I didn’t do much work on news scenes for “The Barrier” this week. Instead, I diverted most of my efforts to adding computer screen images to the film. In several scenes, the characters talk about what is on their computer screen, so I needed to add those images in.
How I Created the Computer Screen Images
I was tempted to get some actual screen capture images from a transportation modelling program. That might not go over too well with the software vendors, so I decided to create my own images.
I began with a look at some screen images I found on-line. I looked at emme/4, Visum and Cube. Way back when I used emme/2, I thought the screen had a very distinct appearance. From what I could tell from the images I looked at, all the screens look pretty similar now.
I used Microsoft PowerPoint to create the screens. I had a little fun with that. I called the soft ware ‘Blackbox” by a company called “Voodoo”. That was an inside joke. I had menu options like “Look_busy” and “Lets_go_eat” and had icons like a piece of pie and a donut with sprinkles (another inside joke). In the final film, all of these will be too small for anyone to read, but I wanted to have those little details anyway.
I used several different versions of a data entry pop-up box to create a short animation that I used in one shot. It was one of those things that people wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) notice if it’s there, but they will notice if it isn’t.
How I Put the Computer Screen Image into the Movie Image
Xtranormal does allow you to overlay images and videos in selected areas of some sets, and I did use that approach in a couple cases. Other shots were not so easy.
In one scene, the computer screen I wanted to use was not one that allowed an image or video to be inset. I did the overlays in Premiere Pro instead.
For most of the shots, I was able to do a direct overlay of a still onto the computer screen, because there was nothing blocking the view of the screen. When the image was a direct on view, it was a simple scale and move to get the effect I wanted. That wasn’t always possible.
When the screen was at an angle, it took a little fiddling with keying options to get the perspective right. I found the corner pin tool worked well there.
There were a couple of shots where a character blocked part of the screen. I tried the color key option, but it turned out that the screen color was too similar to other parts of the image. I found a way around that when I realized that the computer screen image only covered a small area of the movie image.
I started with the movie image as a video track, and then overlaid the computer screen image on top of the movie image as I’d done before. In the resulting image, the character’s head covered the computer screen image. Over top of that, I put another copy of the movie image, with the color key for the computer screen. In the final image, the computer screen image does appear properly with the character’s head in front of it. In the rest of the image, where the image was also transparent, the base track of the movie image showed through.
For all of these I had a static image, but I had one shot where the computer screen image changed. Xtranormal does allow this, but I didn’t realize that at first. In any event, it didn’t allow the detail level of control I wanted. Again, I used Premiere Pro to overlay the computer screen video over the movie image, just as I’d done with the still images.
I worked on four new scenes this week, but only finished two of them. One is only about 7 seconds long while the other was 1:41. The total run time is still under 30 minutes. I hope that I will get more productive next week.
I got another rejection for my science fiction short story “Pete’s Plan”. It took them 3 months to respond and, by the time I got the reply, I’d forgotten to whom I submitted the story. It was a disappointment and part of me wants to give up and post it on my website like my other stories. I still have a long list of places I can submit to though.
I got seven more scenes done on “The Barrier” this week. Most of them were quite short, so they only added about 9 minutes. In total, I have 27 minutes done.
I feel confident that the final film will be feature length when I’m done. I took a short break from creating scenes to plan the whole film a little better, so I know where I’m headed. I’ve done 17 scenes now and in all I have 58 scenes planned. My average scene so far is 1:35 and if I keep that average, the final film will be a little over 90 minutes.
When I edit them together, I’m sure to lose some time. Some of scenes are quite bare bones, so if I develop those further, then I should make up for the lost time.
My plan is to get all the scenes done and edited together. After I’ve had a look at how it works, I plan to do some clean up work and revisions. When I’m done that I’d like to release it as Version 0.9 and ask for feedback.
I find the story interesting, but I can’t be sure if anyone else will be willing to watch it all the way through. For a film to be successful, people would enjoy it enough to recommend it to others. Maybe that is too high a goal for now.
