“And the Winner is…”

donkeyelephantIt is interesting to watch election cycles play out because the supporters of the two major parties tend to follow different rules. One strategy is a winning strategy every time and the other strategy tends to be a toss-up.   One group of supporters keeps their eyes on the ball and rarely deviate from it while the other group is, well, fickle in execution.

In my observations, Democrats, for the most part, look at the agenda and the platform their party has proposed to make that agenda happen. They rarely, at least after the primary season is over, consider the individual candidate’s character. Additionally, their definition of liberalism is wide enough to encompass viewpoints that extend from centrist through left-leaning principles.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to confuse primaries with general elections. Instead of pulling out their microscopes during the primary and examining each and every candidate in terms of their character, their electability, and their specific platform (and deviations from the general core beliefs of the party), many times they are lured by other reasons. There are so many definitions of conservative within it any centrist-leaning candidates are parsed and branded as liberal! Finally, when the stakes are high in the general election is when they start applying “Character Matters” and other mantras that they should have used in the primary cycle to select the best possible candidates.

Once the general election cycle begins and their Convention is over, Democrats lock their focus on the win and very rarely will they lose sight of that goal. Republicans, however, will waffle all over the place and threaten to not vote to appease themselves, their families, their constituents, instead of keeping focused on the big picture. It appears to me that they don’t grasp all that is at stake. Cycle after cycle, crucial political battles are lost because large registered Republican voting blocks decide to grow consciences that they should have had during the respective primary seasons.

Democrats and Republicans tend to differ in another key philosophy in the general election. It appears that once Democrats purpose to do their civic duty, they go forth and ensure that they vote. They realize the cost of not voting and “get” that when they don’t vote, they are essentially casting a vote against their party. They understand that when they don’t vote for their choices that their agenda has no chance of moving forward. Even if the person is not ideal, the platform must go forward.

Republicans, on the other hand, are notorious for deciding to stay home on Election Day or (worse) for choosing to vote for an Independent or a Democrat because some aspect of the running Republican doesn’t sit right with them. Somehow it does not sink in that either of these courses of action weakens the party’s platform or renders it inoperable. It appears that such voters think that they are choosing the better of two candidates and don’t realize that, at this point, it is less a matter of the candidate than the political aspirations of the entire party that are at stake.

After decades of this electoral behavior we can see the results. The Democratic Party is strong and focused on meeting its goals while the Republican Party is in shambles and is, quite frankly, a joke. The solution for Republicans is twofold. They need to, as a group, start to hone in on the big picture and not let themselves be swayed during the general election cycles and they need to become very astute and informed while picking candidates during the primaries. Notice that “astute” doesn’t mean “nasty and brutal.” It means wise and discerning. If they don’t, the party is doomed.

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“Green Screen Made Easy” Does What It Says!

When I first entered the fray as a fledgling movie-maker in the opening months of 2014, I had a grandiose vision of filming my documentary’s talking head experts on green screen and placing them against my backgrounds.  It seemed so mind-numbingly simple in concept that nothing could go wrong…

Right, it became a nightmare and I deserved the pain for not being properly prepared for this critical aspect of the documentary.  How I wish that I had this book in-hand while doing the ever-important planning for these interviews.  Much of its sage advice I have gleaned since my first dabbling in green screen but this was not all found in one convenient place as it is in “Green Screen Made Easy.”  While this article will be partly a review of the book, the rest of it will be a reflective look back at my rookie mistakes that many newcomers to chroma-keying are affected by.

In filming “The Regulators” in 2014, I had five on-screen subject matter experts.  Two were female and three males.  While chroma keying is gender-agnostic in principle, it isn’t in terms of fine details such as hair.  Actually, the three males sported short hair.  One of the females had longer hair and the other had a full, flowing set of hair.  This lady was my first interviewee and I was completely naive in setting up the lighting for her.  Needless to say, my results ranged between disastrous and  mildly acceptable.  I know that I pushed Keylight in After-Effects as hard as I could but with my 20/20 hindsight, I could have made much better lighting choices and better utilized the resources at my disposal.  This is where a book like this one can help a beginner to get up to speed within hours or, at most, a few days.

Here is an example of the problems I created and could have avoided early on.  This is a perfect example of what not to do.  Ever.


Another problem which I did not include in the picture is that the subject to screen distance was too close.  This made the green spill even more intense.  Also, this was shot on a DSLR with 4:2:0 color which really caused issues with the fine details and the spill.  Some of the footage of the interview was totally unusable while the others were marginally useful.

