Saturday, September 26, 2009

Get high-quality clips from DVD into FCP

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Busby Berkeley)

Aside from working on my own films I also work as an editor-for-hire. A little while ago I was asked to create a visual collage of clips from old Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s. It sounded like a fun project but then came the challenge: how to get full quality clips from old movies to use in Final Cut Pro and eventually have a high-quality master?

I should add that this was for a private screening, so we didn't have to be concerned to get permission from the copyright owners - nor was there the budget (or time) to get broadcast-quality tapes of the films. Of course, I don't endorse anyone ripping off other people's copyrights.

A lot of great clips from that era can be found online. And through software like Snapz (you can basically record anything that happens on your screen, including your own computer activity or a video playing on your screen) or TubeTV (free software for pulling videos directly from YouTube and other sites with flash videos) I could have grabbed them. But the quality wouldn't have been sufficient for projection during the event.

The overall video and the specific clips needed to be DVD quality - and due to time and budget constraints that's exactly where they needed to come from: DVDs from the video store around the corner (fortunately there are still a few around). But DVDs are encoded in a way so that the video can't just be imported into FCP or any other editing program.

After a little bit of digging I found software that did exactly what I needed: The excellent program MPEG Streamclip will convert your DVD files directly into .mov files usable in editing software like Final Cut Pro.

Actually it can import and export many different file types. But it's the DVD to FCP conversion that makes this the most exciting software I've come across in a while!

One important note: MPEG Streamclip is not a DVD ripper and therefore can only convert files from unprotected DVDs or files that have already been ripped from a DVD and saved on a hard drive. Use the DVD Ripper of your choice for that step - mine is currently MTR (Mac The Ripper). Please keep in mind copyright laws!

On a little side note: I ran into some problems with interlacing of some of the ancient clips because at least one of the original films had been converted from film to PAL video before later being turned into digital files and therefore had a pull-down rate of 2:2 instead of 3:2. De-interlacing ended up fixing the problem on that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Tribute to the Love and Life of Earl and Iva

How to write this? Because what is at the heart of this is bigger than my words. Maybe just free-form typing...

Last week I spent most of my work-time putting together a short video about the love and shared life of Iva and Earl. Iva is one of the five sisters, whom in 2006 I started filming for a documentary tentatively entitled Five Sisters. Earl is Iva's husband. Earl wasn't going to live much longer. It goes without saying that I was sad. Earl isn't only a subject in a project, he is also Scott's great-uncle and a really wonderful, loving, charming person.

Earl Huffingham

But the reason why I'm blogging about this here is the other feeling that crept in: the frustration with time, with my failure to have the film Five Sisters finished in time for everyone in it to see it, with unfinished projects. While juggling several projects and also trying to make a living (which only very slowly and intermittently is happening through the projects), some projects keep getting pushed to the back burner.

But instead of lamenting the fact that I don't work fast or good enough or any of that kind of paralyzing contemplation, I decided to just get to work and do my best to quickly cut together the parts of Iva and Earl's interviews that told the story of their love and life together. To pay tribute to them and for them to celebrate each other.

Iva Huffingham

It didn't turn into a great film, actually it didn't turn into a film at all. It's just a video of two people talking. But I burnt a DVD and sent it off via Express Mail on Saturday morning. I shouldn't be surprised that our post office lost it for a while. But by Tuesday it finally arrived at Earl and Iva's house. Iva watched it with her sister Ann. Earl was able to see some of it. On Wednesday he passed away.

Scott is on his way to Florida for the memorial service and funeral now. I'm very sad I'm not able to be there. But right now at the viewing taking place at a funeral home in Jacksonville, the family is playing the video for everyone to hear the story of Earl and Iva. And I'm so glad that a video I recorded and cut together is there to speak in Iva and Earl's own words and say so much more than I could ever say in person.

Iva and Earl Huffingham

It's not a real film and no one but the family will ever care to see it. And maybe I won't even ever have the chance to cut together
Five Sisters. So maybe there never will be a real film about Earl and Iva and her four sisters and all of their husbands. And maybe getting enough work done in time will always be a struggle that will often be lost. But maybe none of that really matters at all. Right now I can't shake the feeling that somehow this video and the showing tonight might be one of the more important things that I've been involved in.

So mixed in with the sadness is a bit of gratitude - for knowing Earl and Iva and having been given the opportunity to tell their beautiful story of love, which is much bigger than videos, sadness, life and time itself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Hampshire and Dartmouth

On Sunday Scott and I took The Vermonter train to New Hampshire. Actually you take the train to Vermont and then cross a covered bridge (built in 1866) over the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. The beautiful river and its rolling hills and wetlands are a constant companion for much of the scenic train ride. (By the way, if you ever ride that train in the summer, make sure you bring a jacket and warm socks - the AC kept the temperature probably around 65 F.)