I picked up a few more tricks in Xtranormal. I’ve started to experiment with the smart camera feature. In several of my scenes, I have the characters move around the set. That makes it very difficult to set up camera angles because you have to watch the movie to see if you got it right. I think the smart camera may make that easier.
I may try the smart cameras on a couple of scenes I did already. After I watched them, I felt that I wanted to use different sets. I hesitated because redoing all the camera set-ups was such a pain. If this works, it may not be so bad.
I would like to put more time into “The Barrier” to get it done, but it isn’t the only thing in my life these days.
Spring is finally here. With that comes allergy season. That tends to slow me down. I’m in itchy sneezy mode these days. With spring comes yard work and garden work. I do enjoy the yard and garden, but it does take up my time.
I just watched a video where the speaker says that you need to take time away from your thinking in order for you to keep you mind clear and focused. (http://fora.tv/2013/02/24/Maria_Konnikova_How_to_Think_Like_Sherlock_Holmes) So maybe it is good to have distractions.
I finished another four scenes and started on a fifth for “The Barrier” this week. They run about seven minutes, which is about what I did the week before. I rejigged several of the earlier scenes. Total run time is about 18 minutes now. There is some overlap between scenes, so it will end up a bit shorter. The average scene length was 1:48.
The new scenes were all for the second sequence. I took the first two scenes from “The Glencoe Project”. I needed to create the next two scenes to tie them into the story line from “The Gladstone Barrier”.
When I decided to combine the two stories, I knew I would have some trouble when I combined the hero’s boss character. I had two different characters play that role in the two stories. This week I ran onto some scenes where the character from one story does something that the character from the other story wouldn’t. I haven’t really carved the characters in stone yet, so maybe I can use the contradictions to build a more complicated character.
I find that some of my characters develop more complexity as I work on the story. I think that when I work in Xtranormal that it is easier for me to develop the characters when I write.
I worry that some of the later scenes aren’t as visually interesting as the earlier ones. Maybe that will come later. I think that part of the issue is that I’ve had more time to think about the earlier scenes before I started on this project. I haven’t thought as much about the later scenes. I haven’t read the stories for a while and I realised that I don’t remember them as well as I thought I did. I think I had better reread them.
I’d like to tie the two stories together a bit better. “The Glencoe Project” is about the transportation study for a new development, while “The Gladstone Barrier” is about transportation project priority study. Some of the same characters showed up in the two stories. I originally thought the two stories were at different points in the hero’s career. Now I have them happen at the same time. In one story, the hero is inexperience, while in the other he is more experienced.
I picked up some new tricks with Xtranormal this week. I used the ability to change character’s posture used very effectively in one of the scenes I did this week. Xtranormal has two different sitting postures, a sit up straight, and a lean forward. In the scene, my character talks about how discouraged he feels. I combined the lean forward with a look at a target on the floor to create a body language to express this emotion.
I learned how to make sitting characters stand up and used that in a couple of scenes. I tried to get a character to sit down. That worked in a test I did, but I couldn’t get it to work in the scene where I wanted to use it. I redid the dialogue to explain why he doesn’t sit down.
I finished the scene I gave up on last week. It is the scene where the boss, Brandon, assigns the hero, Arthur Macdonald, to do a development impact study. Most of it came from a scene in “The Glencoe Project”. It turned out to be trickier than I expected to combine it with the previous scene.
Two of the new scenes are directly from “The Glencoe Project”. In the first scene, Arthur asks the model guy, Dennis, for help. In the second, Dennis gives his advice. I did have to change the location of one scene so I wouldn’t need to buy another set. I also added some material to the dialogue. I’ll need to add some more, because when I watched the compilation, I realized that Ralph asks for something in one scene, but in the next, Dennis doesn’t answer the original question.
I added the last scene to provide a break between the two scenes with Dennis. In it, Arthur talks to his mentor, Ling. I used some dialogue that I had to cut out of an earlier scene because I had eliminated one of the characters. That didn’t make for much of a scene, so I added some more material that tells us more about Ling.
