The Alien Minute Podcast

If you’ve been following this blog you may already be aware that I used to be a film maker. I studied film in college and worked on numerous commercial spots and low budget features. Whenever I find a podcast that looks at a film from a technical creation aspect, I dig into it. Lately I’ve been enjoying the hell out of The Alien Minute Podcast. The hosts are both working film makers and they bring on industry guests to help analyze the movie Alien, one minute at a time.


The format of this podcast is freely lifted from The Star Wars Minute, but the hosts talk more about the art and craft of filming more than just fan boy gushing. Each episode they look at one minute of the film. They talk about character motivations and dialogue and music and camera angles and lighting – all the stuff. The best way to follow their podcast is to have a copy of Alien handy and watch the minute they talk about right before listening to their podcast. That way the film is fresh in your mind and you can recall what they are talking about when they explain the director’s genius.

I saw Alien in the theater with my best friend when we were 14. We had both read the novelization before seeing the film because we were Alan Dean Foster fans, and we wanted to know when to duck behind our seats. I spent most of that first viewing behind the seat in front of me. It wasn’t until I was in film school that I really looked at the whole movie and realized how completely awesome it is.

If you’re into how films are made, and really love the movie Alien, you need to be following this podcast. It’s top notch.

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John Ingle and Mitch Brian from The Alien Minute Podcast.

Weekend Practice Film Syncing Sound

Syncing Sound is not easy, but it’s an essential film making skill. This Saturday we shot a few minutes of video of my two sons reading dialogue from one of my books. (Use what you have laying around, right?) We did a simple two light setup and had them sit at a card table in the garage/studio. Nothing fancy. We didn’t care about the “acting” or the lighting or really even what the shots looked like. The exercise was more editing than filming. But it turned out to be just as much of a learning experience to film as it no doubt will be to edit.

This was our first try at shooting with an external sound recorder. I used a Zoom X2 digital microphone/recording device. It was attached to a PVC tube which was mounted to a tripod with some clamps. A long headphone cord allowed someone to monitor the sound. We didn’t have any extra helpers for this, so we all pitched in where possible.

Screenshot at 08-41-00

You basically need three things to do this: a camera, a sound recorder/mic and a clapper board. We had all three and so why not see if we could do this? It only took about an hour to shoot, given how simple we kept things. Each boy recited some lines and we would cut them together in post. It all seems so simple when you start but things quickly got out of control.

I put together a shot list based on who was talking. So Spencer started, said a few lines and then Jack would say a few lines, back and forth for about seven shots. I decided to throw a curve into the plan and shoot all of Jack’s lines first and then change camera setups and do all of Spencer’s lines. This is how things are normally done because it reduces the amount of times you change camera setups. In TV production, each actor has his own camera and they are recorded at the same time. But on a movie set, you do one at a time.

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Even though I had a shooting script with the scenes marked per person talking, we forgot about it when we started shooting and marked our slate sequential and not in the order we shot it. This was our biggest mess up during filming. Aside from me forgetting to turn on the camera for our only wide angle shot at the beginning. *slaps forehead.

It took us a while to get used to the mechanics or process of recording sync sound. The director needs to be in control and call out each piece to make sure everyone executes in order. What we ended up with was something like this:

DIRECTOR: Roll Sound.
SOUND: Speed.
DIRECTOR: Roll Camera.
CAMERA: Rolling.
DIRECTOR: Mark it.
AC: Scene One, Take two *claps slate

This seemed to keep everyone on task and doing things in the right order. It took us all about three or four scenes to get this down pat. A couple of things we learned while shooting were as follows. First thing, the AC or clapper person must remain still after the slate is out of the scene. He can’t walk around or otherwise make sound of any kind. The second thing we learned was that whoever is monitoring the sound, has the power to call “Cut!” if he hears a car roll by or an airplane taking off.

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Technical specs of the shoot were as follows:  Camera – Canon 60D, ISO 400, 50mm 1.8 lens (which equates to something like 80mm with our cropped sensor), I was shooting at f 2.8. The camera was set for daylight, so the color was more yellow than it should have. I always forget to white balance before shooting. (old school film guy problems) We shot at 24 fps with the shutter at 180.

We have not started editing this footage yet as we are learning a new editing program, which I hope to do a post on sometime next week as we gain some experience with it. For the curious, the program is called Lightworks.

What’s the Best DSLR?

I’m in the process of looking for my first digital camera. I need it to take sharp pictures and also function as a video camera for the family and my artistic endeavors. I thought I’d open this post up to all who happen by with an opinion. What DSLR do you have and what would your recommend I get?

The model I’m zeroing in on is the Nikon D5300 with 18-55mm lens. But I want to know what you would get, if you had around $800-$900 to play with and needed a lens included.