What To Do When You Can't Get A Good Take

What To Do When You Can't Get A Good Take

This is a director’s nightmare: Everyone’s in position, the cameras are rolling, but something’s not quite right. You’ve been shooting the same scene for what feels like an eternity and no matter what you do, the actors’ performances are just not getting any better.

Contemporary Video Aspect Ratios & Resolutions (A Filmmaker's Guide)

Contemporary Video Aspect Ratios & Resolutions (A Filmmaker's Guide)

As I'm learning more and more, directing films is really about making decisions. What kind of performance do you want out of your actors? How do you want to frame up the shot? Do you want to use music in the scene? The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my opinion, making these decisions can often be a lot more complicated and confusing than it needs to be.

Play It Safe - Filmmaking Commandments: Four Simple Rules To Help You Write A Script

Play It Safe - Filmmaking Commandments: Four Simple Rules To Help You Write A Script

When Jack and I agreed to write the screenplay, we both knew that realising that (seemingly simple) and was going to be very challenging. Neither of us had written a feature length script before, and we both enjoyed procrastinating as much as the next writer. To combat this, we decided to set up a bunch of commandments or rules to help us along the way.

A Week At Acting School - Part One

A Week At Acting School - Part One

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent a lot of time last year trying to learn as much as possible about the different aspects of my craft as a filmmaker and director. One idea that I came across again and again was that a director cannot work well with actors unless they have some acting experience. It's a simple idea that I think holds a lot of truth. Would you get up to conduct an orchestra if you had never played an instrument?

A Good Director Never Stops Learning

A Good Director Never Stops Learning

When I decided to make Play It Safe back in early 2011, I knew that I had a great challenge ahead of me. Even though I finished my first festival short back in 2005, the fact that I had never attended a proper film school weighed heavily on my mind. I've worked on many different projects over the last few years, but for the most part the production processes were nothing like what might occur on a Hollywood film set...

Listening, And Why It's Critical For Filmmakers

Listening, And Why It's Critical For Filmmakers

Good listening skills are crucial in the film business. In my experience, a good director will spend most of their time listening. During a production you will be listening to questions and thoughts from every department. Good listening skills will not only help you to direct quickly and effectively, but will also enable you to maintain crew morale. It’s one thing to work for nothing because you believe in a project, but it’s another thing entirely to not be paid and then not even be listened to by a director or producer. If I wanted to put up with that then I would go back to working in retail (and then at least I would be getting paid).

Understanding Aspect Ratios

Understanding Aspect Ratios

In my opinion, the technical side of filmmaking is often more complicated than it needs to be. This is because of the way filmmaking has developed over time. A lot of the methodology and terminology we still use today is based on the way things were done years and years ago. Take for example: the way the 16:9 aspect ratio was developed, the fact that your sound guy will probably still say “speed” to indicate that the sound is recording, and don’t even get me started on the different framerates we’ve been left with thanks to the differences between PAL & NTSC.

Aspect ratios are one of those things can seem a bit overwhelming when you’re getting started. I used to refer to some of the wider aspect ratios as “extra-widescreen” (and I actually still do sometimes, just for fun). I remember when we made Fraught back in 2006. I desperately wanted to present the film in an aspect ratio of 16:9 or wider but we didn’t have access to a camera that could shoot that natively. So we settled for 4:3. Now, I know of a bunch of things we could have done to fix that (especially since it’s a rotoscoped animated film).

With this post, I’ve done my best to explain what aspect ratios and resolutions are in relation to film and video. The rest of the post then explains the most common aspect ratios and lists some common resolutions for each.

Filmmaking Ruined My Body

Filmmaking Ruined My Body

I recently gave a talk to students at The MacRobertson Girls' High School. I’ve done a bunch of talks like this, so I knew what kind of lecture was expected. Generally, the aim is to try and get the students inspired and excited about filmmaking & other forms of multimedia. But as I prepared my materials for the lecture, I started to wonder if I could actually, in good conscience, recommend they take a similar career path to me. Sure, being a creative professional is exciting, inspiring, and incredibly rewarding. But it also has an incredibly significant downside. And I’m not even talking about the lack of stability, exhausting hours, general stress, or soul crushing rejection. I’m talking about simple heath and safety. To put it bluntly, my passion for film has ruined my body.

Mumblecore?

Mumblecore?

I’ve read stories where people like Kevin Smith recall seeing Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” and then they thought “my god, I can make movies too”. The film that did that for me was “Mutual Appreciation”, directed by Andrew Bujalski.

