Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Ins and Outs of Short Ends

Submitted by Scott Spears

So you’ve scraped together a few extra dollars to shoot film, but you’re still a bit tight on cash and somebody says, “Buy short ends!” Now, you’ve heard about them but aren’t sure you want to buy somebody else’s leftovers. Well, here’s the scoop on short ends. It’s film that was bought by a production that never got used, and to make some money it is being sold. It comes in four types; short ends, long ends, re-cans, and buy-backs.

Before we get into the details on these different categories you should first know where to buy short ends. My recommendation is to buy from a reputable dealer that deals in short ends and new film. There are many companies that sell short ends like; Dr. Rawstock, Media Distributors, and Short Endz, to name a few. Please note, I do not work for these companies, but have had good dealings with them. The advantage to going with an established company is they test the film they sell before it goes out the door. If you buy from somebody you don’t know, or from somebody on eBay, you don’t know if the film has been tested. For all your know it could have spent two long summer months baking in the trunk of some production assistant’s car who now wants to make some beer money by selling leftover film. Now, I’m not saying that all the film on eBay is bad film, but by going with a company that does this everyday and that lives by their long term reputation, you’ll most likely get good film stock.

Short Ends

Here’s where you save the big bucks, but there are always drawbacks to going the cheap route. Short ends are usually 250 feet and under. They are the cheapest derivative because they plentiful, but there’s less to them. On 16mm that’s about seven minutes of film which isn’t that bad, but on 35mm that’s three minutes which after a color chart, head slate, and regular slate isn’t a lot of film. If you go with a lot of short ends on 35mm, you better have a couple loaders ready to load magazines constantly. Short ends can be had for under twenty cents a foot. I once picked up some for six cents a foot.

I should add this, 16mm short ends are hard to come by because 16mm is the staple of independent filmmakers who tend to not buy more film than they need and use every inch of their film. 35mm is much more plentiful because studios and medium sized companies dump a lot of film on the market after principal photography has wrapped.

Long Ends

Long ends aren’t all that different than short ends except they are usually over 300 feet and in 35mm can be up to 980 feet. They are more expensive because they are rarer and have a longer running time, thus saving time by having less magazine changes. I like them, especially when shooting 35mm. These long loads are usually film that had been loaded and had a color chart and head slate shot on it, but never made it on set. They can run twenty-five cents a foot and up.

Re-cans are one of my favorites because they are usually full loads that were put in the camera, but were never exposed except maybe a foot or so for threading up. It’s almost like buying new film. They typically cost twenty cents a foot and up.


These babies are rare and aren’t discounted a lot, but can save you a few pennies here and there. Buy-backs are film that was bought and never got out of the can. Often it’s the last batch of film ordered for a big picture or sometimes somebody gets excited and buys a batch of film, but then never gets anymore money to make the movie, so they are forced to call Kodak or Fuji saying they need to return the film. Usually the manufacturers say tough luck, but sometimes if it’s less than forty-eight hours or a long time client, they buy it back for a few dollars less than it was sold for in the first place. I shot a large part of feature with buy-backs with good results. Expect to pay ten to twenty percent off standard rates.

Under buy-backs, I also put just barely out of date film. Again, this is rare because the manufacturers don’t usually let film expire, but it does happen. When you start your search for film, you could call Kodak or Fuji directly and see of they have out of date film laying around.
An advantage of buy-backs is they will most likely come from the same emulsion batch which will make your cinematographer happy because they’ll be less variation in the stock. I should say, this isn’t that much of a problem today because the film manufacturing process is very consistent.

Closing Points

If you decide to try for short ends you should start buying them as soon as possible because assembling enough film, especially for a feature, will take some time. You never want to run out of film or be forced to pay through the nose for film at the last minute. If you need to though, Kodak does offer a last minute film ordering service, but you better be ready to break out the Visa gold card.

