Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Xmas Everyone...

Thanks to everyone who has read my blog this year. It's gone from a very small following to quite a big one and i appreciate the support.

2011 was a very busy year for me with a full length feature shoot, 3 short shoots, several trips to the USA including a 3 week tour with Howard Jones, a European tour and a full UK tour.

In 2011, Recoil Films underwent a huge change with many new people getting involved and it's set to keep changing for the better in 2012.

Our current feature project, the horror film called 'The Addicted' is in post production right now and we'll soon be releasing the teaser trailer online. In May we're off to Cannes with the finished movie.

We're hoping to shoot our next feature in the Autumn of 2012. More news on this soon.

January is going to involve me sitting in the edit suite day in, day out..  and hopefully i'll get the bulk of the edit done before i head off to Japan in February for some gigs with Howard.

In the coming weeks, i hope to do a thorough review of the Sony FS100 and the rig i've been using. After the last few months of using it in a movie situation i think i've probably got some good insight into the camera.

I've also got a music promo shoot and edit coming up in the first week of Jan too... so i'm looking forward to using the FS100 on that.

Anyway.... have a great Christmas and New Year people. I think we all deserve it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

NLE choices... or not.

Years ago. i cut my first music promo clip on a Speed Razor system. (anyone remember them?) Almost immediately, i moved on to Adobe Premiere on the PC. I then moved over to Mac, but stuck with Premiere. Then, about 6 years ago i made the move to Final Cut Pro. I've never had any problems with FCP and i've really enjoyed working with it.

You may have read in my posts from earlier in the year, i was very open to the changes that came with FCPX. I started working with it as soon as it came out... i really liked a lot of it. I was prepared to perservere and learn to love it.

But... then i ran into some serious problems with FCPX. It crashed and lost a lot of work... gone without trace. That's just un-workable and that was the main reason i moved back to FCP7. The lack of professional monitoring was also an issue.. as was the lack of support from some of my favourite plug-ins.

However, all these issues are being rectified...and hopefully, sometime next year, FCPX will be up to the task.

I've been trying out the other popular NLEs again today. It's hard work. Premiere 5.5 looks and works in a similar way to FCP7. But i find a lot of the workflow clunky and slow. Ok, it does some things much better than FCP. The way you can import so many codecs and just work is is the ability to just drag a clip's length on the timeline and the speed changes to fit...i like that. But, it's just not quick enough in any other respect for me. I know that if i stuck with it, i'd probably get quick... but i don't have that kind of time.

Avid's Media Composer 6 baffles me. It's very sleek and simple to look at... and from my experience, a bit too simple in operation. I couldn't get things to flow very quickly on MC6 at all. Importing a selection of clips and then arranging them on the timeline with some multiple layers and then doing some colour correction seemed very very slow. I'll admit that simple cutting is easy enough... but anything slightly more complicated seems to really stress out my brand new iMac..  so MC6 is not for me either at the moment.

It looks like it's back to FCP7 until FCPX comes of age....and Apple... if you're out there.. these things need looking at to make FCPX usable:

  • A manual SAVE option. I need to know my work is saved!!!
  • Media management that i can work with. I don't want all my projects showing up all the time...
  • Re-Connect Media!!  That's a must. (Is there a way to do this already? I can't find it)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4K vs 1080p.... or just a good film.

I love trailing around the various film making forums online. There's some great tips on film making... some great links to really useful websites and lots of interesting people all contributing to the global film making community.  But, there's a hell of a lot of arguing about camera resolution. Ever since RED upped the game with the RED One, people have been talking about 4K acquisition. The new Scarlett is refreshing the argument all over again.  There's a whole bunch of cameras that can shoot in 4K now and there's a growing number of online film makers who will tell you that resolution is king.

I've just shot a full feature in HD for the first time... 1080p HD looks amazing when projected onto a huge cinema screen. Just ask any number of Arri Alexa may capture upto 3.5K, but most users are shooting at 1080p....  even Roger Deakins is shooting the new James Bond film on one in 1080p. If it's good enough for him...  and you can't argue that James Bond isn't meant for a cinema release!

I enjoyed the technical side of preparing for my last shoot. Shooting a feature is grueling. You need to pick the right equipment for the job. I knew we were shooting in low light most of the time, so i picked the Sony NEX-FS100 and Atomos Ninja combo.... they did a great job, thanks to our Camera Op, Amy Wilson and some vintage lenses.

But... are the lovely images making my edit flow better? Is the shallow depth of field making the dialogue work? And, conversely, is the 1080p as opposed to 4K making the story weaker? No, of course not. I've got all kinds of problems in the edit, which is completely usual... it's par for the course. But, not one of them has anything to do with resolution.

1080p HD looks stunning...especially if it's shot right, and so does 4K, but neither is going to affect how good your film is. If film makers spent as much time on script development and rehearsals as they did on camera equipment, maybe the films we get to see would be better than they currently are?

EDIT Jan 2013 - I wrote this back in 2011 and i still feel pretty much the same way about 4K... the only thing i'd add is that 4K shooting does give you the freedom to re-frame your shot in post if needed if you're working on a 1080p timeline... that's useful. BUT... it still isn't essential, there's still no easy workflow for it and even the new Sony 4k recorder doesn't make it very easy or cheap... and Canon's C500 can't capture 4k still need an external recorder for that and they are all very expensive. I just hope someone like Atomos takes up the challenge at some point and they might be able to do it a price we can all work with.... but for now, i'm not at all bothered. My next feature that i'm shooting this year will be shot in 1080p again.

