Changes in Production Audio

On May 4, 2014, in No Category, by LaFilm

Production audio has always been a bit… problematic… at least for me. Indoor sound is different that outdoor sound, lavs are different than shotguns on booms, which pickup pattern to use in which situation, etc. I am in no way an expert on this but I’m continually striving to improve on each production. I shoot with Canon DSLRs (a 60D and a 6D). I would love to record straight into the camera, but alas, that doesn’t always work out. Lack of monitoring, levels, the AGC issue and all that. I have been using a Zoom H4n and shooting double-system sound. The boom straight into the Zoom and a Rode VideoMic on the camera so I can sync in post with PluralEyes. The mics I use on the boom are both Sennheiser shotguns (ME-66 & ME-67). I’ve also tried my wireless lavs (Sony UWP-V1) into the Zoom with good results. The problem is the Zoom eating batteries when on Phantom Power for the shotguns, or me forgetting to press record on the dang device! Another MAJOR problem, since I am usually a one-man band, is aiming the boom at the talent while trying to move the camera. I can place the boom on a C-stand, aim it and monitor via the Zoom, but if changes need to be made, I’m just not in a position to make them.

OK, I realize I’m an idiot for trying to do this… so sue me… ;)

When I do have a boom op, they can monitor via the headphone jack on the Zoom. I can put a Y-adapter between and get a feed from him but the tangle of wires to my headphones and the delicate connection makes things just plain awkward. When it does come together, I still have to sync in post. So… I’m trying something else. I bought a few items to try to make my workflow a little better, when I have a boom op. The first is a JuicedLink RA222 audio adapter. It mounts to the hot shoe of the camera and outputs a mic level signal to that camera. It basically adds 2 phantom capable XLR inputs, with metering and a headphone jack. I can record directly into the camera and not have to worry about syncing again. I’ve tested it and it works fantastically! The 12V or 48V phantom power will drain the 9V battery, but I’m trying not to use that very often. The small indented switches are a bit inconveniently located on the bottom of the unit. With the RA222 I don’t have to worry about whether or not I pressed “record” on the Zoom. The problem I have with this setup, is that my boom op, if I have one, cannot effectively monitor the audio he’s supposed to be capturing. I could do the Y-cable off of the RA222 headphone jack thing again, but then you’re looking at the same issue as before, just moved from the boom to the camera.

To remedy this, I bought a Rolls PM-55P Personal Monitor. This nifty little device connects to the XLR output of the boom and the XLR running to the RA222. It is a 9V powered device and provides a headphone output to the boom op. It in no way, as far as I’ve seen yet, affects the signal being recorded and, if the power dies, will simply pass-trough the signal to the recorder. The PM-55P comes equipped with a belt-clip so the boom op can “set it and forget it”. The volume of the headphone output can be  adjusted to the boom ops taste and again does not affect the quality of the signal.

So, in conclusion, the two devices do not alleviate all of my worries, but definitely point me in the right direction… for me anyways. I’ve realized that when shooting, I need help and that will prove the best solution all around! At least my new workflow for production audio has its benefits. Two separate monitoring stations, one for me and one for the boom op, and one solid cable connection between the camera and the boom.

I’m thinking about audio redundancy right now and may put the Zoom somewhere in the workflow. I’m currently thinking about taking the headphone out from the RA222 into the mic in of the Zoom and monitoring from the headphone jack on the Zoom. This may work fine, as long as I remember to press record on the Zoom!

The next steps in production audio will include looking at a new mic for indoor dialog recording. I plan on trying out an Oktava MK-012 hypercardiod mic for that. I’ll keep you posted, of course! But up next I’ll be telling y’all about some postproduction audio goodness soon to be in my arsenal: The Rode NT-2A for voice-over and ADR work and a new set of monitoring speakers, the KRK Rockit 6′s.

DISCLOSURE: I am not paid by any company or product mentioned here, though it would be nice. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

 

Items for Sale

On April 21, 2014, in No Category, by LaFilm

———

EDIT: The Kessler gear has sold! Thanks!

The audio gear is still available along with a SignVideo ENG-44 4 channel field mixer, 25′ stereo XLR cable, and PortaBrace audio bag. The whole she-bang (mics, mixer, PortaBrace case) for $800.00. Any takers? I’ll accept any reasonable offer.

