It's Monday morning, 6:30am and I'm just getting up for work. Or I'm trying to. My body is protesting and barely seems to work. I only slept 6 hours last night, bringing me to a total of 13 hours since I got up at 6am on Friday. This is the day after the weekend before, and that weekend was 48HOURS weekend for me and my team.
48HOURS is New Zealand's version of the 48 Hour Film Project, and it's huge – 230 teams in Auckland alone, including us.
But let's go back a bit. We've been doing 48HOURS in New Zealand since 2003 when it started, making this year number six for us. For the last few years we've had some sponsorship support from Rocket Rentals in the form of camera, sound and lighting gear. So towards the end of last year when Rocket landed one of the first coveted RED One digital cinema cameras, number 23 in fact. I joked with boss Scott that “we'll do 48HOURS on it next time.”
So we did. Early this year Scott emailed me and said “Wanna shoot RED?” I thought about it for a second and then said something to the effect of “Yes, I would like that very much,” although I may have used different words. I'm one of the directors of a New Zealand company which is developing an on-set device to aid in the management of RED data (the SolidStore) so I certainly understood what a challenge this presented at the moment.
The plan was to shoot with the RED in 2K mode (which allows us to use HD broadcast lenses) onto the RED Drive, which we would then take to the edit suite where we will edit the footage on Avid Xpress Pro on a Mac Pro. To this point I have worked with RED footage on four music videos, all cut on Avid. But they've all had the proper amount of time and they all were finished in Baselight from DPX files. I have never tried going directly from RED footage in Avid to tape for anything I care about, and most importantly I have never used Audio with RED in Avid.
Of course, editing is only one part of the RED production story. Travel back in time with me now as I take you through my 48HOURS experience...
James, a co-conspirator from the very beginning, and I are cramped into the small hall of the Grey Lynn Bowling Club waiting to learn what exactly we'll be making this year. We've chosen to disregard the order/demand of one person per team at the draw.
Our team (Fractured Radius, a name derived from our very first year in the competition when I broke my arm crashing my motorbike into the camera) has been called to come and get a genre. James waits patiently in line, pulls the number 10 from a bowl and returns. We're none the wiser.
Each year's competition includes three compulsory elements that must be part of every entry. The announcement is covered live, on national TV. The presenter on national channel C4 delights thousands around the country by announcing this year's three compulsory elements:
A line of dialogue: 'Wait a minute'
A character: 'Kerry Post – A perfectionist'
And a prop: 'A brush'
Interesting, but we still have no idea what genre our mysterious 10 equates to. We speculate wildly, but it's not much use.
The genres are revealed, we breath a sigh of relief as /Musical or Dance/ goes by, but we also miss out on /Buddy Movie, Superhero or Fairytale, Time Travel /and many others... In fact when our number comes up on the big screen we a greeted with *Drama*. It takes a moment to set it, but we're soon facing a realisation that Drama as a genre is pretty broad.
We've been released. There are now officially 47 hours 53 minutes until we have to have a finished product back here. We still don't really know what a Drama is. Everything we come up with seems to fit within one of the other genres.
Back at base and we meet up with the team. We had the DOP (Lance Wordsworth) and one Cam Assist (Franzsica). The lens was an ENG-style Fujinon HD lens, we didn't have a focus pulling kit on it, so Lance was doing his own focus most of the time, although Fran did pull focus on some shots.
The total technical crew was three really, Lance, Fran and Scott (the boss at Rocket) who was helped with the camera and was roped into being our soundie. Myself and James shared directing duties, and I helped rig some of the lighting.
We had Panasonic monitor, connected via SDI, for the director to view, and Lance had the RED LCD on the camera. Unfortunately Rocket's EVF was out on a real job with their other RED One.
By this point, everyone been texted the details and they immediately echo our concerns about the ambiguity of Drama (although they use some other words). Scott and Lance (our Cinematographer) have arrived as well, and there is a monstrous camera sitting on the kitchen bench – RED #23 with a Fujinon 7x22 HD lens, battery, Chrosziel matte box and RED Drive. It's terrifying.
The last hour or so has flown by admidst a barrage of argument about what is what in the world of film genres. We decide to consult with a former team member, now in Wellington, an insider who may have info from the Wellington branch. She says she thinks that the judges are going to be wanting a Drama to be ticking the 'serious' box, something which is well outside our comfort zone. We've never even come close to serious.
Most of the team has gone now, just the writers remain. We've decided on a premise for our serious film, but we're just getting nowhere. We have the beginning and the end, but the middle is nowhere to be found, and every time we start to write we just seems to veer off into boring. At this point normally we'd be finely crafting our trademark humour, but this year we feel empty.
2:37am, Saturday morning
Still no better off.
