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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moviestorm - taking away pain I didn’t know I had

I seem to be spending more and more of my time involved with live action filming these days, and the more I do it, the more I appreciate the flexibility and speed of making movies with Moviestorm.

Last night I shot a short demo/tutorial to explain the key features of Moviestorm. Instead of doing it like the Moviestorm Made Easy tutorials and video blogs I’ve done so far, where it’s either all screen captures or an animated presenter, they wanted to see the real me talking about it.

It’s not finished yet, but so far, making it has been a very different experience to what I’ve been used to.


The biggest difference is that the three stages of making live action are so rigidly defined. All the pre-production had to be finished on time, before the film crew arrived. Every bit of video that would be shown on-screen had to be prepared in advance. The script had to be written, and I had to rehearse my timings over and over again to match up what I was saying with what I was demonstrating. We had to make sure we’d thought of every bit of kit we were going to need, from tripods and booms to cables, light filters, and spare bulbs.  We had to arrange a location - we originally had an excellent place lined up, at a very reasonable price, but in the event, we couldn’t find a suitable time in the next three weeks when it was available and the crew were free, so we ended up shooting in my office at home instead.

The afternoon of the shoot, I was busily printing out scripts, and rearranging my room to create a better set - taking down pictures that wouldn’t be appropriate to a schools audience, moving the desk light so it wouldn’t get in the way, and even taking some of the furniture out so there was enough room for all the equipment.  There’s no option to do any of this stuff later. If the shoot’s at 5pm, that’s the deadline. The crew had a very limited window, and I couldn’t afford to have them standing around waiting for me to tidy up.


Setting up for a shoot is one of those painstaking processes that takes as long as it takes. We didn’t have much kit to assemble, so that actually went relatively quickly. The long bit was setting up the cameras and lights for each shot. We’d pick the angle we wanted, then I just had to sit in position while they lit everything, trying to ensure that there were no shadows where we didn’t want them, that the computer screen was visible and not showing unwanted reflections or glare, and that we could get sufficient depth of field for everything to be in focus. Then we’d test, play it back, tweak, and repeat until the director was happy.

I’ll freely admit that I hate being filmed. I enjoy live presentations, but I’m no actor, and I really don’t like seeing my face on screen. Doing voice-overs is fine, and those bits went quite smoothly. The filmed segments, especially the pieces straight to camera, were much harder for me. I get hugely self-conscious, and can’t relax. Even when I got my lines right without ums, errs, or mangling my words, I kept moving my head and going out of focus or out of frame, or moving in front of the computer screen. Or else I’d find myself looking away at one of the crew, or glancing down at my script and we’d have to retake it. Or I’d accidentally knock my chair against the table, and the audio guy would call “cut”. Often, the take looked good on the small monitor, and it was only when we transferred it to computer and watched it on a larger screen that we could see the mistakes, and we’d have to do a retake.

Post-production: the director’s remorse

The footage and audio went off to the editor last night. And of course, I woke up this morning realising what other shots we should have taken, and how I could have done things better, but it’s too late. Production is over, and we’re into post-production. Reshoots will be expensive, and the crew aren’t available for the next two weeks anyway, so what we’ve got is what we’ve got.

What makes Moviestorm different?

Working in Moviestorm, I’ve got used to an incredible amount of freedom. Pre-production, production and post-production all roll into one. I can shoot and edit the opening of a piece before I’ve even written the end of it. Even after I’ve got my “final” edit, I can go back and change the set or change my shirt, or even recast any of the actors.  I can reshoot as much as I like, and never need to worry whether I got coverage and whether I planned everything right before I started filming. And if I edit as I go, starting with a rough cut, I’m not wasting nearly as much time taking and retaking shots that never end up in the finished piece. It’s like moving to a word processor instead of having to use a typewriter.

Filming’s so much easier too. Once I’ve said a line right once, I’ll never get it wrong again. I can get rid of unwanted shadows with one click, and I can change the lighting in just a few seconds. I never have to worry about focus if I don’t want to. I don’t have to think about continuity between takes.

And, perhaps most importantly, I can work whenever it’s convenient for me. I don’t have to coordinate several people and all their kit, and get everyone to the right place at the right time.  I can do literally ten minutes here and there if I want, and it’s not going to take me half an hour to get set up. I can even take Moviestorm with me on a laptop and work wherever I want.

What this experience has really brought into perspective for me is just how fast and efficient Moviestorm can be. I’ve found myself cursing when it’s taken me half an hour to get one shot just the way I want it, or when I’ve been fiddling with lights for five minutes trying to get just the effect I want. Last night, it was taking us typically half an hour to get each shot, and that was a fast, easy shoot. If we could have done the lighting setups in a mere five minutes, that would have been amazing - and certainly a lot less hot!  I’ve found myself looking back at pieces I’ve done, and grumbling, “it took me two whole hours just for that.” Then I’ve showed those same pieces to the film guys, and their reaction is an amazed, “wow, you did that in just two hours?”

So yes, I’ll still get frustrated when I can’t do things as quickly as I’d like. But in the back of my mind now, I’ll always have that little voice reminding me how much more frustrating and time-consuming it would have been to do it any other way.

Anyway, now I have to go and spend the next half-hour putting my office back how it was - after taking enough photos so that if we do need to reshoot anything, we can match what we filmed before… Save|Load is so much easier!

(2) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

D.L. Watson on 02/17 at 09:03 AM

Moviestorm and programs like Moviestorm do make a lot of things easier versus live-action film-making. Budget being a big one which subdivides into many other things that help make easier.

One thing I think Moviestorm has going for it, as well as a movie-making platform, is pre-viz storyboarding. Using Moviestorm to plan my shots for my live-action films has made principle photography - even casting - so clear and simple.

A storyboard screen grabber feature would be great inside of MS and I know some of my film buddies around town would use that.

One thing I find about live-action filmmaking is all the difficult and challenges situations that arise because it’s so rewarding when a team of people work together and problem solve to make a great product.

Great post Matt, I look forward to your video.

Matt Kelland on 02/17 at 01:10 PM

Thanks, DL. I’m currently writing up an article about using MS for previs - I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on that.

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