EDIT September 2015 - Why is this post so popular still? It's the most read post on my blog, even 4 years later. I guess it's because people are still googling 4K acquisition.  I now shoot in 4K about half of the time. Any drama projects and some music promos just look stunning shot in 4K, but i'm still editing on a 1080p timeline... no one wants 4K delivery yet apart from for cinema.. and i still think an upscaled decent 10bit 422 HD picture looks amazing.  We're now starting to hear about 8K cameras...  crazy stuff... but you can't stop progress. From what i've seen using various 4K cameras and capture systems, dynamic range makes a much bigger difference than just resolution. As i hoped, Atomos brought out the Shogun and then more recently, the Ninja Assassin.... these are still my preferred way of working.  Did anyone notice how many of the Oscar nominated movies were shot on the Alexa this year? Still not 4k and still cleaning up in the biggest of productions. That tells you all you need to know about the 4K/8K/whatever race for resolution... it's just not that important to the end customer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Magic Bullet Looks for FCPX

I love Magic Bullet Looks. It's an incredibly creative piece of software that i can't imagine not using on my projects... so not having it for FCPX is a real issue for me. Aside from the bugs that FCPX has, not having access to some of my favourite plug-ins is a real dealbreaker for me. Well, Red Giant are on the case, as you can see in this little video:

Preview of Magic Bullet Looks in FCPX from Red Giant on Vimeo.

So it's another bug within FCPX itself which is slowing the release up. It just makes me more sure that i need to stick with FCP7 for now. However, i'm convinced that in a couple of update's time, FCPX will be ready for some serious use.

If i had to pick one feature to add to it... it would be the ability to save a version of the 'Event' manually anywhere i want at any time...and with all the footage and files it needs to re-open the project.  It can't be that hard...and i'd lose less sleep.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Canon C300 vs RED Scarlett.. and FCPX goes in the recycle bin.

It's been very tempting to blog on the recent releases from Canon and RED...but everyone's at it and i'm sure i don't need to be clouding the landscape with my views. I've sat back, read a lot, listened to other film makers and slowly come up with some clarity...i think.

From where i'm standing, the C300 is a bit of a disappointment.  It's features are close to what we all wanted from a 'Pro' Video DSLR...but not quite there. The form factor is ok... things like that don't matter too much these days as most drama film makers need to mount it on a rail system small is good. But, the price....Jesus!! If Canon had made it compete with the FS100 and AF100, they would have cleaned up... a whole new generation of film makers would have flocked to it. But at around £10k without a lens... ouch. That's put it firmly in the Pro market....and probably the bottom end of the Pro market... which is never a good place to be in my opinion. And anyway... how does it cost that much? I don't see where all that extra over the price of a 5D Mk2 is going... £5k i could have understood...but £10k? No thanks.

The Canon C300.

The new RED Scarlett specs are kind of what we were all expecting. They've dumped the 2/3 sensor in favour of a 35mm one and they've gone with an interchangeable lens system in either Canon or PL flavours.  Lots of bloggers are kicking up saying that the Scarlett isn't usable without spending an extra £5k on storage and batteries etc...and with a new RRP of $9750...which will probably still be around the same in £s once it's shipped here...its looking like an expensive option. Other issues include RED's slightly unstable operating system which has caused people like Phil Bloom issues with his RED Epic and also the sheer size of the data the RED generates. You'll need a DiT and shit-load of HD space to work with it.

RED's latest incarnation of the Scarlett. Will it finally see the light of day without any more spec changes???

At this stage, my money's on Canon to win this little game... the Scarlett has been coming in one form or another for about 3 years.... i'm bored of waiting. It really needs to be stunning to make the wait worth while.... and i think it's going to a pain in the arse to all but the most professional users who are prepared for it's quirks and lengthy workflow. The C300 on the other hand, although far from perfect is ready to shoot out of the box and will be far easier to deal with in post. Early reports suggest that the pictures this thing generates are amazing and contradict what the hardware and codec might imply would be's apparently a very cinematic image. Canon know their i'm hopeful these rumours are true.

I'm sticking with my Sony FS100.... it's turned out to be the best choice for my kind of budget and after having started on the edit of my latest feature i shot on it...i can confirm it is truly a stunning image.

One more thing...

A few months ago i was singing FCPX's praises. I must confess that i have gone back to using FCP7 this week. FCPX crashed on me after a 5 hour editing session and lost all my work...gone...without trace. I was really not happy with that. I was also really missing some of my plug-ins that are FCP7 only still... so for now, i'm using the old trusty 7 to edit my film. Apple need to sort FCPX out... losing work in a professional situation is not an option. Rant over...

Until next time...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs... RIP

 Woke up to hear the news that Steve Jobs has died. He's been ill with Cancer for some time, so i guess there's some relief for his family that he's finally done with the suffering and pain that Cancer brings.

Steve was a true visionary. He didn't give people solutions for their problems... he gave them solutions for the problems they'd have in the future. He always looked ahead. His way of thinking infuriated some people...(mainly the PC mob), but for many of us, he was showing us how cool the future could be if we let technology shoulder some of the burden of everyday life. The iPod, iPad, iMac and the iPhone changed everything. Even if you never owned a single one of them...their influence touched everything that came after. Remember the first iMacs? They were white and blue...or white and orange or red or green. In those days all computers were beige...nasty nicotine coloured things with no design at all. Then suddenly the iMac arrived and everyone realised that computers could look stylish at the same time as functioning well.

