Archive for July, 2012

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The iPad and the Joys of Celtx

July 4, 2012

Recently, I joined the 21st century and bought an iPad. I’d resisted joining the Apple iGadget fraternity for a while (even though I’ve owned and been decidedly pro-mac for years) because, while I really liked the iPad and knew I wanted one (unlike an iPhone), I couldn’t justify getting one.

And I was broke- which didn’t help…

But I decided to buy one when I recently figured out some great filmmaking uses for it- and I’m not talking about those poxy clapperboard apps, either…

To put things in perspective, I always used to take my scripts, notes and storyboards on set with me in a big black ringbinder. Old school, yes. But not efficient. Fact is, I never used to print out or write down everything, meaning some stuff was missed out from my giant shooting bible. I also never had an easy way to connect my marked up script with individual storyboard panels- I was forever flicking pages back and forth and things were all over the place.

Old fashioned folder, meet the future!

But now I have an iPad. And thanks to a range of apps that can interconnect and trade material just like you can import/export files on a computer, I now have quite an efficient way of working in pre-production.

Before I get onto the apps though, a word about the hardware. If you’re going to get an iPad for on-set use, do yourself a favour and get a decent case for it. And I don’t mean that lame excuse for an add-on sale that is the Apple smart cover. Get something that will actually protect it against something more substantial than a sparrow fart. My suggestion?

The Griffin Survivor Case

There are a ton of choices out there, but I went with the Griffin Survivor case. A high tensile plastic shell with a big lump of rubber wrapped round it that, according to the blurb, is “military tested” (which in my mind means it was probably shot out of a tank turret by someone with a crew cut and camo paint!). Okay, so it isn’t as pretty as Steve Jobs would’ve liked and it certainly hides the fact that you’re using an iPad (so if being a pretentious wanker is important to you, this case won’t impress you or the object of your pretention much), but it feels pretty tough and actually, the look grows on you. It’s solid and grippy- something a naked iPad arguably isn’t. It does add some weight, but that just makes the iPad more palatable and substantial- while it can strain the wrist after extended holding, you don’t fear it being dropped because it’s buttery light. It’s also somewhat dust and moisture resistant with rubber flaps covering all the ports, even if they can be a pain to pin back so you can use the dock or hear the speaker (I’m also afraid that they’ll tear off through use, although so far I’ve had no problems). The silly plastic stand is shite, but it doubles as a bit of added purchase for hand-holding which is very welcome and probably an unintentional bonus. The whole thing was £55- not cheap (Amazon currently has it for half this- not impressed!), but a worthwhile investment to protect the more expensive investment of an iPad.

The Studio Neat Cosmonaut

It don’t look like much, but…

The other bit of hardware I bought was a stylus because I wanted to be able to draw storyboards on the iPad and fingers just don’t cut the proverbial mustard. Now if there are loads of different cases on the market, there’s a confusing array of shockingly-similar stylii floating about- from the quite excellent Wacom Bamboo to the cheap and cheerful Pogo. Somewhat fortunately though, my choice of case made my choice of stylus pretty limited. You see, iPad stylii are capacitive and respond by conducting electricity at a similar rate as the human finger- which is how the iPad touch screen works. The Griffin Survivor case has a plastic screen built in which, while fine for human digits, is a lot less responsive for the soft tips on most stylii. After a bit of research, I took a risk on the Studio Neat Cosmonaut. It doesn’t look like much- compared to the fancier stylii with their spongy nubbins and silver grips it looks like a wax crayon. Or more accurately, with its grippy rubber coating and solid, phallic stubbiness it looks like something a modern woman would keep in her sock drawer, but it’s this solidity that makes it work well with the Survivor case. Rather than squishing its nib like other stylii would, the Cosmonaut is a solid lump of metal and rubber with a slightly soft tip. This means that you can apply just a bit of pressure and the iPad picks up the contact pretty reliably through the screen barrier- ideal for drawing apps. It sometimes feels like you’re using a magic marker- like you’re Rolf Harris on Rolf’s Cartoon Time- but generally, it’s pretty good.

Celtx Shots, Scripts and Cloud Services

Which brings me onto the apps themselves. Top filmmaking marks must go to the Celtx family of apps. My first introduction to Celtx was as a free script writing program for the computer. I used it just to write and format scripts correctly, but Celtx has a lot of indexing and pre-production tools so you can structure story, create a catalogue of locations and characters and ultimately create breakdowns and schedules from it. But all that has been augmented by the use of their cloud service to sync data between the desktop program and the Celtx mobile apps. You can now write your script on the desktop program, send it to the Celtx cloud, edit it on the Celtx Script mobile app or, as was of more interest to me, send it and its indexing to the Celtx Shots app.

