GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.

2Dec/09Off

Screenwriter

I'm not a writer. Never claimed to be and it was never my intention to become one. But if I've learned anything in LA it's that you need to be the master of your own destiny. And that means I need to assume some writing duties.

I'm not going for anything big just yet. Just gonna ease myself in to the pool and take a few practice strokes working on a web comedy series I've been brainstorming for the last 6 months or so.

If you have any words of advice, books to recommend, or prayers - send 'em in. Except the "just write" nugget. It's an excellent piece of wisdom that I've heard now about 3 dozen times. Thanks!

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9Mar/09Off

Vixia update

*Sigh* You know when you have something that's so close to perfection but there's just one tiny problem? Yeah. It exists with the Canon HF11. As detailed in the previous post I've been having audio issues stemming from my use of an external mic attached to the camera via a 1/8" mini-plug. All to spec as outlined in the HF11's manual.

I sent it in a few weeks ago only to get it back not but a week later with a "could not duplicate" notice. Er. I'm not sure how you couldn't duplicate something as inherently simple as plugging in a cable to the back of the camera. It's not rocket science. So, thinking I was doing something wrong I retraced my steps and tried the camera out again. I was able to duplicate the problem 6 different ways using a variety of cables.

So I made a little video to help my friends at Canon Technical Support hear what's going wrong. Sadly I failed to capture the video for you all to admire, but it basically consisted of 1 minute of video where I recorded using the on-board mic for 30 seconds and then connected an external mic for another 30 seconds in one take. No fancy editing, you can hear me shuffling in the background. The minute that mic goes in the plug the clicks begin, regardless of whether the mic is actually turned on or not. I could take the mic off the cable completely and would still get the issue.

So I spoke with Canon again and they said to ship it back and they'll take another look. If this turns out to be what they intended I'll post a sample video for you folks and you can give me your feedback. Till then cross your fingers that they'll figure out the problem and/or send me a brand new (working) camera.

In other news we're in the final post phases of a new short that I hope to have up in a couple weeks. I'm excited for this one.

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10Feb/09Off

Canon Vixia HF11

Hey all! So for Christmas I splurged and bought myself a new camera with which I hoped to shoot more videos. Here follows a bit of drama about this camera and my ownership thereof. So here's the specs: Full HD, 1920x1080. AVCHD codec (just like the HVX-200). A revolutionary (for this price-point) 24mbps recording mode, which means more data in less space. And the big ta-da is the fact that this camera records to a solid-state memory card. Two, in fact. A built-in 32GB and a slot for any SDHC card you care to throw at it. Let me tell you the 32GB is a LOT. About 200 minutes at full rez, 1080/30i. Camera is tiny, like digital camera tiny. Images are crisp as you might expect from an HD camera, but it's also just a lowly one-chipper. Only with an insane amount of structured lights and a solid pair of sticks could you even hope of shooting anything longer than 10 minutes on this. Luckily, that's not my goal.

Anyway, I used the camera for a shoot a few weekends ago, the results of which can be located below. But first, here's my main issue: sound. I have a decent shotgun mic - the Azden SGM-1X. Now, this camera is a consumer model. It doesn't have XLR inputs or anything that fancy. You can't ride the levels or attach multiple mics or headphones. It has a mini 1/8" external mic plug located in the back, just above the battery. I have a few XLR-to-mini adapter cables, which, it should be noted, have worked perfectly in the past. So I get the mic plugged in to the camera, set up the shot and begin recording. Immediately upon hitting record I pick up some sort of electrical interference. I call cut, make sure all cell phones are off and resume shooting. The noise comes back. It's intermittent, like three rapid clicks, pause, a couple more clicks, pause, three more, pause... and so on. Seems to be fairly random. I call cut again, take out the mic and listen... no clicks. I review the footage and sure enough you can hear the clips in the source. What's causing this?

Well, we needed to shoot while we had daylight and to match people's schedules. I decide it's something I can cut around in post if I really cared. It was quiet enough that it would probably get lost anyway. Then we shoot the next scene. While the camera is rolling I look down at it to make sure my headphones are fully in and the external mic is connected properly and here another click. It was then that I noticed the clicks corresponded to the Access light. Everytime the camera was recording to memory that light came on, and each time it came on it caused a click in the audio which was transferred to the footage. Great.

