Monthly Archives: September 2010

Canon 60d in two words: thank you

Canon’s brand-new 60d camera doesn’t represent a significant video technology breakthrough. So why am I so happy to have one in my hands this morning? The image quality is virtually identical to the 7d, it doesn’t autofocus faster, and its sound capabilities already exist on the 5d. Never mind. I was happy to pay the extra $50 so I could have this beauty delivered to my house this morning from the first place in the country to stock them. Why? For one reason: the articulating screen.

This small, low-tech addition is the difference between wanting to use my DSLR and actually using it. I shoot on a Steadicam Merlin a lot, and having this articulating screen means I’ll be able to use a Canon DSLR without flying blind.

And for “normal” shooting? If I had a quarter for every time I cursed Canon for making me break my neck or lie on the ground to peer through the back of the camera to get a low-angle shot, (which is like half of the time I’m shooting), this camera and the extra shipping would have been paid for long ago. Nice work, Canon!

I’ll be shooting with the Canon 60d this weekend and may have more to say about it. But I doubt there’s much more that needs to be said than this. Oh, maybe one more thing: here’s my recipe for balancing Steadicam Merlin on the Canon 60d (with Canon EFS 18-55mm lens):

Front weights: 1 mid, 1 finish
Lower weights: 1 start, 1 mid, 1 finish
Arc size: 10.75″
Mt. hole: M
Z: -3
G-platz: no

Record salmon run hits British Columbia

Something incredible is happening in BC right now: Salmon are returning home in record numbers. As many as 25 million sockeye are estimated to be migrating just one year after last year’s record low run of 1.7 million.

I was in British Columbia last weekend for a family reunion, and we camped along the banks of a tributary of the Fraser River. We didn’t see any salmon in the river. The next morning we went for a hike downstream and found this unbelievable rapids, and all the salmon were on the downstream side of it. Not one salmon could make it through. It rained all that night. We returned to the rapid with my video camera the next day, and discovered that with the extra water in the river, the salmon were on the move and a few of the strongest ones were able to make it.

It really is quite a spectacle to see these huge fish coming home. I cut together a one-minute film with highlights. Enjoy.

Miguel Gomes in Seattle tonight for NW Film Forum screening

It’s like the people at NW Film Forum have been reading my mind lately. First, they bring Vincent Moon to town, and he puts on a workshop that blows me away. Now Miguel Gomes is in town for a screening of “Our Beloved Month of August.” I put that film on the top of my “must see” list after reading the Sept. 2 NY Times review of the film, which noted how artfully it plows the rich territory between documentary and fiction. Only, I’m not in New York, where the 2008 film opened earlier this month, and it is nowhere to be found online, so what a delight to find that not only is it playing tonight at NW Film Forum, but the director will also be present. Can’t wait. Here’s the trailer, sans subtitles:

Warren Etheredge Art of the Interview workshop starts Monday

I attended this workshop a year ago, and took my interviewing skills to a whole ‘nother level. Etheredge is a real master who share skills he’s learned from more than 1,500 interviews with cultural figures from Charlie Kaufman to Chuck Palahniuk. This Art of the Interview workshop begins in Seattle on Monday, September 13th at 6pm. Here’s the details from the event page:

“Warren Etheredge is an extraordinary interviewer — one of the best in the country. He’s incredibly prepared for each encounter — and has an uncanny ability to absorb complicated material and distill it for audiences. He also has a terrific sense of humor that makes the interviews feel less like dutiful graduate seminars and more like a late-night talk show. Indeed, I think it’s only a matter of time before some media executive wises up and gives Warren his own show.” — Daniel H. Pink, author of DRIVE and A WHOLE NEW MIND

“Warren is the most knowledgeable and engaging interviewer and commentator on film that I have ever been engaged with. His insight and criticism are tempered with a keen sense of humor and irony. To be the subject of one of his filmmaking classes was both intellectually stimulating and a whole lot of fun.” — James Foley, filmmaker (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS; AT CLOSE RANGE)

“…I found [our] conversations about 4 times more fun and thought-provoking than any other moderated talks in which I’ve participated.” — David Benioff (screenwriter, THE 25TH HOUR; THE KITE RUNNER; WOLVERINE)

“Warren Etheredge is one of the most probing and thoughtful interviewers–not to mention the wittiest!” —David Grann, author of THE LOST CITY OF Z

Tuition for this intensive workshop is $100. ($75 for graduates of TheFilmSchool’s Summer 2010 session.)