I learned the hard way and was, over time and with lots of diligent investigation online, able to resolve these issues. My later interviews for that same documentary improved but were not perfect by a long shot.

If I had this book in hand I would have discovered that within the first few chapters of the book, all of these items are dealt with and some additional important suggestions are presented!  One of these is using backlighting with a complementary color to the screen color and also ways to make the screen glow in its color.

Now that I am reworking “The Regulators” for a director’s cut 250th anniversary edition, I was able to re-shoot the interview with this person.  Notice the difference in the image quality by shooting on blue screen with a 4:2:2 Atomos Ninja and concentrating on the lighting of both the screen and the subject.  The procedures that I used were similar to the processes outlined in the book. Also in the book are discussions about how to optimize the camera and its ability to capture as clean an image as possible of both the background and the subject.


Once good images have been captured then they need to be processed properly.  Using the matte keyer is not a simple “press the button and Hey! Presto!” it is done in most cases.  It is important to know how to manipulate the results to optimize them.  The book leads the reader through important techniques such as how to reduce jagged edges, reducing artifacts, and ensuring that you can pull as clean a key as possible.  Several software packages are presented along with their workflows.  Another aspect of the book that makes it an invaluable resource for the filmmaker’s bookshelf is that it touches on how to deal with several problems that may crop up such as dealing with holes and reflections.

A decent section of “Green Screen Made Easy” deals with selecting and even making your own green screens and cyclorama stages.  One thing that I appreciate with how the authors deal with this subject and the subject of lighting is that they present a number of options that are within the reach of beginner who may be on a shoestring budget all the way up to well-established and well-funded film makers.

The final section of the book introduces several subjects that need to be considered.  Chroma-keying is not done in a vacuum, it has to believably exist within the realm of the composite.  Light wrapping, dealing with shadows, considering the directionality and color of light on the subject relative to the background, and other such important topics are explored.  We have all seen the typical green screen extraction pasted against a background which doesn’t match in tone, color, or shading and have immediately been able to say, “That is some bad green screen!”  Even the crucial topic of adding grain is discussed.



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Open Mic Ethics?

It has been literally forever since I have posted a blog article.  The poor blog is the victim of too many chores and too little time.

Anyway, I have to take the time to write this short article because I have been stewing over it for the past week or so.  As an aspiring professional in the film and broadcast world, I feel compelled to speak my mind about the rash of leaks of off-the-record open-mic information.  Last week, there was the release of a recording of Donald Trump and Billy Bush that could not even remotely be considered to have consent of either party.  Now, before someone points a finger at me and labels me, let me remind you that the same thing happened to the then-candidate Barack Obama talking to Putin.  This ongoing rash of misbehavior, while heralded enthusiastically by opponents of the victims, strikes across political boundaries.

My focus is upon the total lack of professionalism in the industry itself and is based upon the simple fact that in order to accommodate the convenience of body microphones, proper lighting and focusing of cameras, and ensuring that a set is ready beforehand, people are wired and posed in advance.  Anything said or done while not officially on the air must be considered sacrosanct and if this mess continues happening, political and other well-known figures should refuse to be wired up until they are actually on air.  How would the industry like that?  The convenience factor is not an excuse to become a sneaky news-gathering organization!

This is even more disturbing considering how Americans are opposed to illegal wiretapping and even the brouhaha of a few years ago concerning the NSA’s tracking of cellphone conversation metadata.  The capturing and releasing of off-the-record audio and video is spying.  If a person on-camera but off the record decides to pick their nose, so be it.  That must never be released.  If a person on audio makes a statement but is off the record, it must be as if they had never said it in the first place.  To do anything else is, well, totally unprofessional.  It casts a black-eye on the entire industry.  What’s next, to air a wired person’s visit to a bathroom?

Something needs to be done about this.  If there is not integrity in the individuals who are essentially the guardians of their craft, then perhaps it is time for the courts to step in.  Maybe some healthy payouts and even some jail time for everybody involved in the distribution of illegally-obtained recordings might put a cap on the problem.  Wouldn’t it be better for all, though, if we all just apply professional ethics to what we do?

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What Easter is all about

Anyone who knows me well knows that Easter is my favorite time on the Christian calendar.  Without Easter mankind would be hopeless!  In the course of three days, our sin-debt was paid off and we had the example of resurrection to give us hope for our eternity.

