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Nongregarious Nomenclature

Big news up first… ACCIDENTAL ART is now officially a Top Ten Finalist in the OPENFILM.COM “GET IT MADE COMPETITION 2”. My little film will be viewed by film legends James Caan, Robert Duvall, Mark Rydell, and the no-so-legendary-but-equally-important Scott Caan. As much as this surprise hit me, I have no prayer of actually winning. The other 9 films are so good, there’s not much chance for us. It’s truly an honor to have gotten this far along.

It is quite miraculous to have gotten into the Top Ten. At least 1 cast member and about half the crew never even voted on the movie (yeah, ‘go team’). To get 1 of 3 siblings and my own mother to vote took more effort than it does to get someone to vote in an election year.I have no idea when they are going to announce a winner. It may be a week or a month or the contest may decide “eh” and not do it. Who knows? Not me. No one’s gonna hand out $500,000 without a great deal of consideration.I was on a shoot when the news came. Doing the hefty 12+ hour work days and digitizing at night for someone else’s enormous multimedia project would have been the perfect distraction if I hadn’t made the Top Ten. Instead, actually GETTING into it was a distraction for my work ethic and all the emails and phone calls that ensued.

The short film version of ACCIDENTAL ART is also going to play at the Detroit Independent Film Festival next month. I don’t even remember entering it, but I sent so many DVD’s out that it wouldn’t surprise me if there are still 2-3 more fests that got the movie.Back to the grindstone of working on FRAMELINES and the re-tooling of BITTER OLD MAN… More soon, my pretty acolytes.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Feb 15, 2011 at 9:02:44 pm

A Vassal for the Verbose

Okay, so the OPENFILM.COM competition initially said they were going to announce the top 10 and winners on Feb 8th, then changed it to 2 of the top 10 per day for 5 days starting on Feb 9th (today) and the winner of the whole contest later. Eh, I got a lot on my plate so my patience can take it. I don’t think I won. There were so many great films in the contest, most of the comparable or better than ACCIDENTAL ART. With the guy who did IRON BABY and all of his films not only in the contest, but the first one to be announced as a Top 10 finalist (even though his movie only ranked 2 stars out of 5, but most likely due to cheaters since it was a rocking good movie), means no need to get my hopes up – we ain’t beating someone of that caliber.

We shot a new establishing shot for Bitter Old Man yesterday. Mike McNeese came out with his Canon 7D DSLR and a tripod 36” dolly thing and I wiped the screen to make the new transition into the original footage. It was snowing hard, a crazy business owner complained at us for “being on his property”, even though the sidewalk is public property, but we got ‘er done. The Derek was there. He was AC on the original shoot and AC’d this shoot too. He thanked me for making him feel like in 10 years he hasn’t progressed at all on the crew totem pole. The Derek’s presence on this shoot was for more for sentimental reasons than any practical ones.

I did not permit myself to do any real work on BITTER OLD MAN until I finished episode 3 of FRAMELINES before I left to do a bigger shoot. I wrapped up the 3rd episode last night before doing laundry and packing for the shoot. I will most likely tinker next week when this shoot is over, but it’s done enough for closed captioning and review by the stations. I want to work on this short and get my laundry list of new FX and tweaks done, but patience prevails.

I did however re-do the opening and end titles. I added a more appropriate “style” to them. I could do those at home over the weekend where I no longer prefer to do any film work. Depending on the outcome of this short and if I can make the FX as top notch as I WANT them to be; Bitter Old Man might warrant an expenditure on film festival entries and I can start anew on a festival run on yet another short film.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Feb 9, 2011 at 10:56:14 am

A Regrettable Recompense

So as I stated in my last blog, I’m revisiting my short film BITTER OLD MAN for the 10 year anniversary of that work. We (meaning Alex the Intern) have made the picture lock of the current edit, which technically is not a “re-edit” since we selected all the same takes (except 1 I think). Once I started down this dark path, a snowball turned into a miniature avalanche of ideas.

