By Lance Weiler, November 30th, 2009

Editors note: Congratulations to Tom and the TNYP team on their Independent Spirit Award Nomination!

By Tom Quinn – In the fall of 2003 I began work on The New Year Parade with my co-producer, Steve Beal. Steve was a high school biology teacher with no film background and I was the building AV tech who would stop in at lunch to talk about my screenplay, which followed a South Philadelphia family through the first year of a divorce. It was loosely based on interviews I had filmed with friends about their parents’ divorces and set against the backdrop of Mummery, a centuries old tradition in South Philadelphia where the working class holds a parade on January first. The film concept was not entirely practical: in addition to the core cast we would need a hundred musicians in costume, thousands of extras, and permission to close Broad Street to film the parade sequences.



A Bit of History
mummersThe Mummers began strutting during pre-Revolutionary times and grew until the city organized an official parade in 1901. Popularity peaked in the 1960’s when thousands upon thousands would crowd the streets and bands like Quaker City and Ferko were nationally known. Like the rest of the country, the Mummers have been hit by hard times and the city was forced to cut funding in 2008. This past year, Philadelphia natives Kevin and Michael Bacon got involved with the Save the Mummers foundation www.savethemummers.com, organizing a Bacon Brothers benefit concert on December 5.

Lesson 1: Turn Your Perceived Weaknesses into Strengths

When Steve and I told friends about our script, they thought we were crazy: We had no money to speak of and could not afford seasoned actors, permits to shut down Broad Street, or props and costumes to create the parade. Inspired by Jim McKay’s Our Song we approached The South Philadelphia String Band to see if they would permit usage of their club and costumes for two weeks. Instead, we were welcomed in for three years as the band acted in the film; incorporated our cast and crew into rehearsals; gave us old costumes and keys to their club; and obtained press passes so we could shoot the 2005 Mummers parade with five cameras. Before we began shooting, I joined the Mummers’ Grapevine (a message board for members) and submitted sections of the script for feedback. We were also fortunate enough to work with The Quaker City String Band who acted as South Philadelphia’s chief competitor in the film. Because of the community’s endless support our film captures the Mummer world to an unprecedented degree.

Lesson 2: A Small, Dedicated Group Can Do Wonders

While we were fortunate to have a few professional young actors aboard, the majority of our cast had never acted before. To build the nonactors’ confidence we spent four months rehearsing and rewriting the script – shaping it to their personalities. Many scenes were shot as long improvisations, riffing off the screenplay while allowing the cast to tap into their own raw feelings and experiences. To keep our costs down, we filmed on nights and weekends over the course of three years while most of the team kept their full time jobs or were enrolled in school. This was a tremendous commitment for all involved – particularly the cast (who could not cut their hair for three years). For instance, Jennifer Welsh was in college and working full time while Greg Lyons moved to LA when his band Eastern Conference Champions was signed. Despite their busy schedules, the entire cast was professional and focused – always ready to perform, dress the sets, or pack up gear. Our crew was very small: typically the ever-talented Mark Doyle would run sound, light the set, set up the video monitor and occasionally act. Meanwhile, I shot and worked with the actors. On larger days we were lucky to have one or two extra hands (including the extremely loyal PA Grant Gaudry), but the crew was never more than five. It was a wonderful atmosphere and really did feel like a family by the end.

Lesson 3: You Don’t Need $$$ to Connect With An Audience
By 2007, we had shot 160 hours of tape, including 80 hours of documentary footage of Mummer practices, parades, and concerts. Our cut was progressing slowly when we were accepted into the amazing IFP Narrative Rough Cut Lab. Coming off the Lab we hit the pavement with new momentum and premiered at Slamdance in 2008. To our surprise we were awarded The Grand Jury prize for Best Narrative and followed it up with a great week at SXSW and 7 additional festival awards. 2008 ended with a Gotham Award nomination for The Best Film Not Playing in a Theater Near You, which brought the film to MOMA for an exclusive run. All of this for a film that was shot on digital video for $7,000!

nyp

Lesson 4: Find Passionate Partners
Steve and I briefly considered a theatrical run to coincide with the 2009 parade, but knew our release would benefit from time to plan. Fortunately, Carnivalesque Films were interested in releasing a DVD. Carnivalesque is a fairly new independent label we’re pretty psyched about. They are releasing exciting independent work like Mardi Gras: Made in China, Orphans, and Woodpecker. Owners David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are both filmmaker friendly and very hard working. We decided on a November 24 release to coincide with “Mum Season” in Philadelphia and began work on the DVD design and content.

