The local art cinema is playing “Alien” as the midnight movie this Friday and Saturday night. That gave me the idea of how to spend my Independence Day evening. I’m now watching a double header – “Alien” (Ridley Scott) and “Aliens” (James Cameron).
I’d forgotten how many big name actors there were in the first one – Sir Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton – along with Sigourney Weaver.
Well, it looks like I chose well since I think the Denver fireworks display is likely to be canceled. We are under a severe thunderstorm warning with lots of wind and rain, and had a tornado watch a little bit ago. It’s a good night to stay inside and watch movies.
Chandigarh is a bit different than the other Indian cities we visited. For one thing, it’s a very modern planned city. The whole thing is laid out in a grid, with major streets at regular intervals separating sections of the city they call “sectors”. It sounds kinda sci-fi, but to tell a taxi driver directions to your hotel, you can just say something as simple as, “We need to go to Hotel Emerald in Sector 8-C.” And the driver will know how to find it. The streets are wide and paved, and there are traffic lights that work and that people obey. So traffic flow is faster and more orderly.
There isn’t much touristy to see in Chandigarh, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to go. We just stayed three nights, and I wanted to see how this modern city was different. The first night we arrived by bus we just had supper at the hotel restaurant and then went to our room. The next day we went exploring in our sector by foot. On the way to an area I found on Google Maps with restaurants, we stumbled into a park with a middle school in it. As we walked by the playground, a bunch of kids gathered on the other side of the chain link fence to try out their English skills on us. Some were too shy and just waved, but others said things like “good evening, sir”. We stopped and chatted with some of them, telling them where we were from, etc. Chandigarh doesn’t get many western tourists, so we were much more of a novelty there than we were in most places we traveled. The next day, when we visited “The Rock Garden” several Indian tourists wanted photos with us, and a group of high school aged kids talked to us quite a bit.
But on that first day, our only priorities were to do some basic shopping and then go see a Bollywood film. It would be a pity to spend a month in India and not see a Bollywood film!
The movie was all in Hindi, of course, without English subtitles. There were some graphics early on that said DILWALE. I knew from the massive ad campaign that “Dilwale” was a brand new film that had just been released in cinemas the day before. So I assumed what I saw was a trailer for the film before whatever other Bollywood film played.
But the more I watched out of the corner of my eye, the more I suspected that somehow this was the actual real “Dilwale” film. It didn’t seem possible that they would release the film on DVD the same time as in the theater, given what a huge blockbuster it was. Maybe the bus company got a pirated version? I don’t know. That seemed unlikely, so I convinced myself I must be wrong. This must just be a movie that looked a lot like the ads I’d seen for “Dilwale”.
After the first film was over, there was still time in the journey for them to play a second film. The first had been set in the modern day, with lots of car chases and gunfights and stuff. The second film was a period piece with sword fighting and dancing. I was more interested in listening to my audiobook of “The Martian”.
Fast forward 24 hours. Now we’ve checked into our hotel in Chandigarh, and got a full night’s rest. We took a walk, talked to the middle school kids, and gotten some lunch. Then we went back to the hotel. We both wanted to go see a Bollywood film in the theater, like I was saying, so I did some research.
The first thing I learned is that no cinema shows Bollywood films with English subtitles. There is just no reason to. If you’re going to a Bollywood film, you gotta understand Hindi. The second thing I learned is that out of the 16 cinemas in the Chandigarh area, they are playing a total of only four films. Two of those are American films. And every single cinema in the city is playing one or both of two different Bollywood films.
The first film, of course, was “Dilwale”. The second film was one called “Bajirao Mastani.” So I decided to research them both, to decide which we should attend. The first one had the bigger name stars, but got worse reviews. The second one had some relative newcomers with better reviews.
But I realized something very strange. These two films were the exact same films that had played on the bus the previous day! The period piece that I didn’t pay much attention to? That was “Bajirao Mastani”! In the end, that was the one we chose to see on the big screen. So it was sort of the second time we’d seen the film, but the bus ride ended before the film did, and neither of us really paid attention to it anyhow.
I was blown away by the strange coincidence. There were only two Bollywood films playing in any of the 16 Chandigarh area cinemas, and our bus company played both those same films on the intercity bus for free. You’d never see that in America.
I’d really like to know the story behind how Libra bus company was able to play these two films on its bus. Does film distribution work very different in India? Is piracy that easy and unprosecuted that a for-profit company will show pirated films?
