Video Editing Advice and Screening Your Work

On Saturday, June 10, 2017, there was the first public screening of "Albert," which is a music video I've been working on for quite some time. The video features a song by singer-songwriter Aaron Bissell ( and stars Jackson Bartelme and Lacie De Souza.

Here's me being very nervous and not making eye contact with anyone in the audience.

Here's me being very nervous and not making eye contact with anyone in the audience.

Publicly showing the video was a mix of emotions for me. This is a project I've been working on for almost a year now, and it's... thematically ambitious. Aaron let me have complete creative control over the visuals and so naturally I immediately wanted to have multiple bank robberies, a car chase, and a shootout. This was the first test of whether our ideas actually worked for an audience, and I think I'm happy with how it played. The best piece of video editing advice I've ever run across (I think Vinny Caravella said this on a podcast at one point) is to listen to your gut when you're showing your work. In a corporate setting, you'll be playing through a cut for your producer and there will be moments when you'll want to jump in and explain why this shot is here, why you cut away from the interview there, why the music cuts out suddenly, etc., and you should make notes of those points before your boss even begins to give you her input. It's really easy to mentally skip over those moments of tension while you're alone editing, especially if there are several points in the video you're excited about and you think work really well. I know I've edited plenty of videos that have two or three moments that I'm really jazzed about, but drag in other areas. Audiences will be affected by the highs, but the lows will break the spell. With discipline and practice, an editor can watch through a cut by themselves and start to recognize the moments of tension that need to ironed out that would otherwise interfere with the flow of the piece. With a passion project like this music video, I don't really have a producer that will give me notes. Screenings at events like the one on Saturday are great opportunities for me to watch how I'm feeling as it plays, and then consider making the appropriate changes.

Two other quick pieces of news: (1) A short film I was DP for last year is coming out online soon, hopefully in the next month. I'll post a link when it's available. (2) I started a podcast with my good friend Ben! I'll embed the episode in this post. We talk about screening the music video, Q&A sessions at these sorts of events, and the role of an artist in how their work is interpreted.

Blog 2: The Return of the Blog: Electric Blogaloo: The Blog Ness Monster

Hey, folks! Long time, no read. Lots and lots of stuff has happened since the last post, and even more since my ill-fated attempt at watching a movie every day for all of 2016. Here's the short version: I moved to Austin, Texas to work in film in a place that wasn't LA or NYC. Maybe someday I'll do a public analysis of everything that went into that decision and how it worked out, but for now, I'm happy to say I'm back in the Midwest, baby! I'm living in Madison, Wisconsin and there's a cat asleep next to me as I'm writing this. In my time in Austin, I spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship with filmmaking, what my goals are, what I'm trying to get out of this endeavor, etc.. So, to make a long story short, I'm making a renewed push to create things that I find authentic and compelling. This means music videos, mini-documentaries, and maybe even some narrative stuff. I've developed an interest in 3D motion graphics, so I might talk about my quest to understand Cinema4D better. I'm going to try to get back into making music (it occurred to me that since I've moved away from scoring stuff, my URL doesn't work anymore. Gotta stay on brand). I might start a podcast! I'm going to use this blog to talk about the different projects I'm working on, so be on the lookout for new stuff coming soon. Thanks for tuning in, I'll talk to you next time.

Here are some videos I made from my time in Austin. Enjoy!

Time Collapse Photography

An example of one of my first forays into time collapse photography

I first found out about time collapse photography when I was looking around the internet for a way to condense a time lapse sequence into a single frame. My search queries were all over the place: "time lapse one photo," "many pictures into one picture." My librarian mother would be disappointed in my research abilities. Eventually, I found this article from Matt Molloy who gives a really good summary of how easy it is to create what he calls "timestacks." Inspired by his amazing images, I set out to create my own. I was quite pleased with how straightforward this process was, and how cool it looks outside of the standard "star trail" subject (in this case, clouds).

