Updates and whatnot

Well, a lot has gone on since I’ve posted last! I thought it would be a good time to check in and take stock of where things are at with CD-Trip and other projects.


Post production has been extremely slow. Put simply, I underestimated how much work the sound was going to be. With most of my previous projects I recorded a lot of sound during production, and that does a lot of the heavy lifting. Even if you want to replace a sound (say, a door closing), at least you’ll have a reference. But with CD-Trip, almost none of the footage has sound. I really only recorded sound when there was dialogue, and there are only a couple of lines in the whole thing. Most of the sound with dialogue that WAS recorded I can’t even use because the sound of the camera is too loud. (Luckily my sound recorder Geoff had the idea to record all of the dialogue while we rehearsed. I’ve been able to match up most of the dialogue with sound recorded during rehearsal. That was definitely a good idea!) Anyway, all of this is to say there was quite a bit of foley to record (95% of which is now done), which was particularly difficult because I didn’t have a soundproof room to record in, and my house/street is really noisy.

Recording foley tends to be more of a technical task than a creative task, so it’s kind of a chore to get through. But the real thing that’s gotten me stuck is the creative part. Creative use of sound can really shape a movie, and it’s going to be a really important part of CD-Trip in particular. So I’ve been working on creating more abstract soundscape kind of things – the thing that is hard is figuring out how I want it to be.

CONTENT (new short film):

I got pretty burned out on CD-Trip after a while, and came up with a comedy short that I could put together quickly to change gears for a little while:

It took me about 40 hours total, which felt extremely breezy. (So far I’ve logged 390 hours on CD-Trip…. which doesn’t include most of the preproduction.)


I also made a new animated music video for Muzzle Tung (music video starts about 7 minutes in):

That took me about 80 hours, which was pretty fast for animation. I have some other ideas for animation, and thought it would be a good chance to try out Unity as a platform for video (I already have quite a bit of experience with it as a game engine).

If you’re interested in more details about that process I made this little BTS video:

So, those are some of the things I’ve been up to! Progress on CD-Trip is continuing, and I hope to share more details soon.

Post Production begins

I have my footage back from the lab, so CD-Trip is now in the post production phase! It’s been a long road.

The first thing I did (well, after looking at the raw footage of course) was to throw together a rough cut. Basically I just took the script and lined up the shots in order. Later in the editing process things may get taken out, switched around in order, and fine trimmed. But for now, this gives me a good idea of where the project is at – if I got all the footage I meant to, how it looks and feels.

The rough cut is about 15 minutes, and I have about 35 minutes of raw footage so my shooting ratio was roughly 2:1. That’s pretty good! That number is typically very different when shooting digitally. Because I was trying to be as economical with the film as possible, I didn’t do very many repeated takes. This is going to make the editing go much faster. The process of selecting which takes to use can one of the most time consuming parts of editing. And I’m pretty much already done with that part of it. Many shots I only got one take of, and for those that I did more than one, it’s a pretty clear choice.

Now that I have the rough cut, it’s time for the next time consuming part of the process. Gathering sound! With the exception of a few dialogue scenes, there is virtually NO sound. I need to create everything myself or get it from a sound library.

I already had a list of sounds I thought I was going to need (which I prepared from the script). But after making the rough cut I went through and added sounds that I didn’t anticipate needing. Now I’ve got my work cut out for me. After I have all of the sounds in place I’ll move on to more editing and fine tuning.

sound list

Rules for revising past work

Since I’ve been putting together a sort of retrospective Blu-Ray of my past work, I’ve had to take a look at my old films. I want to make sure that I present everything on the Blu-Ray in as good quality as possible, so I decided to make fresh renders. I’ve also been restoring two films that never got a proper digital presentation.

In the restoration of Dream, I ended up losing a frame on the edge of each cut. That’s a story for another time, but because of this I had to redo the sound mix in order for everything to sync up. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I’d gone beyond adjusting timing and levels, and I started swapping out different voice over takes!

When I started rendering Black Weeds, I realized that I wanted to revise the color correction a bit. Then I found a bunch of other things I wanted to do.

This brought up a conflict for me. I was really excited by the improvements I was making to my old projects. But, I felt worried that what I was doing was wrong. After all, part of the point of looking back at old projects is seeing the faults.

Lots of creators have revised their work in different ways, perhaps the most notorious being George Lucas. I am not a fan of any of the revisions he has made to his films. I definitely don’t want to do something like that – think that I’m improving my films, but actually make them much, embarrassingly, worse.

