Take a Filmmaking Master Class with Werner Herzog This Summer

Teacher Herzog

Throughout his prolific, provocative and famously independent career, Werner Herzog has brought a probing, operatic intensity to each of his films. The 73-year-old director of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man and nearly 70 other features and documentaries, "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting," Roger Ebert once observed. "Even his failures are spectacular."

Now a full-time resident of Los Angeles, he's still making movies that way—Lo and Behold, his late-to-the-party but no less penetrating exploration of the connected world, comes to theaters in August and has a lot to say about what motivates, inspires and confounds him as a filmmaker. That's one reason he created his Rogue Film School, a series of "infrequent" (roughly once a year) four-day seminars for some five dozen people he has delivered in person at locations around the world since 2009.

Visit the series' Web site and you'll find a set of defining principles that exude Herzogian creed with a technology-free passion for craft, poetry and his chosen "way of life": "The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted," he writes. "It is for those who have traveled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lock-picking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects."

He teaches all of those things in his seminars, requires each participant to complete a viewing and reading list—including Virgil's Georgics and The Warren Commission, which he continues to recommend during public appearancesand prohibits the use of "laptops, iPads, cell phones, and recording devices of any kind." That's necessary, he believes, for active participation but also to help his students better understand how he achieves his filmic holy grail: "illumination and an ecstasy of truth." 

Ten years before he launched Rogue Film School, Herzog introduced his theory of "ecstatic truth" in filmmaking in the Minnesota Declaration, a personal/professional manifesto that laid out his separatist views on cinema verité. He delivered it publicly with Roger Ebert at his side during a Q&A at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The museum's tribute to Herzog featured a month-long series of his diverse body of work that has eddied between features and documentaries from the start. Reading it now, one can almost see Herzog popping up in Westeros, a voice-over knight of the realm — or virtuous High Sparrow — with camera in hand: "Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.…The gauntlet is hereby thrown down."

To gain an audience with the master in his Rogue Film School seminars, the most recent of which took place in Munich in March, one must first spend $25 to apply, then pay a $1500 fee upon acceptance. You might get lucky and hear bits of his curated philosophy during a screening Q&A or at international conferences, but the longform masterclass is clearly where Herzog shines. (Back in 2006, however, he had not yet embraced his own professorial potential in this interview with StudioDaily's former sister publication Film & Video.)

A more affordable and accessible option is coming to the Internet this summer: San Francisco-based MasterClass will present Herzog's five-hour lesson in feature and documentary techniques. The director will touch on such topics as storytelling, financing, leading a crew, cinematography, working with actors, locations, editing, and interview techniques. Pre-enrollment for the $90 session opened last week and MasterClass CEO and co-founder David Rogier couldn't be more thrilled. Herzog "is fearless," he says. "He inspires, pushes and teaches you how to see the world differently and then capture it for an audience." Plus, adds co-founder and Creative Director Aaron Rasmussen, "The class will save you from personally having to drag a ship over a mountain in the Amazon or go to Antarctica in the freezing cold."

Winners and Losers at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

In the U.S., mainstream coverage of the Cannes Film Festival focuses on the celebrity-strewn red carpet outside screenings of high-profile titles like Woody Allen's Cafe Society, Steven Spielberg's The BFG, Jodie Foster's Money Monster and Shane Black's The Nice Guys. But the heart and soul of Cannes is its Competition, where a small number of carefully selected titles — less than two dozen — from veteran directors and newcomers alike screen in an effort to earn the prizes that can dramatically raise their profile with arthouse audiences worldwide, not to mention the distributors who will take on the risk of releasing the films.

I, Daniel Blake

Director Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, won the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize.

1) Who were the winners?

Cannes awards can be inscrutable to newcomers. For instance, the Grand Prix is second place behind the top prize, the Palme d'Or, or "Golden Palm." The Prix du Jury or "Jury Prize" is, essentially, third place. Other awards include the Prix d'interprétation féminine (Best Actress), the Prix d'interprétation masculine (Best Actor), the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director), and the Prix du scénario (Best Screenplay). Only films screened "in competition" at the grand Théâtre Lumière as part of the festival's Official Selection are eligible for these awards.

Palme d'Or I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach
Grand Prix It's Only the End of the World by Xavier Dolan
Prix du Jury American Honey directed by Andrea Arnold
Best Director Cristian Mungiu, Graduation
Best Screenplay Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman
Best Actress Jaclyn Jose, Ma' Rosa
Best Actor Shahab HosseiniThe Salesman

The Last Face

Critics are said to have turned on director Sean Penn's The Last Face before the opening titles were off the screen. 

