Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Xmas!

Time for a break for a couple of weeks for Xmas. It's been a crazy December and i'm well and truly cooked.. some sofa time with the Kids, some JD and some Xmas TV is just what i need.

I'd like to say a big thanks to everyone that's been involved in helping me this year including Atomos and Red Giant and all the clients that had faith and let me impose my ideas upon them. I'd also like to thank Rob at Digital FilmMaker Magazine.

Put your feet up...try and enjoy some time off and eat as much as you can.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sean x

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The raw and the cooked... it's raw, not RAW.

I decided to have another trawl around the online camera reviews to see if there's better alternative to my FS100 & Atomos Ninja2 combo for my next project. I forgot how arse-lickingly annoying camera test comments are on  You'd think some people were watching the second coming or something. What makes me really laugh is the kids who comment on things that you really can't see. I was watching a comparison between the BMCC in raw mode and the FS100's AVCHD. Clearly, the AVCHD is going to struggle here, but thanks to the compression in the uploaded file and then Vimeo's own compression, they didn't look too dis-similar. Now i've seen raw footage from the BMCC in the flesh and it is good...very good, but some of the comments were pure madness. For example:

"OMG! I have got to get me a BMCC! The RAW is amazing - blows everything else away!"

Right. For starters, you really can't see hardly any difference in the clip. Also, some of these kids think raw is the answer to all their cinematic dreams. It's really not. It's very useful sometimes, but quite often it's a massive pain in the arse. If you don't know what it is.....i shall explain:

Raw (not's not an just means raw - as in, not cooked) means that the footage is captured in such a way that your ISO setting doesn't matter... the full dynamic range of the sensor is used on every shot you shoot in raw. Only your shutter angle, focus and framing matter. There's also no need to white balance.. all the information is there to deal with later. From sensor to data without compression.

I'm not a raw hater, it's very cool and i intend to shoot raw as and when the shot requires it, but in general i prefer to shoot log. Shooting log means capturing a 'flat' image, but with a 'burnt in' white balance and ISO setting. I capture Pro Res 422 HQ, so i have a lot of pliability in post to grade and adjust the temperature and look as i choose, but its not as flexible as raw. The reason i prefer it, is that it's a fraction of the grief and data size to deal with.

Raw footage needs interpreting before you can see any pictures. It's a bit like a 'pre-edit' grading session where you turn the raw files into something you can edit with and set your ISO and white balance as well as maybe some first pass grading. That's a lot of work... it takes a lot of disk space and doubles your post duration. I'm more than happy to decide on my ISO and white balance on location if it means i can avoid that.

Now, before you go all 'semi-pro' on me remember this: raw is just a tool.... it doesn't make better films and in many cases it doesn't even look better ( i know of lot of BMCC shooters who prefer the Pro Res look)... all it does is give you more options in post.  There are some arguments that raw footage is sharper and has less moire, but compared to what? DSLR? Of course... FS100 or FS700? Maybe...maybe not.

Either way, i think if a lot of the indie filmmakers out there spent more of their ready cash on decent lights and better production design, their films would improve way more than they would by upgrading from a DSLR to a raw capable camera which will just suck them dry as they plough more money into batteries, hard drives and lenses to work with the awkward sensor sizes. Why not ask Sean Ellis what he thinks? He's a great filmmaker who just won best Director and Best Picture at the London Independent Film Awards for 'Metro Manila' all shot on 5D Mk2. It's now the UK's Oscar entry for best foreign language film...  shooting compressed H.264 hasn't done his film any harm....

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Develop your style and your voice

I'm always quite stunned when i see other indie filmmakers darting from one style to the next with their projects. I'm not necessarily talking about genre, we can't all keep to one genre all the time... but some filmmakers (and i purposely don't use the term 'directors') are making comedy skits one minute and professing a love of deep, meaningful cinema the next. If you have diverse tastes and you want to work in both comedy and serious drama, that's no bad thing, but if the start of your career is littered with random projects with no common style or 'voice' then it's going to be hard to be taken seriously.

I have just read Chris from Living Spirit's article on holding back on your first film until you are 100% sure it's the absolute best film you can make and is ready for the World to see it. I agree that you should never work on a film you don't believe in, but sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn. I've made 3 features now and i've learned so much on each one, i can't wait to make another one to see what else i learn. If i'd not put out my first film because i was afraid it was a bit shit (and it was), i'd never have got the investment to make the 2nd one...which in turn lead to the 3rd.  We need to be brave and let the World see our efforts...even if they aren't 100% what we want them to be. It does feel like going down to breakfast in a busy hotel restaurant with your balls swaying in the wind, it's very scary and you feel like everyone is going to say something negative... but it's part of the process.

A lot of indie filmmakers are looking to jump into the premiere league of filmmaking and they see a kind of 'hand of God' situation occurring where someone from the industry picks you to direct the next Bond film. It's not going to happen for 99.9% of you. Remember how unlikely it is to get your film picked up for a major festival? It's 100 times less likely than that. So...what to do?  Ignore the nay-sayers and make your films. Make them yourself. Find the money yourself and produce them as best you can. Eventually one of several things will happen:

  1. You make an absolute genius movie that is picked up for major distro and you never look back.
  2. You get a bit of a rep and sell enough copies of each movie you make to live on. No premiere league for you, but a nice little career if subsidised with other work.
  3. You can't get distribution and you don't make any money... you go broke and give up.
  4. You drift into an associated industry - music videos, corporate, training and do ok.
  5. You realise you're pretty good at one aspect of filmmaking and concentrate on that and end up being part of someone else's team. After a time, you might get another bite of the apple.

I've had many meetings with production companies and studios and what they look for is a style and voice that runs through a body of work. Watch any Kubric film and you'll see him and his style all the way through. The same goes for Spielberg, Hitchcock and Darabont. Very diverse films, but very obviously theirs. From the visual style to the narrative content... you can feel their input in each shot.

