In Regards to Filming an iPad

Filming an iPad app is not a trivial task.  Sure you can record the screen directly, but then you don’t see the interaction of someone’s actual hand with the touchscreen.  Filming a screen though, presents interesting challenges, practically and artistically.

Below I describe the setups used by Capital Games during my Fall 2012 semester and then that used by Bravura during my Spring 2013 semester.  These were both semester long graduate projects and our teams are primarily game developers so we had no fancy studio equipment; just whatever the school had / we had lying around.


During Capital Games, we filmed our iPad app on top of our coffee table with the camera set on a tripod behind it.  The camera cannot be pointed straight down since the tripod legs would be in the shot; however you can see that the edges of the iPad slant slightly away because of the angle.  Our biggest concern was screen glare and so there is actually a black board help up above the screen.  Otherwise, only the ambient light from the room was used.  As you can see, the quality isn’t bad at all.  However, we did have trouble with white balance.  The hand and the table were very orange if we balanced to the iPad screen so we actually set the balance so that the iPad is a bit bluer.  Sound was recorded directly from the device via the headphone out.  Not bad for a first time.  Mike and I reunited on our Spring project, though, and we decided we would do it better.

Mike found a video about filming the iPad on top of an iMac with a white screen (I’ll put the link in when I find it).  This was an amazing breakthrough because:  (A) the background itself creates an even back-lighting that has the same temperature as the iPad and (B) the iPad’s natural habitat is floating in a clean white void.


This however creates lighting problems for the hand, which will now be even more dark and orange against two screens.  So at first we tried to light the hand by throwing a projector against a bounce board.  This lit up the hand great; however, it also turned the hand a pale, zombie-white color.  So I started grabbing lamps we had lying around.  Incandescent bulbs throw a nice warm orange, but since we were balancing to blue already, that made everything too orange.  What I really wanted was yellow, but alas, I was making do with what we had.  So I grabbed a bunch of blue / green transparent folders and bags and draped them over the lights (fire-hazard, do not attempt unless you are monitoring the temperature constantly), which got us more or less there.  Our final setup looked like this when we were filming (the camera is not on the tripod … because I’m taking the picture with it):


The same set up with the room lights on:


The final result is below.  I still wish we had proper lighting setup to bring out the hand, but pretty good otherwise.


SxSW 2013


I’ve just returned from South by Southwest; it was interestingly awesome.

There’s a lot on my mind – from films I really liked to new developments  and terms I’ve learned about – but I wanted to write a bit about what I heard/saw related to producing.

The MEIM program invited the ETC students who were also at SxSW to join them for breakfast panels that they had arranged, and it was very interesting to learn about the areas that they focus on.  MEIM students were interested in film development, production, marketing, acquisition, distribution.  There were definitely many other aspects of producing in there that I was not familiar with and I realized that I really was interested in the physical production, and felt uncomfortable with a lot of the other stuff due to lack of familiarity.  They all seem like things that a good producer should know about, and I wonder if what I’m interested in is the whole production career path or just line producing.

I also participated in the Production/Producers mentor sessions and spoke with Brian Yang and Yvoone Boudreaux.  The sessions were only 10 min. long so it was very introductory but I hope to speak with them more later this semester.  Otherwise, the time I did spend with them was very encouraging.

Finally, something that I thought was very interesting was a music panel that I sat in on despite not having a music badge (it wasn’t very full so the door volunteer didn’t mind).  In this panel, the speakers talked about the difficulties of producing music scores for film and television, specifically the trials and tribulations of having to work to a client’s demands and not on your music as pure, expressive art.  They mentioned things such as clients tend to not know what they want or only realize it when they hear what you’ve begun to make and moreover the importance of communicating as much information as possible; on top of that, they also talked about constant revision.  I thought this was all very fascinating because these types of issues are things that I’ve already had first-hand experience with at the ETC, and it was interesting to hear artists talk about it as something that can be unexpected to their preferred work flow in music.

In the end, I wish I had spoken to even more people at SxSW.  At the same time, my mind is still overwhelmed with all the events that were occurring and all the panels, films, and parties that I did attend, and I am still reflecting on this experience.  Perhaps I will write more when I have thought about it even more.

Conversation #3

On January 30, I spoke with another ETC 2010 alumna currently at Electronic Arts:  Theresa Chen, Features Producer/Assistant Producer 2 on the Sims 3 Expansion Pack team.  Her background was as an artist/designer before discovering her knack for producing.

Her summary was that the “producer is there to make sure the rest of the team can do the project.”

From my own work on ETC projects, I can empathize with this statement on a ground level of getting the project done.  I haven’t really yet had to market a product to executives or deal with monetary budgets, myself, since at the ETC, projects and teams are decided for you, and you are mostly involved with execution/completion.  The project-based academics have been very helpful for me, but I am also becoming more aware of what I haven’t captured in my own experiences.

