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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Great Filmmaking Tutorials Online

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

The Matrix effect video that was posted yesterday was inspired by what I saw on Izzy Videos. The site is fairly new and is updated weekly. Izzy Video has some really great online video tutorials on the techniques of filmmaking. The site is podcasted so that's good news for the Ipod people out there. Anyways, I like the videos so much that I'm adding them to the link section to our site. I think basic films can be dramatically improved by implementing the simple techniques from the site.

Watch all the films from the beginning!

Here is the link.
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Friday, April 28, 2006

Matrix Experiment after Jummah

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Driving back from Jummah today, I asked Sarfaraz if we could try a Matrix experiment. Check it out. Please excuse the chessy miniDV quality but we did this in like 30 seconds. It took a few minutes to pull off the effect in FCP (its actually really easy). If anyone is interested in how to do this, please say so in the comment section.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Making your films more interesting by using some simple techniques

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Space is with well-planned cutaways. A cutaway is a shot that quickly takes you away from the subject, allowing them to jump ahead in time and space. For example, it might take you two minutes to walk from your car to the mailbox and into the house.

You can shoot that same sequence in twenty seconds (or even much less) by getting a shot of your subject by following this sequence:

1. Shoot a shot of your subject opening the car door.
2. Cut away to her feet hitting the pavement.
3. Cut to a long shot of her closing the car door.
4. Cutaway to her dog barking and dancing in front of her (from her point of view).
5. Cut to a medium shot of her nearing the mailbox.
6. Cutaway to a close shot of her hand reaching inside and grabbing the mail (maybe even from inside the mailbox).
7. Cut to a medium shot as she walks and holds the mail up to the sun to peak at what’s inside.
8. Cut to a shot of her dog going through the doggy door.
9. Finally, cut to her opening the door and walking in.

Nine shots that condense time and space and tell a story in half the time it would take to shoot one long shot. Moreover, the piece is much more interesting for the viewer. You don’t even need to use all nine shots if you don’t want to, depending on how important the scene is to your movie. The secret to making this work is to maintain screen direction by always shooting on the same side of your subject (shoot from just their right or left side). You can also use neutral shots without direction, like the extreme close-ups of the mail or shots of the subject walking directly towards the camera.

We did something similar to this and demonstarted the difference between the "home movie" style vs. the cutaway style. Click HERE to read the post and watch the two video clips

Condensing Time and Space: In-Camera Dissolves
By using the following camera techniques, you can actually condense time and space. In other words, turn something that usually takes hours, days or weeks into a series of believable shots that take seconds. While condensing time and space techniques usually use an editing system’s dissolves and wipes, you can create very nice substitutes right in your camera.

To create a dissolve-type transition, tightly focus on your subject and slowly defocus. Then, pause the camera and change subjects. Now, hit record and slowly bring your new subject into focus. If you are careful to defocus your subjects so that nothing is readily recognizable, the resulting effect will seamlessly fit together. The closer the color, shape and lighting, the more seamless the transition will appear.

A variation of that same shot begins with a zoom in to the subject and defocusing the camera before you get to your desired close up. Then, pause your camera, set your next shot up, tightly zoomed in on your subject and defocused. Finally, hit the record button and slowly zoom out while refocusing the shot. This shot works extremely well if it is focused on the same object to create the sense of a passage of time.

Natural Wipes
Wipes are another way to condense time and space. One interesting natural wipe uses a pan-to-still shot. To do this unique wipe, pan your camera with the subject until he passes behind a large object such as a wall, post or other object. Stop your pan when the subject disappears behind the object (i.e. the object is between the camera and the subject) and pause your camera. Set up your next shot, hit record and pan with your subject as he reappears from behind the obstruction wearing new clothes or looking like he’s aged ten years.

You can also create a wipe using a large moving object as well. You can create a wipe-in by panning with your subject until they are totally obscured by a large object, such as a truck or bus moving in the opposite direction. When the subject is fully covered, pause tape, go to a later shot in the scene and the wipe effectively allows you to jump ahead in time and space. A wipe-out is exactly the opposite. For this shot, you begin with your subject hidden by the large moving object and then suddenly revealed. By combining these shots and using the same or similar objects, you can have your subject change location during the cut. The cut appears seamless if you carefully time the pause point and then record when the large object is in the same position and moving the same direction and speed.