Trying to develop a style isn't easy. All the big filmic gestures have been done before... but don't think the big Directors didn't steal them from the filmmakers that went before them...of course they did. So pick and choose your favourite bits and mash them up...but add a bit you to the pot. I've got a couple of shots i use a lot and i think (and hope) these are part of my 'style'.  I also have a very definite edit style i'm trying to stick with... it's a bit of a hark back to a style from a long time ago, but i like it and hopefully it subtly becomes associated with my films. 

What about 'your voice'? That's even harder. Look at Hitchcock's career... what was he saying? Where was he going with it? He opened up cinema to a whole new era. He learned to shock audiences in a completely new way and made people wary of certain situations back in reality. He made people look at the World with a slightly more suspicious mind than previously. Spielberg makes films about hope and the human heart... you leave most of his films feeling uplifted and hopeful...and grateful to be part of the human race. Kubric left audiences in awe of the darkness and mistrust his films generated.. he delved into the part of the brain that we prefer to ignore.  That is the voice... that is what these film makers 'say'. What's yours?  When you find it... you'll find either choosing or writing films much easier.... you will have a point of view to work from. It doesn't matter what genre you apply your voice to, but if it's not there...if you ignore it, you'll be working on something that really won't fit with 'you'... and that will be a waste.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seven Cases... and new feature announcement

This is turning into one of those weeks where i don't know which way is up and what i should be working on from one minute to the next.

The 'Seven Cases' edit is looking fantastic... i'm so pleased with the Steven Berkoff scenes. It's made a huge difference to the film. His intensity really comes across. It's been tough doing the keying work on some of his scenes, but the end results are worth the effort.

Steven Berkoff as 'Lawson' in 'Seven Cases'
We've already had multiple offers of distribution for 'Seven Cases' which is fantastic, but we're going to wait and see how the first few test screenings go before we decide where we go with it.

While 'Seven Cases' is eating up my time... so is another project that is pretty close to home. Kim Wilde's new album 'Wilde Winter Songbook', which i mixed at RAK studios back in the summer is now on release and i was asked to shoot and direct 9 videos for the album. That's a huge undertaking and it's been a fantastic project to work on. We shot a lot of the videos in Kim's beautiful converted barn, but a few of them are a bit different and one in particular is getting a very special airing for the next week - but i can't talk about that yet.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Seven Cases Update

Last week we shot the final scenes (bar a couple of composite elements) of 'Seven Cases'. We were lucky enough to have been able to get the great Steven Berkoff to play the lead antagonist role of 'Lawson'. As you might expect, Steven brought a level of performance to the scenes that has elevated the film to new heights. His intensity and talent in playing complex characters was a pleasure to watch and directing him was a real privilege. The rushes look excellent and i'm about to start slotting them into place in the edit.

Jon is about to start working on the score now. He's been working on his template for the film and is now just waiting for me to send him the reels to make a start on.

I'm going to be tightening up the edit, tinkering with the grade and then diving into the foley and sound design. Hopefully, we'll have a cut ready to screen soon in the new year. We were aiming for Xmas, but i think February is a more realistic timescale after the mad few weeks we've had with all the other work we've had to fit in.

We sat and watched the film through the other day and we're incredibly pleased with it. It's come out so close to my initial vision for it that once we're done with the post process i think we'll have a truly stunning indie film to show the world.

We'd like to say a big 'thank you' to Leoni Kibbey casting for all their help.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Social Networking and us.

I've just read an interesting article in the Guardian that says that Facebook is noticing a growing trend for teenagers not checking their Facebook profiles as often as they once did. They put it down to older people like their parents getting in on the Facebook action and making it both 'uncool' and harder to say and post what they really want to. They think that kids are moving away from Facebook and onto messenger apps like Whatsapp.  In the comments for this article, a couple of people said they thought twitter was going the same way.

I don't disagree with their findings... i'm sure teenagers are migrating to other more private forms of networking, but i think it's more than just teenagers. I bailed out of the Facebook charade two years ago. It just got to the point where people who i really didn't know were sending me friend requests and all my wall consisted of was people i often didn't know too well boasting about what they were doing or posting pictures of their dinner/cocktail/pet/car. I realised that i had come to rely on a daily dose of Facebook to see what was going on in the World, but what i was seeing was not at all based in reality and was mostly bollocks. I closed my account and haven't missed Facebook at all.

I do twitter... but i don't go mad... i don't tweet loads and i try not to be an annoying twitter user. If anyone i follow starts tweeting more than 10 tweets in a day and it's not incredibly important or interesting, i unfollow. If anyone starts trying to sell me something or persuade me to donate to a kickstarter campaign, i let it go for a few tweets, but when it starts to clutter up my feed...unfollow.

I also use Google+... but generally only to let people know i have new blog post up...and i generally only follow film industry people on there so it's good for keeping an eye on what other film makers are up to. It's also great for using Google Hangouts for video calls.

Anyway, back to what i was saying...  I don't believe it's just teenagers who are reducing their Facebook time and in a lot of cases, closing their accounts. It's everyone. There just comes a time when you realise that every single corporate identity has a Facebook page...Government departments have them, your boss probably has does your Mum...and your kids...and your neighbours..  That's a good point. What do you do if your neighbour (who you have known for some years and say 'hello' to on a daily basis) tries to add you on Facebook? If you ignore them, that's going to be appear rude as if you're being aloof or unfriendly, but if you add them, they will see your photos, your parties you didn't invite them too...who your friends are... it's fucking endless and can only lead to shit landing on your doorstep one day.

It's also about growing up i think. Selfies (photos you take of yourself with your phone, usually) are all very cool and fun at first, but when you get to your thirties and you're still doing it... you better have a word with yourself. I'm not saying you should never do them. Everyone needs a twitter avatar or a profile pic doing for a new web account...and a selfie is quick and easy and does the job. That's ok. But when you post a selfie on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed...showing off your new haircut/t-shirt/stupid expression/moustache/beard, it just looks like you're saying 'Check me out... look how cool and interesting i am'... when in reality, most of us look at it and think 'What a twat'.  I've thought of some more exceptions when selfies are acceptable - You get to see a big landmark...Eiffel Tower, Empire State etc... you and the said landmark in the shot - fine. You meet a celeb... fine (that's not exactly a selfie cos it's not just yourself).  You get an interesting or news worthy injury...broken nose, black eye, knocked out tooth.... ok, we probably want to see that. But that's it. All others are narcissistic and unnecessary.