After discussing options with some of my more technically inclined friends I tried all available options. Ferrite cores, different cables, recording while plugged in to the wall as opposed to battery... nothing helped. Then I contacted Canon. They were pretty speedy with a response. Unfortunately their ideas included turning on a TV so I wouldn't notice the sound so much to switching off an option that wasn't even available (the "wind screen" which is only available when you use the onboard mic and conveniently is automatically shut off when you connect an external mic). Great. So they told me to send it in. Which I did, today.

Who knows what will happen to my poor camera that I had for just a scant period of time. But until then, watch this little short I shot with a bunch of friends over a weekend. Fun times. Next short should be out in a few weeks.


Stray Doug from Dom Zook on Vimeo.

16Dec/08Off

Party Pooper

Hey folks!

So my friend Mark over at Cassava Films put together a little shoot a couple months ago. The short film, entitled "Party Pooper," is on Funny or Die right now and just last week was #1 on the User Picks list! Go check it out. You might recognize a certain bearded film-blog-ateer.

Party Pooper - watch more funny videos

Enjoy it, vote Funny. Didn't enjoy it? Well, let's be honest you probably didn't even watch it all the way through. You suck. Go back and rewatch it! It's funny! And then head on over to the GadZook Films page on Funnyordie and enjoy some of those, too!

29Nov/08Off

Who wants to pay for internet video?

To stream or to subscribe. iTunes vs. Hulu. The immortal question that faces you, the end-user. How content will be accessed by the masses will effect you the filmmaker as well. As more and more distributors, content providers and studios are moving towards an online business models the landscape of developing content for the internet has exploded. But the concepts behind monetizing that content is still a matter of contention.

There are roughly two models - advertising and subscriber-based revenue.

Advertising is simple. There are the ads on the site and those that are embedded within the video itself. These are tallied on a CPC (cost per click) and CPM (cost per milli, aka cost per 1000 impressions). There's also flat-rate advertising, which is the most like traditional print advertising - someone buys web real estate for their ad to run for a specified amount of time. No click measurements to track.

With subscriber-based revenue the focus is on charging customers to view content. I guess that's more simple than ad-based revenue. Hmm. Anyway, moving on!

OK, so what are the pros and cons and what's right for you?

Let me answer that last question first. Both. There is no right or wrong method for finding a solid revenue stream right now. But there are considerations to be made.

With advertising, you provide your content to your audience for free. In return you need to toss ads up, around, in and on your video to reach the desired goal. If you've ever been to Hulu you've seen the most recent logical step in ad placement, which is basically laying commercials in the video where the commercials would go if you were watching it on TV. You usually cannot skip these ads but clicking them will only open a new window, allowing you to stick with the action and buy something later.

As an independent filmmaker ads are the most widely usable forms of revenue. You have a very limited audience and your content needs to be stellar for people to want to pay to view it. You can team up with Google and lay ads around your site or seek out advertisers and offer them play within your videos.

Without a large audience share your choice of advertisers (and the money they might bring) is small, but it could keep you in business. It all boils down to views. The larger your audience, the more money you make with advertising. If you can show you get 10,000+ views per video you'll have a good shot at making decent money.

The main drawback to advertising is that too much is a bad thing. You want your audience to be able to navigate away from it if they desire, or at least make its impact as small as possible. Look for CPC and Flat-rate ads mainly. Unless you're averaging 10,000+ website hits a day stay away from CPM.

For further reading, check out Google AdSense which will help you ad relevant ads to your website. And eMarketer tends to talk about the industry as a whole, including new advertising models if the current ones just don't float your boat. I now open the floor to any questions and comments.

21Nov/08Off

Social Media Fundraising?

EDIT: Since I wrote this more research has revealed some specifics. I'm sharing that now. Thanks!

Lots of exciting things going on here at GadZook Films. First off I started a Twitter account. You can follow me and the GadZook crew by clicking the little icon in my sidebar.

GadZook Films is also on Myspace and Facebook, so add us to your friends and group lists! You'll feel so smug when all of your friends marvel at how GadZook Films was your friend months before we accepted their friend request. There's a link in the sidebar to the Facebook group as well, if, ya know, you just like to watch.

