Saturday, 19 October 2013


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Friday, 31 May 2013

Are ACES High or Low?

Right, I promise the title is the only card pun I'll put in this post. Its been ages since my last blog post due to a mixture of not being inspired by any topics and just being busy. My 4th feature as Editor was locked early this year and a month or two ago I finished the grade and sent the film off to the guys as Carousel Media Company for them to create the DCP and other deliverables. Now I'm in a little bit of down period before my next film so I'm going to be focusing on networking, planning ahead and research.

One thing I've come across in my relentless pursuit to know everything about digital post is the ACES (Academy Color Encoding Specification) colour space and how it can be implemented in post-production workflows. Why should you care about this? Well, if your concerned about making beautiful images you should know about it because it can improve colour rendition and help you bring footage from various different cameras (that all "see" the world differently) into line with each other. Now, whilst reading this please bear in mind that I'm only just dipping my toe into this world. ACES is used in the highest end film workflows and I'm really only just grasping the basics here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Grading (A Resolve Set Up)

Been a while since my last post but I'm just getting towards the end of the edit of my fourth feature film as editor, Tamla Rose. Its been an interesting job because whilst principal photography ended several months back and I have been working on the film on and off since then, the team only shot the final day of pickups a couple of weeks back and we are already trying to get the film locked. I also got a nice surprise when I was asked to grade the film as well. I wasn't expecting this as the last film I did for this company was sent down to a Colourist in London. This is going to be my third feature as Colourist (after Born of Hope which has now had 11million views and The Turing Enigma) so I made a couple of big decisions. Firstly, I wanted to do it in DaVinci Resolve (which I have recently spent a lot time learning so that I could teach it at the media school I work at) and secondly I wanted to have at least some kind of proper video monitoring and a colour control surface.

So the first decision was easy. Whilst I love Apple Color (which I used on the previous two features and several shorts) it's a dead application (thanks Apple) so continuing to hone my skill on it seemed kind of pointless. Resolve is the industry standard and now its cheap (or free for the Lite version which "only" goes up to HD resolution) it's becoming incredibly commonplace.

The second decision was more difficult because it would mean a lot of research on my part into getting the "right" setup and it would involve not only spending all the money I was getting for grading the film, but also getting a loan to pay for the rest. But I think any career in such a competitive industry as TV & Film needs to be full of bold moves that you hope pay off. When I quit doing temp work in an office I had no idea if I could support myself with just film work and teaching, but it paid off and 4 years later I'm still paying the rent, so you have to have a little faith. But how much to spend? That was the big question. I priced up my ideal suite at between £8-10k. It would have looked something like this;

Now if that doesn't make you drool then what the hell are you doing reading my blog? But £8-10k is a LOT of money to be dropping unless you have several well paid jobs definitely lined up. Which I don't. I have some pretty nice potential jobs and few definite jobs on the horizon but in the end I thought that spending this money would be a mistake because it would essentially be taking several steps at once. I would be moving up from my MacbookPro, to a tower with additional GPU processing, adding external monitoring of my video signal and getting a broadcast quality OLED monitor.

So I downsized my budget (several times) and ended up with a figure of £4k, which meant I could get pretty small personal loan that if worst came to worst it would still be pretty easy to pay back on a minimum wage job. So instead my setup looks like this;

I replaced the MacPro (which are a dier need of a revamp by Apple anyway) with a top spec iMac. I replaced Black Magic card with the cheapest Black Magic thunderbolt box (the Intensity Extreme). I kept the colour control surface and the 42" high end consumer plasma screen but lost the OLED monitor. Whilst the setup (I'm looking at it right now) doesn't make me drool quite as much as I had in mind it is still a major step up for me (and I still feel a little giddy about it). I believe I was stretching my Macbook as far as it would go and that is the moment that you should upgrade. So that's what I did. Now I can edit and grade in HD whilst monitoring the actual video signal on a faithful(ish) monitor that at least attempts to emulate the scale of watching a cinema screen and I can grade at least 4 times as quickly (and I'm not even practiced yet) with the control surface. Once I have pushed this gear as far as it will go then I can upgrade to the suite above and this setup will become my offline suite. Until then, I'm happy with this.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