———-

For all local filmmakers:
Selling Kessler K-Flex Dolly and Pocket Jib…
Bought new for $3000.00 used only a few times and need to clean out the closet… so to speak. Looking for $1750.00 or best offer.

K-Flex kit: http://www.kesslercrane.com/product-p/1001493.htm
Kit includes K-Pod heavy duty tripod
Swivel Head
Flat floor feet
K-Pod Case
Dolly T-Bar
Dolly Seat
3 sets of dolly wheels
50′ of solid flexible dolly track with case
3″ idler arm

Pocket Jib Kit: http://www.kesslercrane.com/product-p/pocket_jib.htm
Kit includes 6′ Pocket Jib
Ball head mounting plate
Pocket Jib Case
2 weight locks
Libec H38 fluid head with pan handle
Heavy duty bag with 50lbs of iron counter weights (4x10lbs, 4×2.5lbs)

In addition to the Kessler gear posted above, I’m also ready to part with two Azden 105LT wireless lav sets ($330.00 each new) and one Azden 105XT XLR plugin system ($370.00 new). Looking for $500.00 for all three or make an offer.

Pictures below of the dolly, K-Pod and jib. I’m including the Libec H-38 fluid head with the PH-3 Pan Handle ($350.00 value new) for the jib as well.
Please PM via Twitter @LaFilm or via Facebook if you’re interested. Thanks!

 

Working with Kids and Animals

On February 11, 2014, in No Category, by LaFilm

…in other words, critters.

The old chestnut attributed to W.C.Fields goes like this, “Never work with animals or children.” One can just imagine why he said that famous phrase. Both animals and children, critters as I collectively call them, are notoriously unpredictable and willful when it comes to the long rigors of shooting a film. Critters don’t care. If they’re tired, they will sit down or throw a tantrum and not continue until they are damn good and ready.

Critters need extra coddling to get that one simple shot you’re looking to get. When working with critters, know that a couple of hours on set WILL become twelve. Short attention spans are the norm. You will end up with much less hair than when you started or it will be much grayer!

I have the distinct pleasure of working with critters every day. I also have the pleasure of filming them, 36 at a time, for their little video productions. It’s wonderful to begin planning with them when they are excited about the project. Their ideas include green screen and flying carpets and laser blasts and walking dinosaurs. These ideas devolve quickly into something a lot less complicated when they realize how much work is involved.

I recently did a “music video” with a class of 7 and 8 year olds. We recorded them singing their song and I planned on using this recording for playback when we shot in the various locations they selected. It was during the actual shoot that most of the problems occurred.

Problem 1: “Is that me?”
Most of the guys couldn’t get over how they sounded on playback and just couldn’t resolve the disparity. They would stop, mid-song and proclaim loudly that the singer was not them. This, of course, started the others arguing that it was and…
“CUT!!”

Problem 2: “My costume is cool!”
The guys were able to decide on and select their own costumes within the theme of the song. These ranged from simple t-shirts, to full blown costumes with stuffed animal props. Once in costume they became their character. This is usually a good thing but… I can only take so many Batmen and Supermen flying around swooshing capes everywhere.
“Let’s try to shoot this song, ok? Action!”
“I am Batman.”
“CUT!!”

Problem 3: “What was I supposed to do?”
The guys had all practiced their routines in the classroom and at home for the shoot. I watched a couple of the rehearsals and they went quite well. I felt good about the shoot until we all arrived on set.
“Everyone remember what they’re supposed to do?”
“Yes!!”
“Good. Action!”
“Wait… what did you want me to do?”
“CUT!!”

Everyday after one of those shoots I wanted to go home and imbibe a little liquid courage. I didn’t, but how I wanted too! This is typical of the type of critter projects I do so your mileage may vary. Why do I do it, you may ask? It has to do with the smiles on their faces when we are done. After all of my heartache and hair loss and gastric distress when the final video is done and the critters take a gander at it, they are all smiles. Good enough reason to do it again!

Next week: A quick review of a piece of gear I just received.

