Feb 29, 2012

Chasing Dreams

One of the things that really struck me after watching so many different movies leading up to the Oscars was how many different types of filmmakers there are.  It's a broad field I know, but stick with me.  Especially with the speeches you could sense how everyone had been pursuing that moment, to win an Oscar as a form of validation. Somehow things had come together and they'd fulfilled a childhood ambition.

I'm always giving myself a hard time about enjoying where I'm at, while forcing myself to keep an eye on what I want to achieve ahead.  It's more frustrating now than it was just a few years ago, because for maybe the second or third time in my entire life I can honestly say that I don't know what I want.  I don't know if I want to move, I don't know if I want different jobs, I don't know if I want a serious relationship.  All I can say is that I want improvement or growth of some kind. I also really want to feel that sense of achievement again.  The kind where you really surprise yourself.

The funny thing is that where I'm at now would've been a dream come true four years ago when I was still in film school.  The differences are huge, and I'm proud of that.  But I also felt the pressure back then to make something happen.  Now it's more a debate over becoming too comfortable.

Reading all of these articles about filmmakers, actors, and editors over the last few weeks, it's not the work I'm envious of - it's the stories.  I feel like I need to find myself in the middle of a good one right about now. I need a refresh but I'm not quite sure where to begin.

Feb 26, 2012

2012 Oscar Flicks

With nine best picture nominees this year, I was hopeful (as I usually am) that I'd come across at least one film that would blow me away.  For the first time in years though, I've been left confused by the selections made.  It was an interesting year in movies, but as it turns out, some of the best Oscar nominees I watched this year were all in the acting categories - go figure.

Here's my take on the Best Picture nominees for the 2012 ceremony.

The Artist
This picture seems to have the strongest contention for taking home the award, and even though I thought it was a charming film, is a picture based on a gimmick really that deserving?  Yes, the silent film aspect is interesting, but it's an homage, not a representation of what a Best Picture should look like in 2012.  That said, it also negates all of the impact and complexity that comes from having sound.  I truly believe a Best Picture, in addition to being a great movie, should be more representative (especially in technical terms) of the time in which it was made.

The Descendants
I really loved this movie.  It was funny, heartwarming, and not too overstated.  George Clooney and director Alexander Payne delivered a great character piece about holding on to the past while being locked into a future that is determined to change.  My only concern is that there were parts of it that still felt too light to really make it a serious contender.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I went into this movie with high expectations for an emotional story about a father and son, what I got was the story of a kid incapable of showing genuine emotion in a sea of people who could.  I really disliked this movie because it willingly destroyed a great soul searching adventure with a character who lacked depth and relatability.  You can read my complete review on this one here

The Help
The performances here were strong, but the message seemed a bit misguided.  I think Emma Stone is a great actress, but her character actually robbed 'the help' of standing up for themselves in a story about race relations.  Not a bad movie, but certainly not the best.

I was surprised by this one because of how unlike a Martin Scorsese picture it seemed. It is a children's movie I suppose, but that combination alone raises an eyebrow.  In any case, I liked Hugo a lot.  The nods to film history and early silent shorts in among the elaborate ongoings of a Paris train station were fun to watch.  I like movies about exploring and discovery, and this was a good one.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's nod to great writers was also a pleasant surprise.  It was playful and humorous, and it kept you looking forward as Owen Wilson's character whimsically stumbled onto big names of the past.  I think I have a soft spot for this one because I went to see it at the Monarch with my folks.  That said, if I were recommending Woody Allen films I'm not sure that this one would be in my top five.

I liked this movie, but it was also a bit cold.  Despite the acting nominations for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, the whole thing felt a bit too rigid and structured.  Most of the film even takes place in offices.  It was interesting, but not what I would have thought a Best Picture nominee to be.

The Tree of Life
I give the Academy a lot of credit for nominating a film as experimental and esoteric as this.  The lack of a traditional story is made up for with beautiful imagery and I actually found myself thinking about how fun it would have been to edit.  It still feels a  bit misplaced for a Best Picture, but I'd be surprised if it didn't take home the award in cinematography.

War Horse
Spielberg's WWI epic seemed reminiscent of Best Pictures of the past.  It was grand, but it was also slow.  While I think Spielberg is awesome, I felt like I'd seen this kind of picture too many times before, right down to the Gone With the Wind style sunset to close out movie.  

So all that said, who will win?  Well, your guess is as good as mine.  I'd say that the Artist probably has the best chance, but if I were voting I'd personally go for Hugo or the Descendants.  

Other (and in some instances better) nominees to check out include, My Week With Marilyn, Beginners, The Ides of March, and of course, Bridesmaids.

Feb 24, 2012

Movie Nights

Last week Andrea and I went to see Chronicle at the Cineplex.  We've actually been to the theatre more regularly over the last few weeks than we've been in a long time because we've been checking out Oscar flicks.  Chronicle wasn't one them.  However, it was actually a lot better than some of the nominees I've seen this year.

What I've actually come to appreciate more over these last few weeks has been the joy of going to the movies during the week again.  It's pretty relaxed, not very busy, and it's nice to feel up to date on a few new releases for a change.  What's been disappointing is the lack of nominees actually in the theatre though.  It seems like a lot of them came and went in a week, and if you weren't glued to the listings you missed them.

You'd think that a lot this could be made up for online, but given the release dates of a lot of these pictures, it seems like they're in limbo between the theatre and DVD.  On top of this, there are no video stores around anymore to rent from, which just last year provided an easy way to grab a few movies for the weekend.  It's kind of annoying to try and work through a checklist of nominated films that no one can actually see until after the telecast, but I suppose this is nothing new. 

