the candler blog

How Birdman’s Colorists Pulled Off the Film’s Look

Link, Movies, Technology

Bill Desowitz at Thompson on Hollywood goes into the nitty gritty of how Technicolor pulled off the invisible cuts in Birdman:

Stepping out of their comfort zone, the Technicolor DI team had to disregard where the official editorial cuts were located, and instead, subtly insert cuts designed specifically to meet their own needs as it related to the color grading process exclusively. This was a process that Technicolor eventually came to refer to as subtly “stitching” color-corrected sections together.

Desowitz really goes into the weeds on how they did it; a video showing the process would be nice, and maybe coming one day down the line.

I work with AutoDesk’s tools (the piece metnions Lustre; I use Flame, which as I understand it has subsumed Lustre’s toolset) and I can attest to the fact that what they’re talking about here sounds like a nightmare. Many, many moving parts, which is to say many points of failure. The end result is seamless though, and it plays much better than Hitchcock’s hiding cuts in opaque objects.

The “stitching” technique reminds me of the “Camera Pan From Hell” in this Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind VFX reel (at about 2:14):

I can’t wait until a Birdman VFX reel surfaces. Glad to see the work of those ususally left out of Oscar plaudits get some love.

Update February 24, 2015: Thanks to Neil Cronin on Twitter for pointing me to this video that features some visuals as well as an interview with colorist Steve Scott.

(Also, that this video is from November kind of throws cold water on the aforelinked piece by Desowitz, which plays up the idea that Technicolor is revealing something new in light of Birdman’s Oscar win. Ah well, interesting stuff nonetheless.)

Make a Film with iPad

Movies, Technology

Apple’s new ad, set to premiere during the Oscars, features high school students making films with iPads under excerpts of Martin Scorsese’s 2014 NYU Tisch commencement. Oh also it was shot entirely on iPads.

Called it. Well, almost. I never anticipated that the iPad would be powerful enough to shoot and edit a movie on. A lot can change in five years.

Party Like a President

Books

A few celebratory links for my pal Brian Abrams whose book, Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief From the Oval Office, came out last week.

Helluva week, Brian’s having. For one, his book holds the top two positions in Amazon’s “Party Cooking” rankings (and the number three spot in “Culinary Biographies & Memoirs”). On Wednesday, Jimmy Fallon name-dropped the book to set up a so-so joke. Hopefully the exposure will help him knock Anthony Bourdain off his Culinary Biographies & Memoirs throne.

The highlight for me, though, was Brian guesting on the Filmdrunk Frotcast. Honestly I haven’t listened to the show in a few years even though I subscribe to it. I’m glad Brian gave me a kick in the pants to queue it up again. It’s excellent. Note that your monocle may fall out if you’re opposed to naughty language and lots of talk about butts.

Brian talks with Vince Mancini and the gang about bacchanalian presidents, the German film Wetlands and even the future of media on the web. Seriously. Give the whole thing a listen.

Mazel tov to Brian on publishing a book on dead trees. Order Party Like a President on Amazon and I’ll get a little kickback. I’ve been flipping through it and can confirm it’s full of hilarious bits. (I haven’t read it cover to cover yet; what am I, a professor?)

Oh and while you’re on Amazon maybe give his book a review. This one star review is something special:

I don’t know if it’s the misspelling of “its” or the affected, bubbie-like phrasing of “caused me such nausea” that cracks me up more.

This 1926 Film Review Sounds Familiar

Criticism, Movies

You really should be following The New York Times’ tumblog, The Lively Morgue.1 Every few days they publish photos from the paper’s massive collection.

This week saw the surfacing of a photo of John Barrymore on the set of the 1926 silent Moby-Dick adaptation, The Sea Beast. The film is not readily available save for a few clips on YouTube2 (there is a single DVD copy going for $150 on Amazon). Lucky for us, though, the Times’ review survives.3

Photo: The New York Times

This is the first I’ve ever read the criticism of Mordaunt Hall. The first thing that stands out to me is the lasting value of published criticism. The Sea Beast, some ninety-years old, may not survive intact, but Hall’s 1926 experience of it is as vibrant today as it was when it was originally published.

There are a few notable things about Hall’s review. By 1926 cinema had a working language, but some of the terminology was still up for grabs. Hall refers to the film as “the picturization of ‘Moby Dick,’” for example. Today we say adaptation, which perhaps tempers expectations of textual consistency.

“Picturization” feels so dated because the movies have since come into their own. Time was a book could be, theoretically, transplanted onto the screen. Of course, that was never accurate (and I’m overstating things a bit here), but it goes to show the ways in which how we talk about movies has changed over the years.