 

Doing the re-edit thing

On January 29, 2014, in Projects, by LaFilm

I’ve picked up a project we completed last summer. It was for a festival, but didn’t win. Too much to do, too little time, many other projects looming close by… you know… standard stuff. We thought of different ways we could use the piece, but time and again, it ended up on the back burner. Until now.
We have an opportunity coming up soon to show off a number of films and decided that this one, rough as it was, would be included. This would mean that it needed to be polished from top to bottom. Now I didn’t do the original edit. I was not available at the time, though I did help shoot it. The original editor had an interesting take on the story but the director wanted something… different. So I’ve taken up the challenge. Some of the pluses of re-editing include being able to re-imagine the story, put my spin on things, and have the time to do it “right”. (No slight intended against the previous editor.) The minuses include having to refresh my memory and review every shot again, and having the time to do it “right”.
Doing it “right” is a plus and a minus. Doing it “right” means I can make sure every shot is the way I want it, yet it makes me second guess myself too much. I find myself going back a few scenes and re-editing them again because of some nuance I noticed later on. This can be good, but in my case it’s very bad! I find that I’m re-editing things that don’t need to be re-edited! There comes a time to say “I’m done” and move on. I have to tell myself that every time I return to my computer and open the project. The moral of this story is simple: edit yourself! Make a decision then move on. Go to the next scene, decide where to go, and move on. Back when I worked in corporate video, I always hated those clients who would nitpick every take, cut, and angle. They didn’t know when enough was enough. We actually had to make sure contracts stated who, where, and how many edit sessions would be done before the piece was considered finished. I found that most clients took the limits surprisingly well!
I know I’m going to get notes from the director and I welcome them. He understands the limits as well and doesn’t nitpick the edit. His notes usually point out small points I missed or a variation in the direction of the story I didn’t pick up on. It’s a great thing to work so well with someone else!
My issue is working with myself! Stop re-re-editing! Make that final decision and move on because, though I have time to re-edit the piece, I’m quickly running out of it! I have a deadline and I’ve found that I may have wasted some of that precious time! So my advice is to look at the possibilities but pick a path. Stay on that path because if you don’t, you’ll end up going no where!
Where is that film I hear some of you asking? It’s coming… yes, it’s coming. Let me get the thing submitted and the festival done and I’ll post it online here for you to laugh with… or laugh at… whichever you see fit to do!

Next week: Working with kids and animals

 

New Possibilities with the Emotimo TB3

On January 22, 2014, in Gear Review, Timelapse, by LaFilm

I recently acquired an electronic device from Emotimo. They are a company that specializes in “Motion Control Camera Robots”. The device in question is the TB3, a two-axis motion control device mainly intended for time lapse photography. A third axis is available, with an additional stepper motor, to add motion across a slider. Tilt, Pan, and Slide… all from one unit. The device itself is housed in a 5″x5″ cube base and is 7″ tall including the camera mount.  It weighs in at a whopping 3.5lbs, so it is a beefy sucker!. The base can be mounted on a tripod or a slider base and is controlled by a small wireless joystick.  The joystick itself is actually quite intuitive to learn and I was up and running minutes after I opened the box.

I like doing time lapses but still consider myself to be a rank amateur. I will actually be using the TB3 for time lapse this weekend to do a few two-point and three-point moves. Having the camera smoothly move while taking time lapse shots just adds that much more interest to your images!

I actually acquired the TB3 for live action motion video, however. The device is capable of repeatable moves and I just had to try that out for myself. For my first experiment, I recorded three separate moves. I stood in a different place for each move and using simple wipes in Adobe Premiere CC, I seamed the three clips together. I should have spent a little more time in compositing using After Effects and a some masking techniques, but… I didn’t. It was quick and dirty and raw… but it proved to me why I got the TB3! The test shots are below.

RedRock Micro, Kessler Crane, Edelkrone, and a few others out there are touting systems for keeping a subject in frame while the camera slides back and forth. Each of these are wonderful systems and I would be glad to take them and review them if the manufacturers would so kindly send me one! (Email me!!!) But I wanted to see what the Emotimo TB3 could do. It was a simple two-point move with the Emotimo attached to my Dynamic Perception Stage Zero slider and a 5:1 stepper motor attached to slide the stage back and forth. With a few simple twists of my wrist, I moved the stage to the start point, used the joystick on the remote to position the camera at my subject and repeated the procedure for the end point. The TB3 virtually walks you through each of the steps you need to set your move. I set the time of the move to about 7 seconds and presses the “C” button on the joystick to begin the shot.

