Oscar Nominations Are Out...

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The cowboy love story "Brokeback Mountain" led the Academy Awards field Tuesday with eight nominations, among them best picture and honors for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee.

Also nominated for best picture were the Truman Capote story "Capote"; the ensemble drama "Crash"; the Edward R. Murrow chronicle "Good Night, and Good Luck"; the assassination thriller "Munich."

The Johnny Cash biography, "Walk the Line," considered a likely best picture nominee, was shut out, though Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon earned acting nominations for the film. George Clooney picked up two nominations, as supporting actor for his role as a steadfast CIA undercover agent in "Syriana" and best director for his Edward R. Murrow tale "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Along with best-actor contender Ledger, and directing nominee Lee, "Brokeback Mountain" scored nominations for Michelle Williams as supporting actress, Jake Gyllenhaal as supporting actor and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for their screenplay adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story.

I haven't seen "Brokeback Mountain", "Syrianna", "Munich", "Capote", or "Crash" so I really can't comment on those films. Wow! I haven't seen really any of the Oscar films. I gotta get to a video store (if any are available on DVD yet???).

I have a feeling I'm not alone though. A lot of the films this year are more "art house" than years past. Your average middle America, flyover state, movie goer has likely not seen many of these films.

I did see "Walk The Line" and thought is was good, not great. So it not receiving an Oscar nomination is not suprising. I did think both leads (Phoenix and Witherspoon) were great though and I'm very glad they are getting recognized.

Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" is crap though. Seriously, it's crap. I went to see this movie and really wanted to like it (I was one of the few who really liked his first directorial effort "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"). But I didn't like it at all. It is a complete snooze fest. If would be better if they showed it on the History Channel as a documentary (and marketed it that way) - then I wouldn't have expected it to have actual drama, conflict, plot, story or even be remotely entertaining.

Understand please that I don't think it was a poorly made film or that it wasn't original. It was very well made and quite original (the way they used the actual news footage of McCarthy was interesting, but got old quick). It was just boring as hell.

It had great cinematography and excellent acting. And Clooney did a nice job at creating the mood of the 1950's with all the cigarette smoking, etc. But there was just no story. I was never engaged or interested in any of the characters.

In the end I think Academy voters probably liked it because of it's supposed "political message" and how a few think the story aligns with some of today's events (not true though).

Anyway, enjoy the Oscars on March 5th...

http://oscars.org/78academyawards/noms.html

-Blake

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Revised Open for "Killing Down"

The nice thing about owning your own post house and doing your own editing is you can, well, keep editing on projects. Of course this can be a bad thing too (i.e. endless revisions), but in this case I think it's good.

I re-cut the opening sequence of the movie this morning and I like it a lot better! Not that I didn't like it before, but I just think it tells the story better now. I got inspired this weekend watching "Apocolypse Now Redux" and rushed in this morning to make the changes.

Now I can't make any more revisions! I'm officially giving the audio to the sound design guys and so the picture is 100% locked. Well, 99.75% anyway. :)

-Blake

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DV.com HD Camera Shootout

Great article on DV.com from Adam Wilt on an HD camera shootout they did with all the new sub $10K HD/HDV cameras - and with the big boy Sony Cinealta and Panasonic Varicam.

You have to register to read entire article, but it's a good one for anyone looking at these cameras: www.dv.com

Here's the article's summary per Adam:

All the 1/3" cameras clustered together more tightly than we expected. Each camera excelled at some aspect of image rendering, but all of them were more alike than different; none stood out as being clearly superior all around.

Furthermore, they all came a lot closer to the 2/3" cameras than we thought they would: while we could clearly see that the big cameras made superior images, the contrast between the 1/3" and 2/3" cameras was nowhere near what we expected to see.

DP and CineAlta operator Art Adams once characterized my Z1 pix as "half HD" for their horizontal softness, and that perception holds as I look at the 10-bit uncompressed clips: The 1/3" 1080i camera pictures are only about half as crisp as the CineAlta's. In 720p, the JVC comes close to the Varicam in raw detail, although its noise is quite a bit higher.

When you consider that none of these 1/3" cameras comes anywhere close to half the price of their 2/3" brethren, you'll see that "half HD" isn't bad for the money.