I changed my mind about the voices I wanted to use for the characters. I gave the boss, Brandon, the voice I’d originally used for Arthur because it seemed too authoritative for Arthur. I gave Arthur a meeker voice, which I hadn’t used before. I didn’t like the voice I gave Brandon originally. I found it hard to understand.
Finally, I used Premiere Pro to combine all six scenes together in a sequence. Most of the scenes run about a minute and a half, although one dies run over two minutes. Altogether the sequence runs for just under 10 minutes. I watched it through several times. I thought it went fairly well. I am too close to it to really judge it. I worry that other people will find it boring. I did notice some continuity errors I need to fix.
I had a nice transition between the first and second scenes that can symbolize one of the main conflicts in the story. It wasn’t something I had planned in advance. Now that I see how it works, I can go back and enhance the effect.
Over the next week I plan to work on the next sequence. I think the bulk of that sequence will be taken up by a single scene. I find that scenes of one and a half to two minutes are easier to do than the longer scenes. I may want to find a way to break up the scene. In this sequence, Arthur has a major set back, but then an opportunity opens up for him.
As I do each scene, I find I have started to develop better ways to create a scene. Initially I did the dialogue, camera setups, movements, and gestures as I went along. Now I start with just the dialogue, with a single camera set up that shows all the action. Most of my scenes start with some character movement, so I usually do that at the same time. Once I am happy with the dialogue, I go back and do the camera setups. I find the camera setups very frustrating to do. I add the gestures last. Of course, once I have the whole scene done, I go back and tweak it, again and again and again.
So far I have just called it my transportation movie. Initially I planned to call it “The Gladstone Barrier”. Since I used that title for one of my short stories, I wanted something different for the movie. My current inclination is to call it “The Barrier”. I think it give a broader interpretation of the story, since there is both a real barrier and a metaphorical barrier in the story.
I planned to cannibalize my two stories “The Gladstone Barrier” and “The Glencoe Project” for the project. I’ve only taken some of the ideas from the stories so far. I haven’t used any material directly. Partly because I have some characters in different roles in each story, so I have to do some mixing and matching to make them work together.
The approach I’ve taken is to put together individual scenes, then later combine them into the whole movie. I’ve worked on three scenes so far, and I consider one of them finished. It is a new scene that has no counterpart in either of the stories. It does set up some new conflicts for the rest of the movie.
I’m mostly done the second, but think I can develop it a bit more. It replaces a scene in the original story that I couldn’t do in Xtranormal. Instead of showing the action, I have the characters talk about it. It isn’t as good that way, but I have to work with the limitations of the program.
The third is a continuation of the second scene, except that I bring in a new character and one of the others leaves. I haven’t been very successful with that one. I’ve scrapped what I’ve done so far and will start over. It is one of the scenes where I needed to change one of characters from the story. I can use most of the material from the story for this scene.
I’ve been stuck on my story “Sweat Box” for several months now. I’ve found that when I pick one top priority, then I tend to neglect everything else. Focus is a good thing, but sometimes it just gets in the way.
For the past couple months my top priority has been my wife’s health. While I’ve focussed on my wife’s health, I know that I need to take a break and take care of myself. Unfortunately, my top writing priority, “Sweat Box” takes a lot out of me.
I’ve grown frustrated with the project and can’t move forward with it. That isn’t what I need now. I don’t really like to drop projects, but I know I have to put “Sweat Box” off to the side for now. Aside from some concerns about the story itself, I just don’t feel excited by the story now. Maybe after I’ve left for a while I can come back to it with renewed vigour.
I have several other projects that I want to work on. I have ideas about how to finish off “My Most Difficult Case”. I want to try more short and long films with Xtranormal. I’ll have to pick one that gets me excited though. Maybe I should just go with the first impulse I have when I get up tomorrow.
