Re-Appreciating Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


Sometimes, I make an essay that’s just for me. This Scott Pilgrim vs. The World appreciation was one of those times.

No one was begging me for my updated take on the film, but while I was doing some research for an upcoming video I’m working on (with the help of Edgar Wright), I felt compelled to revisit Scott Pilgrim and some of its themes. In truth, I also used the essay as a way for me to get a handle on some things going on in my own life. I’m glad it’s resonated with so many other people.

As of this writing, about 15 hours after publication, the video has received about 28,000 views. It was getting a decent number of hits at /Film, but then Edgar Wright tweeted it and it was posted at the still-massive Scott Pilgrim Facebook page, where it received a staggering 7.6K Likes. That’s what really helped tip this thing, I suspect. 

In the past couple of months, I’ve made a bunch of different videos that have received varying amounts of attention through different means. I’m hoping to publish a future blog post that sums up some of these findings, so look forward to that. 

Black Magic MFT Cinema Camera – Test Footage

Last night, I had the unique opportunity to try out the relatively new Black Magic Cinema Camera with Micro 4/3rds mount. Local /Filmcaster Sam Kelly was kind enough to offer me an in-person tutorial. We met at Hilliard’s Beer in Ballard, which was hosting one of their many motorcycle meetups and just shot a bunch of footage in ProRes HQ. This is the result.

This footage was shot using SLR Magic prime lenses, then graded using FilmConvert. My first reaction to this video is: WOW! Shooting in ProRes gives you SO much more flexibility in post than anything that comes out of my DLRs. Details that might have otherwise been lost in shadows and highlights can be easily “pushed.” The video just has a “filmic” look that I’ve occasionally struggled to achieve with my DSLR footage. And FilmConvert works spectacularly with the BMCC “Film” Picture Style, which is what I used.

All that being said, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is pretty clunky in a bunch of ways. The LCD screen makes it fairly challenging to focus, and the focus peaking overlay is sketchy at best, in terms of accuracy. The lens mount on the MFT version of this camera is passive, which is fine in theory but I didn’t like that there was no aperture reading on the screen that tracked with my adjustments. The lack of removable battery and the lack of charge in the existing battery means that an external battery solution is a must.

The firmware still has a lot of shortcomings. For instance, the inability to format your media or delete clips would probably drive me insane in the long term.

But in the end, when we’re talking about images of this quality for under $2000? I don’t think I will be able to resist purchasing one for much longer…

Big thanks to Sam for letting me play with this amazing camera, and to Hotels and Highways for the use of their song “People Have Spoken.”

More experiments with FilmConvert

After I got FilmConvert last week, I wanted to try out the program further to see how well it could really do at improving some of my images. So I shot some footage this weekend in Seattle and tried using FilmConvert to grade it.

Here is a video I shot of the 2013 Seattle Chinese Kite Festival, which took place at the Seattle Chinese Garden in South Seattle. This video was shot using the Prolost Flat Picture Style and graded conventionally to bring up saturation and increase contrast.



Now here’s the same video, but instead of using normal grading, all I did was use FilmConvert to apply the Fuji Provia 100 preset and set film grain to 0.



I was really frustrated with both of these videos to be honest. The shooting situation was very challenging – bright sunlight, no shadows, a ton of green everywhere. I wasn’t thrilled with how either of the videos turned out from a color perspective, although I do think the FilmConvert-ed footage achieves a consistent look throughout (whether I’m a fan of that look or not is a different question…).

Later Saturday evening, I was pleased to be able to attend Seattle’s Street Food Festival at Cal Anderson Park. Last year they held the event at Denny Park and I thought that was a much better time; the streets at Cal Anderson are just way too narrow to host thousands of people (plus, this year the lines were unbelievably massive). Nonetheless, good food and good times were had by all.

This video was shot using the flaat 10 Picture Style. I used FilmConvert’s Fuji 8543 preset and set film grain to 0.



I notice that FilmConvert presets can often jack up the contrast a bit too high and wash out some of the colors, occasionally to the footage’s detriment. For example, see the skin tones at around :28 into the video, which definitely need some warming up (a function that FilmConvert does supply – I just wanted to see how the presets would work on default settings). Otherwise, I think the grading looks quite nice, if you can ignore that terrible moire early on in the video.

All of this footage was shot on a Canon 60D. For the Kite Festival, I used a Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod.

Breaking My Ties with the Internet

Kevin Smith has had a pretty rocky relationship with film reviewers these past few years but I’ve stayed a fan of what he has accomplished (I was one of the few on our podcast that was really impressed by Red State).

This past year has seen a huge life transition for me. As I’ve gone through it, and as I’ve experienced recent events, there’s one interview with Kevin Smith that keeps coming to mind, over and over again: a 2009 interview that Smith did with Lee Stranahan on “The Dark Side of the Internet.” In it, Smith discusses how the poor performance of Zack and Miri caused him to swear off the internet for good.