Match Cuts
Match cuts are another way to convincingly condense time and space. To do this, you need two objects that are very similar such as two plates of food. In the first scene, you show the PERSON sitting in front of the television, its audio blaring into the night, competing with the sounds of a dog barking and someone having an argument nearby. On HIS lap is a paper plate with a half-eaten sandwich and a pickle. Cut to a shot of just the plate. Record for three seconds and then pause the tape. Set up your next scene: It’s a lavish dinner party. Cut to a shot of a shiny plate with a steak in place of the sandwich and asparagus spikes in place of the pickle. Shoot it for three seconds and then pause. Then record a long shot of the person enjoying his meal in the of the dinner party.

You can also create this series of shots using a pan and zoom in, pause, change scenes, record, zoom and pan out. The director of the animated movie Shrek used this technique effectively throughout the film.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Muslim Film Idea at the Masjid - scene pictures & outline

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Outline & Scene Pictures

I recently found out that I will need permission slips for the 18 & under students to be in the film. I sent a summary of the film to the Admin's at the Masjid so InshAllah he will be helping me get the approvals from the parents. Since classes are only on Sundays, it means that the fastest he can get the slips to the parents is by this Sunday (April 30th) and the soonest I will get the slips signed and returned is May 7th InshAllah. There is a fund raising dinner on the 21st and there is a carnival at the Masjid on 28th. This leaves me with only the 7th and the 14th to film. Knowing that the attention span of teenagers is like 10 seconds, I'm not sure if the group will be committed in coming two Sundays. If yes, it would be great. If not, I have to be prepared. So the more prepared I am, the smoother the filming process with go InshAllah.

The goal is to have the first draft of the script completed by Friday so I can go to the Masjid on Saturday or Sunday make a “picture storyboard”. A storyboard is basically a visual script showing the camera angles for the dialogue. Because of the whole issue of "drawing people" in Islam, I had to alter the traditional way of Hollywood sketching for the storyboard. The solution I came up with to take pictures instead of drawing them. Therefore, when once I have the draft of the script in my hand, I can go to the local Masjid with my digital camera and walk through the movie and take pictures of the camera angles I will be using (in order InshAllah). Something like this:

By the following friday, the final draft of the script should be complete (and it shouldn't effect the storyboard screenshots InshAllah) maybe just some lines (if that). With only 4 to 5 hours to film the entire film, I had to come up with some crazy idea. We have 5 hours to film (2pm to 7pm), 1 Sunday to do it (maybe 2 Sundays), and a budget of $0. Jumping through permission slip hoops and whatever other obstacle that may be keeping up is making this much more challenging than I first imagine.

The following is not the script or storyboard of the upcoming film but rather is just an outline with scene descriptions. So far, I have a group of volunteers within the youth group that would like to be in the film and for each person volunteered, I have made a role for them in the film. The outline is basically notes (may not be easy to read) of a visual sequence of events to refer to when writing the script. I went to the Masjid and took various pictures of the Masjid. I wrote out the general things that will happen in each scene and associated one picture per scene. This way, we'll know where we will be shooting the next scene.

Here is the Outline
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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Youth Group Film Project

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

I traveled to the local Masjid today to present the film idea to the youth group. They seemed to be pretty excited on being part of movie making project. We came up with a theme, a storyline, and figured out who will be in front and behind the camera. Alhamdulillah, it went well. The film will be shot at the Masjid and it will take between 2 to 3 days to Sundays to film InshAllah.

I plan to start writing the script tomorrow. Some of the sisters offered two help with the sister lines InshAllah so I look forward to the help.

I remember when I was young, I use to be told that you can’t do this and that. I was told that I was too young and it really frustrated me. Actually, that frustration turned into a type of motivation, which inspired me to go after the numerous projects that I worked on in the past Alhamdulillah.

Overall, it looks like there is a balance of about 6 brothers and 6 sisters who volunteered to play roles in the film, with the rest of the youth group wanting to be extras and being part of the film crew.

