… for Random Weirdness

Tip #457: Low-Tech Perfomance Boost

Dust is the enemy, keep your gear clean.

Topic $TipTopic

My 2015 MacBook Pro was no longer smoothly handling anything; its performance was a fraction of what it was. It felt hot and the fans were racing.

I investigated and followed all the advice, eventually reinstalling everything and resetting the rest. That seemed to help a bit but it never completely solved the problem.

Then, I had a brainwave! I carefully opened up the back and practically choked on the dust and fluff! A couple of minutes of carefully hoovering [vacuuming] the debris has completely taken care of the problem.

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… for Random Weirdness

Tip #460: 5 Tips to Improve a Boring Documentary

If your doc is boring, look to your story first.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. The primary goal of any good documentary is — first and foremost — to inform. However, to inform an audience well, you have to put something together that has all the elements of compelling entertainment. If you find yourself working on a documentary project that’s starting to get boring, here are some quick tricks to help you get back on track.

Work on Story and Structure. Whether you’re just starting out on your project or are deep in the editing process, you should ask yourself the following: If you were to sit down with a pen and paper, could you write (or sketch) out the entire story and structure of your film? If not, why not?

Animate or Illustrate When Needed. Adding custom illustrations or animations to a documentary project can be very appealing to documentary filmmakers. However, overusing animations or illustrations is something to avoid — and it can become expensive and time-consuming, depending on the number and quality of the illustrations and animations.

Add Movement and Transitions. In addition to animating or illustrating B-roll or specific scenes, other smaller editing tricks can actually be quite helpful for speeding up sequences and making the general tone and style a bit more appealing.

Alternate Means of Exposition. Consider letting the mystery of your story develop in some areas. Sometimes, all you need to make a compelling documentary is a few sentences over a black screen to provide all the exposition you actually need. Other things like lower thirds, narration, or interviews can provide the rest.

Make Those Tough Cuts. Documentaries are notorious for requiring tons and tons of filming and footage. At the end of the day, you’d much rather someone watch your film and say “I wish that was longer” than “I wish that was shorter.”

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #461: 3 Tips to Shoot a Conversation in a Car

There’s a direct correlation between believability and dollars and/or time.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. There’s something about the cinematic road scene that is deeply embedded in American film and culture. However, from a DP’s perspective, it can be one of the most difficult and taxing set-ups to tackle.

Green screen. This method involves the least amount of moving (parts, and in general) but the greatest amount of post-production. Leaving the car stationary and setting up a green screen will allow you to control the scene as much as possible. However, it will require some serious editing chops to fill every mirror and window reflection in a believable way that looks natural.

Camera Mount. The car mount method (dash cam, side mount, etc…) would be your best DIY small-production option. It’s also the riskiest in terms of possibly damage to your camera or gear. The small dashboard cam might be the safest shot possible, but it’s also one of the most used. Unless you’re project is embracing a practical DIY approach, it would be worth it to invest time or money into other options.

Tow Car. This is the professional method of choice. The tow car gives you maximum control of your car “set” while in a natural, uncontrolled environment. Tow car production still requires a production team and solid coordination (especially for filming scenes multiple times from multiple angles). But if you can afford a tow car (or makeshift trailer), you’ll get the most authentic cinematic look.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #441: Lighting for a Cinematic Look

Less lighting, with more control, is the secret to “cinema lighting.”

When it comes to lighting, less is more.

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Zach Ramelan, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt.

A common misconception among aspiring or soon-to-be filmmakers is that you need a lot of huge, expensive lights to really pull of a professional, cinematic look. That was true once, but not anymore.

By taping dark household fabrics around an overhead light source you’re able to cone and channel the light so that it eliminates spill on the background.

NOTE: Be careful about excess heat burning your fabric.

If you want a realistic look chances are that’s actually with minimal light. Find one source that you can control and work around that.

A crucial key tip for cinematography is that direct light usually looks the worst. You can defuse it by pointing at a white wall or angle it so it makes a much more subtle glow on your subject. Unless it’s necessary to the style or story direct lighting looks unflattering and unnatural.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #442: Find the Funny

Funny takes work.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Jourdan Aldredge, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt.

The art of the comedy short film is actually nothing new, and can be traced back to the earliest days of film and cinema with the works of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Here are some tips to finding the funny and creating quality comedy shorts and videos.

The initial planning helps set the tone. The goal is to explore ideas. You can do free association with just yourself and a piece of paper. Ideally, once you’ve “found the funny,” you can start putting those ideas to paper by planning your outline, script, and shots.

A good way to work is to cover your bases and make sure you have every shot you’d need to put together an edit. Then, once the rigid work is done, loosen things up and do as many takes as you can stand.

Another simple trick that can help out in the edit is to shoot several reaction shots. Comedy very much lives in faces.

When is comes to editing, comedy lends itself to quick cuts, especially to reactions.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #443: Shooting Night-time Car Scenes

Keep shots tight and the background murky.

Image courtesy of pexels.com.
Blurry, dark backgrounds can imply just about anything.

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Logan Baker, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt of a conversation with the Coen brothers.

Shooting night-time car scenes can be tricky when working with a micro-budget. Fortunately, there are a few key techniques that can help you pull it off without leaving the garage.

For dialogue between the two characters that takes place while driving a car at night, consider shooting in your garage. Keep your depth of field shallow — put the focus on the actors while having the background out of focus. By doing this, it allows you to keep a level of vagueness to what’s really going on behind-the-scenes.