But here's the real issue: can independent filmmakers, like us here at GadZook Films, raise money using the internet's vast social networking resources? The folks at IndieGoGo believe we can. They have an interesting, albeit not new, business model. You, as Joe Filmmaker, set up a project on their site, establishing a specific fundraising goal. You e-mail friends, family, fans and let them know about what you're doing and how they can help. Theoretically the whole 6 degrees of separation should nab you more fans and more potential donors.

With regards to the fundraising aspect of IndieGoGo, it's a pledge system. Donors may pledge money to your cause using Amazon Payments (a filmmaker must setup an Amazon Merchant account). Money is not taken out of the donor's account, however, until the project meets its goal. IndieGoGo charges a 9% administration fee against all the money you end up actually raising. If you don't get any of the money then you don't pay. 9% is pretty high, more than some of the film-related non-profit umbrellas I've worked with in the past charge anyway.

For the record, Fundable.org, another web-based fundraising tool for filmmakers, charges a 10% admin fee. They use PayPal instead of Amazon to delivery payments.

It's basically a method of leveraging any sort of social network you've constructed for yourself to help raise money for film projects. And I'm going to be a guinea pig and try it out. Head over to my IndieGoGo site, become a fan of GadZook Films and stay tuned. I'll be uploading a project in the next week and try to raise some financing for it. Help me out and you'll see first hand how it'll help! Questions, comments?

In next week's column I'll discuss paying for online video content.

2Oct/08Off

How does this economic crisis affect you?

I've been talking with a couple filmmaking friends of mine about this bailout crap. OK, cutting through the mumbo-jumbo and what it means for your money, what does it mean for your future potential financier's money? More to the point, if you're looking for financing how is the disaster at Wall Street gonna affect your chances of finding it?

Well, let's try and lay it out. If you know or knew investors personally then you're going to have the best chance of convincing them to part with their hard-earned dollars. This was the case before the collapse of Wall Street and it'll be the same long after this hullabaloo is over. The most difficult piece of the puzzle has always been finding the investors - those people with enough money to drop into your production and not bankrupt themselves if they lost it all. If you know a person like this, now's the time to talk to them about diversifying their portfolio with non-stock market investments.

If you don't know a person like this, now's probably not the best time to approach an individual who may be wealthy but also may be undergoing cash flow problems due to the economy. They are looking for safe options and probably can't or won't take a chance on someone they don't know who can't (legally) guarantee them any return on their investment. Most financiers have their money tied up in the very things that are tanking right now. Many of these things are not insured due to their speculative nature. Even real estate is taking a hit. It won't be as easy for folks to draw out their assets or borrow against them.

So what do you do? My suggestion? Brush off those scripts you had that you know you could make for say $100k or less. Scripts with budgets that are modest enough that you could feasibly find a few accredited investors who have maybe $10-15k in liquid assets that can come together to finance the project.

But better yet, make videos for the 'net. Production values aren't as important, but story is. Hone your craft, focus on telling a good story and make it memorable. This will build your audience and help you find future investors down the road when the economy is back on its feet.

While the "rescue" (don't you dare call it a bailout!!) plan is very, very, very far from perfect, there are some aspects that are beneficial to filmmakers. Richard Verrier at the LA Times had a story on those pieces. To whit:

Specifically, the legislation would allow filmmakers who shoot in the U.S. to qualify for a tax deduction granted in 2004 to domestic manufacturers that capped the top tax rate at 32% instead of 35%. Additionally, the tax package lifts the budget cap on the existing tax deduction, which was limited to movies that cost less than $15 million to make -- in effect excluding most studio films, which cost a lot more.

Now producers would be able to immediately deduct all production costs up to $15 million, regardless of the movie's total budget. The change also extends the existing credit, which was due to expire this year, to December 2009.

Don't get excited yet, friends. The bill still has to pass the House who shut it down last time it came through. It's tough to support such a dastardly bill simply because it offers support for us filmmakers, but it is good to know there is some consideration being taken (although this has more to do with major studios than Jane Filmmaker).

What do you think?

