Sunday, June 2, 2013


So, you showed up on set to help out and somebody hands you a camera you have no idea how to use and says "Hey man, can you get us some BTS material and maybe grab some interviews?"

Don't panic.

While it scares many folks, filming BTS is a great opportunity that can lead to bigger better things!

The key to good BTS is to have a simple shot list and some interesting questions to ask. If you have no idea what to do for either of those, don't worry. Read on, I've got you covered.

BTS Shot List

Bad Things to Film

People eating.

People resting.

Injuries/Bad karma moments. Yes they make good youtube fodder. But they also make you a dick. Don't be a dick. If someone gets hurt, turn off the camera and see if you can help them.

If for some reason real life drama erupts on the set, turn the camera off and set it down. Continuing to film makes you a dick and could make the situation worse.

Also keep in mind that you are missing the point completely if you spend a majority of your time simply capturing the actors performance from a different angle. You are not making your own version of the film. You are capturing the work that goes in to making the film.

Good Things to Film

Director working with the actors.

Director working with the Director of Photography.

The Director and Director of Photography in the act of filming a scene.

The Director looking at the monitor while filming a scene.

Playful actor and crew antics while chilling on set.

Setup of things like cranes. Dolly's, complex set pieces.

Before and after photo's.

Close ups of the crew operating their equipment during a scene (pulling focus, adjusting audio levels, adjusting a light)

Get different angles, Wide, Medium, Close.

Interviews. These are gold and when done properly mix well with any and all of the above as b-roll!

BTS Interviews

Folks to Interview

  • Actors
  • Director
  • Director of Photography
  • Audio Folks
  • Prop folks
The actors will be the easiest to interview. They love the camera and generally have a lot of time as they wait for the set to be ready for them to deliver their performances.

The Director and Director of Photography will be difficult (sometimes impossible) to get time from. Get it when/if you can, but don't worry too much if you can't. If they want an interview they know how to run a camera and can do it themselves later.

The Audio and Props folks can be shy at times, but ask them about their gear, ask them about technical challenges with the shoot. Sometimes you can get some great stories.

Doing the Interview

Find a quite place with a decent backdrop. Do not use a bathroom or a storage closet.

If you need to go outdoors, or find a quiet room off to the side. Don't wander too far offset. These people may be called back into service at a moments notice!

Interviews should generally be done with the camera dead level at medium wide (upper chest and head). Or close up (face only). How ever you decide to frame it be consistent so the editor has the flexibility to cut between interviewees in post. Whether you have the subject look into the camera or you give the subject something to look at just off camera is not important as long as you be consistent about it. As a courtesy ask the director. He may have a preference.

Interview Questions

Bad Questions:

Don't ask simple "yes, no" or short answer questions. Give the subject questions they can sink their teeth into and expound upon.

Good Questions:

Who are you and what is your role in the film?

What made you interested in the role? (for actors)

How does the character you portray compare to you in real life? (for actors)

Tell me a bit of what you know about the film.

Tell me a bit about the gear you are using.

Have you worked with the director before? What are your impressions of the director?

What is it like working with <another actor or crew members name>?

What is the most challenging thing about this shoot?

Ask them to rephrase the questions you ask them as part of their answer.

For example if you ask them:

"Who are you and what is your role in the film?"

They would ideally answer something to the effect of:

"Hi, I'm Jane Doe and I'm playing the part of blah blah blah."

This gives the editor more freedom in editing the material.

Have Fun with it!

You have the luxury of shooting without a script. Have fun with it!

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Devon, a friend of mine recently asked:
"I was wondering if you might have some time to talk to me about setting up my first audio/video studio inside my own home. 
I am looking to get into recording video for posting on the web, mostly informational or commentary type video - some on location video. I am also looking to podcast, probably with a group of 4 to 5 people at a time.
I've done some research on equipment and what not, but don't know what is really necessary/not necessary to have a good first setup that will last me a couple years and produce a respectable quality or video and audio that most would find acceptable without breaking my wallet. 
I also want the equipment to be mobile - as I plan to go out on the road and record in the field.
I want to spend less than $5,000. Prefer to spend less than $2,500.
I do not want to do a lot of "fixing in post" - I want things to be near broadcast ready when recorded - just a little editing and clipping to get it ready to go. 
I own a Mac, but have no editing software and I want stuff that isn't crazy hard to learn."
 Devon, you've come to the right place, asked all the right questions, and provided all the right information. :)

I'll start my response with something that's sure to seem counter-intuitive at first.