Lesson 5: Create a Final Product With Audience in Mind
Based on our festival experience we felt there were three core audiences who would buy the DVD: Aspiring filmmakers, Mummer fans, and family counselors. Our aim was to create a DVD they would want to own rather than rent so we created eighty minutes of bonus features we thought they would enjoy. For aspiring filmmakers, we shot interviews with most of the major cast and crew and cut a “Making Of” that is unusually detailed for a low-budget film. Our hope was that, by including footage of auditions, rehearsals, and deleted scenes, other filmmakers could learn from our successes and failures.

I spoke to the friends I interviewed before shooting the film, and they were all supportive of including their discussions on divorce. During our festival run we had met many family counselors who thought the film could be useful to their profession because it explored the problem in a realistic way. We also met so many wonderful people, from the 68-year old woman in Ashland, Oregon to the 20-year old in Torino, Italy who had experienced divorce first hand and connected to the characters’ experiences. My hope had always been to generate discussion about divorce because, while it is a topic we often consider understood, many people have unresolved feelings toward it.

Finally, we created a “Behind-The-Sequins” section of the DVD, which provides a glimpse into Mummery. Everywhere we have screened, people have wanted to know more about the Mummers. We reached out to The Mummers’ String Band Association, who provided oral history interviews they had taped. We included three that related to the film. We also shot a History of The South Philadelphia String Band as a thanks for all they had given. The short documentary piece covers the band from their inception in 1946 through present day and includes interviews with 14 members, including Jim Donaghy, who had been their highly respected captain for 30 years.

nyp dvd

For design, we turned to Matt Hanemann, a Philadelphia based designer and musician who had created our poster artwork. We both felt the design needed to be recognizable at a very small size as the DVD would often be a thumbnail online. Matt shifted the proportions from the poster concept to create greater emphasis on the title and created a beautiful back cover full of quotes and images. For the inside booklet, we used a photo from Charlie Roetz, a mummer from Quaker City String Band who tells the real story behind the photo in the film. Finally, we were fortunate to have Steven Rea, a respected critic with the Philadelphia Inquirer, write our liner notes.

Lesson 6: Theaters Will Work With You
To build awareness for the DVD release, Steve and I booked a theatrical run in Philadelphia through Landmark Theaters. We had reached out to Landmark in February and while they loved the film, they had concerns as to whether we could fill the theater for a week. Steve continued the conversation all summer while we simultaneously reached out to our press contacts in the Philadelphia area. Throughout our festival run, we had been contacted by reporters interested in a story, but we asked them to hold off until a release. We asked if they were still interested and went back to Landmark with confirmations from The Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, Daily News, and Philadelphia Weekly. In early October, they agreed to open the film on October 30 at their Ritz Bourse Theatre with five screenings per day. This all proved….

Lesson 7: Print is Not Dead
When Landmark first requested we buy an ad in The Inquirer we wondered whether that money could be better spent online. So much has been written in the past few years about the death of print and we did not have the funds to waste. Yet when it came time to premiere the film we found a very high percentage of our audience had discovered the film in print, despite a heavier online presence. The best answer I have is that the print audience is a paying culture and more likely to go to a theater and purchase a ticket whereas the online folks appear rabid at times, but may be more likely to wait for DVD on Amazon, Netflix, or bit torrent.

Lesson 8: Regional Filmmaking = Regional Release
Since we only had 4 weeks to promote and $300 left for P&A, Steve and I began work on a grassroots campaign to build awareness. We printed 200 mini-posters and I e-mailed the 18 string band presidents. Over the next 2 weeks I visited every club I could to talk directly to the members about our film. Meanwhile, Steve connected with Save The Mummers, who began promoting the run through their website (in exchange, we donated a portion of our Saturday night box). I also cut a new trailer geared toward the Philadelphia region, which featured the Vet and more obscure Mummer references. In the two weeks prior to the premiere our Facebook fans went from 220 to 2000! The excitement was electric!

