Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Film is nearly dead

I had a conversation with someone recently about movie stuff and the subject of projection came up. They just could not get their head round film projection. It seems that certain people just don't consider what the world was like before digital. It's sad really that film (as in celluloid) is slowly being forgotten about. I also have a friend who has recently started using 35mm cameras to take photographs. I remember one situation where we took a group photo with someone else and that someone else then asked to see the photo (facepalm). I'm grateful for digital, don't get me wrong, but I just think 35mm film still has its place in the modern world. Movies shot on film just have that dreamlike quality to them and it's something that I feel modern movies are missing. Ideally, digital and film should coexist. Modern film cameras have all these digital features to assist the operator but they still use 35mm to record images and I think that's the way it should be. Film projection is still very common and in a lot of cases, movies shot in a digital format get printed to film so they can be shown at cinemas that don't yet have the facility to digitally project. I feel that shooting on film also encourages filmmakers to take more care since film stock is expensive and once it's exposed, you can't go back and record over it like you can with video tape. Video should be used for TV and film should stay with the motion picture industry...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My life after graduation

You hear about all these graduates who can't find jobs and remain unemployed forever but you don't really believe it to be true until it happens to you. I graduated in July 2013 and since then I have only had a few temp jobs. My business did quite well in 2013 but 2014 has just been slow. I can't rely on working for myself to make money so I began actively searching for a job. Problem is, where I live, there are no film industry opportunities but that doesn't bother me because I just want a job, any job. I did an internship during January, with my university. I was in marketing and they got me to produce 6 videos for their YouTube channel. That was great because I was earning money and got to do something that was relevant to my degree. 

Working full time was tiring. I decided to look for part time work after that and a few months later, I managed to get a job working at the Download festival. It was bar work but I enjoyed it. I was just happy to be earning money and seeing some decent bands live. However, when I saw the camera crew filming the bands, I sort of wished I was doing that instead. A month later, I managed to get onto the University's TV advert as an extra. Ironically, I was acting as a boom pole operator on set. Watch the advert here and see me towards the end, holding the boom pole. This advert is on TV. I am on TV! I can't describe how surreal it is seeing yourself on TV for the first time. There I was, just randomly watching Channel Four during an ad break and it came on. I hope this won't be the last time I appear on TV.

Since the summer, I have applied to many different jobs and then the rejections started coming through. It really makes you feel useless. Many of these jobs weren't even graduate level. I got rejected by Aldi twice when I applied for stock assistant positions. Is it because I'm overqualified? Many of the other jobs I applied for were at the university. I did manage to get an information assistant job during Freshers Week. A month later, I applied for a similar position at the university and got an interview which I thought went really well. Obviously I wasn't good enough though. I'm still looking for work because I'm not going to let these rejections make me give up. In a few years time, I will think back to this period of my life and laugh. Peace out.    

Monday, 17 November 2014

Marushin M16 Replica Prop Gun

I purchased an M16 replica last year because I needed it for my upcoming Vietnam war film (stuck in pre-production still). I'm just stocking up on props and costume right now so I have everything I need when I eventually get round to filming it (2015 hopefully). I could have bought a cheap Airsoft M16 instead but I wanted something that was a bit more functional so I decided to fork out £300 for the Marushin M16A1.

Marushin are probably best known for their high quality airsoft products, but for decades the company have made what people call "model guns". Model guns are fully functional replicas that take special cartridges containing a 7mm cap and a piston. It's a similar concept to how military Simunition blanks work. Effectively, these things are cap guns on steroids. This M16 can fire on semi-automatic and full-automatic which makes it the closest thing to a real M16 you can get (without a license). It even has genuine Colt trademarks. While the real M16 is made from aluminium, this replica is made from zinc alloy so I wouldn't want to drop it on the ground. There are some steel parts including the magazine which is strange since real M16 magazines are made from aluminium and are much lighter. This replica can actually accept real magazines but they need slight modification to the mag catch hole and the spring so they work properly. 

