Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making of Zombie Anxiety / Workflows / Color Grading


A majority of the shorts we do are bred from lengthy "what if" conversations that my brothers and I have, usually during car rides to and from gigs.

Most of our convo's are just absurd, which, I think, sincrely reflects our humor. Zombie Anxiety is in that vain. Not a short flick to be taken seriously, just middle school humor for those of us who still chuckle at dick and fart jokes.

Our workflow for these types of shorts are simple, because they are mainly ad lib.

With the exception of a few lines, we really like to have our talent just go off on their own vulgar rhetoric.

We shot the entire footage in four hours on a Canon XHA1 and Canon XL2.

I'm not opposed to using two types of cameras, especially for artistic reasons, however that wasn't the case here.

Canon XHA1 is a 1080, HDV camera, where as the XL2 is a standard def camera. Don't mix these mediums because in the end you have adjust down or up, and sacrifice quality. The XHA1 allows you to shoot SD, which I opted not to do. So in the end, I had to down convert the footage to match the SD, which in most cases just sucks.

The XL2 has a great lens! Its optics aren't the highest quality, but they kill most of the competition prosumer lens.

The XHA1 is not an interchangeable lens system, but its stock lens is very decent. The XHA1 is currently being used as the primary camera for CRANK 2, combined with a 35 mm adaptor (min 35 I think)

Below are some images, including a video where you can see the XHA1's on set of Crank 2, however just a warning, that scene has Amy Smart with Nipple ... um...if you don't want to see Amy Smart topless with tape over her nipples....uh...don't ...don't watch.

The footage these cameras produce are great, and for internet destined videos, they are a great choice.

The only downside is that they are a pain to capture. The settings used for FCP have to be manually adjusted when using this camera, and before I became accustomed to the XHA1, I was having a hell of time doing this.

So here's my advice if you use and XHA1 – ALWAYS know what frame rate you are shooting with, make sure you use EASY SETUP AND VIDEO/AUDIO PREFERENCES IN FINAL CUT. Change everything to HDV, and make sure you set the 1080i to the specific frame rate.

If you aren't reading the camera after that painful routine, shut down final cut pro, reopen your project and try again with with the firewire plugged into your camera. It should read it at the point.

On to the production.

Our talent was Erik Steele, and all of his beardy power, and Brandon Mata, who came up with the skit. Brandon played the character running from the zombies, who finds the jeep.


The jeep, a character in itself is the long owned vehicle of one of my best friends, James McCrandell. That thing had been with us since school, and all through college. I'm surprised its not dead.


Brandon always intended for that jeep to be in the skit because of its look. He refused to option any other car.

The skit goes like this: Brandon is running from 28 Days Later'esque zombies when he comes across a jeep. He hops in the jeep, but is unable to find the keys. Moments later he is surprised by Steele who desperately wants to get into the vehicle as well. Brandon hears Steele blast ass, and refuses to let him in until he stops because of the smell. Steele confirms he's making the noise, but its an uncontrollable effect when he is anxious. The movie rolls on with Steele trying to cease his farting and Brandon just being a dick about it.

Juvenile, yes, but indeed it was funny to watch Brandon and Erik work off each other.

The setup was simple, just our two cameras, built in audio, and some bounce boards. Our first shot was Brandon running through the woods from the zombie scourge behind him. We shot a fast shutter and fairly high stop, occasionally using our ND filters.

This allowed us to keep a fast paced, hectic feeling. Frame rate was supposed to be set at 24 fs on both cameras, but we'll get to that scenario later.

We strapped the camera and tripod using our belts to a two wheel dolly, which would have been fine on a smoother ground, but the wheels were not heavy duty enough four our woodland location.


I suggest trying this technique if you'd like a poor mans dolly, but have a flat surface for the camera to roll on.

Erik, Bryce, and I shot Brandon from 4 angles: Running behind him, running in front of him, stationary from behind a tree he passed and from a distance ahead of him, zoomed in.

If you'd like to achieve a greater depth of field on a prosumer value camera lens, shoot your subject from a distance at a zoom. This will give you a shallow depth of field and more cinematic look. You'll want to keep the shot a stable as possible though, hand held shots at an extreme zoom makes any shakiness very evident.

Now the property we shot on had a lot of groovy land for us to use, but directly behind the jeep was a very large house. Our way around that was to keep the jeep in the shot as tight as possible (Although the reality is you may catch a glimpse of it here and there.)