2) Who were the losers?

Unquestionably the biggest loser of the 2016 Festival de Cannes was The Last Face, a love story set against the backdrop of civil unrest in West Africa, directed by Sean Penn and starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem. Reviewers are said to have begun laughing at the film during its opening moments, leaving it dead in the water. The Hollywood Reporter called it "A … stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn." The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis observed that the festival would have done it a favor by keeping it out of competition, muting the inevitable belly-flop. As it is, The Last Face is saddled with one heck of an albatross as its producers try to find a buyer.

Only the End of the World

Director Xavier Dolan took harsh criticism of It's Only the End of the World seriously.

3) What's it like to watch a movie that you just spent the last two years of your life on bomb at its Cannes premiere?

You might think that a world-renowned cineaste who won the 2014 Cannes Jury Prize, returned last year as a member of the jury, and was back in competition in 2016 with another award-winning feature wouldn't care much what critics say. Not so for Xavier Dolan, who (perhaps unwisely) told a festival reporter that the prevalence of reviews like this one that called his film It's Only the End of the World "screechy [and] mawkish" and compared Dolan to a "sulking … teenager" made him contemplate abandoning his directorial career. You could say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and it's true that the story probably earned more attention for Dolan's film, especially from the mainstream press. But filmmaking is a tough job and a director needs to project confidence — if nothing else, for the sake of getting the next project funded. If you read your reviews, try to take something from them that you can use. But don't dwell on the bad ones, and certainly don't let them dominate the conversation about your own work.

Toni Erdmann

Many critics expected Maren Ade's well-reviewed Toni Erdmann to take the top prize, but it ended up winning nothing.

4) Wait — didn't you just say that Dolan's film won second prize at the festival? Couldn't they have chosen a film that more people liked?

The second-place finish for It's Only the End of the World was quite controversial, given how widely disliked the film was. Presumably members of the jury liked that movie a lot more than its critics did. But Cannes has something of a reputation for oddball award picks. Each Cannes jury is made up of a mix of actors, directors and producers, and they were led this year by director George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road). What kind of films did they favor? Well, top-prize-winner I, Daniel Blake is at least a safe pick, a social issues movie from director Ken Loach (KesThe Wind That Shakes the Barley), the long-standing master of social issues movies. But Loach already has a Palme d'Or, and many critics complained that the award should have gone to another film, perhaps Maren Ade's highly acclaimed comedy-drama Toni Erdmann or Jim Jarmusch's low-key Adam Driver film Paterson. Also very well-reviewed but locked out of awards were The Unknown Girl from Belgium's two-time Palme-winning Dardenne Brothers and The Handmaiden from Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook, who won the Grand Prix for Oldboy and the Jury Prize for Thirst.

American Honey

Director Andrea Arnold's American Honey was shot partially on 35mm film.

5) Were there any other big winners at the festival?

Maybe motion-picture film. Celluloid may be on its last legs, but when it comes to showcases for cinema as art, and the kind of films Cannes is known for, it's showing some staying power. According to Kodak, of 21 films in competition this year, only four were shot (in whole or in part) on film. But two of those — I, Daniel Blake and It's Only the End of the World — won the top two awards. That's impressive. Who knows? Maybe the filmed image swayed the judges, consciously or unconsciously, to favor those titles against their digital competition. Also shooting on film were leading French auteur Olivier Assayas for Personal ShopperMidnight Special writer-director Jeff Nichols for Loving, and Cannes veteran Andrea Arnold (her Red Road and Fish Tank are already Jury Prize winners) for American Honey, which won the Jury Prize and featured "a few" scenes shot on film, Kodak tells us. So there's one bulletproof argument for going the extra mile to shoot your next feature on film — just make sure it ends up in competition at Cannes!

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Spotify, OTT, The Rugby Channel and the Problem (?) of Peak TV

spotify logoIt's official: the newest outlet for TV series is Spotify, which today launched a slate of original programs that include both documentary-style shows about music and a Tim-Robbins produced mockumentary series set in the world of aspiring EDM superstars. It's further evidence that just about every online service with a sizable audience wants to get into the game of original content. But is that a good thing?

Industry pundits began kicking around the idea of "Peak TV" last year. It's a cautionary term meant to counter the idea that we're living in a new Golden Age of Television by questioning whether greater and greater quantities of quality TV shows can connect with enough viewers to recoup the cost of production.