By the way, I’m really glad we chose “Bajirao Mastani” over “Dilwale”. It sparked in me an interest in the history of the transition of power in India from the Muslims (the Mughals) to the Hindus (the Marathas) in the 1700s and early 1800s. Plus, the song and dance numbers in the film were awesome. I want to see it again when I can get a version with English subtitles, so as to actually understand the plot better.
We just got home (which means the B&B where we’re currently staying in Jakarta) from watching “The Martian”. I think I liked it a lot more than Beth did, though I found a lot of it to be unrealistic or unnecessarily sappy. I liked Matt Damon’s performance, but disliked many of the other actors. I’m not sure whether to blame it on the script or the director.
Anyhow, we saw the film at a nearby shopping center called the Lippo Mall Kemang Village. It was a long, sweaty, harrowing walk there, and a long, sweaty, even more harrowing walk back. The creators of Lippo Mall didn’t design the place to be pedestrian friendly. They assumed every patron would arrive by personal car or by taxi. So there are literally no sidewalks leading to any of the several entrances to the enormous building.
On the walk back from the shopping mall, a group of people came down both sides of the street. They were playing music and shaking buckets with loose change to get everyone’s attention, and they were accompanied by this. I donated the coins from my pocket, so he stopped for a photo with me.
That seems to be par for the course in Jakarta, though. Pedestians just walk in the street, or when there’s any room on the side of the street, they walk there. And since we’re not renting a car, we’re pedestrians!
Traffic is so crazy here. I’d heard about drivers in the developing world from my friend Bob, but even his frightening descriptions didn’t do Jakarta traffic justice. I think there is no way I could explain in words just how crazy it is, so Beth suggested I make a little video to show you. I think I’ll strap my GoPro on, hit the record button, and walk down one of the main streets during night time rush hour.
Unrelated to the insane traffic, I’m having trouble keeping perspective on money and prices. The film today, since it’s Thursday, was a discount price. Adult tickets were 40,000 IDR each. And then I bought a small salty popcorn for 15,000. So that’s 95,000, which is about 7 US dollars. So that’s, what, roughly 1/4 of what we’d pay for a movie and popcorn for two in the states. But then when we were deciding what to order at the Chinese restaurant afterward, I changed my order because the first thing that sounded good was 51,000, which was a lot compared to the second best thing which was 27,000. But later Beth pointed out the difference really is only $1.60 in US terms. So why make a big deal about it?
Last thought of the night: This B&B doesn’t have hot running water. The sink and shower in the bathroom both just have one faucet. Morning showers, after having slept in the air conditioned bedroom all night, feel shockingly cold. But after coming home drenched in sweat from a long walk, that shower feels delightful.
I bought a bunch of film sound gear back in 2006, and have used it very sporadically since then. But I realized I haven’t used most of it at all in the past year, so I’d like to sell it. I honestly don’t know what all this is really worth in 2015 prices. I can’t find most of these things on Ebay, since it’s fairly specialized gear. It’s all very well cared for, and I’m glad to prove it by taking extensive photos or having you come take a look in person. I’m annoyingly gentle and professional with my gear, and never smoke. It’s all in my apartment on Capitol Hill in Denver at the moment if you want to check it out.
I’d like to sell it all as one lot, to save hassle. Also, a lot of it is meant to go together; for instance, there’s no point in owning a a backup shock mount for a K-Tek boom pole if you don’t have the pole it fits. So I’m looking for someone to just make an offer on the whole set. I think there may be a few things that go with this stuff that I forgot to list, too. Like I see I listed the ENG cable, but I’ve also got an ENG cable extension that adds like another 75′ to it.
The two main items are the K-Tek graphite internally-wired boom pole and the Sound Devices MixPre. If you know location sound, you already know these two companies are widely considered the best in the business at what they do.
Here is the list of equipment I want to sell.
K-Tek KTK102CCR K-102CCR 5-Section Graphite Fiber Boom Pole
K-Tek KTKSM Microphone Shock Mount
50 ft. Cable ENG
Sound Devices SOMIXPRE Mixpre
POMX24MINI PortaBrace MX-24MINI Audio Mixer Case
K-HE 750 Hodges Effect Brass Weight
K-Tek KTKSM Microphone Shock Mount
All that adds up to a smidge over $1700 new. Given the condition and longevity of this stuff, it’s probably worth about half of that used.
I got a bunch of nice gifts for Christmas 2014, including some strange surprises like a rubber green alien mask. But I want to talk about one gift that is so much cooler than expected. It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick. I read about it a month or two ago, and thought it would be a fun little toy to have and not too expensive. But Beth thought it was a frivolous purchase we didn’t really need, so I just put it on my Amazon wishlist and didn’t order one for myself. Fortunately, my parents gave me one as a gift.
