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November 2009
Final Cut Pro Workflows: The Independent Studio Handbook Online
by Jason Osder and Robbie Carman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In the late 1990s, the emergence of prosumer digital video, high-speed Firewire and Apple’s Final Cut Pro application created a revolution in postproduction that democratized the filmmaking process. Suddenly the tools for professional editing were accessible to nearly anyone with a camcorder and a computer, particularly as hardware got cheaper and better with every passing year. Yet the romantic notion an indie filmmaker can just plug his or her camera into a laptop and put together a professional product is more than a little naïve, as anyone who has ever dealt with storage overload, frame-rate-compatibility issues or codec and compression problems can confirm.
A Matter of Life and Death: The Brain Revealed by the Mind of Michael Powell Online
by Diane Broadbent Friedman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In recent years, the concept of books devoted to single films has risen steadily in popularity; in addition to the ongoing series of monographs published by the British Film Institute (“BFI Classics” and “Modern Classics” editions), the last few years have seen excellent publications about everything from Singin’ in the Rain and Night of the Hunter to Chungking Express and City of God. Even among hundreds of such works, however, Diane Broadbent Friedman’s A Matter of Life and Death: The Brain Revealed by the Mind of Michael Powell stands as a one-of-a-kind achievement. A study of Powell’s direction of the1946 masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death (released in America as Stairway to Heaven), it approaches its subject from the usual visual, historical and literary perspectives yet adds a completely new angle as well — an analysis of the film’s neurological origins.  
Red: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera Online
by Noah Kadner
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

It is hard to believe the Red One camera made its public debut only three years ago, at the 2006 National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. At that time, the Red, a digital camera capable of capturing 4K images at a retail price of just $17,500, was not even a prototype — visitors to the NAB booth were given only brochures and an opportunity to reserve the right to purchase the camera if and when it was ready. The first 25 reservations were eventually filled Aug. 31, 2007, and since then, the Red’s popularity has steadily and swiftly increased: director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh used the camera to shoot three features; television programs, including ER and Southland, have abandoned 35mm acquisition in its favor, and independent filmmakers everywhere have embraced the Red as a viable means of creating stunning images on a limited budget.

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Final Cut Pro Workflows: The Independent Studio Handbook
by Jason Osder and Robbie Carman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In the late 1990s, the emergence of prosumer digital video, high-speed Firewire and Apple’s Final Cut Pro application created a revolution in postproduction that democratized the filmmaking process. Suddenly the tools for professional editing were accessible to nearly anyone with a camcorder and a computer, particularly as hardware got cheaper and better with every passing year. Yet the romantic notion an indie filmmaker can just plug his or her camera into a laptop and put together a professional product is more than a little naïve, as anyone who has ever dealt with storage overload, frame-rate-compatibility issues or codec and compression problems can confirm. The boundaries of the many steps of the filmmaking process have evaporated, and filmmakers need to think about the very final stages of delivery even before they choose their cameras and film stock (or, increasingly, tape stock or solid-state-recording cards).  If they do not, they can find themselves up against some very troubling (and very expensive) snafus in the postproduction process.

Jason Osder and Robbie Carman’s Final Cut Pro Workflows: The Independent Studio Handbook is a superb examination of the world of Final Cut Pro that is designed to help filmmakers avoid those very snafus. The authors are both Apple-certified Final Cut Pro instructors and have worked in a variety of disciplines, including producing, color-correction and online editing.  Their combination of real-world experiences and years in the classroom makes them perfectly suited to elucidate the complex subject of Final Cut Pro workflows as they present common (and uncommon) problems with clarity and concision. There have been dozens of books devoted to Final Cut Pro since the product itself first hit the market in 1999; this is one of the most comprehensive.

The authors begin with a historical overview of postproduction itself, and the ways Final Cut Pro and digital technology fit into its evolution. This foundation is useful for students and beginning filmmakers, but more experienced editors and Final Cut Pro users can skip over it. After a brief discussion of the roles of various crewmembers and how the roles have changed in the digital era, Osder and Carman delve deeply into everything one needs to know about working with Final Cut Pro. There are all-inclusive chapters on video standards and formats, compression and storage, ingesting footage into Final Cut Pro’s timeline, editing and using the other components of Final Cut Studio (such as the color-correction program Color or the sound-mixing application Soundtrack Pro) to finish one’s projects. The authors take into account the wide variety of capture and exhibition formats from which filmmakers must choose and clearly explain the ways these formats work in conjunction with Final Cut Pro and what kinds of factors affect the ways one shoots, edits, stores and distributes media. Where applicable, the descriptions are illustrated with shots of Final Cut Pro’s menus and interfaces, as well as stills of various pieces of equipment. The writers take a wide-ranging approach, yet the self-contained, clearly labeled sections make it easy for readers to focus solely on the information pertinent to their particular projects, and sidebars with definitions of important terms supply further clarification.  