Lesson 9: Free Beer Can’t Hurt
To kick off our run, Steve organized an event at Top Hat, a bar within walking distance to the theater who offered a free beer to each ticket holder. Then, 2nd Street Annie’s (owned by one of the Mummers in the film) offered a free drink to any ticket holder all week! Finally, we paired up with the amazing marketing agency 95 North, who sponsored a free happy hour mid-week! There, we projected bonus materials from the DVD, had a chance to meet fans of the film, and 95 North auctioned off free tickets to the screening! All of these events gave the audience a chance to interact with the cast and crew, and to meet other fans of the film.

Lesson 9: An Event Brings Press & People
nyp premiere

After a year of traveling without The South Philadelphia String Band we were thrilled to include them in the premiere. Nobody brings a good time like the Mummers and this was certainly the case as they piled off the bus to play outside the theater.

nyp crowd

Within minutes a crowd had gathered and was dancing in the street, cars were stopped, and the press showed up. Fox 29 interviewed me as the band played in the background, and then shared the footage with other area networks! Afterwards, three members from the band participated in the Q&A with the cast, allowing the audience to learn more about Mummery and their unique involvement in the film first hand.

Lesson 10: The Yankees Hate Independent Film
We knew from the get go it would be difficult to go up against Halloween, but never expected the Phils to be playing The World Series that weekend. It was tough competition, but fortunately our grassroots campaign paid off and Landmark extended the film for a second week! Word of mouth began catching on beyond the Mummer and art house crowd that second week and many new fans were disappointed the run ended before their friends could make it. All in all, the theatrical run brought in $6,766.50 on one screen and 1900 new Facebook fans just in time for the DVD release!

So Now What?
Our DVD was released through Carnivalesque Films this week and sales have been incredible! Netflix is backed up and word of mouth has been crazy good. We never expected any of this and are thrilled by the results. I’m especially grateful for the e-mails, hugs, and handshakes I’ve gotten from Mummers in Philadelphia thrilled to see their tradition respected and taken to a larger audience. Meanwhile, Carnivalesque has been helping with additional theatrical events. Next up is a week at Facets Cinematheque in Chicago from December 11 – 17.

When not wearing the many hats of distribution, I’ve begun working on a new screenplay set in the suburbs of Philadelphia where I can apply these 10 lessons. I look forward to learning 10 more.

Tom Quinn’s debut feature, The New Year Parade, was selected for the IFP Narrative Rough Cut Labs, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative at Slamdance, and was a Gotham Award nominee for “Best Film Not Playing in a Theater Near You.” Tom has been listed one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine and “Ten Young Writer-Directors to Watch,” by MovieMaker Magazine. He was fortunate to be the first American filmmaker accepted to the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab and is currently working toward his MFA at Temple University.

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Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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By lance weiler, September 12th, 2008

Tom Quinn reports – Last week, I had the honor of being the first American filmmaker to take part in the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab. I arrived in Toronto two days before the festival to meet 23 other young filmmakers from Canada and the UK, as well as lab producers Sandra Cunningham and Brad Fox of Strada Films.

The lab is intended as a workshop where beginning filmmakers can interact with seasoned veterans, focusing on the craft and the art of making films rather than the business. To oversee the week, the producers assembled a team of four “governors” who would run the discussions and act as constants. They were UK Producer/Director Stephen Woolley (Stoned, Breakfast on Pluto,The Crying Game), Canadian Actor/Writer/Director Don Mckellar (Last Night, Child Star, Blindness), French Writer/Director Olivier Assayas (Clean, Irma Vep, Paris Je T’aime), and New-York based director Alison Maclean (Crush /Jesus Son).

While the guest speakers were as varied as Brian DePalma, Fernando Meirelles, Samira Makhmalbaf, and the Dardenne Brothers, we often returned to the subject of directing actors, particularly nonprofessional or first time actors. As a low-budget filmmaker, I feel the craft of casting and building nuanced performances from first-time is most essential to my career. By learning to do so I can empower myself as a story teller and make the most of the means available to me.

Brian DePalma kicked off the week by reminding us to always be assertive; to seize every opportunity. He spoke of meeting young filmmakers who complained about their lack of money and studio attention, or worse, filmmakers who did not take charge of their own careers. DePalma feels that breakthroughs in video technology over the past 10 years has erased any lingering excuses. “If you can’t go get a digital camera and get some actors together,” he asked, “why are you here?” However, his best advice was regarding clear communication on set. “Be careful,” he told us, “Not with what you’re saying, but what they’re hearing. Red to one means blue to another.” Solid advice.

