June 27, 2008

Cool Tools:FilmTools

Professional equipment for filmakers can sometimes be hard to find outside of Hollywood. Now there’s FilmTools, an online shop for filmmakers.

FilmTools is an online shop that offers grip, electrical, lighting, sound and video supplies. The equipment is top-notch and even the big studios purchase equipment from the company. That being said, the equipment can be quite expensive. A standard apple box will cost you about $30 and a director’s chair will cost you $100. Obviously lighting equipment and sound equipment will end up costing a lot more.

The site divides the equipment up by department: camera department, grip department, electrical department, lighting department, and sound department. For example, the camera department sells everything from lenses to camera shoulder supports. And the electrical department sells everything from cables to power generators.

In addition to the film equipment that is available for sale on their site, FilmTools also offers a book and DVD section where you can browse titles that improve your skills in film. Titles include The Complete Film Production Handbook and Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmmakers.

FilmTools has been online since 1994 and it’s the only store dedicated to supporting the Motion Picture Camera Department. For those that are located in Los Angeles, they also operate a retail store where you can walk in and purchase. If you’re looking to find hard-to-find equipment FilmTools is a great place for you to start your search.

June 24, 2008

Featured Filmmakers: Green Sky Media

Stephen Simonetto and Chris Thornberry won $5,000 for their winning Dos Lunas Tequila “Take Your Best Shot” commercial contest entry. Their video “Limes vs. Salt” makes use of stop-motion animation and shows an epic battle between limes and salt. The video can be viewed at

Their company, Green Sky Media, was launched just over a year ago to do video and photography productions. Green Sky Media hopes to be creating national spots in the future.

Black Turtle Media: What kind of background do you have in video production?

Green Sky Media: Chris graduated from Ball State University with a degree in video production and I [Stephen] went to Ball State University for a little bit. We’ve basically been doing videos together since high school so that’s mainly our experience

I [Stephen] do a lot of photography side things; that’s mainly my focus. But we still help each other out depending on what the project is and we try to incorporate both. That’s something we were able to do with this Dos Lunas commercial. Photography skills were obviously a huge part of this particular contest. It was a stop-motion deal and it was actually our first attempt at it.

Black Turtle Media: What motivated you to enter this contest?

Green Sky Media: We recently opened a video production company just over a year ago and we’re based out of Indiana so we don’t really get the opportunity to try and do tequila ads very often. Basically we try and find different contests all the time and this one really stuck out to us because it just seemed like a really fun one, and it really was. We stayed up all night and just got it done.

Black Turtle Media: What kind of familiarity did you have with the brand?

Green Sky Media: It was the first time we heard of it; they actually don’t even sell it in Indiana. We had to have a friend from Chicago bring it in for us.

Black Turtle Media: How did you get the idea for your entry?

Green Sky Media: We’ve been doing a lot of contests this year and the way we kind of approach them all is what looks like fun. We also try to think of a particular effect, or a lighting setup, or something that we haven’t done before. Then we try to do that for a contest video so if we ever have a client that wants us to do that particular effect it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve tried it. So basically we used this one; we mainly wanted to try stop motion. Basically from there we usually just sit here and talk for a couple hours about different ideas we can do and it branches off from there.

For this one, we started thinking of fight scenes and we started talking about the limes and the salt fighting against each other; it just sort of branched off from there. With stuff like this it gives us more opportunity to be creative than a business would be comfortable with and we don’t know whether or not we’re going to win a cash prize, if anything at all. We like to be able to at least tell ourselves we figured out how to do that or at least we know how to do that now.

Black Turtle Media: Why do you think your entry beat out the others?

Green Sky Media: We were actually very happy with the idea of it because it’s a really fun concept that we thought would be very different. The stop motion look of it went very well with our lighting; I think our lighting stood out. Chris does very well with adding sound effects and things like that so the sounds are very well done. I think the overall quality of it versus some of the other stuff probably made it stand out a little bit more.