The camera doesn't matter.

Also, for what you are trying to do:

The Editing software is even less important than the camera.

So we'll get to those last and by the time we do I promise you'll understand.

In order to have a fully functional production quality studio you absolutely require the following (listed in order of importance):

  1. Quality Audio Gear
  2. Good Lighting
  3. Durable Tripod
  4. Camera
  5. Editing Software

Now we'll go over each of these items and I'll list my recommendations:

So far we are at: $0

1. Quality Audio Gear

Generally speaking many casual viewers will forgive bad lighting, grainy video, and sometimes even sub-par acting... provided you have rich crystal clear audio. It may surprise you how difficult it is to achieve with even professional high end cameras. Whatever camera you decide to film with you should always assume the on-board audio will be garbage and good for little more than backup or safety in a pinch.

Not to worry though. There is plenty of great dedicated audio equipment that will not break your bank.

For capturing voice you want the microphone as close to the source of the subject as you can get it. For shoots close to the camera I use Audio Technica 3550 clip on mics. Also called a lavalier. These go for about $20 on Amazon. They have very long cords, hide under clothing very well, and provide deep and rich audio.

The downside is they are wired, so your mobility and camera shooting angles will be more limited. They are also battery operated so don't forget to turn them off when you're done! A wireless setup will cost ALOT more, require more batteries, and can actually be more complicated to work with. If any of my readers have success stories with particular wireless lavs by all means share your success stories in the comments section! Don't forget to provide links if you can!

Also important to know is the 3550 is an omni-directional microphone. Meaning it picks up sound from EVERY direction. If you are standing near traffic or a loud water fountain this is not the kind of microphone you would want.

Another choice for audio (and sometimes a better choice for field recording) is a directional Boom Mic. Often called a "Shotgun Mic". These mics look like the barrel of a shotgun and capture sound coming from only the direction they are pointed at (uni-directional). A correctly aimed shotgun mics is perfect for picking up your voice while ignoring the fore mentioned traffic and water fountain. On the other hand a shotgun mic would not be very useful at capturing audio for a spread out group of 5 people.

If money were no object the ultimate shotgun mic setup would be the aptly named: Sennheiser MKH 8060 Ultimate Shotgun Microphone Kit. At $2,399.50 it includes an ultralight graphite boom pole  (your boom operator friends will thank you) and just about the best kind of wind screen you can get. I have never used this kit personally but it is on my own wishlist.

Rode makes a versatile kit made of heavier and less sturdy materials but at a much more affordable price point of $620.

The Rode kit does provide a mount for a DSLR camera so you technically don't need a second person to man a boom pole. The problem is depending on the camera, the noise of the camera itself may make capturing audio with the microphone further away be the better option.

If you want a cheap portable the Zoom h4n is the swiss army knife for field recording. This portable powerhouse has two built in condenser mics plus inputs for XLR (stage and studio mics!).

So I can hear you at this point exclaiming "great... what the hell do I get?".

My suggestion is, start with the 3550 for in studio use and the Zoom h4n for recording in the field.

If you find you need a shotgun mic later, go with the Rode and bonus... it can hook directly into the Zoom no camera required. Perfect for audio only podcasts.

Don't forget to buy yourself a SOLID set of monitoring headphones. Good headphones are NOT earbuds. In the field there is all kinds of things you want these things to block out. When recording you want to hear only what the microphone hears. When editing you want to catch every tummy rumble in the audio track.

I got myself the Audio Technica ATH-M50 years ago. At $120 they are not cheap, but I still use mine both in the field and when I'm editing. In fact we used them quite a bit on the set of Super Knocked Up. They have proven to be a great investment.