(more…)

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lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, August 31st, 2008

This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix – Hunter Weeks left a cubical job to embark on a filmmaking career and within a three years has completed two documentaries and is in post on a third. One of the core elements of his strategy is to mix a DIY production and distribution approach with a variety of promotional partners. Hunter and Josh Caldwell his producing partner, have structured numerous partnerships with brands that have created funds for production, post and distribution. In our discussion Hunter shares how he crafts his sponsorship / promotional deals, why he’s bypassing the festival circuit and how his newest doc 10 yards is being released for free online prior to hitting DVD on Sept. 30th.

For more on Hunter and 10 yards visit www.10yards.com

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lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, July 29th, 2008

Over the next few days we’ll be posting various videos from the DIY DAYS LA event. The day consisted of a number of keynotes (Robert Greenwald, Marshall Herskovitz), panels (Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting, Alex Johnson, Micki Krimmel, Mark Stolaroff, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks, Saskia Wilson-Brown), case studies (M dot Strange, Arin Crumley, Lance Weiler), a series of special video presentations (Matt Hanson, Brett Gaylor, Brian Chirls, Christy Dena, Timo Vuorensola) and a conversation with director Mark Pellington.

diy days M dot Strange, Hunter Weeks and Ondi Timoner – photo by Mike Hedge

The Realities of DIY
There’s been much discussion about the democratization of the tools but what’s really involved in taking your film from a concept to something an audience will pay to see? How can you fight your way through the clutter and what are the pitfalls to avoid when you decide to go it on your own?

Discussion Leader: Mark Stolaroff – panelists Arin Crumley, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks and M dot Strange.

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Posted in BTS DIYDays animation audience biz case study deals discussion distro diy doc dvd education event festivals funds how to narrative online panel podcast producing production promotion resource sponsorship tech theatrical tools tv web 2.0

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, April 8th, 2008

by Marc Lougee

:: Mini Cameras: Small, like Diamonds There’s much talk on and offline concerning the advent of mini camera’s used in stop motion animation, specifically when used in tandem with DSLR’s. Some folks love’em, some hate’em, but either way, they keep proving themselves useful, relatively inexpensive and hard to boot when faced with the alternative of shooting all day only to find yourself facing a re-shoot for lack of a decent preview. I’m a big fan of the mini cam and keep a couple in my toolbox all the time. Light weight, reasonably durable, replaceable lenses and output to various devices (like television monitors, VCR’s, etc) make these things handy. This is similar to the version we used;

mini-cam-image.jpg

Did I mention they’re pretty cheap, too? Low-light levels and high contrast tend to be good for the size as well. Most will come with a o.o5 rating for low light, but the best option is to go lower, like 0.03/ 0,02 at F1.8, for instance. Some research is in order to find the right camera/ lens combo for your particular use. Should you grow weary of using the mini cameras for animation, they’re imminently well suited to monitor the front door for pizza deliveries.

The Mini Camera is Go
Initially, we attached these mini-cams to the camera as a sort of parallax viewer, but found we could attach it to sit directly against the viewing glass on the rear of the D70s, allowing the animator to see a live feed from the set to the computer, via Frame Thief.

Several lenses are available for the Clover camera, providing a range of focal lengths. These are handy depending on individual shots, the DSLR viewfinder, preview requirements, etc. I bought a few sizes with to experiment, settling on the 16mm for the viewfinder / mini camera set up. You may need to experiment with a few of the lens sizes, to see what works best for you. The 16mm offered the best focus and contrast thru the D70s/ lens at smaller apertures settings, while fitting snug against the viewfinder glass. We eventually had an aluminum plate shaped to fit in to the flash mount atop the camera, on which the mini camera was mounted, holding it snug to the D70s viewing glass.

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Ghost in the Machine
As for process, it’s totally subjective. Ours went like this: Tweak/adjust/animate. Shoot reference frames (with Frame Thief); loop the sequence for playback/ review. Once satisfied with the animation progress, activate the Capture NX window and shoot/ capture the corresponding number of high resolution frames (using Capture NX), checking that these frames are directed to a dedicated file on the external hard drive ( as massive file storage on the Mac Mini would eventually bog it down). Once you’re satisfied Capture is storing your frames where you want them, re-activate the Frame Thief window and head back to the set, cleared for takeoff. Animate, review, capture, repeat.

