Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Pitching Scripts: at Harvard Square Script Writers

Dearly beloved scriptwriters, we're gathered together in this church in Harvard Square to pitch scripts. It's the Harvard Square Script Writer Group's Pitching It Workshop.

The Harvard Square Script Writers group has been going for some years. It’s meetings are held in a Lutheran church just a short hop from Harvard Square.

Usually they meet and go over a script from one of the participants, but every now and again they have a meeting on more general topics. Tonight they have four people from the industry talking about the art of pitching, and then about 16 people will each get a chance to do a five minute pitch to one of the speakers.

I've never pitched.
I won't be pitching tonight.
I'm here to observe because I'm curious about pitching.
It's not something I think I could do well, even if I tried. It's too close to selling, and I'm not good at that either.

There’s about 40 people present, including panelists.
The crowd is mostly middle aged, about two of them might be in their twenties.

The panel are:
Barry Brodsky, a produced playwright and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and playwriting at Lesley University and at Boston University's Film School.

Vinca Jarrett, an entertainment attorney focused on film, television, digital media, and theatre, counselling clients around the world.

Michele Meek, a filmmaker, professor, writer, and creative entrepreneur.

Janice Pieroni worked as a co-writer and an executive at Universal Studios.

Here's my notes from the meeting.

Q: What do you look for in great pitches?

Meek: Do I understand the concept, the tone, the genre, and who is pitching and where they are coming from?

Jarrett: I look for your excitement, your enthusiasm, and how much you believe in it.
Who is your audience and how do you see the film being distributed?
Your pitch has to be on paper. I had someone whose pitch was great, but it wasn't anything like the script.

Pieroni: It's the person. Do I like the person, can I work with them?

Brodsky: I agree [it’s the person], particularly if pitching to a small company.
For introverts it's good to practice. Don't take anything personally. There's no one perfect way to pitch, except at the end the person on the other side needs to want to read the script.

Meek: You have to know who you are pitching to - What can they offer you?
Jarrett: Know what you want to get from them

Pieroni: It’s okay to be an introvert. There's a lot of great writers who aren't good at pitching.
Jarrett: If you are an introvert, go with someone who isn't.

Q: What's the most important things to include?

Brodsky: Show some passion, and that you've got an engaging protagonist that the audience can relate to.
Compress, you can't tell the whole story; tell the important stuff.
If you compare your script to other movies, only do it to movies that made money.
Don't lead off with the title. It means nothing to me.

Jarrett: Don't pitch if you don't have the rights to the project. Particularly for true stories. The person you pitched to can go out and get the rights themselves.

Meek: Listen to the questions you get asked. If you get asked the same question each time you pitch, maybe that means something.

Jarrett: Be prepared. Even if you go in to do a five minute pitch, be able to go longer.
Everyone says yes, because they are afraid to say no. If they seem excited, but they don’t talk about a contract or agreement, it means nothing.
If I was pitching to someone under 25, I wouldn't mention a Hitchcock movie as they may not have seen any, as terrible as that seems. This audience all looks like they've seem Hitchcock movies, no offence intended.
You need to think international now. You need to be thinking about budget.

After the general discussion, we got to watch people making pitches.

What did I get out of it?

All did a great job; better than I could for any of my projects, so points for that.

But pitching is hard. I sat in on five pitches, and I’m not a producer or director, but I thought all of them had good parts, but all of them had issues, and none hit it out of the park. Several went too long, were too detailed in places, or they meandered off on tangents, and got confusing.

I felt like all of them had a great half. Either they started great, but then the last half got too detailed and meandered, or they started a little hazily, and then the presenter got into the story in the second half and became more enthusiastic.

Tangents are clearly dangerous; one person went off on a tangent about his background, and that started to sound like a more interesting project than the one he was pitching.

In conclusion: Practice! You should record yourself and play it back, so you can listen to your own pitch. Give your pitch to friends and ask them; does this make sense? What don’t you understand?

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

David Mamet: Do one thing for your art every day, and one thing for your business

For the past few months, ads for have been following me around the web. Somehow they figured out I might be interested in their content—I must have clicked something—and I've had their ads popping up all over the place on different sites. That's annoying.