So far we are at: $440

2. Good Lighting

Don't be one of those folks that goes all in on the most expensive camera they can afford only to later wonder why their videos don't look much better than what others are shooting on their iPhones.

I was one of those people, and I know better now.

The truth is a cheap camera can provide respectable image quality in the right lighting. A great camera can provide absolutely craptastic image quality in the wrong lighting.

Another point worth mentioning is camera technology radically changed when cameras moved from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD). The sort version is whether you have an $200 iPhone or a $10,000 RED Scarlet, these HD cameras hate fake light. They hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Sunlight on the other hand, they love!

Add to the problem the fact that most indoor environments have crap light that doesn't mix well with the sunlight that's usually pouring in from the windows. Outdoors your camera will mostly do fine. Indoors, it will go ape.

Do yourself a favor. Take indoor lighting seriously. For commentary/interview style video you can probably get by with a 3 point lighting setup. A really good starter kit is the Linco Flora system. It's all florescent, kicks out ALOT of light (you'll probably use them at half power), mixes with sunlight beautifully, uses less power than a tungsten kit, and runs cooler so you won't be sweating under them.

If you're saying "Chriss, $1,300! For lights!? Seriously!?" Watch my review of the Linco Flora system here. The first half is an unboxing of the kit in crappy house lighting recorded on my Canon HFS 10 using the microphone built into the camera.

The second half is shot with the same exact camera using only two Linco's at half power with the sun behind me as a backlight. For the second half I also used my Audio Technica 3550 lav to capture the audio. You tell me which half looks and sounds better.

There are bigger names in lighting. Arri and Kino are two of the Cadillac brands. There are cheaper brands like Britek. Trust me, I obsessed over what to get for over a year. Two years and several shoots later, I still have no regrets about getting the Linco system. You'll be able to use this kit long after your first Camera and Editing suite has been upgraded.

So far we are at: $1,740

3. Durable Tripod

You are probably wondering why I listed the Tripod as more important than the camera... Well let me ask you this. Who's going to be holding the camera while you are jibber-jabberin in front of it?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Actually, I'm not making fun of you right now. I'm making fun of myself 7 years ago. My first tripod was a 20 dollar deal I bought at Best Buy as an afterthought. It was probably just about the worst tripod money could buy. The motions it could perform were limited and it made all kinds of noises and jammed constantly while panning.

If you really want to see and hear an example of what a crappy tripod can do to you work, check out one of the first videos I ever posted to facebook. It's called Family Time and the tripod butchers it.

In fact it was so bad for video that my Director of Photography for Nice Muffins said that if he ever caught me filming with it again he would light it on fire and beat me with it.

We filmed Nice Muffins using his Cullmann 3335 and I bought one of my own shortly after for $115. I've been using it ever since. It's a rock solid tripod that's unfortunately been discontinued. If you can find one on ebay grab it without hesitation.

The key difference between my old tripod and the Cullmann is that the Cullmann has a "fluid head". This basically means it's more expensive but the pans are liquid smooth and totally silent.

If the camera is just going to sit there. None of that matters. But if you are going to be running around in the "field" trying to capture live action stuff "as it happens". The best thing you could do is run around with it attached to the tripod, get where you need to be and plant that sucker down (on only one leg if you have to) and get the shot. In the link I provided above all the shots are handheld with tripod assist. The residual shakiness you see is because I'm an idiot and I had in camera stabilization turned off because I'd done some stationary shots earlier.

With the 3335 in retirement and most other tripods I've used since failing to measure up... I had to phone a friend on this one and what I got back was: The Manfrotto 055XDB. Now I have not personally used this tripod but it's got good reviews on Amazon. I do want to point out 2 things about the 055XDB:

  1. it lacks a bubble level, so field use might be more difficult unless you get a level to use with it.
  2. It doesn't have a spreader to stabilize the legs.
My best advice here is to go to a local camera shop and play with the tripods they have there. Feel how heavy and durable they are. Try them with the legs extended to various heights, see how easy they are to level. Trying panning up and down. Is it smooth and silent? If you find one you like but the price is ridiculous, write the model down and see if it's cheaper to order online.

Whatever you get, expect it to cost between $100 and $200.

So far we are at: $1,940

4. Camera

Finally we get to the camera. The thing I said didn't matter. You said you want to be able to record both in the studio and "in the field" at near broadcast quality. My best advice for that is:

The Canon Vixia HF G30. It's expensive because it's the Cadillac 2013 pro-sumer model. I could go on and on in gushy detail about this camera but let me make it simple. Great low light performance, great stabilization options, and lightning fast auto focus.

If you had told me you were planning to shoot short films, feature films, or VFX heavy material I'd be suggesting something totally different. Most likely a DSLR like a Canon T5i or a brand new Black Magic Pocket Cinema. But you said you want to shoot commentaries and do run and gun in the field.

I own 2 5D MKII'd and I'm buying a Pocket Cinema in July, but for run and gun I'm still gonna reach for my trusty old HF S10 (the great, great, great grandaddy of the G30) before anything else.

Why don't I grab the 5D MKII? Because it can't auto focus while it's filming. Because it can only film for 15 minutes before stopping. And lastly, because (depending on the lens) it can't stabilize without creating so much noise my mic can pick it up from 3 feet away. When I find out how well the Pocket Cinema works for run and gun, I'll let you know.

It seems everyone lately is using DSLRs. For short films and web series work, I'm hooked! But those are planned & staged shots, always. The lighting, the action, it's all fixed. If I need stability I use a dolly, crane, or tripod. For run and gun they are simply no go. Believe me, I've tried to make it work.

At this time (and this is in the process of changing) most DSLRs do not have decent auto focus while filming. The SONY A77, A99, and Canon T4i are notable exceptions. But the T4i's autofocus is slow and requires special lenses. I owned an A77 for a month with 2 primes and it's video output is not what I would consider consistently broadcast quality even for staged shots. There are simply too many compression issues. Which is a shame because from a usability and features perspective it was the best camera I had ever used at it's price point.

Now... my recommendation notwithstanding... You could always get all the other gear first and try a cheaper camera. Hell, try your iPhone on a tripod. With the right lighting and a good lav... You'd be surprised what you can do.

So far we are at: $3,840

5. Editing Software

You have a Mac and you want something dead simple...

Well you've got two options that fit that bill.

Buy yourself a copy of iMovie for $20. It honestly doesn't get any simpler (or cheaper). If you stay true to your word that you want light editing only this will fit the bill perfectly.

If, however, you are tempted to try things like green screen and simple vfx...

Buy yourself a copy of Final Cut X for $300.

To be honest. I myself don't like Final Cut X. I'm an Adobe guy (Premiere Pro and After Effects). That said those programs can't hold a candle to iMovie when it comes to simplicity and easy of use. Until very recently iMovie even had features that Premiere Pro didn't (namely image stabilization). I started on iMovie and when I outgrew it I moved on to Premiere.

iMovie, Premiere, Final Cut X they all do the same basic things. Final Cut X and Premiere have more advanced features for power users. If you start with iMovie and decide you need more, don't worry. Final Cut X will import your iMovie projects.

So far we are at: $3,860


Going with my recommendations would put you a bit over your low end budget but keep you a bit below your high end budget. I've done my best to be objective. Most of these items are things I currently own, things I plan to own soon, or things I have used while working with others.

I hope this information has been helpful and given you some things to think about.

Just remember the tools are only part of the project. What you do with them is just as important.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


With HD camera's at super affordable prices (heck even my iPhone does 720p video!) more people than ever are breaking into filmmaking and testing the limits of what can be done.

Nothing seems more common or desirable than the Green (or blue) screen shot.

The concept seems simple enough. Record your talent with a green screen behind them. Then simply use After Effects, or Final Cut, to remove the green (a process calling "keying") and replace it with Rome, Paris, or the Starship Enterpise...

Unfortunately, in practice, this is much easier said than done with issues like, poke through, choppy hair, pixilated edges, and green spill plaguing many would be epic shots.

I'm no stranger to sub-optimal keys. I've made my fair share of mistakes. Fortunately I've learned a lot from them. Recently I've been accused of having green screen super powers. I'll let you in on a little secret... It's true. I'm actually from a planet called Krypton.

Seriously, the trick to clean keys can be summed up in the following main points, in their order of importance:

When Filming...
  1. Use a camera that preserves as much color data as possible
  2. Make sure to use a proper *even* lighting setup during the shoot
  3. Always double check your shots in a monitor you know is properly calibrated before you start filming (CAMERA LCD VIEWPORTS LIE!)
In Post:
  1. Use the source footage from the camera whenever possible
  2. Unless you shot in raw (4:4:4). Always color correct LAST
  3. Use garbage masks
  4. For complicated keys don't try to get a one size fits all key. Break the key into smaller sections and key each section seperately
  5. When you are happy with your key watch it using the "Alpha Channel" view to make sure you haven't missed anything.
  6. Each green screen shoot is unique. Be ready to scrap your key and try again (sometimes several times) to get that perfect key.
For some of you the bullets above will suffice. For those of you wanting more detail and some real world examples, keep reading.

Filming Points Explained...

Point 1: Use a camera that preserves as much color data as possible
Not all cameras are created equal. You can have perfect lighting and the best tools and still end up with bad keys. Expecially when filming with consumer grade (non-professional) cameras. Yes, I am also talking about DSLR's like the Canon 5D Mark III.

The problem isn't resolution, framerate, or megabits. The problem is Chroma Subsampling.
If you have control over what camera you'll be using for your shoot. I strongly encourage you to view this excellent video on the topic.

The bottom line is, you are attempting to pull off an effect that relies heavily on accurate and complete color data. Many consumer grade cameras (and even some pro cameras) make severe compromises with the color data they store, which means before you even shoot a single frame you may already be at a disadvantage.

Point 2: Proper Lighting
There are two main problems with lighting that can make keying problematic.
  • An unevenly lit green screen
  • Lack of a proper "key light" or they are sometimes called a "hair light"
The best way to get even lighting is to use properly placed soft boxes aimed at the green screen. With seperate Key, Fill, and Backlighing (sometimes refered to as "spill" or "hair" lighting) for your subjects.

The purpose of the backlight is to aim it at the talent from behind to reduce and counteract any green that may be spilling onto the talent.

This is refered to as a "Five Point Lighting" setup and you can learn about it in great detail here.

The important thing to remember here is that even if YOU can't see green spill, the camera might. Which brings us to...

Point 3: Always Use a Properly Calibrated Reference Monitor

Always double check your shots with a properly calibrated monitor before you start shooting. DO NOT RELY ON THE CAMERA'S LCD VIEWPORT! THEY ARE TOO SMALL AND OFTEN LIE!

For monitor calibration I suggest using a pair of THX glasses. You can buy them for 5 dollars. While the THX glasses are not strictly required. I find I get better results when I use them.
You can use any THX certified DVD or BluRay movie to calibrate (it's usually in the "Setup" submenu of the movie). I always calibrate my monitors using the THX optimizer included with Disney's Cars (Single-Disc Widescreen Edition).

You can use other movies of course. The important thing is always do your calibration with the same movie. Don't calibrate one monitor with Cars and another with Wall-E. You will get different results.

Ideally the reference monitor should be calibrated to match (as closely as possible) the workstation that will be used to do the post work. This has the added bonus of reducing the amount of color correction you may need to do in post. Getting it right the first time, in camera, is often the best approach.

Postwork Points Explained:

Point 1: Use the Source Footage From the Camera

If you are using a consumer grade camera, or a DSLR you are already at a disadvantage (see Filming Point 1). The last thing you want to do is risk loosing even more color data. Know the format of your source video and if you must re-encode it for distribution to your keyers try to use a lossless compression codec with the same color spacing as your original footage.

If you are on a MAC and working with other MAC or PC users use Pro-Res whenever possible.

If you are on a PC and working with other PC users use Lagarith it's a lossless codec with decent compression.

If you are on a PC and working with other MAC users use PNG image sequences!

AVOID USING H264 (unless it's your source footage). H264 is a finishing codec which means most of the color data you need to do proper color correction and keying is discarded in order to keep file sizes small.

Point 2: Unless you shot in RAW (4:4:4) Always Color Correct Last

Remember accurate and complete color data is king. Color correction (adjusting brightness, contrast, and changing color tones, can turn a simple key into a nightmare.). If you need to tweak the color of a clip to get a better key, that's a different story! But do not attempt to give your footage it's "final look" until after your keying and compositing is complete.

If you shot in RAW (4:4:4) using something like the RED or Black Magic cameras then color correction can be done at any stage. As long as you keep the re-rendered footage at 4:4:4. That last 4 is your best friend.

Point 3: Use garbage masks

It's a good idea (and sometimes your only hope) to use garbage masks to remove things that just won't key cleanly, but still need to go. This can eliminate problem areas around frame edges or sections where the keying isn't perfect due to an unevenly lit screen, creases in the fabric, or to remove tracking markers that may have been used.

Premiere Pro refers to it as a "Garbage Matte".

In After Effects you can simply use Masks.

For the really adventurous with After Effect 5.5 you can try using RotoBrush. When it works it's pretty sweet... When it doesn't... it can actually be more work than rotoscoping. There's a pretty good video tutorial here.

In worst-case-scenarios you may find yourself needing to use garbage masks as more than cleanup. In cases where clean keys are just not possible you may find yourself needing to go frame by frame using very tight masks with pixel precise accuracy to remove sections of footage that you'd originally intended to key.

Given this scenario, Masks in After Effects are more versatile. For shots with camera motion you can use the amazing Tracker2Mask by MamoWorld. A video tutorial for Tracker2Mask can be found here. This plugin has saved my bacon on otherwise impossible keys.

Points 4 & 5: Break Difficult Keys Into Smaller Simpler Keys and Preview Using the Alpha Channel

Keys often become difficult when lighting is uneven, or when something in the scene has better contrast than other things.

For example. In the shot below the talent on the left has wild wispy hair and a white shirt. The talent on the right has crisp hair and a dark blue shirt. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the green screen lighting is slighly uneven (the right side is slightly brighter than the left), and the footage has already been color corrected.

If we tried to key the entire frame all at once we'd get the following result:

At first glance the problem with this key may not be obvious. Look at the female talents hair (to the left). Notice how part of it is getting lost by the key. Now look towards the bottom near the ticker. Notice the noise. This is data left behind by the key. If you still can't see the problems don't worry. There is an easy way to make problems with your key clear.

On the keying effect there should be an "Output Setting". Change it to "Alpha" or "Alpha Channel". Now you should see something like this:

Solid black areas are areas that will become completely transparent. Solid white areas are areas that are completely unaffected by the key. Anything that is not solid black or white are remnants of a dirty key and will show up in your final composit. Notice that the key is a bit dirty near the female talent's hair and towards the bottom of the frame.

While we may be able to clean up the bottom area with garbage masks the hair will remain a problem that garbage masks will not be able to help.

If we back the key off a bit we will get more problem areas like the bottom. Meanwhile the talent to the right, already has a perfect key.

In this situation the best strategy would be to break the shot up into two halves. If we concentrate on locking down a key for the left half of the footage and then locking down a seperate key for the right half we are likely to get a cleaner overall key.

Using After Effects we can duplicate the layer (Control-D) and create a mask to cut out the left half.
In Premiere Pro we could also use the "Crop" effect.

Next we key the footage until it looks right.

Then we do the same thing for the right hand side.

The end result is a much cleaner key in the final composit.

We can verify this by looking at... you guessed it. The Alpha Channel:

Notice the hair is keyed but without loosing the finer portions, and the keying of the bottom area around the female talent is no longer dirty.

Point 6: Every Green Screen Screen Shot is Unique

There are no easy "this always works" approaches. Be ready to experiment with a variety of techniques in order to get that perfect key. Sometimes it will take 2 or 3 failed attempts.

If you own the Adobe Creative Suite (4, 5, or 6) it's worth noting that you have more than one keying option available to you! After Effects uses Keylight the swiss army knife of keying. Premiere Pro provides Ultra Key. While Ultra Key does not have nearly as many tunable parameters as Keylight, and keying in Premiere means your garbage masking ability is severely limited, I have encountered a handful of cases with DV DSRL footage where Ultra Key gave me a clean key with far less effort than Keylight.

