Sunday, December 29, 2013

Songs In the Pipeline

While sitting poolside watching my wife swim with five boys (brave woman!), I used my iPhone to complete the lyric to Can't Not Do It, using Evernote and RhymeFree, which is not as good as having my favorite rhyming dictionary, but it worked for this song.

Now I'm hacking away at an arrangement in GarageBand so that I can record the song, with luck before the end of the year. Meanwhile, I'm about halfway through the lyrics to Bad News Always Comes In the Mail, and I'm started another song called Living As If It Matters.

On the video front, I haven't really done much during the vacation period, and so I have a lot of catching up to do. As soon as children go back to school, I'll be writing my little heart out, creating some little videos I can animate during the cold winter, and some longer videos I can shoot when things start to thaw out a little.

I'll also be catching up on my writing for the rest of the Challenge. It's times like this that I appreciate networked computers, so that I can write from different locations in my house. As they say, a change is as good as a break.

So, at this point, as far behind as I am on everything except songwriting, it seems like a good time to throw up my hands and say "I can't really do this; what was I thinking?" After all, I don't have many readers or followers, who's going to care if I just don't finish this?

Well, me, of course. I care. And I'm going to keep it up until September 30th. If I don't make my goal, I'll still have created a ton of new work. As it is, I've written more songs in 2013, between the songwriting MOOC and the Challenge, than in the decade preceding.

And that, alone, makes it worthwhile.

Friday, December 13, 2013


It's very cold here in New Hampshire, unusually cold for mid-December. If this weather is any kind of preview of the winter to come, the months leading up to spring will involve less videography and more writing.

That doesn't mean that I'm giving up on releasing 52 videos by next September 30. On the contrary, I expect to have written a large number of video scripts that I can shoot when the warm weather returns. And I'll be emailing all of my actor friends to line up talent, so you don't have to settle for seeing my mug in every video for the whole year.

I won't be completely idle in the visual realm, either. It's just that the winter's line-up will include a lot more animation, things I can do hunkered down at my computer, near the heater.

Which is also where I record songs and write books and the screenplay, so look for progress on that front while I withdraw from the cold cruel worlds outside.

Not really; this is New England. Snow, ice, wind—it's all just part of life. Like waiting with the kids for the school bus while the temperatures hover in the mid-teens. Which reminds me: it's almost time for school.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Back From Vacation

I'm back fro California, ready to return to creating stuff. Not that I was completely idle on the trip—I managed to add to two of the songs I'm working on—but it was a flurry of visiting and sightseeing that left little time for any long-form writing or video other than home movies.

So, with a little time under my belt to recover from jet lag, I'm back to work.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ed Takes On Global Warming

Video number seven is another visit with deep thinker Ed.

I'll be on vacation for about ten days, so no new postings until the first week in December. Not that I won't be writing; I just won't have a way to do post-production and uploading from the road.

I least I don't think I will. I may be wrong about that.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Video Number 6: I Got an iPhone!

Okay, I'm not that excited about my iPhone. But I did find a couple off apps that I hadn't seen on the Android, and I played around.

One of the apps I already knew about, and I was happy to be able to finally buy it. It was Aerfish's Sketji, created by my friend Eric Daniels. It's a sketching program, not an animation program, but after getting some nice results with its very intuitive interface (and I'm not much when it comes to drawing, believe me), I wondered if I could do a little bit of simple animation with it.

The other apps I played around with include VideoFXLive, Fun Movie Maker, and Scribblify. I also made a little music track using GarageBand for iOS.

Most of this will not show up in future videos—it's just too gimmicky—but there are a few tricks that just might come in useful.

And animation with drawings from Sketji? Oh, yeah.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

This Is Your Wake Up Call

Song Number 3 is now on SoundCloud. It's Wake Up Call, originally conceived as the title track for the movie of the same name, the one I'm rewriting for the Challenge. I had a version of it, horribly-crafted with no real tune and some tortured meter.

But that's all changed, and I hope you like the result.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time Lapse With a Spare Phone

I recently upgraded my phone to an iPhone, and since my old Android phone is no longer being used as a phone, I can put it to creative use without worrying about something being interrupted by an incoming call.

