Hello Kaiju!

Last night Cameron, Dana, Jesse and I experienced something extraordinary. We learned the true meaning of fear. We learned that “Danger Can Happen”. We went to the Avalon in Hollywood for the Los Angeles premiere of “Kaiju Big Battel”. I think Xeni Jardin described it best when she referred to it as part Japanese Monster Movie, part Mexican Wrestling Match, part Indie Rock Concert.

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The floor of the Avalon which normally holds hundreds of rock fans was dominated by a square wresting ring surrounded by a chain-link fence—the Danger Cage. Unlike your average wrestling-fare, the floor the of the Danger Cage was covered with small buildings, ready to be stomped on by giant monsters.

A little after 8pm the opening act started—a band called Darkness My Love. They weren’t bad. A couple of their slower tunes had rhythms simultaneously pounded out on guitar, bass and drums while the lead guitar warbled in reverb-drenched spacey-ness, just the way I like it.

Of course we were really there to see guys running around in foam-rubber monster suits, pounding on each other and destroying the model city. We weren’t disappointed.

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Since I’ve watched a lot of Godzilla movies and “Ultra-Man” TV shows in my day, I get the whole “Japanese Monster” thing. This one’s a giant sea anemone mutated by nuclear fallout hell-bent on destroying Tokyo and that one was a brave astronaut accidentally killed in a tragic alien encounter but brought back to life and given super-powers and cool suit by the same alien. I was also a regular viewer of WWF back when Hulk Hogan was good and wrestling stars like Junkyard Dog, Iron Sheik, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, or pretty much anyone who showed up in a Cindy Lauper video tussled in the ring. So this event was full of things I loved as a kid.

And accordingly I had a great time. However I never went to an actual wrestling event when I was little and I realized that now I would much prefer to sit down with the heavily-edited and synchronized to music DVD, than stand in a sweltering rock club watching it live for 3 hours.

Things like the new kaiju hero Super Wrong! coming out, dancing to “Yatta!” and then getting immediately beaten in the fight or the drunken Hell Monkey falling all over himself were pretty damn funny. But the thing that was great was whenever one monster landed some “ouch that must of hurt” move on another—jumping off the top of the cage onto an opponent, punching the other so hard that they did a backflip and things like that. Unfortunately those great moves don’t happen all the time and that’s where for me the DVD would be better.

Hero At Large

It’s very hot today. And very muggy too. We’ve been having this heat wave in Los Angeles and it hasn’t been pleasant. I work all day long in a well air-conditioned building. So well air-conditioned that I often have a sweatshirt with me. To step from that 68°F indoor temperature to 100+°F outdoors is rather shocking.

I hopped into our cart to drive down to the ATM to get some cash for a little event I’m attending tonight. (More on that tomorrow.) Plus I figured it would be a nice change from the vending machines to see what refreshing drinks they were offering at the Universal’s convenience store. Even sitting on my butt, clipping along in our cart I was sweating. It’s so hot out.

The ATM and the store were uneventful but the real fun was on the way back to our building. One corner of the studio lot ins next to the lines for the Jurassic Park water ride in the theme park. Years ago a worked in a building near there and it was infuriating because that stupid John Williams theme would be in your head all day long. I came around the corner and passed by the line of tourists standing under the misters waiting to get soaked by the ride. At this point the road slopes down and passes between a sound stage on the left and back of several theme park stores and restaurants on the right. It’s enough of a slope that you can feel the governor kick in and slow down the golf cart.

Even above the rattle of our puttering car I was could hear the wine of several engines. Suddenly four of the most colorfully garish ATVs I have ever seen turned the corner and started toward me. And riding those ATVs, decked head-to-toe in spandex during this lovely warmth, was Spider-Man, Green Goblin, Storm and Wolverine. I quickly dug in my pocket for my cellphone so I could snap a picture as I passed. Unfortunately the jouncing of the cart caused me to accidently hit the “Discard” button instead of “Store” and I lost it.

It was truly a classic sight. I only wish I could have shared it.

Another Week, Another Lounge

Once again I find myself sitting in the customer service lounge of Robertson Honda working on my computer. When I took my car in nearly two weeks ago for a check-up, there was one thing they couldn’t complete without special-ordering a part.

