Sunday, November 8, 2009

Using The 7D's Light Meter

Until the Magic Lantern hack comes out for the 7D we don't have those convenient zebra stripes to show us when we're overexposing our images. I just wanted to mention this fact for those who don't have any photography experience-and that is until you get zebras (maybe even after) use the light meter!

We shot for eight hours yesterday (all outside locations) and for everyshot I used the light meter with the camera pointed at my subject and changed my aperture for a proper exposure. Unfortunately it was bright and, I didn't have any ND's to knock out light. Plus, I was running at 100 ISO and I wasn't about to change my shutter speed from 1/50 (although for a few shots I used 1/500-which is about as fast as a film cameras shutter angle can go.

Now, I'm sure I blew out the sky in some of the shots, and I tried to bring the exposure back to see both the sky and the subject. That being said, I'm not sure there was anything I could have done about that with what I own. But the point is - I used the light meter, like I would when I was taking still images. And most people that frequent this blog comes from a video background and I made this post because I haven't heard of anyone using the meter for video before. Probably because the people that know about it are like "Duh, why wouldn't I use that?"

This is an invitation if you aren't already at the party; use the light meter, it'll save your shots.

Monday, October 5, 2009

7D First Shoot

So I got my 7D on October 1st and haven't exactly gotten through the manual yet...that being said, I wasn't about to wait :)

Alright, bad news first: Friday night I went out to downtown Dubuque, IA at about 11pm with my sister Angelica Deming and we improvised a little ditty while I experimented with different ISO's. I found out afterwards that the changes ISO isn't a "liner progression". Link. (Thanks to hermmermferm from dvxuser for his chart.) There's some pretty noisy shots in this footage (at about 0:28 till 0:37) But, thanks to Michael Munkittrick's advise from the creativecow forum, it really helped cut down on the crazy noise. I think for those shots I was shooting at around 6400 ISO, but for the most part I was shooting between 1250 and 3200 ISO.

The only other thing (most likely user error) was during the editing I noticed some banding on a few clips. Now, I'm not sure if this was my fault (incorrect settings) or has something to do with the way the sensor writes the information.

Alright, that was the bad news. But for the most part, the ISO on this camera rocks. Coming from the land of HV20, it was such a great experience to have full manual controls. The image quality is outstanding, and I'm so proud of Canon for listening and giving us most of the goodies we asked for in one camera.

This was all shot with a shoulder rig and a Tameron 17mm to 50mm lens. I followed Stu's method of flattening the 5D for the 7D, which gave me a lot of wiggle room in post. I edited it in Adobe Premiere Pro (using Proxies) and then color corrected using the DV Rebel Tools in After Effects. All of the audio was in camera. Yes, I'm going to have to buy something to record audio separately-but I knew that going into it ;). Not sure if there's anything else to report. More later.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Canon 7D & My Soap Box

Yes. It's here. The camera of my dreams. True 1080p 23.966 recording with switchable frame rates for PAL and even 30p. Oh did I mention 720p at 60fps, full manual controls, and a number of other goodies.

I couldn't sleep last night I was so excited. I couldn't nap after work because the excitement continued. Honestly, my vision is blurry right now and I have the 7D to blame.

So now that this wet dream of a camera has been released, the question begs: what now? Well, film is what now. But then again, film has always been "what now". People are saying that film makers no longer have an excuse, but I would argue that we've never had an excuse.

Therefore, here's my plight to RED owner all the way down to the humble HV20 owner: you have a tool, go film something. I exhort thee, if you think you need to finish that next device before you can make your movie/documentary/commercial/music video/whatever; you don't. You have all you need.

That's all for now. Happy 7D day!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Onlining the test shoot

I happened to get CS4 for a really great deal (thank you student discount!) and with it came Premiere Pro, Mocha For After Effects, After Effects, Photoshop, and a bunch of other really amazing programs. Now, I had used Sony Vegas Pro before I got my grubby fingers on this bundle of amazing goodness. And actually, I ended up using Vegas to do all of the audio tracking for this test shoot. I found Premiere Pros audio to be a bit clunky but in all fairness, I'm probably just used to Vegas. :)

Anyway, I had minor surgery on my foot a few weeks back and because my work requires me to have two feet, I was off for a few weeks. It was great! I was in a boot, grew a beard, and had time to delve into After Effects as well as Mocha.

