Monday, April 28, 2008

'The Cult of Sincerity' and the YouTube Distribution Model

Last week I viewed the first feature length film to premiere on YouTube, The Cult of Sincerity. It follows the lead character, Joseph, in his quest to escape the mediocre life that has befallen him and all of his old college friends. He does his by attempting to eliminate sarcasm and irony from his life as well as helping all those around him. It's a good little film with nice performances, some funny writing, good production values, and (for once) a positive, upbeat message.

The filmmakers (co-directors Adam Browne and Brendan Choisnet, and producer/writer Daniel Nayeri) have struck a bargain with the indie music site Amie Street, to snag a bit of cash. If you sign up via the Cult link, you get two bucks of free music credit, and the movie makers also get two bucks. Not bad. Sign up for three dollars, and the boys get one buck, charity gets two more, and you get to download the movie to your computer.

This last part is important, because YouTube's compression on Cult is so bad, it almost makes the film unwatchable. I'm not sure if it's due to the length of the project, or just poor encoding choices, but it is a problem. Fortunately, the quality of the movie still comes through, but the pixelating and picture breakup is really an issue. I was tempted to go ahead and get the $3 download, but felt the film wasn't great enough for me to revisit. If you do, you should spend the three bones, as anything will be better than what you get on the Tube.

This is also the second time that a full-length indie has come to YouTube with some sort of collaborative deal that bumps some coin back to the creators. Remember Four Eyed Monsters? Arin and Susan's deal with Spout (sign up through the FEM link and they get $1) was a first, and gave some incentive (they took in over $40,000), which we can see with Cult.

I love the idea of putting an entire film on the web (and especially YouTube, which millions of people visit), but wonder about the viability. As mentioned above, the video quality has to be better. A crappy picture will take you out of the mood quickly, and you'll lose your audience. So far, the number of views are at 17,000 plus, but how many of those watched the entire movie? Again, I'm not sure if this is an YouTube issue or not (FEM looked pretty decent, as I recall), but has to be fixed. I'd be infuriated if my movie looked like that to a worldwide audience.

Size also seems to be an issue. The tiny screen on the Tube is okay for short stuff, but generates eye strain for long periods. Go full screen and it looks like your watching through a fish tank. Recent history has proven that folks will watch movies on a small screen, but iPods have a razor sharp image, something we don't get here. Check out what director David Lynch had to say about his films viewed on a screen the size of a postage stamp. Pretty funny.

No one has been able to breakout with a giant web-based hit yet. I am always encouraged by resourceful filmmakers who keep trying new things to get their work out there, and try to make a buck. It will happen, and I can't wait to see whatever product drives millions of people to their computers (or set-top boxes) to watch it. It's very exciting, and it's most definitely the future.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Deal Alert: Vegas Pro 8 for $129!

I'm a big fan of Sony's Vegas products since way back when they were Sonic Foundry's Vegas products. A video editor created from the guts of an audio editor, Vegas is my favorite editing program, and a great tool for PC users. It's superb audio tools have long been praised, and the thing has a very shallow learning curve. It's great for the short school project or feature film. All versions of Vegas have been favorably reviewed everywhere, so I won't beat a dead horse (I give it ten thumbs up!), I'll just keep riding it.

Even if you shelled out full retail ($599, packaged) Vegas Pro 8 would be worth every penny. The good news is that I found a smokin' deal from B&H Photo Video (one, if not THE most reputable online equipment house) that gives you a Vegas Pro 8 CD for $129. I was looking to upgrade (which would cost $249), but opted for this instead, and I'm glad I did.

There are some disclaimers. This is only the installation CD (authentic, with legit serial number) sans any paper packaging, extras, or documentation. Adequate instructions can be found within the 'help' menu inside Vegas, so this is inconsequential, especially if you already know the software. Also be aware that this is only the Vegas editor, and doesn't include DVD Architect, Sony's authoring program. I have never liked Architect (I much prefer DVDlab), so this also wasn't a problem. You still get the excellent audio suite, including 5.1 surround mixing, and the Dolby Digital encoder (which used to be a separate purchase).

The CD contains the 'a' version of the software, and upon installation, I was informed that 'b' was available. The most current version of Vegas now sits happily on my new laptop, fully functional.

Another bummer is that B&H is about to go on holiday, being closed from Friday, April 18 to Sunday April 27. All orders received after 9:00am today will be shipped after they reopen. This will just mean you'll have to wait an extra week (you can still place an order), but if you're like me, waiting sucks.

Vegas Pro 8 is really an awesome product. I love using it, and for the super cheap price of $129, you can get a professional level product that costs the same as the entry level stuff. For me, it was a no-brainer.

Just thought I'd let you know.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Location, Location, Location

I went to New York City for a day with my family this past week. We visited some famous places including Times Square and 42nd Street. In Central Park, we stopped by the famed Bethesda Fountain, which has been featured in a ton of movies such as Disney's Enchanted. Right next to the fountain are the above featured gothic arches, which are also familiar, and very cool. Seeing these famous movie locales got me thinking about the value of shooting on a location that is a character in itself.

While the digital revolution seems to encourage more green screen and compositor use, let us not forget the value of a really good location. They can add depth and mystery and authenticity that you could never get from something faked inside a computer. One of my favorite locations was in the back of a local record store. The owner had an archive of albums that went floor-to-ceiling and created hallways of music. These halls were so narrow that I had to use a wide angle lens, but the result was pretty great. I wish I could show it to you, but it went off line when Youtube went Nazi on me.

Getting a good place to shoot can really up your production value. In theory, you can find and use the same places that the pros do, as long as you strike some deal with the owners. Guerrillas don't use permits, but asking nicely will often get you what you want (get them to sign a release). Most people outside of large cities still think it's pretty neat that you're making a movie. Just don't trash the place. Your reputation will follow and catch up to you.

If there is no substitute for what you want, you can always be sneaky. It's a common story that filmmakers will pull up, hop out, shoot, and take off. I've done it as well. There was a snow-covered graveyard that I wanted to use once, but the management wanted some outlandish fee. I noticed that on weekends the office was closed, so that's when we shot the scene. We didn't take long, and were never harassed. I don't want to encourage trespassing, so use your best judgment. No shot is worth being shot at.

Movies tell stories using pictures. Even though locations are the backgrounds of the tales we tell, they can mean a lot to what you're trying to convey. You'll know the right place when you find it. It will just feel right, and look even better.

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