Slugline

Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Wednesday
Jan152014

Big Slugline Update, Including a Free Trial Version

Slugline, the screenwrting app that Clint Torres and I make, has a big update today in the Mac App Store. Lots of new features, and (finally) a free, downloadable demo:

If you’ve been wanting to take Slugline for a test drive, now you can, with a fully-functional 14-day trial. There are no restrictions in the trial version—you can load, save, and work on screenplays of any length. After 14 days, you’ll have the option to buy Slugline from the App Store.

Read more, and download the trial, at the Slugline blog!

Monday
Jan062014

CES 2014: TVs You Don't Need

I bet you have a pretty sweet TV. It’s probably big, and bright, and connected to the internet. It plays movies and TV and streams stuff and is probably paper-thin.

And that’s the problem for TV manufacturers. Your TV is more than good enough. But they only make money when you buy a new one (unless they’re Panasonic. selling ad space on their menu screen). So imagine their desperation to get you to think your awesome TV is worth discarding in favor of a new, several-thousand-dollar model.

Oh, wait, you don’t have to imagine—because the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is happening right now in Las Vegas, the land of let’s-see-if-too-much-of-a-bad-thing-turns-out-to-be-a-good-thing.

It’s not that it’s impossible for a new TV to be announced at CES that would actually improve your movie watching experience at home, but that’s not the actual motivation of the manufacturers.

Last year, it was all about 3D. You must have a 3D TV! What are you, an animal? This year, Vizio, one of the largest TV manufacturers, announced that it is dropping 3D completely.

Dolby announced Dolby Vision, an HDR display method that allows crazy-bright images. While this might be fun for some special venue projects (where the creator dictates the exhibition method), I doubt it will become a standard for movies or TV. But it sure is a wonderful distraction from the simple fact that blacker black levels would be a much better way to improve our home viewing experience—and would require no new standards.

What we should want from our TVs is accuracy, but that’s hard to sell. An accurate TV placed next to one in torch mode would look positively sad.

3D didn’t work last year, so this is the year of 4K. Actually, it’s the year of Moar-K—with Sharp announcing that they can type just about any number followed by a K into a press release.

There’s nothing new to say about 4K in the home—it’s stupid, just like it was last year. Seriously, go back and read this article. Here’s an update: I’ve since set up my home theater. I chose a high-end 1080p projector from JVC, the RS46U. My screen is 132“ diagonally, and my seating distance is about 12.5 feet. The universal reaction I get is ”wow, it’s so sharp!” That’s because the JVC has a great lens, and industry-leading black levels. Eventually you’ll be able to buy an affordable 4K display with no compromises in black levels, but that’s probably a couple of years out. Heck, maybe by then there will actually be some 4K stuff to watch. But beware: there will be a lot of crappy 4K out there as the technology is introduced. Good 1080p (from a low-compression source, like Blu-ray) will beat crappy 4K every time.

Sometimes these new TV gadgets demo well. But that often has little to do with their staying power. Beware the Cream Soda Effect.

CES is also a great time to be reminded that people use TVs for all kinds of stuff, not just watching movies. Many of the announced technologies might make sense for displays used in hotel lobbies and museum exhibits. Keep in mind that manufacturers are trying to create buzz in a more-is-more environment. If they happen make something that’s good for filmmaker or film-lovers, it’s a happy accident.

Oh, and the photo above? It’s a 40-foot-long road-cutting chainsaw that was parked in front of my hotel one year at NAB, also in Las Vegas. It’s really fun to look at, possibly of use to someone, undoubtedly quite expensive, and would be stupid for me to buy. And I didn’t have a photo handy of a 4K TV.

Thursday
Dec262013

’Twas(n’t) the Software Patent Before Christmas

’Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the ’net

Excitement brewed for iA Writer Pro, the distractionlessest text editor yet!

It promised simplicity, but a powerful workflow.

And touted a new feature called Syntax Control.

As folks were beginning their winter vacation,

iA submited a patent application.

They felt Syntax Control should be protected.

(Secretly hoping their use of NSLinguisticTagger wouldn’t be detected.)

So certain they were that this patent they’d get,

They tweeted a few devs with thinly-veiled threats.

This got @the_soulmen all up in arms.

Software patents, we all know, do less good than harm.

This application was for a technique

That’s built into OS X, which @the_soulmen found weak.

While you were hanging stockings by the chimney with care,

@the_soulmen were tweeting “How could @iA dare?”

They wouldn’t let up with the public shaming,

Until iA backed down, “A joke!” they were claiming.

“We’ll never sue devs over our fancy new patent.”

“That’s right,” said @the_soulmen, “Because you don’t even have it.”

iA went as far as to threaten Brett Terpstra.

(At this point I thought @the_soulmen would burst-a.)

We all love simple, powerful writing.

But nobody benefits from developers fighting.

Let’s all build great stuff, and worry a bit less

About what others are doing. That’s just a big mess.

And so, as you begin a new year of prose,

Consider the toolmakers—are they friends, or foes?

Do they play well with others, or bully and pester?

Something to consider when you visit the App Store.

And to the good devs, wherever you are,

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, we love you, five stars.

Wednesday
Dec112013

How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000

Yesterday was a big family Christmas-type day. We picked out our tree, hung the lights, and visited Santa. Usually we wait in line to see Santa, but on this day he was taking a break, helping to run the merry-go-round. My son and his friend were finishing up their ride when they spotted him. He came over to do the Santa thing. And suddenly I realized that Santa was happening right now, whether I was ready or not.

But I was ready.

I posted the photos that evening, and a few friends asked, in a flattering and kind way, how I always get such nice photos. And the answer is not a new one, but as I replied, I realized that it is a valuable one to repeat.