That changed the world. PCs started arriving on the market in more outlandish colours. Steve moved on... The G5 tower arrived. Sleek, aluminium...very functional and very stylish... but different from the colourful iMacs. Let's not forget OSX. A truly revolutionary operating system that Windows has been trying to catch up with ever since. OSX is still going strong... easy to use, easy on the annoying bullshit in the way of you getting things done.

What about the Macbook? A really small and cheap laptop that can out-perform a lot of desktop PCs.... it's £700!!!  That's madness... And if small is your thing, there's the MacBook AIR... a stunning piece of design that fits some people's idea of the perfect travel laptop.

I could go on.... Apple TV, iPod Nano...(how small???!!!) ...and the iPad!! The iPad is still finding it's feet in the world...and yet there are more iPads in the world than there were PCs 10 years ago.. Think about that. That's a lot of iPads.

How did i get into Apple? I was forced...  back in 2003, i was a PC user. I was using a package called Logic Audio on the PC for all my music production work. I loved this software...i still do. Then, Apple bought it. They discontinued PC support straight away and i was left with a choice... learn a new piece of software, or buy a Mac. This meant a huge upheaval. Replacing all my software and ditching the PC forever...   I rarely had issues with my PC. I had learnt to build my own and i knew how to optimise them for use in the studio. It rarely crashed and i wasn't keen on spending £2k on a G5... but that's what i did. It took about a week before i realised i was never going back to PCs.

Soon after that i got my first iBook. A little 11inch laptop that changed the way i worked. I could work from anywhere and never have to wait for it to boot up....i just left it in sleep mode all the time.. impossible in those days on a PC.

Then i upgraded to a newer Macbook.... the 13 inch model. I loved that laptop. It's still going strong now. Then i upgraded to the 15 inch MacBook Pro...the unibody one. That's what i'm using right now. It does all my editing, my composing, my internet, my calender...everything. I picked up a second hand G5 iMac for the kids to use at home...and they also have my old G5... it's still going.

Last summer i bought an iPad 2....  and in about a month i'm going to buy a new iMac for editing on.

So, as you can tell... i'm a huge Apple convert. Their products work perfectly... the OS never crashes.... they are fast... they are beautiful and the back up from Apple is second to none. I once took my secondhand macbook in to an Apple store because the case had a crack in it. No receipt. No paperwork...nothing. They took it back and replaced the casing for free. No questions asked. That's service.  A friend of mine had a logic board go on their MacBook Pro recently. They replaced the whole thing for free. It's that kind of support that makes buying Apple a no-brainer for me.

I hope they keep pushing boundaries and keep giving us cool products to work with.

Steve Jobs will be missed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sony NEX-FS100... after shooting a feature on it...

I thought long and hard about what camera to use for shooting my latest feature 'The Addicted'. It had to be one of the new breed of large sensor cameras. I love my DSLRs, but i wasn't keen on the H.264 compression and the less than ideal workflows associated with it. The Panasonic AF100 was top of the list for a while, but it's low light performance let it down. The Sony F3 was always out of the price when the FS100 came along... it was a pretty easy choice. As i've mentioned in previous posts...i used the Atomos Ninja to bypass the AVCHD onboard codec of the FS100.... huge bit rates are what i need for the grade not to fall apart.

Amy Wilson - Our fantastic Camera Op with the FS100

The FS100 with LED light and actor John Cusworth in the shot

Me and Amy lining up a shot. Ninja and LED light attached

So, what do think of the FS100 now i've been using it for nearly a month solid?

Here's some good and points...

  •  I love the form factor - it's very configurable and works for my way of shooting.
  • The screen is fantastic...very accurate and full of excellent information... such as:
  • Peaking... nice.
  • Zebras... much missed on DSLRs.
  • Histogram... very useful.
  • The viewfinder is very good. Shame it can't point down, but really very good.
  • The kits lens rocks! Ok, it's not fixed aperture and it only goes down to 3.5, but it's got a great IS system and as a run and gun lens, it's hard to beat.
  • Proper audio!!  I only use it for a guide track... but it's very good. 2x XLRs with phantom... :-)
  • Slo-Mo... it's full 1080p and at 50fps with a shutter speed of 100 it's very smooth.
  • The picture profiles are very cool. I use 2 custom for indoors, one for outdoors.
  • The battery life is great.
  • It's light...but pretty strong. Not a single issue with build quality.

  • HD-SDI would be nice... 
  • The cable on the handgrip is too short... if it was long it could control the Ninja when connected to the other side of the camera.
  • The 1/4 20 screw points on the top of the camera all obscure the screen folding back properly when you use them....annoying.
  • Fitting the battery is a bit of a faff...could be easier.
  • No 1920/1080 25p over HDMI.... (may be a HDMI standard thing...)
  • Slightly noisy mic and pre-amps.... it's perfectly usable though.
  • Noisy at +18db...which is fair enough... it's not perfect, but it's usable at +18db.
The only issue we had was that the battery charger died after only a couple of days... i'm still waiting to hear back from CVP about that. It would be nice if they replaced it quickly though.

The super 35mm sensor is crazy. It really looks amazing. There's no way anyone can compare DSLR footage to what the FS100 can capture onto something like the Ninja.

Wish list?

I'd love a case big enough for me to be able to slip the camera on it's rig, with the rails, mattebox, follow focus and Ninja attached straight into it. Breaking down the rig each time is very boring.

If anyone is looking for a large sensor camera to shoot an indie feature on...this is the one. I used all my old lenses on it using a bunch of adapters... and the footage is stunning. It really does need a mattebox to add ND filters and stop flares...(unless you want them... most people do these days...)