23Sep/08Off

Heroes

I'm kind of surprised I didn't have a post about this show before. Maybe I'm searching for the wrong thing. Anyway, wow. Talk about a show that had promise. Way back when Season One premiered I watched every episode. I wouldn't say I loved it. I thought it went through a lot of first season nerves, like many great shows. I thought they'd catch their stride eventually, especially with so much positive reaction from fans and the full support of the network. Well, season one ended on kind of a whimper. Meh, I thought, season two should be better now that we've got all this crap outta the way!

Season Two turned out to be even worse. Poor plotting, bad acting and that annoying soundtrack. I'm not sure what was up with the costume and make-up depts. but whoever approved the look of EVERYONE needs to be shot. These are beautiful people and somehow they look awful. I watched about four episodes of the second season which was mercifully cut short by the writer's strike. Tim Kring, the executive producer on the show, sent out a press release telling the fans how sorry he was the second season sucked so hard. They'd do better. Meh, I thought, season three should finally get us back on track!

Now Season Three began last night and I can safely say that no... it really is that bad. Let's examine the technical aspects.

Pacing - laborious. It took two episodes (a two-hour event!) to muck through all the characters and re-introduce them. And we're told there are going to be even more new characters throughout the season. Wheee!

Photography - hi-def and ultra bland. Colors are gorgeous, but there's no soul behind the camerawork. It moves for no reason. Characters move into the light like it's going to be a clever subtext reveal but either they missed their mark or it was just bad lighting.

Make-up - people still look bad, though not as bad as the last two seasons. Ali Larter, beautiful woman, looks awful. As a side-note: Her reveal in the episode elicited almost no response from me... just a roll of the eyes. It was like "Hey! This governor dude you don't know? He's important. Hmm? Who's that? Oh... it's uh... Ali Larter. Do you guys even remember her? You do?! Huh. If we thought you were paying attention we would've done a better reveal for such a major character!" Anyway, back to how people look. It's like they took folks who had no idea about comic book history and set them in a room to determine how people should look. "Let's make the speedster wear red and have ratty hair!" "Four years in the future clothes should be so radically different that it won't make any sense for characters to wear them!"

Soundtrack - can it be like, muted or something?

Writing - showing a complete inability to properly present an homage (e.g. the Fly, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the myriad of other superhero origin stories Heroes has ripped off) and an utter lack of comic history (do these writers even READ X-Men?), it's like there is no goal for any of the characters other than to stay out of each other's way. We want to see these people fight TOGETHER. Why the eff would Noah refuse to bring Claire along - knowing she's indestructible and not even Sylar can kill her? Especially when she says the stuff about willing to shoot and saving the world and all that. She's battle tested and a formidable weapon. And Sylar... Sylar, Sylar, Sylar. Such a weak-ass supervillain. His writing is cliché ridden, not the fault of the actor, but his delivery is unable to make anything more of it. He's consistently unassuming. He's not scary at all. If the other actors didn't ACT so scared we as audience members wouldn't think he was bad at all.

Ugh. Will I watch episode three? Probably. I want to see Veronica Mars team up with Weevil one more time. But man, could they possibly get a writer from Veronica Mars to script it?? Bottom line here: know your audience, know your genre, and know your characters. If you have too many characters to properly focus on then it's time to kill people off.

8Sep/08Off

Snow Day on sale, and more

Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day is on sale NOW! Get the few remaining copies while you can at the reduced price of just $8! This is the Special Edition with extra features, Director & Crew commentary and it's widescreen for your viewing pleasure.

You may also notice that there are some books listed there too. This is our Amazon store and I hope you'll use it to find your filmmaking books (or anything you so desire). If you have suggestions for excellent filmmaking-related bookery, please leave a comment and I'll add it in. I expect that store will be getting new listings frequently as my personal filmmaking library is pretty extensive and I haven't even added half of the books I'd recommend.

Hope you're enjoying the redesign of this page, too. I was a little tired of the default theme and didn't like the other options out there so built my own. Let me know!

5Sep/08Off

Indy Mogul

I love it. I've been working on a budget for a script a couple friends of mine wrote. I was directed to this video from Youtube and now I'm hooked. Check out the Indy Mogul site. Lotsa great ideas for doing things on the cheap. I love it when I find people doing things I've wanted to do but doing it way better than I could've dreamed. Father-Son high-five!

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