I shot a time lapse sequence in my backyard with my Sony a7Sii using the in-camera intervalometer available for sale on the camera's app store (we're at a point where cameras have app stores, I guess). I'm really disappointed with Sony's intervalometer app- it's cumbersome, confusing, and unintuitive even beyond their already-clunky menu systems on the rest of the camera. After accidentally creating a low-res .avi file instead of a discrete sequence of raw photos, causing me to miss some really perfect clouds, (and corrupting my phone's microSD card, by the way) I decided to just buy a standalone intervalometer to avoid future headaches. Anyway, this sequence was then imported into Adobe Bridge CC for editing and image processing. Once I was happy with basic contrast and exposure adjustments, I applied the same develop settings to each image in the sequence, then exported them all as .jpg for smoother stacking in Photoshop. After importing the files into Photoshop with the 'stack images' script, I was then able to set the blending mode for each layer to Lighten and play around with my settings and adjustments until I liked how it looked. I ended up only using about seven of the original 500 photos I captured; it just took some poking and prodding until I found a good stretch of images. I would have liked to have used a shorter interval between shots (I think I was capturing an image every ten seconds in this case) for a smoother painting effect in the clouds, but as a first effort, I'm excited by the outcome. 

This process probably didn't take much longer than ten minutes when it was all said and done (excluding the initial time lapse photography, of course) and I'm thrilled with the results. I've been pining for the right weather since learning of this effect and I'm really looking forward to experimenting with settings and subjects for the perfect "vertical time lapse," as I've taken to thinking of it.

Here's a step-by-step video tutorial of how to assemble a time lapse sequence into a timestack:

January 30 - THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011)
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For my "free" category, I decided to watch an action movie I've heard a lot about. I downloaded THE RAID: REDEMPTION (I'm really burning through some iTunes giftcards) and prepared myself for a spot of the ol' ultraviolence. THE RAID is an immaculately-directed, gritty fight flick. The fight choreography is on another level and sets a high-water mark for action films to come. The camera respects the phenomenal stuntwork of the performers, relying on their (not inconsiderable) ability to sell the fight scenes instead of frenetic editing. It's incredibly violent, so if you're looking for anything besides an action film that's extra-heavy on the action, THE RAID: REDEMPTION probably isn't for you. I saw DREDD (2012) before THE RAID and really liked it, and I imagine the filmmakers behind DREDD drew a fair bit of inspiration from the Indonesian gangster film. Both movies take place entirely within an apartment complex overrun with criminals, and the police protagonists must fight their way to the top to confront the gangster overlord running the show.

I recently had an interesting conversation about action movies and musicals. By my own admission, I am not a fan of musicals. On the other hand, I love a good action movie. This doesn't seem inconsistent by any stretch, but the two genres might be more closely linked than they may appear. In each kind of movie, the plot isn't really what compels an audience. The story serves as an excuse for musical numbers or fight scenes; propping up various kinds of setpieces as the case may be. The fun is had along the way in the film's execution. Maybe this year I'll watch more musicals. Or more action movies.

You don't want to make fun of this dude's cargo pants.   Image credit:

You don't want to make fun of this dude's cargo pants.

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Tomorrow: Classics.

January 29 - MR. NOBODY (2009)
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On Fridays, I watch movies recommended to me. MR. NOBODY, written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, came highly suggested from several sources. In addition to these people -- whose opinion I strongly respect -- I was also urged to watch MR. NOBODY by the most pretentious goon I've ever met, a classmate of mine in a philosophy class on personal identity. I want to talk a little bit about how recommendations inform a viewing experience. Firstly, I didn't really like MR. NOBODY. It was okay, maybe I wasn't in the right mood for it, whatever. There were some nice shots, but the story seemed a bit in love with itself. I think WORLD OF TOMORROW (my writeup here) tackles some similar themes in a more intriguing way, with the added benefit of not starring Jared Leto. That said, a part of me feels cautious about speaking my thoughts on a movie recommended by those close to me. Obviously, I don't want to hurt their feelings by not liking it, but the effect of recommendation is a deeper one.

