Posts Tagged ‘HD’

DSLR FRIDAY: (China) Balls of Fury

Made in China, I assume.

I shoot my video contest entries with a DSLR for one reason and one reason only: It’s cheap.  My Canon T2i cost me about $900 and shoots full 1080 HD footage.  Compared to a $5,500 Panasonic HVX200, that’s a ridiculous deal.  Yeah, you lose a ton of features (like decent audio capabilities) when you don’t shoot with a real “video camera” but unless you’re a well-stocked pro, a DSLR is the best, most affordable option around.

So if your only video camera is a DSLR, you’re probably doing your filmmaking on the cheap.  Which means you need to come up with some low-cost solutions to the challenges that DSLR shooting presents.  One weird thing I’ve noticed about my DSLR is that it hates shadows.  It’s really unforgiving if you use a strong light source.  If you don’t diffuse your lights (including the sun) you’re going to get some stark shadows, especially under your subject’s eyes.  I’ve found that a great, cheap way to soften the look of a video is with one of the oldest tricks in the book: China Balls.

It seems like at least one a year I talk to a filmmaker or read a film book that recommends lighting a scene with a China Ball.  You know what China balls are right?  Those big white, paper balls that you put a light into?  (By the time you read this I probably will have added a giant picture of a china ball to this post)  For some reason I never heeded the advice of those China Ball evangelists.  But now I am a convert!  I started using them a few months ago and the results are pretty sweet.  Check out this video I shot for the Insinkerator assignment that Poptent ran back in the spring.  This entire video was lit with China Balls and natural room light.  Oh actually, the shot of the happy baby was done by my long distance collaborator, HappyJoel.  He did the adorable song for this too.  But the rest was done by me and my big, white balls:

Is that some even lighting or what?  Check out the shots of the “snacks” at the 19 second mark.  There isn’t a hint of shadow on that table.  That’s the magic of the china ball.  You can find a lot of tutorials online that explain how to build a China Ball light but here’s how I built mine:

Also probably made in china

Step 1:  You can order a china ball online here but I just went to Pier One Imports.  I bought 2 decent sized balls for like 16 bucks.

Step 2:  Head to Home Depot (ok, I prefer Menards but I think that’s a mid-western chain) and buy a cheap clamp light like the one in this picture.

Step 3:  While you’re at Menards (or wherever) pick up a 300 Watt clear or white light bulb.

Step 5:  The rest is pretty self-explanatory.  Rip that silver dish part off your light.  Pop open your China ball and put it’s metal support in.  Then put the socket into the ball and shove the cord into the ball’s cord holder bracket thing.

And that’s that.  Now the disclaimer.  BE CAREFUL!  The thing you just built is really goddamn dangerous!!  Most China Ball tutorials will tell you to use a 100 Watt bulb max.  But 100 Watts will only be enough if you want “moody” lighting.  You want to light up the night!!  But if that 300 Watt bulb touches that paper ball you’re fucked.  It’ll start smoking in a few seconds if the bulb has been on for a while.  So if you’re stupid enough to actual build this ball of death, here are the precautions you will need to take:

1.  Always make sure the bulb is hanging in the dead center of the ball.

2.  Always turn the light off when not filming.

3.  Always have a fire extinguisher on set.  (You should always have one whenever you’re setting up hot lights, actually)

So now that you’ve got your ball you’ll need to hang it from something.  A pro or semi-pro would probably stick it on a a “C-Stand” like this one. But one of those suckers will run you $165!! Screw that noise.  I just hang my China Ball from this a simple boom mic stand.  Here’s a picture of the exact mic stand I use.  Guess how much it cost?  Less than 30 bucks!  You can even buy one at Best Buy.  And let me tell you, this thing is perfect for hanging china balls.  It can extend really high so you can get the ball all the way to the ceiling (to mimic a room’s actual light source.)  Plus, the thing is super light weight and can fold up and fit in your car trunk.  A old fashioned C-Stand is so awkward and weighs so much that if you knocked one over you could break somebody’s nose.  So these mic stands are 500 million times better for suspending china balls then a big ass metal stand.

You know what?  I’ve been thinking about it and my version of the China Ball is just too dangerous to actually attempt to build and use.  So please do not build the lighting device I just explained how to make.  For the record, this post is intended for entertainment purposes only and if you burn your house down, it’s not my fault.