It'll be interesting to see if Canon can compete with the FS100 with whatever they have up their sleeve for this market sector.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Atomos Ninja... after 2 weeks on set.

A few weeks ago, i bought the Sony FS100 and an Atomos Ninja Pro Res recorder. I decided on the Ninja after months of reading up, testing and research.

One of the first things i did was update the software to Version 2...this gives you full quality playback which is vital in the field.

I meant to buy a pair of spinning drives and an SSD for all the action shots we would be shooting. As it turned out, we never got an the whole shoot was done on regular spinning drives...and only 5400rpm ones too. There was lots of running around with the FS100 and Ninja on a shoulder rig... and only twice in 2 weeks did the drive not cope. Both times the rig was being really shaken about. All the other times it performed perfectly. I think this proves that Atomos are right... for 99% of the applications, the regular spinning drives cope well enough.

It was so nice to be able to whack the drives into the docking station and check the rushes back on my MacBook Pro. We could see instantly what was working and what wasn't. Things like strobing... which often didn't show up too clearly on the monitor were all too evident once the footage was viewed full size on the Mac. This kind of flexibility is what makes the Ninja system so perfect for feature shooting.

The dual battery system meant we never lost power...and they lasted for ages!

Problems? Well...not really. The only slight issue i have with it, is that you can't erase a take you know isn't needed... you can only format the whole drive. (on the unit itself) And... sometimes the take numbering goes a little astray... but if you're good at keeping logs, you won't get lost.

The more full the drives get, the slower they access the files for playback... this can slow you up a bit when you're checking back takes on the Ninja itself. But it takes no time at all to whip out the drive and replace it with a fresh one... so it's no biggy.

There's been a lot of talk on Vimeo and other sites that the Pro Res files on the Ninja don't look any better than the FS100's native AVCHD files... and to some extent, that is true.... right up until you try to grade or colour correct in anyway. The Pro Res files let you really go to town... you can pull and twist the colours and it really takes a lot before the footage breaks up. The original AVCHD files do not behave this way at all. You can whack a Magic Bullet preset on them, sure... but you try and do anything more adventurous and you'll come unstuck. We're shooting everything really bright and well lit and then darkening the whole thing down in post.... this only works without adding noise and banding using a high bandwidth codec like Pro Res. AVCHD is fine for weddings or event video stuff...but for indie features? It's not good enough.

If you're looking to shoot something great with one of the new large sensor cameras, you'd be mad not to try and capture as much information as possible before you start messing with it in post.

Other stuff?  Well, it comes in a seriously good quality case...with 2 batteries, a dual charger, a really nice docking station with 2 x FW800 and USB2... and all the cables you need. I used 2 x 160GB HDs in it... i know there are bigger... but 160GB was perfect for one days's shooting and it meant i didn't have hours and hours of footage living precariously on the Ninja drives before the nightly back ups were made.

So... there it is. The Ninja rocks. Oh and one more thing. I really needed a short HDMI cable... and the only one i could find cost £5 in Tesco. I could have spent 10 times that... but the cheap one worked perfectly. It does my head in that Hi Fi nerds say you need expensive cables... as long as you're not constantly plugging and unplugging... cables are cables as far as digital data is concerned. They work, or they don't...   and my £5 cable worked fine...and it's still going.

I'm looking forward to shooting on the Ninja again this week and on future productions. It will be interesting to see what other functionality Atomos add to it next.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Addicted. End of main location shoot.

Wow... it's been 14 days of solid, hard work in our primary location...which was a large, damp and creepy ex-factory.  The cast and crew really pulled together to get the required shots done in a very small amount of time and i'm really pleased with the footage.

Amy, our Camera Op. got some great footage and combined with Ian Holmes' excellent lighting...we've got a fantastic look which will grade perfectly. I must mention that the Pro Res 422 footage from the Ninja is infinitely more pliable in post than the AVCHD captured on the FS100 itself. We only used the camera's own codec for the slo-mo shots which were captured at 50fps in full HD....awesome. Anyone not sure if the Atomos Ninja is worth me, it is. Easy capture...easy to import into your NLE and very very solid build quality. Also, anyone who was unsure if Pro Tools works on location? It does... ok, maybe not ideal if you're moving locations all the time...but we were in one building for 2 weeks and it worked fine. Jon very quickly got the lav mic placement sorted and we got some great audio.

Ian contemplates the load-out.

One wing of the was huge...

Those nasty toilets.... they were fine for a couple of days...but then...not.

So what issues did we come up against on this budget shoot? Well, although we had enough cash to rent toilets, catering (albeit basic) and a simple green room set-up... it was still a bit grim to be stuck in there for 2 weeks. It's a big ask to get cast and crew to use portaloos and eat ready meals.... although we did have some rather good cups of tea and coffee....and lots of energy drinks and custard creams to keep our energy up in the middle of the night.

We managed to keep to schedule right up until the second week when a failed camera battery charger meant we didn't have any spare batteries...and that cost us half a day's shooting. But... thanks to a slightly less hectic 2nd week and a very dedicated crew...we caught up. But... like with many low budget shoots...we didn't have loads of time to get the required shots. We had to work fast...all the time. It was a case of making decisions quickly and sticking with them. We simply did not have the time for multiple takes and dozens of angles... i had to decide what i wanted and run with it. We usually shot 2 or 3 takes which is plenty if your acting talent is on the case.

Biggest cock up? A really important prop... a syringe with a retractable needle rolled off the gurney we were shooting on...and smashed on the floor. Disaster! But... we managed to fit the needle part onto another syringe which worked ok...but we did have to shoot it slightly differently.