While most ads I tend to be able to ignore, they managed to suck me in. And I'm here to report that some of their stuff is pretty good.

For those not familiar, MasterClass offers online "classes" with different prominent people in the arts (and even a fews sports figures and others.)

Presenters include: Annie Leibovitz, deadmau5, Aaron Sorkin, Hans Zimmer, Steve Martin and David Mamet.

These classes are all in the same format; a series of short video lectures by the presenter, each of the individual lectures being anywhere from about 5 to 15 minutes long. There's also a workbook provided with each course, that includes highlights from each lecture.

Though I don't really think you'll learn everything you need to know to become a comedian, or a writer, or a filmmaker, from watching one of these courses, they are very inspiring. For the sessions I've watched so far, each presenter talks about how they got started, and how they go about; writing a play, writing a screenplay, or making a movie.

You can buy unlimited (perpetual) access to a single course for $90, but I think the better value is to do a year's subscription for $180, which gives you unlimited access to all of the courses. I've already watched Steve Martin's and David Mamet's courses all the way through, and am part way through several others including Aaron Sorkin, Hans Zimmer and Werner Herzog.

Here's some of my notes from the David Mamet course.

I'll be honest, before watching David Mamet's videos, I knew of only some of his work; I knew the name, but I didn't know that much about him.

Early on he provided a great quote from Hemingway: "Writing is easy – you just sit down at the typewriter and bleed."

I liked that quote. I liked it enough to Google it, and discovered that while it's variously been attributed to Hemingway, it's more likely that it's a variation on "You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed," from Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, used in 1949.

It's still a great quote.

He also said one thing that I wasn't sure I agreed with, that we must: "Tell stories as honestly as we can." It sounds good, and if you said that storytelling is about revealing 'truth' then I'd probably go along with that. But I don't think storytelling is about telling stories as honestly as you can.

That's why all those movies say "Based On A True Story,' not "A True Story.'

But that's just me.

Here's some other quotes from the lectures I wrote down:
  • Write the best story you can and throw out all the good lines. (I think that's a variation on the 'kill your babies' idea.)
  • I'm not any less uncertain about my work or my worth than you are, I just got into the habit of doing it. And you can too. 
  • Two things I learned;  Cut away that which is not needed and Keep doing it
  • Many people would rather put up with lethargy and would rather put up with failure, than put up with uncertainty.
  • I go back and forth between this is the greatest thing anybody ever wrote, and why was I born, I'm a complete fraud.
In reality, it's more stuff to inspire you and guide you, rather than nuts and bolts instruction on how to do things.

Finally, he offered a piece of advice that you can immediately take to heart: Do one thing for your art every day, and one thing for your business.

That's great advice, because I tend to suck at the business side of things.

My only question is; if writing is your art, does editing count as business?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

This is why we can’t have nice things: Dumping YouTube

Youtube sent me a nice form email today, essentially accusing me of being a spammer, an impersonator or a re-uploader. They didn’t phrase it exactly that way, but the inference was clearly there, and the result was the same: they are no longer allowing me "access to monetization tools associated with" the Youtube Partner Program

As you probably heard, we recently announced updates to the YouTube Partner Program (YPP). We made these changes to address a spike in abuse on YouTube by bad actors like spammers, impersonators, and re-uploaders. Our goal is to ensure a healthy ecosystem where original creators can grow and thrive. As of today, your channel, notesonvideo will no longer have access to monetization tools associated with YPP because it doesn’t meet the new threshold of 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers.

Admittedly, I haven’t been uploading videos to YouTube recently, so my traffic is way down, but it seems just a little annoying that they are accusing me of being a spammer or impersonator after I’ve been in this program for several years.

YouTube says “we’re doing this to address spamming” but it’s unclear to me how this limit helps with that; many spammers and impersonators get thousands more hits than I do!

YouTube says that many of the people being dumped were making less than $100 a year, and that’s true too, but hey, that’s a nice lunch! And clearly what this really means is that more of the money will now go to those making money, at the expense of those at the bottom.

But that’s capitalism at work.