Black Turtle Media: What kind of equipment and software did you use?

Green Sky Media: We used a Digital SLR Canon and for the lens we primarily used, for the entire time, a 200mm 2.8 lens. We had that on a tripod. There was one point where we had to do an overhead shot. We had to use a wire lens and it was kind of interesting the way we had to bring it up so it was pointing straight down. It turned out pretty nice.

Black Turtle Media: What was the production process like? How much did the shoot end up costing?

Green Sky Media: We ended up shooting for 2 ½ hours starting at 7:30 at night and ending at 5:30 in the morning,

We actually cleared out three or four local Target stores with their salt shakers. I think we bought about thirty. Our budget on it was about $100. We had to buy the salt shakers, the limes, the little swords, and the tequila itself. There was one expense we weren’t supposed to have. We had to superglue all the swords to the salts. We stood them all up and the glue actually ran over the counter top and all the salts were stuck to it. That added extra time where we actually had to take a razorblade and scrape off al the glue and it also ruined the counter top which was expensive.

Black Turtle Media: How did you feel about the reception to your entry?

Green Sky Media: Before they had announced any of the finalists and winners we had been showing it to all our friends and family. I think it was the best response we’ve gotten from any video. I don’t think we’ve had anybody who didn’t like it. A lot of the people who are watching it on Youtube, we don’t get to see their reactions or anything, but I think people are responding pretty well to it

We really look at the videos. We watch every video that is uploaded when we enter a contest, pretty much, and we see what people are doing. In this contest, people were doing 3D graphics and that really kind of scared us a little bit. I think what our video did have, they may have had these really nice graphics, but there wasn’t a story behind it. I think ours kind of took pieces of everything and put it together nicely,

Black Turtle Media: What are you going to do with the prize money?

Green Sky Media: We are buying new equipment; there’s always a bill to pay. It helps us justify entering the next contest and spending more time on the next one.

Black Turtle Media: What advice would you give to other people entering creative competitions?

Green Sky Media: I think the idea is probably the number one thing. I don’t really know if we can give advice because you can say have a good idea but I don’t think that’s going to help anybody. Because we’ve tried a lot of contests that didn’t have as good ideas as this one and I think the main thing with any production is that you want to plan everything out, remember who your demographic is, and just try to aim towards that. Remember that just because your friends think it’s funny, it may not appeal to anyone else but you guys.

Hopefully we try to do that but it’s not always the case. I really recommend it to anybody doing contests to try something new with the production like we do. I see a lot of contest entries that look like people are just making another Youtube video, like they’ve made 20 or 30 times before. I think if people just pushed themselves to do better audio or to do better lighting they that could help each other’s productions get better and better over time,

Black Turtle Media: Are you currently working on any other projects?

Green Sky Media: We’re actually talking about other projects that we are going to be entering here in the future but we haven’t started production on any of those. Business wise, we’ve got some work that’s always going on.

We haven’t really found that specific niche; we do a wide range of things. We try to do the commercial side of things with local businesses, weddings video, and photography but we also do the lower end with apartment tours, which is like a virtual tour but with video. There is a lot of stuff we do that’s reoccurring business and it does pay the bills; it’s not so much creative but it definitely helps

Black Turtle Media: What are your future aspirations in the field?

Green Sky Media: We definitely want to get into large scale commercial productions. We’d really like to have a national spot airing within the next year. We’re also trying to get into the music video stuff which we’ve heard isn’t the most lucrative market but it is a fun and creative one. We just hope to keep growing and growing as much as we can. I think being based out of Indianapolis; it’s not a Mecca as far as commercial video. Hopefully we can stay in Indianapolis and still do work on the coast if we have to; that’s our main goal.

June 23, 2008

Cool Tools:

Need to create a document? Want to create one that stands out from the crowd? Check out Creative Docs; their free software may be just what you’re looking for.