When dealing with this in post, you have about a 10-15 percent safety range to use for scale (blowing up the image), especially when down converting to SD. The XL2 footage was used to shoot the opposite direction focused on Steele, except when we had it turned to do the final scene with him screaming in terror.

We then had Brandon hop over the jeep shooting multiple takes. The takes inside of the jeep with Brandon searching for the keys were simple one takes.


The next shot was from Brandon's window looking through the jeep at the passenger side window where Erik enters the scene. It supposed to be a surprising encounter as Erik comes out of no where and hits the windshield repeatedly begging to be let in.

Bryce shot this with the XHA1 and manually wrack-focused from Brandon's face to Erik's entrance. The XHA1 has a really good lens, and I'd recommend this camera to anyone, even it is lame-o HDV compression.


While we had good light, we shot Steele's scene where he screams at an approaching zombie. The XL2 allows smoother Lens control, so we opted to use that for the pull in. The image we were attempting to achieve was a fast zoom on Erik's face during an elongated scream, similar to Kung Fu flicks and classic b horror movie pull ins. We only did two takes, and regrettably it doesn't exactly mimic that technique.


From there we shot three angles on Brandon and Erik collecting as much ad lib as we could. The audio was captured on both camera's stock mics. The XL2 was for Steele, the XHA1 was for Brandon. We were able to isolate the audio in post, but I highly recommend NOT doing this type of operation! Audio spillage occurred on both cameras even with Brandon isolated in the jeep.

The final scene we shot was Steele's character being jumped by a zombie in a gas mask. The XHA1 captures a richer image, with more information in its color. This made Brandon's angles an interesting contrast to Steeles.

Firstly, we shot one stop lower on the XL2, giving it a darker image. We shot towards the sun, which left Steele slightly shadowed out.

The sun remained behind the XHA1 for most of the shoot, giving Brandon's face a warmer color. This created, on complete accident, appropriate images for opposing scenarios. Steele being the doomed character, and Brandon, washed in light, the salvation he was looking for.

We decided to shoot Steele's last scene with the XHA1, and in the end that worked with the same interpretation stated above. Steele's ass gas saved him from being massacred, and now he has a chance to get away.

Using the XHA1 also gave us a little more information in the image so that the characters were nice and evident on their own. You see we were shooting out a dirty window, using a bounce board shade the area enough to take away some of the mess that became very noticeable under harsh sun light.

I recommend having some filters on hand for any shoot especially under direct sun light.

The gas mask we used was my grandpas from WWII. There was a huge argument on who was going to play the final zombie....because no one wanted to do it. The first approaching zombie was played by Brandon wearing my hooded vest, since Steele conceals his absence from the car by being spread out on the passenger window.

Thankfully, our friend Amy was incredibly helpful during the entire shoot, operating our bounce board, and then volunteering to our final Gas Mask Zombie. In the end I thought it was great to have a female zombie, I've always thought they tend to be creepier, even in a parody like ours.

So all the shots were in the bag. The edit took 3 days to get through. Bryce and I went through all the takes putting together 4 versions of the short.

I'd like to introduce everyone to the Mashni Rule – There is always room to cut. The end cut was five minutes, and even though I'm happy with it, its still too long. There's plenty in the middle that could be cut and the joke would execute much better.

Once we had the chosen cut, Bryce and I parted ways to focus on our own areas. Bryce started working on a parodied version of the 28 days later theme (In The House).

I began to color correct our footage to match scenes we used from 28 weeks later. The footage we captured was incredibly colorful and vibrant, beautiful greens, pale yellows, and blue skies. Everything was eye popping.

Unfortunately this was NOT how the footage looked. ALL of the greens had to be de-saturated, as well as the skin tones.

To do this, I chose to use Apple Color. Apple color uses the original reference file to work off of.

Whenever you cut footage, you are not actually cutting the footage, your cutting a reference file that uses expressions to create in and out points and transitions. It isn't until you've exported it as a new file that it becomes a single isolated video.

Color is a more limited version of this routine. It doesn't recognize motion attributes, transitions, or any effects created in Final cut, so before sending, you need to export any clips that are to be graded as a raw file.

Here is the fun part. For this project, I had to render all camera angles into their own quicktime file. There were 56 clips created.

I used mainly the secondary room, since the most I needed to do was desaturate specific areas of the video. The Color Correction took about a days worth of work, and then a weeks worth of trouble shooting.