Firstly, the impetus was to update the FX work at the end of the piece. There are only 9 shots total, and of those, only 6 are from different takes and angles. Not that much work, but I wanted to take some decent time and put forth all that my skills had to offer. As I formulated a game plan for the workflow, I decided to put the call out to a friend who is an amazing artist/conceptual designer.

If I’m going to do this, why do it all myself when I can make the work much better than what I can do alone? So I have some matte paintings in the works now that might take a full 2 weeks to come in, especially in layers so I might add some virtual camera movement and have parallax motion in those shots. I am applying my current aesthetics and attitude towards work. I’m a lot more of a perfectionist now than I did 10 years ago. I strive for more quality over quantity/speed than I did before. Rather than rush to get it done because I am excited; I slow down and push my own expectations higher.

Another first for me will be to do a 5.1 surround mix on this. In the last 10 years my audio editing experience has increased so as I heard several sound and noise works that had to be done; I figured why not challenge myself and do a full short film in 5.1? I had tested a title sequence in 5.1 a few months ago to learn the basic tools, but I have no attempted to do an entire piece this way. Placing voices and sounds in a 3 dimensional space sounds like fun and a challenge.

Looking at the piece today, the opening two shots, the exterior of a building were subpar by my standards. Even though this existed in standard definition, and the HD is only an uprezzing of the original files, these two shots did not pass muster. Seeing the next shot is a nice dolly going left to right, I have decided to re-shoot the establishing shots as a dolly shot and I’ll wipe on a car passing to transition into the piece. Now I’m reshooting an element for the movie too.

So what was originally supposed to be a 5-6 hour simple hobby job is now going to take the better part of a month in my spare time. I will be much more satisfied in the end, but I really don’t like looking backwards into the past, but this piece warrants the extra special attention. BITTER OLD MAN delves quite a bit deeper into serious issues and the acting stands up to my raised bar for performances.

I cannot figure out exactly what is motivating this inside my head and heart. What drives me into thinking about this a lot, in that obsessive “must do it!” mode? I do not know. All I do know is that my subconscious mind into that creative zone and the muse visits me a lot more often when I’m awake, asleep, and in between. Never neglect the sweet voice of inspiration when she whispers to you. NEVER.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Feb 4, 2011 at 6:57:08 pm videocopilot, bitter old man

George Lucas Junior

With all that I’ve got going on, do I really need to look into the past and re-visit a 10 year old short film? Apparently, yes I do. I was in the shower, naked as I usually am, and it occurred to me that yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of shooting my short film BITTER OLD MAN, a harsh take on racism. I thought about how in the last 10 years I have advanced quite a bit with FX work and how the FX in this film, particularly the greenscreen work, was pretty dated and horrible.

The problem is that I did not have the master files anymore. They have been deleted for 9 years or so. At the time that I edited this film, we shot in true 16x9 widescreen, but my master copy was a letterboxed version of that in 4:3 which does not look good uprezzed to HD (or even SD). The project files are so old and using proprietary codecs and hardware that are not remotely usable by today’s standards. Why on earth would anyone want to have an anamorphic widescreen version of the movie? It's not like TV's will be rectangular in the future, or a 16x9 aspect ratio....16x9 originated standard definition uprezzes so much better to HD than 4:3 (old TV shaped material) that it is almost worthwhile to re-do this edit just for that, but what I am capable of today with greenscreen and visual FX far surpasses what I could do 10 years ago.

Armed with tutorials and product from VIDEOCOPILOT.NET and we have the makings of an epic DO OVER. It also doesn’t hurt to have an Intern to digitize the footage and the mandate to re-edit the short from scratch. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, as it is a 10 year old movie. I just think that if I modernized the FX for the end sequence, it might find a new life.

It’s an important work to me. Bitter Old Man is about a more modern racist, someone who doesn’t mind his son dating an African American woman, but it somehow crosses a line to marry one, has current overtones. It is especially relevant in the Obama years, where old prejudices seem to have been reignited.

I did NOT base this on my own father at all. He’s not racist. I based it on a friend I knew after High School in that other worldly time before going to college, a guy we nicknamed “Skid”. I took several real life conversations we had and morphed it into this script. I felt a father-son relationship was more interesting to explore dramatically. Movies aren’t real life. Shocking, but true. I like nudging something real into the realm of fiction. It just makes for better storytelling.