My first experiment was a little time-lapse sunset. Fortunately, my attic window has no trim, and so I was able to screw a makeshift support for the camera right into the framing. Here is what that looked like:

And here, with a quick little composition done in GarageBand, is the resulting footage.

I shot the footage using Tina Time-Lapse from the Google Play Store, and I assembled the frames in Quicktime Pro 7 (the new QT has no Pro version, and can't load an image sequence. There are, however, free programs for both Mac and Windows that can do this same function quite well).

Now that I no longer have to worry about running the battery down and missing a call, I can try out all kinds of interesting applications that use the non-phone features of my former phone. I've already used the phone to take geotagged photos to make a story map. With built-in camera, video camera, GPS, compass, and accelerometer, not to mention some compact computer capacity, there just might be some interesting things coming out of my "discarded" phone.

Video Number Five: A Little Experiment

Now that my Android phone is now longer being used as a phone (or, at least not full-time), it is available for a little bit of creative play, absent worries of some process getting interrupted by a phone call.

One of these processes is the shooting of still frames for time-lapse photography. I used an app called Tina Time-Lapse, and rigged a window mount for the camera (about which I will write more in my other blog). Here, with a nice little composition I put together in GarageBand, is the result:

The phone and Tina Time-Lapse will be coming out to do more work later in the year, I'm sure. The mount is only good for the window, but the concept works in a lot of situations. Meanwhile, I'm still working on Fluid, honing the last stubborn line of my next song, Wake Up Call (yes, same title as the screenplay—it's the title song), and trying to tie myself to the chair in front of my computer to write the article and the book.

Hard this week, as it's Hell week for the Village Players' (of Wolfeboro, NH) production of Fiddler On the Roof, and I'm running the lights. So, no sleep and not a lot of time for me until after opening weekend.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Return of Ed

The fourth video of the Challenge is also the second installment in what might became a series (or a micro-mini series—there will be a third for certain): According To Ed.

I'm still working on Fluid and the next song. And the first article and book and the screenplay, albeit a bit more slowly than I would like.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Another Song, and Another Movie

I'm still struggling with trying to get all the shots for the movie Fluid—part of the problems of working around family schedule—but I've posted the next video in line, How To Drop Ten Pounds. Here it is:

I still don't know when I'll be done with Fluid, but there are a couple of videos that are almost ready to go, that I will likely post during the upcoming week.

And meanwhile, I finished another song. This one was done exclusively for the Challenge, and although it cooked in my head for nearly a month, the writing took about a week, with the lyric translated from my notes in a single day. The tune came to me while I was at home, and I hummed it into my phone. And I hated it. But then I came up with another tune on my way into town, stopped by the side of the road and hummed that one.

That one stuck. Here's a link to I Hate Halloween. And just because I thought you might find it interesting, here's the page of notes I took to create it.

All the neat computer printout stuff in the left column is from the notes I took on Evernote. I started with the closing refrain, mapped out the basic premise, then wrote the whole thing out very quickly in prose, more or less.

Then, while I was cleaning the kitchen and preparing to make bread for dinner, I started the actual lyric writing, with a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary at hand. First I worked out the meter, and yes I do actually sometimes write out "ba-dah ba-dah" etc. to keep the iambic meter in my head.

After this set of notes, and after I'd hummed my first, discarded, version of the tune (which I made a quick video about with the new iPhone), I transcribed the lyrics to a computer file that I could read while I recorded the song. Really. I record these demos one of two ways: directly to my Zoom H2 Handy Recorder, which is what I use if I'm just playing the guitar and singing, or into Garage Band, when I feel the need for some MIDI or other extra orchestration. In the latter case, I start the recording, switch the screen on my Mac to the page with the text, and just start singing. Saves paper and ink.

So there you have it: the next two works in the Challenge, and a little glimpse into my creative process. I'm still running behind on articles and books, although the screenplay is already starting to come together in my head, so I'm pleased with the progress on that.

And I'll catch up. No, really. Anyone taking bets out there?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Might Be Okay With iMovie

Discovered today that I still have a copy of iMovie '11 version 9.09. But I don't know if I can use it side-by-side with version 10.0. For one thing, my event library has been "updated," which might mean that any editing I want to do in 9.09 has to be done with fresh imports. And if they share the library folders, they may conflict.