Hardly any people have even seen my films, much less become attached to them the way so many have with Star Wars. Even so, I became paranoid that someone would accuse me of “Lucasing” my projects. As I worked on my revisions, I kept trying to tell myself that I’m allowed to do what I want, but the feeling kept coming back.

I decided I needed to lay out some rules for how to revise past work in a respectful way. The idea is to present the original creative idea/story as clearly as possible. You’re preserving the creative faults, but getting rid of some of the technical faults. Creative faults are more interesting than technical faults.

Here are the rules I came up with:

1. No adding imagery

This is the biggest reason that the Star Wars special editions are awful. The imagery that you come up with when making a film is one of the main things you’re doing. Adding something new to that is too much.

2. No adding anything that sticks out

If an addition draws attention to itself, it’s probably not part of the original idea. I can see why it’s tempting to do this – to want the new version to be obviously better than the old version. But the goal should be for someone to not consciously notice a difference.

I actually added one sound effect to Black Weeds, but I’m sure no one would notice it unless they watched both versions side by side.

3. Hiding technical mistakes is OK

Technical mistakes aren’t interesting in themselves. They can only distract from the story. So if there’s a boom in the shot and you can erase it without drawing attention to it, then that’s great. In my case I’d actually tried to digitally hide some mistakes in the original version. But I did it in a way that was a bit overblown and maybe attracted too much attention. So in the new version, I tried to dial it back a little, and make the digital repairs a little more subtle.

4. Editorial changes allowed only if they improve the story as originally intended – and only if subtle

Making edits can get dangerously close to sticking out. I decided to swap out some audio takes in Dream, because I thought it improved the storytelling. In the original edit I chose takes that I thought were more interesting. Ten years later, having lived with the film for a while, I think they are actually just more confusing. I know this comes close to being something that sticks out, but I do that that changes in audio are more forgiving than changes in visuals. I’m confident that most people wouldn’t notice the difference.

I also made a few small cuts in Black Weeds, the new version is 2 seconds and 14 frames shorter than the original. The changes are very subtle, but they fix things that have been bugging me for a while, and they help the story.

5. Color grading and sound mixing are OK

Film watchers are very used to seeing films with different color grades now. Almost every time a film gets a new video release it gets a new transfer and color grade. So I think color grading is fair game for improvement.
Upgrading a sound mix similarly seems more technical. Even though it is definitely a very creative area, most of what goes on in a sound mix is changing levels. This puts it in the same category as color grading to me.
One mistake I’ve made many times is making certain visuals too dark, or making certain audio parts to quiet. This is a creative issue, but I think it is OK to make sure that something is visible or audible, especially if it is important to the story.

So those are my rules for revising past work. I hope they will be helpful to you if you are experiencing a similar situation. If so, or if you have come up with any other rules of your own, I’d love to hear about it!

Crowdfunding – Indiegogo or Kickstarter?

I launched my first crowdfunding campaign (on Indiegogo). Check it out here!

I’ve been busy putting together perks – in particular I’m putting together a Blu-Ray with a collection of my past works, as well as new restorations of Dream and Untitled #1. There’s a lot to say about it, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, here are my thoughts on why I chose Indiegogo:

First of all, I decided to keep my goal pretty low – I really only need about $600 to finish the project, and I’m only dipping my toes in the water here. I’ve never tried crowdfunding before, so I want to try it out on a small scale to get a feel for it.

For crowdfunding, there are pretty much four options that I know of: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and skipping a platform altogether and soliciting directly or on your own website.

The advantages to using a platform are:
1) They are established, so people feel relatively comfortable with them, giving credit card info, etc.
2) They make it easier to set up a campaign than doing your own website, and they handle all the credit card transactions.
3) They provide ‘discoverability’, that is supposedly strangers might browse their way into your campaign and decide to contribute.

The disadvantage is:
They take a fee.

In the future I may decide to skip a platform altogether – so far ‘discoverability’ seems not to be a real thing, and I can set something up myself. But for now, setting up all the creative content was enough work, so it wasn’t worth it for me to do extra work to avoid a small fee.

So what are the fees on the different platforms?

Kickstarter – 5% + payment processing per pledge of 3% + $0.20
Indiegogo – 5% + payment processing per pledge of 2.9% + $0.20
GoFundMe – 0% + payment processing per pledge of 2.9% + $0.20

They all have pretty much the same payment processing fee (which would apply even if you skipped the platform and did it yourself – accepting credit cards just always costs something). And currently Kickstarter and Indiegogo have the same 5% platform fee, while GoFundMe has no platform fee.