Movie nights are still a lot of fun of course, but the Oscars are this weekend and I still have more flicks that I haven't watched on my nominees list than I've ever had in years past. Go figure that it would actually become more challenging to try and see all of these movies with all of the options available.  

Have you seen any of the nominees this year? Any favorites? I haven't been that excited about many of them if I'm completely honest.     

Feb 23, 2012

16mm Revere Film Projector

This week it finally arrived.  After a month of casually browsing online I finally found a vintage 16mm projector that was both stunning to look at and in perfect working condition.  I purchased this 1952 Revere Model 48 silent film projector for $150.  Almost half of that was shipping costs, but even still, given its condition I have to say it was a steal at that price. 

You might be thinking that that's a lot to pay for a decoration, but that actually wasn't the motivation behind the purchase.  I have a box of 16mm projects that I shot in film school that I haven't seen since they were made.  Among these are a couple of animation shorts and a silent film that I shot with my friend Dave - the first thing either of us ever shot on film.  For the sake of preservation and my own nostalgia, I wanted to buy a projector so that I could record the footage and make digital copies of some of my early work.  I figured if I was going to the trouble anyway, I might as well buy one that would be pretty to look at afterwards.

The Revere projector also shipped with a spare lamp and an original 16mm WWII reel of an American army base and Japanese cities.  The film wasn't in great shape, but I was able to watch it along with a few of my own projects and it was a kick to say the least. The sound of the projector, the process of how to load it properly, and the flicker of my film school history projected across the room was a pretty amazing memory to rediscover. 

I can't wait to share some of these shorts in the near future, but in the meantime have a look at this cool piece of history that I've added to my collection.  

Feb 22, 2012

Snapshot Singapore: Part 3

Fleeting memories captured in split second snaps. We left Singapore with stories, incredible memories, and experiences that neither of us will soon forget.

Feb 21, 2012

Custom Filters and Video Filter Software

About a week ago I received this message:

Hi Luke,

I have been reading your blog daily as a result of my hobby of photography and video.  I am just a little older than you at 50 years old.  I have been off and on doing photography for a few years... My real question is how do you get that "old time" look to your videos.  When I watch them, I always seem to drift away and think I am watching films or home movies from the 50's or 60's.  I don't know how to explain the look I am seeing.  It is almost like a sepia or 8 mm look without the film scratches, etc.  Do you do post production filtering of some sorts?  I guess a better description would be, the videos remind me of early 50's documentary films with the dude with the tenor voice narrating...."Here we are at the Grand Canyon, Timmy can't seem to get enough of climbing rocks.  Even the donkeys join in"  I am sure you know what I am trying to say.  I use a Canon HF G10 HD camera for videos and love it.  My first video camera was a DVD mini disk, by Sony.  I still use it sometimes.  Anyways, enough of my ramblings.  Thanks for the videos and interesting read from your Blog.  Keep them coming. 


Don N.
St. Charles, Missouri

First things first, thanks for writing me the message, Don!  I always appreciate the feedback, and like I said when I first responded to you, your question seemed like a great topic for me to blog about and answer.

I've always been big on post-production filters and customizing them to create different looks.  As you noticed, vintage looks from the 50's on through the 80's have been a point of interest for me.  I actually wrote a post around a year ago (almost to the day as a matter of fact) about creating vintage filters that highlights some of my past experiments.  It's a good place to start if you want to get an idea of what some of these looks I'm talking about are.

I do all of my filters through either a combination of overlays created in Adobe Photoshop, or more recently, through the Magic Bullet Looks Builder as part of the Pinnacle and Avid Software that I edit with.  There are a wide array of presets to play with, and I've often used them as a jumping off point to create custom filters that best suit the look I'm after.

Another tool I use to build and customize filters is the proDAD VitaScene software (also available through upgraded packages with Pinnacle and Avid Studio).  What I love about this program is that it comes in handy for tinting your footage and it also gives you a lot of useful tools for text - like flares or glowing overlays for instance.

Creating filters that look fresh and professional is tough to achieve with presets though, so I almost never use them as is. Instead, I use the presets as templates to build upon. These programs make it easy to layer various filters, to adjust the aspects of each individual filter, and to manipulate your base footage all within small steps of one another.  It's really not a complicated process to play around with, but achieving the right balance for certain looks does take some fine tuning.

If you look at the edit I did for Backyard Bubbles, where I took some of my home video footage and gave it a vintage upgrade, you can see some of what I'm talking about. With this clip I applied very soft crushed edges to create more darkness in the corners, I upped the saturation, played down the contrast, and added a soft blur to take away some of the digital sharpness.  I remember there was a lot of tweaking to get the lighting correct, because it was easy to wash out or black out large portions of the footage.  And, just in case you're thinking I was using some fancy camera, this was shot on a $100 Flip Cam.

In short, pretty much every tool I use to edit video (both personally and professionally) is very affordable and easy to find.  The difference comes from experimenting and playing with what the options really are, and not just what they're presented as.  Digital video has made having a professional edit suite much simpler, and often professional looking results are possible with a less than professional budget.

I hope this helps - and presents some new challenges too!

Feb 20, 2012

ABCinema by Evan Seitz

This cool animation from Evan Seitz highlights the alphabet in cinema.  Twenty six iconic films have been singled out for you to test your own film knowledge.  I've randomly posted a few of my favorite stills from ABCinema below, and can happily say that I've seen every film Seitz used here.  Now how many of these movies do you recognize?