Right now I need to concentrate my attention on actual editing, writing, shooting, and singing, and so I won't have much chance to explore the ramifications of this change for the next couple of weeks. But I think I'm going to have to spend some time around the Apple forums to see what this all means for my workflow.

I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, no work on the Challenge today; had to run errands with my wife, including getting myself my first iPhone, which I hadn't actually planned on doing.

I love the way life throws me curve balls.

Monday, October 28, 2013

An Upgrade. Sort Of.

Apple offered a free upgrade from iMovie '11, version nine-point-whatever to version 10.0, which it touted as "streamlined." But in many ways it seems stripped down. I've only edited on short piece with it so far, but I already miss being able to export through QuickTime, which allowed me to choose not only format, but bit rate and audio quality. This is not a step up.

But I can't afford anything like Final Cut, so I will mush on with this version of iMovie, as I always do, and I will make it work. Meanwhile, the postproduction of "Fluid" is taking its sweet time, but soon after I get it done and uploaded, two more videos will be available on my YouTube channel.

And meanwhile, I will soon be offering a gig on Fiverr, recording thirty seconds of talking in front of my green screen, with a graphic keyed in, for a mere five bucks. I'll let you know when the gig is ready.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Running Behind?

So I haven't posted anything new since the 18th, when I uploaded Summer to SoundCloud. By now I should have posted an additional video, and I should have a song ready for Tuesday. Okay, it's barely possible I'll have a song for Tuesday.

But am I running behind? No, not really. Not so far. Granted I have some re-shooting to do for the next two videos I'm uploading, but I also have two other complete videos in postproduction now. My Kindle article on formatting might not be done by the first of November, but I am confident that both that and the next article will be done by the first of December, and perhaps even before that.

There's a certain amount of ramping up to so, a certain number of works in simultaneous progress, and before long, I expect them to start catching up with and even passing the schedule.

So, if you haven't yet, follow me using all the links above. There might not be tons to see now, but it will start to accumulate.

I promise.

Teleprompter As Viewfinder

Good grief! Over a year since I built my cheap teleprompter, and I finally got to try the trick I mentioned in the blog post about it: using it as a viewfinder while shooting myself without a crew. Here's the video about it:

It isn't exactly what I envisioned, but I don't want to fuss with it too much. As you can see in the POV shots, the lens of the camera can't be in the middle of the monitor. That's because the cabling keeps me from putting the monitor dead center. The monitor is also too thick to tuck back into the teleprompter far enough the center the lens top to bottom.

I could use right-angle cables to solve the first problem and raise the camera to solve the second (although then I have to be careful about getting the top of the picture frame in the shot). But the fact is that it works really well the way it is, and I was able to use only gear that I already had to make it work.

To be honest, I haven't actually used the teleprompter as a teleprompter all that often. Just lazy, I guess; it takes a lot of tweaking to get anything resembling a natural rhythm from the teleprompter. But now that I've repurposed the box, I can't imagine getting in front of the camera—when I don't have a crew—without it.

If you didn't read the blog post, or see the video, about the construction of the teleprompter, take a look here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why My Challenge Is So ... Challenging

I have yet to shoot all the footage for the video that, if I were following a strict weekly schedule, would have been uploaded today. It all comes down to the availability of the talent—my 13-year-old son—and timing.

It doesn't seem like a video a week is that much. Some TV shows are released every day, albeit with a big budget and a crew. Songs? The Beatles are said to have written all the songs for Hard Days Night overnight in a hotel room. But then, they were, you know, The Beatles.

But the Challenge is not my day job. The publishing business is, along with being a stay-at-home dad. So when my tremendously talented wife tells me she has a new book concept she wants to bring to market before Thanksgiving, that comes first. As does making sure dinner is on the table before 5:45 so that my youngest son and I can go to his Scout meeting before I go off the the theater to discuss lighting for the latest production (no, I don't get paid to do that, but it's in my blood now, and I can't help it).

I suppose it would have been easier had I decided to count every video that I produce or help to produce during this year as a part of the Challenge. And maybe I'll use that as a fallback position (after all, I can always edit the blog after the fact and change the rules; you won't tell anyone, will you?).

