Monday, December 13, 2010

Amazon Studios - shaking up the indie universe?
Script-writing and film-making competitions giving indies a chance to get to a big audience.
Prizes of $20000 to $1million. Entry fee of zero. Plans to produce the best of the entries as commercial productions in association with Warner Brothers. So far so good.
Then comes the unusual rules especially with regard to copyright and ownership. Amazon Studios is an experiment in online collaborative creation for its community. When you enter a script anyone can download it and read it. There's more! Anyone can revise it and post their revision into the competition, although it does present as a child of your project webpage, and if they win anything then the judges share it with you depending on how much revision happened. Scripts become openly available for anyone to film them as a test movie and enter that in the test movie part of the competition. This is making Amazon Studios controversial on writers blogs and forums - eg this article and its reader comments:

IMHO Amazon Studios is an exciting initiative well worth our time and attention, but I agree with the "ScriptMag" columnist (link above) that any writer should approach this with all-new projects created especially for the Amazon Studios purpose. If you take your pet idea and throw it into Amazon Studios, and it does not rate, then the Amazon usage rights you have agreed to may be a barrier to some future opportunities for it.

At present, Amazon Studios seems to be flooded with about 1300 scripts and almost no "test movies". It looks to me as if most of the projects are from writers having another go with scripts that have been getting nowhere for years in other competitions. An indie group big enough to get a public voting momentum started could do well - yes - (sigh) - there is also a public voting element to this.

Here is a good Amazon Studios discussion on test movies. I esp. like the contributions of "Mark Vetanen".

Another distinctive element is that Amazon Studios is about feature-length movies. Filming test-scenes of only part of a script is allowed and they will be published but they cannot win prizes. I have been in there making comments about this on the forums and as feedback to the organisers - well I'm just that kinda guy really .... eg:

Amazon Studios needs to welcome, encourage and give prizes for test scenes ie test movies of part of a script! OK smaller prizes for test scenes but prizes and as fully recognised contributions. A long form "test" movie is still a big project for your target emerging film-making membership - too big. So far in the flood of entries I can not find any example of a new test movie as a contribution in the true spirit of the experiment happening here which is evidence that you need to make the test movie side smaller and simpler to "get the ball rolling" on that side of collaborative development.

HOWTO compete? I suggest 2 approaches:

Approach #1. Search for an existing script there that motivates you. Make the test film of that. My problem is that so far I have not found a great script to motivate me. My closest candidate so far is "The Lightshockers" (use the search) - but for me it is too much like "Inception" and needs to either separate itself more or come closer while ramping up its political-satirical themes. I like the central idea/character: a brain surgeon goes spy action hero against the government intelligence agency which is abusing its powers by running bad bad bad experiments on her patients ...

Approach #2. Impro! ie the "Theatresports" and "Whose Line is it Anyway" improvisational acting approach. Start a project with an improvised test movie - then write it up as a draft script and develop it through follow-up sessions of scripted filming and more impro sessions. Your "Project" can then have both script and test movie competition entries developing together.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Animation cookbook - just add a pinch of life?

Interesting discussion on the DAZ forums about how "life-like" should our animation be?

Related to this, I have been doing more experiments with the MOCAP database from Carnegie Mellon Uni. Details, including example video clips and downloads of CMU MOCAPs configured to be Carrara-friendly, at: - current projects

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Harry Potter gets real

Saw "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" Part 1 yesterday. Not my usual indie movie but family life gets me to these mainstream biggies. I was impressed at the history education and social justice themes in it. It looked to me like the story of the coming to power of Adolf Hitler retold as an allegory with a popular set of fantasy characters. The Adolf Hitler character is "Voltemort": power-hungry and irrationally racist. The movie starts with him taking effective control of the government of the magically talented people of Britain who live in a kind of semi-parallel dimension. Excellent depiction of the totalitarian screws going on for this population including an allegory of the persecution of the Jews. The title character "Harry Potter" operates like a kind of French Resistance leader. These themes have been in the series all along but bizarrely mixed with a child entertainment aim. This movie is much more focussed on its Hitler allegory theme and IMO is much better for it.

