Waiting for ‘the Golden Snitch (Pt. 1/2)

End scene. The credits are rolling up the 27″ iMac, 2 meters away from me. The sound of eastern european music is playing in the background.

“Did you like it?” my girlfriend asks me with anticipation in her voice.

“Yeah, it was good!” I answer.

The eastern european music continues, and we start laughing at a tiny animated cartoon, dancing what looks like a Russian traditional folk dance.

It’s times like this, when I’ve finished watching a movie I really enjoy, that is not only a good story that has kept me interested the whole way through, but also done excellently in terms of costume, style, colours, framing etc, that I start dreaming again about finally making a narrative film myself.

But then, the excuses come.

“I don’t have a script yet”.
” I can’t think of anyone to act for me”
“When will I get time for this?”
“Would other people want to help me?
“I don’t have enough gear”

The list goes on and on.

I think one of my biggest problems when dreaming about making something new, is that I’m waiting for everything to be perfect. I am waiting for the right opportunity to make the film that I’ve been dreaming about making for so long. So I sit. And watch. And I look for ‘the Golden Snitch’. It’s out there somewhere. I know it. And when I get it, it’ll win me the game. So I leave it with dreaming, and waiting. Maybe I’ll start writing a new script, and then put it on the shelf after 2-3 pages. And then I wait again.

How long am I willing to wait? Don’t know. But maybe I should just start playing the game instead. Get in the game with the other players. Fight for goals and have a good time. And then, maybe one day, the snitch will show up. But who knows?

What’s the story?

Three words that I saw on the back of a bus while driving yesterday. I think it was an ad for a radio station or something, but it got me thinking.

These three words are super important, and something I should keep asking myself all the time when working on a project. Does my choices serve the story? It can be framing, camera movement, colour, music, a cut in the edit. All of this plays a part of highlighting the most important aspect of my film: the story.

That’s all I had to say for today. What are some choices you have made to tell or highlight the story when working on a project? Would love to hear some examples in the comments.

– Morten

Shooting “flat”

Chances are, if you are shooting on DSLR cameras, that someone once told you to film with a “flat picture style”. My first time experience with this, I asked what it was, and the reason given was that it gives you a flatter image to work with in post production. It would be easier to colour grade and tweak the footage to look the way I wanted it to.

There are different ways of achieving the flat picture profile. You can download profiles like CINESTYLE picture profile for your Canon Camera, or make your own picture profile with the settings at: Sharpness 0, Contrast -4, Saturation -2, Colour Tone 0.

I won’t go into details on all of the specs etc, as there are tons of tutorials and articles out there for you to have a look at (This article covers it) when it comes to grading and so on. But one thing I want to talk about is an aspect that I feel has been left out a bit: “Sharpness”.

One of the things that threw me off for a long time with my Canon 550D was that the image looked out of focus or really low bitrate and quality when shooting on wider lenses. Yes, the 550D is a low budget camera, so I can’t compare it to the sharpness and video quality of an amazing high end camera like RED. But when everyone told me to shoot with a “flat” picture profile, I understood the colour grade aspect, but couldn’t get my head around the sharpness being turned all the way down. Why would I turn down the sharpness if it just made my images look out of focus or just murky?

One thing I realised was that the lens has a big part to play (obvious, I know), and the way I would expose the image (less light means that the camera would capture less detail. Again, obvious…) but it didn’t solve all my problems. So I started to research. When asking around, a lot of people directed me to just sharpen the footage in post, with the effect called “Sharpen”. But the results just didn’t feel right. So after a bit of research, I discovered “Unsharp Mask”. This was the tool I had been looking for. It added back that sharpness, and made the image look more “professional”.

The reason I am writing this is that I found this video (see below) explaining how to sharpen, and even though I knew about it already, I found it super helpful and informative on how to make the images you shoot on your DSLRs look better. (Side note: As the guy in the video says, sharpening in post is NOT a way to cover up the fact that the shot was out of focus. Nail your focus. Every time. Always. Enough said.)

What do you think? Do you have any experience with sharpening in post? Or maybe you have some other tricks you want to share? Let me know in the comments!

– Morten

Stop Making Shorts!

I recently attended a 2 day film school with a well known instructor from LA. These three words slapped us in the face, and set the tone for the rest of the two days. At first, I did not agree with this statement at all, but as the course progressed, I understood the context of it.