While I think constructive criticism can benefit any number of people (myself included), there’s one section of the interview that has really changed the way I look at things. It starts about the 5 minute mark above:

“You know what I realized one day? People can write the worst shit about you that you’ve ever seen. They can write really horrible shit about your wife, about your fucking kid. They can write things about your motivations. They can try to peer into your soul and write heinous fucking things. They can take you into bizarro world and write the opposite of everything that’s true, and maintain to the world in general that it’s true. And it’s only really recently that I’ve realized that they can do all that, and they can’t affect your ability to earn, to love, to be loved, to have a good day…

It’s weird. I’ll sit there and read something on the internet ┬áreally heinous about myself or about my work or something, and then I’ll go a meeting on some project I’m working on. Those cats aren’t like ‘Hey, we read that thing and that dude’s right, you are a prick!’ That shit doesn’t matter, and you bring it up to them! It’s so weird, I’m so tired of telling people in my life…people will be like, ‘What’s wrong?” and I’m like ‘I read this fucking thing on the internet that really bothers me.’ ┬áNone of them have ever been like, “Oh man I’m sorry.’ They’ve all been like, ‘So? Dude, look at your life! You won! What do you give a shit what someone writes about you on the internet?’ And I’m like, ‘I dunno. Because I always have.’

And then I just realized, maybe I can just stop.”

Amen.

New Year’s Eve 2012

I was blessed to have a bunch of friends over to my apartment on New Year’s Eve. Seeing a significant portion of my friends in Seattle, all together in one room — it really made this place start to feel like home.

My friend, upon seeing the video, said it looked like life was going pretty well. I agreed, but said I didn’t know how long all the excitement would last.

“Make sure to enjoy it while it continues. Don’t worry about making it last,” he replied.

I cut together this brief video to show you my view of the fireworks. This was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II using a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

My First Slow Motion Test

I recently watched the video above, shot by Diego Contreras, and it really lit a fire under my ass. Contreras shot this with a Canon 7D, a couple non-Canon lenses, and edited/colored it using Final Cut Pro X. In other words, the total cost of the software AND hardware for this video was probably under $2500. That is insane. There is no longer any real obstacle preventing someone from creating something beautiful. All you need is a little bit of cash, the will, and the skill.

I’ve had difficulties making slow motion look good in the past, but decided to give it another try. I borrowed my friend’s Nikon D600 (my Canon 5D Mark II can’t shoot in 60 fps) which had an 85mm f/1.8 lens. Then I went to Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market and shot a bunch of footage over the course of an hour. I shot the footage at 60fps (720p), then slowed it down to 24fps in post.

I’m pretty pleased with the results, but here are a few lessons I learned while shooting this, and how I plan on doing things differently the next time around:

For a video such as this, the music is critically important – I tried to find something I could use legitimately, but it’s a huge challenge to find something great and cheap. I have literally spent hours browsing the Vimeo Music Store in search of some hidden gems, and it is tough to find something that will work.

Instead, I opted to use a track off of an album by AnnaLivia, a music group I did some photography for back in Boston. They graciously gave me permission to do this. In the future, I’ll probably try and secure permission from other local groups to use their music in my videos – it’s free publicity for them and allows me the option to use some great-sounding stuff. I also may try Premiumbeat.com, whose music I tend to find pretty decent but pricey.

Faster cuts – While I liked a lot of the motion and faces I was able to capture, I do think this video moves a bit too slowly if you’re not as enamored with the composition as I was. Next time around I think the cuts will have to come a bit faster. More shots, more edits would probably give this video some better energy.

More time spent on color correction – This being a quick test. I threw together a couple of quick presets and applied to all my clips at an attempt at doing a “vintage-y” look. Next time, I will try to massage each clip until it pops just right, and make a better attempt at matching all the clips together.

***

I’m also open to hearing your thoughts. Let me know what you think!

My Grandfather’s Watch

While Stephen Tobolowsky was in town recently, I shot this video with him using my Canon 5D Mark 2 on a tripod, my Rode Videomic, and natural lighting in Stephen’s hotel room.

I realize there are problems with this video. Specifically, Stephen’s face is overexposed, he is ever-so-slightly out of focus, the other half of his face needs a little bit more illumination, the sound suffers from some bad automatic gain control, etc. etc. etc. But above all that, Stephen’s storytelling is still able to shine through.

Making Videos with the Canon 7D

I was recently approached by a band to record a musical performance using my dSLRs. I acquired a Rode Videomic and a 32 GB CF card to prepare for the opportunity.

While that gig ended up falling through, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try out the mic anyway. The  5D Mark 2 is a capable video recorder, but I preferred my 7D simply because it seemed to be conceived and built with the possibility of video in mind (e.g. it has a dedicated video/photo switch and a dedicated video record button).

Local musician Grace Van’t Hof was gracious enough to allow me to sit in on one of her rehearsals. I used my 24-70mm L lens and the Videomic to make the following recording – her rousing rendition of a bluegrass version of “House of the Rising Sun”:

Overall, I think this video looks great (recorded at f/7.1 and ISO 640) and the sound is of an acceptable quality, albeit not quite professional. You might see in the video that I also used a Zoom H4n to record sound separately. The sound quality was indeed superior on the Zoom, but I was too lazy to sync them, so the sound on this video represents only what was recorded directly onto the 7D.

A few other thoughts:

  • I used a camera tripod for this video, but I’d recommend a video tripod. It is difficult to perform the movements required for such a video using only a camera tripod.
  • Speaking of movements, zooming in and out by turning the focal length ring on the Canon 7D was extremely challenging. Not only is it awkward to have my hand positioned there, but my L lens also didn’t have much “give.” I’m considering getting a Redrock Micro rig (which allows neat things like follow focus), but that is prohibitively expensive at this stage for me.
  • The sound controls on the Canon 7D are pretty lacking/nonexistent. More irritatingly, the Canon 7D employs automatic gain control (and a crappy one at that) which is impossible to turn off. Nonetheless, hacks have emerged to resolve this.

For those looking for more resources on this subject, I quite enjoyed Engadget’s EOS 7D impressions for filmmaker wannabees.