Much of what I read about filmmaking and writing focuses on how to sell your work. While I see the necessity of this, I don’t think I am good at it, and I certainly don’t enjoy it. I’ve always thought of selling your work in negative terms, which I think of as “self-promotion”. In the end, I go back to the belief that if my work is good enough, then it will sell itself.
The Art of Asking
Recently I watched a TED talk by Amanda Palmer: “The Art of Asking” that got me to re think how I promote my own work.
In some ways, her talk didn’t have anything new to me, but it did open my eyes a little to a different view of what was involved. Whereas I thought in terms of self-promoters, I’d describe her as a connector. Her approach is more like the way you make friends than selling yourself. She describes it as trusting people. I think her approach works very well with her type of personality.
Her approach doesn’t seem as crass or self-serving as what I’d heard before. It does seem to be a nicer approach to making your way as an artist. For myself though, I still can’t see that I can take this approach. I just don’t feel comfortable when I ask people to support me.
I can’t really change my personality in any major, or even minor, way. I supposed I could train myself to behave otherwise, but it would seem artificial and come off as phoney. That would be worse than if I’d not tried at all.
Let the Art Sell Itself
As I noted above, in the past I’ve tried to rely on the inherent interest of my work to gain an audience. That only works with special ideas, and not all of my ideas are special. It isn’t always possible to recognize if your own idea is special or not.
The success I had with some of my ideas made me a little spoiled. Both the Hundred Dollar Film Festival and “Line of Taxis” were projects that quickly found supporters. I didn’t really need to push them; they took on a life of their own. That is something I can’t always count on.
There is also a good argument that if your work can’t sell itself, then it just isn’t worth your while to make it. I have abandoned many ideas that didn’t catch other people’s interest. Some ideas are harder to give up than others are. Maybe those ideas would catch on if I developed them further.
Another approach I could use is to involve people in my projects that do have the desirable personality traits that I just don’t have. Most commercial films are like this. They usually leave the promotion to the actors and not the writer or director. The exceptions are notable for their rarity.
I haven’t really tried this approach and I’m not sure how well it would work. The closest I came was when Keith Humphrey attended the screening of “Line of Taxis” at a festival. That wasn’t really a case where I tried to promote the film though.
I am sure I haven’t exhausted all the ways that I could promote my work. However, I am not sure what other approaches might work for me.
Some parts of my new story “Sweat” are autobiographical. I find those are the hardest parts to write. I’ve tried to understand why.
Most, if not all, writers draw from their personal experiences in their work. I often find it difficult to do. I based one scene in “Sweat” on an actual conversation I had. This has become a difficult challenge for me, and I have thought about why these autobiographical elements of my stories are so hard for me.
I have identified three barriers when I have trouble when I try to incorporate events from my life into my fiction work.
1. Many events were important in both life and the lives of others. I don’t want to trivialize these events in my fiction. This is especially a concern with other people’s involvement.
- 2. Many events I want to use were unpleasant for me. When I want to incorporate them, it revives the feelings I had at the time. It is painful to revisit these old wounds and bad memories. Although these feelings can provide fodder for the story, they can also put me off writing.
3. Many events involved conflict with other people. Although I have managed to exclude them from my current life, these people are still around. I fear that if I use those events as the basis for my fiction, they will reopen the old conflict.
I have developed a couple of strategies to deal with these barriers.
1. I try to create a distance between my experience and myself. The main technique I’ve used is to transpose the events to a different situation. This allows me to change the specifics of the event and the nature of the people involved.
2. I try to draw on emotions from the event and envision other situations that can bring out similar emotions.
I used both of these strategies in my film “Line of Taxis”. They did help, but there were several periods on that film where I ran into the same barriers. I’ve used both approaches in my story “Sweat”.
I suppose that in the end, it is just a matter of “getting over it”. None the less, I would like to find other techniques to help me overcome these barriers. I would gratefully accept any advice.
I wasn’t able to attend, but I have had no death threats since then, so I guess it went over OK.
I have now posted the video on YouTube for all to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEH4ZY4dmOo