Pitfalls and progress

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You may want to refrain from reading this post unless you have a vested interest in learning about the number of technical hurdles one can run into while no-budget filmmaking. Here are updates on several fronts:

Data Recovery:

Our last update ended with our dead hard drive—containing the entirety of episode one—in the hands of a data recovery service. Our own attempts at restoring the drive proved fruitless, as software-driven data recovery on a Mac RAID 0 drive is not what it could be (Disk Warrior and Data Rescue II don’t fully support RAID 0 files at this time). Unfortunately, the data recovery guy at Tekserve also couldn’t recover anything. Furthermore, he told us that DriveSavers might be able to recover some of our data, but not all of it, and it would likely cost $2k or more. Considering that figure is more than twice the budget of episode one, we were thus faced with batch recapturing the footage from the DV tapes and reconstituting Episode One ourselves. To do this, we used…

Adobe Premiere Pro CS3:

Premiere Pro CS3 on the Mac should really be renamed Premiere Pro Beta. After Premiere Pro 3.0.1 stopped recognizing our DV camera, I decided to revert to 3.0 in case the update somehow severed the connection (it turns out the culprit was in fact updating to Mac OS 10.4.10… I think). However, the CS3 installer is buggy, and it wouldn’t reinstall Premiere Pro alone, thus requiring a fresh install of the entire CS3 suite. Also, you have to run a terminal script (CS3Clean) if you want to completely uninstall CS3; the Adobe Uninstaller, despite its name, does not in fact uninstall everything Adobe. Even after this, however, the CS3 suite still wouldn’t install on our Mac. After several aborted installs we found that Mac OS 10.4.10 won’t accept an install of the suite at all. Adobe, you might want to look into that. Thus we reverted to Mac OS 10.4.9 (requiring an operating system reinstall) in order to (re)install CS3. In the end, it wasn’t necessary—the same capture bug reared its head. Turns out the workaround is to turn your DV camera on and off until Premiere magically recognizes it (you may have to close CS3, turn the camera off, restart CS3, and not turn the camera on until the capture window is up). Still, even after we batch-captured episode one’s footage all over again, we still had problems getting the shots into…

Adobe After Effects CS3:

The much-touted Dynamic Link and cut-and-paste functionality between Premiere and After Effects is the reason we’re editing in Adobe’s NLE instead of Final Cut Pro. To date, it’s been a terrific (and cost-effective) way to offline/online the show. However, be cautioned if you batch recapture your footage in Premiere, because After Effects does not recognize the “subclip” file scheme that Premiere generates. This may or may not be because episode one was originally captured and edited in the Premiere Pro CS3 beta, but I suspect it’s more likely that Adobe’s individual clip capture generates different filenames than a whole-tape “Scene Detect” capture. Thus we had to paste the Premiere timeline into After Effects and copy-paste our shot-by-shot color correction onto the 70+ shots that constitute episode one. However, many keyframes were off by a frame or two, the 24p cadences had to be re-interpreted on an individual basis, and any clip that had an L-cut applied (when an audio edit leads or trails the video edit) was off in duration. However, episode one is now triumphantly reconstituted, and backed up on three separate external drives in two different apartments. We’re not losing it again, thanks to our new…

RAID:

RAID level 5 offers the best balance between speed, cost, and safety when you’re dealing with 4+ hard drives. Simultaneously, eSATA is the latest, greatest interface. But an eSATA RAID 5 setup is basically impossible on the current Mac OS unless you have a PCIe/x controller, which is an impossibility on a MacBook Pro (yes, The West Side is produced entirely on a laptop). An eSATA expresscard for laptops that supports RAID does exist, but… it doesn’t have Mac drivers. Thus RAID 10 was our next choice; however, it’s not easy to set up a hardware RAID 10 on a laptop, either (using the Mac’s software RAID would be easier, but we don’t like that idea as much, for portability and stability reasons). Also, if you want a RAID 10 solution that offers an interface in addition to eSATA (USB2, for example), good luck finding an existing solution out there. After much legwork, we did eventually set up a 1TB (four 500GB drives, mirrored and striped) hardware eSATA/USB2 RAID 10 array setup for only $700, but how we did it justifies a whole blog post in and of itself. Suffice to say it’s no fun to get a defective drive in the mail that requires you to pay return shipping while you wait for the replacement, when you’re trying to reconstitute episode one and capture footage for episode two—and are dead in the water until you get a storage system back up and running. Still, our storage problems are out of the way now. Which leaves our…

35mm Adapter:

Part of the look of The West Side is its shallow depth-of-field, which we’ve achieved by using a Go35 35mm lens adapter (we’ll post details of our complete gear package soon, for anyone who’s curious). Our adapter is a static adapter, meaning the internal diffuser does not vibrate (unlike the expensive models). After much shooting, we’ve learned that most adapters move the ground glass not only to eliminate a static grain structure, but also to eliminate the appearance of static spots on the diffuser. Despite repeatedly cleaning the diffuser, we couldn’t eliminate many of the spots. Even after replacing the diffuser with a brand new one, as we just did (very carefully–thus the latex gloves in the above picture), we still couldn’t eliminate the persistent spots we’re getting on the image. One solution would be to shoot with a different adapter: as a commentator on episode one noted, the P+S Technik Mini35 is likely superior to our Go35. However, the Mini35 costs $10,000 whereas our Go35 retails for $650 (and we got a discount). Due to the fact that our show is served up as compressed video on the web, however, the spots aren’t that noticeable (at least no one’s complained about them to date). Maybe down the road we’ll find an AE plugin and clean them up. But right now we’re more concerned with…

Episode Two:

While all of this has been going on, we’ve still managed to shoot episode two. We have a couple remaining inserts and an effects plate to shoot, but other than that, it’s in the can. We’re capturing the footage now to our new RAID setup, and can’t wait to get cutting. In the meantime, we’ve also updated the web site with a Press page, for anyone who’s curious about what they’re saying about us out in the series of tubes.

Now that all of these technical hurdles have been cleared, we can get back to filmmaking. Imagine that.

2 comments | tweet | share on facebook
  1. Josh Oakhurst 21 Aug 2007

    Gold Star stickers for you boys.

  2. The West Side — Blog — At long last, Episode Two 29 Nov 2007

    [...] much more humbling. We won’t bore you with details — beyond saying that our attempts at building our own 2 TB RAID 10 ended poorly, we’ve gone through many more hard drives, our composer’s PC crashed and [...]

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The West Side is an urban western. Learn more... We won a Webby Award!