We finally got most of the gear up and running and kicked it up a notch to start filming the machete fighters in slow motion on a steadicam.
To break down the setup, we’ve got the Sony FS700 (left) owned by DP Richard Patterson. This camera was released with a future 4K upgrade in the pipeline which just came out. The 4K requires two additional devices, the HXR-IFR5 interface (center) and the AXS-R5 recorder (right). The IFR5 interface connects to the camera through the SDI port and the recorder holds the SSD media for recording. AbelCine rented the R5 recorder to the production at a discount and the IFR5 was purchased from Sony.
To me, more appealing than the 4K from this setup is the ability to shoot unlimited slow-motion at 2K at 120 fps. Normally when shooting slow-motion on the FS700 you only have an 8 second window to record the action, then you have to wait for the camera to buffer the recording before you can shoot again. It’s a lot of down time and not ideal for recording machete fights with subjects not used to the technicalities of film production. This setup lets us record slow-motion at 2K (or 4K with buffering) for as much memory as we have, which is 20 minutes of action on a 512 GB SSD card.
I’m writing a full hands-on review of the experience when we’re done with production for Filmmaker Magazine, so there will be lots more information about the camera and some of the issues we ran into. There will also be a lot of insight from Richard, who will have worked with the setup firsthand for two weeks.
While not usually a problem for fiction films (unless it’s a stylistic choice), most documentaries find the only visual media available for some parts of the film are still photos. The most common method that comes to mind to add movement to still photos is the Ken Burns effect.
While obviously effective and the staple of many PBS films, with the advent of After Effects and other tools, there are many more ways to dynamically include stills in movies. Here are five.
The 2.5th Dimension
Using Photoshop and After Effects, you can achieve amazing results by removing elements from still photos and compositing them in a 3D space. These moves can be as simple as a pan or dolly with a little depth, to full blown camera fly-throughs of entire composited scenes.
– Handwritten note on a festival rejection letter
The above note sums up the festival experience of my feature film Bots High quite well. A film that people who see, love, yet didn’t get much traction on the festival circuit. It played at some festivals, won some Best Documentary awards, got some goodreviews, and I had some great experiences and am thankful for the festivals that took a chance on the film. But obviously not the Sundance, SXSW, TIFF festival run you imagine while making the film 1.
Below I’ll be outlining how I’m taking my film’s future solely in my own hands, and the ideas that led to this strategy.
What Can You Do That I Can’t?
Epic festival run or not, the next question is, “Now what?” This is a question most of us filmmakers face once we have a finished film. Even the top indie films with recognizable actors are having a hard time getting distribution deals with upfront money. Three Sundance films just posted Kickstarter campaigns to raise distribution money. Dying to Do Letterman has run a phenomenal campaign to raise money to do their own Oscar qualifying theatrical run.
Do you try to raise more money and do everything yourself? Do you tour the film around and hope to break even, like Total Badass? Hope a company comes along to pick it up? With so many digital outlets yet so few companies putting money into buying films, choosing the right path for your film reminds me of the stress of picking the “right” college.
I received some distribution offers, but nothing that paid anything upfront, just some backend percentage. This means I’m going to have to sign away broad definitions of certain rights for 20 years (essentially forever as far as the film is concerned), no guarantee that any money will be put into a marketing campaign, and hope that maybe I’ll see a couple of thousand in return.
The main question I asked for every offer is, “What can you do that I can’t do myself?” Let’s take the best offer, one from a company whose name I actually recognized. They wanted all digital rights and would get the film on iTunes, Netflix Instant, Amazon, Xbox, etc, and keep 25%. Not a terrible deal, but not many guarantees on marketing, prominent placement, etc. I can handle the online stuff through Distribber – pay a flat fee, keep everything, both money and rights. With a lot of new online-only companies out there, I feel like they’re all just trying to build their library instead of putting their time and money behind something because they believe in it.
Good deal for someone whose film has been sitting on a shelf, not for someone that just wrapped and still has some fight in them.