Biggest surprise? How professional everyone was. From the make up girls to the cast...every single person on the set pulled their weight and worked together. Film making is very much a team game...and this team really worked. I will definitely work with all of them again... (if they'll forgive the dodgy toilets..)

We also can't forget our Exec Producer, Lawrie, without whom, none of this would have been possible. 

A couple of days off now...then down to London for the last week of the shoot.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Addicted...shooting now.

It's been a little while since my last post... i've been tied up shooting my second feature, 'The Addicted'. We're about halfway through the shoot now and we've taken a day off so that me and Jon can fly to Berlin to do a show with Kim Wilde. I'm sitting in my hotel room right now. I haven't slept since wednesday night and i'm feeling the strain... but, the shoot is going really well and popping over here to do a gig is kind of a nice break, in a working kind of way. I could actually do with a week of nothing but sleeping and eating nice food...but it ain't gonna happen. Tomorrow we fly back to London and then straight to the set to carry on filming. Hardcore...

So how's it been second time around? Well, it's been very different. I've been actually directing this time, as opposed to reigning in chaos. We found a fantastic new DoP called Amy Wilson and we've struck up a great working relationship. She's really quick to learn and has a natural ability with the camera.  Ian Holmes, our gaffer/special FX guy/rigger/props locator and general all round life safer has been working hard to make the location look amazing all the props work as planned. We've been blowing things up, dragging people around on the floor and filming them being tortured in the most nasty way... it's really quite scary just watching the rushes.

I've got to mention the make-up team of Natalie Burchell-Cherrett and Ange Watson. They've had a tough time of it getting the ghost to look like a ghost and making the 'addicted' look suitably nasty. They've also been adding all the various scrapes, bruises and bloody wounds that the cast pick up. That's all on top of doing the general make-up routine of hair styling and skin de-shining.  We'd be stuffed without them.

The camera package of the Sony FS100 and the Atomos Ninja has been fantastic. Running it in 422 mode has given us some truly jaw-dropping footage. The only issue i've had is the strobing effect of some of the fluorescent  lights in shot. But... clever Ian has sync'ed the generator to the shutter speed to get rid of it... result.  The daily routine of backing up the footage using the Ninja dock and a 2TB external drive has meant it's a perfect time to show the crew what we shot each day. So far, we're all really happy.

What's been tricky? Well, the long hours working through the night is very tough...but you sort of get used to it. Living on ready meals isn't great...  much respect to the whole cast and crew for putting up with the food. It's not cheap or easy to feed that many people on set for this long...  oh, and the battery charger that came with the FS100 stopped working...less than a week old. It cost us a few hours in lost shooting. Luckily i had spare Sony chargers...shame we didn't notice is wasn't charging though.

Jon's been finding the sound recording a little bit of challenge with regards to mic placement, but the lavs have been working great and he's got some really high quality dialogue recorded without a single cable being in view. The Pro Tools rig has been solid as a rock. As ever.

Huge thanks as ever to all the people involved... you're all vital and i wouldn't be able to do this without you. So... Jon, Jenny, Amy, Thea, Dan, Ian, Nat, Ang, Coops all the others who i'm too tired to recall... thank you.

Another special mention to the great Tim Parker who is playing a great part in the film...he's also been on-set taking stills for us... some of them are here:

Me trying to use the force...Amy wondering what i'm on about.

Me looking to see what Amy has got in the shot.

Jos getting ready to die.

Brooke dies impaled on some conduit...

Ian scares the crap out of the kids...then we kill them.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

13 Days to go...

I've got a headache...again. It's the constant running around like a blue-arsed fly. These last few days before 'The Addicted' begins shooting are the most hectic ever... I've got other work to fit in and i've still got to fly to Gothenberg and then Las Vegas next week before we begin the rigging on the 6th in time for the first day's shooting on the 7th.

Things we've yet to sort out:

  • Accommodation for 7 people for 2 weeks...
  • Some key props are still evading us... (ambulance stretcher/trolley/gurney anyone?...circa 1987)
  • Some costumes...
  • Portable toilet block for the main location...
It'll all get done, one way or another.

The technical side of things is all in hand..we've ordered the new Sony FS100, Atomos Ninja, Lenses, adapters, lots of hard drives including SSD drives for shaky shooting scenarios.

Ian, our lighting and special FX guy has been testing exploding lightbulbs... hopefully he'll still be in one piece by the time we begin shooting. He's also sorting all the breakaway glass panels etc.

On Monday we've got our script readthru and final production meeting. It's a chance for all the cast and crew to meet and to find out what's going to happen once we get on-set.

Then, i've got 2 days to sort everything out before i disappear to Sweden and then the USA for a few days and then fly back on the same day we start to rig the set. It's going to be a very tough couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

20 days to go...

Right now, I’m sat in the sun in Majorca. It’s 32 degrees and I’m contemplating another dip in the pool.  I’m on holiday with the family. It’s beautiful…perfect weather, beautiful villa in the mountains and lots of amazing food. It's great to spend some time with the family and try to relax for once. (i'm not good at that)  However…while enduring this paradise, I’m also trying to plan a feature film shoot that kicks off on the 7th September…and between now and the shoot I’ve also got a trip to Sweden and Las Vegas for a couple of gigs with Howard Jones.

The feature we’re shooting is now fully funded and we’ve also got all the cast and crew booked. It’s going to be a full-on shoot…we’ve got over 70 scenes to shoot in just over 2 weeks worth of on-set time. That’s a lot. What makes it more grueling is that we’re shooting nights… we need darkness for the whole shoot, so we’re starting once it gets dark and working through the night. It’s a big ask of the both cast and crew.