Lastly, how has the social networking thing affected film makers? Well, it's made minor celebs of some people like Phil Bloom and to a lesser extent, Nino Leitner. Phil was blogging about DOF adapters one minute and was an internet sensation the next with his early Canon 5D mk2 shorts. Now he's busy milking the workshop circuit and is probably one of the best known DPs on the indie film circuit online, even though his CV isn't really very indie film oriented. He's a doc maker and DP who's dabbled in drama. There's hundreds of much more experienced DPs working in indie films who will never achieve the notoriety that Phil has... right place, right time and to be fair, he puts quite a lot back into the industry at grass roots level with his camera reviews and honest opinions.  So what else has the social network done for film makers? Its made it easier for us to talk to each other. I correspond with other film makers that i've never met. We swap information and help each other out. That's quite cool. What else? Well, we all try to connect to our audience via twitter and Facebook. Does it work? Not really... we can sometimes reach some of them, but if you think that a few thousand twitter followers is going to make you the next Quentin Tarantino, you're wrong. It certainly doesn't hurt, but online alone is not enough to rely on.

So do i disapprove of social networking? Nope...not at all. I just think we're still very much at the start of it all. Myspace was huge... it kicked things off. Then Facebook stole it's thunder and pretty much took over the entire civilised world... but it's not going to be here forever. It's already on the slide and we're only in it's 5th year since it's creation? That's less time than some boybands last. Hardly a big player when it comes to longevity.  Can you believe the first iPad only came out in 2010? What the hell are we going to be surfing the net on in five year's time? All of this is just a huge state of flux... I think we just need to learn from it as we go along.

Lessons we've learnt so far:

  • Putting up pictures of very drunk escapades can come back and haunt you.
  • Ex's will find you and you can find them. Nothing good can come of it.
  • What you think is ok to post online now, will not seem so clever in 5 years time.
  • Too much personal info online leaves you open to ID theft.
  • Advertisers will target ads at you... if you go looking at pages you shouldn't don't be surprised if you get emails you probably don't want.
  • Friending ex-friends will eventually lead to you remembering why they weren't your friends anymore.
  • Real friends know your phone number and email address. Call people. Email them.
  • Posting pictures and 'statements' or pithy quotes online are usually you trying to impress someone, maybe consider keeping the rest of us out of it?
  • There are some grumpy bloggers about.. ;-)
There... i've said enough. Who needs a Facebook page when i can rabbit on for ages on my blog? Much more fun.


Friday, November 8, 2013


Sorry i've not updated much recently, but this has been a very busy few weeks.  It's looking like it's only going to get busier between now and Xmas.

I've been working on 9 music promos (yes..9!) for Kim Wilde's new album which comes out in about a week's time. It's been a fantastic project to work on as i got to mix the album and direct, shoot and edit the videos... so it's going to be great to round it all off with the Xmas tour we're doing too.

As well as the music promos, i've also been working on a web/TV ad for a new clothing company. It's a skate/surf kind of brand, so i've been working on both the visuals and music for that.

I've also been editing my current feature film project 'Seven Cases'. We've got the edit to the point where the only scenes missing are the ones we haven't shot yet... these are being shot in the next couple of weeks with a very experienced and well known and respected actor. I'll tell you more when i can. I'm also spending a few days next week writing and recording some new music, hopefully one of the songs will be the end credits theme. Jon Atkinson is just about to start his composing for the film too - so we're on schedule.

As if all that wasn't enough, i've also been writing for Digital FilmMaker magazine, preparing for a Howard Jones tour and we've just begun work on planning another feature film shoot for March 2014.

So as you can see... it's been mad.

I thought i would give the blog a slight refresh in the design.. not big difference - just a little bump to keep it up to date. Hope you like it.

More soon...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mac VS PC... Mac Pro re-ignites the war

Here we go again...  the new Mac Pro which is about to drop has sparked that old flame war off again. All over the net, computer geeks are arguing about the validity of their own preferred hardware platform. The new Mac Pro boasts some incredibly impressive specs, but the PC crowd aren't impressed. There are countless blog entries telling us how with the same amount of cash ($3000 for the base model) you can build two excellent PCs that will 'smoke' the Mac Pro. I understand the reticence of spending that kind of money on a computer, but a lot of these keyboard warriors forget, that for a lot of us, the computer is our main tool in our business and is one of the most important investments we make...and as such, price isn't always the most import factor.

I worked on custom built PCs for years, smug in the knowledge that i had more power than my Mac wielding colleagues. I had faster clock speeds, faster memory and much more easily upgradable parts when technology moved forward. This all came to a grinding halt for me when my software of choice became Mac only. I tried to stick with the PC and change software, but i soon realised that the software was what i had spent years learning, not the operating system and if i didn't want to chuck my experience down the toilet, i had to stick with it. I bought my first Mac...slightly angered at having been forced into it.

For about a week, i battled through the new operating system and slowly got to the point where i realised there was nowhere near as much to learn when running a Mac as there was with a PC. PC users hate to hear it... but Macs just work. They work well, straight out of the box. Within a month, there was no way i was ever leaving Apple to go back to PC. I bought a MacBook to replace my PC laptop...a few years later a bought an iPad..  but, i've never bought into iPhone... i just don't like them - i'm an Android fan. And i think that sums it up for me. I don't use the Mac because it's a fashion statement. I use it because a) My software of choice runs on a Mac and a Mac only...and b) Because i believe both the hardware and OS are the best for what i do. Getting a PC of a similar spec for half the price doesn't interest me. It wouldn't run the software i need and it would give me problems.. all my PCs did. Of course, if you run a clean system and know what you are doing, PCs can be very reliable, but it's a job in itself to keep them that way.

So, for any disgruntled PC users out there... if you love the PC platform, you stick with it. It very well might be the best option for you. But, please don't lay into the many Mac users who are looking forward to using the new Mac Pro. I doubt they are planning to do much in the way of Word or Excel or even gaming on it. This machine is for people who want to run Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro X and other high end, resource heavy applications that simply aren't an option on the PC. If you run Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar or even NLEs like Premiere or Lightworks...the PC could be your best bet.