The whole point of the film school was that we would learn how to produce and distribute our first feature film, on a micro to low budget. We got taught how to write, budget the money, shoot and get it out on the market. This brings me to the point of the statement; if you are going to spend $50 000 on a short film, why not spend the same amount on a feature film? The instructors point was, that it isn’t easy to make money on short films, but a good feature film on the other hand, actually has a huge potential!

So, does this mean I will not make short films anymore? Not at all! (In fact, I just shot one the other day). I believe there is so much you can learn in the process of making a short in terms of directing, storytelling and so on. It is faster to produce them and you can get away with a smaller crew. On the other hand, one thing I got from the course was that I can’t be limited by a ‘short film mindset’ anymore. What I mean is: it is so easy to think of a feature as something you will maybe make one day in the future, and I won’t start until I have years of experience. So I settle for making shorts with my friends. But the fact is, if I actually want to create a feature film, why not just start?

So that’s what I did. I started working on an idea that I got the weekend of the film school. To be honest, I haven’t gotten further than the treatment of the film, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’ve begun on a journey of making my first feature film. I can’t guarantee that this will be the feature film that I’m going to make, but it has expanded my way of thinking. I’m not limited anymore to “only” create short films or work on commercial projects. If I really want to tell feature length stories, I have to go for it. And so do you.

Every dream has the potential to become reality, but for this to happen, you have to start somewhere.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!

– Morten

*Facepalm*

Have you ever felt super organised when working on a project? You have total control over all the files, the music and graphic elements. “Everything is fine”! Yeah, I thought so too, then I opened one of my projects from 6 months ago, and I wanted to punch myself.

I work for a cycling company, and recently I have been needing to go through some of my old projects to find and re-export a couple of the first videos I made for them. I thought my adventure into my old project files would be a quick walk in the park, but it turned out to be an expedition into the depts of the Amazon jungle.

It’s weird how you can live in chaos and think that everything is fine. If I remember correctly, I didn’t think I was that unorganised when I first started working on those projects. Now on the other hand, it feels like I’m a stranger visiting someones messy home (we’ve all been there), and thinking: how did I even put up with this?

What’s funny is that I’ve always considered myself as a fairly organised, but maybe I am more of a creative minded person than I thought I was. At least I have learnt something from this. And it made me re-think how I label and organise my projects, so that in the future I’ll be wanting to give myself a hug instead of a punch. Also, not only is being organised important for your own benefit, but especially when working with other people. If you bring your mess into a project, people are going to pull their hair out because of you.

Here is a couple of the things I do:
1. Label exports with date, time and proper description.
I learnt this from my friend when we were working on an ad that we exported countless version for people to look at and give their input. It usually looks like this: year/month/date/time/name. (Example: 2015-04-28-1000-BlogPost. Important! Remember to use a 24 hour clock.) This way, the newest version is always on the bottom of the list in my folder and it’s easy to share with other people.

2. Folders, folders, folders
Inside my projects, I’ve been starting to make way more folders. And folders inside those folders. Obviously they have to be labelled properly, but at least I don’t have to look through a list of endless files.

Do you have any horror-stories like this? Or are you the organised type person who has everything under control? I would love to hear some stories, and even some tips on how you organise your files, because believe me, I need to learn it!

– Morten

What have you done?!

Four words that usually indicates that you did something wrong. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. It’s not a good question to be asked. But I’m not going to talk about them in that setting. What I want to look at is something I started thinking about when I was looking at doing some more freelance jobs.

Most people want proof. Proof that you are as good as you say you are. It doesn’t help much if your resume is specced out only with degrees left right and centre. Film school, bachelor in storytelling and so on. What can you show for? Do you have a portfolio? And better yet, are you ready to show that portfolio if someone asks for it? (Side note: I am not saying that you don’t need education. As the matter of fact, getting a good education within the area you want to work is key to lay a good foundation that you can build upon. I am just stating that every foundation is there for you to build something great upon).

One thing I am really bad at, is talking myself up. That is, in conversations with people where the topic is my skills and what I’m good at. I really don’t like to “brag”, because I am afraid that people will get a wrong idea of how good I am. What if I create expectations in people, and when it comes to the point I won’t be able to meet them? That is why I really like to have a portfolio to show for. Because with that, I don’t really need to feel like I am talking myself up. I can show my work, and prove that I have the skills required for the job I am asked to do. (Side note: I still need to work on being confident on myself and believing in my skills and talents. A portfolio isn’t something to hide behind, but a proof that what you say is also what the client is going to get).