Anyway, I worked up a script and shot the following with the son of our music minister at Crosslink Community Church.  Hope that you like it as much as we enjoyed making it.

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Adobe Creative Cloud Suite is Junk!

The title says it all.  Ever since the CC model appeared, the Adobe video tools have been on a steady march downhill.  The march is that of reliability and the march is that of robustness.  I had to make my feature documentary “The Regulators” using Sony Vegas Pro 13 because Premiere Pro CC had a slew of unbelievable problems.  That was CC 2014 but now that I am on CC 2015.2, there are still unbelievable issues plaguing it AND plaguing their flagship After Effects!

Maybe it is the new licensing model that has made Adobe lose its competitive edge.  Before, they had to strive to produce awesome software that would entice folks to loosen their pocketbooks and purchase such expensive software.  However, everytime that they did, they felt good about what they had done…the software allowed them to get their work done and, even if a problem popped up, their tech support worked diligently to get around the issue.  Now, they don’t have to care that much – every month or year, a subscription is collected from the umpteen suckers like me who hold out hope for things to improve.

AdobeFail1Case in point – here I am sitting for a 28 second segment of video to render.  It is taking over 2 minutes to render 1 second of video which is already prerendered to previews!  Note that I am not strapped for memory and my processing power is not necessarily a slouch.  There is nothing spectacular in the segment in question – just some H264 video with an UltraKey.

This goes hand-in-hand with a very weird problem in After Effects CC 2015.2.  The segment is a very simple Shatter and yet produces a phantom garbage frame in the middle of any render.  Tech support was brought in on it last Friday and has nothing to offer yet.  My question is, if AE doesn’t do its basic functionality then why have it?  Why pay for it?AdobeFail2

So, once again I find myself at the crossroads.  I have Sony Vegas but really don’t feel it produces the absolute best.  It certainly doesn’t feel as polished and nice as Adobe’s products do when they work properly.  FCP is an interesting option but I will definitely need to make a very large paradigm shift in my life to go with it.

I just wish that Adobe would get its act together…


(Nov 23, 2015 – To add insult to injury, I went to purchase a piece of Adobe Stock a few minutes ago just to have the cart crash while checking out.  “Your purchase cannot be completed due to an internal error.  Please call xxx-xxx-xxxx for immediate sales assistance.”  Really?  Purchase carts are common and relatively easy to handle and yet Adobe can’t even get THIS right?  What a mess….)


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The Difference between a Central and a Superfluous Faith

In reading the passage in 1 Sam 17 (which even non-Bible readers people have heard in story form as David and Goliath), it is readily apparent that faith is key. For most of the players in the Biblical account and for most hearers, faith is not of prime importance. They either consider David foolishly headstrong, extremely lucky, or an expert marksman. Yet, a careful reading of the passage reveals that David was completely driven by his faith and he did not rely upon his own strength or luck.

“David slays Goliath” by Gustave Doré (1866).

Let me begin by summarizing the scene as described in 1 Sam 17:1-10. The armies of Israel and Philistia were lined up across from one another with a valley through which coursed one or more streams between them. It appears by reading between the lines that the assessments of troop strengths on either side by the other made them about equal so that neither side would charge across the exposed valley at the other. There is also the question of the tactics of either army leaving the security of the high ground on their side and permitting themselves to become sitting ducks in the exposed valley. King Saul and the army of Israel found themselves at an impasse.

From King Saul’s point-of-view, his keeping the army dug in was central. As long as they were dug-in, they were not losing ground. Faith in God intervening and being able to overcome the obstacles of the valley and the opposing army was something that may have received lip service, but it was not something in his core. Since faith is the same thing as trust, we can restate this as Saul did not really trust God to fight for Israel.  The edge of that valley marked the limit of Saul’s faith in God. We learn also that Saul considered his kingship central to his life also. Reading between the lines (again) we see in verses 31 and 32 that he was very concerned that if a champion of his were to lose, he would be in dire straights of losing what was important to him.

Israel’s belief was also stymied in the same way as King Saul’s and such is the faith of many of those who profess it — it is something that one can talk about, “but, you know, God really cannot and does not move in today’s circumstances.” Such faith is superfluous and, in the words of James, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14 NKJV) He is not describing works as things that we can do to appease God. He is describing works as those acts and actions that are driven by and work in conjunction with a powerful, living faith and so become solid as soon as the believer steps out on them. Frankly, superfluous faith is the faith of losers.