I’ve had this recurring problem with my CR-V where the engine light comes and goes. When it first happened I looked it up in the owner’s manual and found that it means there’s a problem with the emissions system—usually it is no longer sealed. When I brought the car in they told me that it’s usually because the gas cap isn’t on tight enough. But they checked it out and found that the cap didn’t seal properly and so they replaced it.

That was a year ago and it continues to be a problem. I might go months without an engine light and then one day it’s on. I’ll get out, turn the gas cap tighter and sometimes the light goes out. But sometimes it doesn’t. And if it stays on, the next time I start my car it might be out. It’s very random.

Well I explained this all to them again when I brought my car in this last time and they checked it out and decided that the gas tube that runs from the outside of my car down to the tank is malformed and that caps are not fitting properly because of it. They ordered the new part. It’s now in and so I sit here waiting for my ride to Universal so I can go to work.

Since I’ve spent so many hours in these chairs I can definitely say that Robertson Honda has fairly comfortable chairs in their lounge. 😉

Heavy Metal Parking Lot

I forgot that I was planning on mentioning this over the weekend until I showed up at work again today…

On Friday with only an hour or so left in the day we were doing the lazy late-afternoon hangout thing—talking about music from our youth. With the addition of my large iTunes library it was very fun. “Oh! You mean this song?” Dana was mentioning that The Cars’ “Let’s Go” was her perfect driving song growing up. Of course she was an LA child so her experiences driving down Sunset Blvd. as a teenager were a bit different from me driving through the wooded lanes of small-town New England. For me “Cecilia Ann” by The Pixies holds that coveted spot of the perfect teenage driving song.

Talk eventually turned, for whatever reason, to karaoke and general amazement from people when I declared that “Ballroom Blitz” was my “signature” song. Of course I used to drink too. A lot. But that’s behind me now—though I haven’t yet had the courage to try karaoke sober. Anyway, I started pointing out other songs I liked to do in karaoke and we eventually got to Judas Priests’ “Living After Midnight”.

That led to talk about how silly so much of the metal scene in the 80’s. Of course at the time we thought it was dark and (at least on my part) a bit scary. It’s inevitable if you talk about silly heavy metal and Judas Priest that someone eventually brings up “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I strongly suggest you click that link and relive the the glory of 1986.

Me And LBC

I spent the day down in Long Beach enjoying good-natured political arguments, BBQ chicken and a 60″ HDTV with my aunt and uncle. I can’t believe how hot it was down there—easily in the 90s. That’s very strange, especially for this time of year. I took some pretty pictures out the window on the drive home as the sun was sinking low in the sky.

Across The Nightingale Floor

Today I finished Lian Hearn’s amazing first book in the “Tales of the Otori” series, “Across The Nightingale Floor”. Ninjas and samurai are totally sweet!

In all seriousness though this story was fantastic. I experienced this as an audiobook and I’m so glad I did. Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone do a masterful job of bringing the world of feudal Japan to life with their reading. This book had all the political intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song Of Ice And Fire” series but it is told in a simple but powerful language that seems so appropriate for a culture that brought us their beautiful calligraphy and painting.

For someone such as myself who works with sound, to have a book that paints such lush scenes with descriptions of the sounds that can be heard is a real pleasure. After finishing the story, I tried to imagine what it would be like as a sound editor to be given the task of creating the world that Takeo hears as his Tribe (ninja) skill of super-hearing develops.

If you’re like me—loving Akira Kurosawa and hating “The Last Samurai”—you’ll dig this book.

Ghost Town

You can always tell if it’s the Friday before a three-day weekend on a studio lot. The place will be a ghost town. Yesterday was no different. We were cruising around in our sad little golf cart passing row after row of empty parking spaces. Streets between sound stages that normally bustled with activity were quiet.

Studio executives usually take most if not all of that day off and it starts a cascade down to all employees. Those of us who end up actually doing work on that day feel a bit like Robert Neville late in the afternoon on a cloudy day.

Yesterday I didn’t really remember that it was a three-day weekend until I walked into the commissary for lunch. Usually the various food stations have long lines of people waiting for a sandwich or “make your own pasta” or some cooked meat on a bun from the grill. Normally my food for the day is determined by answering the question, “What line is shortest?” Yesterday I had my pick since all lines were nonexistent.