But for all the interruptions, schedule conflicts, technical difficulties, and mental brick walls (which are the worst part of this work), I still think that I have a good shot at this. And when I manage to post another song or video, it feels great. I don't know if anyone likes the songs or the videos (that's not entirely true; I had one friend compliment both the stop-motion video and my first song), but the point is not to hit the mark every time; it's to get the work out there and see what comes of it.

With luck, I'll produce some good work in among the mediocrity, and improve as I get into the groove (ooh, a rhyme; another song title, maybe). And, if you'll do me the honor of following along, I'll do my best to keep it interesting and entertaining.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Quick and Dirty Recording

I finished writing the first song in the Challenge, or at least writing most of it for the Challenge. The song is Summer, which started as just a verse and chorus for an assignment for Pat Pattison's songwriting class on Coursera.

But I'd started a story with that song, and I wanted to see how it turned out. So I told the rest of the story, wrestled it into some lyrics, and recorded it today, after waiting for the neighbor to finish using his leaf blower (the hazards, I guess, of writing a song called Summer in the fall).

It's up on SoundCloud now, and I'm thrilled to have a song out in the world that's part of the Challenge.

But I can't spend too much time being thrilled, because I have to do the next video, write the next song, and work on the article, book, and movie script of the moment.

I think it's a good way to keep my little successes from going to my head.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's a Song

I'm beginning to love deadlines. Even though I didn't actually make my deadline for my first song, having passed it really made me concentrate and explore possibilities that would never have occurred to me had I just let the song come to me in its own time.

And I like the results, I think, better than anything I'd expect from my muse. I say "I think" because I don't actually know what I would have come up with over a longer period of time, but based on past experience, I think it would have been more forced, and certainly of lesser craftsmanship.

So, a big shout out to Pat Pattison and his theory of rhyme types, which I love not only because it works, but because it opens up so many expressive possibilities.

And by the way, if you didn't sign up for the songwriting course on Coursera, you're not too late. Even if you join late in the week, you can still catch up. Go for it.

And look for the song on SoundCloud tomorrow; I don't have the voice for recording tonight.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Video Number Two

I was expecting to do morphing experiments as my second video, but I ended up deciding to have my middle son be the star of that production, and he's not available to shoot until later in the week. So I bumped the next video into the number two slot:

This video introduces my new character Ed, who likes to sit on the back porch and think about things. He has a lot of other things to think about, so you'll be seeing more of him in the future.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to fix up those last six lines on the first song. And I've decided on a feature film to write, or more accurately, rewrite. It's called "Wake Up Call." It's the story of a woman who owns a singing telegram service who manages to get into a lot of trouble when she goes on a call for one of her performers. It's a cute idea, for which I wrote an absolutely awful screenplay many years ago. This time, I hope, I will do a better job on the script.

Stay with me. And follow!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Songwriting Course!

Today the Songwriting course offered free from the Berklee School of Music through and taught by Pat Pattison begins another session. If you have any interest at all in songwriting, or for that matter of you write in verse, even without music, you should take this course.

I have already taken it twice, and the tools I've added to my repertoire have improved my songwriting immeasurably (as if you could measure these things anyway), and I've been writing songs for over 35 years.

I'm bowing out this session, but only because with the Challenge going on, I'll be writing a song about every two weeks, and I wouldn't have the time to do the early coursework. Especially as I am also taking Berklee's Introduction to Music Production, which also starts today.

But even though I'm not taking Songwriting again, I have downloaded all the lectures, and I will be revisiting them often throughout the next year.

I urge you to take this course. And if you do, please send me a link to your final song, six weeks from now. I'm looking forward to hearing it!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Deadlines, Deadlines

Deadlines are scary. Deadlines loom like large brick walls at the end of a freeway.

And deadlines are amazingly useful. The force me to think about my projects as things that are happening now, not someday when I have the time. They make me make the time, squeezed in among all my other obligations, making the best use of those little snippets of time that some between, when I'm waiting, when I'm doing something that occupies my hands but not my mind, and (sometimes unfortunately) even when I'm sleeping.

I'm not saying that I'm going to make every single deadline. My second video, for example, not only comes right on the heels of my son's 13th birthday, but it's also more complex than the first, with lots of special effects shots to process (not to mention the complexities of shooting for them).