My Career So Far

These past couple of months have been pretty chaotic for me. I have been very busy with The Zombie King which we locked picture on last week, The Turing Enigma has made its way into the world via Amazon and Distrify, I started a new feature called Tamla Rose and edited a good portion of the rushes during its first 3 week shoot and I recently put the finishing touches to the first feature I edited, First Time Loser, which has at last come out of the other side of its audio post and grade. All in all I'm feeling pretty reflective about my career so far and also thinking about what the future will hold. So far I have edited 3 feature films (First Time Loser, The Turing Enigma and The Zombie King) and going into my 4th I think I have learnt alot from all of them. I try to keep away from discussion of technology on this blog as much as possible, not because I don't find it interesting, but because there are so many other blogs which talk about the software and hardware side of editing. That mostly means I'm talking about editing techniques or the philosophies behind editing but today I'd like to share my experiences in the general post-production flow of the films I have worked on so far, what I have learnt from them and how I applied that knowledge when taking on the job of Editor for my next feature, Tamla Rose.
Let me first point out that all of the films I have worked on so far have had low budgets (and should probably be classed as no budget films). Whilst there was money spent on them all (in amounts that would make a lot of indie filmmakers drool), they are all at a level where most of the cash will dissapear into things like food, accomodation, camera and light rental and the general administrative process of getting a feature film made. What this basically means is that on all the films the majority of the cast and crew's payment was either partially or competely deferred. Working for free or a fraction of what you should be getting paid is a difficult game when you still have to pay rent/bills, but its really the only way you are going to get a foot on the ladder in a business as competitive as this one. Its a raw deal, but whining about it gets you nowhere. So if your interested, I'll describe my first 3 films in detail after the jump...

Monday, 2 April 2012

The First Cut

My favourite part of the job I do is doing the first rough cut of a dialogue scene. It doesn't have to be a dialogue scene, I'm quite happy with an action scene or music video or a simple montage, but dialogue is my forte. But that moment when I have a bin full of footage ready to go and a completely blank timeline is the most exciting moment in filmmaking for me. Truly, I believe it's the moment when the filmmaking actually begins. Production is exciting and I wouldn't dream of demeaning the input of the various roles involved, but a lot of the skills which go into it are not unique to filming. Photography, lighting, acting, art direction, they all have there roots in other art forms, but editing is the thing that sets cinema apart from everything that preceded it. Up until the moment you start trying to seamlessly combine the various performance and camera angles together to create a new little universe that no longer contains cameras and lights and crew and actors, only the characters that inhabit it, you don't really have a film. You just have footage. And that is why I love being an Editor.

I have in the past had people ask about how much "say" I get into what goes into the final draft of the films I edit. They are usually surprised that, technically, I don't get any. Thankfully, I am usually afforded the opportunity to put together a first cut of the film on my own. But if the director came along and decided that he literally wanted to change everything, he could. And at the end of the day he has that right, because its him that will get the credit if its great (i.e. it sells) and the stick if its rubbish (i.e. it flops). But putting money on this happening would be a foolish way to waste money, because it underestimates the power of the first cut. There is something special about seeing the footage cut together for the first time, and although there is always going to be a lot of work done after that, the first cut (if done well) will always leave an imprint on the finished project. So even, if I encounter a director who doesn't know the meaning of the world collaborate, I'm pretty sure I will always get my fair share of "say".

To finish off this post, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and give you  a complete dialogue scene that I did for The Turing Enigma, my second feature as Editor. It's one of my favourite scenes that I've had the pleasure of working on.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Prying Open Your 3rd Eye

One of the most important skills a good editor needs to develop is the ability to understand and manipulate the gaze of the audience member. The quality of every cut you make depends on your ability to determine where the audience will be looking before the cut and control where they look too after the cut. Many factors go into this including the emotional content of the scene, the composition, lighting and focus of the shot and the movement of objects within the frame. A lot of the time, this decision is made instinctually and you can usually feel if a cut is smooth or jarring (both have their place), but there are several things you can do to improve your cutting ability. One resource which has only recently developed is technology which can detect where your audience members are looking on the screen and log that information as data. The following video comes from a small audience watching a scene from There Will Be Blood. The circles on the screen represent where in the frame each audience member is looking. If someone maintains there gaze on one spot then the circle grows in size. I hope you find this as interesting and useful as I did.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


I'm going to be in danger of sounding like your dad with this post but what the hell. If you want to be a writer/director/or filmmaker in any capacity, you should read more novels, not watch more films. Seems counterintuitive, I know, but let me explain a couple of reasons why I believe reading makes you better equipped to make good films.