We came away convinced that any of the cameras would do a creditable job in the hands of a skilled user, and that the choice of camera should be made more on features and ergonomics than on image quality. This is not to say that people didn't pick favorites; people did. It's just that no one, not even the most partisan among us, would have claimed that any one of the cameras was unacceptable for doing serious work.

Pretty cool.

-Blake

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"Razzies" Movie Awards

Bad sequels and remakes tortured movie audiences last year, and they provided a smorgasbord for the Razzies, an Academy Awards spoof that pays heed to the worst in Hollywood.

Read the full article (it's funny who's on the list):
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060130/ap_on_en_mo/film_razzies

-Blake

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Movie Review: Match Point

Typically I'm going to only review movies that are truly independent or that are produced with new technologies such as HD video, but I saw Woody Allen's new film "Match Point" yesterday...

This was a really good film. His best in years. Not a comedy though, not at all. It's very similar to one of his earlier films (and one of my all time favorites) "Crimes and Misdemeanors".

The story follows a former tennis star Chris (played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in a star making role) and his affair with his brother-in-law's former fiance' Nola (played by the ever consistent and great Scarlett Johansson - has she ever been bad in any movie?).

I'm skipping the entire setup to the story and just getting to the juicy stuff (go see the movie to fully understand). Their affair starts off innocent enough - Nola has had an argument and is upset and Chris sees this and tries to comfort her and it begins - a great scene in a downpour of rain in the English countryside. From there things only get worse - or better depending on your point of view.

Chris is married and living a double life while seeing Nola. He constantly tells her he's going to leave his wife and be with her - and she believes him. But Chris has no intention of ever leaving his wife. They're trying to have a baby and plus she's loaded and so is her family - not to mention he works for his wife's father. Nola slowly unravels and starts to act irrationally calling Chris at home and on his mobile phone at all hours of the day. His wife gets suspicious, but he assures her everything is fine and he's just having problems at work. But everything is not fine. Nola has just informed him she's pregnant.

From here the story gets very dark. It's a character study in love versus lust. Nola says she's going to tell Chris' wife about the affair and the baby if he doesn't leave her immediately. Obviously this can't happen and Chris decides to take matters into his own hands. Suffice it to say, the last act in the film is a nail biter.

Woody Allen does a masterful job at making you like all the characters no matter how good or bad they are, or what evil things they do. You almost want them to get away with it - routing for no one to find out.

The main theme of the movie is "luck" - how sometimes the ball hits the top of the net and bounces forward and you win, or bounces back and you lose (there's a great shot of a tennis ball doing this in the opening of the film - but it freezes and you don't know which way it drops until the end). Hard work is important in life, but often times luck has more to do with what actually happens to people than anything else.

If you're lucky enough to have the time, you'll definitely go check out this film.

-Blake

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Frank and Shane (dot com)

Just did a shoot for Frank Ford and Shane Estep for a movie clip that will appear on their website www.frankandshane.com. Check out the site. It's currently under construction, but they do have some content on there now. The new stuff will be uploaded soon.

Frank Ford is best known as a member of the improv comedy troupe
Four Day Weekend. He also had a lead in my second feature film "Hit". Shane Estep also had a small role in "Hit" and now he and Frank have formed a comedy writing team (or at least that's what they're calling it - you be the judge). ;)

-Blake

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Movie Review: Bubble (and other thoughts on this HD film)

Last night was the "Day & Date" premiere of HDNet Films, 2929 Entertainment and Steven Soderbergh's new HD movie "Bubble". For those that don't know, "Day & Date" means they release the movie in theaters, on DVD and on HDNet on the same day.

I Tivo'd the movie and watched it last night after I got home from happy hour. It was probably a good thing that I had a few beers...

The movie was "interesting". Not bad-bad, but I would definitely say, not good. Some people I'm sure will HATE the movie. Especially the first half. It is very slooooooooowwwwwww.

The story follows two friends who work in a doll factory, and how each of them reacts to a new girl who is hired to work with them. That's really the entire plot for the first half of the film - and it was BORING. Now, the second half of the film did get better. Without giving away any spoilers the story turns into a murder mystery - although there really isn't much mystery.

