Goodbye, film.

I love film.  I don’t mean movies, I mean the actual celluloid.  It’s magical.  I love the look of it projected on a screen, the way it picks up dirt and imperfections the more you watch it.  I love the feel of it when you’re loading a camera or when you’re loading a Steenbeck or a movieola.  I love how you wear white gloves when handling it, how your trim bin is actually a trim bin, how dissolves and optical effects are handled either in camera or with a wax pencil.  I love mag.  I love how when you get them going in the editing room the flatbed table becomes like a writhing beast.

Sadly, I just saw a Bolex 8mm camera with three c-mount lenses on sale on Amazon for $195.  What a sad way to go.

I know Bolex is still in business and I hope to return there some day to buy a new camera, but for now I’m filmless.  I sold my two Bolexes (an EBM and a Rex-1) some time ago to pay for a film I was making.  On video.  The saddest thing is I didn’t sell them back in 2000 or 2001 when I would have gotten something like what I paid for them.

I understand that even in the nations most vaunted film schools there is little attention paid to film nowadays.  At my alama mater you can actually get through four years without touching the stuff.   It’s not that I think people should yoke themselves to outdated technology, it’s that I know film teaches differently than video.

When you shoot film, you don’t have a lot of media to play with as it’s expensive to buy, to develop and to print.  So you plan out every shot and work the camera and lights meticulously.  When you’re editing, each choice is a big one because unless you had two prints made for editing, you don’t have the option of changing your mind very much.  If you’re planning on going to a negative cutter you have another thing to worry about as well: hot splicing.  When you hand your film over to a negative cutter, they match the edge code on the film you used to make the edited film with the negative, picking out the clips you used and melting them together by using a half frame on either end of the clip to do so.  Naturally this means that if you cut a bit of film from one section and use it and then pick up straight away after the cut, then your film will fall one frame out of sync at that point.  This will repeat every time you make that mistake, until you finally have nothing, just a completely out of sync garble rendered unfixable because you already destroyed the negatives.

Film has a lot of lessons to teach and I think it’s a sham that any film school can call itself such while not teaching with its namesake.

A word on RAIDs

Many of you who are editors or just film makers who edit from time to time are working in HD now and may be running into some technical issues that make life less fun.  Let me help you understand something that will make a huge difference in your life.

You need a media RAID.

What is that you ask?  Well, a RAID is a Redundant Array of Independent Disks, basically a bunch of hard disks that behave like one big drive.  If you’re using HD, you’re now dealing with 30 times the amount of data you had when you were in SD, so now you need more space.  The problem is you can’t just go out and buy a 7200 rpm 2 tb drive and expect everything to be hunky dory.  If you don’t have a fast enough drive you will wind up with video under run which means the drive can’t read the data fast enough to play it back.  There are fast drives (10K rpm) that can get the job done but you have to understand that these are smaller and more expensive.  A media RAID is an external assembly with a bunch of hard drives in it that allows you to configure it as either a “striped” RAID, a “mirrored” RAID or both.  A striped raid shares info across the drives, so one high def file would exist in pieces on all three (though the computer would see it as one) and as a result you can read it fast enough to play it back.  A mirrored RAID means one hard drive backs up the data on the other, so bad sectors or even burn out won’t threaten your data.  The problem with mirroring is that it cuts down your space by half.

So where do you get a RAID?  Well, you have Avid, who make great stuff, but their RAID is very expensive and unless you want the warranty, don’t buy it.  Data Robotics have their Drobo series which can get the job done but only if you have the right networking protocol.  Then you can do it yourself.

I advocate building your own RAID.  Here’s how: go someplace like newegg.com and buy a ESATA RAID card.  ESATA is just external SATA cables which are the cables that connect your internal hard disks to the motherboard.  This should cost about $130.  Then get several internal SATA hard drives, 1 tb should do for about $100 (the number of the slots on the ESATA RAID card will tell you how many you need) and external enclosures to match, for about $30 a piece.  Put the drives in the enclosures (there should be instructions with the enclosures) and plug them into the card, which should be easy to put into your computer– if you don’t know how to install a PCI card, look it up at About.com  I did.

Once you have the hardware in, just install your drivers and presto, massive media RAID at a tenth the cost of the name brands.  Have fun!

Taking Shape

Some films you edit with military precision.  The book on large projects is that you do a “paper cut” where you log all the footage and write out your film on paper, like a blueprint.  Much of the time, even if you don’t do this, you have to distill your footage into “edit masters” from which you work, rather than swimming through dozens and dozens of tapes.  Having once worked on a film with an obscene amount of footage, I can appreciate this approach.  However, having an excellent visual memory and having actually shot all the footage I am using on my current project, I thought “Hey, I know this stuff.  Who needs a paper cut?”

Luckily, I did one anyway.  Unluckily, as it turns out the paper cut was useless as the project is factual and I can’t just chose to edit it like a narrative, I have to edit according to what’s there.  So I’m lucky that I’d considered winging it, because in the end, being able to do that has helped me with the gaps.  There is no substitute for watching and knowing everything about your footage, because at the end of the day if you only work from paper, you’re going to wind up in trouble when Murphy takes control.  You can’t drive a film like a submarine.  You need to see what you’re working with.

Late Night Work

Working late at night isn’t anything new to me.  I did it for years at ABC News.  Still, it’s a strange feeling knowing you are awake and active, with a head start on everyone, but then with the knowledge that you’ll be passed out when everyone else is on their first cup of coffee.  There’s a sort of mania that can creep in when you work late that helps you through, but if you satisfy every urge for caffeine, you’ll wind up a zombie the next day.