Beth was right in that it’s something of a frivolous purchase. It doesn’t do anything that I don’t already have a way of doing. The main thing I wanted was just a way to easily stream movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video (a service where you can watch some movies or TV shows for “free” if you have Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service) or Netflix. I was able to watch Netflix movies from our TiVo HD, but if I wanted to watch stuff from Amazon I had to plug my laptop into our TV, change the settings around, and play the video on my laptop. It was possible, but it made watching any TV show or movie into a 10 minute affair just to set things up, and another 10 minutes to take it all back down later. For a 50 minute TV show, that’s a pain.
Anyhow, the Fire TV Stick arrived earlier this week and I spent some time after work setting it up on Monday night. It does way more than I originally realized, and brings a bunch of entertainment and news into our living room that we didn’t have. The Stick is just a tiny gizmo that plugs into a power supply and into the HDMI input on the TV. It’s very similar to a thing called Google Chromecast that came out a year or so ago. But Amazon’s seems to do more. Here are all the things I’ve set it up to do:
Watch Amazon Prime TV and movies – This is free if you have Amazon Prime
Listen to all the music I ever bought from Amazon, through the TV
Listen to Amazon’s free music collection, sort of like Spotify – Also free if you have Amazon Prime
Watch any streamed movie or TV show from Netflix streaming – a Netflix subscription costs money of course
Watch any YouTube video, especially my video playlists of travel oriented videos
Listen to my favorite local radio stations – These are streamed online and played on the TV using a Fire “app” called tunein. I had no idea I could get radio on this thing, including KUVO (Denver’s jazz station, which normally has a weak signal), Radio 1190 (the CU college station that I can’t even pick up in Denver), KGNU, NPR, CPR, and NOAA weather radio.
Listen to streamed music from the Spotify service – I have Spotify premium already, which is required to make this work.
Listen to police and fire scanner radios – Here’s another thing I had no idea was possible. I occasionally listen to the police scanner during regional emergencies like when we had tornado warnings in our neighborhood last summer.
Watch videos from PBS’ free online video archive – This includes things like Ken Burns series, etc.
I’ve seen a few other things that this thing will do that I haven’t tried yet:
Stream music from my huge iTunes library on my laptop’s external hard drive
Play games, both free and not
View my library of photos, either from my Mac or by uploading them (for free) into Amazon’s cloud
I’m tempted to just ditch the old TiVo HD, but there are still a few things I use it for that aren’t replaced by the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Record and time shift Broncos games. I don’t see any way to play live TV on this, much less record it so I can skip through commercials.
Record other over-the-air TV programs, like “Nova”, travel shows, “Soul Train”, “Land of the Lost”, and “The Joy of Painting”. If there was just a service that would take over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them online — the same way that’s done with FM and AM radio and police scanners — that would be ideal. But the one company that tried this got taken to court and lost, and later filed Chapter 11.
So for the time being, I’m using the Stick as a replacement for a laptop for watching movies and as a replacement for a radio. It’s so much more convenient than how I was doing things. But I’m not ready to get rid of the TiVo and over-the-air antenna yet.
A few months ago, one of my Facebook friends turned me on to a short film contest that was right up my alley. It was the Real Food Media Contest, and they had a contest to make a short documentary on one of a set of topics related to food and farming. So I took footage I shot in Missoula, Montana when Beth and I were there for a month in the summer of 2012, and edited it into a short. Unfortunately, I didn’t win a prize, but today they announced the winners. If you want to check out what won, here you go: http://realfoodmedia.org.
My buddy Chad Johnson reviewed and critiqued the film I put together. His assessment was that it was a basically good edit and interesting story. But he felt I probably wouldn’t place in the contest because my film doesn’t have the “shallow depth-of-field DSLR look” that’s so popular. Well, he was right; my film wasn’t even a finalist. And if you look at the films that got the top 5 prizes, you can see his comments about the “look” the judges wanted to see were right on the money.
The winners are also interesting stories, so I don’t mean to imply that they won only based on their look. But my traditional video camera’s small imager just can’t produce the kind of pictures that people’s eyes want to watch. It’s awesome for sports, but not for sexy documentaries. So I’m gonna get a DSLR (or something like it) and learn to fiddle obsessively with rack focus. That’s my recipe for success. Just watch me.
A couple years ago, my friend Chad taught me a very useful trick in Final Cut Pro. We were both using FCP 7 at the time, though I have since moved to FCP X (an essential part of this story that I’ll get to in a bit). This was when I was still pretty new to video editing, having had other people edit my films up to that point. I shot one particular video for a charity organization and there were some shots that weren’t framed very well. Unfortunately, I shot the footage at the same resolution that I was going to output the final video in – standard definition.