My talent just stood there looking at the camera as the slider moved to the end position. Once the move ended, the TB3 asked if I wanted to repeat the move. I did and pressed “C” again on the remote to repeat the move again. I can see this used in various situations from a B-Cam during an interview, beauty shots, simple and steady dolly moves, etc.

Now about repeatability. Yes, you can easily repeat the move you just did. However if you turn the unit off, your moves are gone. I haven’t done any in depth research into recording a move into a computer and loading them up again. It would be nice to be able to do that. I’ll have to look into that and post something later on down the line.

All in all, I like the Emotimo TB3. It’s really simple to set up and to use. For time lapse photography, it’s built in intervalometer makes it a one-man band! You just have to make sure you have the right cable for your camera. For the video mode, the stepper motors might be a bit on the slower side, i.e., no whip pans and such, but for what it does, I think it’s very useful. One other issue for the video mode is the noise. The motors can easily be heard on camera winding up and winding down. That steady grinding is quite noticeable if you’re using an onvcamera mic (or the internal one on my Canon 6D). I’ll have to test it again using a bom or lav mic and see what the difference is both indoors and outdoors. This could be a deal breaker, but perhaps there is a “blimp” of sorts one could make to reduce or eliminate the motor sounds.

The third axis motor can fit Dynamic Perception sliders, Kessler gear, and some others. I’ve also seen a DIY project where that third axis motor was used to control focus on a lens for time lapse and other things. Overall, I give the Emotimo TB3 a good 4 out of 5 stars. It’s not the least expensive piece of kit out there, but it is less expensive than most of the others AND is, in my opinion, a heck of a lot more versatile!

Next Week: Re-editing a film… masochism at its best?

 

New Year, New Possibilities

On January 15, 2014, in Projects, by LaFilm

I’m not a writer. I’d love to be able to write but, sadly, I’m just not good at it. I get distracted too easily… *squirrel!*

What was I saying?

Oh… I’m not a writer. One maxim of writer’s is “A writer writes. Period.” Franz Kafka also said, ““A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” So… I will write! I will make a pledge to myself to write a blog post here, at least once per week, on subjects pertaining to local indie filmmaking, projects, timelapse, film gear, etc. This definitely gives me a lot of subject matter to cover and, hopefully, helps me keep on track with my writing.

This writing bit I plan on helping me “grease the skids” a bit for writing a screenplay. I have an idea… It’s germinating in my head… but it needs to be quantified, solidified, and personified on paper. The plan is to write the blog post on “something” and then turn around and write a page or two of the script. Once the script is done, then write revisions to the script. Will this public humiliation help?

Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. We’ll just have to see won’t we?

How can you help? Just send me cash in unmarked envelopes and… (sorry, wrong concept). Actually I do want your support and encouragement. Follow me on Twitter (@LaFilm) or on Facebook (facebook.com/lafilm.net) and bust me if I falter from the plan! Words of encouragement and critiques are also helpful, but keep the trolling to a minimum please!

Now you may ask where within these meanderings will you be able to see a competed script? Probably nowhere right now. When it is completed, then I’ll show y’all a finished film, with the shooting script afterwards. Deal? Good.

Wish me luck and send me prayers!

Teaser: Next Week – First impressions of the Emotimo TB3

 

21st Century Interactive Whiteboard Solution?

On November 27, 2013, in EdTech, by LaFilm

NOTE: This post strays away from the filmmaking side of things toward my full-time job side. Bear with me… it could still be useful!