Here’s a more linear breakdown of our workflow;

1. Animate, Capture low-res mini cam image to Frame Thief.
2. Capture high-res frame with Nikon Capture NX.
3. Store each shot to proper file destinations (ext. hard drive or 2 G Flash card).
4. Import RAW images into Adobe Photoshop CS2 (I use Adobe Light Room).
5. Convert to targas, uncompressed jpegs, or whichever file format needed for post.
6. Save to a new file, do effects work, rig removal, compositing, etc.
7. Re-size the images as 1920 x 1080 pixels (the RAW files will be far larger)
8. Save the shot as a targa sequence.
9. Drop targa sequence in to FCP HD for editing.
10. Export as uncompressed QuickTime, or whichever format you desire.

Since Capture NX numbers incoming files sequentially, it was easy to batch convert entire shot sequences at a time, keeping everything in sequence. Of course, here is where you could use (low-res) versions of the shots for cutting into the animatic with iMovie HD. I find it useful to show everyone how the shots are cutting together by reviewing the animatic inter cut with approved shots. This helps everybody stay amped by gauging progress as animatic sketches are replaced with finished animation. It’s cool to see the film being built this way and makes shot approval fast and efficient. Equally handy is a 2 Gig memory stick to move shots from one animation station to another, allowing access to the completed shots for perusal. I’d wander around, load up the latest stuff onto the shooting stations between shots and voila! We’re all on the same page.

Another option is to use 2 Gig Flash cards to store the high-res frames in the camera body, unloading these from the card at end of day, or when it’s full, dependent on your output. I like the idea of the card storage on large jobs, with several shoots happening simultaneously (series television, for instance), but it can bog down an individual with much to do beside downloading cards during the day. My preference is storing frames to external hard drive(s), then burning a back-up DVD data disc at end of day. This keeps the hard drive in place and you walk with the DVD. Pro’s and con’s abound either way, so see what works for you.

DSLR = Small Rigs
The relatively small size of the DSLR make it conducive to rigging. Traditional camera moving equipment can be big, bulky and heavy, often proving counterintuitive to small sets and puppets and potentially making access to puppets for animation a back- breaking affair. Foregoing the heavy equipment approach, set builder Adam Weir made a few very simple wood & PVC pipe camera mounts that were small, light and yet strong enough to secure the DSLR and lens combination. These cool little rigs could handle pan and tilt, as well as provide a sturdy support for tracking shots. The small size of the cameras and mounting rigs enabled extreme close ups with wide-angle lenses without impeding access to the puppet for animation. There’s lots of off-the-shelf machine motion stuff out there, but with a little ingenuity, rigs for DSLR’s can be super simple, steady and secure for very little cash outlay. When I do need to get hold of small mechanical gear for table top camera moving rigs, I go to Small Parts, Inc. (http://www.smallparts.com). Below is a test set up we used prior to mounting the mini cam on an aluminum plate, and sliding the plate into the flash mount atop the camera.

minicam8.jpg

The Parallax Question
As cool as the DSLR system proved to be, it wasn’t without a few difficulties. Long exposures and deep focus dictated we shoot with very small aperture settings, which affected our mini camera image preview as we were shooting animation reference thru the D70s viewfinder & an 18-70mm zoom lens (manual). I felt a parallax perspective would prove more troublesome, contributing too much hair pulling for those brave souls animating, so I attempted to avoid it if at all possible. Our initial tests went well, with a wide aperture, but once we stopped down to F11- 16, things got interesting in a horror-show sort of way. I considered shooting with the mini camera’s attached to or over the D70s lens, but settled this ‘thru the lenses’ method due to tight framing and focal shifts following movement of the characters. In the end, this is really a project/shot specific consideration.

animators9.jpg

One way to avoid parallax mishaps would be to frame slightly wide, accommodating for movement in the frame. In post, we found we could push in/ adjust up to 10% without any noticeable resolution loss, as long as the source image was RAW (zero compression, full frame). This allowed some movement over the frame, creating a ‘camera drift’ effect, or ‘breathing’ which we incorporated during compositing.