To further complicate the conditions surrounding the situation, we must now pay attention to the loud, profane words of a giant warrior from the Philistine side. Goliath, towering at about nine and a half feet, stepped out into the no-man’s land of the valley with his armor bearer and shouted at the Israelite army (1 Sam 17:4-11,16,23-25). He, according to the Biblical narrative, had done this for the past 39 days. He was big, boastful, and brash. He shouted defiance to the enemy army dug-in on the opposite hillside to his Philistine compatriots. His faith was solidly placed equally in his own strength and his armament. From his perspective, God was some sort of mythical being invented by the Israelites who were cowering in fear across the way. His assumption was bolstered by the lack of power of their “God” over the past 39 days.

On this momentous day, something different occurred. A young teenage shepherd-boy named David had been sent by his father to the Israelite army placements to drop off some care-packages for his older brothers (1 Sam 17:12-15,17-22). This young man happened to be there to witness Goliath’s 40th day of stepping out and shouting his twice-daily challenge (verses 23-25). He watched in dismay how the armies of Israel cringed and ran back to their secure emplacements in retort to the giant’s challenge.

Even before this moment, we are led to understand that David placed his full trust in God. His faith was central to who he was. You could not separate David the person from David’s faith. He fully grasped that God is solid and real as anything he could see and touch. He knew that God is able to accomplish anything that He willed. In verse 37, David enunciated his creed:  “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (NKJV)  There is no sign of doubt or indication of dependence upon his own strength on David’s part. He recognized that it was God who wielded power to kill the lion and the bear in his earlier experience (verses 34-36) and he knew that God was moving him to become His tool to obliterate the foul-mouthed Goliath!

Faith sets all problems in their proper perspective and places them in their right track. Hebrews 11:1 states that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, faith is not some sort of foolish wishful thinking. It is not a matter of looking to God as if He were some cosmic genie Who grants us three wishes! Instead, faith is sure hope based upon the believer’s completely meshed understanding of God’s will for and His call upon their lives. It is this sort of concrete faith that formed the scaffolding which under-girded the life of this young shepherd-boy.

The other party in this encounter is the army of the Philistines. What was central to them? Obviously it was Goliath’s strength.  They virtually projected his strength into their own arms, which we can infer from the last sentence in verse 51, “And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.” When Goliath fell, so did all the tenets of their beliefs!  They held the same disregard for God that Goliath did so when God showed up in the valley, they did not know what to do.  When one assumes that God does not exist or that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Rom 8:28 NKJV) then one is shocked when He turns up.

I believe that we all know the key parts that jump out of the Biblical documentation: how David was “on fire for the Lord;” how he stepped into the valley and picked five stones (one for Goliath and one to represent the rest of his brothers, Rapha’s sons); and how he confronted the giant.  What is important for us to glean from David’s sureness is that if concrete faith in a real God Who has a concrete will is not central to the person, no other assumption will stand. David aimed his sling but deep inside his heart, he knew that it did not matter where he aimed. The victory was not going to be his by skill and marksmanship.  I am convinced that even had David had randomly slung that stone in the opposite direction, by God’s intervention it would still have found its mark squarely in the center of Goliath’s forehead.

David knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that the victory belonged to the Lord and that He had an important point to make. The beneficiaries of that point were all of the people mentioned above. Israel and King Saul were about to learn that one faithful person can  move a mountain, or at least a mountainous-sized person. The Philistine army were on the brink of learning how stinging defeat is to those who rely upon the arm of flesh. Finally, Goliath was about to eat his blasphemous words as he transitioned to God’s judgment!

Even David himself benefited because he learned once again how God expressed His will to him and how He gave him the victory from not only from the paw of the bear and the paw of the lion, but also from the might of the Philistine giant.  Obedience in faith to God’s will begets greater faith. In spiritual stature, David towered over Goliath because he was a super-giant of faith who was fully dependent upon an infinite God rather than upon feeble flesh.

Now the circumstances of 1 Samuel 17 need to move forward 3000 years to the here and now. The questions and beliefs from then still surround us today. Which character best describes you? Upon whom or what do you place your faith? Are you like David who wrote “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 NKJV) or is your faith built on something else? If you don’t have a concrete faith in a real God, then how reliable is that something else in the light of all eternity?  Consider the comparison God raised in Habakkuk, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4 NKJV) God’s position on faith is stated in Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (NKJV)  Faith is the beginning and the lifeblood of a vibrant relationship with God. The gist of this is that without active faith being front-and-center in one’s life, there is no relationship.