Creative Docs is a vector-based graphic design tool. It can be used to create documents, manuals, posters, illustrations, schemas, plans, and more. The software is along the lines of Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. But since Creative Docs is free, the software isn’t nearly as powerful as the for-purchase software.

That being said, Creative Docs does offer some features that are usually reserved for commercial software - you can draw text along a curved path, merge shapes, and convert text into curves and color gradients. Some other uses of Creative Docs include creating optical illusions, drawing flow charts and writing manuals. Finished documents and graphics can be saved in image formats or as a PDF documents.

The software is co-developed by Epsitec SA, a 30-year-old Swiss company that is famous for learning software, and OPaC bright ideas, a Microsoft Certified Partner. Other software that the two companies developed have included Virtual Pen, which is pretty self-explanatory, and AutoWall, a wallpaper changer.

There is other software similar to Creative Docs available on the internet such as Inkscape but Creative Docs appears to be the strongest. The downside of the free powerful software is that there are restrictions that limit the commercial use of the product. To use the software, just head to and download. You don’t need to pay anything but you can give a donation if you feel so inclined.

June 19, 2008

Featured Filmmaker: Jared Cicon

Jared Cicon started his filmmaking career with the original Doritos’s “Crash the Superbowl” contest, winning $10,000 and getting national airplay. He was also a finalist for Heinz, taking home $5,700.

Most recently, Jared won $25,000 in the Tax Slayer video commercial contest. His commercial will air nationally in the months prior to the tax filing deadline of 2009.

What kind of background do you have in video production?

I have two years experience. I started acting three years ago, and started video taping so I could get some demo (reel) for my acting career.

Did you have any formal education in video production?

Not specifically; I was a wedding photographer for almost 17 years. I know it has gone along way towards my success as a Director and D.P.

What motivated you to do the Tax Slayer contest?

I liked the format. The brand was choosing the winner, not an internet popularity vote. I have been a finalist in contests where I have lost out to a senior at U.S.C. (or some similar college). I can’t compete with that sort of campaigning network.

I have been getting smarter with each contest. I do my best to find the ones that are legitimate solicitations from companies who for the purpose of advancing their brand (like TaxSlayer). When I enter a contest and realize too late it’s only a promotional gig run through an ad Agency, solely to generate internet buzz, it can be pretty demoralizing.

Tax Slayer bypassed the traditional ad agency relationship and went straight to the creatives. I like that. I worked directly with the marketing department; communication has been great. I just finished editing a 30-second cut of the original one minute version. There are plans to air both.

Have you entered similar contests in the past? How many?

I have entered 10 or more contests over the last two years and Tax Slayer has been the best run of all of them, and I am not saying this because I won. From the very beginning their communication was excellent. They returned email inquiries. I am sure this helped keep all of the creators on track as they developed and executed their ideas.

What kind of familiarity did you have with the Tax Slayer

None to start with. I learned what I did through the contest.

How did you get the idea for your entry?

It was pretty straight forward. Their logo includes a knight. I don’t see where I had any other choice but to get my 250lb. chubby frame onto a horse after first pouring it into some medieval chain mail. Additionally, they had about 20-25 seconds of required elements, so the concept was pretty much brand driven.

Why do you think your entry beat out the others?

Two reasons. Number one: thankfully, it was a relatively small field. Number two: I’m a detail man. Brands like/need that.

What kind of equipment and software did you use?

For shooting: A pair of Sony HDRFX-1’s, though I rarely shoot with two cameras. For editing I used an iMac duo-core with a couple of MyBook terabyte drives on the side (haha). I used the Final Cut Suite. I use Studio Pro and Livetype a lot.

What was the production process like?

Wow, where do I start?
Pre-production is driven by the brand and your script/story-board.
Production is a matter of stamina and staying power. How much will do you have to shoot until you know you have it right?
Post production is always a matter of willingness to try things in different ways (in editing) until you get it exactly how you want it. Sometimes accidents and discovery are the mother of invention. There are some truths however I adhere to. The most important being my belief that there is a specific frame in every clip that is the correct edit point. It is not a frame earlier, nor is it a frame later, than that exact frame.