And there's more. This Kafkaesque movie references Orson Welle's "The Trial" (1962). This starts with the bleaching of colour and use of grey sets to get a monochrome look to restaging Welle's famous typing pool scene. Ref "The Trial" trailer:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Facebook - not quite ruling the web

I see Facebook is getting a lot of news commentary stimulated by the release of the movie "The Social Network". I have not seen the movie - so this is only a comment about the comments. Facebook may dominate some of the web space but as far as I can tell it is not successful in techie networking - that is sharing information in a productive way, as an expert conversation or even as a geek specialist interest fun thing. As far as on line film-making discussions go, the specialist website forums seem to be holding their own. Notable examples on my radar include,, In the case of 48 hours, the organisers' efforts to move discussions to Facebook appear to have failed with the community sticking to its trad forum.

In the web developer part of my life, I am interested in the functions for linking to Facebook. There is some positive potential there of usefully connecting scattered information but I intend to evaluate keeping some healthy skepticism in place over information control and privacy issues.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Aiptek Action HD GVS camcorder first impressions

This looks promising as a low cost camcorder useful for teaching and learning media. Not available in New Zealand so bought 2nd-hand off ebay. Arrived in the post today. Later (12 Mar) found out how to check firmware - identified as version 2302 made in Jan 2009.
Very good first impression. Seems to do a good job of what we want for our teaching with 3 important features in a low-price package: AF-lock, Ext Mic input and Remote Control.
Our students do some animation exercises with modelling clay and other physical objects. The Remote Control, close-focussing ability and AF-lock are good value for this. The Aiptek is also a stills camera taking 5 megapixel stills, but a surprise discovery is that a stills 'burst' mode can be changed to a single still mode - and this delivers 16:9 format 1280x720 stills which is an ideal size for ease of animation editing on modest computers. Switch off "Continuous Shot" in the menu then animate with the "OK" button on the remote rather than the "Still Photo" button.

Other reviewers criticise "flimsy" construction - on handling the camera it seems robust enough and looks to be of a similar construction standard to its competitors.

Other reviewers comment on over-sensitive microphone recording giving distortion with loud subjects. My first tests were with recording lectures and presentations and the results were good. But on filming an enthusiastic group of children singing loudly I discovered that problem! It did not seem to be the dreaded "clipping" except in extreme cases - my guess is that an Automatic Level Control does exist but was leaving too much high frequency in. I got acceptable improved results by applying an equaliser with gain reduction over 3000 Hz. After updating the firmware from ver 2303 to ver 2901, audio performance seems to have improved with less serious distortion happening less often. Conclusion - I can live with this OK for entry-level educational use. I can do ambitious indie work with some care, eg adding in a home-made attenuator for loud subjects.
A low cost $8 "Genius" computer desktop mic for Skype etc gives excellent results apart from a little more background hiss than I would like.

Others criticise poor low light performance - seems good enough for what we need with good results in all classroom lighting and acceptable results in low-level household lighting even with the "NightShot" setting off. The specs claim that the lens maintains its f/3.2 aperture from wide through to full telephoto and my first tests seem to back this up. This is unusual in a good way because most low cost optical zoom lenses lose light-gathering power when you zoom in. F/3.2 is average for a wide angle setting but is remarkably good for a telephoto performance.

I found the back ports cover difficult to remove so I got out a craft knife and cut the tight plastic holding peg down smaller - that worked well and the cover now removes comfortably with a fingernail.

Aiptek will need some care in classroom handling - some eccentricities to watch when mounting on a tripod. The tripod hole is shallow so you may need some spacers - I cut some out of cardboard. You need to open the LCD door before you mount it on the tripod else the door gets stuck.

