Notes on Baba Yaga

Concerning the famous Slavic child-eating tree hag, the architectural innovation of her “hut of death” utilizing giant chicken legs is grotesque, but not entirely uninspired.

But I must say Modest Mussorgsky’s 1874 masterpiece Pictures at an Exhibition seems to have benefited immeasurably from this mortar-riding witch.

Beyond this, the prosecution rests.

Please move in an orderly fashion to the clearly marked exits.

Next week, we unfold Mr. Hinton’s tesseract. So bring gloves.

Lone Wolf & Cub 2: Lightning Swords of Death


This is AnimEigo’s licensed DVD release of the original, unedited and Japanese-language version of Baby Cart to Hades, the third film in producer Shintaro Katsu’s celebrated, six-volume Lone Wolf and Cub film series. The U.S. distributor originally released this title in 2004 and has since repackaged it with all six films in a value-priced set called the Lone Wolf and Cub DVD Collector’s Edition Box, as well as separately releasing the English-dubbed version re-titled as Shogun Assassin 2:  Lightning Swords of Death.

Provided by Mark Pollard.

Format: Region 1 NTSC DVD
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Japanese 2.0
Subtitles: English
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: 2004.05.11

Any questions?

Notes on Fight Choreography


As a career martial artist, this one is close to my heart.

The two most important aspects of good fight choreography is 1) the Athletic Quotient (AQ) of your actors; and 2) the amount of time you have to train them.

Recent cultural breakthroughs have enabled truly unique innovations in fight choreography and exposed the American audience to bold new choreography previously limited to Asia.

Regardless of what style you choose, it is critical — and the word is critical — that you schedule enough time to train your actors in the sequence. The more exotic the fight sequence, the longer it will take. There are no exceptions.

For actors who fantasize about being in a sexy on-screen superfight, it is vitally important that he or she maintain an above-average physical conditioning.  Not only will you have to throw punches and kicks, you will have to feign impact and injuries repeatedly for every take, and that can be exhausting no matter how good a shape you are in.

Aside from the obvious reasons of health and figure, actors should always be capable of some exertion. Though such classes as Tai-Bo and kickboxing pale in comparison to the robust styles of Kung Fu and its many variations, these classes will at least get the actor thinking about his or her body, how it moves, lines of energy, dimensions and range of movement.

For the fight choreographer, there can be no compromise.  If you are in charge of fight in a film you must lord of your actors and ensure they arrive at every rehearsal, excuses notwithstanding.   If you are fortunate enough to be a director/fight choreographer, take a long, hard look at Athletic Quotient (AQ) of your actors and make the call. Some actors, no matter how talented, pretty or compelling, simply cannot fight.

If you need them in your movie, put them some place their gross lack of dexterity will not hinder your film. If they are salvageable, work them and work them hard.

Actors who are unable or unwilling to commit to the training of any film should be released and recast. No excuses. Your production is too valuable to jeopardize over flakes and indecisive men and women. Constant tardiness or absences should be rewarded with dismissal.

With regard to training, no amount of coddling will do — hit the ground running. If your actors do not have a lot of experience but they are capable of the physical actions, you will need patience with them, but don’t cut them any slack.  There is no easy way to get a convincing martial authority on film other than to drill the actor relentlessly until the action is second nature, reflexive and commanding.

A confused, weak and timid fight is not a fight, it’s an embarrassment.

Bottom line:  if your film has a lot of action take your time. Fight the right people then train them hard.  Put them on a strict diet if necessary. At a minimum, the actor  should be complimenting their martial arts training with a regular weekly workout at the gym — two to three times a week.

If this is unattainable, move on to other actors who either already have physical fitness training and enthusiasm for athleticism, or keep searching until you find someone.

Beyond all this, your actors are precious. Do not endanger them. If you need something dangerous, obviously you hire a stunt double. Just make sure the stunt double is approximately the same height, weight, complexion and race as your actor. Otherwise it just looks odd.

Notes on Editing

Editing can either the most frustrating or the easiest process to a film, depending on how competently the film was shot.

Either way editing is where you movie comes to life.  And it is the most creative part of the film finishing process.  There are lots of ways to edit a film and you need to be sure you have entrusted your work to a thematically competent editor who understands mood, tension, pacing and scene punctuation.