So, let each of us ask ourselves where our faith lies….

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Developers Should Plan for Now

As is the case for everyone on Earth, time is a very fickle and scarce resource for a developer. It must be managed carefully in order to ensure that the payoff of time-investment is maximized. There are several practices which assist a developer and a development team to ensure that their time investments are legitimate.

In considering time, we live in the moment called “now.” Now is always bright and clear and is wedged between the past (which tends to become murky and stuffy) and the future (which is completely opaque and unfathomable).


In terms of the developer’s life, the old saying “there is no time like the present” really is true. The only things we can be certain of are in the past or are currently occurring. The future becomes less and less certain as one looks forward. We must attempt to aggregate as much important work as we can into the here-and-now. Yet, too often, developers try to put things off and push them down into the dark cloud of the future with expectations that the future is set in stone. This is the source of so much chagrin in life. The future becomes dark and unfathomable very quickly (maybe within minutes of “now”).

All of us must understand that there is precious little that one can do about the future other than to hedge bets. Of course, there is nothing wrong with planning, but all planning should also include contingencies. What if the planned event doesn’t come to pass as expected or even at all? Of course, the lack of planning in key areas of life is the hallmark of foolishness.

The problem arises when we willingly decide to throw items that we should deal with here and now down the road to some undetermined time. The more that we develop this bad habit, the more undependable we become to our peers, our management, and our business partners. We will miss deadlines (which we consider to be mere paper-walls drawn across our future), rush to create careless code as time dwindles, or exhaust ourselves with overnighters as we try anxiously to pay off the promise-debts we incurred for ourselves in the first place.

Proper time and task management is of crucial importance to handling the workload but this must be coupled with a strong and unwavering discipline that enforces the fact that work destined for “now” cannot be pushed into the future unless there is some overriding need (e.g. a priority reshuffle, the breakdown or failure of a critical resource, a crucial life event, etc.). Even when something must be delayed for a legitimate reason, it must still be handled with proper discipline to prevent it from “falling through the cracks.”

As many who know me would agree, I am an advocate for Agile development processes. A technique such as Scrum brings a strongly-manageable understanding of the tasks slated for “now” and for the very immediate future. The backlog extends in both directions, encompassing the past and embracing the future. The lessons of the past feed forward into the” now” and immediate future by using past team performance to predict a reasonable and achievable set of goals within the short sprint timeframe. However, Agile processes by themselves do not overcome the individual developer’s need for disciplined time and task management.

It is incumbent upon each member of the team to consider the effect of delay upon themselves, upon the project, and upon their peers. While both life-events and work-events (e.g. Email, calls, production issues, health problems, family issues, business events) will interrupt a developer’s workday, planning blocks of time and allocating them to meet the current “now” development needs should be a part of one’s daily calendar. There is no problem with pre-planning the next few days, but always with the understanding that the future is fluid and changing. The best way to ensure you are not pressed for time towards the end of projects, deadlines, and sprints is to do the bulk of the work upfront while “now” is now. Essentially, the effort curve towards any deadline should be front-loaded.


Remember, the key is to ensure that contingencies in the future are anticipated. By concentrating on the bulk of the work (and the more difficult and intricate parts of the work) up-front, one minimizes the possibility that the future can cause excessive amounts of work, overtime, or sloppy coding as the deadline looms. Try as much as possible to eliminate the source of such frustration. Do not be glib in throwing any task “down the road” for any reason other than one which forces one’s hand.

At times, procrastination can be a good thing to a project as long as it is a group-mediated procrastination effort. Many times, seemingly great ideas for product additions and changes, or for refactoring may bubble up within the business and development teams, but when examined though the prism of time are either not so great or not as pressing as originally imagined. This is where processing ideas through an Agile process backlog grooming approach really pays dividends since the truly critical functionality tends to bubble up into the current sprint and the fluff tends to be pushed down deeper into the backlog stack.

In closing, it is my habit to advise every developer I meet to avail themselves of a good time and task management class. This is beneficial and can provide an excellent external source of control to the mayhem of planning for “now.” However, one also has to develop a strong habit of being disciplined in following the task and time management goals. This cannot be taught, it must be acquired and cultivated. I can assure you that if you do, you will be a more productive developer and able to accommodate unexpected future events with less stress and anguish.

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