I think if the group is serious about doing this, we can film a pretty cool movie. I really want to show them that they can accomplish so much even though they are looked upon as "youth". I still consider myself a "youth" and I yeah still get negativity when I come up crazy ideas (like starting a Muslim film company!) but I love it because I love proving that the success is from Allah (swt) and it doesn't matter what people think you can & can't do!
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Friday, April 21, 2006

UPDATE: Watch out for the Bus!!! (I fixed it - no more "floating bus")

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Thanks for the feedback on the Bus Clip. I want back to AE and tried to do it better. The first time it took me hours to put the clip together. This time it took about 20 minutes right before I had to goto work. This is why its so important to practice the tough stuff (especially if you know you are going to do something like it in your film) before.

Anyways, I couldn't change the original footage so it still looks like a jump but the bus looks much better now (no more "floating bus"). Also, I added a sound effect to give the clip more of an impact.

Watch out for the bus!

You will need quicktime to view this clip. You can also watch it in the Windows Media Player by clicking here or check it out in the player below.

(I'll explain how this clip was done in the comment section)
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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Confused Persian Puppets

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

I had an idea of putting together a Sesame Street type of show but instead of having it in English, it would be in Farsi. Once again, this is something I had never done before (except in my head) but it sounded like fun.

Ok, this entire thing is totally improv. Yes, there was no script. Actually, I didn't even watch the whole thing...I just pressed play and made up the dialogue as the movie played. I then added background noise and sound effects since I had zero background audio to start with. And of course, I made up the voices for the characters...hahaha. For the tall green puppet, I altered my bullwinkle voice. For the purple voice, I tried to make up a older/grouchy voice. Give me a break, I'm not a voice person..haha!

Once again, this is 100% improv. This isn't a translation of any sort. Actually, I have ZERO idea what the original puppets were saying or talking about. I had no idea even what subject they were talking about. I guess that allowed me to be more open on the creative end. Its funny, I was just making up dialogue...not knowing what's coming up in the next scene. Note: Never hire me as a translator....haha

Not too consistent but it makes me laugh! (especially the end).

Here is the clip (its about 2 minutes long so it will take a little bit to load)

You will need quicktime to view this clip. You can also watch it in the Windows Media Player by clicking here or check it out in the player below.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Practice filming a dialogue scene (learning excercise)

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

So far action sequences seem to be pretty easy. If the audio doesn't sync up, you can folli the sounds and replace the original audio with music.

Dialogue is a completely different story.

Some brothers came over my house yesterday and wanted to practice the filming aspect of a dialogue scene. None of us had done this before so it was an interesting learning experience. Unfortunately, we didn't have any actors so we had no choice but to do it ourselves. We made up a scene on the spot and filmed the footage ourselves with no practice, storyboard, not even a script! All of us are much more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front of it but in situations like these, you need the footage so we can learn and practice the "how-to's" of filming dialogue. With little time and no preparation, we took out the old cheapie camera and winged it.

We filmed the clip in the garage but we were constantly being delayed because of constant cars and people coming in/out of the building. One guy even stopped by to watch the clip and offered us to work on a project with him (he makes films too! Only in LA). The short period of times we had the garage to ourselves, we tried filming from different angles using once again the cheapie miniDV camera and with absolutely no lighting.

The point of this exercise wasn't to act but rather learn what type of angles that would work and not work when filming dialogue. You can read as many books as you want on filming but at the end of the day, the best way to learn is by picking up the camera. The most challenging part was trying to give the illusion that we filmed with more than 1 camera (very tough!). The problem was that we didn't have a script so our lines kept changing during the filming. Although it wasn't a issue while we were filming, it was a nightmare during editing!! At one point, I thought there was no way we could put the footage together. Last but not least, the background noise kept changing since in some scenes there was traffic and in other scenes it was quiet (street noise). So we had to film about 1 minute of traffic background noise, which we dubbed into the clip.