I’ve shot two features on 35mm with lots of short ends and one short on 16mm with primarily short ends, all with good results. On each of the features we did have one incident on each shoot even when dealing with reputable dealers. One time we had one roll that turned out to be two rolls that had been badly masking taped together in the middle. My guess is some tired loader was spooling up some film and didn’t even notice that he had one roll attach to another. The other incident was a mislabeled can and this is where having a good, heads up assistant camera person on crew can save you. My first AC noticed that a bit of film that was hanging out of a film magazine wasn’t the right color. Yes, unexposed film stocks of different ASA ratings have different colors. Some are lighter in color and others are darker. My AC caught this, told me, and I saw the problem. We put that roll aside.

If you do find a problem, contact the company that sold it to you as soon as possible and let them know. Most of the time they’ll replace the film immediately. Heck, sometimes if you gripe enough, you might get an extra roll or two.

The big thing to remember is short ends are a great way to save a few bucks, but if there are any questions about the film you’re using, don’t cheap out because for most occasions it will be far more costly to assemble all of the crew, cast, locations, and gear than the few dollars you saved with questionable short ends. Saying that, I’ve used short ends with great results and have helped the production values on some movies by upping the shooting ratio or getting a name actor in the cast with the savings. Final words of advice, do your research, have good a assistant cameraperson, and start buying film early.

Screenwriting Books

Submitted by Richard Hogg

Looking up at my bookshelves recently I noticed how many books on screenwriting I had. A dozen at least. Cursing not only my stupidity at wasting over £100 (that’s a good four or five nights out after all) I ended up with a few sobering thoughts.

How much of the thousands of pages I had read had I actually digested and more importantly been able to use in my writing. Act structure. Climax. Peaks and troughs. Pacing. Tone. Characters versus Characterization. This is not a rant denouncing help books. I don’t believe they’re all useless. The usual suspects, i.e. Story and Screenwriters Bible are and were most useful when going back over those early drafts when I had, quite frankly, written novels in a script format.

The main point I came away with is actually the central message of this whole piece. Just write. Yes I know you’ve read it before and even if you haven’t, of course you’ve got to write. How bloody obvious can you get. But it isn’t. Recently I found myself looking back over the last week. I had been to screenwriting class on the Thursday night and had been given a assignment and I had several rough ideas for a short story or short script. What did I do? Turn on my PlayStation and play a few hours of football (soccer to our American friends, though really our sport came first). Why? I have come to realize that I work in fits and starts. Other writers seem to churn out work on a regular basis with a routine at the heart of it. One hour on a morning or between half nine and ten at night, but gradually it all builds up. Instead I find myself writing ten to twenty pages of script a day for a few weeks then nothing for a month. I’m not blocked. It’s just lethargy. Have I tired myself out? I doubt it. I just suddenly seemed to prioritize watching those West Wing episodes I taped.

Anyway back to the point. Do write regularly. It’s been said before and will be said countless times again but I can’t reinforce it enough. If you really want to do it, sitting down and thinking about the rewards at the end won’t do anything. It has to be practiced.

My second point is to read a lot. Not just scripts. Writing is writing. I know there’s a whole different craft when comparing prose and scripts but at the heart is story. You do have to think visually. You can’t have a inner monologue to reveal character but you still have to have a feel for that character. They must be real to you. You must be able to make the reader care for them, empathize with them. The plot must excite. It must be something that you would want to read or watch.

Stephen King in his book on writing says he’s a slow reader but gets through about eighty books a year. Do you read more than one a week? And no, large print or children’s books don’t count. I read fifty, maybe sixty. And I thought I read a lot. But why is it so important? It’s all to do with that little thing that all the books bang on about, your subconscious. That part of you brain that is supposedly ticking away, filing away ideas, which it decides to let you in on whenever you don’t have a pen and paper handy. I’m wasn’t sure about the whole notion but as I read more I began coming up with ideas that had a hint of a character from one novel, a plot strand from a film, along with ideas from other sources mixed in.

On top of all this, King is right when he says if you want to be a writer so you have to study writing. He’s renowned as being able to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. How does he do it? How much does he show? Is it because we like the character and don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Is it the language? The pacing? The only way you’ll ever know is to read. And make it varied. Harry Potter one week followed by a history book on the down fall of Berlin the next, followed the week after by a Booker Prize winner.