Oh snap!

A few weeks back I announced the start of a new, reoccurring feature here on Video Contest News; DSLR FRIDAY.  Since a huge percentage of video contest filmmakers are now shooting their entries with DSLRs I figured our readers might be interested in hearing the occasional DSLR tip.  So does this mean you can expect to see a fresh camera tip here every friday?  Heh…no.  I just announced the feature and already it’s been a few weeks since the first installment.  So think of DSLR Friday as being like a haunted pirate ship that sometimes appears in the harbor when there’s a full moon.  You’ll never know when you can expect to see DSLR FRIDAY but I swear by Poseidon’s beard your best chance of catching a glimpse of it will be on a friday.  Or…a few days after since my posts just get pushed down the page whenever a new one is added.

Today’s tip is going to be simple but sweet. If you shoot with a DSLR then you know that getting good audio with one of those cameras is a bitch and a half.  My Canon T2i (like all DSLRs) has a built in auto-gain function that is famously terrible. Even if you plug an external mic into the camera, the auto-gain is really gonna cramp your style. So if you want good audio you can either hack your DSLR and turn off the auto-gain (we’ll save that for a future post) or you can record audio to an external device.

Zooma, zoom zoom

From my family’s VHS camcorder to to my Mini-DV DVX-100B, every video camera I’ve ever used was able to record acceptable audio. So recording audio and video separately was a totally foreign exercise to me. Like a lot of DSLR users I bought a audio recorder. The thing cost me about 300 bucks and does a pretty nice job.  But using an external audio recorder will leave you with a new problem.  How do you sync up the audio and the video?

I’ve asked a few filmmaker friends about this and some of them say they use software to sync up their clips.  This program called PluralEyes seems to be pretty popular but it costs a $150.  And it only works in Final Cut Pro so if you use imovie or Final Cut Express you’re out of luck.  Plus it just seems like kind of an unnecessary hassle to me.  When I sit down to edit I want to get into it as quickly as possible.  If I’m doing a simple project I don’t want to wait for 60 minutes of audio and video to sync up before I can get to work.

So I sync up my clips the old fashioned way; with a clapper!  You know…one of those clapboard things you always see in movies about movies?  Actual “Filmmakers” have been recording sound and picture separately since the birth of the talkies.  And the way they’ve always synced the two up in post is with a clap sync.  In film they used to have to match the “clap” on the audio track to the visual clap on the screen.  But since your DSLR actually records sound you’ll have it a lot easier then those old-timers did.

Last fall I bought myself and even though the board part fell off the first time I used it, I totally love it.  I actually like it much better without the board since I can can keep the “sticks” in my pocket.  Just using the sticks also helps you keep a lower profile if you’re doing some guerrilla-style filming on the street.  If cops or security guard see a professional-looking clapboard they may be more inclined to ask you what the hell you’re doing.

So here’s how you use your sticks; when you’re on set, after the camera starts rolling you just need to do something that will feel incredibly cliche.  You need to stick the clapper in front of the actors and give it a snap.  You can even yell “Take two” or whatever if that will help you keep track of the clips later.  But if you’re using a ZOOM recorder it will tell you what track you are recording.  So I’ve found that saying the audio track number is INCREDIBLY helpful in post.

Once you start editing you open up the video clip you want to use and right at the start of it you’ll hear yourself announcing which audio clip goes with it.  Once you open that clip up you’ll see a huge audio spike.  That’s your clapper.  And if you look at the audio on the video clip, you’ll see the exact same spike.

If you’re a decent editor I don’t really need to tell you what to do next.  (But I will anyway)  Inch along the track until you get to the spike and you hear the first hint of the “Clack” sound.  Mark that spot as the start of your clip.  Then go to the video clip and do the same thing.  Place the video on the timeline and then stick the audio clip right underneath it.  The audio on both should line up perfectly.  Since I figured out that you should make your first cut one frame after you hear the start of the clap, my clips have been syncing up perfectly 100% of the time.

Of course, you could also cheap out and just clap your hands at the start of each take.  But the sound of a hand clap just isn’t as clean and perfect as the sound of a clapboard.  Also people who do that look like assholes who are to cheap to buy pair of fucking sticks.  So yeah, don’t be that guy.