Anyway, I’m unpublishing my videos on YouTube, and plan to use some other service (maybe Vimeo) from now on. If I’m not going to get paid even the few dollars they were paying me, there’s no incentive to stick with them; why support the monopolies?

Oh crap. They’re probably going to do the same thing on Blogger.

Monday, July 06, 2015

RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kit - First Impressions

The RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kit ($399) started shipping a couple of months ago, but it's availability has been sporadic. I ordered one a month and a half ago and only received it last week, though B & H has had it listed as "In Stock" for the last few days, so supply may have finally caught up with demand.

I was interested in the RodeLink as a second wireless mic to support the Sony wireless that I already have; sometimes one wireless unit is just not enough! (The Sony unit I have, the UWP-V1, is now discontinued but it's current equivalent would be the $599 UWP-D11.)

I would have bought another Sony, but two things pushed me to try the RodeLink; it's consideradly cheaper, but more importantly, it transmits on 2.4 GHz.

There are pros and cons to the 2.4 GHz channel, but a big pro is that the FCC has once again decided to reshuffle spectrum and it could mean that existing wireless mics will once again need to be replaced if they get pushed off their current spectrum. The situation is so confused that I'm not even sure if the current units being sold will have to be changed, but I'm relatively certain that the 2.4 GHz spectrum is going to stay put (the FCC can get away with messing with professional video people who are using wireless mics, but re-assigning 2.4 would piss practically everyone who owns a computer or smartphone off!)

For that reason, I felt that 2.4 GHz was the safe way to go at the moment.

The RodeLink arrived a couple of days ago, and I haven't really had time to put it through it's paces, but I have discovered a few things:

i) It's rather big. It's not huge, but the units are certainly larger than the Sony I have. This will probably cause most problems with the transmitter, which is quite a bit thicker than the Sony transmitter. It's going to be interesting to see how much that effects things in practice; I'm not using them for feature film making or similar work where you really need to hide the body pack, so the larger size is probably just a minor annoyance for my users.

ii) The units also feel rather plasticky compared to the small, compact metal Sony units. I'm really only concerned about durability; and while metal might "feel" more solid, the truth is that the plastic units with their less mass may survive longer. This is particularly an issue for the transmitter which is constantly getting dropped and heaved around by people who forget they are connected up to it!

iii) It took me more than a minute to figure out how to open the units; and the tiny little documentation included was of little help. You turn the unit over, push the button at the bottom of the unit down and then slide the base surface towards the end with the release button. It was a bit sticky to slide.

iv) At first I couldn't figure out how to attach the mic to the transmitter; it had a very odd connector on it. Then I discovered that the 3.5mm plug was separate to the mic cable, and I hadn't shaken everything out of the little accesory bag that I thought was empty. You just screw the plug to the end of the wire, then plug it into the transmitter.

v) There's no XLR option included, only 3.5mm. That's why I havent done any testing yet; I had to order the Rode - VXLR - Mono Mini-Jack to XLR Converter ($9.99) to convert the cable to XLR. It's only another $10, but I was a bit annoyed I didn't realize I was going to need one. Lesson learned; read the specs and never assume!

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Canon XC10 is shipping, but here comes the Sony RX10 II

A week or so ahead of the projected date, the Canon XC10 is now shipping. There's some interesting - and odd - things about this new camcorder.

For one thing, despite its form factor more closely resembling a DSLR or mirrorless camera, it's billed at a "Professional Camcorder." It records UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at up to 29.97p, ISO from 100 to 20,000, has 4:2:2, 8-bit sampling and recording at up to 305 Mbps.

On the other hand, it's a 1" sensor, a fixed zoom lens that's 35mm equivalent of 27.3 to 273 mm, and the maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to 5.6. 1080p videos and photos can be recorded to SDHC/SDXC, but for 4K you must use CFast cards. And there's no built-in ND filters [Correction: It appears there's a single 3-stop built-in filter in both the XC10 and the RX10 II]. And it costs $2,499

But the biggest problem for those considering this camcorder is that Sony has the RX10 II camera coming out next month. This camera also records UHD 4K internally and costs only $1,298, with specs very similar to the XC10.
  • Also has a 1" sensor
  • 24-200mm lens (not as good as the XC10's 27.3 - 273mm)
  • widest aperture f/2.8 (constant)
  • ISO 100-12800 (Extended Mode: 64-25600)
  • 960fps at 1136 x 384, though limited to 2-4 seconds of recording
  • 100 Mbps recording

The downsides? The Sony RX10 II is classified as a camera, so it's video recording length is limited to 29 minutes. The Canon XC10 also looks like a nicer body shape to hold and shoot with, though if you're used to DSLRs you might prefer the RX10. The higher data rate of the XC10 could make a difference in image quality.