I've heard rumors that Soderbergh used real people from the town in Ohio (where he shot the movie) as the actors. I believe it. The performances are very flat. Reminded me of the acting in college movies where you get your friends to act for free.

At times it almost felt like we were watching a documentary with these lingering shots of the characters working in the factory and discussing mundane topics like.... well, I can't actually remember!!! But trust me, they were mundane! :) Thankfully the movie's runnng time is only 75 minutes - yes that's right - only 1 hour and 15 minutes long (that's a short movie by most standards).

Now to the complimentary part of this review - Steven Soderbergh is my role model as a Hollywood director. He can jump back and forth between "Oceans 12" and small indie-style movies like "Full Frontal" and "Bubble". No other A-list director comes close to having this flexibility (or desire) that I can think of (Robert Rodriguez is close, but his "indie" efforts aren't near as experimental or risky as Soderberg's).

Soderbergh has a six picture deal with HDNet Films and 2929 Entertainment (via Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner) - each movie has a budget of $1 million and has to be shot on HD (high definition video). This is a GREAT idea! I love the fact that Cuban & Wagner are willing to roll the dice and fund these small movies. I do question however where the $1 million went on "Bubble"??? No name talent. No special effects. No exotic locations. They also shot on HD and this saves a lot of money. And Soderberg (for those that don't know) directs, shoots and edits his own movies. He uses aliases for the DP and editor credits. Of course I know that $1 million is nothing for Hollywood (catering budgets on some films), but in the indie world it's a descent chunk of change and it was not on the screen at all in "Bubble". But I digress...

I applaud Soderbergh and company for this "experiment" - not only from shooting on HD, but for the "Day & Date" release strategy. I personally think it's the wave of the future. The movie theaters are of course very resistant to this model (although Cuban has some ideas on how to make them happy with percentages of DVD sales and selling DVD's in theaters, etc.), but ultimately it's going to happen - sooner or later - and so everyone needs to embrace it (just look at the web right now with the Video iPod and Google Video taking off - people want access to the content now and at their fingertips).

So in the end I did not like "Bubble" as an entertaining piece of cinema - but I LOVE the idea behind the project and look forward to the next five HD movies from Soderbergh and company. I just hope they are better movies!!!

-Blake

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Hands On Review: Panasonic 1200A HD Deck

Let me first start by stating that I am not an engineer, or necessarily a technical expert when it comes to the video field. I consider myself very technically savvy, but not in the realm of an engineer. So, I approach technology in the video world (especially the post side of things) from a user friendly POV, a cost POV and a "does the darn thing work right" POV.

Last week I had the opportunity to demo the Panasonic 1200A HD deck. Now, I know, this is not a new deck per se, but it is to me and to a lot of other indie filmmakers, especially when it comes to using it with Avid Xpress Pro HD or Final Cut Pro HD.

I used it with Avid Xpress Pro HD 5.2.1 and it worked GREAT!!! The deck I demo'd (is that a word?) had both HD-SDI and Firewire I/O capabilities. I used the Firewire since Xpress Pro does not have SDI. So the video, audio and timecode all go down the single pipeline into the NLE.

I had heard rumors that it didn't work well with NLE's using the Firewire control - well, I'm happy to report it worked very well. In fact, I was blown away at how well it worked. I use a Sony DSR-11 DVCAM deck a lot and I thought it worked well - and it does - but the Panny deck was even smoother at finding in and out points on the tape. Often times I've found the digital decks being controlled by Firewire are a little "loose" shall we say. They will miss timecode marks, or zoom past them so far they can't find them. Not the case with this deck.

The only issue I had was going through the deep, and I mean DEEP menu. And it wasn't really an issue truth be told, it was just a lot deeper than I expected. Everything needs to be set up just right for the deck to work, and fortunately it was. I did experiment some with changing the upconvert and downconvert settings changing the DVCPRO HD signal to DVCPRO 50 - and again, it worked great.

Why did I demo the deck? Well, I'd like to buy one, but not sure it fits in the budget right now (MSRP $31,000 as outfitted with HD-SDI, etc.) - the main reason though was to recapture my HD camera originals for "Killing Down" (thank you for the demo Marc Stephens and TMTV).