Speaking of breathing, I’m back to lenses for a moment. With a less expensive zoom lens, (say, the 18-70mm zoom packaged with the D70s), there is quite a bit of ‘breathing’ in the lens during an animated zoom or rack focus during a shot. These pre-packaged lenses are not meant for cinema-style shooting, so you’ll see focus aberrations in the shot after its completed. This stuff is not readily apparent in the preview, nor in the single high –resolution frames. But, like flicker (see below), it becomes quite apparent and bothersome during playback at 24-30 frames per second. Tough time to find out the lens went soft throughout the shot. We opted to replace the pre-packaged zoom lenses with more expensive cinema-style primes, and for zooms, we either moved the camera (like a dolly shot) or made small focus shifts after testing for focal shifts in the lens.

Flicker: Easy to get, hard to lose
Here’s where that aspirin may come in handy. There’s a bit of an anomaly prevalent with DSLR animation, referred to as the much dreaded ‘flicker effect’. This is caused by a variety of situations, a few of which I’ll address here.
The hitch is when viewing several still images in rapid progression (24- 30 frames per second), versus looking at each image one at a time. Many DSLR’s have flicker issues due to the iris having to open and close for each shot, neglecting to return to it’s precise former position, thus causing a change in exposure. Minute exposure variations aren’t noticeable when viewed as single images, but when strung together for rapid viewing in sequence (animation), these exposure variations appear as a ‘flickering’ effect. This noise or pixilation fluctuates in the frame, seemingly more prevalent in the darker areas.

Beside the shutter’s operation noted above, another cause is due to the sensitivity of the camera’s exposure sensor chip in conjunction with the aperture and shutter speed. This normally a good thing, sensitivity, but with DSLR’s with automatic lenses, there is a problem with the repeatability (consistent exposure) required for animation. In DSLR’s with a manual lens, the shutter and the aperture work independently of one another, allowing adjustment between the two, resulting in a consistent exposure. Once the shutter speed and aperture are set, they fire the same way each frame without control by the camera’s on-board program. The D70s we bought came with an 18-70 mm zoom, but being automatic, so we sought to bypass the auto aspects get it to work act like a manual lens. Eventually, we purchased fully manual lenses, but this approach below worked fine until then, without any apparent harm done to the lenses or camera.

One trick that worked well was rotating the auto lens off its contact point on the camera body. Rotate the lens counter clockwise a bit less than a centimeter, while keeping the lens attached to the body. The plan is to break the electric connection that sends signals to the lens. This essentially reverts an auto lens to manual, and the aperture will stay constant once set. Along with this maneuver, be sure to set everything in the camera to fully manual. This will necessitate going thru all the sub-menus, switching anything that’s in Auto mode. The camera literature will be handy here, as the sub-menu’s can be deep and elusive if you’re not careful. I dislike reading manuals as much as anyone, but it was worth the time invested.

Another cause of flicker is electrical fluctuation at the source. We had a very unstable environment to shoot in, with lots of computers, heavy-draw lighting (outside the shooting area), and a massive air conditioning system switching off and on throughout the day. This combination caused major fluctuations in our electrical current. The spikes and drops in current to our lights and cameras caused variations in exposures and lighting, sometimes noticeable, but often not until we’d assembled a sequence. Most building’s electrical is not set up for ‘clean’ power, so we had to find ways of stabilizing the current for the equipment.

While shooting the CBC’s animated series What It’s Like Being Alone, we incorporated power scrubbers at the wall outlets, adding high-end surge suppressors closer to the cameras and computers. This minimized flicker significantly once we had the cameras properly set (switching Auto features to Manual & rotating the lenses). Any flicker we did notice was often minimal and easily removed in the post process using either the De-Flicker plug-in for Adobe After Effects.

Stopping down and using longer exposures also worked well. One backfire on this was the mini cams. The mini cameras supply a ‘live’ or active image, versus the DSLR’s cumulative exposure for a still frame. They don’t get any more light with long exposures as they only get what’s coming thru the aperture, and that isn’t much at F 11–F16. We got around it by adjusting the lighting & shutter speed to accommodate the mini camera a bit. This took some time, so I’d suggest setting aside time to allow yourself room to work out a range of possibilities. The mini camera’s had a Lux reading of .05, which was Ok, but I think an even lower rating would have been ideal.

In retrospect, here are few things I hadn’t mentioned earlier, but may prove useful;

- A Shooting Checklist. Good to have a fall back until everyone is comfortable with the entire window switching/ frame grabbing stuff is well in hand.