I bought this in kit form because it was slightly cheaper than getting a factory assembled one and I wanted a challenge. The instructions were in Japanese but I know a lot about the M16 so it only took me a few hours to get it assembled. It then took me 4 months to get the thing to work properly. There was a lot of friction between moving parts so I had to do a lot of filing and used lithium grease for lubrication. It can take a good few minutes to assemble the cartridges and then even longer to clean them afterwards. This is probably its biggest issue. Something like this could really do well if they released "fire and forget" cartridges, like blanks. The cartridges are really expensive, around £4 each and they only give you 5 with the kit. On a film shoot, you're going to need a generous amount and if they get lost then you'll end up spending more money to replace them.

That aside, the model certainly looks the part. The only thing that gives it away is the bolt carrier when the dust cover is open. The whole gun is a nice shade of black but then you see this bright chrome looking bolt sticking out. Chrome bolts do exist in real life I know, but the one on this replica doesn't look that realistic. The top part of the bolt carrier (the bit that the charging handle grabs) looks fake as well. With the real M16, this part is more than just a solid block. It's an intrinsic part of the M16's gas system. There's also no gas tube and you can clearly see this is missing in the gap between the carrying handle/rear sight and the delta ring.

While the real M16 is a gas-operated, rotating bolt weapon, the Marushin M16 is a straight blowback design (like a sub machine gun). When you look at the bolt and chamber closely you can clearly see this but I guess it doesn't really matter when you see the whole thing in action. Overall, you're getting your money's worth. I'd be more satisfied if they manufactured disposable blank cartridges for this but you can't have everything. I'll be putting together a video soon, demonstrating this thing in action.  

Next up for the movie, I'm going to buy a pump action shotgun, an M16 carbine, a Colt Python Revolver and maybe and AK-47, M1 Carbine and Uzi. Just need about £1700 to afford that lot.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Last week, a friend of mine convinced me to watch this movie. The title alone make this sound like that typical cheesy horror movie that some kid in a 1950s movie watches on the television set while his parents are away one evening. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is exactly what it says on the tin. Alien clowns land near a small American town in their circus tent spaceship and start killing the locals for their blood. This film is so cheesy and that's what makes it so hilarious. Seriously, the makers must have genuinely planned this from the start. Looks like they succeeded though because this is now a cult classic, apparently. There are a lot of funny moments and many of the deaths made us laugh out loud because they were absolutely ridiculous. The first victim in the film is a dog called "Pooh Bear" and his death is implied off screen after one of the clowns scoops him up in a net (Why would an advanced alien race use something as archaic as a net to capture their victim?) People who suffer from coulrophobia should probably avoid seeing this movie but it's definitely something to see if you want a good laugh. 6/10 

How Sleep the Brave (1981)

Also known by the more generic sounding title of "Combat Zone", this is a low budget Vietnam War movie, filmed in the UK. Made before similar big budget films like "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket", this film probably won't appeal to everyone. Lots of cheesy dialogue and poor acting but there's something about its depiction of the Vietnam War that feels real. The American troops are too stereotypical and it's hard to feel sorry for them when they die. If you're a huge fan of war movies (like me) then you can probably forgive the negatives and enjoy the film. It's sometimes hard to pretend that this film is set in Vietnam because the English countryside sticks out too much. Full Metal Jacket was filmed in the UK but they did a better job at passing it off as Vietnam. This could have been a better movie but despite its negatives, it has inspired me. 4/10 (Watch it while you're getting drunk with your friends. Drink every time someone say f*ck)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Dead Eyes

When I made my Final Year Project film (Malice) in 2012, I made a lot of mistakes. Despite being at University for three years, most of the stuff that I was taught had been forgotten. I didn't really pay attention to stuff like lighting in Malice especially in subtle things like the eyes. Take this screenshot from the movie as an example.

Look at the eyes. There's no life in them. They look dead. Granted, this could be interpreted as "losing his soul when he was sent to prison" but that wasn't my intention. Now, look at this screenshot.