I am always flattered by the (unsolicited!) feedback I receive from the folks I interview. I am thrilled they appreciate the spirit with which I approach interviews. (Owen Schmitt , formerly of The Seattle Seahawks, refers to my style as “chill”… and who am I to argue with the 6’2”, 247 pound fullback?)

Now you can learn how I prepare for interviews and how I respond to the different challenges presented by questioning folks on tape, on camera or before an audience. And, I’ll share insights and a little bit of gossip from the 1,000+ interviews I’ve conducted with the likes of Woody Allen, Amy Sedaris, Calvin Trillin, Naomi Watts, Robert Duvall, Mariel Hemingway, Salman Rushdie, Nora Ephron,Michael Pollan, Charlie Kaufman, Augusten Burrough, Andy Samberg, Vincent Bugliosi, Nicolas Cage and others.

You’ll learn why documentarian Peter Esmonde says: “I was more relaxed being interviewed by you than anyone before or since. It’s so clear that, aside from being attentive and intelligent, you know [your stuff] — and that makes the interview more of a conversation with a compadre.”

The venue for this special intensive will be the Phinney Neighborhood Association (6352 Phinney Ave N, Seattle WA 98103)

Tuition for this exclusive, 3+ hour workshop is only $100. You may mail check or money order (made payable to Warren Etheredge) to: 1752 NW Market St #118, Seattle 98107. Or, pay using PayPal, sending money to

Space is very limited, so please reserve your seat today and indicate you’ll be attending on Facebook.

About me… As founder of The Warren Report (, Warren Etheredge — America’s premier cultural conversationalist — curates and hosts over 200 events every year, a podcast and television series. The Warren Report promotes “slow culture” through commentary, outreach, events and education. He is the host of The High Bar, a television series that airs weekly on SCANtv. Warren has conducted over 1,500 interviews — in print, on camera, on stage — with a wide range of filmmakers, personalities and smarties including Amy Sedaris, Darren Aronofsky, Michael Pollan, Charlie Kaufman, Naomi Watts, Salman Rushdie, Robert Duvall, Alexander Payne, Nora Ephron, Augusten Burroughs and Chuck Palahniuk. Additionally, Warren is one of the founding faculty of TheFilmSchool, along with Tom Skerritt, Stewart Stern, Rick Stevenson and John Jacobsen. For six years, Warren served as the Curator for the 1 Reel Film Festival (at Bumbershoot), before that, he worked with the Seattle International Film Festival. Warren has staged over 40 plays in New York, published five books, written countless magazine articles and recently completed a feature-length documentary, HUMOR ME. He is the host of Words & Wine, The Good Life and the Biznik Innovators Series, conversation series with A-list authors, and is a regular contributor to Seattle’s premiere public radio station, KUOW. He speaks at festivals and conferences nationwide including The Screenwriting Expo, The NAMAC Conference, The International Food Bloggers Conference, The Austin Film Festival and Conference and Bastyr University’s Founders Weekend.

Zoom H1 as "wireless" lav = 4x cheaper

I’m going to make this a really brief post and let these images do most of the talking. Here’s two configurations that I’m now using for attaching a professional Tram TR50 lavalier mic on subjects for recording dialog. The first is with my Sennheiser G3 wireless system, which I love. But it costs $1,157.

Compare this with a system I’ve put together using Zoom H1 and a hardwired version of the Tram, which I found on eBay for $150 bucks. (Granted, this isn’t strictly an apples-to-apples comparison, or I’d have listed the full price of the Tram in each configuration. But I’ve found it easier to find the hardwired version of the TR50 on ebay, and harder to find the same mic wired for Sennheiser there.)

The image above shows what each configuration looks like when it’s hooked up and ready to roll. As you can see, the Sennheiser wireless wins hands-down in terms of compact size. But the wired version is surprisingly compact, and will hide under a shirt easily (unless it’s a tight t-shirt, in which case it’s a bit bumpy). Another drawback to the Zoom H1 is that there is no way to monitor recording. And if the subject sits down, leans back and accidentally presses the big red “on/off” button against the couch, for example, you may not be recording at all. I wish the Zoom H1 had a lock button for this reason. Update: Dmitry posted a comment explaining that there IS a lock function on the H1 (and also on the H4N) – to activate it, simply push the on/off switch toward the “hold” position – voilas – keys are all locked. Awesome.