Online flame wars about this kind of thing are a lose-lose situation. At the end of the day, your work stands or falls on it's quality... not a single audience member in any cinema or any gig cares what software or what computer you used to make it.  Save your time arguing and spend it making your next project better.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Macs are not invincible...Updated.

Last week the unimaginable happened... my Mac crashed...big time. It just sat there with a black screen full of raw code... no sign of OSX. No amount of restarts changed things... it was not booting up.

This occurred because something went wrong with a software update. I made the fatal error of updating the OS - not a big update... a tiny incremental one, but something went wrong as the progress bar was only about 25% complete. So the OS got hosed and my iMac wouldn't start up. I panicked.  I keep all my work data on external drives, so i knew my projects were safe, but all my applications and some of my personal files like photos and my iTunes library were inaccessible.

My late 2011 iMac is a high spec...3.4Ghz, 2TB hard drive, lots of RAM and the best graphics card you could spec for an iMac in 2011... but it also has another feature - a restoration partition. This meant i could re-install Mountain i did. I spent 48 hours putting all my software and plug-ins back on there and getting everything back to normal. Phew... i seemed to have avoided a nasty bout of dead-mac.

All was well for about 24 hours, and then things started going wrong. First, FCPX starting misbehaving. It would crash, often on start-up. In the past 10 months i've found FCPX to be very reliable and it hasn't given me any this was worrying, especially in the middle of a major feature film edit. Then, the day after that started, one of my main working footage hard drives decided to stop showing up in OSX. After trying to repair disk permissions, it greyed-out in the disk utility. Shiiiitt. So, i ran Disk Warrior, which after finding a hell of a lot wrong with the file tree, actually failed to be able to fix it. One dead 3TB HD. Not happy.  This was getting severely worrying and very annoying.

So... once more, i nuked the System HD and re-installed everything.  This time, as soon as everything was back and working, i made a USB clone of the System HD. It's a good job i did, because within hours the System HD appeared to fail again. This time, it would not let me repair permissions or repair the disk and even Disk Warrior crashed each time i tried to run it on the System drive. Arse.

So, for the last few days i've been running my Mac on an external USB drive copy of OSX. It works ok, but again today, it's been playing up. Random crashes in FCPX and also a couple of crashes that actually caused the Mac to re-boot!

Today, i've wiped the hard drive again and am now installing OSX again from scratch. This time i'm leaving it completely standard and seeing what happens. I've got a Genius Bar appointment booked...

In my opinion, i have a fault with the hardware somewhere. Either the GPU or the Logic board. Clearly the internal HD is knackered, but as it also crashes when running on an external drive's version of OSX, it can't be the only problem.

For clarity, ALL my data including FCPX projects and events all live on external FW800 or Thunderbolt drives.

Let's hope Apple do the right thing and realise that a £2k computer which is less than 2 years old shouldn't be doing this.  I rely on my Mac to earn my living and being without it for even a couple of days is going to cost me money...   There's a big project i need to start next tuesday, so fingers crossed. It's already cost me nearly a week and one 3TB HD. I'll keep you posted on what happens at the Apple Store...

Well, today i took my iMac to the Apple Store. A very nice bloke ran various diagnostic apps on it in front of me and everything seemed fine. But, they agreed that the symptoms i described don't sound good. They have kept it for the next few days to run more in-depth tests. The bad news was they said that any repairs would be chargeable at the full rate. I don't know about you, but if i spend £2k on a computer i expect it to still be working 20 months later. The worst case scenario he said was that i might need a logicboard, a new drive and a new GPU. In that case it would cost almost £1800 to fix. For only £200 more i could replace it with a new one.... but why the hell would i? If this one can last 2 years, what are the chances of a new one doing any better? I am contacting the original retailer and also Apple themselves. There is always the chance that the Apple Genius's may find nothing wrong... in which case, i have no idea what comes next.

The Apple store just called. My Mac failed a lot of the tests they ran until they removed the 3rd party RAM i had installed. When they removed it, the Mac passed easily. They could replicate the crashes with the RAM installed, but it was fine without it. Luckily i bought good quality RAM with a lifetime warranty, so it will get replaced and i might as well add a lot more while i'm at it. Good on Apple for diagnosing the problem at no cost to me and not trying to sell me something i don't need. Try getting that kind of service at a well known PC store...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New GoPro update

GoPro have just released a new update which among other things, allows for hi-res HDMI TV previews which makes realtime backup to an Atomos Ninja even more usable.

There's also a nice new playback mode for the ipad/android app.

More on this update soon.

Also... I've got a Genus GoPro cage on the way for review.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CrowdFunding... is it getting annoying yet?

So, it's been 4 years since Kickstarter....errr....started. The crowdfunding phenomenon isn't new, but it is new in this particular form. Come up with an idea, shoot a pitch video and upload...then just wait for the cash to roll in - or not.

Years ago, bands like Marillion asked their fans to fund their records and that worked really well. The fans got the records they wanted and the record companies were left to concentrate on what they do best... talentless shit for the masses! (I jest...a bit)

Film funding has always been a tough subject. There's the 'establishment' side of things where you apply for funding from the BFI, production companies and film studios... they say yes or no and if they say yes, you put up with the artistic constraints they will put upon you. On the plus side, you will make a movie that will get column inches and a chance at success unless you are really shit at your job. On the minus side, you will have to tow the line.. you will have to make changes and you will have to work to a schedule you might not like... it's called compromise.

The other route is private funding from outside the industry. Attracting investors isn't easy and they want their money back plus a decent sized profit on top. That's fine as long as you've got a decent shot at getting a release, but for a lot of film makers, that's an unknown quantity until the film is finished and the results can be scrutinised.