With the amount of remakes, reboots, knowing winks and downright plagiarism (I'm looking at you Quentin Tarantino) in the world of cinema it is has become patently obvious that more and more filmmakers are only looking to films for their inspiration instead of the plethora of art forms available to them. This gives us a situation where the same ideas are recycled and rehashed over and over again, each time becoming weaker than the last like the page of a book that has been photocopied, and then the photocopy has been photocopied, and then the the photocopy of the photocopy has been photocopied and.... well you get the point. The reason I think books can be such a good source of inspiration for original filmmaking is simple. They can be far more specialist. Films take a lot of money to make and distribute and whilst there are some niche markets, they just can't aim at the narrower audiences that authors of books can aim at and still make a living because of the lower production costs of writing and printing (or kindling? that's almost a pun because paper can be used as kindling and amazon's reading gadget is called a kindle, get it? anyway moving on). You can quite easily buy a book about a couple who use a clone of the baby jesus as a but plug (imaginatively titled The Baby Jesus But Plug), but I'm fairly certain it's unlikely to get optioned by Paramount. If you can publish to a smaller audience, you can take more risks. Filmmaking often falls victim of the committee. Now, I'm not suggesting that you should make films with a very narrow audience, because you won't get the money to make it. But taking inspiration from something specialist and niche and adapting it for a mass audience can be fruitful, interesting and (most importantly) fresh. Similarly, don't see this as an excuse to adapt every good novel into a film.


A lot of people talk about making their films more cinematic, and this phrase is generally interchanged to mean a lot of different things. They could refer to using wider shots so that it suits projection, using a wider aspect ratio like 2.35:1, shooting at 24 or 25p etc etc. For now, I'm going to cast the technical stuff like 24/25p aside, not because it doesn't matter, but because too many indie filmmakers get bogged down waiting to make their film until they have the right camera or whatever when you could just make that film and then make a better one when the Red Scarlet, that will so drastically improve your film, is released. The way I think of cinematic is based on what defines cinema as a medium. For example, cinema differs from radio and books in that you can show things to your audience rather than describe them. And cinema differs from theatre in that you can put every member of the audience at the same distance from the actors and you have almost total control about how great that distance is. The first one of these leads good script writers to the realisation that cinema is most powerful when it shows us a story rather than tells us one. Which is why action films are generally considered more cinematic than, for example period dramas. Some people take this a step further and seem to think that dialogue heavy scripts simply can't be cinematic but this ignores the way that cinema can project just the face of person on a 40 foot screen. The medium shot and the close up give us the power to show more than just what the actor is saying. So, even a dialogue heavy film can (in my opinion) be cinematic, if the emotions and story developments are shown rather than explained through dialogue, as they would have to be with theatre. This (at last) leads me to books, because what you need to make a dialogue scene cinematic is subtext. You need things for the characters to think, to want to say but never say and to mean when they say something completely different. A novel is one of the few places where you find subtext explicitly written down. In a novel you can write 5 paragraphs about the thought processes a character is going through before he or she responds to a question they have just been asked, even though in real time (and usually in cinema) the conversation would have continued at a normal pace. A lot of good novels are mostly subtext, because like making your film cinematic, this takes advantages of the characteristics of the medium. By reading novels and being more exposed to subtext you can become better at integrating it into your films Now, in a film script you don't (and almost certainly should't) write the subtext of  scene down. But by knowing the subtext of a scene, by knowing that a character means yes even though they are saying no, by understanding that people might talk about something not because its relevant but because it can distract them from what they should but perhaps don't want to say, you will almost certainly write better scrips. And applying the same ideas when dissecting an already written script will also almost certainly make you a better director, actor, director of photography etc. By making a scene about the subtext rather than what the characters are actually saying, you instantly make it cinematic because you are showing rather than telling your story to the audience and taking advantage of some of the key characteristics of cinema.

That is all.