Screengrab from the Celtx Shots app

Celtx Shots allows you to do what the desktop Celtx does and add shot lists and storyboard panels to the scenes. This will be my go-to app on set because not only can I view my storyboards and shot lists but I can also read the script at the tap of an icon. Shots also has a library of graphics and top-down icons so you can create floor plans or knock up quick compositions- with more you can purchase in-app. A nice feature, although since I can draw, this is less useful for me- I can just import a drawn storyboard panel, add some notes and attach it to the scene. You can’t draw directly in Celtx Shots, so what app do I draw my boards in?

Penultimate

There are so many drawing apps on the iPad that I’m not even going to bother exploring them all- or even the ones that I’ve got on mine (like the wonderful Sketchbook Pro). I’m just going to mention Penultimate. Now Penultimate isn’t a replacement for Photoshop- its more like a hipster MS Paint with a handmade notebook feel and retardedly simple controls. But it comes into its own because of its simplicity- the lack of options means you concentrate on scribbling down your shot rather than fiddling about with fine details and shading. Also, with the custom papers created by ProLost.com‘s Stu Maschwicz, you have some great templates for 16:9 and scope aspect ratios, making it easy to scribble an effective panel and send it to your photo library where Celtx Shots can import it. (You can find the links to his custom papers in this article)

All in all, the iPad has so far made me more productive with regard to planning my shots and pulling stuff together. If the Celtx cloud service works as well as I hope it will, then it’ll also allow for better collaboration with my AD and other crew members. Overall, a win-win for the 21st century filmmaker.

In fact, the only losers in this are WH Smith when I have no need for any more big black ringbinders. Perhaps they should sell more iPad cases instead…

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All Change, All Panic, All Part of the Job

July 3, 2012

Originally this post was going to be entitled “Two Weeks Til I Shit Myself” because the shoot dates for the new Persona story are looming and while we’re confident in the story and the script, all the other ingredients in this cinematic cake are still sat on the shelves in ASDA. Three elements in particular worry me:

1) None of the locations have been tied down.

2) The DoP isn’t confirmed, neither is the soundo or the make up artist.

3) We’ve started the casting process but not really seen anyone for the roles yet.

About the only tangible progress made has been with the breakdown and storyboarding- more on that in another post- but even that’s debatable now because after a few weeks of exec producer incommunicado we hear that there have been a few changes in Camp Persona:

1) Our broadcast date has been pushed back to September meaning there’s no pressure to shoot everything in two weeks time. This has metaphorically saved me buying plastic pants.

2) The structure of the show has changed- rather than twelve appisodes of 60-90sec, it’s now eighteen episodes of 60sec. This has sent me on an errand back to the metaphorical plastic pants shop, wallet in hand.

Why is this an issue? Because it means some scenes will have to be cut down, new ones added and some deleted altogether. There’s actually a lot you can do in a 90sec time slot. There’s a lot less you can achieve in 60sec. 33% less to be anally exact. Currently, I like the script. The writer likes the script. The potential leading man likes the script. With the restructuring, a lot of the scenes and stylistic choices we were looking at doing become impossible or ineffective. And annoyingly, since I’ve already started storyboarding (using the rather excellent Celtx cloud system I might add), a lot of my work is going to have to be thrown out.

Am I annoyed? A little. Obviously the shoot dates being pushed back is a blessing, but the extra restructuring and redrafting is going to eat into that extra time quite easily. Also, I’m not sure the story’s going to work so well in its new guise. It was hard enough to tell a story in the old pattern- as I found out with the previous story!

But these are the sorts of things you encounter as a gun-for-hire director. Studios and executives change their minds on what the show needs to be, you get asked to shoehorn certain elements or actors or product placements into the piece and you have to field all this stuff while trying desperately to cling on to an ever-changing story that’s wriggling around like a puppy that doesn’t want to be held. Many directors, lured by the idyllic life of the indie filmmaker or the triple A above-the-line Speilbergs of the industry, would probably give up and put all their eggs in the “being discovered” basket when faced with this. But I see this as an opportunity to practice the necessary skills to actually get regular (ish), professional (ish), paid work- these are the working director’s equivalent of dealing with difficult customers or an incompetent boss or dealing with company rules. Sure, they’re a pain in the arse, but you have to deal with them if you want to get paid.