Faking Boxes

The past weekend was a good weekend and a simultaneously frustrating one. Rather than ending on a sour note however, I’m going to get the bad out of the way first.

The bad is that the Thompson-Neely Gristmill is a no go for a location. After weeks of phoning the people at Washington’s Crossing, they’ve finally gotten back to me and told me that filming there will be impossible due to recent flooding. So it is back to the drawing board with locations.

Without harping on about it, this means my initial plans to start on the construction of the Green Machine this weekend will be postponed at least until next so that I can scout for locations this weekend.

This, however, brings me to the good news, the Green Machine itself. Previously I lacked any real plans by which to build the machine. Thanks to meticulous efforts of Peter Kisner (Dragon) and his recent post, I now have an excellent set of plans to work from. I can’t begin to express just how excited I am to build the Green Machine. I hope I don’t hammer any nails into my feet.

The other good news is that the boxes are done. Currently there are about 45 green boxes in total. While I’d like to paint more, at this point I doubt I will because of transportation and manageability considerations. About the only thing I’ll probably do to them is give them a second coat of paint at some point in the future.

The movie, however, calls for more than 45 boxes. Tim’s suggestion to address this issue was to try digitally compositing some extra boxes into a shot. So over the past weekend, we filmed some boxes and did some tests. You can view our tests here.

Box Test in Quicktime 7

Box Test in Quicktime 6

In the first part of the clip there are some boxes that aren’t really there (on the left side), while the second half of the clip shows the original shot without the composited boxes.

Neither Tim nor I have done compositing before and the trained eye would most likely label our attempts as clumsy. To my crude-eye though, the composited boxes are completely passable. With some practice, and maybe a book, I think they will look even better.

Filming Boxes

This weekend I also completed the final draft of the screenplay. As I previously indicated, over the course of the storyboards the script changed considerably. So I decided it was necessary to rewrite the screenplay to address these revisions. Additionally, I to wanted get the script into a more proper screenplay format than I originally had. To do this, I rewrote the screenplay in Celtx, a freeware screenplay writing program.

Celtx is a great freebie. Along with some formatting bugs (I discussed these in a previous post), the biggest drawback of the program in my mind is that it does not add “CONTINUED” on pages of continued scenes, “MORE” when dialogue runs onto the next page and individual scene numbers. This means if you want those things, you have to do it the old fashioned way, manually. Much to my joy however, Tim recommended we run the script through an engineering typesetting program known as TeX and have these things done automatically.

The particular variant of TeX we ran the script through was ScriptTex, developed by Adrian McCarthy. If you are like me and can barely tell time on a face clock, I wouldn’t try to use this program as it is slightly more complicated. Luckily, I’ve got Tim, and with his help I was able to use McCarthy’s program to churn out a really clean looking version of the script, intact with “CONTINUED’s”, “MORE’s” and scene numbers. Best of all, it looks like it was typed on an honest-to-god typewriter.1

To round out the formating I did with Celtx and ScriptTex, I used Christopher Riley’s book The Hollywood Standard (2005). Why use a book in addition to programs? Riley answers the question himself best.

To begin with, standard format is about infinitely more than margins. It’s knowing when to add a shot heading and when to leave one out. It’s knowing how to get out of a POV shot and how to set up a montage. It’s knowing what to capitalize and how to control pacing and what belongs in parenthetical character direction and whether those automatic (cont’d)s beside dialogue should be turned on or off. No script typing software is designed to answer those questions. Consequently, too many writers who think they’re turning in professionally formatted scripts are in fact often turning scripts that brand them as amateurs. (xv-xvi)

As Riley contends, scriptwriting programs are more Dr. Sbaitso than they are Collusus, [Dr. Forbin](http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177/?fr=c2l0ZT1kZnx 0dD0xfGZiPXV8a3c9MXxwbj0xfHE9Y29sbG9zdXN8ZnQ9MXxteD0yMHxsbT01MDB8Y289MXxodG1sPTF8bm09MQ__;fc=5;ft=22;fm=1). And let’s face it, even Colossus had Guardian to help him out. Equally scriptwriting programs help the writer out, they don’t write scripts. People still do that. Even with the best software, there are far too many instances when a rule is in the hands of the writer rather than the program and Riley’s books provides an excellent overview of these rules.

If there is a problem with Riley’s book, it is Warner-Brothers-centric. The obvious reason for this being that Riley worked at Warner Brothers, something he is very upfront about. What Riley does not mention are other script standards that might be used. For example, Riley says that all shot headings in standard single-camera film format are spaced 1.7 inches from the margin (4). This is in fact the Warner Brothers’s standard, the more common standard (at least from what I’ve gathered) being 1.5 inches.

But for a small time fry like me, interested more in the DV revolution than writing his ticket to Hollywood, 0.2 inches really isn’t a concern. Ultimately, I just want to understand the rules and have a script that attempts to abide by screenplay format. For others though, it might be a consideration to take into account before turning to Riley’s book.

Photos courtesey of Megan Register

1In the manual to the program, McCarthy, explains how he has taken extra measures to have the program emulate the actual way a typewriter types.