The Ambarella chip on which many budget camcorders are based seems to be a work of genius that performs extremely well. I feel sorry for the inventors that the resulting cameras seem to not quite fulfill their chip's potential for creative power. The Chinavasion A4402 tested earlier runs its chip fast giving excellent video quality but misses out on perfection by not having any alternative to an always-on autofocus. The Aiptek does give us more controls including the all-important focus-lock. So could I shoot a film festival indie movie on it or would I be confident using it in the 48 Hours competition? [Edit] At first my answer was "no, not quite good enough" but after the firmware update I am re-editing this article to say a marginal "yes". Indie - some limited possibilities. Education - looking very good. More to come as other teachers test it.

[EDIT 16 Mar 2010 - FOLLOW-UP] - I have discovered Aiptek's firmware update page and upgraded the camera's operation system from ver 2302 to ver 2901. The bitrate for the 2 top HD settings has gone up. Now reporting 720p60 increased from 6mbps to 8mbps. 1080p30 increase from 8mbps to 11.3 mbps. Audio quality seems to be better. Odd effect fixed - previously 720p60 had a better wide angle with the stabiliser on but narrower angle with the stabiliser off - reverse of what I would reasonably expect. They are consistent now.

[EDIT 25 Mar 2010]"Aiptek GVS Camera Test Song (Processed)" now on Youtube.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"The Lovely Bones" IMO Excellent

I have just seen "The Lovely Bones" and IMO it was excellent and effective. I have not read the book therefore I experienced this as a self-contained movie and it made sense to me that way. The surreal afterlife scenes worked for me as an imaginative dreamscape with the storytelling purpose of reflecting events on Earth that relate to the main character. I walked in with lowered expectations because of the critics and I was surprised, completely engaged, and impressed by an outstanding movie. My track record continues of loving movies that get a hard time from the critics.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nice opportunity - shame about the mash

Last century on New Zealand television there was usually a comedy show that week by week would give us topical parody and satire of our national life and current events. Since 2000 this has been sadly reduced with with the flickering light kept alive only by the occasional series from the Gibson Group. 10 weeks in 2007 was the last appearance of "Facelift". Example at:

Gibson Group have announced a new show: "The Mash Pit"
Nice that there is an open opportunity for the public to submit creative work to a TV show. I could be right into this - but it ain't gonna happen and the reason is the mash-up gimmick. I find it very difficult to get live acting performances that are uninhibited and outrageous enough to work effectively as comedy. My actors are getting very nervous about well-publicised internet identity safety issues and it is difficult enough to get them to agree to screening on Youtube. They will not like the possibility of having their most outrageous moments taken out of context for mashing and I am not going to risk my friendships and film-making networking by trying to push them into it.

I also have a problem with music library and other content licensing that will not extend to mash-ups.

Nice idea to encourage wider participation in making TV comedy but I wish Gibson would try playing it as a straightforward submission without gimmickry like the mashing. On looking at the website I get the impression that the mashups are few in number and ineffective so they are failing to deliver an attractive advantage to outweigh the participation barrier they create.

I also criticise the way that this format seems to give a time lag between production and public screening. This is a yet another barrier to parody of current events.

Hey Gibson Group, I am a fan of your past comedy work, but I think you are stumbling with this "Mash Pit". A final thought - if mashing is such a good idea, why aren't you supplying examples of your recent productions as fodder for the mashers?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Vintner's Duck

New parody on Youtube. A few weeks ago I heard a radio interview with Niki Caro about her latest movie "The Vintner's Luck" and it seemed to have parody potential. This led to us filming "The Vintner's Duck" on 26/27 Dec. It is now posted on Youtube:

Adaptations of books to film are often difficult to the point of controversy but this seems to have been an extreme case. See our Youtube notes for our parody-world take on this. Some sources for the issues around the real-world project:

"Author Cried over Vintner's Luck Film"

"Second Sight - Wrestling with the Angel"