Leaving New York on the train - View of Manhattan from somewhere around Queens/The Bronx

The purpose of the trip was a screening of All God's Children at the United Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. We also had the pleasure to visit Keith Beardslee and his family. Keith is not only one of the missionary kids featured in our documentary, but he is also Scott's mother's cousin. (So I guess that makes him Scott's second cousin in English and Scott's "Schwipscousin" in German, where "Schwips" also means tipsy - a connection I've never figured out. Kind of like the German word for "hangover" being "Kater", which is also German for "male cat". And here people always say Germans have a word for everything. Well, some words have to be re-used for different meanings.).

We had a wonderful time visiting with Keith, Ros, Katherine and Will and were so glad we finally were able to make it back up to see them.

View from Keith and Ros' front yard.

The screening on Tuesday night went very well. We've had a wonderful and very generous crowd that received us warmly and engaged in conversation after the screening. It was wonderful to see so many friends of Howard and Ann Beardslee, who used to live near Hanover until shortly after we filmed their interviews.

United Church of Christ on the Dartmouth College Campus
(photo by Scott)

Our biggest thank you as always goes to everyone who came out to the screening to be a witness to the story of the Mamou MKs and maybe even be inspired to spread the word or be open to listen to other survivors' stories.

United Church of Christ as the sun was setting
(photo by Scott)

The next big thank you goes to Steve and Carol Prichard for organizing the screening, providing treats and MC'ing the Q&A. Thank you also to Reverend Carla Bailey for hosting at her church and making us all feel so comfortable.

The additions of the church after the sun set

Last but not least, I want to thank Keith again for not only participating in the film but also for attending the screening and sharing his point-of-view with the audience. Since he wasn't at the premiere in Sarasota
(when most of the participants were able to attend), this was the first time he attended a public screening.

The next day we just had a quick bite at the authentic and quite charming Windsor Diner in Windsor, VT (definitely order the homemade bread if you ever stop in there).

Windsor Diner

And then we were back on the train heading home...

The Vermonter pulling into the Windsor, VT station. It's the only train that stops there - and for only about 45 seconds - so you better not run late if you want to catch it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Asterix Recommends: Swedish Bands

Currently I'm reading "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. I can't put the book down. Even on yesterday's 7-hour train ride through the lovely landscapes of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire it was a challenge. The characters, the storyline and even the settings of urban and rural Sweden are fascinating. So in honor of Stieg Larsson's world, today's "Asterix Recommends" is all about Swedish bands that actually sing in Swedish.

[ingenting] with "Halleluja!"

Download Halleluja! mp3

Vapnet with "Plötsligt händer det inte"

Pontus & Amerikanerna with "Godmorgon Columbus"

Jumper with "Tepetklister"

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Open Letter To NYC

Thank you to Eric and Sarah for reminding me of this song today.

Nothing stumps me like this day and I don't really know what to say. There's a mix of appreciation for life, love and community - but then there's also sadness, anger, fear. All that is suddenly back and so it should be.

Even though you thought: this year it won't matter so much - again it does. My friend, who 8 years ago was the one who told me that the first plane had hit, just called and expressed how every year on the morning of September 11th it takes you by surprise just like it did that morning.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Train to Portland

After a very successful All God's Children screening and a great time visiting people in Seattle, I took the train to Portland for a 48-hour vacation with an old friend from home: Tobias Pox, and his wife Rachel and daughter Kaja.

Getting on the Coast Starlight at the Seattle train station

While sitting on the Coast Starlight I realized that this moment was a true dream-come-true experience: last night I showed a film I made (together with my lovely husband Scott) to a room full of strangers who appreciated our work; I got to share that moment with one of the women in the film; in the audience was a friend who had flown in from New York and her mother and also the parents of another dear NY friend who had just moved to Thailand; now I was sitting on a moving train traveling through a landscape I had never seen before; quickly I take a picture out of the train window and email it to my dad back in Germany and let him know that I'm currently listing to Songs inspired by The Band (his favorite band), once I arrive at my destination I will be visiting a dear friend who I've known since we were teenagers in Germany - we'll be chatting for hours, exploring his city and getting closer with his wife and daughter.

Wow, what a moment! I am so grateful for all that I have and get to do: the travel, the friends, the family, the work, the story telling, the sharing, the listening, the exploring...

Houseboats along the route between Seattle and Portland (note the train tracks at the bottom left corner)

Right after that little epiphany I had a nice long chat with the kind lady sitting next to me (she had actually switched seats with me so I could look out the window!). She turned out to be a poet. Is there anything more exciting than meeting strangers on the train?

Portland train station. Already excited about the next train trip: to New Hampshire on The Vermonter for the All God's Children screening at Dartmouth College on Monday

Portland turned out to be absolutely lovely as expected. Here are just a few random images from a packed 2-day visit:

After running in the morning we then biked around Portland. That's what you get for staying with an athlete. This is a view of Steel Bridge (Tobe's favorite) from um... another one of Portland's 14 major bridges.

Tobe in front of the somewhat disappointing coin-operated 24-hour Church of Elvis, which you can't actually get inside of (anymore).