We encountered an audio issue during this time. It turned out we had shot the XHA1 at 24 frames, as we intended, but we shot the XL2 at 30. When compressed to a 24-25 frame quicktime file, audio wasn't syncing up.

Let me step back and explain the 24 fps compression. I took all of my video, not the audio, and pasted them into a separate sequence to send off to Color. This was a combination of 24 fps footage and 30 fps footage, with all their audio synced to appropriately with their frame rate. I then exported the entire sequence into a raw file 24fps quicktime file, including the 30 fps, and this was all without the audio. The audio, still in its reference file, can't match up to this footage. I compressed the video, not the audio, because I didn't need the audio in the color room.

I highly recommend that you always treat color correction as the LAST step in your post workflow.

We went back and exported the entire thing with the audio, then chopped it up and prepared it for color.

Color allows you to save a version of your color correction into a reference bin, so at this point all I had to do was resend it to color, drop in the already graded information, and the round trip it back to Final Cut.

Now we have our entire video finished, and its time to drop in the farts.

Again, I do NOT recommend this workflow. You should have everything, including your foley and adr finished by the time you go into color to avoid sync mishaps. Color Grading should be your FINAL step if you are pursuing a professional post workflow.

This project was for fun and post was managed solely by my brother Bryce and myself, so some compromises were made, but I guarantee you I will never do that again.

Try and practice professional workflows in all of your projects, even if its a no-budget fun filming on the fly. (Let's put that on a T-Shirt)

Back to the Farts. Bryce and I created these farts in the span of an hour and half. Every fart you hear is a unique Mata creation.

Oddly enough, placing these ass sounds in the appropriate areas was a task. We wanted to start with one that was clear sounding, but not the funniest. We had to make sure not to have the farts constantly falling off Steele's words because, that would have just been annoying. When one of our actors addressed the farts, we needed a sound that fit the reaction or description.

It took us a bit, but we figured out what sounded best in the end (PPUUUUUNNN!)

Bryce, an audio nut in every way, was incredibly irritated that we hadn't played around longer with the fart audio. We should have cleaned it up so that when the farts were occurring outside the car, they sounded muffled, and when the camera was on Steele, the farts should have sounded in front of you.

But we were almost four weeks into the production, and I wanted to get it out for Halloween, so playing under that deadline, we compressed the sucker and uploaded onto youtube.

In conclusion: This was just a fun project, with no real script, two different cameras, and a small group of friends just making a bunch fart jokes.

However, treat every project with a sincere amount of professionalism and enthusiasm, and you'll grow as an artist, even if it involves silly ass humor like this one does.

Right now I'm in the middle of color correcting footage from our latest short, a low budget festival headed flick that we are insanely excited to share with you!

Until then!



Zombie Anxiety (Watch High Res at Youtube)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blogula! Unauthorized Brentsploitation

I've been writing this blog for a few months now via Myspace, and have decided to transfer a copy to Blogspot, mainly for friends who haven't sold their souls to that online community.

I'm actually fine with myspace. Once you start ignoring all of the friend requests bearing some girl pushing her jeans just a little passed her hips, while making pouty lips in the mirror as the flash from her camera whites out the top corner of her image, Myspace is just fine.

I'll be updating periodically!


Sax Players, Barrymore, and Butt Pens

My brother and I have been playing professional saxophone since we were 15.


Why does 15 count as a starting point? Because when I was 15 I played in a bar for the first time and made cash. Since I wasn't just playing the Christmas recitals I can say that I've played professionally since I was 15.

I also recall the owner of this bar trying to hook me up with one of the waitresses who was probably 8 years older than me. My attempt to follow through with this was by asking a series of questions and making no real conversation.

I was 15, leave me the hell alone, I didn't know what I was doing!

Shit, I still don't.

I always find that funny though, the question based conversation.

You know a conversation is going no where when every follow up to a comment is a question, a tried desperate question hoping for a point where the conversation will be supported by discussion and argument, shared experience and hopeful connection.

I hope everyone's labor day rocked and was full of whatever it is you find entertaining.

I worked the entire weekend, which isn't a bad thing, I love what I do. Wednesday and Thursday I had a small part in a film. Both days took many hours, not getting out until 4 am. This was the best set I've been on though! It was Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and she was an excellent director. It stars Ellen Page, who was very sweet, and very quiet.