FX Networks CEO John Landgraf is widely credited with starting the conversation at last year's Television Critics Association summer event, when he asserted that the production of scripted TV series had reached a breaking point. The issue, he said, was not only that it was difficult for viewers to locate worthy shows in the increasingly broad television landscape, but that it was becoming nearly impossible for broadcasters and OTT distributors to bring them successfully to market by building sizable audiences for each one.

"This is simply too much television," Landgraf said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "My sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV In America, and that we'll begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond."

In a January follow-up with the Los Angeles Times, readers got a sense where at least some of Landgraf's frustation was coming from, when he admitted that FX viewership was down about 13 percent year over year — and called on Netflix to release viewership figures on its own shows. Netflix and Amazon have been tight-lipped when it comes to those numbers, enjoying the critical success of award-winning shows like Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and Amazon's Transparent but declining to specify how many people are watching.

It's easy to see why new players are entering the TV business despite the programming glut. Historically, a hit series — or at least a critical darling — has been a ticket to respectability for newcomers. The letters AMC originally stood for American Movie Classics, and that channel was little more than a Turner Classic Movies wannabe until a program called Mad Men vaulted it into the big leagues. And Amazon Prime was a retail discount club until Transparent put a hot social and political spotlight on the company's previously unloved video-streaming service.

Horace and Pete's

But things get especially interesting when you don't need a broadcast network or even an over-the-top service like Netflix to launch a TV show. Comedian Louis C.K. walked away from his FX series Louie in part to self-produce Horace and Pete, a 10-episode one-hour-plus scripted series that's shot like a multi-camera sitcom. The show is distributed via his own website (if you're enough of a fan of Louis C.K. to want to buy tickets to his performances, or download a $5 stand-up special, odds are you're already on the email list where he gets word out about new projects) for a small per-episode fee, or $31 for the whole series.

Louis C.K. being Louis C.K., he was able to convince real stars to join the cast — Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange. But it's unclear how successful Horace and Pete was as a business venture. Last month, the comedian told Howard Stern that he hadn't made his money back and was in fact "millions of dollars in debt" after funding production. (It couldn't have helped that he kept dropping episodes on Saturdays, historically a slow night for TV-watching.) But that story changed, and he later claimed the show had made money thanks partly to tax incentives. "The tax rebate we're getting from New York State and the amount of sales we have so far have put the show in the black," he told The Hollywood Reporter as he mounted a "balls to the wall" Emmys campaign for the show.

At the Association of Moving Image Archivists' Digital Asset Symposium held in New York City last week, Paul D. Hamm, CEO of OTT video services platform Endavo, was trying to seduce attendees by promising that OTT represents a huge opportunity for content creators as well as anyone sitting on a massive archive of digital video. He noted that OTT distribution adds pay-per-view and/or subscription revenue potential to the traditional advertising model, allowing content owners to hedge their bets against a single strategy.

The Rugby Channel

"Content creators now have the opportunity, using OTT and similar models, to go direct to consumers, and that's a huge change from 10 to 15 years ago," he told attendees. "The business models are changing, and it's a very massive growth market that's starting to develop." He cited The Rugby Channel, which offers live streams, VOD content, archives, and stats to subscribers for a fee of $4.99/month or $49/year, as a niche success story.

So if we are living in an era of peak television, all these new purveyors of OTT content will have to do two things. One, they will have to keep costs down. That might seem obvious, but it's easy to lose sight of your budget if you're trying to "go Hollywood" in a meaningful way. Spotify seems to understand this; its episodes will top out at a mere 15 minutes each, which is one way to get value out of a production budget. And two, they will have to make use of a direct line to their target audience. Louis C.K. had that thanks to his email list, the Rugby Channel has a shot at developing it among American rugby fans who are woefully underserved by traditional sports broadcasting, and Spotify can take advantage of an existing worldwide subscriber based of nearly 30 million users, all of whom have at least a passing interest in music.

And if Spotify can get its users in the habit of watching music-related programming via the service, that opens up new avenues for additional revenue. For instance, it's possible the service could start getting musicians and record labels to finance their own promotional programming in exchange for space on the Spotify video channel, and Spotify exclusives could actually drive new subscriptions — imagine if fans had to have a Spotify subscription rather than an HBO subscription to check out Beyoncé's Twitter-melting Lemonade video album. That would have drawn some eyeballs and, maybe, driven some revenue.