All of this material is exceptionally thorough (even more so when supplemented with additional information from the book’s Web site about the recently introduced Final Cut Server software), but some of it will admittedly be familiar to Final Cut Pro users who have sampled the many other volumes published on the topic. Where Final Cut Pro Workflows really distinguishes itself from previous books is in its third and final section, which provides five detailed, real-world workflows. These include approaches to archiving digital video, creating a Web-based viewing and ordering system for a political campaign and preparing commercials, series and music videos for broadcast. These are all actual, specific projects, and their lessons in media management, audio mixing, color correction and other facets of Final Cut Pro are applicable to a multitude of postproduction scenarios. Ultimately, what makes Osder and Carman’s approach in this section and the preceding one unique is the totality of their vision: while they are as well versed in the technical realm as anyone, they also address how to apply that technology in a manner that is logical, economic and creative. As the technology continues to evolve quite rapidly (a fact reflected in the fact the Web site for Final Cut Pro Workflows already has two new chapters), Osder and Carman have created one of the most up-to-date and complete guides to Final Cut Pro yet.          

Focal Press
$29.95 paperback

Online Online Exclusive
A Matter of Life and Death: The Brain Revealed by the Mind of Michael Powell
by Diane Broadbent Friedman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In recent years, the concept of books devoted to single films has risen steadily in popularity; in addition to the ongoing series of monographs published by the British Film Institute (“BFI Classics” and “Modern Classics” editions), the last few years have seen excellent publications about everything from Singin’ in the Rain and Night of the Hunter to Chungking Express and City of God. Even among hundreds of such works, however, Diane Broadbent Friedman’s A Matter of Life and Death: The Brain Revealed by the Mind of Michael Powell stands as a one-of-a-kind achievement. A study of Powell’s direction of the1946 masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death (released in America as Stairway to Heaven), it approaches its subject from the usual visual, historical and literary perspectives yet adds a completely new angle as well — an analysis of the film’s neurological origins.  

A nurse by training, Friedman became obsessed with A Matter of Life and Death when she saw it on TV in 1990 and recognized a number of detailed neurologic references in the film. From that point forward, the author embarked on a rigorous quest to learn everything she could about Powell’s and co-screenwriter Emeric Pressburger’s scientific and literary sources, scouring previous critical writings and biographies as well as scripts, date books and stills, many borrowed from Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker Powell. These obvious texts are only the tip of the iceberg, however; to truly comprehend A Matter of Life and Death as an expression of neurological ideas, Friedman researched medical articles on the brain that would have been accessible to Powell, a voracious researcher himself. Her eventual conclusion, which she spends the bulk of her book proving, is Powell meant A Matter of Life and Death to be an authentic reflection of all that was known about the brain at the time of its release.

The film itself is, like many of the classics of Powell and Pressburger, a unique blend of realism and fantasy. It tells the story of Peter Carter (David Niven), a World War II pilot whose bomber is hit, leaving him in a fiery plane with no parachute. He communicates over the radio with an American radio operator, June (Kim Hunter), and falls in love with the sound of her voice just before he jumps from his plane. Peter expects to die, but a bureaucratic mix-up in heaven leaves him alive on earth. He finds June and resumes their romance; then an angel named Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) shows up and tells Peter he is expected in the afterlife. When Peter refuses to leave earth, Conductor 71 informs him there will be a trial in heaven in which he can appeal his case. Peter shares this information with June, who, in turn, shares it with her friend, Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey), a neurologist who is fascinated by the case. He becomes convinced Peter’s brain is playing tricks on him and schedules a complex surgical procedure which takes place while Peter goes on trial, in heaven, for his life.

This description makes A Matter of Life and Death sound rather fanciful; indeed it is, yet it also contains a scholarly attention to the specific details of neurology, poetry — Peter is a writer in his civilian life — and a variety of other disciplines referenced throughout the narrative.  Friedman addresses all of these topics, uncovering a rich and complicated tapestry, yet her primary focus is the neurological basis for the film. Her convincing argument is, scenes of heaven and angels aside, A Matter of Life and Death is not a fantasy at all. Rather, she sees it as a study of a man (Peter) in the midst of a brain trauma, a man whose visions of the afterlife are the result of the seizures Dr. Reeves’s surgery is intended to treat. Friedman makes this case by discussing a variety of medical writings from the late 1800s to the time Powell and Pressburger wrote their film, and she uncovers many quotations by the filmmakers which indicate they would have been conscious of those writings and interested in the scientific developments of their day.  The author then connects neurological concepts with their visual and verbal analogues in the movie, revealing the concrete meaning behind each gesture and line of dialogue in a manner that reveals the filmmakers’ devotion to scientific accuracy.