After collecting my penne, chicken and marinara and paying for it. I walked into the dining area. That’s when it really hit me. “Oh yeah. I don’t have to go to work on Monday. And I still get paid for it.” There are probably 50 tables where you can sit down and each your lunch at the employee commissary at Universal. On a normal day at about 1pm 48 of those will be filled with people eating, laughing, reading and generally taking a break from the day’s duties. Yesterday there were people at 4 tables. One of those was occupied by people from my own crew who had gone to lunch a little early. Another held several of the picture editors from “Battlestar Galactica” who are at the other end of the hallway in our building.

It’s days like these that make me feel like the entire world around me has shrunk down to the handful of people I see every single day. The rest of the world must be empty space because these are the only people that seem to exist. It’s a strange feeling. If it weren’t for the trams full of tourists driving by my office window every 5 minutes on their way to see the backlot, the falling bridge, the flood, King Kong and all the other little mini-attractions, the picture would have been complete yesterday. We definitely would have been a little island of Robert Nevilles surrounded by a sea of emptiness. At least until dark.

Capturing Video For Pro Tools With Sync Audio In OS X

Here’s step-by-step instructions for loading digital picture for use in Pro Tools in that cool way that I briefly talked about the other day. I can’t take credit for this one. The amazing Ron Eng came up with it. It definitely works with OS X 10.3.4, Pro Tools|24 Mix hardware, Pro Tools 6.2.3 software, Final Cut Pro 3, Adobe Premiere 4, Miro DC30+ videocard and DC30 Xact driver. I’m sure it works with newer versions of hardware and software like Pro Tools HD and an Aurora Igniter card, I just haven’t tried it out myself.

  1. Final Cut Pro must be set up to capture video from your video card at the recommended 1000 KB/sec and audio from the Digidesign hardware via the Core Audio driver. You will probably need to have audio from your videodeck coming in on Analog 1 and 2.
  2. Make sure that your Universal Slave Driver or Sync I/O is set to pulldown and the sample rate that you’re working in. You can run Pro Tools first and set that in the “Session Setup” window if you’re not familiar with doing it on the hardware.
  3. Make sure that you’ve quit Pro Tools. Core Audio cannot use Digidesign hardware while Pro Tools is running.
  4. Run Final Cut Pro.
  5. Select “Log and Capture” from the “File” menu.
  6. Press play on your videodeck and click the “Capture Now” button in Final Cut Pro prior to the “Picture Start” frame.
  7. Load the entire picture and press the Esc key to end capture.
  8. Press Cmd-W to close the captured picture, saving and naming it appropriately.
  9. Quit Final Cut Pro.
  10. Run Adobe Premiere 4. This is a OS 9 application so you’ll need Classic installed. It’s the only video application I know that allows you to reconform digital video frames.
  11. Open the digital picture that you just captured in FCP.
  12. Find the first frame of picture. If you have an Academy Leader it will say “Picture Start”. It might simply be an even hour of timecode or 0+00 of footage in the window burn.
  13. Click the “In” button to set this frame to the in-point.
  14. Select File -> Export -> Movie Segment.
  15. Name and save the new digital picture file.
  16. Select File -> Tools -> Conform Movie.
  17. Choose the newly saved digital picture from the open dialog window.
  18. Set the frame rate to 30 fps and click “Conform”.
  19. You are now good to go. You can throw out the original digital picture from Final Cut Pro.

The beauty of this method is that the audio and video tracks are in sync so the video file can be played back on any computer and it is completely usable. It could be used to spot ADR or cue Foley on a laptop. Since the picture is set to 30 fps is is compatible with Pro Tools 5.0 and 5.1.x—software which only has a joined video and audio pulldown setting. The audio tracks can be imported into any Pro Tools session by selecting “Import Audio From Current Movie” from the “Movie” menu. This audio will be in sync with all of your other film-speed material that is being pulled-down to video speed.

This method works great. If your audio and video are not in sync when you’re done with the process, check that your sync device (USD or Sync I/O) is set to pulldown. If not, you’ll have to reload. Otherwise the reconform probably didn’t take. Run Adobe Premiere 4 again and repeat steps 16 to 18.

No. Unless You Pay Us Lots Of Money.