My overall deadline is an aggregation, a finish line. Some projects will happen in less than the allotted time, and some will take longer. Some projects will be developed alongside other projects, so that their releases happen almost on top of each other. Some might even be sequels to others. And much as I try to work on one project at a time, the ideas for others keep coming (again, often in my sleep), and I have to stop and capture them with whatever I have at hand, from a piece of paper (which is easy to lose, so I try to avoid that) or my cell phone (I love Evernote).

So if I don't have a video each and every Tuesday, don't panic (or laugh at me, whichever you're inclined to do); the work is still happening behind the scenes. And I will do everything I can to catch up.

Especially if you follow me, nag me, and otherwise keep me on my toes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Video 1: Follow the Leader

Here is my first video:

It's a bit of kitchen-table stop-motion animation, with a soundtrack created with Garage Band and a program I'm trying out called Reaper, with some programming using an interface I'm learning from Georgia Tech called Earsketch.

It isn't in High-Definition, not because the original images don't contain enough pixels, but because, as I'm still feeling my way around this stop-motion with a still camera thing, I neglected to crop for the 16:9 ration of high-def, and a lot of the action in the first section takes place in the upper part of the screen where it would get cut off.

But inauspicious beginnings often lead to better things down the road. And certainly lessons learned. So watch, enjoy, and follow!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Countdown To The Challenge!

Here we are on Sunday, and the Challenge starts Tuesday. Am I ready? Well, not really. I don't think I could ever really prepare for something like this. Although I have a pretty good idea of where I'm going to start, looking ahead I see nothing but questions. Like: why did I get myself into this?

But, in fact, I'm looking forward to getting started. I already know what my first song will be (I'll be finishing something I started in songwriting class), what my first Kindle article will be, and even what my first book will be. I know what I'm planning to do for at least a few of the first videos. The screenplay is still a mystery, but it won't be for long.

I've been flexing my creative muscles by working on assignments for my Survey of Music Technology class, the results of which have been posted to my SoundCloud stream. You're not following it yet? Shame on you!

Really, the more people follow this venture, the more likely I am to get it done. So, if you haven't already, follow me on Twitter, SoundCloud, and YouTube, and subscribe to the feed for this blog. And tell everyone else to do it, too.

It's time to put the pressure on!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's Easy Being Green. And Cheap

For the first time since my first attempt to shoot I Dream In Color, I'm putting my green screen to work. And since then I've set it up it my basement to make it easier to light (and no trouble to set up since it just hangs on the wall all the time).

I've also started using iMovie 11 since then, and that's made my keying work much, much easier. Here's a little video I made about my green screen:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Of course, one does not approach a project like this without some tools. What amazes me is that most of the tools that I need are things that most people have for personal use anyway. Two of my three video cameras are my digital still camera and my cell phone (the third is a dedicated camcorder that I picked up on eBay for $13, and is the lowest-quality camera of the three).

My computer is not the top of the line either; it is, in fact, the least expensive Mac that you can buy, and I got it at a discount. Of course, having a Mac instead of a PC means that I get iMovie and Garage Band to help me along, but I could dig up usable free tools for PC (or perhaps Linux) as well.

Most of my software is either open-source or included with the Mac. (Some of it is commercial software that I bought when I had more money, but it's so old I have to run it on my old computers and then port the result to the new Mac Mini.)

Probably the most important piece of equipment I have that most people wouldn't is my Zoom H2 Handy Recorder, and all-in-one microphone and recording device that I use to record music, ambient sound, and the sound tracks for my videos.

Of course, the most valuable tools I have are the techniques I've learned. For my songwriting, I just acquired a great new set of tools from the Berklee School of Music, via Coursera. For writing, I have tools collected through years of practice.

My tools for moviemaking are a little rusty, but I hope that I can manage, through careful recollection and hard work, to bring them back to like-new condition.

And then, of course, there's the Internet, a tool that I didn't have too much use for in my career in animation and interactive entertainment; it just wasn't mature enough back then to serve as the amazing distribution platform that it has become.

And really, that, more than any of the other tools in my kit, is what has made this whole insane idea even remotely plausible.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's It All About?