Check Out the Film…Possibly at a Festival Near You…Or Online…Soon
Packed theater at the Bots High World Premiere
Bear with me as I take you through three realizations I had that will soon merge into the mega-idea.
The bigger question wasn’t how to get it online, it was how do I launch. How do I build enough buzz so the online launch is relevant? How do I get the film on people’s radar? Previously, if I told someone about the film, or pitched a blog to write about it, it’s like, “Maybe the film will play at a festival near you…or sign up for the newsletter and I’ll let you know when it’s on iTunes.” There was no target date, no time to build towards, that people writing about the film could say, “Here is a cool film, you can watch it on this day.”
Around the same time of this brainstorming, when I was crashing SXSW with an underground screening, I found it was incredibly easy to set up a free screening (shocker!). I held a screening at the University of Texas. They donated a theater, I didn’t charge admission (but sold some DVDs), super easy – no worries about rental costs and breaking even.
Get Your Priorities Straight
If 2 you read Jon Reiss‘ great book Think Outside the Box Office, one of his key points when making your distribution plan is to figure out your goals. Do you want to make money, promote a cause, or use the film to market yourself? Going into this, as I’m sure most filmmakers do, I’m thinking, “All of the above! It’s going to make money, and because it’s making money that means it has enough buzz that I’m being promoted as a filmmaker.” Clearly, not the case. But one of the main reasons I made this movie instead of trying to work up the Hollywood ladder was to have a feature film to my name to lead to more, paid work.
So with a reworking of priorities, #1 now being to use the film to market myself as a filmmaker, that means getting the film out as wide and far as possible. Combine that with my previous two realizations, and the strategy is quite clear…
A Free Worldwide Screening Day
Yep, one day to direct everyone towards that launches the film. “Hey, Mr. Reporter, check out my film. Your readers can see it October 6, for free!” Using free tools, such as Meetup Everywhere, groups can organize based on their location and create their own screening. I want to empower people to create their own theatrical experience, which as Jon Reiss redescribes as “people watching ‘films’ with other people. Any place.” ‘Theatrical’ is not a 35mm print screening in a movie theater anymore. 3
Even if people don’t come out to a screening, here are my goals from the plan when someone mentions Bots High to someone else.
“Oh, I heard of that film.”
“I saw that.”
“I love Bots High, I own it!”
The more blogs that right about it, the more someone is aware of it, the more that will help when I need credibility for other projects.
Free Doesn’t Mean No Money
Let’s be clear, ‘Make Money’ is not off the list (to the comfort of the patient people I owe money to). From my screening experience at festivals and ones I organized, about 2-5% of the audience buys the DVD. My thinking is cast a really wide net and if 1%-3% buy, that’s still a decent amount of money.
But I can’t have a Bots High representative at every screening selling DVDs and counting money. So in the way that I’m empowering people to organize a screening, I figured I could empower them to be retailers as well.
I sell the DVD for $20 on the web site and at screenings. But I’d be totally happy selling a guaranteed 10 DVDs for $10 each, which is what I’m doing with the event organizers. They can buy a 10 pack for $100, and then sell them at their screening for $20 each and keep the profit. I’m happy, they’re happy, win-win!
I foresee a lot of groups hosting screenings being connected to robotics programs or robotics teams themselves. I would love for the film to be used to recruit new members, whether the team does combat robotics or task oriented. I feel like teams could also use this as a fundraiser. So I also setup a ridiculously low $100 fundraising license which lets any non-profit charge admission to the screening as a fundraiser. 10 tickets at $10 and they cover the fee, then everything else goes to their program.
Make it an Event
Q&A at Bots High World Premiere
I am all about Ted Hope’s and Jon Reiss‘ talk of making screenings an event. I want the film to be used as a platform for teams and schools to create an event around. Show off their robots, have mini battles (Google loves sumo-bots), get guest speakers – anything to go beyond just a movie screening and make it a unique night. Also, there needs to be something special about playing the movie on October 6 other than me saying you have to.
