Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hollywood - no, it's not all that bad

I realize that some of my posts on this blog have tended to have an anti-Hollywood bias.  So in an effort to not seem like a complete dour sour-puss I thought I'd share with you some of the movies that I actually did enjoy in 2009:

(insert sounds of crickets chirping)

No, seriously, here we go (in stream-of-consciousness order):

- Inglourious Basterds
- District 9
- The Hurt Locker
- A Serious Man
- Up in The Air
- Up
- Watchmen
- Adventureland
- The Blind Side (ok, I admit I actually cried a little)
- The Cove
- Food, Inc.
- Let the Right One In (yeah, it was released in 2008 but I didn't see it until 2009)
- Drag Me to Hell
- Paranormal Activity
- Tell No One (alright, yes that was produced even further back in 2006 but what can I say, I miss some things you know)
- Knowing
- The Hangover
- Anvil!
- Star Trek
- Avatar (the first 90 minutes only - see my post here:)

You see, most of those are Hollywood-produced films, with a sprinkling of indies, docs and foreign films as well.

Ah... there, now I feel all warm and cozy knowing that great movies can be made despite the risk-averse Hollywood mainstream that continues to churn out ripoffs, retreads and sequels.

(oops, sorry - just can't help myself sometimes.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All You Photoshop Geeks - Check Out New Content Aware Fill Tool

Wow - check out this demo of the upcoming Adobe Photoshop CS5 and the new Content Aware Fill Tool.

For any of you who have had to painstakingly recreate backgrounds for areas where you had to remove something, prepare to weep at the ease at which this new tool gets the job done.  I know I've spent many an hour Clone-Stamping walls, floors, skies, etc after a client asked to "just move that couch over there...".

Of course you do realize this also means we're all out of a job, because you know, I used to be able to actually bill for those hours of work.

Oh well, progress marches on...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reality TV Wreckage

A few years ago, both my wife and I started watching what we thought was a more "high-brow" variety of reality-tv - shows on Discovery, TLC, Food Network (you know, the educational channels), that focused on real-life families and their unique jobs or circumstances.  I got hooked on American Choppers both for its how-to look at custom chopper building (something I knew nothing about), and for its fascinating examination of the antics of the Teutul family.  My wife closed in on Jon & Kate Plus 8, a peek into the "wow, thank goodness that isn't us" world of newborn sextuplets and the harried lives of Jon & Kate as they struggled to get through each day.

Let's not kids ourselves, we knew we weren't watching PBS, but at least it seemed a little better than a night with The Bachelor, or Temptation Island.  The shows appeared to be a watered-down version of the premise of the highly acclaimed "Up" series of films (7 Up, 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, etc.) that followed the lives of 14 typical British youth and examined them every seven years - providing insights into not only their individual lives, but complex societal issues of race, class and the human condition.

However, a strange thing started to happen to both our little "slice-of-life" shows. What began as a peek inside a custom chopper garage soon became a parade of logos, as Paul Sr. and the boys began assembling bike after bike for Intel, Gillette, HP, and other corporate clients. Curiously, that struggling Gosselin family of 10 suddenly got a bigger van and a bigger house and vacations to Disney World and ski trips to Utah.

And then all hell broke loose.  As the people on the shows became more successful, as their lives got easier, their homes bigger and their bank accounts fuller, they began to tear at each other like rats in a cage.  Eventually it became clear that the shows were no longer about ordinary people and their daily lives - what we were watching were extraordinary insights into how media attention itself affects the average person, and the seemingly inevitable downfall that follows.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Teal and Orange - Part 2

Wow, my last post started a little wildfire... who knew?

In an effort to clarify and distill my argument down to it's purest form I will ask just one question (and I will even eliminate Transformers 2 from my debate since it's such an easy target).

Can ANYONE justify the aesthetic choice behind the color grading in this image:

Does it help to convey the key aspects of these characters, or their relationship?  Does it elucidate the major themes of the movie?  Does it support the mise en scĂ©ne of the image?

Or perhaps, since this is a comedy after all, you may say that it simply makes the scene funnier.


Does it make it funnier than say, this?

Or this?

Or this?

Or how about this?

Now you may say, "Well, that look doesn't need any justification, any more than the looks of the scenes you chose - it is just a pleasing look that makes the actors "pop" from the background."

