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: