Introduction to Guerrilla Filmmaking

November 30, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment 
John Cassavetes filming Shadows

John Cassavetes filming Shadows

It doesn’t take long to realize that filming requires more than just a good camera. It takes a lot of various equipment to make a video project come together. The first thing you will discover when you want to experiment with new techniques is that video equipment is very expensive. The good news is that with a little ingenuity, motivation, and a do it yourself (DIY) attitude you can make much of your own equipment reasonably cheap. A lot of people tell aspiring filmmakers that they don’t have a chance. That the business is too closed to outsiders, especially here in France. Well I for one refuse to that advice, but I keep it in mind. Just as with the popularization of hand held cameras in the late fifties a “New Wave” of filmmakers were born, today we stand at another crossroads. Filmmakers do not necessarily need to rely on big distribution companies anymore. A whole new audience has arrived via the Internet. Thus increasing the possibilities for new talent being discovered. If you have a drive to make your own films you can get it done, take John Cassavetes for example. His tactics for making films are now that of legend. Unable to receive funding from conventional sources, he looked anywhere he could to bring things together. From his own personal savings, acting in several films, contributions from friends, and multiple mortgages on his home, he was able to find the necessary money to make his films. He cast and crew consisted of friends, students and other volunteers. He has even been know to siphon electricity from a city power line. Ultimately though, the mark of his films was the passion and edge represented in the final product and not the methods he went about to achieve them. Since then several guerrilla filmmaker have made their mark on Hollywood. Most notably people like Spike Lee and Robert Rodriguez. One very important issue to consider though when looking to save money is the legality of what you do. For example shooting without permits in certain locations could cause yourself a lot of trouble. Also if you film in a professional environment, it is not a good idea to look cheap. People like to know they are paying for quality, and unfortunately appearance can play a hefty role in that aspect. As we begin in our own films, the issue of equipment and money is very near to us. It will be necessary for us to save money and cut corners whenever we can. Personally I have always liked to invent and make things, which is an added bonus. Also you may find, as I do, that what you might need simply doesn’t exist or needs modification. In upcoming post we will talk more about specific ideas and techniques to keep the cost down and have quality equipment on hand.

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Aerial Photography

November 29, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Photography 

I first flew, from Nice to Corsica, when I was something like 6 years old. I suppose, at that age, you can go either way: be scared or enjoy the ride. I loved it. And, years later, I still enjoy take-offs and landings. I just regret that a lot of times the flight is a lot longer than the 30 minutes that separates Nice from Corsica.

This year, Derrick and I planned a three weeks long holiday back in his state, North Carolina. We had decided to spend one of these weeks on the coast to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. We went to Atlantic Beach on the Outer Banks (OBX). If you don’t know about the Outer Banks, it’s a chain of small islands that runs along the NC coast separated from the mainland by a rather narrow inter coastal waterway. Looking up all the local activities before going, we realized that we could afford a flight over the area in a small plane, just the two of us, with a pilot. The service was provided by Seagrave Aviation based in Beaufort. I was very excited about the idea of flying in a small plane, get to see the controls and everything but our main goal was to bring back some photos that not every visitor of the OBX has a chance to take.

The day of the flight came around and even though Hanna, the hurricane, was to strike the coast in the following 48 hours, the sky was perfectly clear. The pilot placed Derrick in the back seat while I was riding in front of the small Cessna. We flew over the area twice. On the first run, I was taking pictures from the front seat, with the left wing most of the time in my frame. On the second run, Derrick was taking the photos from the back seat – a far better spot in that plane for photos as he could move around more and shoot from both sides of the plane. He didn’t have the wing in his way and was able to take pictures looking down which was uneasy from the front seat. On the other hand, from the front seat, I could get photos of the plane controls and through the windshield which turned out pretty cool. Still, as a rule, the back seat of the plane is best for photography and actually, a helicopter is even better but eh, I like planes.

Hard to find a better place to have your first flight experience, it’s just beautiful.

Handing over the camera to the backseat now, the views are very different. Then again, Derrick has done aerial photography for surveying reconnaissance and forestry ; he went for different shots. Actually, while Derrick was taking pictures, I asked the pilot about flying and somehow, he then let me fly. I flew us around for 30 minutes ; it was magical.

If you ever get the opportunity to fly in such a plane and decide to take photos, here are a few advice we can share from our experience in North Carolina:

  • To shoot the inside of the plane, bring your widest angle. To take photos of the world below, limit yourself to a 135mm  lens or so.
  • If you have any motion stabilizer on the camera, it could prove useful
  • As for settings, prefer a Tv (manual shutter speed) mode and use rather high speeds as, there should be light up there, and you move, comparatively to the ground, rather fast.
  • Since you have to shoot through the windshield and windows, be careful with reflections on the glass and, if you can, make sure the glass is clean before taking off. We didn’t use filters here but maybe it could have helped on these issues.
  • Even if you badly want a shot of the school of Dolphins below (we did), make sure you’re not going to make any crazy move that could disturb the pilot. I’d rather miss the shot than take the big drink myself.
  • One more thing, the pilot has probably been out with photographers before, if you tell him what shot you’re after, he will probably tilt the plane the way you need it to get the propeller out of the way or make your shot easier. That’s why they give you the earphones, so you can talk to him.