The problem with that argument is that all these other scenes have a very naturalistic look (except Young Frankenstien of course) that does nothing to distract the viewer from the key elements of the scene - namely, the actors, the delivery of their lines, and their comic actions.  To me, the preternaturally vibrant orange and teal of the scene from Hot Tub Time Machine completely distracts me from anything else going on.

And that is simply bad filmmaking.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness

Those of you who watch a lot of Hollywood movies may have noticed a certain trend that has consumed the industry in the last few years.  It is one of the most insidious and heinous practices that has ever overwhelmed the industry.  Am I talking about the lack of good scripts?  Do I speak of the dependency of a few mega-blockbuster hits to save the studios each year, or of the endless sequels and television retreads?  No, I am talking about something much more dangerous, much deadlier to the health of cinema.


This is the insidious practice of color-grading every movie with a simplified, distilled palette of teal and orange like this:

Or this:

Or this:

So how did we get here, you may ask. Well, it's a sad and sordid tale my friend, the combination of new digital technology and a good idea gone bad.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spook Hunt Scenes 2 and 3

Here's a rough cut of scenes 2 and 3 with a first pass of color-grading.  At the end of Scene 3, we really start to get into the meat of the film!

Spook Hunt Scenes 2 and 3 from Todd Miro on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spook Hunt - Scene 3 notes

Now this was a fun shoot - the first time we got to sneak around in the dark and really get into some of the core elements of the movie.

On the set were the usual suspects: myself; Charles Yoakum and Rob Sandusky as, well... Charles and Rob; Director of Photography Rob Weiner,  and his son Ben to help out; also with us was Eduardo Silva, a great cameraman himself and jack of all trades who recently finished shooting a fantastic looking indie comedy, Not Quite College.

As always, our main camera was the Canon 7D, this time with a zoom lens to facilitate quick setups.  We used a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 which we rented from - a great resource that fedexed the lens right to my doorstep!  We were wide open on the lens the whole time, at ISO 800.

Our lighting rig consisted of the following:

1 flashlight.

Yup, that's it.  I really wanted the look of a pitch black house with just one light source constantly creating new looks - sometimes silhouettes, sometimes bounced light of the walls or ceilings, sometimes pitch black.


I wanted to blacks to go absolute black because I'm trying to build a sense within the viewer that anything could come out of the shadows at any time.

For audio we had Charles and Rob on wireless lavs which were sent to the Zoom H4n.  We also used another Zoom as a prop (their recording device for catching disembodied sounds or EVPs), and had that rolling as well.  I always like to have two sound recording devices going as you never know when one will fail during the best take.  The wireless lavs are great but occasionally pick up random RF hits, so I can always go to the handheld Zoom as a backup for that reason.

The other camera in this sequence (and for the rest of the movie) is a Sony HDR-CX12 with the infrared NightShot turned on.

The camera is setup with a wide-angle lens, and an additional IR light.  It shoots Hi-Def video at 1080i and then records AVCHD (a flavor of H.264) to Sony MemoryStick cards.  Unfortunately I found out late in the game that my old G5 can't read the files directly (it needs an Intel-based Mac for that), so eventually I found this little utility - VoltaicHD - which will convert the files to ProResHQ Quicktime movies for me to be able to use within Final Cut.

This camera is a prop also - it is the POV cam that the actors will use for the rest of the movie as they move around in the dark trying to solve the mystery of the sound Charles recorded.  I will use this shot whenever I need to show something that the Canon 7D can't pick up, and also when I want to build the tension by seeing their faces and putting the audience right there with them in the moment.

One thing when working with an IR camera is that... oh yeah, it can see in the dark!  Now this may seem obvious, but it is still easy to forget this basic point.  Everyone and everything should be cleared off the set - standing back in the shadows is not good enough.

Oops - Ben is in the shot.  I should have realized this during the shoot but didn't see it until playback.

Overall the shoot went very well, we worked very quickly, and everyone got to go home early - (a bonus when everyone has already worked a full day on their jobs and has families to go back to).  Thanks again to everyone on the shoot - we're about 1/3 of the way through the script and I'll be posting a rough cut of scenes 2 and 3 soon, so be sure to check back next week.