Color Correction
As a test shoot, I learned to never, ever, ever have your talent wear black-black or white-white; especially when shooting against a white car! Gross. Also, green (grass, tress, etc) is a very hard color to work with. Next time, I'll be choosing my locations and clothing PRIOR to shooting.

I shot with my humble HV20 in Shutter Priory mode, and used a 1/250 shutter (except for one shot which I used 1/48 shutter).
Used After Effects to remove pulldown and edited everything in Premier Pro. I imported the Premiere Pro project into After Effects and made a different AE (after effects) project for each clip.

I was brand spankin' new to AE and for a while I felt totally overwhelmed. But, my saving grace was Especially Andrew's basic training. Also, the people on their forum are really cool and helpful. Again, the DV Rebels Guide was a huge help, and the people on the rebel forum were a huge help too. But really, After Effects should be looked at like an oil painter looks at his brush and oils-AE doesn't make what your working on awesome, you need to learn to move the brush and manipulate the colors, so to speak. And learning how to do that is a lot of work, and a lot of fun. I don't have it all figured out by any stretch, but I'm on my way. I think it's important to point out that when your tackling something like this, just take it one step at a time.

Motion Tracking
Mocha is a delicious beverage as well as an amazing motion tracking program made by Imagineer Systems. I used it to map the bullet holes on that white (grr!) Chevy Blazer. Obviously, you can use it for a lot more than that (just check out their sample videos!) This tutorial really made the Mocha workflow click for me.

The audio was so much fun to build. I didn't use any of the sound from the shoot except for one spot during the hand-to-hand fight. I built all of it from the ground up recording sounds and using a bunch of the resources from
To be honest, I stole a bunch of the gunshot sounds from Rainbow 6 Vegas2 by recording the Left and Right out of my Xbox360. Even though that game has great sound, I found a lot of the gunshots didn't sound like gunfire, but instead sounded like, well, a video game! That being said, after some EQ work and track doubling I think I achieved some nice sounding gunshots.

This is a screen grab from the audio build.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do It Yourself

I just wanted to take a minute and talk about DIY projects, because I've spent so much time on them(I think a good portion of 2008 was spent in my basement hunched over a soldering iron).

Alright so, the first thing I attempted was a 35m adapter. Obviously depth of field is a great story telling tool, and I became somewhat obsessed over making my own. I used a combination of parts from jetsetmodles as well as the diy gg holder from Greg Tay. Went through two EE-A screens, and I used a vibrating motor from a cell phone (which works great) until I got a second motor from Greg. After wiring up a control box (with the help of a friend,RadioShack and the internet), I got a nice adapter that gives me clean footage even at high shutter speeds.

So, here's my advice. Buy one. There are a bunch of reputable sellers on the net, (I just linked you to two) and after all the work you put into it, you may have just as well bought one. Save yourself the time. Oh, I've delt with and he's been great too.

Second, I made a DIY track dolly basically just like this one.

Third I began working on a steady cam. Now, there are a ton of great steady cams for sale out there, but unlike the 35 adapter, these can be quite expensive. And I think can be made with a little elbow grease and patience. Mine actually works pretty well, I mean, it's no merlin, but it did only cost me $85.00....And it's pretty close. Here's a link to the guy whose design I copied as much as a I could. Oh and while I'm here, I have to plug Johnny Lee. He's got a really simple steady cam and he's an all around great guy who, as a side note, is someday going to be creating computers that are controlled by our minds. Seriously.

Fourth, I started working on a rail system. I knew I wanted to build a follow focus system and I wanted to shoot with a lens hood so it was an excuse to build something to support all of these add-ons. Anyway I basically used 1/2'' conduit and built the whole thing from stock electric parts from various hardware stores. Here's a thread I made about it.

So since then I've made a few other things and it's been a ton of fun-but I would suggest that you just start shooting. I can't count how many times I've read in the DIY forms people saying "I'm working on _____, and after I finish it, i'm going to start filming." Statistically, I wonder how many of them actually get to the filming part.