My school has interactive whiteboards in almost every classroom. These boards (think SmartBoard, Promethean Activboard, PanaBoard, etc.) consist of the board itself (60″-72″ diagonally in size) connected via an electronically extended USB cable to a computer. A video projector connects to the computer as well via a 50′ VGA cable. The software runs on the computer and allows the teacher and students to interact with the screen with a simple touch.
This concept of interactivity really helps with classroom instruction and the learners truly feel engaged and in control of their learning. The teachers are able to display presentations, PDF files, videos, etc. and are able to mark and annotate on that same board. It works, and it works well… so what’s the issue?
Our interactive whiteboards (IWB) are getting a bit long in the tooth. They require calibration every morning and sometimes more than two or three times throughout the day. This is not just inconvenient, but is disruptive to the learning process. Our teachers want something that works… period!
I looked at replacing the aging boards with newer models. These range anywhere from $1500.00 to $7500.00 for small boards alone to complete systems including integrated projection systems. I’m sorry, but my budget just cannot afford to replace boards at prices like that.
So what else is out there? I visited a few schools to see what they had done and was particularly intrigued at what one school did for their classrooms (thanks, Jess!) They replaced the IWBs with large screen televisions and AppleTV receivers. The instructors, using iPads or their Mac laptops could then wirelessly interact with the television monitor via Apple’s AirPlay protocol. Wireless interactivity via iPad or computer for $100.00 AppleTV and an $800.00 television bought from a local electronics store. So, for less than $1000.00 we have accomplished what other solutions would take $1500.00 to &7500.00 to do.
However, there was one minor issue. Though we have access to iPads, my school doesn’t use Macs. We are primarily a PC-based school. Also, though the boards don’t necessarily work any longer, the video projectors do, at least for now. And our computers that are already connected to the projectors still operate well enough. Do we stick with the 20th Century paradigm of the IWB and spend the money we don’t have or do I find something else?
One issue I had with the AppleTV setup was, though the laptop and/or iPad could wirelessly project to the television, there wasn’t really any interactivity. There is an app on the iPad called ShowMe which turns the iPad into a recordable personal whiteboard. Nice and free, but not quite what my teachers want. They need to be able to show a document, web page, pdf, video, whatever and annotate on top of that.
I continued my search of the Apple App store and found a free iPad-only app called Doceri. This whiteboard app allows you to annotate Keynote or PowerPoint presentations, record and playback any and all annotations, AND, with the addition of a program called Doceri Desktop ($30.00) installed on the computer connected on the desktop, I can now actually CONTROL the PC, like what I could do on any IWB, annotate, and control anything I can do on that PC! All this from an iPad as I stroll around the classroom! Talk about classroom management!
I can give the iPad to a student for them to interact with the computer and everyone else could see, in real time, what was happening on the screen! I don’t even need an AppleTV! Doceri connects via the wifi network. No need to spend even $900.00 on an AppleTV/TV combo or $1500.00 on a new SmartBoard. I can spend just $30.00 with what’s already installed and get where I need to go! My teachers also needed a document camera. While we have Elmo and AverMedia devices installed throughout the school, using Doceri, the instructor can simply take a picture with the iPad camera and then continue to stroll about the classroom annotating the captured image or let a student do the same. Simple, effective, and cheap!

PROS:
• Inexpensive!
• Use existing classroom infrastructure.
• Multiple colors, pen sizes, highlighter options for annotation.
• Learners can stay seated, limiting classroom disruption.
• Integrated document camera using import picture function
• Recordable annotations
• Doesn’t require AirPlay

CONS:
• Inexpensive… IF existing infrastructure is in place.
• Learners stay seated. May not work for those who need to move around the classroom.
• Requires the purchase of an iPad(s) for the teachers.
• Learning curve of the new application vs. tried and true methods
• No AirPlay, so other iPad apps can’t be projected