Hall is impressed by the photography, but not the editing:

The turbulent seas and the sights aboard the vessel are particularly well pictured, but the constant glimpses of a miniature to show the vessel plunging through the angry water are shown too frequently. In fact Millard Webb, who directed this production, often spars for suspense and misses it, and frequently loses his dramatic value by long close-ups, first of one person and then of another. For this reason the production drags quite a good deal.

It looks good, but it’s boring.

I also love that the modern complaint, “too much CGI,” is almost as old as the medium, in a different context of course. Here’s Hall:

There are scenes supposed to be in New Bedford in 1840, and others in Java. It would have been preferable if [director Millard] Webb had decided to forego the use of a property moon in one setting, as it is by no means realistic, any more than some of the backdrops.

It’s unendingly fascinating to me that, at this juncture in film history, a critic would call for more realism. I’m not sure I even understand Hall’s complaint. The moon (which was likely impossible to expose for alongside actors; it’s not much easier today for that matter) looks fake: so what?

This is a good production and one which contains much interest, but it is not a great photoplay.

Sounds like a summer blockbuster.

  1. I’ve mentioned them before.

  2. The linked video appears to be a condensed home movie edition of the film; IMDb pegs The Sea Beast’s run time at 136 minutes.

  3. You must be a Times subscriber to see more than the abstract.

Kickstarter Archives

Crowdfunding, Link, Movies

Kickstarter set up a page for projects aimed at preserving works, including a few films:

Join us as we highlight creators who are doing valuable work in looking back and shining a new light on lost or forgotten works through preservation, restoration, remastering, reprinting, etc.

Some very cool projects listed there. Oscilloscope Laboratories is $3,000 and eight days shy of restoring Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 film, River of Grass. Interesting rewards, too, like a LaserDisc chosen at random from the company’s screening library. They know their audience.

(via Indiewire.)

The billionaire’s typewriter

Design, Link, Writing

Matthew Butterick:

As a writer, the biggest poten­tial waste of your time is not ty­pog­ra­phy chores, but Medium it­self. Be­cause in return for that snazzy design, Medium needs you to re­lin­quish con­trol of how your work gets to readers.

Tempt­ing per­haps. But where does it lead? I fear that writ­ers who limit them­selves to pro­vid­ing “con­tent” for some­one else’s “branded plat­form” are go­ing to end up with as much lever­age as cows on a dairy farm.

I wanted to kick myself reading this only a few moments after publishing “Is Medium What Comes After Blogs?” on (where else?) Medium.

Butterick1 rather elegantly states thoughts that have been in my head for over a year. Yes, I’ve been writing on Medium, but I’m also acutely aware of the issues raised in Butterick’s piece. For example, it smarts that when linking to an article I wrote The Dissolve referred to me as “Medium’s Jonathan Portisky.” I don’t work for Medium.

Or do I?

These thoughts are swirling around my head and require a deeper dive. It’s coming. Hopefully here, on the site I own and control.

Accidental Love Review

Link, Movies

Mike D’Angelo reviewing the recently released on VOD Accidental Love at The Dissolve:

Accidental Love famously started out, way back in 2008, as Nailed, David O. Russell’s intended followup to I Heart Huckabees. After production was shut down multiple times due to financing issues, Russell quit the project—“Screw this, I’m gonna go reinvent myself as a prestige filmmaker and score three Best Picture nominations in a row,” he reputedly yelled on his way out the door—and Nailed languished in limbo for years, unfinished and apparently unsalvageable. Somebody finally managed to cobble together a semi-coherent version, and the film is now being released with a new, VOD-friendly title (not many words come before “accidental”) and the credit “directed by Stephen Greene.”

Can’t believe they didn’t Alan Smithee this. Every last thing about this film sounds bonkers. And I don’t use that word lightly.

Accidental Love is available for rent today on iTunes, Amazon or wherever you go for streaming oddities.

Digging Into The Dissolve’s 50 Best Films of the Decade So Far

Link, Movies

I take a macro look at the films included in The Dissolve’s “50 Best Films of the Decade So Far.” With charts and gifs!

I know the conclusion of my recent Medium experiment had me convinced to stick with publishing my thoughts here on the candler blog. For some reason I couldn’t resist putting together something longer and richer over on Medium. I initially planned to once again publish this post in both places, but it would take too long to format everything for both sites.

So go read it.

A Medium Experiment

Publishing, Writing

Last week I decided to try out cross-posting a piece, “The Hollywood Personal Egg Service That Wasn’t,” to both the candler blog and to Medium. I had only ever posted one other piece on Medium, and I thought it was time to give it another shot. Here’s what I learned.