Lastly, you need to understand that depending on how the footage was shot and delivered a perfect key may be impossible or impractical.
In those cases it may be best to find yourself a keyer who was born on the planet krypton and gets a funky high from the Earth's yellow sun. Boy I bet your friends would all be stunned...

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Spirited director Werner Herzog's last film, the 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, opened in five theaters in the country a few months ago and had the highest per-screen average ($25,500) of any movie that weekend. It is his most successful documentary, more so than probably his most well known non-fiction film, 2005's Grizzly Man.

Continuing his penchant for exploring darker and less- subjects, the man who once ate his own shoe (seriously), Herzog has completed his most recent film Into the Abyss, which tells of the events and people surrounding and involved in a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas. One interview is held with one of the men convicted of the crime, who was then executed 8 days after his one on one with the director.

According to Deadline New York, Sundance Selects, an indie distribution company, has picked up the film one week ahead of it's Toronto International Film Festival debut. No word yet on a North American release date, but expect to the see the film hit a few theaters by the beginning of next year, and expand in the Spring.

I originally thought the subject matter - which sounds like it would be covered on MSNBC's weekend trash-fest Lockup - seemed a little tedious for a man of Herzog's taste. But then I checked out these three clips from Indiewire and changed my mind. It looks like the man who once got shot with an air rifle during an interview (seriously) is approaching this subject with the same intense wonder he has shown in all of his previous documentaries.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


2011 marks the first year since 2007 that Joel and Ethan Coen don't have a film being released, but that doesn't mean they haven't been hard at work on their next project. Rumor had it months ago that the two greatest living filmmakers (or so says I) were working on a film revolving around the '60's New York folk music scene. Now, according to Variety, it appears that rumor has been confirmed, and the new film will be titled Inside Llewyn Davis.

Details on the plot are scarce, but Badass Digest has a nice write-up on who the film may have been influenced by (not based on - the screenplay is an original work by the brothers). If you've never heard of Dave Van Ronk (I hadn't before today), head on over there and read about a man you'll probably be hearing more about in the next year or so.

StudioCanal will co-finance the movie, and Scott Rudin, who has worked with the Coens on True Grit and No Country for Old Men) will produce. No word yet on when Inside Llewyn Davis will be released, or even a start date, but my guess is we'll be seeing a trailer for the film around this time next year. I'm getting giddy about it already.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I never thought I'd say this, but I'm awfully tired of Johnny Depp. When he's not acting in a tired, bloated franchise or an odd remake, he's turning in incredibly boring performances in dreck like The Tourist and disappointments like Public Enemies. It's been a long while since I've been interested in anything Depp has done (I find myself watching Ed Wood, a movie almost two decades old, when I need to remind myself of why I love the man's work to begin with), and I was starting to think that all he has left in him is an overdone Keith Richards impersonation.

Today sees the release of the trailer for The Rum Diary, a film so long in development I had forgotten about it. Production on the project began in March of 2009 and wrapped in the summer of that year. I remember seeing the first official still from the movie not too long after that. To be honest, the last time I thought about The Rum Diary, I was sure it was going disappear into oblivion or worse - go straight to DVD.

Anyway, in this pseudo follow-up to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Depp again plays Paul Kemp, another Hunter S. Thompson alter-ego. I'm steering clear of any plot details, simply because I want to walk into the movie fresh (as fresh as possible after watching a two minute trailer), but from the looks of it you'll be seeing Depp drinking and then getting it on with Amber Heard. Ah, the life of a gonzo journalist. You can find the synopsis over at ETonline, but watch the trailer embed below. Entertainment Tonight's video player forces you to take a survey about orange juice before you can watch the footage. Ugh.

The Rum Diary opens October 28. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Directed by Steven Quale

Starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher

I'm a Final Destination virgin. There, I said it. While I'm familiar enough with the franchise to know that it's really nothing more than a series of Rube Goldberg set-ups designed to showcase increasingly crowd-pleasing character deaths, I've never actually seen one of these films from beginning to end. It's not that I'm opposed to them, it's just that I imagined myself above such simple concepts. And, even though I'm a big fan of the Friday the 13th series, watching a film series that features vapid teens succumbing to their ends in various ways just seemed...oh f*** it. I got snobby on myself.