So between finishing 6 more episodes of Framelines for a deadline, a shoot in San Diego, on top of whatever commercial work finds its way in front of me, I have decided THIS is how I should spend my free time. I need to go to the GEORGE LUCAS SUPPORT GROUP and stop tinkering with my old movies.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Jan 28, 2011 at 10:14:54 pm

The Return of Horrors of War II : the Wrath of Hitler’s Finger

It seems I can never escape my first film. HORRORS OF WAR just popped up in Sweden. All new DVD art, and without any notice to the producers, directors, or anyone else. The new cover art is obviously inspired by Inglourious Basterds, but pretty darn cool. SEE PIC BELOW

Along with this surprise DVD release that no one thought to tell me about, I also received an email from someone in the UK who bought the DVD. Now this became interesting if for no other reason than the interesting content of the note.

I live in the U.K and films are my life. I own over 500 dvds and still have over 300 vhs video tapes stored away in a cupboard. I love any kind of film from comedys, action, thrillers, mysterys,sci-fi and horror films are my favorite. My wife brought me this film for my birthday last year but it was titled Zombies of War and when I opened it I could not wait to watch it as I love zombie films. That night we watched it together and to be honest we both thought it was a pretty bad movie, the sound and picture was bad and the story kinda jumped from one thing to another. I didn’t really get it and the film felt like it went on forever.

Now I have not sent you an email to bash the film, quite the opposite. I'm sending you this to say well done. I have read all the posts about this film on IMDB and while I agree with most I was really surprised to see that you were on there responding to the messages. I have never seen that from a director,actor or producer before and I have to say it was pleasing to see that you and the people who worked on the film went on there to not only defend the film but not to get all shitty about the negative response from the posters. You answered all the posts with a very positive attitude and I salute you and your crew for that. I can imagine how hard it is to make a film with all the time and effort and money that goes into it all and if you don’t make a great movie then you can still hold your head up high knowing that they are selling and renting copies of the film around the world and you can say I MADE THAT. Not many people can say they have made a film and had it released on dvd so well done to you. I will continue to follow your work and hope that one day you will have a blockbuster on your hands.Im sure if you keep working hard it will happen for you.

As I say movies are my life so I will give anything a watch and if you ever do any filming in the U.K and need any extras I would love to help.

Much like the mixed signals in the email, I have mixed emotions. I am quite proud of the movie HORRORS OF WAR, but it also resides as a perpetual pain in my ass. I failed critically and artistically with my own intentions for the film. We did better than 95% of indie films made in that we got distribution and my feature film is available at Blockbuster, Netflix, and as well as in over a dozen countries. We put money back into the investor’s hands, which even fewer independent films ever do.

As for IMDB, I’m not famous or even infamous. I have the time to go and respond to my critics on the Internet Movie Database. Being polite and respectful of dissenting opinions is just a common courtesy. Grown ups realize that not everyone will like your work and you have to accept that and learn to live with it. I respect this guy's opinions and criticisms, even the ones I don't agree with. If by some miracle I shoot a movie in the UK (very unlikely), then he's more than welcome to take part.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Jan 23, 2011 at 3:08:50 pm