Our lead-actor (since credited as 'Script Consultant') finally cracks it with the very story device we need to push us through our block. We're writing again. We now know what path the story has to take -- we just need actually write it, all properly formatted and everything. (A few hours ago, when trying to do anything other than actually write something we found Celtx, a free screenwriting application.)
It's done. We have a script. We're pretty sure it will work. But the cast and crew are due back in about 4 hours to read it and be briefed on what we're doing. Now we can sleep.
I awake freezing cold and shivering on the fold out couch I'm sleeping. I ignore it and try to sleep again. It seems to work.
Okay time to shower. I hadn't planned to stay here, but the drive to my home and back again wasn't worth it last night, so it's back on with the same clothes. I really wish I'd thought ahead.
Pretty much everyone is here and briefed. We leave them to read the scripts while Lance and I travel with Morgan to his office to see the boardroom. Our script calls for a boardroom or open plan office, which in my mind is awesome and huge with big glass walls with fantastic blinds and beautiful light. In reality it's small, with white walls, a few filing cabinets, a whiteboard and a meeting table sort of jammed in the middle.
It is not cinematic, but the story has to take precedence.
Lance and I scout nearby in the hope that at least some nearby location will fit into our script and offer beautiful scenic views. Nothing does.
12:34pm Saturday afternoon
I don't know what's happened, but it's only now that we're set up for our first shot. We're in the small boardroom, where a pair of Kinoflo Diva-Lite 400s provides the lighting. A few final checks and Scott (now our Soundie) pipes up with a problem. While he's certain the sound from the audio mixer is going into the camera, he can't hear anything from the headphone jack on the camera.
Having shot a brief test on a CF card and checked on my laptop (it can't play the pictures from the RED but it will play the sound) we have confirmed that the RED is recording the sound, and we're hopeful that the sound will, somehow, be usable in Avid. But that's a problem for Future-Dylan.
We've got seven takes in the can, and lunch has arrived. Stop to eat.
We're shooting again! At this rate we may actually be able to wrap up the first important stuff in the shoot and send Drive #1 to the edit suite sometime soon.
Oh god, that took a long time, but it's good.
The second part of the shoot is going to be directed by James. We're just like Tarantino and Rodriguez I tell you.
I'm taking the first RED Drive and going with editor Gwen to our post facility. Despite the fact we both work at post production companies neither of us has secured a suite at our respective jobs, instead I've had to arrange something from a friend who owes me a favour.
We're at Media Mechanics, which is to be our post facility for the next 25 and a half hours or so. We're editing in what would normally be the ProTools audio suite, but it's got a MacPro that dual boots with a clean Avid Xpress Pro install, and they've chucked a Mojo on it for us.
My choice to use Avid was mostly motivated by one very important factor, and that was render times. While FCP offers instant import and native support for RED proxy media, and will import it without delay, it can't play the full quality footage in real time (at least in my experience) and any output to tape will require rendering before playback will be successful.
In Avid this overhead is moved to the beginning of the process. On import Avid will convert all footage to a compatible video format, which incurs a delay in ingest, but once it's in, it can be handled just like any other Avid media with realtime playback and no rendering required for output, allowing for unhindered editing and no big unpredictable render at crunch time. There was no way that I wanted to have a potentially large render at the end of my edit when everything was reliant on being able to get the finished product across the line by 7pm.
Unfortunately for starting our edit, I've written down the facility's alarm code wrong. After what seemed like ages of screaming sirens I get the right code and we're in.
Getting the RED media into Avid isn't difficult, but it's not really easy either. It works like this: I copy all the media to my hard drive. I then use a script I've written to create a new Quicktime Reference file for each of the RED clips at the resolution I want to use and place them all in a single directory. Next, I use the brilliant MetaCheater application (from NZ editor Jabez Olssen) to read all the important information from those files and create an Avid Log Exchange file of that data. I import that ALE file into a bin in Avid, and I have all my clips (with no media yet). Then I select all the clips, choose Batch Import and point it at the QT Reference movies I created.
Ian Bloom's Crimson Workflow product can do this part for sequences edited in FCP, and I believe it will be able to support Avid in the near future. Also, Avid will be releasing a new version of their FilmScribe tool that has a very flexible XML tool and be able to create a REDCine XML file.
On the way out, I'd normally use an EDL from Avid, along with a database of the clips for each project, to create a simple script that pulls DPX files from the R3D media. I'd then send the DPX files and EDL to a Baselight suite where they are conformed and graded. Not today.
I've imported a couple of clips to make sure it all works. My next challenge is sound. RED can still be quite problematic here.