But even if video programming eventually moves from traditional TV channels to an ever-expanding universe of OTT media purveyors, how many eyeballs are available? For a critical discussion of online viewership metrics, see this Gawker explainer, which argues that even wildly successful Internet videos to date have reached an audience that's a mere fraction of primetime viewership. And that brings us back to the real issue of Peak TV — the more fragmented the viewing audience becomes, the harder it is to monetize in a big way. As established companies like FX see their mindshare among TV viewers challenged by a multiplicity of online rivals, they might start to get an idea of how the big three TV networks felt in the 1980s, as widespread adoption of cable television eroded their strangehold on programming. Call it a programming glut or call it "peak TV," it's going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Now That’s a Changeup: MLB Network’s Offsite Infrastructure

MLB Network DIAMOND

One of the most daunting challenges in the media industry is media management for a major sports organization. Think about the amount of content flowing in on a daily basis during the season, when as many as 15 Major League Baseball games are being played on a given day — each of them defined by a series of pitches and at-bats that demand a wealth of metadata description — and then consider the archival requirements as every one of those pitches must be maintained for posterity and easy retrieval. And then consider that MLB Network is itself a broadcaster, with programming dedicated to baseball. Keeping that beast fed with up-to-the-minute sports stats and video highlights would be a challenge all by itself. MLB keeps up with a custom asset-management infrastructure it calls DIAMOND, a backronym for Digitized Industry Assets Managed Optimally for Networked Distribution.

DIAMOND has been around for a while, but it's only in the last few years that much of its infrastructure has been moved offsite to a data center near its Secaucus, NJ headquarters. How does it all work? Tab Butler, senior director of media management and post-production for MLB Network, spoke at the Association of Moving Image Archivists' Digital Asset Symposium, held this week in New York City. Here are some highlights from his talk.

1) What's the bottom line? MLB Networks currently cares for 650,000 hours of unique content. The total is expected to consume 50 PB of storage — mostly on tape but some on SANs (see below) — by the time of the MLB All-Star Game scheduled for July 12.

2) Where does it come from? The size of the archive grows every time an umpire yells "Play ball!" — and not just by the length of a game. Consider that each game is represented by a "clean feed" without graphics and a "dirty feed" with stats, a scoreboard, and more superimposed on screen. There may also be multiple dedicated feeds for ISO camera positions, including one or more dugout cameras. The standard minimum for a single game is seven feeds, but Butler said there could be as many as 10 or 11.

3) How fast is it growing? In 2010, Butler said, DIAMOND was managing some 2,000 hours of new footage a week. Does that sound like a lot? Well, over the next six years that number tripled — today, MLB Network brings in some 6,800 hours of video every week, Butler said.


Hours of Footage Added to MLB Network Storage Every Week

Year Hours/week
2010 2,000
2011 2,500
2012 2,900
2013 3,600
2014 4,200
2015 5,200
2016 6,800

Source: Tab Butler


4) How is it edited? MLB Network was forced to reconsider its editorial workflow in 2012, as Final Cut Pro 7 and Grass Valley's Aurora came to their end of life. "We looked at Avid and other platforms, but we needed it to couple very closely with DIAMOND," Butler said. Adobe Premiere Pro, with its panel integration capabilties, turned out to do the trick. As a result, editors can search for footage right inside Premiere, then drag the matching clips right onto the timeline. DIAMOND DASH (that's short for DIAMOND Asset Sequence Handler) works with the AP ENPS newsroom platform and Grass Valley's Stratus Rundown to identify the materials that are being edited and send the finished cuts directly to a playout server. "We need to know about everything on every timeline and in every sequence," Butler said.

5) What's the best interface for logging footage? MLB Network's 20 DIAMOND logging workstations had originally been designed using big buttons on touch-screens for tagging clips with metadata. Users would tap a "pitch" button to start each play, then touch buttons that corresponded to terms that described what happened during the play. However, experiments eventually confirmed that those systems were too slow. Today, MLB Network logs video with a mouse-and-keyboard system that is faster than the original touch interface.

6) How much storage is online? MLB Network has two 2.88 PB SANS, one for the National League and one for the American League. Each SAN runs on the Quantum StorNext 5.2.2 file system and can hold about 90,000 hours of footage  A special "virtual file display" has been created to display the files to users in a way that's easy to understand. "It's the only way to manage the size and scope" of the DIAMOND storage system, Butler said.

7) What moved offsite? The company designed its data center in 2012 and 2013 and had it up and running in 2014. Recording, online storage, editing workstations and DIAMOND infrastructure were moved to 28 racks of VMWare infrastructure at Coresite's nearby location. The data center is connected to MLB Network via two redundant fiber paths.