I first saw “Mutual Appreciation” at the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival and it was an absolute revelation to me. I’d never seen anything like it. I found the stories interesting, I was fascinated by its naturalism, and I felt like for one of the first times I was watching characters who I could really relate to. They were doing and talking about things that I did myself. How to be a young artist. How to make it. Growing up and finding your way in life. I saw “Mutual Appreciation” and something clicked. It was as if someone had suddenly given me permission. I felt like I could now make the kinds of movies I wanted to, and maybe here was a way I could do it.

PLAY IT SAFE - The Screenplay: Collaborating

PLAY IT SAFE - The Screenplay: Collaborating

One of the best film-related decisions I’ve ever made was enlisting the help of my good friend, Jack White, in writing the screenplay for my first feature film. Without him, I really doubt whether this film would have ever gotten made.

In my office I’ve got whole boxes filled with drafts for novels, novellas, screenplays, all sorts of crap, that I start but never get around to finishing. A lot of this stuff hangs around for years. I might pull it out every now and again to have a look, but I usually end up shoving it back in its box despondently. It’s a pretty terrible thing to see the result of years and years of work in such a scrappy state and know deep down that most of it is never going to see the light of day.

The Importance Of Protocol

The Importance Of Protocol

I never went to film school, so I had to learn all the protocols of filmmaking on my own. I didn’t actually learn some of the basics until about three years into my career as an indie director. By this time I’d already won Best Australian Film at MIAF and been commissioned to direct a short docco for the BBC World Service. But still, I didn’t know the basic protocol of working on a film set. This was because of the way I’d come up - fiercely independent, making up the rules as I went. This approach got me some terrific results, but it also had its limitations.

Inevitably, my (lack of) knowledge was tested, and in quite an embarrassing way. Back in 2008 I had somehow managed to score a roll as First Assistant Director on my friend Alan Lam’s final honours film. I thought I knew enough about filmmaking, indie production, and visual storytelling to be of use, but it was a steep learning curve when it came to working with the crew.

Embracing Limitations

Embracing Limitations

I believe that learning to work within limitations is an incredibly important part of being a filmmaker. On many (if not not all) projects it is simply a requirement. In addition to this, however, I believe that it can actually be a very big help to the creative process. This is something I learned early on in my film career and I still believe it today. Some of my best work has come out of the technical or logistical limitations I had to work with. So with every new project, instead of cursing the limitations and restrictions I face (even though sometimes it’s mighty tempting) I do my best to actually embrace them.

Ripping a DVD & Adding Subtitles on the Mac

I don't normally post this kind of thing on the blog, but after working through a problem over a couple of days I figured some of you filmmakers out there (or just people who want to watch foreign DVDs) might find it useful. I had to read through a large number of blog & forum posts to get to this solution so I figured it might be handy to have it all in one place.

Leave a comment if you have any questions. I'll update the post with new info if I have any.
THE SCENARIO

I'm in the middle of researching a new film project and I had to get my hands on a Japanese DVD. American versions are out of print and the only version I could find was produced by a French distribution company. I read some reviews saying it contained both French & English subtitles. After ordering it from Amazon.fr I discovered, to my dismay, that there were no English subtitles on the disc. I don't speak French, and I only know about three words of Japanese so I was in quite the pickle.
After a couple of days of googling it turns out it's not the end of the world. It's just annoying. So if you ever want to get your hands on some anime or a foreign DVD that probably doesn't have subtitles in your native language, here's a possible solution.
To summarise, here's what I did. Firstly I ripped the film from the DVD (basically, just copied the movie off the disc and onto my computer). I then transcoded it (i.e. changed it) into a more palatable format (some of you may not have to do this depending on what you use to rip the DVD). I downloaded some English subtitles after a little bit of googling. And, finally, I used a great little piece of software called Subler to add the subtitles to my movie file.
EQUIPMENT