Nonetheless it was a great addition to our collection of random Elvis sites in unexpected places. Last time we visited the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

An event worth planning your Portland visit around (at least in the summer, I suppose) is the Alberta Street Last Thursday arts, crafts, performance, music, food fair. I wish I had taken better pictures, but they all turned out blurry (I'd like to blame the camera and the setting sun, not the "brown-bagged" St. Pauli Girl). You can find better pictures HERE.

Managed to get a peak behind the curtain when we visited the warehouse of Film Baby, the company selling the home-viewing DVD of All God's Children. Great to finally meet the people providing this excellent service. Big thanks to Jeff Bugbee and crew!

After another beautiful day exploring Portland with the entire family: first ever visit to a Trader Joe's (did you know that's a Germany company? Yup, the Aldi Brothers are behind it!) - brunch at Muddy's - lots of 2nd hand stores and record shops - and yes, Portland has a striking amount of food carts - I almost forgot to mention from the day before: Powell's Bookstore and then the Mexican restaurant which is attached to a strip club (did you know that Portland is also known for all it's strip clubs?) - more coffee shops... now everyone's tired and I have to say good-bye to Rachel, Tobe and Kaja. It's the red-eye home for me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seattle Report

And I keep on jetting around the country... Last week I flew to Seattle for a screening of All God's Children - and also managed to tag on a train trip down to Portland for a 2-day vacation. More about the Portland visit in another post. For now, here is the Seattle report.

After a wonderful salmon dinner (Alaska vs. Atlantic salmon - you fight it out) at Anthony's on Elliott Bay with the Christman family Sunday night, Marilyn Shellrude Christman (one of the MKs featured in the documentary) surprised me with a phenomenal treat the next day: a road trip to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Although I never got it definitely confirmed, this appears to be Mount Shuksan above Picture Lake and not Mount Baker itself. Hard to say though - for someone from the flatlands of Germany all mountains kind of look the same: pointy, snow-covered and magnificent.

Mount Shuksan from afar with one of the beautiful flowers that seem to be a Washington State staple together with the blackberries.

What I presume to be Mount Baker. Or are we already on Mount Baker and this is just another peak? The mysteries of mountain climbing.

And we kept on going higher... Climbing near the mountains was a very empowering experience. The magnificence and beauty of the landscape gives hope that there is good and beauty in the world more powerful than the bad actions of mere humans.

We got up high enough to touch snow... in August! As expected, it was as cold and wet.

Monday night and Tuesday I got to spend with my friend Katie, who grew up in Seattle, and now lives in Brooklyn. It was wonderful to see her mother again, meet more of her awesome family and see Seattle through her eyes.

The first thing we did Tuesday morning was to read the article about All God's Children written by Janet I. Tu for the Seattle Times. It's a very well-written article. But just as fascinating are all the comments. The popluation of Seattle seems to be quite, how should I put this, feisty? My kind of crowd. Of course, I don't agree with all that's being said and I was disappointed that the focus went away from the abuse survivors and children at risk and focused on a theological discussion instead.

Katie and I then went on a lovely and relaxing walk around Seward Park along Lake Washington (and ate black berries straight off the plant). Amazing to have these vistas in the middle of a city.

Next stop was the Olympic Sculpture Park - in a perfect setting between downtown buildings and the vastness of Puget Sound with big ships going by.

Outside the Olympic Sculpture Park hangs a flag displaying a photoshopped image of the Roxy Pain sculpture Split (which is a metal tree) with added bird images (not seen on the actual sculpture) - in turn the flag is attached to a metal lamp pole, which is often used by real birds, who seem to have left their real mark on the "fakery".

Sensitive art sign with Seattle's most recognizable tourist attraction, The Space Needle, in the background.

After such invigorating vacation and exploring days full of inspiring conversations and beautiful sights, on Tuesday night it was finally time for the west coast premiere hosted by the Mercer Island Presybterian Church and FaithTrust Institute.

We had already met Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune at the SNAP conference - so it was wonderful to see her again and to finally meet Jane Fredricksen and Rev. Kathryn Jans of FaithTrust Institute. Our special thanks to them and everyone at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church for organizing this event.

Thank you also to Sarah Christman for manning our table and as always, the biggest thank you to everyone who showed up to witness and engage with the story of the Mamou alumni and to those who shared their own thoughts.

Marilyn Christman, together with her husband Shawn and daughter Sarah with boyfriend Verdale, at her local premiere.

People are still arriving as FaithTrust Institute Founder Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune introduces the film in the beautiful Mercer Island Presbyterian Church.

Her knowledgeable input during the Q&A after the screening was enlightening and added a refreshing perspective.

With almost 100 people in attendance this was our second largest screening so far. Altogether this was an outstanding screening with a very receptive, thoughtful and warm audience eager to listen and share. We all were especially moved when an MK who attended Quito Alliance Academy courageously shared his own story.

During the screening of the film the sun slowly set behind the large windows of the church (which emulates a tent) creating a fascinating atmosphere.

On the screen MK Keith Beardslee, who will attend the next scheduled screening at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH (September 14).

The next morning I got on the Coast Starlight heading South towards Portland...