Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 5...

Returning from a weeklong time-lapse shoot in Edinburgh to find the film shipment had arrived. Excellent.

I was wondering how that might turn out. Morco didn’t have as much stock as they thought they would. I thought I might have to scrounge the whole of the UK to come up with 150 rolls, but as it happens, Silverprint in London (my new best friends) had a ridiculous amount of Kodak stock to sell. I grabbed 100 rolls of Portra 400 and 50 rolls of Portra 160. (The unpredictable nature of the weather here had made me reconsider the idea of shooting all 400. There is a chance of being in full, raging sun with a couple of our locations, so I opted to be safe and cover myself with a bit of 160.) As long as I stick to a single stock per location, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Jack Quick from LomoLab, UK, has been most helpful in determining the post options that are best for the project. It turns out that their semi-automated process will produce a bigger, beefier file size and is also a bit less expensive. We’ll be getting DVD’s of the quicktime movies to edit with. I’m hoping to juice up my Macbook Pro before then, so I can handle the off-line edit myself. We may move the on-line edit to a post house in Glasgow for finishing and tweaks.

Kyle is currently working on the costume he’ll use for the film and getting the song ready. The slowed down broken up version will be on CD and played from a bog-standard portable CD player. Each take will be slated with the track number and take. Once in the edit, the tracks will be cut together with the slowed down version of the song, then the whole thing will be “brought up to speed” and further tweaked. (This is how it works in the perfect little fantasy world inside my brain, anyway…)

I’m working on trimming down the number of locations, as well as scheduling. We’ll shoot 2-3 locations per day (weather permitting), starting each day on the east side of the island and moving to the west side after lunch, to maximize our daylight.

We’re still considering several locations. The lighthouse is definitely going to be a prime location, as well as the St. Blanes Chapel ruin. There are a couple of locations above Scalpsie Bay that will be amazing as well.

We’ll be asking a favour of a boat owning friend of ours to shuttle us to the remote lighthouse location. That’ll save an hour-long cliffside hike. (Although, I’ve been considering certain points along the ciff-hike for locations, so maybe the boat takes us to the Lighthouse and we “shoot” our way back along the cliff…)

This is going to be exciting…

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 4...

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson

This new performance based video is much more technically challenging.

How do I have a synch sound performance piece from a camera whose frame rate is far from constant?
Kyle and I decided that synch would be less of an issue as long as it was mostly there. With the dreamy look of the camera as the film’s centrepiece we could forgive “perfect” synch for the overall look.

I’m getting excited about the challenge.

The next decision is about Film stock. The overall look of the film has to be natural looking and in colour. Kodak films have always seemed to me to be warmer toned and people friendly, whereas Fuji tend to be more on the cool end of the spectrum and a bit more contrasty.

Because of the varying exposure from frame to frame and the 100% outdoor locations, I need a stock that has wide latitude and a certain amount of forgiveness in regards to over and underexposure. That would be Kodak’s Portra 400.

How much film? 1 roll per scene makes 95 rolls of film. Assuming a shooting ratio of around 2:1 makes 190 rolls of film… When Kyle and I decided that playback could be 18fps,That meant that the song only had to be slowed down 3x, so Kyle would be burning the song, slowed down 300%, bringing the total length would be 8:25, then breaking that down into 7-second chunks preceded by 2 or 3 beeps, which brings us, in the end to 73 individual 7-second scenes. With our 2:1 shooting ratio, that’s 146 rolls of film.

I now have the challenge of coming up with 150 rolls of film. Since Kodak’s bid for Chapter 11, their film has become tougher to find. I called every major supplier in the UK and they all told me the same thing.

          “We don’t have that much and it would be a problem to get it for you.”
          “So you can’t do it?”
          “It would be a bit of a problem, sir.”
          “So you can do it, but won’t?”
          “Finding that much of the Kodak film would be a problem, but we could get you Fuji film instead.”

This was the response from all but one supplier. The guy at Morco Photographic was very positive about being able to get the film, so we’ll see if he was shining me on, or if he has the juice to make it happen.

I received a comp of the song today. It’s a minute longer than the rough cut I heard a couple of weeks ago, but the performance bit is still 2 minutes and 45 seconds

I’ve been thinking of ways to use the limitation of the 2-2.5 second takes to enhance the look of the film. I’ve decided that each performance bit could be set up to be shot as a series of shots to emulate a crane or dolly move. This will show off the dramatic scenery as well as the performance.

The location scouting is going well. I found another way to a high cliff overlooking the Lighthouse on the southern end of the island. It’s a real hike to get there though. It’s about an hour up and down rocky, muddy hills and valleys. To get to the lighthouse itself, is an hour hike along a cliff face. It’ll be really sweet. There might be an easier trail to the lighthouse, but I’ve yet to find it.


There are now several locations to choose from and we’ll be making those decisions soon. I had another conversation with Jack Quick at LomoLab, UK. It turns out that using the slightly cheaper semi-automated process for the Kino film will produce a bigger file size than with the Deluxe process. I’ve been a bit worried about the files sizes of the little movies. I don’t want to do all of this work, and then have a project that can’t be adequately displayed full screen.

I’ll be completing the “synch” test film this week, hopefully. (I’m in Edinburgh working on a weeklong time-lapse project for a client, so I’m hoping that I can get the rolls completed and sent to Jack during the downtime.)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 3...

Testing the LomoKino was a fun little excersize to figure out what the camera was capable of. The first roll was a bit of a disaster in post. The colour was way off and each frame had to be corrected by hand. The shakiness of the movie was due my own inability to perfectly select the individual frames. The camera test was basically a success. It revealed a hitch in the process though. Around 150 frames per roll meant that I would have to individually scan each one. The colour could be taken care of in the scanner menu under "Color Restoration". This worked for the other rolls.