How were the winners determined?

By the brand.

What are you going to do with the prize money?

Do you know how much rent is in Southern California?

What advice would you give to other people entering creative competitions?

Fall in love with the revision process. I regularly think I am done at least 20 different times in every project. Also, surround yourself with people whose opinion you respect, and be willing to make changes (kill your babies) once you receive a consensus of opinion.

Are you currently working on any other projects?

I will be doing some editing work for the Ocean Institute here in So Ca in the coming weeks/months. I also have a bid in on a Water Purification commercial. They are a Body Glove brand with a product launch in August. They understand my vision for branding their product. I think they will use me; I will find out next week.
But if you mean contests, yes, I am a sucker for a good contest and yes, I just submitted to the Klondike contest. You can find my entry on my Youtube page:

I will be shooting a second spot for the contest in the coming weeks, in-between Boy Scout camp (Scout Leader), my daughter’s birthday (July), and the other activities that surround a married father of four children.

What are your future aspirations in the field?

To become a better filmmaker/producer/director/editor/actor. I am proud to be part of this new breed of “do-it-yourself” content creators who are giving the status quo a run for their money and making them rethink the way they do business. It is a powerful feeling to know that the doors have been opened to the world of branding for anyone who has the vision and the competency to pull it off.

It is a heady feeling when you have a broadcast schedule for a commercial you created that is airing on national television, 15 or 20 times per day, for a full business quarter. I had that feeling with Doritos. I will have it again with I want to be in a situation where it doesn’t impress me anymore, if you catch my drift.

My immediate short-term goals include securing representation as a Director. It will be easier to get work from brands with a reputable agent as an advocate.

June 13, 2008

Cool Tools: Fix My Movie

Today’s technology has placed video cameras in all sorts of devices ranging from cell phones to laptops. It’s always great to have a camera on you; after all, who knows when you’ll find something worth filming. The problem is that the videos in cell phones capture in painfully low resolutions. They often come out blurry and unwatchable, with the Gordon’s Fisherman looking more like Big Bird. Now there’s a service that lets you take these videos and increase their quality. Fix My Movie!

It works like this. You transfer the video in your computer or cell phone to the website and within thirty minutes they will have upgraded the quality of the video. Fix My Movie claims that it increases resolution up to four times, brings out new details, gets rid of noise and compressing artifacts, and automatically brightens dark videos.

The examples on the website show definite improvement in the quality of the video clips. The images are brighter, cleaner, and details in the foreground are much sharper. Strangely, some details in the background aren’t quite as sharp in the fixed version. The bottom line is that images are much better after they are processed by Fix My Movie.

Fix My Movie was created by MostionDSP, a company which designs software for improving video from a wide range of sources including forensics. Fix My Movie is a natural extension of their work, with this one being aimed at the consumer market. While the service is currently free, the company will be launching a premium version which lets users do a few more things including grabbing super high quality JPEG files from video.

To get started you can signup for a free account and begin uploading video files. Make sure your videos don’t exceed 15Mb, that’s the maximum file size. The service also has an email feature where you can mail them the video at Once finished, you can download your enhanced video in Windows Media, iPod (Quicktime), and Flash video formats. An embed code is also available for sharing in blogs and social sites. Go fix your movie at

June 10, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Filmmaker: Interview with Lance Mungia

Lance Mungia
is a screenwriter and film director. He wrote and directed the film Six String Samurai. He co-wrote and directed The Crow: Wicked Prayer for Dimension films. Mungia also wrote and directed the short film, Garden For Rio, produced at Loyola Marymount University, where he attended as a film student. Mungia recently won MoveOn.Org's Obama in 30 seconds contest for his commercial titled "Obamacan."

What's your title?


How do you explain your job to your mother?