Shenanigans in the LG “Life’s Good” HD contest?


Last week I posted the winner of the “Life’s Good” HD online film fest sponsored by LG.  The winner was a very, very impressive HD short film called “Nuit Blanche.”  You can see it by clicking here. But frequent video contest winner and friend of VCN, Lucas Ridley wrote me and explained that the whole contest was sort of one big clusterf%&k.  Lucas is a hang glider and submitted an excellent entry in LG’s “Sports” category.  You can see it here: .

Though he submitted his entry on time and followed all the rules, for some weird reason, LG basically acted as if the entry didn’t exist.  Lucas’ dealings with LG were so odd that I asked him to share his story.  This is from Lucas:

Here’s the history:

* Made specifically for this contest in about a weeks time

* Made the Oct 16th deadline (had to mail in a physical DVD)

* Receive identical emails (on 16th and 17th) from two different people asking if this has been entered any where before and has it won any awards, my responses go unacknowledged.

* entries begin to appear on their website and youtube channel, except mine so I emailed on Oct 22nd asking when and where mine will be viewable, same day response was: “We’re not posting anything new for a while till we process the entries.”

* Nov 3 emailed to see if I could post the video to my personal account, response again came the same day: “OK to post on your personal acct.”

* Email sent on Nov 16th goes unanswered (month after entry deadline and my video is still not up anywhere): “Hi, I’ve looked at your updated website and youtube page and can’t find my submission, “A Leg to Fly On” on either of them? I’m kind of worried about what that means? Can you please give me a heads up? Thanks”

* Email sent on Nov 23rd gets answered the next day: “Hi, I’m just following up from my email a week ago since I haven’t heard anything yet.

From the response I received when I sent in my video it seemed that there wasn’t any problem with my video but I still don’t see it up on your youtube channel or your website. Please inform me of the status of my short film. Also, I never read in the official rules anything about a top 12, but there is a top 12 on your youtube page. Please let me know, I spent a lot of time and energy on this and I’m not getting a response back. Thank you” >>>>their response>>>> “Lucas

Not all films entered were posted on the LG FilmFest YouTube site. Keep watching the site for more news about contenders.” >>>> That was the last I heard from them – and they never posted any more news about contenders.

* Over a month goes by and still my video is not viewable on their youtube channel nor on their website so I email them again on Jan 1st to no response: “… I was hoping you could give me a quick update on my film? I was also looking for the contest rules, but they were taken down …”

* Jan 10th follow up email with no response: “Hi, 10 days ago I emailed about getting information on where my short film is since I still have not seen it displayed on your site or on your youtube channel. Please advise, thank you”

* Jan 25th, my last email to them: “Hi, I am very concerned now that I have not heard any news or received a response from this email address in two months and the winners will be announced soon. Is my video being seriously considered for this contest? Thanks”

If you managed to read through that, there was no indication that my entry would have been disqualified for any reason, and they acknowledge that they did receive it.


* Lack of communication after it was obvious they were never going to put my video up on their website (my entry that I posted to my personal youtube acct has more views than all of the entries in the Sports category combined, so it’s not like it wasn’t watchable).

* Removing the official rules from their website

* they originally had entries like “The Moon – Vancouver Film School” which is like a year old, and clearly not made for this contest, but they renamed it something else and put it up like it was an entry, but since have taken it down.

* The quality of the other entries seem like they might be a similar story. Nothing created specifically for this contest (which wasn’t part of the contest rules or anything – to my memory at least since they’ve taken the rules down too -, just adds to the peculiarity), but it seems they just hand picked existing films out there, to give the illusion of high quality associated with the brand LG.

* There are only 5 entries shown for the Sports category. So it wouldn’t be a limitation of space. (did i mention that my single video has more views than all 5 of those entries combined? Not bragging, but just saying, it’s not like my video was unwatchable)

* The duplicate emails from two different email addresses asking if my film had won any awards before, of which I never heard a response from either, after my response to them.

* The “Top 12 Films” category on their youtube channel, now has been changed to just “Top Films” – neither of which were outlined in the official rules (again, to the best of my memory, but I’m 99.99% sure about this, since they took down their official rules)

My concern comes from a worry about the mistreatment of creators of content, like those reading this right now. My advice for the future is to never waste your time creating content for an LG contest in the future, because it won’t be given a fair chance and you will be ignored at best (unless it is a contest properly administered through youtube, like the one they did about two years back). I have learned, and advise others to do this, to copy and save the official rules of any contest you enter so you have something to fall back on if the rules are mischievously taken down, which if they are, you probably aren’t going to hear back from them anyways, but it never hurts.