GoFundMe seems to mostly be used for personal expenses – medical emergencies, things like that. It feels wrong to use it for this kind of project, so I decided that I better not.

As far as Kickstarter vs Indiegogo, a big part of it is that Indiegogo allows you to do ‘flexible funding’, which means even if you don’t make it to your goal, you’ll still get to keep the contributions, whereas with Kickstarter it’s all or nothing. In my case, I’m going to finish the movie no matter what, but I need all the contributions I can get, so flexible funding is a good choice for me.

Indiegogo also lets you keep the project active, accepting contributions after the campaign is over.

As far as ‘discoverability’, Kickstarter has a higher profile, but Indiegogo seems to have a good reputation with film projects.

So all things being (nearly) equal, I decided to go with Indiegogo.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you’re able and willing to contribute, please do so! I would very much appreciate it.

All right, I have to get back to putting together perks!

Shooting is done

the final shot

I finally shot the last bits of film this week!

It’s really nice to finally have all of the film in the can, but I’m bummed that I can’t send it in to get processed right away. I need about $600 that I don’t have right now. I’m still figuring out my income situation, so I’m trying to decide how to proceed. I can wait until I have more income and do it then, or I can take the irresponsible option and just send it in right away and charge it to my credit card… I’m also thinking about doing some kind of crowd funding. I’ve never tried it for any project. I’m not totally sure why – I guess I don’t want to start calling in favors until I REALLY need them, like for some future project. But I need to think about it some more… $600 isn’t a huge sum, and I could probably raise that.

In the meantime, there are a lot of things to work on:

  1. Learning color grading

    Ideally I would hire a pro to do this, but since I can’t even afford to process the film, you know I can’t hire a pro at this point. I have done lots of color grading on my previous projects, but I’m definitely still an amateur. I’m starting to learn DaVinci Resolve, and I might even end up using that to do the editing. I have the test reel to practice on, and I also got a couple of my student films scanned, so I’m going to get those graded and finished up in nice HD versions.

  2. Recording/designing sound

    I didn’t record very much sound during film production, so there’s going to be a lot to do here! It’s weird to do it when I don’t have footage to look at, but there’s still quite a bit that I can do.

  3. Composing music

    Likewise with music, it’s odd to not have some sort of edit to look at. When I wrote the movie, I was thinking it might have NO MUSIC at all, but now I think I’m going to have something, but something pretty subtle. There’s also a scene with diegetic music, which I’ll probably make myself.

  4. Title design

    I’ve already started working on this, and I’m really excited with how it’s turning out! Title design is pretty important to me, and I’ll probably make a separate post about that.

Stuck again — & new projects

Well, CD-Trip has sort of been on hold for a bit. The main thing keeping me busy lately has been busy dealing with trying to get income. For the past couple of years I’ve been making my living by doing freelance iOS app development. Freelance work can be kind of stop and start though, and it’s gotten especially dodgy for me lately and I’m running out of money to live on. So I’ve been trying to figure all that out which isn’t very fun. Looking for a proper job while doing other side gigs (like selling things on ebay) to pay the bills. You know, reality.

But I do have a couple of other interesting projects I have started on.. One of them is still in early stages, and I don’t want to announce anything about it quite yet. The other project is a soundtrack for a sort of experimental documentary that my uncle is making. It’s been really fun to work on someone else’s project for a change! The project revolves around climate change issues, particularly related to animal extinctions. So there’s a lot of room for horror-type music, but I’m branching off from that a fair amount. I’m definitely using a lot of synths, but also some piano and maybe some woodwinds. I think the album will end up being an interesting progression from I Have Fear.

Anyway, I should get back to talking about CD-Trip and why it has been stuck. This seems to be a recurring problem for me, especially with film projects. It’s hard to tell if the problem is myself, or if it’s about external factors. It’s probably a bit of both.

When I do music, for example, I usually am not depending on other people for any part of it. But with films it’s almost always necessary to get other people involved. So you have to coordinate schedules with other people’s availability. There are also often things like ordering costumes or props online and having to wait for them to arrive. Money is a big external factor too. I don’t currently even have the money to get the film processed once I finish shooting, so that makes me in less of a rush.