Friedman contextualizes A Matter of Life and Death within not only the history of neurological science, but also as a key work in Powell and Pressburger’s oeuvre; she relates its techniques and themes to other productions like The Red Shoes and A Canterbury Tale and examines the way its concern with vision and perception is typical of Powell’s directorial obsessions. Powell-Pressburger fans will find other treats scattered throughout the book, particularly in the form of documents Friedman has unearthed and reproduced as illustrations: there are script pages, handwritten calendar entries and even a copy of Pressburger’s application to use the British Museum Reading Room! As one might expect given her background, Friedman often digresses far from the world of the film itself to delve into various medical and scientific issues, revealing herself to be as omnivorous in her interests as Powell himself. Unfortunately, she is not quite as skilled at integrating all of her discussions into a coherent whole; the book’s organization often seems haphazard as the author jumps wildly from one subject to another. Yet this is a minor complaint given the value of most of the information, and the clear chapter headings (as well as their self-contained nature) are a help as well — readers uninterested in some of Friedman’s more tangential passages can easily skip over them. Those with the intellectual stamina to read the book from beginning to end, however, will get quite an education and see a beloved classic film from a completely new perspective.              

Authorhouse
$19.95 paperback

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Red: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera
by Noah Kadner
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

It is hard to believe the Red One camera made its public debut only three years ago, at the 2006 National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. At that time, the Red, a digital camera capable of capturing 4K images at a retail price of just $17,500, was not even a prototype — visitors to the NAB booth were given only brochures and an opportunity to reserve the right to purchase the camera if and when it was ready. The first 25 reservations were eventually filled Aug. 31, 2007, and since then, the Red’s popularity has steadily and swiftly increased: director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh used the camera to shoot three features; television programs, including ER and Southland, have abandoned 35mm acquisition in its favor, and independent filmmakers everywhere have embraced the Red as a viable means of creating stunning images on a limited budget.

Of course, growing pains come with such a swift ascent, and many Red users have complained of technical glitches and found it difficult to create effective workflows. Figuring out the camera’s compatibility (or lack thereof) with various editing platforms and third-party applications has been a constant source of headaches for neophyte filmmakers, and even old pros are likely to be somewhat overwhelmed by the camera’s wide array of options and accessories. Luckily, Red owner and operator (and American Cinematographer contributor) Noah Kadner has collected virtually everything one would ever want to know about the camera in one book, Red: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera. Kadner’s use of the word “ultimate” in his title is no exaggeration — his tome is, quite simply, as essential a purchase as a sturdy tripod and a reliable set of lenses. In straightforward language and with hundReds of color stills and charts that perfectly illustrate his points, Kadner takes the reader through every stage of prep, production and postproduction on Red-based projects.

The book begins with a brief historical overview of the Red’s development before moving on to concise descriptions of basic workflows and potential types of projects one might shoot with the camera. From there, Kadner digs deeper, going into great detail as he explains how to build a Red package and accessorize the camera. As a filmmaker himself, the author knows what kinds of questions his readers need answered, and he addresses them all: he provides multiple options for various budgets; explains the pros and cons of various lenses, monitors and microphones, and supplements his writing with sidebars containing the insights of several professionals who have worked with the Red, including ASC members Nancy Schreiber and Rodney Charters. Kadner is especially good at explaining exactly why certain pieces of equipment are desirable or necessary, as in a section dealing with storage options. One of the frequent complaints regarding the Red is that it is prone to dropping frames when subject to vibration, but Kadner explains the way this can be avoided using a Red-RAM unit for storage as opposed to the Red-Drive or Red CF cards.  

This is just one example of the kind of valuable information this book supplies in abundance. In an age in which the boundaries between production and postproduction continue to blur and even vanish, Kadner appropriately devotes as much of his book to editing, color correction and archiving as he does to shooting. There are extensive chapters on each of the three most popular editing applications (Final Cut Pro, Avid and Premiere Pro), with precise instructions for logging and storing footage, editing and outputting to a variety of delivery formats. Kadner finishes his book with suggestions for long-term storage and building a business around the Red and then wraps things up with an invaluable map of the camera’s hierarchal system of menus. This appendix alone makes the book an indispensable reference Red operators will want to keep close at hand, and the rest of the impeccably organized material is just as valuable.

This book is vital reading for anyone intending to buy or rent a Red, and those who already use the camera will find the book a terrific encyclopedia of aesthetic, economic and technical information.   
        
Peachpit Press
$54.99 paperback
 
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