Despite these few limitations, here’s the bottom line: The Zoom H1 used as a “wireless” lav is 4 times cheaper than the Zoom H4N configured with Sennheiser wireless. The audio quality that both systems produce is comparable, as I’ve pointed out in my H1 vs. H4N sound test previously.

There are also some advantages to using a wired lav – namely, you don’t have to worry about getting too far away from the subject, or interference from others using same frequencies, which can be a hassle in crowded news gathering situations such as a trade show floor.

David Sonnenshein sound design webinar starts Wednesday

I just signed up for what looks like a killer 6-week workshop, Sound Design for Pros, by accomplished sound designer and filmmaker David Sonnenshein. If you’re wondering whether this is worth the $250 bucks, check out this free one-hour overview webinar which gives an outline of the topics he’ll be covering and the assignments he’ll be giving. Here’s the scoop:

This free Intro Webinar will give you an overview of topics essential for the creative, professional sound designer that will be covered in detail in the upcoming six-week webinar series beginning Sept. 8. You will see and hear audiovisual demonstrations that will stimulate your auditory mind and sharpen your abilities to produce powerful soundtracks. We will also have an open chat for your questions related to sound design.

* Master theory and application of your audio craft to become an in-demand professional
* Discover tools and tricks to find an expressive voice and maximize your creativity
* Impact the audience effectively on intellectual, emotional and visceral levels
* Build successful communication skills with job-hiring producers and the post team

1. THE INTELLIGENT EAR – Listening Modes, Sound Qualities and Bipolarities
By deconstructing the listening experience into discrete elements, the grammar of sound design language gives you access for clear and powerful communication.
2. PLUG-IN POWER – Size, Distance, Speed and Non-Physical Reality
Understanding principles of real world acoustics and palette of subjective auditory experiences offers you enlightened use of digital processing tools.
3. RULES OF the BRAIN ROAD – Psychoacoustic Principles and Applications
When the curtain is lifted on how humans process auditory information, you master the art of sonic illusion (creating and hiding) as essential tools in sound editing.
4. SONIC TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM – Soundscapes and Sound Spheres
Creating an effective cinematic space depends on familiarity with your physical and social environment, and the knowledge of how to psychologically orient yourself through audio.
5. AUDIO BUILDING BLOCKS – Constructing Sound Events and Sound Objects
Mastering techniques of sequencing, layering and mixing will infuse sonic fragments (sound effects, words) with meaningful messages (sound phrases, sentences).
6. PEOPLE, PLOT AND PASSION – Narrative Structure and Sound Mapping
Bottom line, how can sound help tell your story? By understanding dramatic elements of character and emotion, the map can guide you to creative and impactful decision-making.


David Sonnenschein’s book is legendary, and the interactive webinar which presents and analyzes examples of the theory, truly brings the material to life. – Nathan Moody,

David gives a lot of fantastic theory and examples about the emotional and technical side of sound design with detailed explanations, presentations and audiovisual material. If you enjoyed David’s book you will love his webinars. – Miguel Isaza,

David Sonnenschein is without a doubt an expert on sound design for film, television, and multimedia projects. His impressive knowledge and easy-going personality make his classes both informative and enjoyable. – Joel Krantz, Sound Editor/Mixer and Author, Pro Tools Post Production Techniques


If you can’t make it to the live event, you can watch the recording anytime after August 24. Registration is the same for the live and recorded webinar.

This free event is an intro to a six-week webinar series that will begin on Sept. 8. For more info go to

Freakonomics defined: cut out middleman; charge same price; pocket the difference

When I heard that Freakonomics was going to be released online a month before its release in theaters, I was delighted. This, I gathered, was the shape of things to come. A film by some of my favorite filmmakers coming straight to my living room. Cut out the middleman, woo hoo!

So imagine my surprise when I sat down this evening to watch the film on iTunes, and discovered that the price to rent the film is $10.99 for HD, or $9.99 for standard def. That’s the same price I pay when I drive to my local movie theater. Hmmm. Apparently Apple and Freakonomics are showing us the future of film distribution. And here’s how it works: cut out the middleman, charge the same price, and pocket the difference. Cha ching. They don’t call it Freakonomics for nothing, folks.