12 thoughts on “Faking Boxes

  1. Sounds like things are going well.

    And by the bye: That digital composing extra boxes in the shot roxxors! I’m highly impressed.

    It took me two watches to even tell there was a difference between the shots (extra row of boxes, right?). And even when I noticed I still couldn’t tell they were digital, at least with our Quicktime 6 capabilities. Timmy deserves a hearty pat on the back and an attaboy for his work on this one.

  2. The boxes did look good (props, “pun” intended, to Tim). I think you’d see it a bit more if it was on TV though. Ironically, here’s a place where Quicktime compression actually make something look better.

    And it would appear that things are going well. I suspect however that the coming steps could bring things to a screeching halt. And that is very frustrating.

    What this will ultimately mean for the project is up in the air in the moment. It depends on what does or doesn’t occur in the coming weeks.

    This isn’t to say that it “won’t” happen. It is just to say that if things really bog down, something else may happen before it.

  3. After Effects. It is an Adobe platform. We essentially did the same thing as cutting and pasting, and then keying out video. So things get tricky (or rather impossible) once they start moving.

  4. If the camera isn’t moving in the effects shots, you can always do a clean plate, then do the shot with the boxes you want, and film the ‘extras’ boxes against a blue screen (not green, for obvious reasons ;). The clean plate will allow you to key in the new boxes really well; and with a difference matte you can key out the new objects in the plate (ie: the characters).

  5. That makes sense. The problem with the way we have it now is that the person can only interact with the row of boxes that is there.

    (I had to learn what a clean plate was though – I was unfamiliar with that term. I know nothing about compositing and digital effects whatsoever.)

  6. Well, if you want any pointers or whatever for when you go shooting (to make the post process a bit easier) give us a shout, or a shot rundown : )

  7. I realise after a night’s sleep that that sounded fairly arrogant of me : ) What I meant is that i’m willing to offer any of the knowledge i’ve gleaned over a few years of being interested in VFX. A good book is The Art and Science of Digital Compositing. It’s pretty expensive, but it has a great chapter on filming for digital effects (or, any effects for that matter). It might be available in a library (or just go into your local bookstore with a notepad 🙂

  8. Oh no, I didn’t think you were being arrogant at all – in fact I was thrilled someone was posting about the matter with an actual suggestion. The real fact of the matter is that I know absolutely “nothing” about digital effects. I am far more interested in writing. Tim (Bear) is a lot more technically minded than me, but even he doesn’t really know a whole lot about this stuff. As a result, the method up to this point has been to figure out what we want to do and then attempt to learn it. It is really a case of stumbling around in the dark and hoping to find a light switch. You don’t know how thankful I am when people actually suggest things. If nothing else – it leads to dialogue, and dialogue leads to solutions.

    So, if you ever have any other suggestions, comments, PLEASE, PLEASE POST THEM. Do not hesitate, especially if they are techy comments. I have absolutely no ego wrapped up in all-that-is-tech.

    This said, if you know anyone else who knows about this stuff, tell them about the board. I love to hear from people who have suggestions. Just the other day I was going on to Tim how I had an idea for doing a couple other short films in the style of Young Goodman Brown. Tim looked at me and said, “Mike I hate composting”. We are always on the lookout for interested parties – any interested parties.

    And as I’m sure you’ve gathered, I live on this board and read everything and anything that people comment like some sort of freak. WE WANT TECH-TIPS.

    On the book you’ve suggested, I will be sure to take a look at it. I found another book, called Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects. Have you ever heard of it? The only reason why I was even considering getting it is because there was an ad for it in the back of my Lighting for Digital Video & Television book. I liked the Lighting for Digital Video & Television and for lack of other options, or even where to start looking, was considering it. However, if you think the other book would be better, I’d go out an purchase that instead.

    On a slightly unrelated note, do you have a website?

  9. As much as I hate composting, I think I probably said I hate compositing. I guess composting isn’t all that bad, just a bit stinky.

    Seriously though, if you or anyone else is interesting in giving tech/VFX tips, go for it. Crap if you want to collaborate with us on it, that would be fantastic. I’d be down for ftp’ing or even mailing DVD’s of raw footage for someone to work on.

    *Note: we are one a Mac/FCP system.

  10. loki: Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects Seems like a pretty good book, it’s application specific but seems to have some good overall theory behind it. The book I mentioned is all theory, so if you have a little experience in After Effects, the AFX one is probably a better shot (for learning the basics and the application, at least).

    You guys seem to have done a good job with the current ‘box’ tests though, I had to watch it a few times to see where the trick was.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a website. The truth of the matter is that, although I have 2 domains and hosting, I’m always at trouble to find something interesting to put there. Until such a time that i’ve got some free time to ‘do’ stuff, this’ll probably be the case 🙁

    bear: I’d love to colloborate, but I don’t think i’d be able to commit to something right now, undergraduate dissertation and all that. I’d love to help in any way though, so if you need a hand with a shot, or have some tech questions feel free to fire them this way : )

    If either of you have msn, feel free to add me : davidincolchester AT hotmail.com

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