Look at his eyes. Those white dots from the light are reflected in his eyes and he looks more alive. This guy was the antagonist though so it would have made more sense for him to have the "dead eyes" instead. 

I had an LED panel on the camera for the second shot, the intention was purely for illuminating his face. It just so happened that the light also put those white dots in his pupils. Watch any movie and I guarantee that you'll see white dots in the characters' eyes. This is carefully thought about because it gives the characters life. Remember that old saying "the eyes are the windows to the soul". It should be your obligation as a film maker/director of photography to consider this.

The angle of your lighting set-up might not always allow you to get this result. Ideally, you should have a specific light whose sole purpose is to give your character the white dots in their eyes. This could be a studio light with a diffuse filter on it or a simple torch taped to your tripod. Your audience will notice this and your shots will look more professional and beautiful.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

How to make video look like film

If you want to get the perfect film look, shoot your movie on film. Unfortunately, this isn't always an option for the budget filmmaker so the next best thing is making your video look like film. This is the method I normally use when I attempt a film look. Some might disagree with it but really it's all about what works best for you.

Start by watching a movie and analysing it. It's always useful to take screenshots so you can compare it against your footage as you're grading it. I'm going to show you how to create a 16mm look because I've always loved the way 16mm footage looks. Here's a screenshot of the raw footage.
This is from my 2012 university movie "Malice". I shot this on a Canon DSLR with a 50mm lens during daylight. Picture profile was set to CineStyle so we have a flat sort of look which gives us more room for manipulation in the software. The footage is not very sharp. I can't remember if I properly focused during filming but this is okay because 16mm footage often has a soft look. Aperture was quite narrow (because of the daylight) so there's a greater depth of field. A more shallow depth of field would look more cinematic and help sell the effect better though. I also filmed at 25 frames per second and shutter was set to 1/50. 

I'm using Premiere Pro because there's an interesting effect that I discovered years ago which if useful for creating a film look. In the Utility folder under Video Effects you'll find an effect called "Cineon Converter".
Straight away you can see that this has increased contrast and the shot now looks less flat. Go to "Window>Reference Monitor" and compare the YC waveform before and after.
See the difference? The waveform monitor is a very useful tool so make sure you check it on a regular basis while grading your footage. You can also check RGB values which is useful for correcting wrong white balance (if you ever find yourself in that situation). 

Using the values within the Cineon Converter effect, I increased the contrast until I got this. Notice "Conversion" is set to "Log to Linear", the default setting. 
The blacks in the footage are crushed and overall contrast has been increased. Most film look attempts I see have really high contrast with crushed blacks and blown highlights. This doesn't really make video look like film. From what I can see, film usually has a low contrast look so blacks aren't actually black but a sort of grey instead. Don't worry, we're going to sort this out in the next few steps. You might have to tweak the Gamma and Highlight Rolloff values later to get the desired look since your footage might look different to mine. Try adjusting the other values as well and experiment until you get what you want. Remember, film has more dynamic range than video so you won't be able to get exactly the same contrast in the detail.

Add a channel>invert effect and select "Green". We're going to add an invert effect for each colour channel (Red, green and blue). Set the "Blend with original" to 85% but try playing around with the values to get what you want.

We now have this low contrast shot but it's a bit dark so add a "Brightness>Contrast" effect. Very subtle difference. I set Brightness to 10 and contrast to 25. Furthermore, you might want to apply the "Color Balance HLS" effect and desaturate the colour a little bit. I also adjusted the hue to -0.5 to push the skin tones to red more.
I then added film grain which I got for free off GorillaGrainI just put it on a video layer above my footage and set the blend mode to overlay. Use a Brightness>Contrast filter to make the grain more or less intense. 
I posted a breakdown on YouTube.

So, there we have it. Film has a very unique sort of motion to it though and I have yet to find a way to replicate that. There are hundreds of film look tutorials out there and I really think it's up to the individual to develop their own style. I just keep tweaking settings until I get the look I want and it's not always as simple as copying and pasting the effects to all clips on your timeline. Feel free to comment with feedback or any suggestions/ideas you might have.