So where does crowdfunding fit in? A few years ago it was small projects...first time film makers usually trying to raise five or ten thousand dollars to get their passion project made. Then it all started taking off. Film makers started pitching for bigger and bigger budgets and some of the time, it worked. But at what cost? How does running a crowdfunding campaign affect your online profile? Firstly, it means repeatedly asking your online friends for money. We all know how embarrassing asking friends for money is. Imagine asking thirty times a day for a month - that's crowdfunding. Some online crowdfunding producers like to say 'i don't want friends supporting me...i want fans supporting me'. Well, that's cool, but if you think you can suddenly differentiate between friends and fans unless you're already a famous director, your 'fans' will soon get the arse with being put in the 'fan' bin.

Another issue is, does this really count as free money?  It's not an investment.. and because you're not a registered charity, it's not a donation either... it's a sale. They are buying something - usually a perk of somekind...a DVD, a signed picture etc. So that means it's taxable income. Are you declaring it? Because pasting it all over the internet might attract the attention of Mr Taxman. Suddenly you need to factor Tax into the equation.  Also, remember to do your maths. Don't promise DVDs and signed posters and T-Shirts etc, and then not have the cash left after the shoot to get them produced and shipped... it happens. I've invested in several projects that never followed through on promises.

So why do i find crowdfunding annoying? There's a few reasons and most of them are based around the idea that this is somehow morally superior to asking people to work for free or for deferred pay. I know a few directors who are very snobby about people like myself getting a crew to work for free... but really...what is the difference? I ask people if they are up for giving up some time to work on a project and if it goes to plan, they will get a cut of the profits. It's no different than asking a bunch of people for free money only to then use that money to hire a crew etc... it's just cutting out an un-neccessary step. It's also starting to smack of 'jobs for the boys' again.  Why use other people's money (that you never have to pay back) to hire people and buy kit? What's in it for them? They often don't realise what you are actually doing with their money... if they did, they might have a better plan.

I think true transparency is the way forward.  Crowdfunding campaigns should be made to describe exactly where the money is going and how the long the project is going to take to complete. There's way too much ambiguity with Crowdfunded projects. Deadlines drift and expectations are lowered as the funds get whittled away...  Just look at Spike Lee's KickStarter campaign. There's almost no mention of where the money will go or even what the film is about?!! It's a case of 'I'm famous, you can trust me..'  That brings me to my last point..  fame & crowdfunding.

Wheather it's Veronica Mars, Zach Braff or Spike Lee...or any of the soon-to-be-announced Kickstarter campaigns by famous people, the question has to be this: Why should people GIVE you the money? IF your idea is a sound business, you would easily find either industry or private investment and that's without even mentioning the fact that you have millions in the bank and could fund it yourself!

I've heard that they (the famous kickstarters) see this as a chance for their fans to invest in their work and be a part of it. Really? Bollocks. What do you think your fans were doing when they bought those cinema tickets? That's right...they were supporting you and getting involved... you've already got their money. But no, you want to keep THAT money safe and sound in your investment portfolio or property investments.

I do understand that crowdfunding gives fans the chance to get films made that otherwise would never see the light of day....and to some people, that's reason enough for it to be a good idea. My issue is that it takes the risk out of the production for the producers... and at the same time, skews crowdfunding platforms.. What began as a way for the little man to fund his movie will turn into an uneven playing field where established film makers will use their fame and PR clout to drive people to their campaigns ahead of the competition. And what about the studios, distributors and broadcasters? I bet they can't believe their luck! The audience are covering the production costs upfront!!??  Fantastic! Let's see what else we can make them pay for!

With all that said, i am not completely against crowdfunding. I do find it annoying and degrading (i've tried it in the past) but most of all, i worry how it's going to end.  What if Spike Lee's film gets made, comes out and is a massive success? Will the kickstarters feel good? A little bit cheated Spike got richer and they didn't? Who knows?  And what about after that... what if Zach Braff's film is a clears several million dollars in profit. Will he use that to fund the next one? Or go back to Kickstarter?

It's all food for thought people...

Monday, July 29, 2013

FCPX - 10 Tips for Fast and Stable Editing.

There's been some overly sensational reporting on the stability of FCPX when it comes to feature length projects over the last few weeks. I'm well over an hour into a feature edit including multiple compound clips, huge amounts of compositing and FXwork and FCPX is smooth as butter.

I'm sure people having issues are blaming FCPX for problems caused elsewhere in their system. I know that seems like a personal insult along the lines of "You don't know how to run a fast and stable system!".... but that's probably the truth...and the truth hurts sometimes.

In my opinion, (and that's all it is) FCPX is very stable, very fast and every bit as professional as FCP7, Premiere or AVID MC6. I've worked on NLEs since Speedrazor on the PC, moving up through Premiere, FCP4,5,6 and 7 before FCPX. I'm not an Apple fanboy... i love my Apple computers, but i hate iPhones. I use a Samsung and i have both an iPad and a Google Nexus.. so don't go assuming i think the sun shines out of Apple's butt...cos i don't. I just like forward thinking and efficient systems that allow me to bring my creative ideas into the world with as much speed and as little interference as possible. the tips for a stable and fast FCPX set-up:

1. Install the latest version of Mountain Lion. - Yes, you can force FCPX to work in Lion, but don't expect the best runs better in Mountain Lion.

2. Install as much RAM as you can afford. FCPX uses all available load it up. Don't skimp on cheap RAM. Buy Crucial or something similar. 

3. Keep a lot of free space on your system drive. FCPX uses free HD space on the system drive for virtual memory. For even better performance, make your system drive an SSD.

4. Avoid USB2 or FireWire400...  they are not fast enough. Did you know that having a FW400 drive anywhere on your system will slow ALL your FW800 drives down to FW400 speeds??

5. Use separate FW800, E-Sata or Thunderbolt drives for Projects, Events and Audio. Do not put them all on the same drive. Separate partitions do not count.

6. Transcode everything to Pro Res when you import into FCPX. Also tick Proxy (as well as, not instead) if you want to work with complex compositing or multicam clips at high speed.

7. Install a copy of Event ManagerX to stop FCPX from loading all your projects and events all the time. It speeds up boot times and keeps things quick.

8. Keep background render turned off and just manually hit render each time you want to take a break. It will still play a lot of stuff in realtime, but you won't get the spinning ball of death if it starts to render something complex while you are still working.

9. Don't confuse FCPX with huge jpegs or other stills. Re-size to the size you need before you import them. They can be bigger than you need for cropping into, but don't use loads of massive stills unless you need to.

