Tabb Firchau thinks a lot about the future of cinema. He’s the president of Freefly Systems, a company that makes high-end camera gear like $20,000 gimbals and $17,000 drones for Hollywood movies and shows. The company’s creations help professional filmmakers get sweeping aerial footage they can’t capture with a standard camera rig, but those high prices make the equipment—and the shots—inaccessible to non-pros.
Like any good entrepreneur, Firchau wants to democratize the market. Freefly is doing just that with the Movi, a $299 stabilizing gimbal for the iPhone (and only the iPhone) that’ll launch during the first half of next year.
Like any gimbal, it holds your camera still while you’re filming and mitigates bumps and shakes. A pair of motors inside the hand-held unit work to keep the phone from bouncing around while recording, and some nifty software keeps the whole system in sync.
Earlier this week, I met with Firchau to get an early look at the new Movi gimbal. He brought with him a couple of the five 3D-printed prototypes and plopped one of them down on the table outside a local coffee shop. The Movi is about seven or eight inches wide, and a little taller than an iPhone 8 Plus. The mount for your iPhone connects to one side of a flat base; the other side has a grip with a slew of buttons and triggers. You clip your iPhone into the mount, pair it to the Movi using Bluetooth, then open the Movi app to start shooting.
There are a few different capture modes. The first, which Firchau says he expects beginners to use, is called Majestic Mode. It’s the basic stabilizing mode—it keeps the shot steady no matter fiercely you jiggle the rig, and you can use the app to fine-tune the speed with which the lens catches up to your movements. The only hiccup, Firchau points out, is that the iPhone’s own optical image stabilization system can clash with Movi’s, so if you jerk the grip around too quickly, you can end up with some jittery artifacts.
For there, the Movi’s modes get more complex. There’s A-B mode—Firchau says it’ll be called Echo Mode by the time the Movi ships—which lets you set an A and B point in your shooting environment with a little trigger on the grip, and then it’ll record footage panning from the first point to the second. You can tweak the speed of the pan, too.
Then there’s Orbit Mode, which lets you circle around a subject while remaining perfectly still. Right now you have to trust yourself to move around the subject, which can be tricky for budding cinematographers. Firchau hopes that, in the future, Freefly will be able to use Apple’s AR Kit to select a subject and have the Movi intelligently track it. His team has gotten AR Kit’s tracking to work, but he says getting it to record has been a hassle.
Finally, you can record slowly panning time-lapses with the Movi by setting it down on a flat surface, setting the exposure, and telling it how long to record. The gimbal moves the camera slightly between each shot, and you won’t notice it moving while it records. But the final shots are about as crisp and attractive as anything you’d expect in a professional production.
Run and Gun
After the demo, Firchau asked if I knew of any places in San Francisco where he could grab some good time-lapse shots. I suggested the Ferry Building, a bustling indoor-outdoor marketplace, and brashly invited myself to tag along.
Along the narrow sidewalks of the city, Firchau told me he’s excited to see people bring Movis into places where bigger, more professional rigs wouldn’t work. “I was able to do three-axis, motion-controlled time-lapses in an airport,” he says, “You can’t do that with a full rig without crazy permissions.”
At the Ferry Building, we loaded up our Movis and started shooting. First, we planned to walk from one end of the market to the other, each recording a time-lapse of our walk. After shooting a few time-lapses (his all turned out way better), Firchau showed me one last trick: Roll Mode. It rotates the camera on a horizontal axis to give anywhere from a 180 to a 360 degree view of the scene.
Traditional high-end video rigs usually require two operators for more complex shots. “The two-person thing is really difficult because the two people have to be really synced up or the shots turn out terribly,” Firchau says, “We tried to bundle all of that into the Movi to do a perfect move between two points, which is tough to do by hand.”
“Taking a photo and putting a filter on it is one thing. But creating a short film, and then sharing it with people and have them like it is really tough,” he says.
The Movi ships during the second quarter of 2018, but pre-orders (and plenty of sample videos) are available on the product’s website today.
MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies
Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”
Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”
It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.
I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?
Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.
The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.
People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)
Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.
Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:
We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.
I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.
Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV
Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema
Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.
Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.
Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.
None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.
Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi
You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.
And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”
What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.
Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.
“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.
These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.
The WIRED Guide to Star Wars
Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.
But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.
These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)
But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”
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