Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trouble In Digital Movie City

First, a little business. Our regular deadline is coming up, so if you want to avoid late fees, get your movies in NOW.

There is a problem out there in digital movie-making land that we're seeing more and more. I'm not sure exactly what causes it, so please, any tech gurus chime in with some help. I had a discussion with the Adobe Premiere consultants about it during last year's 2-Minute 2-Step, and from my description they thought it might be a 3:2 pull down problem or a 24 frames per second footage on a 30 fps project issue.

The main symptom is subtle, jerky motion. It reminds me of the film camera trick of changing the shutter pitch – again, help me out cinematographers, you know what I mean. This is famously used in Saving Private Ryan during the battle scenes to give the audience the same kind of disorienting view of life one might have while being shot at. As you can imagine, that's not something you want people feeling in a romantic comedy.

The problem can be hard to spot, since it's not apparent during static shots with no movement by the actors, but something as simple as a hand gesture makes it clear. There's a prickly kind of something's-wrongness feeling to it. It gives a friend of mine migraines, and that's just on TV at home. On the big screen it's horrific. If one of these films slips into the festival, then we get accused of bad projection, but there's nothing we can do about it. That's the way the we got it.

Fixing this problem is a must, especially for features. You can't get distribution with this. Since I'm not 100% sure what causes it, I'm not 100% sure of what the fix is, but I believe you have to create a new project in your editing software to match the frame rates, interlace rates, etc. of your native footage, then bring in either your old project as a cut-list (not a single drop in of your old out-put, as that will include the problem), or re-cut your movie from scratch.

Yeah. Either one is a pain in the ass, but it must be done. Again, post production tech geniuses, please help me out in the comments section.

Filmmakers, check your footage! Not on the computer. Burn a DVD, give it to your friends and ask them if they see anything "funny" about it. Watch every bit of motion closely with your editor. I'd say 1-in-10 or 1-in-7 submissions have this problem, so it is very widespread.

Besides that issue, let's get on with last night's films.

Last week I talked about the trend of slow music, especially using piano and cello. This week I've notice more than one movie with good music that, for some odd reason, features banjo. So it's the year of the banjo. But, please, I would rather not see a ton of submissions next year with banjo music where it doesn't fit, so just make sure the music adds to the forward motion of the story, regardless of the instruments. Thanks.

We see a lot of films that are on-the-fence quality-wise that eventually get pulled down by a series of little problems. The dialogue will sound typed in one or two places. The director will cross the line in a two person scene. The costumes will be off a bit. Individually none of these things would make us pass, but collectively they add up. So, please, don't die the death of a thousand cuts. Try to make every little thing wonderful, then the big stuff will take care of itself... hopefully.

Stereotypes. I'm a Southern American and we get some good films from the South, which is great. Love seeing the trees and hearing my native tongue, but I cringe sometimes when an old, rusty pickup truck pulls into the shot, or the Sherriff is a Sherriff and not just a cop. Ya'll know what I'm talkin' 'bout? So I had to laugh last night after one movie that road very close to the line of Southern stereotypes was followed by a film out of Mexico that was full of traditional Mexican music. I didn't think anything of it, until the Latina in our group said, "Why don't they just play the Mexican hat dance?"

I laughed. "Now you know how I felt during the Southern one." She laughed.

Not to worry, though. Both films had some excellent qualities, and may very well show up in the festival. I'm not saying these things are wrong, just be aware and look for ways to nail your location without hitting the nail on the head. I remember a British friend who commented once about a British pub in Los Angeles. "You can tell this place is authentic, there's American music on the jukebox."

We saw a number of good movies last night. Love when that happens. Always nice to see a new variation on a well-warn horror genre. If you can write good dialogue and present difficult philosophical questions, you can't go wrong with two people in the desert – of course, if you're not so hot at those two things, oh baby can you go wrong!

We ended the night with a film that not only moved the camera with majesty, it danced. Director/editor, cinematographer, and crew worked together to create seamless, spinning, magical scene transitions that I hope replace all of this handheld, vérité, found footage crap we've been seeing for the past several years. Any idiot can bounce behind an actor with a video camera and do whip-pans until the audience vomits. These guys showed what thought, skill, planning and artistry is all about. I don't know how the final line up will shake out, but you have a fan in me. Schöne Aufgabe.

Now that I've given an ulcer to the DWF powers that be for being so specific, I'll say, until next week. Thanks for reading.


Jaraty said...

OMG Robert, you are terrifying me! I think you just described my film. If a film is like that, it's basically an auto reject right? I kept thinking it was a problem with writing to DVD and the exhibition copy would be better but now I think I'm in denial. This was the cold slap of reality i needed. Back to the editing room!

RSMellette said...

I wouldn't say "automatic reject." We'd be in touch about fixing it - but would be much better if you fixed it first, regardless of our oppinion.

And, please, have a pro take a look. I could be way wrong about the cause and solution.

RSMellette said...

So I ran the blog by a friend of the festival at the Los Angeles Post Production Group, who confirmed one very important thing - professional post production people earn their money!

I was adviced that: 1)without seeing the actual problem nothing can be confirmed and it might be different for each film.

2) 3:2 issues are a prime suspect, but it could also be an interlacing issue if converted from a progressive source.

3) If it is interlacing, then the first troubleshooting step would be to recompress a section, running it through both deinterlace and even detelecine to rule out both possible problems.

4) It could be a problem with interframing, where the camera interpolates data between frames, rather than actually capturing the frame. When this file is then compressed - when ingested into an editing system, output from that system, and input into something else, etc. The problem is magnefied.

All of this tells me that the best advice is the same advice we all heard when we told people we wanted to get into the entertainment industry, "seek professional help."

Speaking personally, and having not run this by anyone at DWF, I'd say on a short - don't spend anymore money trying to fix it - just make sure it doesn't happen again. On a feature, if you are anywhere close to getting distribution, understand that you're going to have to fix this and it is going to cost time and money - both yours.

rewriteitagain said...

The subtle jerky motion IS being caused by the shutter speed being too fast no matter the frame rate, creating a series if crisp photos with minimal blur to any motion.
The high shutter speed is due to auto programming because there is too much light coming into the lens.
This can be corrected by adding ND or variable ND filters which many low budget productions are loathe to do due to relative cost. "Why buy another piece of equipment when the auto frame rate will adjust accordingly"? Yeah, well...

RSMellette said...

That makes sense. We see the problem a lot more in bright scenes.

Thanks for the input - and another example of why it is important to have artists in every position who know and love what they are doing - then listen to what they tell you.