I’m really lucky to have a great bunch of people working on this with me who are making sure it runs as smoothly as possible.  The Recoil Films team are working over-time to get this production ready to shoot and some very good friends are going above and beyond to help also. My good friend and fellow tour-mate Ian Holmes who takes care of lights and video projections with Kim Wilde is running the lighting side of things as well as looking after the generator and general power issues. He’s got a great deal of experience with film lighting and special FX (of the in-camera variety), so he’s going to be vital in getting the look of ‘The Addicted’ spot on. He’s also managed to find a lot of the props we need.

We’re really chuffed to have found Natalie Cherrett from the Davina Make-Up Academy to deal with our make-up for the shoot. She comes highly recommended and we’re looking forward to working with her.

Jonathan Atkinson is our Production Sound Mixer and Composer and Jenny Gayner is Co-Producing along with myself.

I’ll do a blog on the cast nearer the time… but I will say we’ve been incredibly lucky to get such a talented bunch of people for this feature.  Thea Knight who was involved in the ‘proof of concept’ trailer for ‘Their Law’ and Dan Peters from ‘Shoot The DJ’ are both in big roles…as is Paul Cooper, Jenny Gayner and myself. We’ve also managed to get Simon Naylor, Tim Parker, John Cusworth, Brooke Burfitt, Samantha Spurgin, Charlie Cameron, Jos Slovick and Paul Giles. 

In an arse-about-face way…we’ve finally got the shooting script ready. This project came about so fast, that we actually had the location before we had the script.  It’s not the usual way of working…  but I had a rough story outline in my head…but I couldn’t write it properly until I had the exact layout of the building. So…we got the location secured first… then we found most of the cast… then I could write the script.  It sounds completely backwards… but it’s the only way we could make it work. It was also nice to know who was playing who before I finished the writing stage as I could write to their strengths.  It’s been a tricky script in many was as there’s so much action in this film… there is plenty of dialogue, but sometimes there’s very little for a few pages.

All that’s left to do now is buy the equipment we need….rent the other bits, and get stuck into the final stages of pre-production. We’ve got a full cast read-through and a meet’n’greet for everyone to meet each other… then it’s mostly technical stuff like testing the props… modifying my dolly to work on the location we’re in and testing the camera rig.

If there’s any film students or interested people in the Hertfordshire area who would like to be involved… get in touch. There’s always room for an extra pair of hands.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crunch time...

It's early evening and i'm stuck on a train from London back to Hertfordshire... it's busy and apparently there's a freight train ahead of us that is going very slow. We keep stopping for 5 minutes at a time...always in the middle of nowhere. Everyone is hot, bothered and extremely irritated by the 18 year old girl in the seat in front of mine. She's spent most of the journey on the phone... very loudly. Firstly to ask someone if she was on the right train for Cambridge..(she is). She asked the person on the other end of the phone 'Where's New Barret??....we're in a place called New Barret... i've never heard of it...i think i'm on the wrong train!!'.  We were in New Barnet. Another passenger pointed this out. She said she'd never heard of New Barnet either. Then she phoned her Dad and told him to pick her up in half an hour... the train is never going to be anywhere near Cambridge in half an hour. After that, she called a friend and bitched about her being boring. 'Why don't you ever come out? You're soooo're getting old... What are you? 20? You'll be going grey next you old git.'  At this point, the mostly grey haired carriage (myself included) sighed...  I'm praying that the train speeds up and gets me home... or de-rails and smudges her annoying head into the track below.

Anywaaaaay. It's one month before we start shooting 'The Addicted'. This project has come together very quickly... mostly thanks to the extra people all doing their best to make it happen. I've never been great at delegation... too much of a control-freak...but i'm all for it these days.

There's so much to do. And that doesn't include tying up all the financial loose ends. We're mostly funded now... but there's still more funding to find..and quickly. I'm sure it'll all come together...after all, this is a great project and we're sure we'll find distribution.

The final choices on the gear front are all made now. We're investing in the Sony NEX-FS100 and a Atomos Ninja for the main camera, with the 550D on B-Camera duties. We've ordered a selection of adapters to make my collection of lenses work with the FS100.... i'm so glad i never invested in Canon glass now... those EOS adapters are expensive!!

We're hiring in the best audio equipment available... tiny DPA lav mics all running on UHF, a pair of AKG C568 shot guns for the booms and all being recorded to a mobile Pro-Tools rig with some lovely Mic pre-amps that will blow away anything you'd find on a digital recorder. Minimal ADR is the plan...

The only bummer with it all really is the lack of decent sync. The Ninja can't sync to there's going to be some very fastidious on-set logging and file naming to make post less tedious.

(Annoying girl has put her iPod on now... loud and shit... but much more preferable to her talking)

 I was talking to someone today about producing indie films, and it occurred to me that the most important thing you need to be an indie film producer is the ability to hustle.  You need to be able to talk people into helping you...doing you a better deal... bending the rules...whatever it takes to get your film made. Obviously, some writing and directing talent is vital...but without the hustle, it's useless.  However, if you want to survive and make a long term career, you can't lie or imply you're going to do this, that or the other for people if you can't or have no intention of doing so. Be optimistic, by all means.. but tell the truth.

3 more days of hustling until a well earned holiday in the sun... then it all kicks off for another 4 months of mayhem.... bring it on.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Magic Lantern...and Apple ask for help.

