Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tackling Lights

I'm amazed at how little camera, sound, and editing equipment costs now. A camera that can shoot 1080p for under $500, albeit with some issues. A carry-in-your-pocket sound recorder with built-in high-quality microphones for about $100. Editing and music recording/editing/mixing software that comes free with my $600 computer. Compositing software that I can get for about $50. And lots of useful tools for free.

And then there are lights. Lighting options that can light up a reasonably large setting are still pretty expensive. True, if you visit Amazon.com you can find three-light fluorescent kits for under $200 with 180-watt equivalent per head. Fine for lighting up the actors in the foreground, but that still leaves the background to be lit. And sometimes lots of it.

Oh sure, there's ambient light at the location, but it's going to have a different effective color temperature than my foreground lighting. To be on the safe side, I think my best bet is some kind of lighting build. I've seen several ideas on the Internet, including a great eight-light head from IndyMogul on YouTube. That build ran $86, which is still kind of high on my budget, since I figure I should have at least five lights and maybe six. And I still need stands for at least some of the heads.

But with a background in electrical work (my Dad was an electrician, and I've wired 2-1/2 houses on my own), I think I can do something similar for less money per unit. If I do that, I'll probably document the build on YouTube.

And you'll get the see how well they work when I re-shoot I Dream In Color. Maybe even sooner.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Books Of All Kinds

In Chapter XI of his wonderful 1980 book (an offshoot of the series) Cosmos, Carl Sagan wrote:

[B]ooks ... have been printed in massive and inexpensive editions. For the price of a modest meal you can ponder the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the origin of species, the interpretation of dreams, the nature of things. Book are like seeds. They can lie dormant for centuries and then flower in the most unpromising soil.
 I was thinking of him recently when I stumbled across a book in the Kindle store on writing photo plays. This book was written before the advent of sound in the movies, and provides a wonderful historical perspective as well as a purely visual approach to screenwriting that modern practitioners of the craft would do well to learn.

The book was free, available to anyone who owns a Kindle or has a Kindle application on their tablet, computer, or phone. And there are thousands of books like these, including The History Of the Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire, and On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

When Dr. Sagan wrote Cosmos, the Kindle did not exist. Even the idea behind Project Gutenberg was in its infancy, and the only the highly-restricted precursors to the Internet were in operation. I think he would have loved to see how, in the digital age, we can store our collective consciousness not only in libraries and book stores, but in devices that fit into our pockets.

And I find it gratifying that much of Dr. Sagan's work is available in this new medium. Including Cosmos.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Changing My Mind About a Dolly

When I was first preparing to shoot I Dream In Color, I avoided the use of a dolly. The only two shots I had specifically needed a moving camera for seemed best suited to some kind of stabilizer, so I found a plan for a cheap one, and built it.

And for those shots, I think it worked just fine.

But among the issues I had with the rest of the footage I shot for the film was that most of it was too static. Not that I think that every shot in a film needs to move—in fact, the constantly-moving camera is one of my pet peeves, especially in recent computer-animated films—but on occasion, to control attention and emphasize certain points, a nice subtle move in or tracking shot would make the film look much better.

So now I am in search of a good plan for a dolly. I've seen several designs on YouTube that look promising, using PVC pipe for a track and skateboard wheels. And they won't break even my meager budget.

So, this summer, when I reshoot the film, I'll try to get a few moves on.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crop Factor Angst

Preparing for, I hope, buying my first DLSR in the near future, I keep hearing a lot about the "crop factor" problem caused by the less-than-full-frame sensors in most inexpensive DSLRs. But I've looked at the actual sizes involved, and I'm not sure what the big deal is.

Okay, I understand if you're accustomed to shooting 35mm motion picture film and you suddenly have a camera like the Blackmagic that has a sensor that's about the size of a 16mm frame. You'll lose some control of the depth of field. But you'll still have more control over it than with the tiny sensors on many HD camcorders (and all of the point-and-shoot cameras). After all, a  lot of great footage has been shot in 16mm.

As an aside, I've also seen comments by some who say the shallow depth of field "effect" is overdone. They're missing the point: it's all of matter of control. The more you can control the image the more you can make choices based on your aesthetic, not just the limitations of your camera.

But back to DSLRs. If you are used to 35mm motion picture film, a full-frame 36X24mm sensor isn't going to give you what you expect anyway, because unless you have been lucky enough to shoot Vistavision all this time, you've been shooting a frame that's about half that size, about 24X18mm. So if your sensor is APS-C format, you'll be using the same lenses and achieving the same depth of field that you've been using all along.

For video shooting, the "jelly roll" effect is a far greater problem than the crop factor. That's the kind of issue that makes me wish I could buy a camera at around the price of a low-end DSLR (under $500 street price) that didn't try to do everything for me, had a sensor the size of either 16mm or 35mm half-frame, and took old prime lenses from, say, Bolex or Arriflex cameras that could be bought used for a reasonable amount of money.

No automatic exposure or focus. Just adjustments for ISO and effective shutter speeds. Hell, it wouldn't even have to record sound; I work double-system most of the time anyway.

But the only camera I've seen with this approach, at least to some degree, is the Digital Bolex, which sells for over $3,000.

That's not in my budget, so I will have to learn to live with the limitations of the camera I can afford. I will have to adapt my shooting style to accomodate the issues presented by using 14 megapixels to shoot 1080p video.

But I don't expect to have any issues with crop factor.