For my birthday, I was offered a card allowing me to pick an activity to go to and I went this morning for a “Baptême de l’Air” with Aeropilot based in Cergy-Pontoise. The sky this time was much more parisien like and you could barely see the other planes of the fleet outside but it was pretty enjoyable. The plane this time was even smaller and could only fit two people. I managed to get a little souvenir shot though and got the permission to make the last curve before bringing the plane back in line with the runaway. If I ever get the money saved up to get my pilot’s “brevet de base” I might go with them. They have a nice collection of planes.

For more information about aerial photography, you can be on the lookout for Compétence Photo n. 7 which has a short dossier about that specific subject.

From Paris With Love

November 28, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Filming 

As many of you may know, John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers will be starring in a new Luc Besson production titled From Paris with Love, directed by Pierre Morel. The film is currently filming in Paris and has received a bit of press concerning recent issues. Production of the film was originally set to be in the Northeast suburbs of Paris in Les Bosquets de Montfermeil, a notoriously impoverished area and one of the toughest housing project areas in Europe. After 10 cars were burnt and crew members threatened, production was obviously stopped. The London Independent reported that police were investigating reports that the cars were set afire after the producers refused to pay a local gang “protection money.” In any case concerning the situation, these areas around Paris have been explosive over the last few years with similar types of reactions over various issues. Now production is back underway and and better safety precautions are being taken.

According to IMDb the plot is that a young embassy employee hooks up with an American spy in Paris. I hope not to give a spoiler but there is a scene in this film at an airport. I can say this with confidence because I was there last night and into the early morning hours in my motion picture debut as an actor. Well sort of, an extra at least. It seems that I fit the qualifications to pose as an American tourist coming to France. Hmm, imagine that. I had the opportunity to take only a couple of photos with my iPhone to remember the experience and share here, nothing very interesting and certainly not reveilving.

I saw a posting for the job on the Craig’s List website and thought why not, it could not hurt to try. Actually getting myself on the set of a major production was an important step to our own venture. I hoped to have the opportunity to make a connection or two in the industry. I was told there would a lot of waiting around and  doing nothing, but it was no where near as bad as I expected. I studied the crew at every chance and tried to absorb as much of the atmosphere as possible. I was very impressed, I thought they were very efficient and professional. Unfortunately there were no stars on hand last night. Apparently Meyers could not be there last night for some reason or the other, which required us to take many shots with a green screen for later shooting. I was very pleased to see this in operation. I paid particular attention to the equipment used and placement of lighting. Thinking all the time how we could emulate similar situations for ourselves. Fortunately Samantha has also been on the set. She was an invited guest of director Josée Dayan in the filming of Les Liaisons Dangereuses a French TV mini-series. So we both now have had a taste of the “big time” and both of us are eager to achieve our own dreams. I don’t think I came away from the experience with a sure fire hook-up to open all the right doors for us, or gained some kind of valuable work experience, but I did get a little compensation and had the opportunity to hang out and share some laughs with fellow figurants (extras). Maybe most of all, I will never have to say again, “yes, this is my first time”. Amoungst the extras I met was a guy from Spain named Yann Soitiño. He has one of those rare and unique jobs that many of us envy. He was an extremely helpful and friendly, you can check out his website at I also met two really nice and interesting guys from Australia, who like me were newbees on a big production set. One of which is Ben Phillips (A graphic designer currnently staying in Paris). Also, a fellow by the name of Gregoire, who’s last name I’ve misplaced in my mind, maybe he will email me sometime and I’ll update this post. He is here in France under similar circumstances of myself, that is he fell in love with a French woman. All of these guys made the experience a lot more comfortable for me and I appreciated having someone able to traslate the things I didn’t understand. They helped fill the holes that my sporadic French skills left behind. In summary I would like to just say that I hope I don’t end up on the cutting room floor.

Streaming FLV videos #2

November 27, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · 1 Comment
Filed under: Computing, Internet 

Streaming, real streaming, is different from downloading then playing a video. Which means that it enables two things:

  1. starting to watch the beginning of the video while the rest of it is buffering
  2. being able to seek any point in the video, forward or backward

The Flv format makes number #1 possible out of the box. Even without using a real streaming server, when watching an flv video using the flash player, you can start watching while the rest is being buffered. The seeking feature on the other hand requires a streaming server… unless, you emulate one using a server side script.

I’m going to detail how I’ve setup a “http emulated streaming server” using xmoov.php as server-side script and jwmediaplayer as client video player in the browser.

Download the server side script from and edit it.