Last week i mentioned on Twitter that i'd installed Magic Lantern on my Canon 550D. Well, it managed to survive a couple of days before i got rid of it again.

There's some nice features and it works pretty well, but to be honest it just got on my nerves while i was shooting and i didn't really use it got the chop. I liked the audio meters... but i don't record audio on the camera... so no need for them for me. I liked the 2.35:1 crop marks... but the graphics come and go as they please and this put me off...i'd rather frame for 16x9 anyway, that way i can animate the 2.35:1 crop later and use the bit of the frame i like best.  I couldn't get on with the zebras for under and over exposure. They just seemed to be lagging behind quite a lot which i found very off-putting.  But, the biggest issue for me was using ML with an external monitor. I use a monitor most of the time, but Magic Lantern has some real issues with this and just played up all the time.  I also missed the ease of switching ISO settings... using the ML menu to get to those sought after 'native' ISOs is fine, but it takes too long for my liking.  On the upside, the installation of Magic Lantern was fairly straight forward and i'd recommend having a look if those features are something you're looking for. It just wasn't for me.

Apple are asking for your comments on FCPX. Feel like giving them some pointers on what it needs to get back in your good books? Comment here:

Been up to my ears the last week in camera research for 'The Addicted' shoot. We need something that's going to excel in low light...and be able to give us both the shallow depth of field we want as well as dealing with some 'run and gun' type shooting. Tricky. The front runner at the moment appears to be the Sony FS100.... with an Atomos Ninja or Sound Devices PIX 220 to capture the Pro Res footage in as high a bit rate as possible.

I think the AF101 is out of the running... it's low light performance doesn't seem up to the job and i've not found any evidence that using an external recorder makes much difference... it appears to be an issue with the micro 4/3 sensor.  Obviously the 5D Mk2 could work in some situations, but it's not going to work for the run and gun type stuff and the H.264 footage won't take much grading before it falls apart. I'll still use my 550D for some of the shots... it's small size will mean it'll earn it's place on the set, but not for the main shoot.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Addicted - New Feature Project

As you may or may not know, i've been looking for investors for my feature project called 'Their Law'. We shot a trailer and a short, went to Cannes, visited production companies, spoke to investors and generally spent the last few months pushing our project, trying to get it off the ground. In the last few weeks we've had some success with several offers of funding and investment, but it's taking longer than we anticipated and we can't hold the shooting dates any longer. So, we're putting it back until 2012. We're still talking to the interested investors and we're still working on finding the perfect locations, so work hasn't stopped, it's just given us more time to get it right.

But... what to do in 2011? I don't like the idea of not having a new film to work on... i write prolifically and i'm keen to get a new film out to the festivals next year. So... i've got another script which we're going to shoot in September. Yes, that's only 2 months away... but it's an easier production which we're going to shoot in chronological order, mostly in one location with a small cast. We've got the funding lined up (almost) and we've even got most of the cast. There's more auditions next week in London for the remaining parts.

Another crime thriller maybe? A caper/comedy like 'Shoot The DJ'? Nope... it's a horror.

Quick artwork mock-up....

As a rule, i've never wanted to make a horror film. I like watching them sometimes, but it's not a genre i've really wanted to work in. A lot of indie film directors start out with horrors and i rarely rate them. However, i think if it's done right, a good horror can be great. For me, Alien (1979) is the best horror film of all time. Yes, it's Sci-Fi, but it's also the best horror. There's so much rarely see the Alien and you know it's all going to end badly for most of the cast...but you never see it coming.

I've come up with a story which is both unique and terrifying. There's always an 'evil' force at work in horror films...usually a ghost/poltergeist/monster or a psychotic man/woman. This story brings a unique twist to the evil side of things...

We've found a fantastic incredibly creepy building where most of it will be shot and we've managed to blag the services of a very talented lighting and special FX man who is going to make it look amazing....not to mention a very experienced composer to give us a full orchestral score.

So, 'The Addicted' will be shooting in September with post production beginning immediately afterwards and 'Their Law' will be shot later in 2012.

We never pushed the Indiegogo campaign for 'Their Law' and we really appreciate the donations we've had... we'll keep it going until the end of the slated date and then keep it all safe until production starts next year. We are definitely not going to be forgetting about 'Their Law'.... but right now, 'The Addicted' is the focus.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

FCPX - A week later...

 Well, it's been an interesting week... a trip to the USA with Howard Jones for a couple of gigs in Salt Lake City and California... and more playing with Apple's FCPX.

So.... what's the deal with the new FCP? Well, i still like it...a lot. BUT... there are some serious niggles. The lack of external monitoring is just crazy and needs to be fixed...quick.  The lack of export options is just plain annoying. Using Compressor is all very well, but it's an extra step i don't need.  The background rendering is cool...i really like it, but sometimes, if you go a bit mad with effects, it can really slow up your machine while you're working. It can't be helped, i know.... just don't get mislead into believing there's no rendering going on...because there is.

I miss the old motion controls... the new ones are supposed to be easier, but i still find it tricky to do what used to seem really easy... re-sizing clips...changing the aspect ratio to whatever i want and animating frames seems harder. Maybe it's just getting used to the new way of working... but i really miss the old way. 

My biggest issue is the size of the GUI details. The text in the footage list is huge... it doesn't need to be that big... I can't find a way to shrink it. I'd like to maximize my preview window to suit 2.35:1, but when i do, it puts a red rectangle on it to show that i'm chopping off part of the 16x9 letter boxing... that's just annoying. Oh, and they need to put 'Re-Connect Media' back in there... it's vital. You can fire up a project on a different machine, but it's harder than it needs to be. Also, it appears that you're editing the actual footage destructively... so if you try to edit the same footage in another package, FCP won't recognise the clip afterwards...which caused all kinds of issues... especially with no 're-connect media'.