Thankfully for me, during all this time I was working on a documentary for my band as well as a few shorts, and I learned a lot about my camera and how to get good looking footage. I'm no master, but the point is this; if you bought a camera you probably want to make a movie. So go do that. You don't need all of this stuff before you start filming.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Test Shoot

I decided it was time to do an actual test shoot, and because I’m a guy who digs guns, and action in general-I decided on filming an action sequence that happened near the beginning of the first episode of the story I was working on. I knew it would be a challenge because this was one of the more complicated sequences; but I also knew that if I did it well, it might help convince others to get on board and generate excitement for the project.

Well, getting people on board was way easier than I imagined. I spent a few days slowly buying props on line, worried about getting the soldiers in the shoot to look somewhat authentic. I knew some people with realistic airsoft guns and they lent me some stuff. A buddy of mine with some actual military garb lent me a few things too which helped a lot; but the door really blew open when a friend of a friend (now just a friend) said he’d be interested in helping out. Turns out he had an arsenal of airsoft guns and gear. And just like that my props were all taken care of. My ‘Rodrigez list’ just grew exponentially.
So the day of the test shoot came, and everyone that showed up was needed. Not only that, but the shoot was long and difficult; mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. I just want to add that having the storyboards there with me helped me tremendously shot to shot. It also helped in showing everyone involved what we were trying to achieve for a specific shot as well giving everyone an idea how the entire scene progressed.

We shot for eight or so hours and it was much MUCH fun. I wouldn’t say it was easy…one of the shots took 27 takes (a hand to hand fight filmed on a dolly…and it’s a little less than three seconds long).

But we got it done and with daylight to spare. The crazy thing was, at the end of the day I thought those guys would never want to work with me again. I mean these guys spent their Saturday afternoon pushing dollies, moving gear, doing take after take…. But, to my surprise, each one called or texted me that night saying how much fun they had, and that they couldn’t wait to ‘do it again’.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


Like I said before, I’m not that great of an artist; but I can kinda draw. And as Stu says in The Guide, that’s all you need.
I had a Wacom Tablet from a few years back and literally pulled it out of the attic, made a Photoshop file with a bunch of 2.39:1 boxes. I basically read through each section of the script, let it play out in my head and then I jotted it down in the form of stick figures filling over the boxes on layer above them. Then, when the section of the story was concluded, I went back and filled in the drawings a little more. I know that this step was a bit anal, and overall unnecessary-but I did it anyway. Plus, it was cool seeing this story come to life in the form of little boxes on my computer screen. Even cooler when I printed them off. ;)

Page 6
Page 7
Page 8
Page 9

I just wanted to say again that you don't need Photoshop, or a tablet to do storyboards. Just grab a pencil and a piece of paper. And start doodling. If you are just terrible draw stick figures. Also, this is a great place in the independent film making process to start to use some of those people around you who can do this type of stuff. Do you have a friend whose an aspiring artist? Well, see if they'd be interested in fleshing out your stick figures.

One last thing, if you don't have Photoshop but would like to to work in that format, get GIMP. It's super cool. And free. :)


Monday, March 30, 2009

On Writing

Anything, including film starts with an idea.
My initial idea for a film project started as a Half Life 2 short. I wrote about four characters who were trying to find others in the post apocalyptic Half Life universe. So, I wrote a forty six page script (that I thought was awesome) and sent it around to my friends and family.
Found it was pretty bad.
Some people responded with fluffy sentiments like, 'it's great, stays true to the source material!' while others (the honest ones) told me it was either 'just OK' or 'Not very good'. But that's OK, good even. Anyone who's interested in writing knows that for most people, it'll take ten or fifteen scripts before you get something decent. The most important thing is to actually start writing.
That first forty six page script was good for me. It taught me mostly what not to do (cliches, forced exposition, and plot hammers). It also taught me that, hey, I can write. Alright, I'm no Cohen Brother, but heck; I've got me about fifty pages of script here. That's a starting point, and my idea lived in there somewhere.
But, my idea needed a new home, and I knew I needed help to get it there.