Christmas is coming. Here’s how to take some good photos.

Buy a DSLR

Step one is to put your phone away. Step two is to, for the time being, ignore all the excitement about mirrorless cameras. There are some great ones, but this is my advice, and I use an SLR.

Buy literally any DSLR. The cheapest ones you can get these days are crazy good. There’s the Canon Rebel line, and the Nikon D3200. Heck, buy a used one from a couple of years ago.

Buy the body only. The kit lens that comes with these inexpensive SLRs is not worth the plastic it’s stamped out of. If your inexpensive DSLR is not available without a lens, buy it and literally throw away the lens. Into a landfill. Directly onto endangered waterfowl. I’m serious.

You just spent $400 or so. I’ve bought many pocket cameras that cost more.

Buy a “Fast 50”

The oldest advice about photography is still the best. A “fast 50” is the cheapest, best lens. On your inexpensive DSLR, 50mm is a portrait lens, which means it’s good for taking pictures of people—which are the only pictures anyone cares about.

  • Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 is little more than $100. It’s made of cheap plastic on the outside, but on the inside it’s made of pure photolookbetterium.
  • Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 is a little more expensive, but its ancestry traces back to some of the best stills lenses ever made.

Use Aperture Priority Mode and Shoot Wide Open

You just bought a lens with a large maximum aperture. That means that the little diaphragm in your lens can “open up” wider than most other lenses, letting in more light. So use it—shoot in Aperture Priority mode, and set your aperture to the smallest possible number. In the case of the above lenses, that’s 1.8.

Shooting wide-open will result in two things: First, you can shoot in lower light, and even capture fast motion like kids on a carousel. Second, you’ll get that wonderful shallow depth of field that mushes busy backgrounds into pleasing blobs of light.

Use Auto ISO

Today’s DSLRs can produce usable images at very high ISOs. The higher the ISO, the less light you need. High IOS images are more noisy, but noise is preferable to motion blur.

By letting your camera choose your ISO for you, and enforcing a wide-open f-stop using Aperture Priority mode, you’re instructing your camera to choose an ISO that will get you an acceptably fast shutter speed for whatever lighting conditions you face.

Manually Set Your Focus Points

The printed manual for your camera will be confusing and mostly useless, but do flip through it to find the part about controlling what part of the frame the camera will try to focus on. With this new shallow depth of field you’re enjoying, you can no longer allow the camera to guess at what to focus on, nor can you center-focus, half-press the shutter, and re-frame. You’re now like Maverick trying to get missile lock—do not push that button until the little box blinks on your kid’s eyeball.

Shoot Raw

Shooting raw gives you two wonderful gifts: It opens up a world of processing opportunities for your photos, which is great. But it also greatly limits the amount of futzing you can/must do with the camera itself. You can shoot all night with the wrong white balance, and it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to choose noise reduction settings, or “picture modes.” Just capture moments. Do that other stuff later.

Do That Other Stuff Later

Post-process your photos using Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is about $100, and worth every penny and more.

In Lightroom, you’ll both organize and process your photos. If you don’t do either of these things, your photos won’t be good. Failing to process your photos means they’ll look mediocre. Failing to organize your photos means that no one will ever see them.

Shoot A Ton of Shots Like a Crazy Person

Yesterday I shot 367 photos. When I got home, I immediately deleted 147 of those. I wound up selecting 11 to share with friends.

Being selective like this is the only way to fool your friends into thinking you’re a great photographer. To support your new “spray and pray” method of shooting, you’ll want a couple of big memory cards, which will cost you about $30 each.

Use my Lightroom Presets

When I said that failing to process your shots means they’ll look mediocre, you might have panicked a little. That’s OK, processing raw photos to look their best is a deep subject. Lightroom’s “develop” controls are powerful, but daunting.

So don’t use them. Do this instead:

My Lightroom presets make developing your shots a “see and react” operation, instead of requiring you to be an expert.

You just spent the best $20 of your photographic life. #marketing

Get Backblaze

Now that you’re shooting several gigabytes of data every time you pick up your camera, you’re going to accumulate a frightening amount of data. Frightening, because the drive in your computer will fail someday—one of those things that’s not an if, it’s a when. A Time Machine or other local backup is good. An off-site backup is also necessary, in case of blimp attack.

Backblaze is a good choice for photographers because it backs up connected drives, gives you unlimited storage, and has fast upload speeds. Just install it and forget about it.

You just spent $50 for a year of Backblaze.

Actually do this.

Now that you’ve bought all this stuff, the only thing that remains is the habit of actually doing this stuff. Your iPhone camera is damnably good. Good enough that often you’ll be tempted not to schlep your big, heavy DSLR. If you succumb to this temptation, we’re right back to terrible photos, so here’s how to make sure you bring that big mirror-box with you wherever you go: buy a sling-style camera bag. I like the Slingshot series from Lowepro. You wear it across your back, and when you need to shoot, you flip it around to your chest, where the flap with your camera opens easily. It’s super handy, only a little dorky, and can actually be the difference between getting a shot and not.

You just spent $60.

Share!

Now it’s time to share your shots. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Flickr is where you share flower photos with strangers. Period.
  • Facebook is, sadly, where real humans that you know will see, and engage with, your photos. Being humans, they are only interested in pictures of other humans. Never put a picture of the Eiffel Tower on Facebook. Only pictures of people.

Boom.

I’m sure you’ve been tempted to buy a camera that costs around $1,000, but the above items, which total well under a grand, will serve you better—and they comprise a real system for making, organizing, and sharing better photos.

Welcome to the world of people complimenting your photography by asking you what kind of camera you use!