Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

On behalf of Starway and Team Blackout we'd like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The First Rough Cut is Done!

Well, sorta. Everything we shot during principle photography has been cut.

Reel #1, however, is still in pieces. We still need to shoot a lot of 2nd Unit footage for the opening montage (which is planned for the next two weekends). We just completed shooting 2nd Unit footage of The Delano building exterior in downtown L.A. this Sunday. Plus we shot some extra coverage of the basement set at City Lofts. We were lucky enough to also shoot some footage in the elevator pit.

Once we are able to get the opening montage, the news anchor, and the footage we just shot into the current cut of the film, then we'll officially have our first cut finished.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Since we wrapped production at the tail end of August, we have been full-tilt into post-production and editing of the movie.

First, the hyper-technical issues that needed to be resolved before editing could commence. (Apologies in advance for the techno-babble and geek talk, but it must be said.) Because we shot the film with the Canon XLH1 and captured all the footage direct to disc (bypassing HDV and tape all together,) and because neither the Blackmagic or AJA HD capture cards support Canon's HD-SDI implementation, we were forced to capture the 24 fps image at 29.97 fps, which meant that all the footage needed to be inverse-telecined using a reverse 3:2 pulldown.

Now, originally, we thought we could use the Compressor application, which is part of Apple's Final Cut Pro 2 suite, to "batch" convert the footage. Unfortunately, Compressor did not like the 10-bit ProRes codec we captured the footage in, so we had to convert the footage using Apple's Cinema Tools application instead. The downside to this was that every shot needed to be converted by hand, one by one. Ugh. So it took nearly 4-weeks to convert all the footage before it could be cut.

We finally got started cutting picture in earnest toward the end of September. As of this posting, we have completed Reels #1 - #3 and are well into Reel #4 of the movie. Why reels, you ask? Isn't this a digital movie? The answer is that it's easier to compartmentalize the movie in traditional film "reels" which run 18-20 minutes in length and as movies are still being distributed traditionally on 35mm film they must ultimately be broken into individual 2000 foot reels for shipping (usually 5 to 7 reels total, depending on the overall length of the movie). Because of this, you want to control where that splice is, so it's not in the middle of a scene, but rather in-between scenes. We anticipate our film being five reels (100 minutes or so in length).

Considering we're just over 63 minutes into the rough cut of the movie and that we've only been editing for about six weeks, we think we're making very good time, but because we lost an entire month to conversions, we are "technically" behind our internal schedule by a couple of weeks. Hopefully we can continue to make up time by trodging forward at a steady clip and have a full first rough cut of the movie by Christmas. Our "rough" cuts, however, are actually pretty polished. Preliminary color correction, sound effects and temp track music is already in place.

Now it should be noted that the film takes longer to cut as each reel progresses because the action gets tighter, the scenes get more complicated, and there are 5-6 times more physical edits than, say, the first reel where it's mostly dialogue and setup.About two weeks ago we also conducted a special effects test of the The Beast's tail. Even though we produced a full size physical tail for The Beast, we did not use it very much during the shoot. It was heavy and cumbersome and very difficult to puppeteer. We simply couldn't waste any valuable time on multiple takes due to the tail, so we eliminated it in favor of inserting it digitally in post. This was a leap of faith in many ways, and if we couldn't successfully insert the tail digitally ourselves, we would be in trouble.

Well, I'm happy to say that our first tail effects shots have been resoundingly successful. For many of these shots we will be using Adobe After Effects CS3's new "puppeteer" tool. This tool uses a flat 2D image and allows you to set joint points and then puppeteer the 2D image in 3D space. It's very cool, very effective, and very fast to use. We will, however, have to use either a miniature tail shot practically or a full 3D CGI tail for other shots.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas soon to follow we're looking forward to our next round of shooting. We will be shooting on the streets of downtown Los Angeles as businesses and shops are decorated for the holidays and people are milling about doing their Christmas shopping. We will also be shooting establishing shots of the Delano building exterior during the day, afternoon and at night. This will help us to cut together the opening sequence of the movie.

After that, we anticipate shooting the actor playing the news anchor at The Studio/Stage for insertion into the television shots. We will also suit up The Beast again to shoot additional pickup shots, FX plates, and various FX diddies for post-production effects work.

We expect to have another update for everyone after the holidays.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cameras and Lenses by Canon

With the exception of one set visit by a friend I think every camera that graced the set of "The Blackout" was a Canon. Whether it was the main shoot rig for the film proper, the behind-the-scenes documentary camera, or the myriad of digital SLR's, this was a Canon show.