The one thing that’s great about festival or independent screenings is the Q&A. I didn’t want to lose that element, and with all the free streaming services out there it doesn’t have to be lost. I’ll be setting up a live webcast of myself and people from the film to answer questions that are tweeted to @botshigh. I figure most of the screenings will be in some sort of college auditorium that’s hooked up to a computer, so switching over to a webcast shouldn’t be a problem.
How You Can Help
And that’s the plan – a free, worldwide launch of my film. So far the press has been good (WIRED, Laughing Squid, IndieWire) and I’ve got screenings set up in India, Spain, South Korea, Bolivia, and 26 other cities. My goal is 100. With schools getting back in session, and constant emailing, I anticipate the numbers to pick up speed pretty quickly.
Of course you, independent film lover / maker who’s reading this, can play an important role and help set up a screening. Go here for all the details.
You can follow me on Twitter at @C47 or the film at @botshigh. I’m toying with an idea of running trailers for other independent films in similar positions before the screener disks of the movie, so if you’re a filmmaker with a movie and might be interested in this, email me.
I’ll be posting more about my experiences with this, including Distribber and getting the DVD on Amazon. Stay tuned!
I don’t have a definitive answer for why this is, especially since festivals don’t really give feedback, just some theories from an attempted objective viewpoint, such as the film is light hearted, has a narrow focus, and doesn’t tackle a heavy issue. All the rejection letters cite record high submissions, thanks to the digital revolution which now creates a higher level of noise. I’d like to imagine my film was buried in a Raiders of the Lost Ark style pile and never watched. But who knows.
Obviously this experience has left me a little bitter about festivals, which led to question their relevance at all. Especially after my short Space Miami got over 50,000 views and more onlinepress than any festival could give a short. That’s another post, though check out this Fest vs. Online comparison.
Have a few hacks we discovered while editing Bots High. Our main challenge was how we (Andrew the editor and I) could streamline two computers working off the same Final Cut files (not simultaneously) to access the same footage. Some reasons for this – Andrew could continue editing while I looked for footage. Or I could pull up assembly editor project files to find clips to use in podcasts. Or I could edit some title cards in Photoshop and have them automatically update in the Final Cut timeline.
I’ve also seen similar questions posed on forums and listservs for directors and editors separated by long distances. I’ll explain what we did, but first a Dropbox primer.
Dropbox is an amazing utility designed to keep your files in sync across multiple computers. It’s a folder on your computer where anything you put in it is automatically uploaded to Dropbox’s server, and then synced to other computers that have access to it (or you can access it online or on your mobile device). You can also share folders with other users. Dropbox always keeps a local file on your computer, which was the key winning point when I compared this to MobileMe’s iDisk at the time, which only worked off a server so if you had some network trouble you’d get all sorts of fatal errors.
Now for the work flow:
The video files are way too big for Dropbox. You need exact mirrors of the hard drive your footage is on – same hard drive name, same folder structure, same movie files that you want to work with. These files need to be local on each computer you want synced.
Setup a Dropbox account. It’s free for 2 GB, which is plenty for Final Cut files. I upgraded to 50 GB because I now use it for everything.
Create a project folder to store all your FCP files in your Dropbox folder.
Setup the same account on the other computers, or share the project folder with the account on that computer.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. As long as your hard drives are structured exactly the same the project file will find all the media in its place and not bug you with offline media prompts. Just make sure you’re not working off the same file at the same time – I don’t know what madness that will cause. Because our project was so large, we organized the footage into their own project files, and had separate files for actual edits. So if we needed a clip, you’d just open the project, copy it over, and close it out.
There’s another reason I love Dropbox – you get instant, off-site backup every time you save. Plus it does versioning so you can go back to older files if you need to.
Another hack – later in post I would create a shared folder for the animator and composer to transfer files. It’s as simple as copy and pasting a file, because as soon as it’s in a Dropbox folder it’s uploaded in the background and downloaded to all the other folders. Way easier when dealing with multiple files than YouSendIt.