As I watched MR. NOBODY, I thought about why it was recommended. What does it say about me that people would think I would like a particular movie? Does it go beyond a simple "I thought it was good, maybe you'll think it's good" suggestion, or is it an individually-tailored recommendation based on what kind of impression I give to those around me? Also, I'm thinking about the condescending pseudo-intellectual who gave it an A+; I don't want to share anything in common with that person, so I shouldn't like this movie. Would I have liked MR. NOBODY more if I had found it for myself? I'll grant that as a possibility, although I stand by my above criticism. There's a particular vulnerability in recommending a piece of art to someone else, and I respect that vulnerability. I value the thought that goes into a recommendation, even if it's only in passing.

Tomorrow: Free

January 28 - CARTEL LAND (2015)

"We decided the best thing to do was to die fighting."

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Near the beginning of CARTEL LAND, a man's voice tells the audience "there's an imaginary line out there between right and wrong, good and evil," as we see an aerial shot of the Arizona-Mexico border. That voice belongs to Tim "Nailer" Foley, who is an army veteran leading a small paramilitary border patrol organization called the Arizona Border Recon. That sentiment echoes throughout the film as the two main groups documented try to right the wrongs they see in a land seemingly abandoned by the law. On the other side of the border in Michoacán, Dr. José Mireles leads the Autodefensas, a group of citizens determined to bring peace back to their region after the violent Knights Templar cartel has terrorized it for years. CARTEL LAND is a story of vigilante justice and raises questions about what exactly that justice might mean. Is justice "an eye for an eye?" Is it peace? Peace under whose authority? Rather than skirting these difficult issues, CARTEL LAND does a good job of presenting them without nudging the audience towards any sort of normative decision, something rarely seen with this subject matter.

I recently saw SICARIO, which also came out in 2015 and deals with some of the same material (my writeup can be found here). Obviously, SICARIO is a fictional drama while CARTEL LAND is a documentary, but reasonable parallels can be drawn. SICARIO definitely takes a big-picture approach to justice - ends justifying means, utilitarianism, all that. CARTEL LAND doesn't necessarily take sides, but one of the most compelling scenes in the film (of which there are many) is when the recently "liberated" Mexican townspeople argue with the Autodefensas about procedural justice. How there be true peace when a drug cartel yields control of a territory to an unsanctioned militia? Should the Autodefensas comply with the a corrupt government's demands to legitimize? Are the leaders of this liberation movement truly as wholesome as they appear? I realize I'm writing a lot of questions in this post, but CARTEL LAND does a good job of leaving you with the impression that things are endlessly complicated and that there might not be any right answers.

Even beyond the content, CARTEL LAND is truly spellbinding. It looks fantastic - and the fact that you know the camera is right there in the heat of various firefights and cartel raids makes the viewing experience powerfully visceral. The camerawork is remarkable, and the direction and editing team up to create one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time. I highly recommend CARTEL LAND.

Tomorrow: Recommended.

January 27 - TANGERINE (2015)

"I ain't no drag queen! I am losing sympathy for you by the minute."

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I wish I had learned about TANGERINE differently than I did. My interests being what they are, I spend a fair bit of time on film blogs and indie news outlets, often with a "DIY filmmaking" bias. In this particular realm of online movie discourse, TANGERINE was getting a lot of buzz because it was shot entirely on an iPhone. This barest-bones-possible feature film with Sundance acclaim was basically fantasy fulfillment to my demographic of young, sheltered filmmaker-wannabes from Midwestern suburbia; it didn't even matter what the movie was about. "No more excuses," we cried in unison before seeing the movie, adding a photo of writer/director Sean Baker to our vision board right next to Shane Carruth. It's a shame the biggest talking point of TANGERINE is its production, because it's remarkable far beyond the "what'd you shoot that on?" conversation.

TANGERINE is lively as hell. The logline on reads: "A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart," which appears to be consistent with the official messaging on the film's website. I found this to be curiously misrepresentative of the movie, but it's almost certainly intentionally misleading. Nothing about that sentence is untrue, but it belies the subversion of everything traditional about TANGERINE. Sin-Dee (played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) headline this buddy/chase/Christmas tragicomedy as transgender sex workers seeking revenge on Chester, Sin-Dee's unfaithful boyfriend and pimp. The movie is fast, gritty, alternately mean-spirited and heartfelt, and supremely engaging in its aesthetic. Another reason that I wish I hadn't known this was shot on an iPhone is because I was looking out for telltale rolling shutter and focus imperfections -- of which there are a few, but nothing noticeable unless you were looking out for it. Besides the very occasional hiccup, the cinematography in TANGERINE is legitimately impressive. The sweeping tracking shots and wide low-angle symmetry coupled with pumping dance music make for a colorful, exciting aesthetic. TANGERINE is worth the buzz, and not just some production gimmick.

"Imma buy some donuts, and the three of us are gonna chill. Chiiiill."   Image credit:

"Imma buy some donuts, and the three of us are gonna chill. Chiiiill."

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Tomorrow: On the Record


366 Flicks: Rules

Must watch at least one movie every day of 2016. Note: if, for any reason, a day is missed, it must be made up the following day. If two days are missed consecutively, the challenge will be considered a failure. (In all honesty, managing to meet the requirements of the challenge should also be considered a failure of a different, more meaningful sort.) Also note that 2016 is a leap year, and thus has 366 days instead of the regular 365. This extra challenge will make victory that much sweeter.

There is a category for each day of the week. This is intended to ensure a certain amount of diversity in the films viewed, but also serves to facilitate viewing decisions. The categories are as follows (may be subject to change as the year progresses):

  • Sunday: Classics (Alternate title: Sunday Best)

    • Purposefully ambiguous; can be interpreted however (nostalgia, critical acclaim, cult films)

    • Intention: To cover important points in cinema, whether it be CITIZEN KANE or my go-to high school favorite, DONNIE DARKO. How does it hold up?

  • Monday: The fantastic

    • Animation, surreal, fantasy, dystopian sci-fi, etc.. World-building and suspension of disbelief are important here.

    • Intention: A dose of escapism; experiencing another world for the runtime of the film.

  • Tuesday: Lesser known from well known (B-sides)

    • Whether it’s the film debut of an A-list actor or a passion project from a big-name director, movies in this category will explore the B-sides of popular figures in cinema.

    • Intention: To get a fuller understanding of an artist’s career.

  • Wednesday: Under the radar

    • Limited release, foreign films, art house, auteur, under the radar, etc.. “Indie” is such a nebulous and ill-defined term, but this category should include movies I’d normally miss.

    • Intention: to become a more well-rounded moviegoer

  • Thursday: On the record

    • Nonfiction, documentary films

    • Intention: To learn more about the world

  • Friday: Recommended

    • Suggested to me by friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, etc..

    • Intention: To broaden my horizons and to give something I may have overlooked a chance. Also examining how the act of recommendation impacts a viewing experience.

  • Saturday: Free

    • No restrictions here. Whatever looks good on Netflix, man.

The above categories may be interrupted at any time in the event of theater attendance. In an ideal world, I would be going to a public screening at least once a week, but the prospective cost incurred by a weekly visit to the cineplex is prohibitively high.

There is no restriction on re-watching a movie, but it may only count for the 366 Flicks challenge once. For example, I’ve seen the movie WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER approximately a dozen times over the past few years, but I would be allowed to view it again once in 2016 for it to count for the challenge. This is mainly to prevent me from writing about WHAS every day of 2016.

Accompanying each viewing should be an account of the experience. This doesn’t necessarily require a review, but it should preclude one, either. This will function as a way of documenting my progression throughout the challenge, and will provide a reference for my impressions on each movie seen.



William RobertsComment
January 26 - THE END OF THE TOUR (2015)

"It wasn't a chemical imbalance, and it wasn't drugs and alcohol. It was that I lived an incredibly American life."