Compensable Competition

I have entered Accidental Art into this competition online from called “Get It Made”. Basically, after the one month voting period, they select the top ten films based on votes and the editors picks and then an “advisory board”, which includes Robert Duvall, James Caan, Mark Rydell, and Scott Caan, select the grand prize winner. The grand prize includes a $500,000 financing “package”, that I can assume is part cash and part in kind services and equipment rental donations from sponsors. I put Accidental Art into the fray to see what happens. I’m a big believer in math. Simple math cannot be refuted. There are a little over 100 entries in this contest. Already, a 1 in 100 chance is better than most film festivals or contests, but take into account that several of the entries are not going to be on the same level of cinematography or story, and the odds get better. Also factoring in that the subtle rule of the contest states that the short film itself has to be expandable into a feature film, and Accidental Art fits in like a glove, whereas many of the best entries are not really adaptable into features.I am hopeful, but there are always X-factors. In virtually ALL internet based contests there is a degree of cheating or at the least highly unethical means of trying to win. I abhor these acts and will not lower myself to do things like vote down all the movies with 1 star whilst giving my own 5 stars. It’s already happened with this contest where I noticed that my film suddenly dropped in status and with all my marketing, I have only just recovered with over 50 people I personally know genuinely going out there and voting my movie up. There are of course the enemies. People who have had issues with me in the past who are more than happy to go out and vote my movie down, not because of any artistic merit, but simply out of pettiness and jealousy. Again, it’s all in the math. The good votes will outweigh the bad, and I have to accept the causality; I made mistakes and have to pay for them. Part of my marketing strategy entails adding the links to all my downloads pages (check), posting on film related websites (check), and emailing family and friends (check). I have to find some other ways to promote at the end of the month as the competition wraps up, but I’m also in heavy post production on the TV series FRAMELINES for PBS as well as day job work. Time is not my friend.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Jan 13, 2011 at 12:10:15 pm

Sedintary Streak

Today we shot the intros for 7 episodes of Framelines, plus an interview for another “On Location” segment. We have a deadline staring down at us and a ton more work than I thought. I made a board with an index card for each segment, listing who is in it, what part of Ohio the story pertains to, and then line them up with the type of segment it gets categorized to. I wanted to see where we were at with everything we’ve shot so far. This made for an easy viewing for organization. If I wanted to make sure we didn’t have two Cleveland stories up against each other, or we didn’t want to see any one person in two concurrent episodes, we could simply re-arrange the cards before we even get into editing.We have 3 people editing on the show between myself, Scott, and Alex the Intern. Usually Alex does a first pass, then Scott does a B-Roll pass, then I clean it all up and setup a whole show. We’re preparing 8 episodes running 26 minutes and 46 seconds each. That’s like 2-3 documentary feature films we have to edit in less than 7 weeks for delivery. And we haven’t finished shooting the roundtables discussions and featured filmmakers for these episodes. Today was a milestone because we did get the Host, Dino Tripodis, on tape in front of Ye Olde Green Screen for making the introductions for each segment and episode. I am sooooo glad we tested the pilot episode with audiences at things like INDIECLUB in Columbus and Cleveland. Tiffany Arnold had the best suggestion and we are including clips from the movies we are featuring to make it more palatable for the general audiences. We need to help let the audience know more about the material we are featuring.I also re-edited the pilot episode today to include the newly recorded theme music from Parker Wiksell, which fits like a glove. I will replace the VIMEO video tomorrow with the new music so people can give it a whirl. I foresee mucho stress over the next 2 months. Goodbye weekends!

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Jan 4, 2011 at 4:11:06 pm

Editorial Bliss

Should you edit your own movie? This is a question I think needs to be asked more often. Some of the great directors never edit their own films and others do. Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez famously edit their own material, as does James Cameron, but he usually is on a team of editors with him. Steven Spielberg never edits his own films and relies on Michael Kahn as he has for 35 years with only 2 exceptions in his feature film career. Why would you want to work with an editor?I cite as an example a single scene from Star Wars A New Hope from 1977. The scene where Luke and the droids are sitting with Ben Kenobi in his house. In the script and in the shoot, the scene started with R2D2 showing off the hologram of Princess Leia saying “Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi” and then they talk about the Clone Wars. Do you remember this scene? During post production, editor Paul Hirsch looked at this and told George “I don’t think this is right. You have the princess begging for help and saying her ship was under attack, and THEN you have Ben and Luke talking casually about his father and going on about historical things. I think we need to reverse this because once you see this hologram, they need to be in a hurry and get on with the story…” and George agreed. As a writer/director, sometimes you are so close to the material you lose sight of how the audience will view it. Simple mistakes like this might slip past the goalie if you are creating in a vacuum. Paul Hirsch won an Oscar ™ for Star Wars by the way…Editing is the process of possibly fixing mistakes and re-motivating characters. It’s a 3rd chance, after the script (1st) and the shoot (2nd). They call editing the Final Re-Write for a reason.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Jan 3, 2011 at 11:58:51 amComments (1)