I feel like this contest was just one in disguise to attract attention. Despite feeling like I fell into some advertising trap portrayed as a legitimate contest, I did still enjoy creating a short film that I’m proud of and others have seemed to enjoy, but I have learned my lesson to stay away from LG in the future and encourage others to do the same (to clarify this was LG Canada who put on the contest). Instead, spend your time on real contests that give our community a platform to display true user-generated work with a great deal of feedback and moderation and the best example of that so far has been the Doritos contest and I hope other contests begin to rise to that bar they’ve set, because this one feels like it took that bar and started clubbing baby seals with it. Okay, maybe that was a harsh ending, but a decent south park reference any way. What are your all’s thoughts on this? Did anyone else out there submit to this contest?

Ok, you’re back with Beardy now.  This is not the first time a suspiciously amazing video has won an LG video contest.  Last summer, I shot an entry for a contest were people where supposed to dance to the theme song for the new remake of FAME.  The Fame video contest was also sponsored by LG and at the last minute, an OUTRAGEOUS, over the top entry was submitted and wound up winning the $50,000 grand prize.  It’s called, .

The Art of Fame and Nuit Blanche are the two most ELABORATE and professional video contest entries I have ever seen.  And both were made for video contests sponsored by LG.  Sure, both contests had big grand prizes and big money always attracts some pros, but is it possible that LG might be hiring or soliciting….ringers?  The winner of the $100,000 HD fest grand prize works for a well-known production company and the short was not created for the LG contest.  Is it possible that maybe someone at LG saw the short somewhere and then encouraged the filmmaker to enter it?

Sound far-fetched and pointless?  Well, guess what?  The head of a tech company once strongly encouraged me to enter his video contest.  The contest was his idea and he wasn’t happy with the submissions so went looking for someone who could do just want he wanted.  He saw some music videos I made on youtube and said if I made a similar music video for his contest I’d have a very good chance of winning <wink, wink.>    We stayed in touch during the whole production process and sure enough, I won.  My video was by far the best submission and the video even went viral but I never would have entered if I hadn’t been recruited by the sole judge of the contest.  So….ringers do happen.

Anybody else enter the LG contest?  If so, did you get jerked around at all?

LG’s $100,000 HD film fest winner


It seems like this contest started taking entries forever ago, but the “Life’s Good” HD film fest sponsored by LG has finally announced their grand prize winner.  Contestants were supposed to submit films that were shot in HD and followed the theme of “Life’s Good.”  There were several categories (sports, fashion etc) but it was a narrative film that took the top prize of $100,000.

The LG winner is called Nuit Blanche and was directed by Arev Manoukian.  Here’s the official description:

“Nuit Blanche explores an experience many of us have lived before – a fleeting yet powerful connection with a perfect stranger. Set in a dark cobblestone street in the 1950’s, a man catches the gaze of a woman in a cafe across the street. This split-second moment becomes suspended in time, as the two gravitate towards each other in a hyper real fantasy where nothing can hold them back.”

I just watched all 3 minutes and 22 seconds of the short film and all I can say is “F*CK YES!”  I have seen some amazing video contest entries before but this is hands down the most impressive one I’ve ever come across.  It starts off slow but then gets awesome and finishes beautifully.

Grand Prize Winner.  Prize: $100,000

That’s outrageous, isn’t it?  My only grievance is that it seems like this was a pre-existing short film and that it wasn’t shot specifically for the contest like so many of the entries were.  The credits say that the short was “made in part with the support of the National Film Board of Canada’s filmmaker assistance program.”  In fact, it looks like the short was produced by the very successful production company, Spy Films.  Oh well, it’s still fantastic.  I mean, did you notice that the guy blew a piece of glass out of his way there at the end?  All those fancy effects and expensive production values and that little moment is what made the short for me.  It just goes to show that even in the CGI era we live in, the best films are those that use effects to express fundamentally human and universal ideas and emotions.

If you want to see just how much post-production work actually went into this short, click here to watch a video about the .

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