I downconverted the original HD tapes to Beta SP to offline the movie (I would go to DVCAM in the future, but that was not an option at the time I did it due to costs, or I'd just stay in the native HD codec) - anyway, the audio on the Beta SP tapes is analog. So I had to get back to the original digital audio so I could give the audio post house the files to start the sound design, thus, I needed a deck to recapture the media into my Avid system. And, that's what I did and it worked like a charm.

I would highly recommend this deck. For the money is does a lot. Purchase price I mentioned above (although it's less with only Firewire I/O), and a rental rate is around $450/day depending on what market you are in.

Happy editing....

-Blake

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Creative Cow

If you're into filmmaking and the technology it involves you need to check out the Creative Cow podcast on iTunes. It rocks, well, actually it talks - but you know what I mean. Subscribe to it today. It really is well done and very informative.

Creative Cow is best known for their forums (probably a hundred of them out there), but they're broadening their appeal through podcasts, and they are also launching a new magazine. Cool stuff.

-Blake

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Movie Stunt Shot

Last week we did our final pick-up shot needed to complete the photography on "Killing Down". It was a stunt shot where the main character (Steven Down) dives through a window. The actor playing Steven is Matthew Tompkins. He's a very athletic person, which was a good thing, because we had him do his own stunt!

Everything went very smoothly once we got our hands on some breakaway sugar glass to put in the fake window. Being in Dallas, there is not a lot of that around. We tried (unsuccessfully) to mix and pour some of our own - but ended up calling Jack Bennett to save the day. He was an effects guy for 35 years in Texas (he's retired now), but luckily he still had some old glass in his warehouse that he was willing to sell.

Here's a shot of the window on the soundstage:











It was a "one take" shot since we really only had enough glass to construct one window and we could only afford to have one camera rolling. But, things turned out well. I'll provide a link to the behind-the-scenes video we shot during the stunt - and I'll also have the actual shot from the movie available to see in the near future.

-Blake

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Happy 2006!

Hope everyone's 2006 is off to a great start... mine definitely is as we are finishing up the editing on "Killing Down" and moving into the sound design and scoring phase.

If you're not familiar with my new feature film, please visit www.killingdown.com.

Met with the composer yesterday to spot the film for music cues - of course I made one small mistake - I brought the film to him on DVD with NO timecode burn-in. Why is this bad? Well, he had to use the timer on the DVD player to mark the cues! These of course will change and not be accurate in the end - so he'll have to redo the spotting session. Oh well, at least we got to go over the movie scene by scene. I'm now making a Beta SP dub of the film to give him so he can have a timecode reference that WILL MATCH the final online version of the film. I'm actually having to make the dub to TWO Beta SP tapes since the running time of the movie is 105 minutes and the longest Beta SP tape is 90 minutes. Yeah, this sucks. I could go to DVCAM, but the audio post house wants Beta SP...


Speaking of the online, well, that's another topic for a later post. Suffice it to say I'm having some challenges there regarding the matchback EDL list I've generated from my Avid Xpress Pro HD system. Briefly, I edited the movie in a 30i project (using downconverted Beta SP footage from the original Varicam HD tapes) and now I need to match that edit back to a 24p HD project. Having issues though... Xpress Pro won't accept the new EDL. I'm onlining on a DS though, and it should work there - we'll see...

Well, this is my first post. This is new for 2006 and I hope you'll continue to check out this blog often for updates on the progress of "Killing Down" and other cool info on upcoming projects, etc. Also, I'm going to post some hands-on reviews of recent HD gear I've used - decks, cameras, editing systems and the like. Stay tuned.

-Blake

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Who Am I?

I'm a filmmaker who's produced & directed five feature films including the comedy SPILT MILK (available on iTunes), the new horror/thriller PHOBIA (on iTunes) and the action/thiller KILLING DOWN (which you can buy or rent at pretty much all the usual places).

I also created the Streamy and Webby award-winning web series PINK, which to date has been viewed online around 10 MILLION times at places like YouTube, Hulu, Koldcast and TheWB.com. And speaking of TheWB.com, I also produced and directed an online thriller for them called EXPOSED. It was released summer 2010. And most recently I created a new online sci-fi series called CONTINUUM, which is part of the online indie TV network JTS.tv - Just The Story and NOW available via VOD through indie platform Distrify.

Oh, and I don't shoot weddings. Thanks for asking though.

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