Now any of you who are experienced video editors are already thinking, “WTF? Why did you do that?” Well, I assumed that since the final video was meant to go on DVD, I should just shoot and edit in SD.
But as Chad explained it to me, I should always shoot at a higher resolution than what I’m going to deliver on when possible. Then, when I have a shot that isn’t framed well, I can fix the framing during editing, without any loss of image quality. In my example, the end product was going to be 720×480, but if I shot at 1440×1080, then I can pick and choose which pixels are going to be thrown out to downscale the image. This is a way of improving the framing up or down or left or right, but the trick can also be used to zoom in a little, or – by using keyframes – to fake a dolly push. If you don’t have more pixels than you need, then if you want to zoom in a little, you’re forcing the editing program to make up pixels, and of course since it can’t invent data that’s not there, it has to guess, and that means something that doesn’t look crisp.
As I learned the trick from Chad, you can also use this to add interest to a single static shot of someone talking or doing a presentation or whatever. If you intersperse cuts from fully wide (100%) to a bit tighter (150%) then you can cover up cuts you’ve made to remove mistakes in a performance while also adding some visual interest to the video.
But when I switched to Final Cut Pro X, I was confused for quite some time about how to do the same thing. You see, when you’re editing bigger clips on a smaller timeline, FCP X automatically scales the footage to the timeline window and calls that “100%” even though you know you’re really seeing only 66% (or something like that) of the pixels. You can do a fake zoom in FCP X by editing the Scale parameter of the Transform section of the Video tab of the Inspector window (whew, say that fast!) to something greater than 100%.
But it wasn’t clear to me if Final Cut Pro X downscales my footage first (to match the project properties – the timeline resolution) and then zooms in (interpolating pixels where there aren’t any), or if it’s smart enough to zoom in and then downscale (in which case there may be no interpolated pixels). And so for the last year I’ve been avoiding this technique as much as possible. You see, I paid for an online training class in FCP X from Ripple Training when I first decided to take the plunge to the new version. The training was great, but they didn’t cover this topic.
About a month ago, though, I subscribed to an email list from a video expert named Larry Jordan. He does a video blog series, a written blog, training videos, and lots more. The guy knows it all. So I decided to ask him about this earlier today. He immediately wrote me an email back filling in the missing gap in my knowledge. Here’s the trick in FCP X:
Select the clip that’s bigger than the resolution used for the project
Go to the Inspector and change Spatial Conform
Then use the Ken Burns mode in the Crop menu to move the image around however it looks good
Larry suggested changing Spatial Conform from Fit to Fill, but I found that there’s also the None mode which seems to give me all the pixels in the raw clip to play with. I didn’t even know about the Spatial Conform menu before. So now I have something new and cool to play with. Thanks, Larry!
Do you or someone you know want to get more experience with video editing in general or with Final Cut Pro X specifically? I’m looking for one or two like-minded individuals to help me catch up on my huge backlog of non-paying video editing projects. I’ve been shooting way faster than I’ve been editing for some time now. The list of unfinished projects finally got so long that I stopped taking on new projects – even some of my favorite topics, like roller derby – until I can knock some of these off my plate.
My video work is split between paying jobs (advertising, training, etc.) and non-paying jobs (both short films and work for charity organizations). I’m not looking for someone to help with the “work” stuff, but I could definitely use help with the “fun” stuff. Here is a list of what’s on my backlog right now:
roller derby action highlights videos
pedestrian bridges of Portland
interview with the Mayor of Missoula about creating community in a “big box store” world
Harvest Garden – a non-profit combination garden/workshop that donates all their food to charity
Team USA roller derby – two or three topics from the 2011 World Cup
Smashed Potato – a short film that’s 90% shot and just needs animation and editing
documentary on my grandparents’ life as dry land farmers in western Colorado, as told through interviews of people who knew them
Derbyverse season 2 – my roller derby culture interview series; interviews are all shot and just waiting to be edited
vacation 2008 – I’ll probably do this myself, unless I find someone who is really into canyons and rivers
If you want to help with any of these, you’ll need a modern Mac with Final Cut Pro X. I’ll provide guidance, training as necessary, hard drives to shuttle things back and forth, gratitude, good coffee, and so on. This would be the perfect way for a student to get some real world experience and credits on a low pressure project with small commitment. To find out more, just call me at 720-480-4890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, if you haven’t seen my work before, here are some videos similar to what you’d be helping with.