Things to like: Lots of it... it's fast...really fast! The effects are fantastic. Slow-motion is soooo cool now... there's a twixtor type algorithm going on.. you can go really slow and it looks so much smoother.  Putting together an edit is far quicker than it used to be.... ideas get to the 'let's watch it back' stage far quicker.

So... i'm still liking it, but i really do need to see an update soon that fixes some of the bigger issues. I'm starting a new feature in 8 weeks time and i need external monitoring and some way of getting the cut to a colourist... so unless that's fixed by then...i will have to think hard about what to do.

I really do think it's all fixable without too much work on Apple's part. I don't see the need to chuck my toys out the pram yet...   but i'm reserving the right to do it later if it doesn't get fixed.

Hopefully,  FCPX will get the updates we need and i'll have a head start in using it. I really don't want to have to re-learn Premiere.  Interestingly, i started on Premiere (unless you count a few weeks with Speed-Razor on the PC years ago)... and i really hated the transition to FCP...i found it quite tricky at first. 

On a complete tangent... i stayed in Cupertino in California this week and saw Apple's HQ.... it's really nothing to write home about.  It's huge...4 blocks of the city is just Apple... but it's not a futuristic under-sea place like the Simpsons would have you believe. Bit gutted really.. ;-)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

FCPX - First Impressions...

I've been playing with my new copy of FCPX, and i've got to say, i'm pretty impressed. There are definitely some issues when coming from FCP7, but it's a really intuitive product and it doesn't take long to find your way around it.

I love the new timeline. I turn off the magnetic bit... it's handy for throwing together a quick assembly, but once you get down to some serious work, i prefer to work without it. I keep the windows simple, i turn off all the thumbnails... but, they are handy sometimes when you are looking for a specific part in a clip.

I really like the new way effects are previewed and then edited. It's much faster to find what you want, make the necessary changes and copy the effect to other clips. So much faster than before. The new colour correction tools may be a complete departure from what we're used to...but they are so much easier and quick to get the result you want. Goodbye colour wheels... i've no idea why we had you in the first place.

Some downsides...  i wish i could shrink everything on the's all a bit big. Maybe there is a way i haven't found yet.  I also wish i could use all my old plug-ins...but hey, that's progress. On the upside, there are so many very very usable and high quality effects here, that i don't have to re-buy half of the plug-ins i was using before.

I've been working with H.264 footage from my Canon 550D.... no more Magic Bullet Grinder required... i just drop the footage into FCPX and it transcodes it to Pro Res 422 in the background while i am working!! Hello??!!!  That's awesome.  Rolling shutter issues? FCPX fixes a lot of them... the new stabilization tools are amazing too...very impressed.

The big question... I'm starting a new feature film project in September... will i be editing on FCPX or FCP7? It's got to be FCPX. It's fast.... it's easy and as long as i don't run into any issues between now and then, i can't see any reasons why not. Ok, now i know some of you will be wondering about the lack of XML, EDL etc.. well, i'm prepared to gamble on them being added pretty soon.

No doubt, this is a new environment for FCP editors to get used to... it all feels a bit odd at first. But... you will see your edit speed increasing and you will wonder why you ever put up with the clunky and dated way of doing things in FCP7.  There's no going back.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FCPX - Final Cut...The Re-Boot

Wow...there's some proper whining going on in cyberspace today. Every film maker under the sun is bitching about the new FCP rebuild...FCPX.

For the record, i haven't got it yet... i'm going to get it next week though. Here's my problem with the whingers; Why? Why are you whinging about a product that you didn't own 2 days ago? A product that didn't exist... a product that does things in a new way that allows you to work faster..?  You're all expecting Apple to release a fully matured product that does everything FCP7 did and more. The thing is, Final Cut has been slowly improved and added to over the years to make it the product that it was... it didn't happen overnight.

When Apple released Logic 8 a few years ago, it was the first big re-build in years... people moaned...people wanted all the old features back...and, eventually, not too long later...they got them...and much, much more.  I have faith that Apple know we need OMF, XML and EDL well as external monitor capability... and we will get them soon. People moan that Apple never let us know what direction they are taking software in.... well this is how they show you. You can jump in early and learn as it matures. And if you don't fancy that... just wait. Your old FCP still works fine.

A lot of people have got quite angry over some very little things too...and often without reason.

Don't like the magnetic timeline? You can turn it off.

Don't like the thumbnail look to the tracks? You can turn it off.

Prefer a list for your imported footage instead of thumbs? You can do that too...

You like to program your keyboard shortcuts? You can do that...

You see? It's not that bad... and there's no rendering...there's live previews of FX...there's colour matching, there's audio syncing, there's some great anti-shake and rolling shutter tools. Basically, it's pretty amazing... just give them a little while to get some updates out and it'll be awesome.

Rant over.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Some pics from 2011 so far...

 A few more photos i've taken.  These are just shot on my phone...the HTC Desire using the Vignette app. It's pretty good as long as there's plenty of light.

I always seem to get the seat next to the props on these planes... scary.

My Scarly at the fair.

I love the colours in this one.

More fairground stuff... a bit of Lightroom editing.

Again, really vibrant...

Taken near Antibes... looks like it's lit from's just the sun.

Front of the bus in Antibes

Cannes Harbour taken from the Radisson.

Halle, near Leipzig.