Anyway, turns out Final Destination 5 is the second time this summer I've found myself having a great time walking into a film with four prequels, none of which I have seen. Between this and Fast Five, I'm going to have to stop taking going to the movies so seriously. Because a movie like Final Destination 5 doesn't want you to take it seriously.

That's not to say it doesn't want you to take the experience of it seriously. Director Steven Quale co-directed Aliens of the Deep (the shot-in-3D-weird-effing-sea-creatures documentary), with THE James Cameron, and was second unit director on Avatar (directed by THE James Cameron), the most successful movie (3D or otherwise) of all time. The man is damn determined to make sure you recognize that making an audience squirm, gag, hoot, holler, and laugh at the same scene requires effort, and to do it in more than two dimensions requires the proper use of cameras designed to shoot in three. He's damned determined to make sure you recognize this but, the question is, does he, and, more importantly, does it work? The answer is: yes. And...yes.

FD5 begins as Sam Lawton (the blank faced thespian Nicholas D'Agosto) has a premonition while on a corporate team-building retreat for a local factory. The premonition involves a bridge collapsing into nothingness as the bus he and his friends were on follows suit. Armed with this sudden foresight, Sam proceeds to rescue a who's-who of stock horror characters from the bus - his innocent girlfriend  (Emma Bell), the sexy narcissist (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), the Black Guy (Arlen Escarpeta), the big-boned perv (P.J. Byrne), his best friend (Miles Fisher), his best friend's girl (Ellen Wrote), and the "obviously influenced by The Office" boss (David Koechner, in a very funny but short-shafted role).

 For the most part, 5nal Destination couldn't care less about its characters. At least at first. Quale does an admirable job of setting up the "sure to die" cursory cast - you know at least the fat guy and vixen are going to get it soon in the film, simply because they're the worst people in the world - and spends a little bit of time with Sam the Hero and his Princess - the former of who is a part-time chef with a chance at an apprenticeship at a restaurant in Paris, the latter of who is the love of his life, and someone he wants to move to The City of Love With. It's all perfunctory, and generally not very interesting. Then the set pieces happen.

Beginning with the elaborate bridge collapse (which, by the way, the film never tops), Final Destination 5 stages some truly impressive exercises in the macabre. Planning on getting LASIK surgery? Consult your optometrist before this movie. Gymnast? Skip FD5. Acupuncture curious? Stick with massages from your inexperienced girlfriend. Quale excels at creating some truly uncomfortable  sequences. A scene where a gymnast dances her feet around an unnoticed pointy-side-up screw on a balance beam is a nicely edited few minutes of cringe-inducing tension, which climaxes in the film's grisliest death. The pattern is repeated a few times throughout the film, and in this way FD5 is no different than your typical Halloween-esque slasher film. Instead of waiting for the masked killer to jump out of the shadows to give someone a machete facial, we're watching to see how the machinations of the invisible hand of death result in the same outcome.

Since death is not seen in the film (but certainly felt), the screenwriters throw a little twist into the proceedings. After all, a series of complicated and gruesome set-pieces is fun, but not a film. In Final Destination 5, it turns our fatally doomed characters can exchange their lives for others. If they kill another person, giving death their debt, they're allowed to live. This leads to a moral quandary explored by the screenwriters with all the depth of a kiddie pool, but it's an interesting change of pace nonetheless, especially when actor Miles Fisher - who looks like Tom Cruise's body grew all the way up to nose, then the top half of his face decided to become Jason Schwartzman - gets to stretch his acting range from A to B. Fisher's not a good actor (none of these people really are, actually), but he attempts some scenery chewing towards the end of the film, which is surprisingly fun to watch.

Overall, Final Destination 5 is a harmless, but well-crafted fright-fest that will succeed with late-night audiences. If the previous entries are this much fun to watch, I may just go from Final Destination virgin to Final Destination slut faster than I can take my pants off.