So, what are all of these videos, songs, articles, and books—not to mention that screenplay—going to be about?

Well, love, of course.

No, not really. My mind refuses to focus that narrowly. Oh, some themes will recur, as you will see if you keep up with this project, but generally speaking, it will all be pretty unpredictable.

If you want an inkling of how unpredictable, go over and visit me on Soundcloud to see how varied just the few songs I recorded for my songwriting class were.

The videos will range from talking head rants—though I hope not too many of those—to comedy to animation to documentary to experimental. Probably not a lot on the drama front. But who knows?

One of the books will be an interactive, choose-your-own-path book, something I've wanted to do ever since I discovered that Kindle books can included links to pages within the book.

And the screenplay? Well, I'm keeping that a secret for now.

Even from myself.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why Should You Care?

What should it matter to you if some old former animation director decides to accept a challenge he himself proposed? It shouldn't. I just hope you'll follow along on the hope that, along the way, you will be entertained by the results (or by the tragi-comedy of my epic failure).

I make this challenge publicly for my own selfish purposes, to make the deadlines harder to push off. And pushing things off is what I've been doing, and so many of us are doing, for such a long time.

What have you been putting off creating? Because, as I get older, I realize that I'm running out of time. Not that I expect to die young—hardly anyone in my family has.

But it doesn't matter if you're 56, as I am, or 18, because no one knows for certain how long they are going to live. So it doesn't make any sense, really, to put anything off. Hell, I wouldn't even be waiting until October if I didn't have some very specific planning and preparation to do.

So if there's some you've always wanted to do, why not join me and start your own 52-week creative challenge? Then email me at and tell me where to follow your progress.

I plan to be on Facebook. And YouTube of course. I'm already on Twitter and Soundcloud. Follow me. Everywhere. Be my stalker.

I'll try to keep it entertaining.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fed Up!

This weekend I finished the last assignment for a source I've been taking online in songwriting, created by the master teacher of songwriting, Pat Pattison. And I feel terrible. Not because I didn't enjoy the class, or because I did a bad job on my song, but because it's over.

I've discovered that I'm pretty miserable when I'm not creating something. And so I've decided that it's time to stop spending time not creating things. If I can come up with an original song in just a little over two weeks for an online course, then why can't I do it for myself?

Again. And again.

I am a filmmaker and a writer. I am not being paid to be either of these right now. I am, in fact, eking out something less than a living as a publisher, and only some of what I've published is my own work.

But that's no excuse, especially in this age when the tools for creating video, music, and published writing are so cheap!

So, having run out of excuses, I've set myself a challenge. For one year, starting October 1, 2013, I am going to create:

  • 52 videos. I make no guarantee as to their quality, and I don't promise exactly one a week, but at the end of the year there will be 52.

  • 26 original songs. Some of them may be based on ideas I scribbled down years ago, and again, I can't guarantee they will actually be good songs. But 26.

  • 12 Kindle articles. Published and available to purchase.

  • 4 books. I not talking about great American novels. At least I don't think I am. One will probably be a children's book. At least one will be nonfiction. But four.

  • And, this is the kicker: One feature-length screenplay.

Whew! Busy year. Can I do it?

Damned if I know. But it's certainly not going to happen if I don't try!

Introductory video to be posted to my YouTube account and linked here soon. Let the games begin!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Simple Play, Sophisticated Tech

My boys and I are playing around with stop-motion animation this summer while they are out of school. It makes me realize how much the technology has changed since we moved to New Hampshire a dozen years ago.

Stop-motion used to be a big deal. When we were doing animation workshops in 2002, we had to either use the low-resolution Lego camera (and the accompanying software) or a special program that ran on my Mac and used my camcorder in order to do stop-motion.

Now we just shoot the frames as pictures on our family digital still camera, and I can assemble them into a movie with Quicktime Pro. My youngest son Danny did some tests last week, and I had them up and running for him to see in about ten minutes. And it's footage I can crop to 1080p HD if I want to (though I probably won't bother for this summer's playing around).

Unlike the old days, when we did these things on film, if someone gets a finger in the shot by accident (always an issue with any animator, and even more so if the animator is ten), I can just delete the bad frame and shoot the frame again, and no one will ever notice in the finished product.