The sound for each clip is encoded in the QT proxy files for that clip that the camera generates. However, if anything happens to those files there isn't currently a way to recover it. Also, new proxies (such as those generated by my script earlier) don't carry the audio. And, as if that wasn't enough, the audio from the RED QT Reference proxy files can't be read by Avid: apparently because the 24bit audio is stored as 32bit (with the extra 8bits just being padding).
So, the next trick, I take a QT proxy from each RED clip and use Apple's Compressor to extract a 48KHz/16bit AIFF file (24bit would work too, but I wanted to be as simple as possible when it came to putting the thing to tape later). These AIFF files then have to be imported into Avid and then synced with the associated video clips. This is fairly easy with Avid's AutoSync tool, but still somewhat labour intensive.
I leave Gwen to continue the importing and syncing, then begin editing. And pick up dinner for the cast and crew before heading back to the set.
We've been shooting for 11 hours, and we're finally wrapped at this location. One more location to go – the vital exterior shot (a night shot of course). We wrap the gear and relocate to Rocket's office to shoot our pivotal exteriors.
It's cold. Energy is waning now, and we're not quite ready to shoot yet. The shot is the exterior of Rocket's office in a quiet street, and Lance has decided to light it with car headlights (a brilliant move actually). We've setup a couple of Dedo's with gels to double a flashing police lights and we're ready to go.
I don't even know why I'm still awake, but it's all done now. We've shot everything we think we need, and I'm heading back to the edit suite with the second drive.
After ringing the doorbell a few times Gwen lets us in. She's been asleep since about 1:30, but says she did reasonably well.
We've prepped the footage for import and reckon we've got about a two hour wait for the it all to import into the Avid (we've estimated a 2:1 ratio, where one hour of footage takes two hours to import). It's a small price to pay now, for real-time playback and output when the deadline is bearing down on us.
Seems like a good time for more rest. We set the alarm for 2 hours, Gwen climbs back in her sleeping bag on the couch and I go looking for another couch (and wish, again, that I'd thought ahead and had even a blanket).
I wake up, freezing and shivering, but try to ignore it and go back to sleep. It works.
Gwen wakes me up. The import has finished, and she's going to start syncing the audio and then edit some more. I move myself to the couch in the edit suite and lightly nap while Gwen does the hard work. Finally, I understand the life of a director.
Gwen's husband Robbie arrives with breakfast. Sleep is obviously finished. Eleven and half hours to go.
We're finished, or finished enough anyway. Gwen and I have cut the film, and we're all suitably happy with it. The titles are on, the credits are there, it's within duration, it seems to make sense, and we're all slightly amazed at how well it's turned out.
Final tape in hand, we're off. Back to the Grey Lynn Bowling Club to complete the cycle and deliver our finished masterpiece.
Two weeks later
We've made the Auckland finals! Now down to 12.
Two weeks after that
We won! We f---ing won!! We have been officially judged the best short out of the 230 from Auckland!
Two weeks after THAT
We were thrilled to make it to the national finals, but that was as far as we got this time. The overall competition winner was Wellinton team Puppy Guts with their film 'F*Dance.' For more on the 48HOURS competition, check out 48hours.co.nz
It's a wrap!
So, that's roughly how it went down. Was it worth it? Yeah sure! Shooting on RED, if nothing else, challenged us – after doing this for six years it is great to mix it up a little and make it different. We've always said we compete for the fun and the challenge, not to win...although this is probably because we've never won it yet...so shooting on RED this year was just an extension of that idea I suppose.
However I am still a little sad that we didn't get a chance to show off the fantastic potential of the RED One in a more exciting location.
The only big RED indicators in the finished product are one offspeed shot (shot at 37fps for an ethereal quality) and the 2:1 aspect ratio. Our small and bland location didn't allow us to showcase the beautiful depth and colour offered by the camera.
The RED camera performed flawlessly throughout the day. Aside from the bootup time when changing batteries we never had to wait on the camera and had no dropped frames or odd errors. It just rolled. The often-feared fan noise was never a problem even after more than 12 hours of nearly-constant operation. Each time we hit record the fans would cut out and the camera became suitably silent, even through the longer takes.
Imaging improvements are just around the corner for the camera. It looks fantastic now, so I can't even imagine what it'll look like then. Workflow improvements for third-party applications are also very near. I've come to have a huge amount of faith in the RED camera, even for fast turnaround products like this. If I can do so again next year you can bet that we'll be shooting RED again! Only next time the edit workflow will be even better, we'll have one of our SolidStore data-management boxes on set, and the images, somehow, will look even better.
For more information on the workflow and capabilities of the RED One camera check out the RED forum here at the Cow.
I'll eventually replace this with a higher resolution version, but for now, take a look at the finished film here.
The name of the film? "The End."