Nevertheless, we finish the clip. We edited it the best we could (based on what we could capture) so here it is:

You will need quicktime to view this clip
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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Streaming Video Online (how to convert video so your audience can watch it on the internet)

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Since I do everything with a Mac and its a hassle to download the quicktime player because Apple forces you to download their itunes.com software too (yeah it sucks that they do that), so I thought it would be a good idea to post how to convert your videos so you can stream them online (including how to convert them from .mov (Mac Platform) to .wmv (Windows platform). Personally, I think .mov (Quicktime) is so much better in quality and compression that its counterpart .wmv (Windows Media Player) but more people have Windows Media Player than Quicktime. If you have video clips, you should offer them in both .mov and .wmv streaming formats so viewers on both Mac & Windows platforms can watch them.

When you make your films in Final Cut Pro or Premiere you get these huge export files. FCP exports to .mov file format (viewable via quicktime player) and Premiere exports to .avi file format (viewable via windows media player). FCP allows you to use “quicktime compression” so you can get your .mov files small enough to stream online but if you did you video clip with Premiere and ended up with a huge .avi file, then you are stuck with this huge file. The solution is to convert it to a .wmv file format, which allows viewers to watching in streaming format using Windows Media Player. You can convert .avi to .wmv format by using a free program called Stoik Video Convertor 2.0. The program also allows you to convert .mov to .wmv but you will need to buy the full version which is only $29.

If you want to embed the video file on your site, be sure to check out the Streaming Online Tutorial

In a previous post, I posted the two video clips we did quickly in the garage. The audio/video sin’t synced properly and we filmed it in a matter of minutes using just a camera and an idea (yeah no lighting except for whatever was in the garage). The idea was to show the dramatic difference between using one angle (clip 1) vs. using many angles (clip 2). I have converted the .mov (Quicktime) files to .wmv (Windows Media Player) using the Stoik Video Convertor program. Both Clip#1 & Clip#2 should open up in Windows Media Player and I have put links to the Quicktime versions of the same files below as well. Check it the difference:

(using 1 angle - the way we use to do it)


(using multiple angle - the way we do it now)

(quicktime versions for the same clips: clip#1 vs. clip#2

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Muslim Film List (updated 4/11/06)

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

I have noticed that I'm having a tough time finding films by Muslim filmmakers and films about Muslims online. I started to make a list of Muslim film companies (below). I will try to update the list as I discover them. Here is what I have so far (please post in comments if you know of any other films):


Three Wire Productions
Leechon Films
The Deen Show
Reel Opener
Sultan Production
Audaz Entertainment
Burning Dream Films
Muslim Boarders
Company Ink The Movie
Zahra Pictures
Tariq Jalil
Alliance The Movie.com
Paradise Now
Hamzeh Mystique Films
Halaqah Police
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Monday, April 03, 2006

Muslim Awakening - Film Update

Bismillah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem,

Ummah Films just finished its 2nd day filming of "Tomorrow Never Comes - Muslim Awakening". The story is about Hassan, an intellectually and athletically gifted young man, who awakens one day and discovers he can't hear. He soon realizes that he was deaf long before this day because of his arrogance. His lost of hearing humbles him and he realizes that he must change. He decides to change tomorrow but tomorrow never comes and as tomorrow is his funeral.

The film is a short (only about 5 to 7 minutes in length) and its the first project from Ummah Films. Filming is done on Sundays. The film gives the group a chance to work together for the first time, learn the new equipment, and gain knowledge of the filming protocol.

A common misconception is that "there is always tomorrow" but tomorrow isn't guaranteed for any of us. On the Day of Judgment, we will each be judged by our Creator Allah (swt) for our actions so knowing that we are in error is not enough but we must strive for the straight path and correct ourselves.

Ibn Mas'ud relates that the Prophet (saws) said, "Whoever has an atom of pride in his heart will not enter Paradise." Then one of his companions asked, "What do you say about someone who likes to dress in fine clothes?" and he answered, "Allah is beautiful and likes that which is beautiful. Arrogance is to deny reality and to consider others beneath oneself."

Seven qualities are considered to be the cause of pride: education, knowledge, religious piety, fame and nobility of one's family and descendents, physical attractiveness, physical strength, wealth, achievement, and the number of ones admirers and followers. In reality, none of these qualities need to be the causes of arrogance. On the contrary, they are positive values which every person strives for. The real cause of arrogance is stupidity, and the inability to comprehend what is offered as knowledge. Yet there is no other medicine but knowledge to cure stupidity.
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