Most importantly, find an editor who thinks and feels like you do, who understands and can improve upon your scenes with appropriate contractions of dialog, beat-oriented cuts, intelligent transitions.

Editing is hard and remains one of the hardest disciplines of any film.

Like all aspects of filmmaking, you will spend the rest of your life getting better at it.

Cut and re-cut but know when to let it go.

Notes on Camera Operators and Camera Safe Frames

Jetrefilm Entertainment is an independent film

I’ve gone over this before but it’s worth repeating.

Qualify your camera operators. Someone who knows how to turn on a camera and record something is not a camera operator a director can rely on.

Having recently finished a feature film, I had several hurdles in editing that were the direct result of incompetent camera your frame

There is no such thing as “camera safe” – clear your frame edge to edge, top to bottom, left to right. The entire viewfinder should be eligible for use.

No debate.

Watch your background

You will stand in slack-jawed horror at how indifferent some people behind the camera can be. I cannot count how many times I have seen camera operators declare their frame ready when there are objects and people (usually crew, if you can believe it) standing in the background.

First, fire your camera operator.  Then find someone who understands that crew people are paid to be behind the camera, not in front of it.  Your camera operator should be your first, middle and last line of defense against anomalies, anachronisms (pick-up trucks in the background of an Old West period film), glares, and errors.

Do not adjust color in camera

“Fixing it in post” is always the mantra of those people who don’t have to pay for fixing their blunders in post-production.

Aside from exposure and a minority of other camera settings, do not adjust color in camera.

I know of several films where several key scenes could not be used because in-camera color correction resulted in an irreparable crush of the chroma. End result: scene lost and story compromised.

Learn how to focus

This is a big one.

Okay, you would think this wouldn’t have to be said, but as I mentioned months ago in a previous post, learn how to focus your camera.

There was a scene in Shroud that was shot as a freebie, meaning I wasn’t really sure I was going to keep it in the final cut even when I was shooting it.

Well, it’s a good thing it was a superfluous scene because we discovered in editing the entire sequence was shot out of focus.  We shot the scene with two cameras at three angles: over the shoulder, reverse over the shoulder, and a master side shot.

Now, if you want to talk about stupidity, check this out…

The master side shot was facing the bar which had a huge wall mirror behind it.  The camera operator promised the frame was clear when in fact the entire crew could be seen in the reflection of the mirror – in every take. All the shots were useless.  What do you do?  Rescaling the master side shot failed to achieve a usable frame, so we had to scrap the side shot and hope to cut the scene from the over-the-shoulder and the reverse over-the-shoulder.

Every take of the reverse over-the-shoulder was glaringly out of focus. Can’t use a single second of any of the many takes.  Ruined.

The only angle that was semi-usable was the over-the-shoulder shot, but over half of these angles start off in focus then go out of focus, or have crazy camera movement (epileptic hand-held) that totally subverts the quietness of the scene.

End result:  the entire sequence had to be scrapped. Not really a loss as it was a bonus scene, but I can promise you the people who robbed me of my scene will never be put in charge of another one.

Check your Camera Settings

Every take, every scene, every hour, every day – check your settings.

Know what you are telling your camera to do. There is no excuse for surprises in your footage when they are delivered to the editor.

Notes on Producing

A film is made or marooned in the pre-production phase, specifically in the strength or weakness of its producers.

A producer who is not an alpha-minded, aggressive problem solver who cannot professionally and dispassionately project manage something as daring as even a small film project has no business being a part of your production.

Producers have a bad rap as the kill-joys and bean counters of a production who are always saying “no.”

That’s hyperbole, but its points to an underlying truth – you need someone with a cold, calculating perspective that can ensure the production is completed.

Find a good producer – and not some thief who wants to be in charge of the budget so he or she can siphon off 40% of your budget to subsidize their unjustifiably lavish lifestyle. That’s not happened to me yet, but even the big studio have plunderers just hoping someone is stupid enough to put them in charge of a huge escrow account.

  • Make a rational list of milestones, then hit them.
  • Keep your lines of communication open at all times.  Weekly if not daily updates.
  • Know where your money is going.
  • Cut losses and personnel who cannot or will not perform up to your expectations.
  • Make a great film, regardless of how much money you have.

Have fun.