When talking about producer responsibilities, Theresa mentioned “being a generalist that wears different hats” and warned about the dangers of the term “an ideas guy.

I really sympathize with both these statements, and I feel like I’ve begun to see the subtleties as well.  The producer must be a generalist in that they must speak the language of as many roles as possible, but they must also be able to admit how much they cannot completely know; moreover, we aren’t the guys with all the ideas but we must be able to champion whatever the vision of the project is.

Something that came up with my conversation with Theresa as well is that producing is an “experience-driven role.”  It’s hard to point out the soft-skills that a good producer develops over time, and that may be strongly contributing to why it’s been so hard to pin down what producing is in general.

Conversation #4

On January 31, 2013, I spoke with Michael Nixon, a Freelance Producer who was once my roommate back in 2009-2010 at NYU.  He studied writing for television back in those days, but as is the way with life, he has found himself as a producer for webseries and webcasts.  It was great to catch up with him, and he was very helpful at elucidating some of the gaps in my knowledge about producing in film and television.

One of the neatest facts he shared was about how closely coordinated a crew on a live production needs to be:  Throughout the whole production, without the ability to cut, the crew needs to be able to communicate without distracting the performers, possibly even without talking.  I’ve seen plenty of bloopers where everyone keeps it together until a serious flub or a director yells cut, but I’ve never thought about having to keep going.  It’s all the stressful improvisation of a live performance combined with the stressful technology of a film shoot.  Woohoo!

As to producing, speaking with Michael was also just as neat.  He was the first non-ETCer I’ve spoken to, and thus, I found his explanations framed with a refreshingly novel perspective.

He described producing as “taking a bunch of disparate elements and making something out of it,” somewhat analogous to being a chef, or in his own experience, as having to take boxes of equipment & miscellanea and turning them in to a set.

I like this summary in addition to the other ones I’ve been getting.  While it is a less task or goal-oriented description, it captures a different essence of producing:  The struggling creative who has dared to take on the challenge of making something happen – a stage that perhaps most ideas which pass through someone’s mind rarely reach.  Or perhaps I’m reading too much in to it.

His definition of producing adds a lot to my pool of responses, and I’m beginning to see the nuances, some of which might confound my original goal of discovering the “essence of producing”.  As I’ve been putting it, producing seems to be something that is defined by experience and not by semantics.  I think Michael summed it up best though with “Everyone has their own opinion.  In some instance they are correct.  There’s no ‘right’ answer.”  As he referred to it, producing is “Entertainment’s Rubik’s Cube.”

Surviving Film

Today, I’m going to look at “Industry Survival Tips” from “The Complete Film Production Handbook.” On first pass, it is clear that this chapter doesn’t line up exactly with any from the “The Game Producer’s Handbook.”  While the chapter in the Game Producer’s Handbook is more centered on the role and responsibilities of the “titled” producer, this chapter in the Film Production Handbook is more about working effectively in the film industry in general.  Despite the inexact comparison, there is valuable information that I want to reflect upon.

This chapter also contains a good amount of numbered and bullet-ed lists of advice.  However, it is more industry-focused.  Common themes include networking and being aware of harsh realities of finding work.  Again, advice that I wouldn’t say is only film producing specific.

However, I will say that it surprises me how many times networking is mentioned in this chapter.  The line that I think is the most insightful is actually “Those in positions of hiring want to work with their friends and the people they like.”  It’s not hard to notice that certain directors often work with certain actors or certain groups of actors work together a lot, and I’m sure if someone went through and looked in depth at movie credits, even more people actually work together very often. There was a small section specifically about good work habits for producers, which again was very similar to that in the Game Producer’s Handbook.  Some tips I thought were particularly meaningful to my own experience (as things I’ve learned the value of or am still struggling with):

  • “Anticipate the needs of others.”
  • “You don’t have to know everything – you just have to know where to find everything you need to know.”
  • “Make time for the other things in your life that are important to you. It’s easy to lose sight of priorities.”

The other big theme besides networking that I’ve known about but hit close to home to see mentioned in the book was that of being passionate and well-informed.  My roommate is probably one of the most well-informed people at my program – in regards to gaming, animation, sports, entertainment in general.  I really look up to him, and sometimes though I just don’t know how he finds the time during the day to keep up with all this news.  Sometimes I feel like I get home from a long day, read about something interesting, and he already knew it yesterday.  It’s something I’m concerned about because passion and enthusiasm are states of mind, but if I don’t know things, I just don’t know things.  My personality and work style aren’t the same as my roommate but I’m interested in what I can do to adapt.