It should be noted that Canon was also very good to us. They have been supporters of ours for several years now. But it was only within the last two years that we made significant investments in Canon gear. Our main camera, the XLH1 and all of its accessories, is owned and maintained by Starway Pictures. However, our 6x HD wide-angle lens and our behind-the-scenes gear was generously loaned to Starway for use during the course of our production. We did have one critical camera failure half-way through the shoot. The mounting sleeve on the H1 was accidentally ripped out of the base of the camera. Thanks to our friends at the Canon repair center we had a replacement camera within two hours and were shooting the same morning. Thank you Canon!

Knowing that this film will likely see a European theatrical release, we decided early on to bypass HDV tape altogether. We had in the past successfully produced projects shooting to HDV tape. But the extreme compression and reduced resolution (1440 vs 1920) wasn't going to be enough horsepower for a feature film.

We tapped into the camera's HD-SDI output and ran the feed directly to a Kona LHe card in a quad-core MacPro running Final Cut Studio 2. We captured everything using ProRes 422 HQ. The capture station was setup and configured by Promax in Irvine and performed flawlessly throughout the entire shoot. We never dropped one frame or crashed once. I think that fact shouldn't go under-stated. We setup and tore down the capture station every night. It was moved around the set/location constantly throughout each shooting day. Yet the system and FCP never skipped a beat. I think that's pretty remarkable.

We shot roughly 100GB of footage per day. Every day the footage was duplicated/cloned onto external SATA drives for backup and insurance. The film was ultimately backed up onto seven 400GB drives. A very effective, efficient and price-conscious solution to data duplication and storage.

For on-set monitoring we ran video from the Kona card's loop-through feed to a Blackmagic HDLink converter which fed the 1080P picture to a 23" Cinema Display with a Vesa mount attached to a c-stand. We setup the HDLink with a custom LUT so that our black levels on the Cinema Display were accurate. We found early on during the shoot that the Cinema Display and HDLink combo in default mode looked as if the black levels were being lifted. So we carefully calibrated all the monitors and used Blackmagic's HDLink utility to write a custom LUT.

We did not use any DoF adapters. We used primarily the Canon 6x HD lens and the 20x lens. Because of the nature of our film (taking place primarily during a power blackout at night) we knew we'd always be pushing the exposure envelope. So keeping the iris fully open and using longer focal lengths when applicable kept our depth of field relatively shallow. Additionally we couldn't really afford to lose an additional 1-1.5 stops with an adapter. Also our shooting schedule was so aggressive (and I mean aggressive!) we couldn't afford any additional time futzing with back-focus and spinning ground glass.

All of our behind-the-scenes video was shot with a Canon XH-A1 camera in 60i, HDV, and a custom preset applied. We also used Canon's wide-angle lens adapter, which surprised us to it's picture quality. We shot 30-hours of BTS! Also, the A1 is a remarkable little gem of a camera. I often found myself using the A1 as a director's finder. It's so small and so light weight that it was very easy to use the flip out LCD, find my shot, show it to the DP and AC and they'd setup the H1 accordingly.

All photography was shot with a 30D and RebelXT (nearly 2000 photos).

So this was a pretty big Canon show. That was not our intention, but it ended up that way. Both XLH1 cameras performed very well. Both exhibited the same strange Viewfinder issues. Canon's replacement camera displayed better low-noise performance than our camera, but both cameras inter-cut flawlessly.

Friday, August 31, 2007

It's a Wrap!

The team behind the production of Starway Pictures' THE BLACKOUT has wrapped principal photography after 27 days of shooting. The production began production on July 30th in downtown Los Angeles, continued in the basement of City Lofts on Spring Street and finished at the Studio/Stage.

Post-Production will begin next week.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Production Begins Next Week

We are proud to announce that principal photography will commence on July 30th in downtown Los Angeles. We are extremely excited to be shooting "The Blackout" starring Barbara Streifel Sanders, Joe Dunn, Ian Malcolm, Michael Caruso, Caroline Rich, Anthony Tedesco, John Gorman, Alexis Zibolis, James Martinez, Dee Kevin Ace Gibson, Horace Martin, Ashby Plain, and Larry Omaha.

Cinematography by Mark Ross, associate produced by Michael Caruso, produced by Barbara Streifel Sanders, written by Jim Beck & Robert Sanders, and edited & directed by Robert David Sanders.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

THE BLACKOUT Website Online

The official website for THE BLACKOUT is now online. The cast and production will be announced in July. Check back soon for downloads pre-production art.

Welcome to THE BLACKOUT Blog

We're nine weeks out from the first day of principal photography on the feature film THE BLACKOUT beginning August 1st. On this blog many of us will comment on the trevails of developing, prepping and producing this 20 day shoot and the subsequent post-production process of editing, sound design, visual effects and color grading.

Robert D. Sanders
Director, Editor, Sound-Designer