Monday, November 16, 2015

Filmmaking System

Note - it should be obvious, but everything I write in these Filmmaking System posts is specifically about my situation and my cameras. It's not meant to be general advice for anyone who's trying to learn filmmaking, although I'm sure some of it will apply fairly universally.

  • Keep the Leatherman on your belt with the big flat screwdriver open all the time - unless you have a quarter in your pocket to tighten and loosen screws on quick release plates and swivel heads etc. 
  • If you're using a microphone mounted on the camera, turn it around when you're standing behind the camera and talking.
  • Record some room ambience to plug in to shots that need it.
  • A monopod makes a pretty serviceable steadicam if you attach something heavy like a superclamp to the bottom of it. 
  • replace room lights with daylight balanced bulbs - then it will match daylight coming in through windows and make white balancing much easier, plus lamps won't have a weird yellow or red color in the finished film.
  • If you do a custom white balance each time you move into new lighting situations (sun disappears, different room or whatever) then it makes it almost unnecessary to color correct later, saving loads of time on tweaking and rendering.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Filmmaking System WARNING: (If your battery dies)

  • If your battery dies (makes a quiet sound like a truck backing up somewhere in the middle distance) remove the memory card and download it to the computer!! Otherwise when you put in a new battery it acts just like popping the battery out and replacing it (covered in an earlier entry about the screen warning Cannot Record - File Number Exceeded) - it erases the card!!! Though strangely, if there are any leftover clips that were already logged and transferred (in other words if you forgot to format the card when you put it back in) those won't be erased. Weird, aint it? The ones you don't need anymore are protected for some reason, but the ones you do need get wiped out.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Filmmaking System part 3 - more notes from experience

  1. Record each take separately, don't get long clips that need to be cut up later. This way you don't forget to focus for each new setup, and you don't feel rushed while doing new setups because the camera is still recording.
  2. Use AF Single, not AF Continual. In Single it focuses instantly and beeps, in Continual it shifts back and forth and never quite finds focus or beeps and you can't depend on it to focus during filming. 
  3. If you're going to be starting a shot with an 'empty stage' and moving something into frame, place it where it needs to end up, focus on it, then move it out of shot and start filming.
  4. Best to use infinity focus for most shots, except when you want a shallow depth of field for special impact. If you're a one man crew this saves a lot of headaches. 
  5. When the screen says "Cannot Record - File Limit Exceeded" it really means it - you can override the warning by popping the battery out and back in, but that erases the card and all previous shots are lost forever. 
  6. If you move into a new location with different lighting, re-set white balance. The Color Checker card's white rectangle is big enough to use for setting a custom white balance, which is necessary if you have a mix of daylight and indoor lighting.
  7. Switch off phones when shooting or they will start ringing and ruin your best shot. Maybe hang a "Filming in progress, please don't disturb" sign on the door, but I doubt it would stop anyone from knocking anyway.
  8. Only have your current project open in Final Cut or whatever footage you log and transfer will end up in the wrong one and you'll need to copy/paste it in.
  9. Find an interesting and quick way to do things - don't record a lot of bland footage of ordinary stuff nobody wants to see. It needs to catch the eye and fascinate, like a magic trick.
  10. Do more with less. Stage in depth (Citizen Kane style, but I don't need deep focus, I sorta dig the shallow focus). This way you can show several things in the same frame, rather than having to cut together different clips. Reduces camera setups and editing. 

Concerning cooking shots:

  • Trying to move the camera around to get a montage, you're either going to end up with a good meal or a good shot - pretty hard to get both. Especially if you have multiple burners going at once. 
  • You can concentrate more on the cooking if you get the whole thing in one wide shot. Using 2 cameras can allow for some cutting back and forth between A and B rolls.