Well I wouldn’t because my mother’s dead. But to my family in general, I mean it’s really hard. I mean they’ve always figured I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, but they really don’t understand what it is that a filmmaker really does. You really just sort of have to make it seem like everything is going along as usual. It’s very difficult to explain what I do even to my family. Basically you just say you’re an artist and you’ll go to law school but not yet. It’s like the whole thing, be a doctor or be a lawyer; if you want to make money don’t get into making films.

How did you get started?

I started using a camera and shooting stuff on my own. I actually bought this old Russian newsreel camera. I got it from Siberia for like 400 bucks. I just went out and shot a short film, just to see if I could do it. I edited the whole thing in-camera because I didn’t know anything about editing. It was actually a pretty good way for you to teach yourself to edit and I had such a blast making the short film that I decided that’s what I really want to do. But I recommend that if someone wants to go to film school, they should go to junior college first.

What's your educational background? How did you get experience?

I went to junior college for a couple years just to get all my general education out of the way. That way, by the time you get to a four-year school, you don’t have to take any of the BS classes and spend a ton of money doing it. You get to focus solely on what you want to do and it was way cheaper. I knew people who had to drop out and work just because they couldn’t pay off their student loans. So I’m still stuck with loan debt but it’s really a lot smarter just to go to junior college first.

How do you sharpen your skills and stay motivated?

You watch movies. I watch good movies and I hang around people who are already motivated and who are already doing it. I mean, so much success is just surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. If you’re around people who also want to be artists, want to be successful with what they do, it usually rubs off. In turn, you can motivate them.

What advice do you give to those who want to join your profession?

It just really helps to have a good support network and I actually think having a support network is the reason you go to film school. I mean you don’t need to go to film school; you can just watch a bunch of movies and make movies yourself. And I would rather see somebody put a hundred thousand dollars into making a movie. The problem is if you don’t know what you have to say. If you don’t know the people you want to collaborate with, that’s the problem. I think film school really helps you out. I mean what do you want to be, what do you want to say; it just gives you that kind of support cushion to network and to meet other people you might want to collaborate with for years to come. I just feel like you can really make yourself in film. It doesn’t require you to go to UCLA or USC or NYU. It’s really just a matter of who you surround yourself with wherever they are.

A Series of Questions:

What do you like most about your job?

Affecting people; I think that as a storyteller you get to affect people and you get to sort of put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Like the thing we shot with John for the Obama ad. I mean it’s not even something that was really directed, or something that was really sort of overly polished or overly thought out. It was really simple. But still, the communication that you can get through a visual medium is so much more powerful. It’s kind of like the only growing art form that is always growing and always expanding. The internet completely revolutionized it. I think that’s the coolest thing about making a movie is that you get the gratification of people being able to come and respond to your work and hopefully appreciate it or not appreciate it. But definitely react to it and that’s cool because it brings you into the collective unconscious. Just sort of allows you to speak in a way that’s bigger than just yourself and that’s just the coolest thing about filmmaking. It’s fun to be able to tell stories, work with people you really like working with and to interact with actors and swap stories.

Where do you find inspiration?

My inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I think it’s always been, at least in the past, sort of from the desire to push the limits a little bit and go out and just tell a story in an interesting way. I’m inspired by other filmmakers, but lately my family. I have a kid now and I mean, in a way, film makes you immortal. I have this idea of passing on what you’re doing to another generation. To me that’s really cool and it inspires me and it keeps me achieving the best I can. Because when you know that maybe your kids or their kids are going to be watching. Maybe they won’t but maybe 100 years from now someone will find something that you did on the internet. It just gives you a feeling of touching a moment in history.

If you could go back in time and meet to your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

I would say don’t stress because it’s all small stuff. There is no one big huge battle, there is never one film, there are always ups and downs; you really need to take it all in stride. I think that the more you can keep things objective and in perspective, the better you’re going to do, because you’re never as good as they say and you’re never as bad as they say. You’re only true judge is yourself. No one else is going to judge you; you don’t need to stress about doing anything other than what you want to do. Like I said, being objective about it, knowing when something works and knowing when it doesn’t work- pure objectivity.