The set was very fast paced and professional, but all of the PA's and crew members were amiable and fun.

The cast was great and seemed to be having a blast, I got to meet some wonderful people, listen to interesting stories, network and make some new friends.

The best part is working with people from previous shoots. Brandon new one of the PAs from a film he appeared in, and I got to work with this very funny guy, Chris, whom I had worked on a commercial with earlier in the year.

Friday we had a gig with Groove Party at Tee Bonez, and Sunday was a wedding in Detroit with an amazing sax player Paulio. The guy was incredible, and totally easy to work with. Paulio had that crisp sax sound like Bonny James or David Sanborn. It was very inspiring.

Now for the subject of this entry.

Even though my weekend was full of great stories, the only thing that came to mind when I was asked by a coworker this morning about my labor day was this:I had a run in with a smelly Pen.

Exactly how it sounds.

I went to my bank to deposit some checks at an ATM. After snatching up a deposit envelope, I found a pen that had been sitting in my door for god knows how long. As I began to fill in the appropriate boxes, a pungent smell became very evident.

At first I thought it was sewage outside, but realized it was coming from inside my car. I brought the pen up and under my nostrils and took a quick whiff.

This pen smelled like it came directly out of a Moose's ass.

I still needed to finish filling out the deposit slip, and that was the only pen in my car, so, holding my breath, i scribbled unreadable text onto the envelope and tossed the butt pen out the window.

I just realized that the term 'butt pens' almost looks like butt penis.

Let's just end this blog, 'k?


Putting it off later and those little annoyances...

Since my last entry, I've had, what I thought, were great ideas for blogs, but have had such a full schedule at work and with the bands, that I kept saying to myself, you can write this next week, you can do that later tonight, wait until the weekend, etc.

I sincerely can NOT remember half of these thoughts I wanted to share, and some finally were based on subjects other than movies!

WRITE FRESH! Jeeeeze, I regret not writing my thoughts down as soon as they popped in my mind. Priorities are one thing, but as soon as I was done with my work day, the gym and various other editing jobs, I wanted to watch a movie, or just kind of hang out.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, I mean life is what you make it, and if your idea of happiness involves points of the day being dedicated to chilling out, then you should do it. I don't believe anything should be forced.

Now you're probably thinking that I'm a hypocrite for saying that after just bitching about my inability to write my blog when I had a chance, but this was caused by a forceful attitude.

I forced myself to wait, and continue working on projects at work. Honestly, I could have wrote a little down and emailed it to myself for later use. If I had forced myself to write those blogs down when I didn't feel passionate about what I was going to write, they would have sounded stale and monotone.

I've decided I"m going to take moments out of my day and write when I want too. I can't ignore things because of my setting, I mean not all the time. When you're at work you have downtime, its not an 8-10 hour slave job, and I'm sorry if you feel otherwise. People have smoke breaks, chat around the office, and stop what their doing all the time.

I'm never late on my deadlines, I always get my footage chopped and locked ahead of schedule in case there are other edits, yet I still have those moments of "Ooo don't want to piss off the supervisors".

If there is one thing I've learned in the passed 8 years since graduating high school is that NO one is the ultimate creature of their environment. You may be incredible at what you do, and deserve respect and attention for that, but arrogance will be your worse enemy.

There is a huge difference between pride in your work and just thinking you're damn better than everyone. Believe me, I have great respect for people I work with who do their job, but it goes down the drain if I hear them talk shit about others, or act snobbish about their attitude with work. If they talk shit about others, they are prroooobably talking shit about you.

Every time I meet people like this I seriously become cautious about what I"m saying to people for the rest of the day, I don't want to be like that at ALL.

This also reminds me of another irritant, people who excuse being dickheads for honesty. Holy hell! That is my biggest pet peeve. People honestly think they can say cruel things about a persons looks, personality, and all around character and say 'Hey I'm just being honest' or 'I'm just a bitch, I say it like it is'..............

I watch people in my office, and people in my life treat others like this, belittle them and walk away just fine because over the years they've been able to rationalize these actions.

Ok, where did this blog go? Those points aside, here is some recommended viewing.


Venture Bros: Season 3 Finale - Check it out. It was a great/sad episode. The entire season felt like it was just setting us up for more story lines to come in the next seasons. Season 1, and 2 were more conclusive albeit the cliffhangers they both leave off with.