It seems that surviving in film is not too much different from being an efficient producer in gaming, but I think it’ll be easier to probe for specific answers through interviews, which I have also conducted seven-and-a-half so far.  I’ve got a backlog of interview notes that I need to transcribe here, but look forward to at least one every week.

Game Producing Effectively

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I want to take a look at the chapters I had intended to read together separately as well.  In this post, I will be looking at “Habits of Highly Effective Producers” from “The Game Producer’s Handbook.”

The chapter starts off with an alphabetical list of good habits.  Admittedly, this list reads very generically, and is really good advice to anyone in any role (is there a job position where one should not “Demonstrate Professionalism” or “Meet Commitments”?).  For someone new to producing or looking at it from the outside, this advice doesn’t translate well into a tangible to do list.  However, as someone who’s produced for a little over a year now, I see what people say about producing being a very individual practice.  For myself, some of these suggestions translate into past anecdotes and specific practices I’ve adopted, but I wouldn’t be able to say that I’ve figured out the “right” way to go about everything.

Nonetheless, the latter half of the chapter does get in to more specific practices.

The first one is “Daily Delta Reporting” or what we refer to as “Dailies” at the ETC.  It is the practice of every team member reporting (either to the whole team or to management) about what specifically they worked on that day and what states those things are in, whether it be done or in trouble.  This is a staple of producing and I couldn’t imagine ending a day without knowing what happened.  It is very similar to “Dailies” in film where the crew looks at what was recorded that day.  However, film dailies are specifically a look at the collective product and how individual contributions appear in it, while game development dailies are just individual reports (there may not always be a collective product at the end of the day).

The second one is about asking clarifying questions.  This sections seems the most oddly specific, especially since being a producer in an academic setting means I’ve never had to deal with questions like “when a team member is unhappy with a raise.”  However, I really appreciate this section for giving very specific examples of how to frame questions about sensitive issues – usually in logical or resolution-oriented ways.

Further along, “Always Follow Up in Writing” is a good one.  It turns out that it isn’t just in legal situations where having exact events and responsible parties in writing is useful.  Law involves the practice of communicating very specifically, and producing also requires that – albeit probably to a not-as-exacting standard.

In “Scheduling and Rescheduling,” Dan Irish mentions specifically that he uses MS Project and Excel for schedule, a nice specific fact.

“Knowing What You Don’t Know” was a nice section to see near the end as well.  This is a fundamental problem that plagues my mind:  As the producer, I both want to defer to the expertise of those who know better than I, but I also want to know what they are talking about in detail.  I think one of the core things about being a producer is about being in control enough to know who better to put in control.

Overall, I found this chapter very relate-able since my primary experience at the ETC is also in game-production.  Maybe I’ll find out that production is not much different across industries other than the industry knowledge.

Surviving Effectively

For me, I’ve reached the most important pairing of chapters out of “The Game Producer’s Handbook” and “The Complete Film Production Handbook.”  That is “3:  Habits of Highly Effective Producers” from the former and “32: Industry Survival Tips” from the latter.  It seems that one book addresses important traits early on, and the other ends on them; nonetheless, I am very interested in which essential skills are similar or different.

There were six things that were mentioned in both books:

1. Passion – belief and motivation

2. Having a Positive Attitude – being pleasant to be around, having a sense of humor, being a foil to stress and challenge

3. Having a Purpose / a Plan – knowing the goal as well as how to get there (subject to change, but should always exist)

4. Being Persistent – not giving up when others might

5. Being Professional – keeping your personal feelings out of it; having a thick skin to the drama

6. Being Known – making sure that your excellence is perceived by others

Honestly, these are general habits of effective people, which could mean a couple of things:  1. The only overlap between producers across these two industries is on the level of being good people.  2. “Producing” is far more elusive than that.  3. The books are actually written differently enough so that looking for superficial overlap was a silly idea.

In fact, it is clear to me from reading these two chapters that they aren’t exactly written with the same intentions.  “Habits of Highly Effective Producers” from the Game Handbook is very specifically directed at producers while “Industry Survival Tips” from the Film Handbook is more about doing well in the film industry in general.  I would like to explore the differences in separate blog posts following this one so that instead of trying to juggle both these large books at the same time and flipping between them, I can look at each as an individual piece and reflect on them without trying to match them together.

Conversation #2

On January 29, 2013, Shirley Saldamarco, who is a faculty member of the ETC, visited the SV campus.  She teaches the “Fundamentals of Producing” course that I took a year ago, and also has an extensive background in television and video production.  While she was stopped by for two days, I was able to talk to her about some questions in regards to my independent study:

Her definition of producing was “guiding the talents of other people to create the best possible product.”  I liked how this definition describes the actions of a producer as well as the target goal of those actions.

