Saturday, January 26, 2013

Nobody Knows Anything

As our technology advances, it seems to me that it becomes increasingly difficult for the experts who are supposed to service the technology to actually fix anything. Take, as a case in point, my cell phone. I am a T-Mobile customer, and the reason I am a T-Mobile customer is a feature called "WiFi Calling." This feature allows my phone to connect to the T-Mobile network through my home Internet connection so that I can make calls using my cell phone at home, where I otherwise have no cell signal.

It's wonderful feature. Except that it stops working every now and then. For days. And so I go online to chat with a T-Mobile technician, who solves the issue, for about a week, after which it reappears, The problem, as far as I can tell, is that nobody actually knows what the problem is.

I'm not the only customer who's had this problem; I've seen it posted many times on the T-Mobile support forum. I've seen all sorts of suggestions from other customers on how to solve the problem—none of which have worked for me—but no response from anyone at T-Mobile.

This isn't only a T-Mobile problem. I've had similar experiences with tech support for computers, as well. Solutions for PC problems range from "restart your computer" to "reinstall your operating system." Sure, it's a colossal pain in the nether regions, and sure it doesn't actually work. But it seems to be the only solution the techs can come up with.

I think it's because our technology has gotten, not just complicated, but overly interdependent. In my early days of software, programs had lots of bugs, but they tended to be consistent because there weren't a lot of other programs using a lot of other resources and corrupting a lot of other files. Even with detailed knowledge of every application installed on your phone, it would take a tech with outstanding skills to troubleshoot that many interconnections.

Is there hope for straightening this mess out? I don't have a clue. It would take a change in attitude about how computers operate, a move away from complexity and operating systems consisting of thousands of files, libraries, drivers, and other dependencies, toward something much cleaner and simpler.

I don't see it happening anytime soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Tools For a New Budget

When I was younger, I had more money. But it wasn't enough, then, the buy the tools of serious filmmaking. Oh sure, you could get a camcorder, and even a halfway decent microphone, but it took many thousands of dollars to get editing tools with enough muscle to do any real filmmaking. And it also took a lot of light to get a decent image.

Now the tools of filmmaking are amazingly cheap. My Nikon S6100 still camera takes sharper video by far than my old camcorder did, and with less light. And the Mac Mini i5 I just bought comes with iMovie 11, which professional editors might not consider worthy, but which offers a big improvement from anything I could afford twenty years ago (A lot of editors today are too young to remember working with Moviola viewers and strips of 16mm film; iMovie is a giant leap from that.)

And yet, even with the availability of so many cheap tools, there still is something missing at the low end of the price spectrum: control. The cheapest cameras have the most automation, with no practical way to override.

I shot some footage at the end of the summer of 2012 for a film I wrote called I Dream In Color. And it was so bad that I'm planning to reshoot the entire movie this coming summer. I had so much trouble with auto focus and auto exposure that I couldn't pay enough attention to the actors, and although they gave marvelous performances, I am completely dissatisfied with what I shot.

So by this summer I want to graduate to a DSLR, which is no mean feat given my current income. But from what I can see, it's the least expensive way to get the control I need over focus and exposure.

I also need a bigger crew; I tried to do too much myself. That was fine when I was making industrial films with only one spokesman, but for even a short dramatic movie, I need to be able to concentrate more on the performances and less on technical matters.

And lastly, I need more lights. Movie lighting is really, really expensive, but I think I've got some ideas on lighting that I can build for a lot less money. I tried some of the for the prior shoot, and it work some of the time, but the auto exposure made a mess of much of what I was trying to do.

I know that I will spend a lot more time testing the system I'm using and making sure that it's up to the task before I call in the actors and start shooting.

And I will keep you up to date on how it goes once we get started.