder and mic.  There are several great but inexpensive recorders (such as the Zoom H2/H4) that DSLR filmmakers use and can be easily purchased online.  I also suggest using a clapper/slate before every scene; this gives you an audio point you can use to sync up the good sound from your audio recorder to the bad sound from the camera (so audio matches the video).  When you get to post, check out the program Pluraleyes--it makes syncing your audio to your video a snap.

6.  Get a quality tripod and/or shoulder rig.  The advantage of a small camera is that it can go a lot of places and shoot from a lot of angles that a big camera cannot.  The disadvantage is that it's harder to hold steady!  Using a great tripod is a necessity for most shots.  Also remember to pan side-to-side slowly when shooting so you do not get crazy artifacts in your video image.

7. Know your camera.  Get used to using manual settings and playing with the ISO, exposure, etc.  This includes mastering basic cinematographer skills.  There are numerous books, websites, etc. in this regard--and the more you know about your specific camera and how to use it, the better your cinematography in your movie.  You will also learn how to deal with aliasing, moire, and rolling shutter...

8.  Don't forget about the extras.  This includes lights, additional mics, extra memory cards and batteries, filters, better audio adapter, etc.  These can add up to cost even more than your camera so allow for this in your film budget.

9.  Time is still money.  Though you aren't paying for film, you will probably still be paying for everything else.  So staying on a reasonable shooting ratio (amount of takes per shot) is still a priority for shooting.

10.  Take advantage of pre-production.  Lock down your script, learn how to use your gear, and know the logistics of every shooting day prior to getting on the set.  It will save you numerous headaches, make your cast and crew love you, and enable you to create a quality product.

Hope these tips help!  Happy shooting! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Black Magick Camera Tests

After looking at a couple different cameras to use for our feature film Black Magick--to include professional level HD (Red, upper tier Sony, etc.)--the clear winner for portability, ease of use, and best image were the DSLR's we tried out.  Though we have decided to use one of the Canon cameras (EOS 60D), I was personally surprised at the high quality image the Panasonic Lumix micro 4/3 cameras produced--specifically the Lumix GH2 (something to think about if you decide to purchase a reasonably priced DSLR for a movie shoot).

Since I now know that the film will be finished in black-and-white, will use noir-style lighting, and will employ mostly practical SFX, the camera test had to be rather specific.  Here is one of the test photos shot with the Canon EOS 60D cameras that impressed us:

To have a better idea of what the 'look' of this movie will be like, imagine the film as an updated, classic Universal horror feature (like the original Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.).  We want this movie to have this type of feel, only with updated/modern acting, scares, and plot points.  A modern Gothic movie if you will.

Locking down the camera, as well as establishing the final look of the film, has helped us to move on to other areas of pre-production--and to now know the direction of the movie so that we can keep some consistency throughout production.  Stay tuned to this website for more info about our next movie, Black Magick.

Black Magick is projected to enter principal photography in November, 2011 and to be released some time in 2012.