To further mask the unwanted backdrop of your garage or driveway, have a friend point a hose towards the windshield to create “rain.”

Purchase some cheap individual accent lights from Home Depot and place them inside the car to eliminate the need to set up a complicated lighting rig around the exterior (a rig that might actually show reflections). Consider having a grip or production assistant sit in the back of the car, moving one of the small lights up and down on the actor’s side to give the appearance of streetlights passing by.

… for Apple Final Cut Pro X

Tip #392: How to Use a Second Display with FCP X

The Secondary Monitor display menu only appears when you have a second monitor connected.

Topic $TipTopic

This tip is from an Apple KnowledgeBase article. This is an excerpt.

Final Cut is programmed to support two computer monitors. But, the controls are hidden. When you connect a second computer display to your Mac, controls appear that allow you to move the viewer, browser, or timeline to the second display.

Make sure that the second display is connected to your Mac and turned on. When they are, the Secondary Display button and pop-up menu appear in the toolbar at the top of the Final Cut Pro window. (See screen shot)

To choose which area of the Final Cut Pro interface you want to move to the second display, do one of the following:

  • Click the Secondary Display pop-up menu and choose Timeline, Viewer, or Browser.
  • Choose Window > Show in Secondary Display > [item].

The area you chose moves to the second display, and the other areas of the Final Cut Pro window are adjusted on the primary display.

NOTE: Video scopes can be displayed on a second monitor along with the Viewer. Scopes can’t be displayed separately.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #422: 4 Tips to Researching Your Topic

All documentaries benefit from as much research as possible.

Research is essential to any documentary. (Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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This article, written by Tanner Shinnick, first appeared in PremiumBeat. This is an excerpt.

Research is essential to any documentary. Strong research ensures a successful and captivating documentary film. Here are some resources to consider as you research your own projects.

Academic Research Papers.
Academic research papers are wonderful tools for documentarians. Chances are that there are academic research papers out there about your topic. A simple Google search or thumbing through references on Wikipedia can uncover many of them.

Larry adds: Recently, I’ve started using Bookends as a research and bibliography database. It can be very helpful in finding and organizing academic sources.

I find newspapers extremely valuable documentary research resource. If the paper you’re looking for isn’t digitized, you could always visit the publication’s local library where you can view the slides or microfilm.

First-Hand Accounts.
Research interviews can uncover a lot of information about a subject or topic. By simply allotting time to chat with key subjects about a topic, you can uncover valuable information that may not be available online or in books.

Archival Footage or Photos.
AStrong research ensures a successful and captivating documentary film.rchival footage or photos can provide contextual visual information to your film.Here are some resources to consider.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #423: 7 Reasons to Add Narration

Narration adds power, speeds action and consolidates back-story.

Narration adds power, speeds action and consolidates back-story. (Image courtesy of pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Jourdan Aldredge, first appeared in PremiumBeat. This is an excerpt.

For filmmakers, narration is truly a powerful tool — voice-over narration helps us understand what we’re seeing. Regardless of where you are in production, here are seven reasons you should consider using voice-over narration in your project.

  • Beef Up Your Narrative. Adding narration can be a great way to beef up your narrative to turn a section from a weakness into a strength.
  • Accelerate Exposition. Set things up much more quickly than otherwise possible.
  • Add Depth to a Character.
  • Lay Out the Broad Strokes. Especially with sequels, this helps jump start the action by quickly filling in the back-story.
  • Make Your Film More Active.
  • Add Humor to Your Scenes. Similar to making films more active, adding voice-over narration can also add more humor to your scenes.
  • Raise Issues of Reliability. If you are looking to add narration to your project, it’s also worth considering making it less than reliable. An unreliable narrator can cause a very drastic thematic response when the truth is revealed to the audience.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #424: 3 Tips for Lighting Different Skin tones

Different skin tones require changes to our lighting.

Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

Topic $TipTopic

This article, wriiten by Rubidium Wu, first appeared in PremiumBeat. This is an excerpt.

Lighting different skin tones in the same scene is really tough. Here are some tricks to consider.

If the talents’ skin tones are different, but not radically so, you can usually get away with placing the darker skinned person closer to the key light, keeping the light close to the talent. Because of the inverse square law, exposure falls off quickly when it’s near a source of light, then more slowly as it gets further away.

Zones of Light. By bringing in a flag or cutter close to the actor so that more of the key hits the darker skinned actor than the lighter skinned actor, you effectively create two zones of lighting — one brighter than the other. The actors will need to stay on their marks, if they’re to be correctly lit.

Negative Lighting. If you’re outdoors, or utilizing some other source of bright light, you can use exposure for the darker skin, and use scrims or negative fill to take light away from the brighter skin. This is a trick also used by corporate headshot photographers who want to stop white shirts from being overexposed. They put a double net scrim (which takes away a stop of light) on its own C-stand (or light stand), and use it to shade the bright area. If the scrim is close enough to the light, it won’t create a visible shadow in the shot.

Fill. It’s no good to light just one side of your talent’s face. You also need to light the darker side so that it doesn’t fall off into dark shadow.
The fill light doesn’t need to be as big as the key, it just needs to be more controlled. I’ve had the most success using a 1×1 or 2×1 with a 45 degree grid. This means you can aim it at just the location you want, and it should fill only the area you need lighter. You may have to pan the light away so that no light is hitting the lighter skin, and you may also need to add more negative fill off camera so that the light, once it’s lit your desired area, doesn’t bounce everywhere and bring up the levels over the whole room.