I received the official word today from the “powers that be” at pair.com that they will not adjust their Reaper settings to accommodate Movable Type and publishing via XML-RPC. I understand their desire to keep their servers safe and functional. It’s good business practice. The thing that is a bit annoying is that I’m asking for support for something that is very common on the web. Commercial software that thousands of people use.

What made me angry was the suggestion they made that I should get a dedicated server because then I wouldn’t have any restrictions. Anyone can run MT with a MySQL database at pair.com for $18/month. I pay a little more for additional databases and more space and some other goodies. But their “solution” is for me to pay $150+ a month. That’s ridiculous and insulting.

I’m trying to calm myself and remind myself that they are not bad people. They really are just trying to keep their servers running at peak efficiency. And that telling someone that they can make a perfectly reasonable request happen with a 500% increase in fees is a simple error in judgment on their part. They should have just left it at we’re not changing our policy at this time.

(Of course all of this is possibly moot since I have successfully posted via ecto several times since my site redesign over the weekend. Let’s see how this one goes….)

My World Of Film Sound

Yesterday I started working again with the fine folks at Universal Studios. Yes, those damn trams full of tourists are once again driving by my window every 5 minutes.

The nature of the movie business is such nowadays that studios are extremely reluctant to release movies without screening them for several test audiences and focus groups to make sure that there will be a market for the movies. After watching a test screening, every member of the audience is handed a piece of paper with lots of questions. Some of them are simple, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how much did you enjoy the film?” Others are ask for more information, “Who was your favorite character?” or “What was your favorite scene?” And still others are directed at that ever important “word-of-mouth” advertising, “Would you recommend this movie to your friends?” or “What reasons would you give a friend to see the movie?”

In general I feel that this kind of thing tends to dumb-down movies. You’re playing up to the lowest common denominator instead of asking the audience to elevate themselves. And don’t get me started on the fact that Hollywood can’t seem to make a single original film anymore. Go pick up a copy of the Hollywood Reporter or Variety and you’ll see that every single movie that’s in production at Paramount right now is either a sequel or a remake of on old movie.

Be that as it may, working on movies pays my rent and post-production sound, even though sorely ignored in the budgetting-realm, is a fun job. So stepping into the assisting chair yesterday was an interesting one for me. I didn’t start this movie. Someone else did, but it was on hiatus for a while while the studio worked on it.

That’s another fact of life of the film business now. And the fact that a film goes on hiatus shouldn’t be taken as a positive or a negative thing. It simply is. Under normal circumstances, post-production sound usually takes three-and-a-half to fourth months to complete. But I should be hesitant to use the word “normal” because often that is no longer the case. Since studios want to maximize their return on investment many shows today have longer post schedules while the studio tries to make a movie that will appeal to the largest audience. The sound department will often go on hiatus. If studios had to ok the final budget on movies prior to giving them the greenlight, they would never get made. We have to turn in budgets with 12 to 16 weeks for post-production sound even though the reality often turns into 20 to 26 or more.

This flexible scheduling also makes it difficult because shows often overlap now. Being a good supervising sound editor you line up your next three shows. But then the schedules start pushing and everything starts falling on top of each other. Now you need to scramble and hire second crews and figure out how you’ll be on two dub stages at the same time. One possibility of course would be to not look for shows until after you’ve completed the previous one. But that can mean a lot of downtime. There is no easy solution so every tries to make do.

And that’s why I’m here. I’m taking over the assisting on a show so that the assistant who actually started it can continue on another show that began during the hiatus. Of course the fact that I can’t really talk about specifics on any of this makes things a little more difficult.

After starting up this weblog I imagined that I might talk about what it’s like making movies from the post-production side of things. I still want to do that, but now that I’m sitting down to actually work on (nearly) an entire show, I’m finding myself hard-pressed to find interesting things to say—interesting things that I can actually talk about.

For example I can say that while I’m typing this I’m taking some files (about 5GB of digital picture) and copying them to another drive. Oooo! I can already see that you’re enthralled. And now, I’m going to delete those files from the original drive. Aaaah! I know, I know. You can hardly contain yourself.

I will come up with something. You’re welcome to ask questions and I’ll answer as best I can. But now I must go… there’s more copying to do.