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THE END OF THE TOUR is a B-side from both Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, I suppose. Both are known for higher-profile works, and this seemed to be just the kind of movie that would allow both actors to stretch their muscles. There seems to be a lot of Eisenberg hate out there these days that I don't agree with, but to refer to this film as an example of him "stretching his muscles" would definitely be inaccurate. He's a board-stiff pipsqueak, equally mad at the world for not recognizing his brilliance and himself for failing to realize it, which totally works for his character (even if it's not exactly a departure from the roles he usually takes). He plays David Lipsky, a reporter at Rolling Stone who goes on assignment to interview David Foster Wallace after he publishes Infinite Jest and becomes the most talked-about writer in America. He travels to Bloomington, Illinois (where I went to undergrad for a year, albeit at a different school from where DFW taught) to meet Wallace, played by Jason Segel. Before I get to my holistic impressions of the film, I want to talk for a minute about Segel's performance. He disappears into his role from the second you hear his voice on Lipsky's tape recorder. He's phenomenal as Wallace, which really speaks to Segel's abilities as a dramatic actor. Tied with the screenplay, he's the best part of this movie.

THE END OF THE TOUR is an excellent film. Some people might be put off by some of the handheld cinematography, but I loved it. There's some really beautiful lens flare and focus adjustment that happens, and boy I love the look of 35mm film stock. The writing is great, the performances are great, the cinematography is great - this should be a great movie, right? Here's where talking about THE END OF THE TOUR gets a little bit more complicated. THE END OF THE TOUR is about a five-day interview with David Foster Wallace, and the book it's based on uses the actual tapes from those interviews between Wallace and Lipsky, so it's reasonable to expect a certain amount of truthfulness from this film about who Wallace and Lipsksy are as people. Through this movie and from what little else I know about Wallace as a person, there's the sense that he would despise being idolized or turned into some sort of hero or serve as some sort of commercial draw for a tragic biopic. It's tough to say whether or not THE END OF THE TOUR does any of these things. Obviously, it's a feature film starring two extremely well-known actors, but there's also a certain measure of care and scope to the movie that insulate it from some of those criticisms. THE END OF THE TOUR is not a biopic; it's an account of the five days Lipsky spent interviewing Wallace. It also hasn't seemed to experience widespread commercial success, so perhaps David Foster Wallace wouldn't be ashamed to make it into my B-sides category.

Tomorrow, Under the Radar. Also, I might post my list of rules for this challenge before I'm too far into 2016 just so people can have a better idea of what I'm doing.

January 25 - WORLD OF TOMORROW (2015)

"Now is the envy of all of the dead."

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WORLD OF TOMORROW is a 16-minute animated film by Don Hertzfeldt, a filmmaker who by now has built up a small library of existentially-minded work. He's the writer, director, and animator behind IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (2012), which is a feature-length impressionistic portrait of a mental break. IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY is one of my favorite animated pieces of all time, and so I was looking forward to watching more from Hertzfeldt, especially since WORLD OF TOMORROW has been nominated for an Oscar in the Short Film (Animated) category for 2015. I'll say right off the bat that it's definitely worth its runtime, and if you're at all interested in a personal rumination on humanity's place in the cosmic timeline, you should just go watch it and think about it for yourself.

I have several thoughts about WORLD OF TOMORROW. For one, it didn't strike me quite as powerfully as IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY did, but that's as much to do with Hertzfeldt's legacy as it does with the subject matter. It's his first digitally-animated film, which makes sense. It's a futuristic / sci-fi film, or at least it has elements of such films (time travel, cloning, etc.), but it's primarily a kind of existential meditation that uses those touchstones as tools to explore its themes. The aesthetic of WORLD OF TOMORROW is beautiful, although I can't help but lament Hertzfeldt's transition to digital animation. IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY was animated entirely by hand, and it had such a gorgeous feel to it. WORLD OF TOMORROW looks pretty, but it wasn't as striking as his past work, in my opinion. Additionally, I found the subject matter to be somewhat well-worn, which was a bit disappointing. It felt like a better, more poetic (and animated, obviously) episode of BLACK MIRROR, which could be a compliment from some but to me means the most intriguing part of the piece will be its execution.

I'm being more critical towards WORLD OF TOMORROW than I am of many of the other films I've seen this year, but not because I didn't like it. I definitely appreciate it, and I'm trying to engage with it at the level it deserves.

Tomorrow: B-sides