The Crescent Curve of Popular Culture

The girlfriend and I are re-watching the entire Battlestar Galactica recent series on Blu Ray, the gift that keeps on giving. We even placed the two straight to DVD movies in their proper place, chronologically. By complete accident, I saw an original series episode on one of the new sub-channels for digital broadcast and I was struck by how different the two series are, if for no other reason than the aesthetic tastes of today versus 30 years ago.I was a huge fan of the original BSG. Meeting Richard Hatch a few weeks ago was great because he was a childhood hero. He bridges the gap because he was on both series. Even then, one of the things we talked about was how they gave him not just a throw away cameo, but a real character with depth that provided an acting challenge. So far (as we’re only at the beginning of Season 3 of BSG) the most striking difference between the old series and the new series is in the character of Baltar. In the original series, the part was of a guy who betrayed the human race. Why? Just because. He was the bad guy. Like the flaw in a lot of TV shows and movies from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s, there was no motivation or complications. The old adage “the villain is the hero of his own story” somehow got forgotten. In the new incarnation of this same character, we have a man who is rich in motivations, very real in intent, and relatable in his complexities. To show a person offered choices and making the wrong ones based on selfishness is a bit more “realistic” and relatable which exemplifies why the show Battlestar Galactica garnered so much acclaim in its current incarnation.Since the 1990’s, we’ve experienced a surge in anti-heroes. Batman really is more of the Dark Knight when comparing the 1966 Batman to the 1989 and now to the 2008 version. That trend began with the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel by Frank Miller in the late 80’s but that realistic and very adult version didn’t start to appear on screen until 2008, and even then in ways for more down to Earth than imagined. In popular culture we’re in a phase of “realism” and it’s even bled over into our fantasy worlds because the audience demands as realistic as possible effects and worlds like Lord of the Rings and Avatar provided. The goal remains to engage the audience by making something relatable to their own experience, no matter how fat fetched or deeply imaginative like aliens or robots or goblins. In the 1950’s it was about the big spectacle movies, period costume dramas and big musicals. By the late 1960’s the pendulum swung back to realistic movies, like EASY RIDER and it ushered in a decade of similar such movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and MEAN STREETS. Then George Lucas came in with STAR WARS and ushered in another several years of big fantasy. Everything is cyclical, but even the current trend of big fantastical movies have a more “realistic” edge; trying to appease both sides.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 30, 2010 at 8:52:58 am

Arthur (1981)

I recently rewatched a movie from my youth that I had seen countless times on videodisc (RCA’s analog video equivalent to the LP) and also on cable. I hadn’t seen ARTHUR with Dudley Moore in over 20 years. Lately, many films from my youth do not stand up to the scrutiny or aesthetics of what I like to see today, whilst a precious few still hold up or even find much deeper meaning in my elder days. Arthur had deeper meanings and even a few great lessons for filmmakers. I even named my cat from a line of dialogue from this movie “Can we name our first child Vladimir, boy or girl?” There are several major plot points that happen off screen. ** SPOILER ALERT ** When Sir John Gielgud’s Hobson dies; it occurs off screen and is probably more effective being that the audience filled in the blanks. It’s a rookie filmmaker mistake to always SHOW or SAY what’s happening. The audience deserves more credit for thinking. Sadly, this movie has been remade with Russell Brand as the titular character and Helen Mirren as the butler. I don’t see how they can contextually make the scenes of blatant drunk driving and other aspects of alcoholism charming as they were 29 years ago, before becoming such serious and unfunny as they are today.I can’t wait for this era of remakes and unoriginality to end. The cycle of bland, tasteless movies grates my eyes. I recently watched the 2007 UK movie (directed by Frank Oz though) dark comedy DEATH AT A FUNERAL, that was remade in less than 3 years. It was a wonderful and brilliant comedy and as suggested by Alex the Intern (May he rest in peace) as a great tonal comparison to what I want to do with Accidental Art.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 20, 2010 at 12:22:00 pm

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