Pineapple Express: Could be the goriest comedy I've ever watched! James Franco was excellent, no doubt his best performance. Rogen was great as usual, it didn't feel like he had a chance to spread his chops, but it was a good performance. I'm trying to remember the other guy's name, who played Red's character. One second, I need to hop over to IMDB

(10 seconds later) Danny Mcbride! That guy is just hilarious. Definitely a nice edition to the Appatow crew! He was also great in Tropic Thunder as one of the many, many, many bit parts.


Tropic Thunder started kind of weak, but as soon as the ignorant cast of the period war drama are thrown into a real warzone the humor totally takes off. Robert Downey Jr. is just taking over the summer....well he was knocked down by Dark Knight....still....Robert Downey Jr. is doing super awesome this summer! He kicks ass as the Australian actor portraying a black soldier in Tropic Thunder.


Black (Jack that is) is funny in his moments, but isn't given a lot of screen time.


Jay Baruchel, famed for one of the Apatow gang, really shines as the humble actor just trying to get his break in the biz.

Both movies are great for a laugh. I also saw mirrors which was a so-so movie, but I really dug it anyways. However, it is 6pm, and I want to leave the cube and go to the gym, so I can pretend to be athletic.

Until Next time...


The Dark Knight Review (Minor Spoilers)


Those of you who frequent my page, or so much as glance at in passing curiosity as you porous your friends will have notice my extremely high anticipation for The Dark Knight. obviously I'm one of a huge number of Americans that wanted to see TDK enough that the flick dominated all of the box office records (1 Midnight showing of all time, 1 Opening boxoffice of all time, and now 1 on Top 250).

Dark Knight was almost everything a comic book movie should be. Nolan in crew proves that genre doesn't need to be generic.

From the depth of its characters, to the intensity of its scenes, The Dark Knight had me, and the sold out IMAX attentively following its dynamic story. Christian Bale returned stronger than before both as Wayne and Batman. He played out Waynes desire for justice and the torturing feart that he may be an attractor to the insane, points constantly brought up in the comics, as well as most other Batman mediums.

His raspy interpretation of Batman's voice was most definitely my least favorite aspect of this flick, as well as its predecessor Batman Begins, albeit in Dark Knight he takes it easy in some scenes.


I just can't get into it, it sounds too fake, laughably fake, not monstrous and intimidating. Kevin Conroy, the voice actor for Batman: The Animated Series, had the best version, slipping from the posh, prep dialect of Wayne to a harder, gruffer sounding Batman. Conroy's version of Batman's voice echoed anger, vengeance, and loneliness.


Bale's sounds like the lead singer of a metal band who hasn't realized he can't sing metal.

This isn't to say his performance is any less magnificent, Bale depicts the brooding Batman wonderfully, from the fight scenes, to Wayne's faux naivity and loneliness.


The introduction of Harvey Dent was prepared and executed the way it should be: A determined hero doomed from the start. Aaron Eckhart gives us his best role ever, creating the strong willed District Attorney targeted by the mobs wrath, and the Joker's tests. Without giving anything away, his descent into the madman Two-Face is stunning and sad. You feel for his character, and when Dent finally succumbs, it isn't like being introduced to a new villian, its the catastrophic defeat of a powerfully driven character.


This transformation is a testament to smart writing and great acting.


The most powerful element out of this cornucopia of stars and filmmakers was the performance by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker.

Ledger was never on that screen, he WAS the Joker. I've heard that phrase before, but this is the first time I feel like I can say/type it. Every psychotic entrance by the clown prince of crime was scary, funny, and so intense, you couldn't pull your eyes away.


I've never seen a portrayal of an already loved character be created in such a unique way. Decade old fans of the Joker can receive a brand new story depicting the ever loved villain.

Ledger deserves the oscar, as well as many standing ovations.

However, it is very sad to think we'll never get a chance to see Ledger step into those clown shoes again, but whoever else takes up the purple suit has some big ones to fill.


Not everyone will enjoy this movie, but I can say that will be limited to the impatient. It has everything a summer blockbuster should offer in terms of entertainment, but the capacity of art in this film allows it to top even the heavy hitting classics.


TDK doesn't leave you with a lot of unanswered questions, and keeps a road paved for a third installment.

Still, if they chose to end the Nolanfied world of Batman with this masterpiece, I'd be more than happy to except this awesome film as its conclusion.