10. Repair Disk Permissions in the Disk Utility often. These get out of whack quite easily and cause all kinds of issues. Power off your Mac properly often too...don't just let it sleep. A proper restart is good for the RAM and the HD stability.

So, there it is. Run a clean and efficient Mac... don't clutter it with crap. Don't skimp on cheap RAM, a good Video Card helps... mine is the AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 2048MB. Don't use external peripherals you don't need..they all slow things down. Eject drives you don't need. 

If you system falls over when you work on large (long) projects, there's something wrong. Check your footage. A corrupt file can cause havoc in FCPX... make sure all the footage icons (QT) show a min thumbnail of the video. If they don't, they could be corrupt.

For safety, make a duplicate of your project on a separate drive. Update it often to avoid tears later.

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know i took some time to warm to FCPX. It wasn't good to begin with...but i kept checking back and from a few versions ago, it's been sensational. I had to open FCP7 recently to work on an old project. It was like putting on an old favourite pair of trainers only to realise that they look ridiculous and give you blisters. The FCPX team have done wonders. I can't tell you enough how much you should try it. I'll be sticking with it for all my features from now on.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Go Pro Hero 3 - How To Get Pro Res HQ footage from it....

You may remember i did a blog about outputting from the Go Pro Hero 3 to a Ninja2? It was hampered by the ProTune restriction which meant you could only shoot in non-ProTune mode.

Well, the update from Go Pro means that you can now output full 1080p ProTune from the HDMI live.... which is great! But... it means your Go Pro needs to be attached to a Ninja. That kinda scuppers a lot of the portability of it.

But...there is a solution and it also gets around having to carry too many SDHC cards around on set.

1. Shoot with the Go Pro Hero 3 on it's own in ProTune mode...

2. Connect the Go Pro to the Ninja with a HDMI cable

3. Play the recorded footage out of the Go Pro and record it to the Ninja in Pro Res HQ loveliness....

4. Format the SDHC card and record some more....

Easy! Now you get all the advantages of the Ninja and the Go Pro, without hampering either.

It works... i did this for shooting crazy car footage on 'Seven Cases'.

Big thanks to Jon Atkinson for his brainwave on this one.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Seven Cases - another update...

Firstly, welcome to all the new readers of my blog. I'm not sure where you're all coming from, but the numbers have doubled over the last week. Big hello to anyone in China too - you've moved up to 2nd place behind the USA in my number of views totals.

Right, so what's happening with 'Seven Cases'? Well, i'm busy editing what we've shot so far. I've got a rough assembly of the first 45 minutes and i've spent the last couple of days working on the design and edit of the opening titles. It's not generally necessary to get the titles done so early in the process, but i think it'll help both me and Jon (the composer) if we get them happening soon... it'll give us an idea of the atmosphere at the beginning of the movie.

We've begun putting together the schedule for the final days of shooting. There's about 6 days left to shoot and most, if not all of it should get done within the next month.

Any exciting new names to add to the cast? Leon Herbert -

More news to follow soon...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seven Cases - Stills From The Edit...

After the initial shoot, we've begun the first assembly of the edit. It's a great advantage to be able to see how the film is coming together and make a note of any extra bits we need to shoot. It's also very nice to be able get a feel for the 'vibe' and the mood of the movie before we paint ourselves into any corners.

I've managed to get the first 40mins roughly cut together and done a first-pass grade, just to see how it all looks.

Here's some stills i've taken from the timeline:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pics from the set of Seven Cases

Today we shot a really gruesome scene with Saffron (of Republica). She's a trained and naturally talented actress with a great screen presence. Dave Vincent Philips and Paul Cooper play opposite her and the scene had the exact right amount of tension and emotion.... everyone took direction really well and having just watched the rushes, i'm really excited with how the project is progressing.

Tomorrow we move on to the green screen set which will bring a whole new set of challenges. Can't wait.

You can follow Saffron on twitter here: @SaffRepublica

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seven Cases - Day Two on set.. production stills.

Just some production stills from today. A mad busy day... lots of scenes.. indoors, outdoors, day, night...running, shooting, blowing up buildings (not exactly..but CGI will fix that)..

Very lucky to bump into a very generous Stevenage resident who invited us to film in the perfect location we were trying to find...  amazing.

More to follow in the days to come..

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seven Cases Shoot Starts Tomorrow...

Tomorrow is the first day of the shoot for 'Seven Cases', my latest feature film. Myself and Jon Atkinson have been busy buying all the props, finding the locations and finalizing the schedule and now we're ready to start. (almost...)

We've got a Hague Double Suction Car Mount to mount the FS100 on the outside of the car for the 'through the windscreen' shots and also for shooting the rear facing 'plates' which we will use later for the car interior shots which we are shooting in a green screen studio.

We've also got a GoPro Hero3 Black edition as well as a Silver edition and Canon 550D shooting car exteriors. We're also using the Go Pros as POV cams and CCTV cams for some of the shoot. It's going to be a full-on job keeping a track on all the footage. We're keeping a DIT station with us at all times for on-set playback and transcoding to Pro Res HQ whenever we aren't able to capture directly to the Atomos Ninja2.

The 550D is being fed into another Atomos Ninja using the Magic Lantern hack to remove the on-screen focus box. This allows us to bypass the nasty H.264 nightmares.

We have a 21" monitor on-set which will be running live so that we can be 100% sure our framing and lighting is spot on. It'll make a change from just using a 4" or 7" monitor. (Not so portable though)

I'll post some behind the scenes pics next week.

Last minute advice for anyone else about to make a film? Start earlier... it always takes longer than you think. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Seven Cases - Feature Nears Start of Shoot...

As is always the case with my feature projects, principal photography has crept up pretty damn fast and now we're running around like crazy getting everything sorted. Casting is all there apart from the main protagonist, who we've planned to cast and shoot completely separately later in the summer. It might sound odd, but it'll all make sense when you see the film...