8) What stayed in the office? The studio playback system, the tape archive, and the editorial personnel all stayed at MLB Network HQ nearby. Editors have access to 84 Adobe Premiere Pro editing workstations running on Cisco UCS C240 2RU rack servers at the data center connected to MLB Network over a single dark fiber path. Each one drives two displays, a keyboard and a mouse over MultiDyne KVM hardware with "no visible delays," Butler said.

Off the Beaten Path: NAB Day Three

On Wednesday, I tried a step-tracking app on my phone to see how much I actually walked around NAB, and by the time I hit the shuttle bus for the ride back to the hotel, I was just under 4 miles. (Walking from the shuttle to my room put me over 4 mi).  In those 4 miles I still found some new and interesting products.

 Palette2 

1. Palettegear Palette — The most far-out thing I saw was a user-configurable control surface for Adobe Premiere Pro by Palettegear. It is made up of several audio faders, buttons and knobs that are held together magnetically. It allows you to pull it apart, almost like Lego, and put it together in any layout that works for you. It is very easy to set up, and it can sense your configuration. Very cool! Different systems start at $199.

DracoMagicQue

2. Draco Broadcast Magicue Prompter  —  One of the most difficult operations for a small crew can be coming up with someone to run a teleprompter. With a MagiCue prompter, using their app for iOS (and Android later this year), you don't need a teleprompter operator. Once you feed the script to the app, it listens to your talent, follows your script as they read it, auto-scrolling and pausing when they pause. Right now it is tuned for English, but other languages are coming soon. Pricing TBA.

Sennheiser mke 440

3. Sennheiser MKE 440 — This compact stereo microphone is unlike anything I've seen before. It has two short shotgun mic elements to pick up stereo audio in a single unit. It looks like a pair of pants. Street price is $350.

4.  Sennheiser Action Cam Mic — No model number or pricing was given, nor were photos allowed of this prototype that attaches to GoPro and other action cameras. I did get to hear samples of the audio from a GoPro on a bike and on a kayak, and this mic actually makes the audio from the GoPro usable for productions.

Atomos Flame

5. Atomos Shogun Flame — This is a seven-inch 10-bit AtomHDR 1500nit Field Monitor with 4K/HD 10-bit ProRes/DNxHR recording, Sony and Canon raw to ProRes/DNxHR recording, professional HDMI, SDI and XLR connections along with LTC/Genlock & bidirectional SDI/HDMI conversion needed on set and in broadcast. Their drive caddies are now compatible with G-Tech enclosures. MSRP: $1695.

AJA-Utap

6. AJA U-Tap HDMI and HD-SDI — These USB 3 capture devices come in HDMI and HD-SDI models. These units allow you to use them for video-capture applications and video conferencing using a wide range of pro and consumer cameras. Easy set-up does not require drivers and works on Windows, Mac and Linux, and can easily be moved from computer to computer as needed. MSRP $345

AJA Helo

7.  AJA HELO — This is a standalone recording and streaming H.264 USB and SD recording device.  It has HDMI, HD-SDI, and audio ins and outs. It can be configured before standalone use via the USB connector. It is very affordable at an MSRP of $1295.

IDX-cw1

8. IDX CW-1 — This compact transmitter and receiver set allows uncompressed transmission of 1920×1080 over up to 328 feet, line of sight. The transmitter plugs into an HDMI out on the camera and the receiver can go HDMI in to a switcher. It is the most affordable HD transmitter/receiver set I've seen at MSRP $700.

IDX-CW-3

9. IDX CW-3 — This compact transmitter and receiver set allows uncompressed transmission of 1920×1080 up to 380 feet, line of sight, and operates in the 5 GHz band that doesn't require a license. The transmitter uses the HD-SDI out on the camera and the receiver can go HD-SDI into a switcher. It is the most affordable HD-SDI transmitter / receiver set I've seen at MSRP $1300.

GoPuck

Gopuck-2

10.  Go Puck 6XR – This is a portable, lightweight, rechargeable 9000 mAh battery for extending the record time of action cams. It was designed by Blake Fuller to power cameras in NASCAR race cars — the first lithium-ion battery for starting race cars. It has two USB power outputs, one for 5v and one for 5v, 9v and 12v. It can also power and quick-charge a cell phone. MSRP $99.

Tomorrow is the last day of NAB, sniff sniff. While I'm not scheduled to make a report, I'll be walking the halls looking for new products to review. Please let me know which of the items I reported on you'd like to see in a full review.

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