Not only that, but I am not obligated to shoot all the scenes at the same frame rate. If a scene calls for a very smooth motion, I can shoot for 30 frames/sec. If the motion is not so subtle, 10 frames/sec will do. And the scenes will cut together as if they'd all been shot the same.

And I can use solutions I never could have dreamed of working in film (at least, not on the budgets I had at the time). Danny want's his scene shot against a starry background. In the old days, I would have painted one, and torn my hair out trying to light it properly.

Now I just use a green screen and composite using iMovie. Just like that.

An old guy like me might wax a little nostalgic for his days behind a Super8 camera, clicking away frames with a cable release. But really, if I'm honest with myself, I like this new way better.

A lot better.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

No-Go On Indiegogo

I ended up withdrawing my Indiegogo campaign, not because of any problems with Indiegogo or lack of interest in the movie. It's just that my lead actress has a summer schedule that's too unpredictable, and rather than accept money from supporters for a movie that might not happen until next summer, I've decided to put together a different project.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Almost a Go On Indiegogo

I've revised my budget upward a bit, and rewritten my description. I have to work out the details on the perks and make a nice pitch video. And then I'll go live and see what happens.

I mean to tell you, I'm nervous. This is definitely uncharted waters for me. But I know that I can make the movie in some form or another without the funding. The Indiegogo campaign exists to make the movie better, and set me up to do many, many more.

So anything I can raise will help. And I'll let you know, when it's a "go."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tackling Lights

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

Giving It a Go Go

In my efforts to join the 21st Century world of filmmaking, I am trying my hand at crowd funding. For the film I Dream In Color, I'm going to set up an Indiegogo campaign to try to raise enough money to upgrade my camera, and build my lighting and dolly. I also want to be able to offer a small payment to those who are supplying my locations, and to offset some of the cast's travel expenses.

I chose Indiegogo over Kickstarter because of the flexible funding option, because I can get this film made even if I don't receive the full amount I'm asking for; it just won't be quite as nice-looking, because I'll lose some of the control I've trying to achieve.

And the money will actually help me go beyond I Dream In Color to make other films I have planned, including a nice little short film that I literally wrote off the top of my head while acting in a production of Little Shop of Horrors, and possibly a documentary about community theater in New Hampshire.

It's a whole new world for me, and I have no idea if I will succeed with it. But there's really no excuse for not at least giving it my best shot.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Changing My Mind About a Dolly

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crop Factor Angst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Hazards Of Too Many Tools

Don't get me wrong. The fact that I can now shoot and edit high-quality video with sound, do both pre- and post-production right from my little computer desk in a corner of the attic, and have access to special effects I could never have dreamed of as a young filmmaker causes me no end of delight.

But the problem with having so many tools at my disposal is the temptation to use them, even when they are unnecessary, or even detrimental.

When I was making industrial films, I was shooting with rented 16mm film cameras, editing on an upright Moviola, and cutting sound effect in with rewinds and a synchronizer. I could do cuts. Period. If I wanted dissolves and fades, I had to do A and B rolls and pay the lab for every non-cut transition. My sound was mixed in a little studio that had four synchronized fullcoat recorders and a really cool old mixing board with huge faders and a green powder-coat surface.

Although those were fun times, I wouldn't go back. But the limitations did force me to concentrate on the fundamentals of cutting and sound. I wasn't distracted by the ability to put in any fancy transition I wanted, amazing special effects at the touch of a button, and mixing in 16 or more tracks with free software I can run on a Mac Mini.

And, to tell the truth, I think there was some advantage in being trained in that environment. Even with all the new toys I have to play with, I think I'm showing great restraint. In the film I'm working on now, I Dream In Color, I have put in only two effects scenes, although both are a combination of Morph effects and traveling mattes—I'm sorry, digital compositing.

And the only reason I'm using digital compositing is to avoid dealing with certain technical problems that Morph has with complex backgrounds. I'll write more about my cheap green-screen techniques to accompany a video I'm making on the subject, but it will suffice to say that I managed to pull it off for very little money.

Yeah, no doubt about it, I'm going to have to show restraint and focus on my best storytelling (at least in my story films; in my experimental stuff, all bets are off).

But I would never go back to the Moviola.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Tools For a New Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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