- Practice File Naming conventions. Many a shot has landed in the Bin of Despair as a ‘lost’ or misplaced shot due to abstract file naming, so do yourself a favor, and work out a plan prior to starting. There will be a lot of high density storage going on and redundant/ misnamed/ misplaced files will be an equally large hassle. We nearly lost a couple of shots, and in animation as it is in live action, DIY folks really can’t afford to lose anything.

- Voltmeter / Rheostat for larger lights. The voltmeter will let you see fluctuations in the power supply just prior to shooting a frame (minimizing flicker), and the heavy-duty rheostats (not household wall dimmers) will help suppress power spikes in the line, as well. It’s a rental, but these can be bought too. Worth considering if you’re planning on a long shoot.

- Surge suppressors. We went for the larger type with a built-in battery back up. Eyeball the surge/ spike/ drop specs carefully. Shop around as a decent version is between $90-130. Well worth having at least one on the camera/ computer power supply. Lots of these available from various electronics manufacturers & retail online.

- Using remote capture. There are several benefits too using the computer keyboard to trigger frames grabs/ captures, the most immediate being a static camera during an exposure. It’s easy to inadvertently bump the camera after many hours into a shoot when you’re tired, addled with caffeine and your client is getting restless.

Once the film was completed, we had the opportunity to screen at AFI DALLAS during its inaugural year. This was the first time I had seen the film in a large, theatrical venue, so I was suitably anxious to see the results on a large movie screen projecting from an HD tape. Apparently, I was the only one worrying as the audience was thrilled with the picture quality. The film looked fantastic. Our next stop-motion film, EA Poe’s THE RAVEN is to be produced using the same system, with a few requisite tweaks, but definitely a DSLR- based pipeline.

Hopefully, the DVD of the Pit and the Pendulum, and nearly 2 hours of production clips, will be ready to ship Spring 2008. Our hope is that between the articles and the DVD extra’s, more folks will be inspired to shoot with a similar, or improved, pipeline, creating stunning looking digital films for all to see. I hope this has proven helpful in gaining some understanding of what went into the pipeline of the film.

If you have questions concerning the process above, feel free to get in touch thru the film website, http://www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com. Time allowing, I’ll do

marc.jpg

Marc Lougee – Creative Producer / Director, Hand Hade Heroes Marc’s work as a director blends techniques ranging from 3D/ CGI computer animation to stop motion to classic 2D character animation. His projects integrate live action, special effects, puppets, miniatures, models and all manner of visual effects illusions.

Marc has lent his expertise of mixed-media animation production to scores of national commercial campaigns and broadcast interstitials, including work for ABC Saturday Morning, MTV, HBO, Epic Records, Fox Television, Kool Aid, Parker Brothers, Mattel, Hasbro, The Pillsbury Doughboy and the original “Bud Bowl” Super Bowl half-time campaign for Budweiser (which logged over 350 million viewers worldwide for the 1.5 minute spot).

Lougee enjoys applying his creative sensibilities to broadcast series programming. Working closely with Producer Susan Ma, he played a key role as Creative Producer in assembling the creative team for What It’s Like Being Alone in 2005/ 2006 and his contribution as Episode Director provided a major creative force behind the show. Marc’s directed animation on several series and pilots for MTV, Discovery Kids, Fox Television, Sci Fi Channel, HBO, BBC and the CBC. Several of these series are currently on-air, including the DiscoveryKids! / BBC’s Dinosapien, MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch, and the BBC’s Ace Lightning.

Marc directed and co-produced (with Susan Ma) the award-winning short film, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, executive produced by animation and visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Clash of the Titans) and Fred Fuchs (Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).

Since it’s premiere, “The Pit and the Pendulum” has been chosen as an Official Selection in over 150 film festivals worldwide, garnering several awards and nominations, including Best Animated Film at Miami Shorts International Film Festival, Best Adaptation at the International Horror & Sci Fi Film Festival, Best Animated Short Film at the Dragon Con Film Festival, a Storyteller Award a the Redemptive Film Festival, an Ideology Award at the Cinepobre Film Festival and Best Animated Film at the HD Fest Awards.

More info on the film and the trailer can be found on the official film site;
http://www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com

For the latest news, screening dates, locations check the blog;
http://www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.blogspot.com

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lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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