Still, the RX10 II's cheaper price, higher ISO and higher frame rates make it hard to resist.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Upcoming Events in New England

There's some interesting events going on in New England in the next couple of weeks:

9th Annual ITVFest Sept 26-28, Dover VT
ITVFest (the Independent Television and Film Festival) is the premier festival for showcasing, celebrating and distinguishing the world’s best independently produced television shows, web series, multimedia content and short films.

SMPTE/New England Sept 30 “Can you hear me now?” Boston, Wireless Microphone Frequency reallocation…again!
Initiatives and new regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will change the radio frequency landscape...again. A few short years ago the 700 MHz band was reallocated and had to be vacated by wireless mics. Next year the 600 MHz band will be auctioned and thereafter re-purposed, posing even steeper challenges for wireless mic operators. 

MIT Hacking Arts - Oct 4th at The Media Lab in Cambridge, MA
This year's conference brings together great minds in film and entertainment from a Film/TV panel featuring leading filmmakers and film technologists from VHX, PBS/Frontline, and to a Virtual Reality panel featuring companies like Oculus, Framestore and Jaunt.

ILLUMINATION EXPERIENCE TOUR with Shane Hurlbut, ASC in Boston Thursday, Oct 9
The Illumination Experience Tour delivers an intense educational experience about the fundamentals of cinematography. Taught by Shane Hurlbut, A.S.C.—Director of Photography for 18 Hollywood films—this full-day workshop will teach you powerful principles and techniques you can immediately use in your filmmaking projects.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Response: Which iPhone to Get?

In response to my iPhone musings, I got the following reader email which actually sums up a lot of my second and third thoughts too:
You might have a point about the fancier camera, but otherwise I would buy the smaller model. Its screen is about the same size as that of my Nexus 4, and I don't feel at all like it limits me with a too-small screen. But I do sometimes stretch to get my thumb the reach to the other corner of the screen. It is plenty big for a phone.

A phone is a pocket thing. (Well, in my case it lives an ancient REI soft sunglasses case that I have on my belt.) Ubiquitous, handy, convenient, almost always with me. Small is crucial for all of that. Certainly a large screen is cool, but you need a place to put it: don't break a fundamental feature of a pocket phone by getting too big.

That is what your small tablet is for.

I have my phone with me almost always. I have my Nexus 7 tablet with me nearly as much. The bigger screen is great, yet it fits in some pockets (if I don't sit down). The Nexus 7 fits in the purse I take everywhere. When I can settle in for a moment, I don't grab my phone, I reach for my tablet.

You must have an iPad mini, right? It is a great little device, but the phablet-sized iPhone 6 Plus looks like a poor substitute, nor will it fit in your pocket. Seems a bad compromise in both directions.

But: If you are *not* someone who can put your phone in your pocket, hang it on your belt, etc., if you have to carry your phone anyway, then carrying a big phone might make sense. Frequently women don't get to wear such practical clothing as do men and have to carry their phones. In that case, a phablet-sized phone might make perfect sense. Particularly for women with big hands, and those with very long thumbs.

A final consideration: move fast and, for a time, people will oow and ah over your big iPhone 6 Plus. Kind of like bird with cumbersome plumage, it might be worth it for non-functional reasons.

I absolutely agree; a phone is a pocket thing. The thing is, I'm not sure that my iphone is really a phone any more. I haven't used it to "talk" to anyone in a couple of weeks.

And the other thing is; I don't have an iPad Mini. Maybe I should buy a Mini and the regular phone. I'll have to think about that...

The cumbersome plumage analogy also gives me pause, and I worry about the weight of vanity.  I have to make up my mind by tomorrow!!