Edit the following information

define(‘XMOOV_PATH_ROOT’, ‘/home/www/streaming/’); //path to your main web folder
define(‘XMOOV_PATH_FILES’, ‘movies/’); //path from your root folder (above) to the one containing the movies

The following information are to be set according to the bitrate of your videos.Let’s say your bitrate is 512Kb/s. You need to make sure your streaming setup provides your client with 512 Kb a second. To do so, you can send packages of 50kb every tenth of a second or you can send 100 every twentieth of a second. Of course, the network never being perfect, you should also give yourself some margin. Below are the values I chose:

define(‘XMOOV_BW_PACKET_SIZE’, 110); //defines the package size
define(‘XMOOV_BW_PACKET_INTERVAL’, 0.2); //deines the interval
define(‘XMOOV_CONF_ALLOW_DYNAMIC_BANDWIDTH’, TRUE); // enable the feature

Finally to make xmoov work with jwplayer, edit the following:

define(‘XMOOV_GET_FILE’, ‘file’);
define(‘XMOOV_GET_POSITION’, ‘start’);
define(‘XMOOV_GET_BANDWIDTH’, ‘bw’);

To make sure that your streaming server works, you can browse to http://<your server>/xmoov.php?file=<filename>&start=0. The browser should try to download an flv file. If so, the streaming server is set.
Now, you need to make your jw player comply to this by adding &streamer=<path to xmoov.php> to your Flash Parameters. Here is an example of code:

var so = new SWFObject(‘jwmediaplayer/player.swf’,'mpl’,’560′,’420′,’9′);



That’s all there is to it. Now, using jw player, you should be able to seek any point of your video. To see this in action, you can of course watch the videos on our website. For more information, you can visit the wiki of the jw player regarding the http steeaming.

We are still interested in finding out more about streaming videos. If you come across a better solution that can be installed easily on a host server, let us know in the comment. If you find better settings for xmoov.php, we’d be glad to hear about it too.

The Camera Makes The Difference

November 26, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment 

Up until this fall we have shooting footage with a basic JVC Mini-DV camcorder. All and all, it served us very well as we were starting out filming artist and vernissages. Maybe by disaster or fortune, it finally bit the dust and forced us to invest in another camera. We had longed talk about needing a better camera and advancing in our work in video, so it did not take us long to decide we needed more of a professional camera. The big question for us was rather to make the switch to HD. After toiling over the question for weeks and hours of research the decision was conclusive that we invest in the best camera for the money we could spend and wait for the prices of HD cameras to become more reasonable. The primary reason we decided against HD was that a professional grade camera was out of our price range. We could of easily bought a lower end model, but none available appealed to our needs. Many people today are on the HD craze it seems but fail to realize that unless you distribute your media via Blu-ray disc there really isn’t any advantaged gained. We also had issues of features, accessories, and appearance. We wanted something to give us the most advantages when filming and also it had to look professional.

Canon GL2

So now we had to chose from several great DV cameras on the market, after many Google searches, reading reviews, eBay and Amazon watching, we finally we found the Canon GL2. It is a wonderful camera with excellent optics and processing. From everything I’ve read it has become the industry standard for professional video capturing, especially amongst documentary makers. There is no need for me to go into a lengthy discussion of all the specifications and features of this camera, as it can be found on dozens of websites. I will say though we are excited about this camera feel like our money was well spent, and most of all we are ready to put this thing to work!

Streaming FLV videos #1

November 25, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · 2 Comments
Filed under: Computing, Internet 

Adobe Flash Player logoAs we were building our website for World Wide Angle these past two weeks, we looked at the available solutions to show videos online. It didn’t take long for us to pick flash as a format for three main reasons:

  1. Since Adobe Flash 9, the quality of the FLV video has increased while the file size drastically decreased makin it easier to share this format online
  2. Adobe Flash player is widely accepted and installed on about 95% of the computers in the world and run on the most mainstream systems: Windows, Mac and Linux
  3. Adobe Flash is supported on more and more handheld devices

I’m not sure it’s a reason but the FLV format was also chosen by video sharing platforms like youTube and DailyMotion.

The second step was to choose which player to use. We wanted a good looking and an easy to use interface. We wanted the possibility to display a list of available videos and possibly some information about them. We also wanted the interface to be customizable if possible. And, as I like to look at the code a bit (can’t learn too much), I was leaning toward an open source solution. After some research, we elected the JWPlayer which claims to be the most used video player on the Internet.

What can you do with the JWPlayer:

  • easily place your videos online (the jwplayer site offers a wizard to get you started)
  • customize the size about your player
  • customize the controls
  • add a logo to your player
  • enable or not the autostart of the video playback
  • easily customize the main colors of the interface
  • enable streaming if you have a server for it
  • enable http streaming emulation using a server side script
  • share several independant videos clips
  • or share a single videos as several “chapters” in a way similar to a dvd with its menu
  • skin the player
  • add or even develop plugins
  • play a youTube playlist
  • play the playlist coming from a RSS feed

Considering the player can be extended via plugins and that the code is open, there are probably a lot more features that could be added to this list but these are the features that made us pick this player.

You can see the player in action on our main page

In a next post, I will explain how we setup the player to emulate streaming or at least the seek funtionnality.

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