Wet-scanning on the Epson Perfection V750 Pro has always been a time consuming process, but this was a bit more than I bargained for. By the end of the 4-roll test, I’d become a bit better at selecting the frames, but there’s still a bit of a shudder in the final films. This could be taken care of in post, however, by motion tracking stable objects in the frame. This would also be ridiculously time consuming, not to mention expensive, since it wouldn't likely be me doing it.

By the end of my camera test I was able to get 2 rolls a day finished. Realizing that the Seeds video may have as many as 200 rolls to process, the pre-edit post was becoming a bit daunting. Around 30,000 frames that need to be individually scanned adjusted and cleaned up, would make my job a bit more than I had bargained for.


My discussions with Kyle have been centering around a performance of the song. The 6fps of the frame rate of the LomoKino would prove to be inadequate for a good performance. I’m considering a way to get a 24fps output by speeding up the footage by a factor of 4. This could work if the song was slowed down by the same factor of 4. Kyle could mime the slow version of the song at 6 fps in 7 second increments. The downside of this being that the final sped up shots would be 2 seconds long. That’s a lot of cuts for a relatively slow song.

Also, the 2:45 minute song becomes 11:00 minutes (15,840 frames) 106 rolls of 35mm film to shoot the song ONCE. For a 2:1 ratio that becomes 212 rolls of film, or 31,680 frames. If I got fast enough to scan 3 rolls a day, that’s 71 days of scanning before I can eve edit anything. YIKES!

I need to test this “synch” idea. It works in my head, but that rarely translates well into reality.

I emailed Mike Raso of The Film Photography Podcast about his LomoKino workflow. He’s been scanning strips of film and selecting the frames in photoshop. His films are a bit steadier with this workflow, many not as time consuming as my process. I have another test roll left to scan and might be trying this workflow instead.


Great news from LomoLab UK. Jack Quick, the LomoLab UK Manager said that he was really interested in working with me on this project. They also process and scan! The crux of the conversation centered around the size of the quicktime files. If the files are too small, the quality of the final film won’t be a high enough quality. The price of the service was a bit of a shock at £12.00 per roll (£2,544.00 for 212 rolls), it skyrockets the budget. There’s also the time factor, 5-6 weeks for the number of rolls I need processed. I figure it's either me or the LomoLab that's going to spend a month and a half with this, so it’s worth considering.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 2...

I really enjoyed working with Kyle on his last album. The Echo Bloom project, Jamboree was one of the most fulfilling creative endeavours I’ve ever undertaken. Kyle is a great collaborator and at the same time willing to let me make creative leaps in my art to create amazing images. I’m excited to be able to shoot the first music video from his new album BLUE. The song is called Seeds. It’s about a couples’ longing to be together after death. It’s haunting and beautiful.

The original idea was using marionettes to act out the story of a man asking his wife to fill his pockets with seeds on the event of his death and bury him in the forest so that he would become one with the tree that will grow from him. He tells his wife to do the same, when her life comes to an end.

I planned to have Kyle come to the Isle of Bute to shoot the film. The stunning natural and dramatic settings would create the perfect backdrop.

Using a local puppeteer to make and use the marionettes was a natural fit. (This idea still fascinates me and I’ve come up with another Marionette Video for the single Cedar Beach.)

Kyle was initially behind the idea. We were set to create an eerie, moody puppet movie with minimal movement by the puppets. Using mainly emotive reactions (to avoid the piece looking like Team America), we could take advantage the LomoKino's 6fps-ish frame rate.

After a week of going back and forth about the story, logistics and cost of a puppet shoot, we changed the idea to a more abstract performance based idea.

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 1...

The inspiration for this project came to me as I was falling asleep, wondering what I could do for Echo Bloom's upcoming music video. Making these projects different and interesting is always a challenge. I decided to approach this (as is typical for me) from a technical angle first. How could I shoot this to make it different?

Film, would, of course, be my first choice. Super-8 is always fun, and after some research, I found some resources in the UK to make this possible.

DSLR would be a non-starter for me simply because of the over abundance of material already out there. I thought that video in general wouldn’t work for the creation of an interesting look that I would want to create “out of the camera”, versus baking in a filtered “film-look” in post.

Super-8, initially, seemed like a great fit. It would be cost effective and easy to manage. The film, processing, and transfer could all be from The Widescreen Center in London. The Super-8 version of the music video would cost just over £1100.00 (including the camera). With Kyle’s plane ticket, that would be within our budget.

That’s when it occurred to me…

The idea for the using the LomoKino for this project, at first seemed utterly daft. The footage I was seeing on the web was shaky and awful. The film was colour shifted and looked as if it had been stored on the dashboard of a '81 Dodge Charger in Arizona.

What I liked about the camera was the widescreen aspect ratio, the grainy, ubiquitious film look and it’s simple overall process. I wondered what I could do to smooth out the rough edges of this little camera’s output.

The technical challenges are presented by the LomoKino are:

The frame rate of the camera varies from 5-8 fps.

The exposure can vary by as much as a stop to a stop and a half from one frame to the next.

The frame itself isn’t terribly stable and the handheld shaky look is jarring and not pleasing. (This could be taken care of by motion tracking stationary objects within the frame in post to make the picture more stable.)

So, I came up with a list of ideas:

First, using better film.
Second, using a tripod.
Third, using a different frame rate tricks to smooth out the motion.

How hard could it possibly be?

How much could it possibly cost?

How long could it possibly take?

Oh God, was I about to find out...