What’s your motto?

Keep on doing it, don’t stop dreaming. I know that sounds cliché but it really is true. Just keep going. Don’t lose your sense of childhood wonder. For me the coolest thing about film is getting excited. I mean, seeing things with a fresh eye, and as long as you have that ability it’s as if you’re seeing it for the first time. And being excited about it; I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t know how you make that a motto, just stay excited. Find something that excites you.

June 6, 2008

Cool Tools: Aviary

A look in the birdcage…

Aviary was created by creatives for creatives – a perfect complement, we think, for our members. So named because its products all refer to birds, Aviary offers an online suite of creative applications. Imagine having access to tools as powerful as Adobe’s Creative Suite at your disposal – at a fraction of the cost. Aviary’s products include an image editor, a vector editor, a video editor, a painting simulator, and a 3D modeler.

The complete applications suite interacts seamlessly, allowing a designer to import swatch from its painting simulator into its image editor, while doing complex bitmap processing of a 3D object developed in Hummingbird. Further more, Aviary offers collaborative tools and a marketplace where finished products can be offered for sale. The company’s blog, features an impressive gallery of renderings and showpieces. Our particular favorite is the unzipping kitten.

Aviary is a private subsidiary of Worth1000, LLC, based in New York. The company is currently in beta and planning to launch in June.

Black Turtle Media members are invited to beta test Aviary’s products. The first 25 members to sign up at will receive early bird invitations.

Keep an eye on our site for upcoming information about Aviary’s launch and a new contest!

June 3, 2008

A Day in the Life of an Account Manager: Interview with Jenn Swette

Jenn Swette is an account representative at FulfillNet, an integrated fulfillment company. Prior to her current position, Jenn walked the delicate tightrope between creatives and clients at two full-service Midwest advertising agencies.

What’s Your Title?

Account manager. I make sure that the people who are employed, to count and put things in a box to ship, don't mess-up too bad. When they do, I get to call the client and pretend there is a logical explanation as to why we couldn't do that.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

I make sure the signs, with the pretty people on them in the stores, make it there.

How did you get started?

Persistence. And I got a shot at an Account Coordinator position at an agency. Let's just say that from then on it's been a learning experience to not work in an NE Wisconsin agency!

What's your educational background? How did you get experience?

University of Wisconsin – Madison, with a Marketing degree from the prestigious School of Business. I guess I didn't get enough experience seeing as that's what people say during interviews I go to.

What was your first job in the industry?

Account Coordinator at Infusion, inc. Previously Goltz Seering.

What was the last project you worked on?

It was a freelance project analyzing and writing a report on survey results for a large consulting firm.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

It normally starts out pretty okay but then someone messes something up and I have to find a way to apologize to the client for something that we really shouldn't have messed up on. The funny thing is that I can't really tell the client what happened because no one from "operations" can tell me what happened. The answer I get is that it's an opportunity for "process improvement". Still haven't figured out how to give a client that answer.

How do you sharpen your skills and/or stay motivated?

Trendwatching and Springwise [are two website I frequent] because they help me stay focused so I can start something to make my own money!!

What advice do you give to those who want to join your profession?

Agency life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Get in on the client/corporate side of marketing. That's where the money and authority are. Unfortunately you'll probably have to move to China for one of those jobs the way things are going.

A series of questions:

What’s the best thing about your job?

Travel to New York City.

What major job annoyance would you eliminate forever?

The Office Space Effect.

Where do you find inspiration?

Haven't found that place yet.

Where do you hope to be (career-wise) in another year?

If not becoming independently wealthy, then in a position I can be proud to tell people.

What’s your personal motto/slogan?

Wish I had one.

If you could go back in time and meet to your pre-professional self, what would you tell her?

You should have been a Doctor!