But even with the problems of external factors, there’s almost always something I can work on. There’s always something else to figure out before a shoot. Where to shoot, production design, what shots, etc… These are all things that I can and should be working on, but somehow I always struggle with making them a priority. It’s easy for me to move on to a project I’m less invested in. The stuff that I care about the most becomes kind of precious. It’s like unconsciously I don’t want to expose it, keep it safe in potential, in my mind. I almost always slow down when I’m getting to the end of a bigger project. But on a conscious level at least, I love finishing projects!

For now, the external factors are lined up again, so I’m planning on finishing up the shooting this week. Then, it will be a waiting game again until I can raise the money to get the film processed.

Wish me luck!

Alternate Reality Games

Lately I’ve been researching ARGs, or “alternate reality games”, because they have a bearing on CD-Trip. An ARG is a “game” (or puzzle of some kind) that attempts to interact with real life in some way. It needs to pretend that it isn’t a game – that it’s an actual mystery, or some real world situation for the players to figure out.

Many are marketing tie-ins – there are ARGs related to The Dark Knight and a Nine Inch Nails album for example. And they often involve the Internet – streaming video, online forums, etc. – but not necessarily.

I watched a documentary (The Institute) about this “organization” that operated in San Francisco. The “Jejune Institute” posted flyers around town advertising far-fetched science fiction concepts. An automated phone message led people to an actual building with elaborate decor. Visitors watched videos and got invited further into involvement with the institution. Slowly, they unraveled a complicated mystery.

I just watched this talk by one of the designers of this thing, and I thought it was pretty interesting.

He talks about the idea that, as adults in society, certain ways of “playing” are off-limits – frowned upon, or just plain unthinkable. He created this “interactive narrative adventure” as a way of providing an opportunity for people to interact with the public space in a new way.

This makes a lot of sense to me – there’s an element of adventure or fantasy missing for adults in the world today. I think that probably has a lot to do with the popularity of conspiracy theories, as well as video games and other forms of entertainment.

Furthermore, I find the idea of questioning the parameters of society to be really interesting. I think the Internet, especially in the early days, can be a tool for this. The Internet was a way for people to communicate, interact, publish, and explore in ways that weren’t sanctioned by society. Because it was new and developing, there weren’t many rules and conventions. It seemed to be asking you what you could do with it. It was like an alternate society – outside of the real society – that gave us an opportunity to rethink it.

Now things seem more settled down. The Internet has shaken the world up in many ways, but has become a conventional part of life. There is a wide variety of activities to take part in online, but most of these fall into categorizes sanctioned by society. First, consuming “content” (social media, streaming video/music, news, education/self-help). Second, creating “content” – as social participation and/or in hopes of eking out a living by monetizing it. Third, to use tools for general and commercial purposes (email, cloud software, etc.).

By and large, the Internet doesn’t seem like it is beckoning with opportunity anymore. But, I think it actually does have potential. It just doesn’t seem like it because it’s so integrated with society now.

It seems to me that society wants us to treat the Internet like a souped-up television – our usage should either be passive or in service of commerce. I think we should be questioning that idea, even if the usage is as trivial as “play”.

Almost there!

That’s a thousand feet of film in the can! (Not including the initial 100 feet roll that I’ve already had processed.)

I still have a few more things to film: one more tiny scene, a sort of B-roll effecty shot, and I also need to figure out what I’m going to do for the titles (film them, or do them digitally?). I have one more 100 foot roll of stock left, so I’m going to have to fit everything I have left onto that. But all of the main scenes are done!

One of the things that’s nice about working with a physical format like film, is that you can actually see your progress and hold it in your hand. It’s much different than just looking at a computer screen and seeing a percentage of hard drive filled.

I’m hoping to fully wrap up production within the next couple of weeks, then it’ll be time to send it to the lab, wait, and hope that it turns out looking good! ??

Filming monitors and TVs

You don’t see this all that often anymore, but if you played around with any kind of video camera before every screen was LCD, you probably remember seeing a sort of rolling bar on TVs or computer monitors when you filmed them. This happens basically because of a mismatch between the speed that monitor refreshes, and the shutter speed of the camera.

Since this movie is set in the 90’s, I’m dealing with an old CRT monitor and cathode ray TV, both of which feature prominently. So I’m trying to figure out the best way to deal with it.  

The easy way out would just be to “fix it in post” and slap the video over the film footage using After Effects or something.  I’ve done worse things before, but I don’t love this idea. For one, it kind of defeats the purpose of shooting on film if I’m going to cover up the film image with a digital one.  For two, I see this effect all the time, and it almost always looks bad to me. I have done similar things before, but I’d like to save it as a last resort in case the image turns out to be completely illegible.

So I think I’m going to be OK with there being a little bit of a rolling bar, I just want to figure out how best to control it.

Since I’m shooting on 16mm, there’s no way to really accurately see what it’s going to look like ahead of time. Luckily, using my trusty Canon T2i, I can do my best to approximate how it will look.  The most important part would be setting the shutter speed.

From my research I’ve determined that my camera (the CP16-R) has either a 135 degree or 156 degree shutter.  (Not sure which!) That means shutter speed at 24fps is either 1/64 or 1/55. Well, the T2i can do 1/60, so I’m gonna go ahead and use that to at least get in the same ballpark.

Great, so now I have something to look at (I also set the ISO and frame rate appropriately), now what can I do about controlling the bar?  Well, computer monitors have a refresh rate that can be controlled by software.  Yay, so that at least gives me a tiny bit of control. (I’m not sure there’s as much of an option for the TV.)

The driver on the laptop I’m using for playback gives me options for 60Hz, 70Hz, 75Hz, and more.  I’m hesitant to try too high of a refresh rate, because supposedly it could “permanently damage” the monitor to set it higher than what the monitor supports.  I don’t know what this monitor supports, nor can I find any information about it. (It was hard enough to track down a CRT monitor in this day and age!) I’m hoping 70Hz isn’t going to destroy it, and planning not to go above that.

So, I did some experiments, and this is how they look:

48 Hz
60 Hz
50 Hz
70 Hz

I’m pretty sure the way to get it in sync is to have a refresh rate of twice the frame rate. Shooting digitally the frame rate is technically 23.976, but on film it will be exactly 24. Therefore I believe that there wouldn’t be a rolling bar at all with the 48Hz refresh rate. However, as you can see, there is a pretty big dark roll that happens slowly on the digital version. I think the risk is that the roll wouldn’t move, but it could very well be sitting somewhere in that cycle, and I don’t have a way to know where it would be.

50Hz looks really bad, 70Hz is a little too spazzy for my taste, so I decided to go with 60Hz. It’s a slower and smooth roll, but without lingering the way it does at 48Hz.

I’m kind of shooting in the dark here, so here’s hoping it turns out well!

Crunch time!

I’ve been doing a lot of preparations since I last posted – and I came to the decision to film the next shoot in an existing room instead of the set. Well, let me clarify a little.

There are three major locations remaining to film in: a living room, a hallway, and a kitchen. My original plan was to use a real kitchen (which would be needlessly complicated to build from scratch) and use sets for the other two. As I explored in my last post, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to use a real living room, so I’ll do that and then just use the set for the hallway. This means all three locations are independent and can be prepared to shoot close to the same time.

The lead actress that I’ve been working with for the past several months (and whose hair has naturally been growing this whole time) is going out of town soon, and wants to cut her hair. Hair is one aspect of this production that is pretty out of my control. Definitely one of the downsides of shooting over a long period of time is that hair length is going to fluctuate. It probably would have been a good idea to hire a hair/makeup person to try and maintain continuity, but I don’t have the budget for that, and I wasn’t planning to take this long to film in the first place! So I’m doing my best to work around the different hair lengths and hope the viewer doesn’t get too distracted by it. But at this point, a haircut would be pretty bad for continuity, so now my goal is to try and get the three shoots done as soon as possible – preferably within the next week. (Besides the haircut, one of the actors is also moving very soon, so that’s another reason to try and get shooting finished up soon.)

So it’s crunch time now for me – I need to get all three locations ready to shoot! It’s a stressful proposition, but I think I tend to work better under pressure, so in a way it’s nice to have a deadline.

On “real” film productions, everything is scheduled to take place in one condensed period of time (like 4 weeks or something). This makes obvious sense for a professional production – once you’ve assembled your crew and have a payroll, you gotta get it done! But for really small independent type productions, I know it’s not uncommon to shoot on weekends, or even more sparsely, which is what I’ve been doing.

One of my original goals for this project was to take my time in production (in the past I’ve tried to hurry things along so that I’m not inconveniencing anyone – I’m really worried about that for some reason!) However, the shoot has become a bit ridiculously prolonged, so I’m looking forward to getting it wrapped up, and moving on to post-production.