But me? I’m not buying it. I’d rather give my money to the middleman than get shaken down like this. Besides, paying that money to my neighborhood theater will at least benefit the local economy more than paying it to Apple will, now that they’ve blown past Microsoft in valuation. I’ll sit out this revolution until I have a better sense that it’s one I want to be part of.

Zoom H1 sound test vs. H4N recorder

My $99 Zoom H1 arrived yesterday, and as expected based on early reports, it IS flimsy. But nevermind – the tiny size and killer price makes it possible to overlook that. The more immediate concern is: how does it sound?

I did a simple side-by-side comparison of male dialog (my voice reading the first paragraph of Origin of Species) recorded in my office, in three configurations: a Tram TR50 lav (run through a Sennheiser G3 wireless transmitter), built-in stereo mics, and Rode VideoMic. I didn’t do any post processing on the files except to reduce gain slightly on a couple files so they roughly were the same level for the comparison. Here’s how it sounds (WAV files recorded at 48khz 24bit):

NOTE: I just discovered that the wordpress plugin I installed yesterday to steam these only serves the WAV version of the file if you have an HTML 5 compliant browser. Otherwise, it serves up an mp3 (no good for comparing audio.) So to be safe, I’ve posted direct links to the WAV files in the comments. with built-in stereo mics with built-in stereo mics with tram with tram with Rode VideoMic with Rode VideoMic

Conclusion: The Zoom H1 records solid dialog. But if you were hoping for the same H4N quality in a smaller package, you will be slightly disappointed. To my ear, the H1 delivers dialog that is flatter and less rich, especially in the higher frequencies, than the H4N. It’s not such a radical quality drop that it’s a dealbreaker, though. Far from it. Until now, all we’ve had in this size and price range has been crappy mp3 recorders that cost the same or more and sound like shit. The H1 can record dialog that’s quite usable, from a tool that’s affordable, and ridiculously small. I call that a winning combination.

I plan to use the H1 two ways: mounted on my dslr for recording dual sound, and as an inexpensive alternative to purchasing another expensive wireless lav. For the latter combo, it’s small enough that I can hide the recorder on the subject along with a wired (instead of wireless) lav. One drawback to this: no ability to monitor while recording, since the recorder is on the subject. And, I haven’t been able to find a self-powered Tram TR50 lav that has a 3.5mm jack (but that’s nothing that a pair of wire strippers and a soldering gun can’t cure) UPDATE: I’m using this adapter to make it work.

Random observations:

  • In general, to get roughly the same recording level from the H1 as the H4N, I found I had to set the recording level on the H1 around 10 db higher than I did on the H4n.
  • MicroSD cards are TINY. It would be very easy to lose one of these – it’s literally smaller than my little fingernail. And if you’ve got big fingers, you’ll have a hard time fishing the thing in and out of the card slot. I found myself wondering if the next step in this evolution will be a micro card that is permanently embedded in your forearm, which wirelessly transmits the data whenever you need it.
  • With a little EQ matching in Soundtrack Pro, I was able to get the clips to match well enough that they’d cut virtually seamlessly.

Freakonomics opens on a small screen near you Sept. 3

The most exciting thing is happening in film distribution: films are beginning to break free from theaters. Case in point: Freakonomics, a film based on the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar. The film gets its premier on Sept. 3 not in theaters, but on iTunes. Theater goers will have to wait until Oct. 1st to catch the film. One of my favorite documentary directors, Morgan Spurlock, is among the 6 filmmakers who each contributed a chapter to the film, and I’m looking forward to finding out whether a film made this way is more – or less – than the sum of its parts.

The whole notion of releasing a film on a few thousand big screens – and withholding it from millions of other screens until it’s completed it’s run – is ridiculous for most films. Most films aren’t destined to be blockbusters, but they DO have niche appeal. And what better way to reach a niche than directly, online? Craiglist proved that for classified advertising a long time ago. And the same thing will ultimately prove out for movies.

Mark Lipsky, who spent many years in the film industry and recently relocated to Seattle, makes a compelling case that movie theaters will be dead in 10 years. As a filmmaker and as a film goer, I’m looking forward to that day, not because I hate theaters, but because I love movies.