The Setup

I write everything for the candler blog in Markdown using Ulysses III on the Mac. (I’m also beta testing the forthcoming Ulysses for iPad, which is incredible.) Then I do my final edit and formatting in TextMate 2 and check the piece in Marked 2.

In order to get my article into Medium, I copied the formatted piece from Marked 2 and pasted it into a new Medium draft. Then I do some cleanup (Medium always adds a trailing line after block quotes, as one example) and add any images.

The only difference between the two pieces I published is the number and placement of images. I added more photos to the Medium piece as well as captions. I did this to take advantage of Medium’s design elements. If there’s anything that attracts me about Medium it is the way it displays images and other media.

I published the candler blog piece a few hours before the Medium piece. I posted about it on Twitter and Facebook and emailed it to Jason Kottke. For this experiment, I didn’t promote the Medium piece at all. I wanted to see what would happen when a piece is thrown into the wilds of the site.

Discovery

Jason was kind enough to post the candler blog piece to his recently revived “Quick Links” section (formerly “remaindered links”), which pulls in articles from his Twitter feed and publishes them to the front page of kottke.org. Almost all of the people who found the piece found it through Kottke’s quick links.

Meanwhile the Medium version of the piece went unread for a day until the “Medium Staff” account “recommended” the piece. As far as I can tell, this meant that anyone following “Medium Staff” would see it in either their main “Home” feed or under the “Culture” tab. “Medium Staff” is basically a default account for new users, kind of like Myspace Tom. It has over 1 million followers (or exactly 1 million; Medium obfuscates big numbers). Five other accounts recommended the article. I also garnered one new Medium follower along the way.

The Numbers

After almost a week online, the candler blog article has been viewed 1,863 times. In addition, I have a little over 1,000 RSS subscribers, about 200 of whom opened the piece in an RSS reader.

The Medium version of the piece, meanwhile, has 1,240 views and 300 “reads.” Medium puts a lot of value on “reads” and “read ratio.” It’s unclear exactly how they calculate how many people actually read a piece, but I’m guessing it’s either based on user time spent on the page or scroll position, or both. That gives me a read ratio of 24%.

How many people who came to the candler blog actually read the article? While an imperfect measurement, my Google Analytics tells me the average time on the page with the piece is 3 minutes 31 seconds. That’s enough proof to me that at least one quarter of the visitors, and probably more, actually read the whole piece.

(As an aside to the matter at hand, it was interesting to see the effect of a quick link versus a post on kottke.org. On January 31, 2013, Jason linked to a post I did on Sesame Street tweeting a 21st century version of The Monster at the End of This Book. In the week following his link, 781 visitors came to the candler blog through kottke.org. Since Jason posted the current piece to quick links, 1,173 visitors came from kottke.orga and another 105 came through Jason’s tweet. Either Jason’s influence has increased in the past two years or visitors to kottke.org are more likely to click on a quick link than a hyperlink in a paragraph. Or, most likely, both are true.)

What I’ve Learned

For me, there’s little difference between publishing my own site and publishing on Medium. While the fact that the 1,240 views on Medium came to the piece without any promotion on my part is impressive (and something that never happened to me in the days before posting links to social media and notifying other interested sites), it’s not enough to make me want to publish most future writings to Medium. Still, I’m smart enough to know I’m not a typical web writer in 2015.

When I started the candler blog in 2009, the best way to get your thoughts (especially longer thoughts) out onto the web was still to start a blog. I’m lucky to have this site and a readership that still drops by even if I don’t publish anything for weeks on end. The allure of Medium is that you don’t need any infrastructure whatsoever; all you need is your name and your words. For many that will likely be the way forward.

Getting the candler blog to be what it is today was a years-long journey, and it is by no means complete. Personally, I’d rather own every last bit of my writing and how it appears online. Perhaps that’s an outdated thought. But at least now I know: I can do just as well for myself on my own as I can on Medium. If not better.

A Final Thought

One last part of this exercise that bears mentioning. At the very bottom of my Medium post, I left a link to the original article on the candler blog. It didn’t result in even a single click. While there is little incentive to follow a link like that, it does make me wonder whether or not Medium is an island.

When you finish reading something on Medium you’re encouraged to move on to the next piece on the site based on your followers and feeds. That feels like trying to make the web smaller. That’s not the web I love. At least not yet.

Further Reading: “Medium Confusion” by me, just over a year ago. My position has somewhat softened, but I noticed after writing the above piece that I’m still grappling with many of the same concerns from December 2013.

(Header image “Writing through the rain” by José Manuel Ríos Valiente on Flickr.)

I’m not done experimenting. You can see this piece on Medium as well.