Her most interesting insight she had was about the spectrum of producing from film to television to gaming.  Having been around all of these industries, she said that creative control was one of the biggest differences she had seen:  In television, a producer really influences the vision, while in gaming, it is more production management/administration.

At the film end, though is where things get interesting: In film as opposed to television there is less control for the producer because the director gets the final say.  However, there is more money in film, of course.  Moreover, whereas the credits in television tend to be more straightforward, producing titles in a film can often be assigned for a variety of reasons and can sometimes simplify the variety of roles people had.  As Shirley put it, “you never know who did what on a film unless you were there.”

A specific insight she also had was about her experience with scheduling for programmers.  Programmers can have difficulty estimating how long something will take because of compounding factors but a producer really needs an estimate from them for planning purposes.  So Shirley has come up with a system of asking programmers for the “best case.”  It’s not the most accurate but it’s a great way to help a programmer mentally simplify those compounding factors, which are things that the Producer should be helping to ameliorate anyway.

Shirley’s years of experience have given her some great insights, and I am very glad to have had the chance to speak with her especially on this topic.

From Other Perspectives: The Assistant Director

I recently stumbled across a film blog written by an Assistant Director in Austin, Texas.  She has a rather passionately written entry about why a 1st Assistant Director should not also try to be the Producer on a crew:

While this is not the comparison that I am specifically looking at, I found that the comparison did help me to understand the Producer’s role more in relation to the film team:

1. Mobility

A Producer’s role is more mobile and less tied to the set.  They “need to have the ability to leave set at will to negotiate, put out fires, scout, meet, etc.”  Also, “Assistant Directors are useless off set.”

2. Financials

A Producer needs to be “privy to and an expert in financial wheelings and dealings.”  The Assistant Director does not, but this isn’t to say that no one else in the production hierarchy helps with budgeting.

3. Politics

“You sometimes have to be someone completely different from who you actually are in order to appease the industry folks that you wheel and deal with.”  There is camaraderie amongst the production crew as technical experts in their respective crafts, and it’s easy for them to joke about the politics going on above them, but producers are in the thick of that politics.

4. Tasks

She lists out specific responsibilities as well:

“As a Producer, I have to be locking in locations, building contracts and crew/cast deal memos, making sure that paperwork gets signed, arguing with agents, building and keeping tabs on the budget, hiring crew, renting equipment, securing insurance, making sure we have parking/bathrooms/holding areas, renting production vehicles, negotiating backend deals, keeping the director motivated, keeping the director’s vision from bloating to impossible to achieve proportions, making sure department heads aren’t steamrolling their first hands, playing babysitter and therapist all at the same time. And that’s before I even get to dealing with the assistant directors.”

On the other hand, the assistant director actually deals with the script, the set, rehearsals, etc.  Film is such a big affair that project management tasks have to get broken up across many different roles.

5. Personality

She makes this interesting distinction:

“Producers and ADs are very often very different creatures. I’m very mechanical as an AD. I run set and make sure everyone has what they need to do their jobs well and efficiently. I am thrilled to set marks for background and call the roll. But the things I desire as an AD are not always what I desire as a producer. As AD, I feel you’ve gotten the shot in those 15 takes and it’s absolutely time to move on (considering there’s no overtime if we go over 12 hours). As a producer, I want you to keep going until you have every single fucking frame of that shot a brilliant masterpiece or else the investors are going to pull out and the whole thing’s gonna fall apart. As a Producer, truthfully, the shot sucks and we should spend another 45 minutes resetting and getting it right.”

This really resonates with me because my experience as a producer at the ETC has moved between both these personality types.  Because we are on such small teams on our semester-long projects, a Producer needs to embody many if not all of the different aspects of producing:  On the one hand, being the administrator that makes sure everyone is being efficient and therefore being able to do simple mechanical work yourself that allows everyone else maximize their talents; on the other hand, being the manager that  needs the shepherd the vision and negotiate with everyone about compromise.

6. Scope of Time

Another wonderful subtle distinction between Assistant Directors and Producers:  “One of the DGA 1st ADs I really admire once said that the 1st AD represents the present, the set, the actual on the day filming… the 2nd AD represents the future, the next day of filming and prep work, and the 2nd 2nd AD represents the past, what happened on the day and statistics. A producer is all three at once; he/she is vigilant of past, present, and the future.”

I really like this one because it’s so elegant and easy to understand.  I wonder if other aspects of producing could be described by such properties – temporally, spatially, etc.

7. Responsibility

“As a producer, I am supposed to be overseeing the creative and making sure the director is making wise creative decisions with the budget he/she has. As an AD, I am not responsible for the overall creative feel of the movie.”

As mentioned in #5 above, the producer’s role is a lot more involved than their distance away in the hierarchy might imply.  Despite the delegation of so many tasks, they are ultimately responsible.