For the principal cast we've got:

Dave Phillips
Paul Cooper
Samantha Fox
Saffron Sprackling
Emily Heighway
Dan Peters

We've been busy testing a lot of the unique shots we intend to shoot and we've booked a studio to film all the car interiors. After testing we decided that green screen was the way to go as opposed to 'process' back projection. The green screen just looked a lot better and gave us more options in post.

The car modifications are happening next week to give it the required look and we've also been lucky enough to get support from Bucks University who are supplying a lot of the equipment we would usually have to hire. They have also put us in touch with some film/media students who are going to be getting involved as runners and assistants.

We had a production meeting this week with the main characters and went over the script discussing mood, performance and delivery of the very emotional screenplay. We also settled on the colour palette for the costumes. We're controlling the colour very carefully this time to allow a much more stylised grade.

We're welcoming some new partners on this production on the finance side of things, more of which we'll talk about at a later date, but as a result of which this film will be part of 'Psyco-Central Productions' and not 'Recoil Films'.  It's been interesting to see reactions to the project from people outside of the usual circle... i think we may have something really unique here. As with all features though, it all depends on how successfully i can capture what i've created in my head on 'film'...(hard disk actually...)

I've been studying specific shots to get the exact emotional feel that i need. I've been watching a lot of Spielberg films. He may be popcorn film creator, but no one can generate the waterworks as suddenly and as successfully as he can...and it's all about the faces of the performers. He concentrates on reactions rather than action and that's the key. I've arranged some useful tools to capture these shots including jibs, cranes and dollys... i just hope in the chaos of the shoot i can get the shots i really want rather than 'just enough coverage' as often happens when you're in a rush.

Anyway, we've got another few days of last minute arrangements and buying the various stuff we need before it all kicks off.

I'll blog midway through the shoot to keep you updated...

An another note, Digital Film Maker Magazine has an 8-Page article all about producing and directing a micro-budget movie which i wrote. It has lots of details and picture from behind the scenes of my last feature 'The Addicted'. It's available in WHSmiths now. Grab a copy... it's full of great content.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

New Feature Shoot Announcement

After completing and finding distribution for 'The Addicted', it's time to start production on my next feature film.  'Seven Cases' is a genre mash-up between Horror and Gangster, but with a really emotional core. It's the story of two retired bank robbers who come out of retirement for one last score before they head off into the sunset. Unfortunately, a previous victim of theirs has decided to make their final job absolute hell for them... They have to play a twisted game in order to get their money back and it takes them to the very limits of their humanity.  It's a tale of choosing money over a life and then trying to live with yourself.

I've been working on pre-production for a few months now and i've got the specialFX guys working on some of the more elaborate 'contraptions' i need. 

We're currently hunting for locations and casting the last few parts. With regard to casting, i can't say much at the moment as we're still talking to people, but i'm hoping we'll have a household name movie star in a major role. Trying to sell a movie without a big name is hard...really hard and it's worth the cost to get a cinema legend involved.

Technically, we're not re-writing the book. I'll be shooting on the Sony FS100 and the Atomos Ninja2 and i'll also be doing lots of Go Pro Hero3 and DSLR shots... there's a lot of action in this movie and small, crash-type cams are going to feature heavily. Why not 4k? Why not raw? 'The Addicted' was shot 1080p ProRes HQ and it looks amazing on the big screen. We up-rezzed it to 2k and the distributors all thought it looked fantastic. I have a very efficient workflow up and running and it's really quick...and making movies at this end of the budget scale is all about working fast. I don't have the extra time or money required to shoot 4k or raw and at this stage it's just not necessary at all.  Good luck to all those new raw converts, but on a 100minute feature it's just a huge jump in terms of data, workload and money.

There's a lot of car interiors and after much deliberation we've decided to shoot these in a studio using the process technique. In other words, shooting plates first and then back projecting them onto a huge screen which will be behind the car. The car itself will be in a tunnel made of a heavy black material and surrounded by a moving light rig to simulate passing cars and brake lights. It will give us the flexibility to move the camera on both a dolly and a jib while shooting car interiors - impossible on a trailer or on the road. 

As well as the interior shots, we'll also be shooting some amazing driving footage out on a road. We've been doing tests on this for a few months now and we're confident we've got some great ideas for a unique looking perspective.

Major differences in production from the last feature? Probably the biggest change will be in the audio department. Last time we recorded directly into a mobile Pro Tools rig from 4 radio lav mics and 2 booms. This time we're using a very small but very high quality mixer to give us 4 balanced XLR inputs into the Ninja2. The Ninja2 can record 4 discrete audio channels so we don't need to worry about syncing in post - which took a long time on 'The Addicted'. We've also decided to use just boom mics this time. The radio lav mics were great for the type of film i made last time, but this is a much more controlled film with a lot less working 'on the fly', so i can control the set a lot more rigidly and allow for optimal boom placement from my Production Sound guy, Jon Atkinson.

On 'The Addicted', i made regular video blogs as we were in production, but this time i'm going to do things differently. There will be the odd video blog, but most of the documenting of the production will be kept for use later. This film relies on the audience not knowing too much in advance so too much coverage will spoil the surprise. However, we're aiming for a fast turnaround on this film and we hope to have it ready for Sundance 2014.... so there's not too long to wait to see what we're up to.

That's all for now...


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Digital Film Maker Magazine

I'm sure if you're based in the UK like i am, you will have noticed a new magazine on the shelves in WHSmiths. Digital Film Maker is aimed at the indie film maker and anyone interested in making films with the new technology available to us today. It's already had some great interviews with up and coming Directors and some great established talent. There's loads of useful hints and tips and every month there's articles coving the behind the scenes stuff we all feed on for inspiration and insider knowledge.

I'm pleased to say that i'm contributing to the magazine with a few articles based on my experiences of being a Director and Producer on two micro-budget feature films. The first one of these articles looks at how to cope with being both a Producer and Director in the lead up to principal photography. It's on sale sometime at the beginning of June.

I must admit that i wasn't sure a monthly print magazine would be able to find a place now that we all read blogs and online news which is pretty instant...BUT, i haven't been able to put my copies of DFM down. They have very in-depth interviews and cover such a wide range of the industry that i find myself reading about projects i might not usually think i was interested in. It's definitely worth picking up a copy to read while rendering your latest masterpiece. 