Monday, October 26, 2015


It took a lot longer than expected - that's because I'm trying to learn video editing software as I go. It's also filled with mistakes, but I'm leaving it as is and calling it a learning experience. There are parts of it I'm happy with.. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Filmmaking System part 2 -- concerning the remote monitor

New stuff I've learned and need to remember:

  • Don't hot-plug HDMI cables! Have both devices (camera and monitor) switched OFF when plugging or unplugging cable. Hot-plugging can damage the electronics, and will most likely cause the camera and monitor to both shut down suddenly after working for a little while. 
  • Don't change anything on the monitor after recording begins or the monitor will shut down instantly and the camera will stop recording.
  • Always remove battery from back of monitor when it's not being used - it drains even while shut off. See about getting a power adapter for it since it gets used only in the studio. 
  • If you forget and hot-plug the HDMI cable or change a setting on the monitor and it screws everything up, you probably need to re-format the memory card before camera will record properly again.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Putting a system in place for filmmaking

Finished the solenoid actuator bracket late last night after a marathon two-day build - got hours of video to edit down to a montage that will go live today or tomorrow. And learned lots of lessons about how to do filmmaking right (and wrong).

Notes I jotted down during the shoot:
  • Never use the GF3 when you can use the GH2
  • Go to the extra trouble to do each shot right - don't get lazy and end up capturing crap shots.
  • When going in for a closer shot change to a different viewing angle as well.
  • Move camera around a lot - you don't want an entire film shot from a single viewing angle.
  • Be creative with camera angle and lighting.
  • Use B camera to capture incidental stuff to fill in the story.
  • Shut off music while filming - otherwise you'll need to replace the entire sound track. 
  • Don't sing or whistle or say dumb stuff while camera is rolling - see previous item.
  • Clean up areas that don't look good. Clean them thoroughly - dust, cobwebs and dog hair will show up clearly in HD.
  • Make SURE camera is properly focused!!! And make sure it's recording.
  • Look at the lens - don't look at yourself in the monitor! (when shooting yourself)
  • Pull battery before it's fully discharged and pop it in the charger - have 2 fully charged ones always ready to roll (or 1 charged and 1 charging). Also have spare memory cards close at hand. Need to come up with  system to temp mark batteries to show if they're charged or discharged at a glance. 
  • Always transport memory cards in protective cases.
  • Before hitting record button, always check time remaining and battery life.
  • Always double check that every shot from the card has been transferred to the computer, then clear the card, and always format in camera as soon as the card goes in. 
  • Don't sit and watch footage as it transfers - let it do it's thing and get back to work.
  • Have card already in computer before opening Final Cut or it will crash. Always save project after importing new footage.
  • Final Cut is pretty stable while rendering or exporting - you can hide it and use the computer for other things. But it's very unstable while ingesting footage - don't try to make it multi-task at that time. 
Man, shooting live action stuff is a huge hassle compared to doing stopmotion! Just the sheer volume of material you need to capture and whittle down - I filled up an external hard drive that had over 300 gigs of free space!! I've ordered a much bigger hard drive for this, and I definitely need to learn more about how to set up a Final Cut project and work with the files, delete what you don't need as you go etc. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Combining footage from different cameras/ different frame rates works

Tested several different combinations today - footage from the GF3 and GH2, both in 1080p mode, and both AVCHD, but one camera was shooting 24 fps and one was 30. Final Cut had no problem importing and working with the different frame rates (well, it actually crashed the first time when I tried to import the 2nd card, but after that it went smoothly). Quicktime plays it no problem. I opened the inspector to see what framerate it was using and it seems to have exported the whole thing at 24fps, which was the setting from the first piece of footage. So it seems it used that info to create the project and conformed everything to it. I even tried uploading it to youtube and it worked flawlessly.

I also tried combining AVCHD and Mjpeg footage, both shot on the GF3 and at the same size and frame rate. That also worked, though I didn't try uploading it to youtube.

Since last night I've been trying to figure out how I was getting 24p from the GF3 - can't replicate it today. Possibly I was just mistaken, or maybe it was in one of the photo modes (you can set it up in stills mode and press the dedicated video button and it will capture video using the stills settings). I'll keep messing with it and if I find it I'll write it down before I forget.

Anyway, now I know I can use a 2-camera setup to record things and the footage will combine flawlessly into a single video -- as long as it's all the same size (didn't even try combining different sizes).

One thing I've discovered is that I now need to come up with a much better system for logging my footage and storing it - I literally need to write down what I'm recording on each card and create a nested system of folders on a scratch disc to contain it all, as well as a systematic naming convention for it all. It's weird - adding just 1 camera to the production line suddenly multiplies the logistical difficulty by several factors.