Here's the hardware and software I used in the following instructions.
- PowerMac G5 (PPC, running Mac OS 10.4 Tiger)
- iMac 27" i7 (Intel, running Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard)
- Googling
INSTRUCTIONS
0.1 Rip The DVD
There are a boatload of apps out there that will rip DVDs to your hard disk. I ended up going with Mac The Ripper 2.6.6.
I had to use my old PowerMac G5 to do the rip for a number of reasons. Firstly, the region locking on newer macs seems to be far more rigorous than on older ones. On my G5 I can play DVDs from any region. When I insert the disk the DVD Player application pops up asking me if I want to change region. I just quit the program from the dock and then I'm free to do as I please. I can watch it using VLC, or rip it using Handbrake or Mac the Ripper. For whatever reason my new iMac will not allow me to do this. I googled the reason why but I can't remember it right now.
If you have a newer mac and you're trying to rip a DVD from a different region I'm afraid I don't have a solution as of yet. I am considering looking into external DVD drives to see if I can get a multiregion one. I will update this if I get one. Please let me know if you have any solutions or ideas.
The second reason I'm using the old PowerMac is because apparently Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 doesn't work well on Snow Leopard (or maybe even on Leopard). I haven't tested it myself. There are higher versions but apparently they're hard to come by and you have to make a donation.
You could use Handbrake or another type of ripping software. Both Handbrake and Mac The Ripper are free. The reason I chose Mac The Ripper is because it ripped the video at full quality whereas the version of Handbrake I've got will not rip it at full resolution. (Maybe a newer version will, I'm not sure, but a newer version won't run on my G5).
If you don't particularly care about maintaing the best video quality then you can use handbrake to rip the movie straight to an mp4 file using the h264 codec and save yourself the next step.
Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 looks confusing but there's not that much to it. The instructional PDF that comes with it explains things very well. The main thing you have to do is just select whether you want to rip the entire disk, or just the main feature, etc. On my old Mac it only took around 11 minutes to rip an hour long feature which is much faster than what Handbrake was giving me (of course Mac The Ripper isn't doing the transcoding like Handbrake is, but still it's quite fast).
You will come out with a folder full of confusing gunk. You should see a "VIDEO_TS" folder. In there will be some different types of files (maybe some .BUPs & .IPOs). The files you need are .VOBs. You should be able to open those in VLC.
0.2 Transcode the VOB to an mp4
It's now time for you to open up your VOB file (or files) in MPEG Streamclip.
For the DVDs I've done so far the feature got spread across three VOB files. I'm not sure if this will happen with all disks, but don't be shocked if it does. There's nothing to worry about. Work out which file has the start of the movie and open it up in MPEG Streamclip. (You should be able to open the VOB files in VLC so you can check what's what.)
After dragging it into MPEG Streamclip in the dock I get a dialog saying "Do you want to open this stream as a DVD?". Click "Yes".
For the ones I've done so far it has then warned me that there are timecode breaks (the multiple VOB files). Click "Fix Now".
Another dialog pops up. Check "Do not skip any frame" and click "Proceed".
You should then be able to watch the file. You might want to scrub through the video to make sure that the whole movie is there. For some reason no sound plays when I do this. When converting other types of files I can hear sound when I play or scrub through the video at this point. But there's nothing to worry about, even though there didn't seem to be sound it was there in the final file.
In the menu bar select "File">"Export to MPEG-4..."
I set the compression to "H.264", frame size to "1024x576", and quality to maximum. I also selected "Interlaced Scaling", "Reinterlace Chroma", and "Deinterlace Video". The most important one here is "Deinterlace Video".
You can change the other settings if you like (and if you know what you're doing).
When you're done, click "Make MP4".
0.3 Add In the Subtitles
Once your MP4 file has been created, change the extension from "mp4" to "m4v".
Now you have to actually find the right subtitles for your film. I haven't had much trouble so far. Try googling [film name] + [subtitles] + [required language]. You're looking for an ".srt" file. Once you've downloaded a file you can open it up in text edit to see if it looks ok.
Now you should have one file for the video and one file for subtitles. Put them both in the same folder and name them the same thing. For example, "mymovie.m4v" and "mymovie.srt".
You can test if the subtitles work by opening the m4v file in VLC. The subtitles should show up automatically.
If you're happy using VLC then you can stop here. However VLC doesn't always work perfectly, and you might want to play the file in Quicktime or iTunes, or on an iPod, iPad, etc.
Load up "Subler" and open up your m4v file. You should see that there is already a Video Track and an Audio track (assuming your clip has both audio and video). You now need to add a subtitles track.
Hit the "+" button and select the srt file. Here you can add a delay if you have to (if the subtitles come too early or late) and do a couple of other things. You can try and change the subtitle size but it hasn't made a difference for me so far, no matter what I put in.
Once you're done hit "Add". Now go "File">"Save".
0.4 It's Over!
That's it, it's all done. You can now watch the m4v file in Quicktime or iTunes etc with the subtitles on. In Quicktime just make you check "View">"Subtitles" to make sure they're turned on.
This type of subtitles are called "Soft Subtitles" as you can turn them on and off. If you want "Hard Subtitles" (or "Burnt In Subtitles") you can open your m4v in Quicktime Pro with the subtitles turned on and export it to another file. If you're using Snow Leopard you'll need to install Quicktime 7 and upgrade to Pro.
I hope some of that was useful (and coherent). If I find any more solutions or answers to the issues I brought up I will update this post. Feel free to leave any questions or other options/solutions in the comments.