The Canon 5D Mk3 and RAW via Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern, those busy Canon DSLR hackers have managed to squeeze Full Frame RAW video footage at 24fps out of the 5D Mk3. NeumannFilms have been one of the first to get something up online for us to check out... it's pretty amazing that this came from a DSLR:

Now, before you go and sell your C300 or FS100, remember that this is a $3500 camera that wasn't designed to do this... It's a hack, and not a very mature hack yet, so let it settle in a while. It could be that 5D Mk3's subjected to this start frying their own processors. It's a lot of data to shift to the CF card in a very short space of time. Talking of CF cards, it will only work with very fast ones like the 1000x, not the 600x.

What does this mean for the budget indie shooter? Not much really... you still need to spend over £3k if you want a camera with enough CF cards and batteries to make it workable, and then you'll have a lengthy post process to compress those huge RAW files down into something you can edit without your computer telling you where to go.  For the same money you can get a BMCC set up and feel safe in the knowledge that your camera was designed to do what you need it to.

However... there is one caveat. The 5D Mk3 is a seriously shit-hot stills camera and i for one really notice the benefit of having a great stills camera around. So, if you need stills as much as you need video, in time, this could be a great solution.

It'll be interesting to see if this filters down to other models like the 5D Mk2, 7D and 550D et al.... i'd love to be able to get RAW out of my little 550D... it's already a great little B-Cam, RAW would make it much more useful. We can only hope...

As ever, my overall advice is get something that suits you. I got a lot of shit for shooting on a DSLR for a couple of years, but it was perfect for me at the time, but now it's not.

Lastly, the one big upshot from projects like this are the affect that have on pricing. BlackMagic Design will have to think hard about the price of their next camera if this hack turns out to be stable and portable to other cameras...and Sony and Panasonic too will have to watch out. None of them want to start losing sales to DSLRs like they did a couple of years ago.  It's all good for us though...democracy through invention. Fantastic.


Just seen this from Cinema5D (Thanks guys)'s a split screen demo of RAW footage comparing the 2.5k RAW of the BMCC and 1080p (Full Frame) RAW of the 5D Mk3.  I gotta say, the 5D seems to be a tad better to me... and with people finding the image less noisey in the blacks, this could be trouble for BlackMagic Design. I kind of hope not, as regardless of their supply issues over the last year, they have helped bring better specs down to an affordable budget and they deserve a slice of the action for that alone. Props to Magic Lantern though - this is a serious achievement. Makes you wonder what Canon's R&D department get up to all day....

Friday, May 10, 2013

Micro Budget Films in the current market conditions

When it comes to putting the budget together on micro budget films, cutting corners and finding savings is vital or your production will never be able to re-coup it's production costs.

Things have changed for micro budget films. In the last few months, HMV stores have ceased trading and that's hit the indie industry hard. Indie DVD distributors in the UK relied on HMV taking stock and this lead to more deals elsewhere going more smoothly. Since HMV has gone, you're really only left with the supermarkets in the UK for sales of actual DVDs. This is all very well having all these big name supermarkets looking for DVD product...but they have got a lot more choosy. With such an over saturation of straight to DVD films coming from the US, UK produced movies are finding it tough to secure distribution.

3 years ago, my first feature got distribution mainly because of the celebs involved and that was fine...we knew that was it's main selling point. My latest feature 'The Addicted' has no 'names' in it. We were very lucky that the positive press coverage we got about the project elevated it to the point where we have now managed to secure distribution in both the UK and the US as well as worldwide sales representation.  But, i don't think we can hope to achieve that again in the current market. If our next feature doesn't have at least one bankable name attached, we will struggle. It's sad to think of all the micro budget features in production right now that will have to go down the self-distribution route as no distributors will be interested, but that's the reality of it.

So, my advice is budget for a 'name' that will attract the kind of coverage in the press you will need to get your movie distributed. Even a 'story' behind the production of somekind helps... maybe it's a true story and you can play on that? Maybe there's a connection to a well known franchise of some kind...not necessarily a movie franchise, but possibly a game franchise or even a tie-in with a band people have heard of? You need to get your PR head on if you want to succeed these days.

This brings me to another thorny subject. Payment. Some Directors & Producers have a policy of only working with cast and crews who are fully payed as per the non-budget end of the industry.
This policy is fine if you can afford it and your investors are ok with this kind of structure. Personally, i believe that if your investors are ok with such a huge percentage going on wages when there are so many other options which don't hit your bottom line, they shouldn't be investing in budget films.
There are some caveats to working on micro-budget films and one of them is that i can't afford to hire an experienced DoP or 1st AD... but, there are lots of people with some experience and a keen desire to get more who will work for deferred payment or a back-end cut deal. There are also plenty of actors who are more than keen to work on a feature for experience and another few scenes for their showreel... this is how things get done - everyone wins. It's not being dodgy....and it's not wrong...everyone is free to say no to the job and everyone knows the sketch before they sign up.
Hollywood budgets are ridiculous and i would struggle to be ok with that kind of spending with such a messed up economy and so many people living on hand-to-mouth budgets at home...  The day of the the well planned and sensibly budgeted indie film is here. Too many wannabe directors are chucking cash at RED or Alexa packages when their films will go straight to DVD if they are lucky. Wake up, smell the coffee and stop acting like Michael Bay. Making a career out of this business is possible, but it's got nothing to do with what camera you shoot on or how many crew you have on set, it's all about the end product. Evolve, shrink the crew, utilise new technology to work smarter and if the Unions have an issue with the new way of doing things, let them worry about it... this industry is changing fast, don't get caught in the past. Just look at what happened to the music industry. The warning is there for all to see.

With Cannes just around the corner, i'm usually prepping market materials and working through the night getting footage ready to show in meetings... but, this year i'm not going. With 'The Addicted' all sewn up and the next feature in pre-production, there's neither the need or the time. However, we have representation there and 'The Addicted' will still be involved, even if we're not.

Lastly, some news for Go Pro Hero3 users... the new firmware update is out and this should finally sort out the reliability issues for the Black version and even add some new features.

Get it here: