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

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.

Building DIY film sets

Even though I’ve been making films for years, I’ve always assumed that building sets was basically impossible. Like it would cost thousands of dollars or something. So I’ve always worked with existing locations.

I’ll try and dress them up as best I can, but obviously you run into limitations.

The biggest limitation for me is usually that whatever the location is, it’s something that is used for something besides the movie, probably some kind of living space, either yours or someone else’s.  If someone is letting me use their space, I’ll definitely try to be as courteous as possible.  Even if it’s your own space, you kind of have to move quickly and don’t get a lot of time to make sure that everything is right for the scene.

When I was shooting “Black Weeds”, I lived in a house with a bunch of roommates, and filmed everything there.  As you can probably guess, the house was a pretty big mess all the time, especially the kitchen.  A fair amount of the movie takes place in the kitchen, and I tried to clean it and dress it for the movie.  But after a while, I just pushed stuff out of the way, just outside of the edge of the frame.  For most of those shots, if you panned the camera a few inches, it would look like a very different kitchen!

I think it’s kind of good training to shoot this way.  It’s important to remember that the only thing that really matters to the movie is what actually happens inside the frame.

Anyway, when planning the scenes for “CD-Trip”, I thought I would look into what it would take to build some sets.  For one, I want to have more control of the production design.  I also want to have more flexibility in terms of camera placement – when you have an artificial set you can put the camera past where walls should be, and potentially move walls around as needed.  When you’re shooting in a small room, you pretty much have to stick to wide-angle lenses, and placement choices are much more limited.  Finally, I also just want to try it out on a small scale, to see how it works out – how hard it is, how expensive, etc.  It’s undoubtedly something that’s going to be important to know something about when working on bigger, future projects.

I don’t really know anything about construction or woodworking, but I figured it can’t be that expensive to put a couple of smallish walls up.  Luckily, an artist friend of mine, Andrew Alba, knows how to build stuff and was interested in helping out!

The hard part is finding a location with enough space to build it.  I looked a little bit into renting some kind of warehouse or studio space.  There’s definitely some available space around, but I couldn’t find any place that didn’t seem like overkill for this smallish project.  Andrew offered up his backyard – and that was the plan for a while.  The obvious downsides to shooting outside would be temperature, having to shoot late at night in order to control the lighting, and possibly bugs.

But then an opportunity came up for a house rental that I moved into.  There’s a decently sized basement, with just enough room to fit a really small set.  So here it is!

We used really cheap paneling, and ended up with three walls for around $100 not including labor. I found the door, some carpet scraps, and other odds and ends at a local home improvement thrift store called the Re-Store.

Now it’s just a matter of finding the right wall decorations (so far I’ve used some wallpaper I found on Ebay, but I may experiment with other ideas), and setting up the props and dressing.

To save money, I’m planning to use the same walls for three different ‘locations’. As I type this I’ve finished filming with the first, and am now in the process of figuring out the dressing for the second one!

Shooting on film

I didn’t mention it in my last post, but I’m shooting “CD-Trip” on 16mm film! I’ve always loved the look of 16mm, and I’ve had a little bit of experience with it from a class I took. Even so, I’d always assumed that it wasn’t really feasible to do it on my own. But I want to put as much as I can into the project so I’ve saved up some money for this film, and film has turned out to be a viable option.

When I first started conceiving of the project I knew I wanted to do something different than I’d been doing. One idea was to shoot on DV – this would fit the late 1990’s content in a way, but it definitely looks pretty shoddy, and I don’t think that’s what I really want. The other idea was to rent a fancy digital camera – like a RED or something like that. And the last idea – the idea I barely would let myself think – was to shoot on 16mm…

First step of research was to look at rental houses. There are two rental houses I know of in Utah: Redman, which is what the big productions use, and I know requires insurance, and Underfunded Film Productions, which doesn’t require insurance, and is priced for low budget types like me. UFP rents RED cameras for $550-$700 / day. They are also down in Utah County (about 45 minutes drive away for me). They have all kinds of lights and other gear for rent as well. Renting could be nice, because you would get access to whatever you need, but you’d have to really plan your shoots to be all at once. In my experience, it’s somewhat difficult to get cast and crew to commit to much more than one day at a time. But I figured my shoot could take place over 3 weekends if I really worked to get everything together. So rental price would be in the ballpark of at least $3000.

Around this time I saw the film “Person to Person” at Sundance, which was shot on 16mm. It made me think again about looking into shooting on film, because it just looks so great! I started looking at cameras on Ebay, film prices at Kodak, and processing costs at film labs. Pricewise it seemed to be comparable or even less than renting a high end digital camera – granted this is assuming I keep a very low shooting ratio and don’t do very many takes. With good planning and rehearsal, I think I can get most shots in one or two takes.

So I decided to start heading down that path. After all, why spend a bunch of money on a digital look that I’m not that excited about when it’s comparable in price to get a film look that I’m way excited about? Plus I’d own my gear and be able to work at my own pace.

16mm cameras actually seem fairly cheap to buy, especially you’re not in a hurry. Not that many people are shooting on film these days, and I guess that means prices go down. I did some research on cameras good for low budgets and suitable for shooting sync sound, and came up with three options: Eclair NPR (used to shoot Texas Chainsaw Massacre!), Eclair ACL, and Cinema Products CP16-R. Then I set up Ebay watch notifications so I would be emailed as soon as anyone listed one. It took me a few months, but I ended up nabbing a CP16-R for just $380! (I was hoping for an NPR, but can’t argue with that price.)

Obviously you need to be careful with buying gear off of Ebay, but the price was so low that I figured it would be worth it even if I needed to spend some money on repairs for it.

Once I got the camera, I decided to shoot an initial 100 foot roll as a test. Of course I didn’t want to shoot my whole film without testing the camera, but I also would hate to waste film, so I picked out an outdoor scene from the script that seemed like it would be easy to film. That way if the film came back good, then I would have some actual usable footage. And if it came back bad, it wouldn’t be too much of a pain to reshoot.

From my film class experience, I already know the basic process of shooting and sending to a lab. In the class, we used a lab in Denver, but they appear to no longer be in business. I found a lab (Cinelab) in the Boston area that has good scanning facilities, so my plan was to send them the film and get 2K scans back, and just edit the film digitally. (In the film class we edited on film, and got film answer prints made. While that was amazing, it’s not practical for my purposes right now.)

Well, it took another couple of months for the lab to process the film (fewer labs in the country means they are all busier). But my footage came back looking great! There was a scratch going down part of it, but it went away after a little while, so I don’t think it’s something I need to worry about. So that was good enough for me, I bought the rest of the film stock I need, and have started shooting!

To save money, I’m planning to film everything else and send it to the lab all in one big batch. It’s strange to film scenes and know I’m not going to see how it turned out for months. It’s VERY different from the digital process I’m used to, but I think it’s had a positive effect even though it’s nerve racking! (I’ve attempted to film some of the rehearsals with my Sony T2i, to have some reference. But honestly there is always so much to think about while making a film, that it’s hard to be completely diligent about this.)

There are lots of pros and cons from a practical standpoint about shooting on film, but I think I’ll save that for another post.