I began reading professional writers blogs. There’s a ton of them, but I fell in love with John August's blog as well as Jane Espensen's and from there, found I was doing it all wrong. I was using a jack hammer instead of a chisel. JJ Abrams has some interesting things to say about story telling, and the year before I read On Writing by Steven King (a must for anyone who wants to write at any level).
Those are all amazing resources, but the real kick came from a friend of mine who encouraged me to take the story out of the Half Life universe, and make it something my own. I heard my idea yell ‘YES!!’
Oh, and uh, these guys were already doing the Half Life survivor story better than me anyway :)
Anyway, by making the story completely my own, it meant I was free to use my own ideas, it also meant no rules and (more importantly) no copyright infringement! Hurray! I preformed open heart surgery and removed my idea from the Half Life body and started writing from the ground up, now developing the content for the Internet.
Ahh the Internet.
Storytelling on the Internet, isn’t movies, it's not books, and it’s not television. The Internet is a new medium where the rules of conventional storytelling are not set. It’s an open range, and I’m Wyatt Earp. I can do whatever I want, as long as it doesn’t suck. I’m not saying that story telling on the net needs to be completely different from the way television and movies (generally) tell stories; just that there is no convention. So for me, that kinda blew thing open a bit.
The idea of writing for this new medium got me thinking. I wrote my second and third drafts around this but they were garbage too. Better, but still garbage. Honestly, I think it was either the seventh or eighth script that I knew I had something that wasn't bad. I knew I had something good when my wife told me she thought it was 'cool' and that she wanted to ‘find out what happens’.
My idea was coming to life. The next step was storyboarding.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You want to do what?

I’d been playing music forever. My dad had a band while I was growing up and taught me how. I took music lessons, my friends played instruments, and music was life. I was constantly playing or wanting to play. I’d get in trouble at school for ‘fidgeting’ but really, I was drumming to the song in my head on my desk. Music was all I ever knew. I drew a little, but I never was really good at it. I wasn’t into books because nobody told me they were awesome until I got older. So, the one, and only thing I thought I could do was music. And that’s what I did.

Fast forward twelve years, a hand full bands, getting married, and there I was; really trying to make it big in the music industry. I had a pretty good job (still do) in insurance, and I was in the best band I’d ever been in (as I write this, were getting ready for our last show). As much as I loved music, it was unintentionally moving into the periphery of my life. I was finding it less and less satisfying, and began looking for other creative outlets.

Then, I saw this. I watched it three times and thought ‘Oh, I want to do this. Film. Holy crap, I want to make movies.’ I realized film encompassed every fascist of art that I loved; drawing, music, photography, writing etc. Not to mention everyone could be a part of it.

See, in a band, the experience feels exclusive-even if you don't want it to be. I mean, unless you have a producer, only the band members themselves are able to truly contribute. But with a film, well, everyone is vital. If you sow, great, I can use you. Know a lot about guns? Awesome, you’re in. If you mix sound, well now you’re more important than any lead singer ever was.

Chrissy (my wife) and I were driving to a friend’s house when I told her about my idea to delve into this. I wasn’t quite sure how she was going to react, but, she didn’t even blink. She just said, “Yeah, I could totally see you doing that.”


With her support, I knew I had a real chance. Because when your wife believes in you, it’s like freaking jet fuel. But before I could fly, I needed a jet-or more accurately, a camera.

So I started researching. I knew nothing about film, much less cameras. I knew I wanted widescreen and that was about it, and there are literally hundreds of options. I honestly looked for about two or three weeks straight, and in the process learned a very introductory knowledge about cameras, frame rates, etc. It was when I read about 24p in particular, I knew I had to have a camera capable of shooting in that frame rate. After deciding on the HV20 (I might add, an amazing little camera), and nearly getting swindled for $400.00 in the process; It was December of ‘07 that I went to a Wolf Camera and bought it for no money down and zero interest for ten months. By the way, they try to charge you that interest at about five months, unless you call and correct their ‘mistake’.

Now I had my jet, and my fuel.

It was time to break it out of the box.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

IRVB Focus Ring

The HV20 is a camera that lies on the line between consumer and prosumer. I'm going to start of by saying I love this camera. For the most part. If you have the patience and the gusto to work with a crippled camera, it's worth it as it's images can be amazing.
The camera has some pretty amazing features, but inorder to get to them you need to 'trick' the camera into working for you. I know this is old news to most of you, but I thought I'd share a review of a little add on that makes manually focusing SO MUCH EASIER. Before this little wonder you needed to use your thumb on Canons idea of a 'focus dial' to pull focus, which never quite worked right because you'd enevitably bump the camera to the right while turning the dial. Anyway, here's my review which is featured on the products website.

Get yourself one if you own an HV20/30/40.