This solution may not work in all situations. Also, if you wanted to show what was on the iPad or teacher’s iPhone you need some sort of AirPlay receiver. I decided to research that and found a wonderful site called Air Squirrels. They have two very inexpensive applications called Reflector and AirParrot. Reflector turns any computer into an AirPlay receiver to mirror your iPad, iPod, or iPhone to your computer wirelessly and AirParrot (silly name, great product) can mirror any computer screen to any other AirPlay receiver. Right now, AirParrot is not necessarily needed in my situation, but will be soon. (I’ll explain momentarily.)
Reflector is the application I like best right now. At a simple cost of $12.99 per computer, Reflector can mirror any Apple iDevice to that computer. If it is connected to a projector or television screen, then we have a winner! In my sample classroom, I have provided the teacher with an iPad2 with the free Doceri app installed. I installed Doceri Desktop ($30.00) and the Air Squirrels Reflector ($12.99) application on the laptop connected to the video projector. The old SmartBoard screen was left untouched and is now a simple projection screen. I also installed a copy of AirParrot ($10.00) on the teacher’s laptop just in case they wanted to project their screen to the class! Even though the classroom looks the same, the options have multiplied immensely for the teacher. He is now not tethered to the screen in the front of the room, but can walk around monitoring his learners’ progress as required. He can use the iPad as a document camera to snap an image of a student’s work to show the entire class. He can project content from his personal laptop, if needed, or can simply control a DVD playing from the classroom computer. In addition, with Reflector installed, if the students have content on their iPad, iPod, or iPhone, they can instantly connect and display for the class to see.
I see outfitting classrooms with a simple $50.00 or so worth of software and a $500.00 iPad2 to restore and/or renew the functionality that was had with a SmartBoard or other IWB. As the projectors fail, and they do fail, I’d replace the whiteboard, projector, attached computer, and all that wiring with a 60″ or better television monitor and an AppleTV. This would be about an $800.00-$1200.00 investment. Then install Doceri and AirParrot on the teacher’s PC computer. I would get the same functionality, less wiring, and because there would be no projector, no annual or bi-annual replacement of projector bulbs. I effectively reduce the amount of “technology” in the classroom without reducing, and in fact increasing, the functionality. In terms of cost, replacing IWBs with the TV/AppleTV/iPad combo in one to four classrooms each year will definitely not break the bank!
All things considered, I think this is the way to go, at least for the next few years. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Post your comments below!

FYI: The makers of the products mentioned in this article neither endorsed, sponsored nor supported any of the opinions stated here. These are my opinions only and should be taken as such and investigated and researched individually! Thanks, y’all!

 

The Challenge has been put on hold, just temporarily! We did not receive the requisite number of entrants for the Challenge to proceed this time, but we will be back! Keep looking at this page for updates as they happen. Thanks to all of the teams that DID enter and good luck to them in the future!

 

New Prize for the AMMC!

On June 4, 2013, in Anecdotes, Indie Producer, Projects, by LaFilm

CTRL+Console

I just received some great news for everyone! We have a new prize in the Anecdotes Minute Movie Challenge! The winner of the “Best Editing” category will win a copy of the CTRL+Console iPad app! The app will include editor consoles for the winners choice of FCP (Final Cut Pro) or Adobe Premiere Pro (CS5.5 and CS6)! As the tagline from the CTRL+Console website puts it: “Keyboards were made for writing. Mice were made for navigating. It’s time for a tool that actually feels like it was made for video editing.” This is an app that started from a very successful Kickstarter campaign and is now in beta testing. I’ve actually had the pleasure of beta testing the app and, let me tell you, it flies! The app runs on your iPad and through your wifi connects to your editing machine. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Mac or PC, FCP or Premiere… it just works! And with gestures too, it makes editing a breeze. You keep your eyes on your video, not the keyboard!
Jeff Chow, the creator of the app has generously donated a copy of the app for our Best Editing winner! So now’s the opportunity to get out there and show us what you’ve got!

So let’s see… $200.00 Best Film prize, $50.00 Viewer’s Choice prize, CTRL+Console app prize for Best Editing, special Anecdotes Minute Movie Challenge trophies for all winners… and only $25.00 to enter!

Registration closes on June 21st so don’t wait! Sign up now!

Find out more about CTRL+Console here: http://ctrlconsole.com/

Register for the Minute Movie Challenge here: http://bit.ly/MinuteMovie/

 

The Anecdotes Minute Movie Challenge

On May 22, 2013, in No Category, by LaFilm

The Challenge is on! Anecdotes has introduced the inaugural Minute Movie Challenge. Do you have the chops to make a movie? Can you tell a complete story in a minute? Then this challenge might just be for you!

Kicking off on Friday, June 21st and ending on Friday, June 28th; you will have a week to come up with your idea, based on a theme we will give you at the kickoff, and cast, shoot, and edit your film. To see the complete rules and how to register, click here or on the AMMC link above!

If you have questions that aren’t covered in the FAQ, simply email us at: AnecdotesNOLA@LaFilm.net and ask away!