Stick to what you’re interested in sure, I tried to improve my scientific knowledge with a few popular books on black holes. It took me four weeks to get through a hundred pages. I actually found myself volunteering to do the house work rather than read this monster.

Looking back over this I’ve ranted on a bit (nothing new there) but back to the original premise. All the time I’ve spent reading how-to books, playing games, and watching reruns could have been better spent. I want to write for film and TV so I will watch film and TV, obviously. But the other activities I find myself engaging in, let’s face it, they’re not that important. If I want to be a writer, I have to read a lot and write a lot. Even if the vast majority of what I write is crap.
If it’s what you really want to do, then don’t put it off or come up with a list of excuses like I used to. Do it. A few years down the line the benefits will be obvious.

Should You Edit Your Own Movies?

Submitted by Peter John Ross

Very rarely in the film industry does the filmmaker get to edit their own pieces. There are exceptions. The obvious ones are Robert Rodriguez and the Coen Brothers, who use the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. But then there are the director’s who co-edit their movies with another editor, like Kevin Smith and his producer Scott Mosier, or James Cameron who always edits alongside other editors.

On the micro-budget level, where the funding for the DV short is in the tens of dollars, there is the mythology that you should edit your own movie. Hell anyone with a ten dollar firewire card and a home computer five years out of date can now edit, so obviously all you need to do is learn what button to push. And this is why most DV shorts suffer, especially in the editing.

I guess for newbies, which we all were at some point, it’s hard to hand over such a crucial part of the moviemaking process to someone else. And since the technology is so readily available, the newbie often does not. Now, some people have a natural knack for editing and this is not always bad. Then there are those who cannot separate the objectivity of the big picture and the minutiae of the script when it comes time to do the editing.

If you are one of those directors that can look at the raw footage, or even edit a scene together, look at it in the context of the movie and make a decision to cut out one of the best moments the actor gave because you realize that the scene is erroneous, then skip this article. Or if you have what you thought was one of the funniest jokes on paper, and even if it’s not a one-hundred percent great delivery, but you choose to use it anyway because it might be good, then please read on.

There exists a misconception that you just hand the movie over to the editor and then you sit and wait to see if they made it the way you want. The editor’s job is to work with the director and producer to shape the movie with the NLE chisel. An editor brings objectivity and a fresh perspective to the table that isn’t there with a one-man show.

Since this article is geared more towards the extremely low budget movie, the first concern is money. An option for us no-budget moviemakers is to help each other out. Find another no-budget filmmaker and edit each other’s movies, rather than taking it all on by yourself. Give each other that new opinion or fresh idea that might enhance the movie. Creating movies in a vacuum can hamper the outcome for the best possible movie.

Much like working with an actor to help shape a character, collaborating with an editor can help make a better movie. It may not be what you, the director, exactly intended, but movies are a team effort. It’s less about the director’s singular vision, and more about the story and the finished movie. Much like a character, the movie can take on a life of it’s own. I say let it breathe and give it some freedom, rather than choke on the ego of one individual.

Objectivity is difficult for a director when they go to edit. The director was on the set. He knows the actors and he remembers what happened on those days. This jades the viewing of the raw footage. An editor will look at the raw material and try to build something and not see it as the shoot, but rather the pieces of the puzzle that need to fit just right. Another, more basic concept is the job of the editor to orient the viewer. A director may not realize that the edit they did does not reveal the location or the positions of the characters, because the director was there. Whereas the editor was not there and will more easily recognize that you need an establishing shot or a wide angle to give the audience a sense of spatial relations.

Now some people learn through time and effort that they can be objective. Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier are two of the most brutal editors of their own work. They will chop scenes out that do not stand up in the editing room. James Cameron also attacks his movies with fervor. To bring a movie down to its essence, he will cut out whole subplots in the editing room, even ones that cost several million dollars to produce. Just take a look at The Abyss: Special Edition, if you don’t believe me. Please take note though, that on the big movies, even though a director supervises the edit, if there is a fight between the editor and director, the producer is the boss that has to settle the dispute.

Everyone should at least attempt to work with a separate editor once. You can find that a different approach or a new idea will only serve to enhance the story, which is all a movie is supposed to do, tell a story.