So how do you build a portfolio? Especially if you don’t have a job that directly relates to your creative area like graphic design, film making etc? Here is a couple of things that comes to my mind:

1. Do volunteer / pro-bono work.
If you have the time and opportunity to do this, it is a great way to get a lot of work experience. It can be volunteering for a church or an organisation or help out a friend to promote his business. Maybe you have friends that work with film making as well. Why don’t to tag along and help out on set? One huge benefit of doing volunteer work is that your level of commitment isn’t bound by you getting paid, so the pressure is lower. I’ve also found that it is easier to find motivation, because you can choose the projects you get involved with.

2. Apply for an internship.
In my second year of high school, I had one day each week where I interned with a local graphic design company. Even though I didn’t get to work on any actual projects that they did, I learned a lot about how to work with customers and how to handle projects from start to finish. They would give me made-up cases to plan, pitch, create and at the end present to them. If you have the opportunity to do so, a day or two at a company that can teach you and give you work experience is a really good opportunity. And who knows, maybe it turns into a paid job?

3. Work on your own projects.
This comes back to the point of just doing it! It doesn’t really matter what you make. It can be a skit, fake commercial, testimony, the list goes on and on. Today, we don’t really have any excuses. We can easily just post our videos on Vimeo or YouTube and share it on Facebook and Twitter.  If you look at some of the big YouTube channels like Julian Smith or Corridor Digital, they just started making skits and movies with their friends and got it out there. They didn’t start with millions of views. They started by posting one video, then another one, and another one, until they got to where they are now. Another example is Christopher Nolan. Before he directed Inception, Interstellar or any of the Batman movies, he shot his first feature film “Following” on weekends with a $6000 budget. Again, the point stands clear: Just do it!

So, what have you done? Or better yet, what are you going to do? I would love to see some portfolios in the comments or hear from you if you have any good stories/thoughts on how you built your portfolio.

– Morten

What do you have?

I love to follow the NAB show that is currently going on in Las Vegas. The different companies bring out the new cameras, gadgets, software updates and so on. It’s exciting, because technology is moving forward, and we are getting bigger and better tools to make movies and tell out stories.

On the other hand, I get a bit sad. I look at all the new goodies coming out. The cameras, lenses, gimbal stabilizers and so on, and it all seems so far out of reach!

I am a low budget filmmaker. At the moment, I don’t have the money to invest in a lot of gear or to rent anything better. I own a Canon 550d, two lenses, a tripod, a shoulder rig and some audio gear. To be honest, I don’t always like my camera, and wish I had better gear all the time. But the truth is that I am really lucky to even have what I have.

One thought that struck me a while back when I was wishing and dreaming about a new camera was this: If I learn to use the gear I have now, I set myself up for a win when I get the chance to upgrade. If I can’t tell a story properly with a $450 camera, then I probably won’t be able to tell the story with a $2500 camera or $20 000 camera.

One movie that I really like is “Monsters” directed by Gareth Edwards. The reason I really like this movie is because it was written, directed, shot by Gareth Edwards himself. On set, which was different places around South America, most of the time the crew consisted of him, the two actors and a sound guy. His camera was a Sony PMW-EX3 with a 35mm adaptor at the front, giving him the option of putting DSLR lenses on it. Several times in the movies, the quality of the images itself isn’t good at all because of how the camera handles low light. But none of that really matters, because the story gets told and mr. Edwards just decided that he had an idea, and he was going to use what he had access to, and just make the movie. (Btw, I highly recommend to check out the behind the scenes for the movie.)

Alright, to wrap it up: My point isn’t to despise better cameras or to make you think that “I never should upgrade to better gear unless I am able to tell the story first.” In fact, better equipment are greater tools to tell the story! What I found is this: Usually he people who have done something great in this world was not hindered or stopped because of what they didn’t have, but they took what they had and made something great out of it.

So what do you have? Would be great to get some comments about gear and even see some videos that you have made with what you had access to! It can be anything from a high end production to a home video. Leave a comment and let me know.

– Morten