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Finally, a Practical App for Directors


Is There an App for Disappointment?

It’s sad to say, but I thought I’d love my iPad more than I do. The promise of a different kind of user experience – like the iPhone but bigger – seemed like a great thing to have in my information-shuffling arsenal. Don’t get me wrong, I use my iPad for lots of things. There’s no better way to read a screenplay in my opinion, and even books can be more accessible in their electronic form. And there’s always how crazy-easy it is to show my reel to anyone with hands and eyes. But aside from passive consumption and games, the iPad hasn’t caught up with the kinds of apps I want for my own productivity as a director. But this is nothing new in software world where directing still must seem like a dark art, a creative process so specific to each individual director that no program or app could ever hope to chase that dragon.

Now, with that in mind, I want you to watch this video, and I hope it blows your mind as it did mine:

To give you an idea of how awesome this is, here’s what I’ve been doing on paper since film school:

Chicken Scratch – my old tool for doing this.

That’s an overhead diagram of a dramatic scene in a film I broke down. You see how nobody but me could hope to make sense out of this? Yet this is how not just me, but many directors have gathered their thoughts in the process of preparing to shoot since the motion picture camera was invented.

Now I’m not sure how I ended up on Hollywood Camera Work’s  mailing list. I’ve never bought any of their products before, and contrary to their name they’re actually based in Las Vegas. But about a month ago, I was greeted with an email touting this app. I won’t say I was “skeptical” because I had no expectation at all, but after five minutes I recognized a tool I expect to find on every set from student films to commercials to big-budget studio features in no time.

Pain in the App

I’m going to be an arrogant jerk and assume most anyone reading this has some kind of tablet-like device or smartphone, or at least has experience playing with one. The promises of the interface have yielded some brilliant apps and a seemingly nonstop torrent of useless ones. Those of us with said “smart” devices have all experienced the sine-wave-like thrill of excitement when downloading, only to bottom-out as soon as we see how an application is going to be less-than-useful for our purposes.

Really, you should get Panascout.

For filmmakers, the apps have been spotty. There are some good ones like Artemis, Panascout, QRSlate, and PCam. There are also apps like Celtx Shots, Cinemek Storyboard Composer, and a raft of other “storyboarding” apps out there which feel like they’re on their way to being useful but as a practical problem-solving matter they create more work than they alleviate. One contender for my affections was ShotList, a neat little utility for scheduling a shoot and keeping one’s shotlist in one’s pocket rather than in an illegible scribbled form. But again, it’s a lot of work to enter everything into the app and the time savings is minor.

A prime example of how to not make me look forward to using your software can be found in the full-blown desktop application FrameForge Previz Studio. Don’t get me wrong, Frameforge is an amazing tool for specific jobs and I own a copy of it and use it from time to time. The problem is that with FrameForge, one has to spend hours creating full 3D sets – walls, props, you-name-it before the creative process can begin. For me, it generally doesn’t matter if the end result is optically correct right down to the depth of field if I had to turn off the inventive part of my brain to build a set in virtual space before I could even get going.

I’ll repeat that in a straightforward way – I want to use the tools to create, not to prepare to create.

Great quality at a price: Your time.

A friend of mine recently asked me if I knew of any good storyboarding software and my response, having worked with several of them was “learn to draw.” I know it sounds snarky, but I’d rather spend time learning to draw than building 3D models that accomplish roughly the same thing.

Screw You, Low-Tech!

But back to the Shot Designer app. When I saw that there was a free version, I downloaded it immediately and then after about 10 minutes I bought the premium app. I knew on sight that I’d be using this app on every shoot I have moving forward.

And the genius of this app is that in the process of building a schematic like this one ALSO generates a shotlist (as a PDF or spreadsheet) with as much (or as little) detail as the user wants to put into it. I could go on and on, raving about this app but you’re probably better off just watching their videos for the overview.

A typical, easy-to-create overhead from the app.

The Shot Designer App is still in version 1. They’re already talking about amazing steps forward such as Drobox integration and adding script breakdown into the mix. I always love a tool that helps me bridge my ideas in an expressible way that aids communication on set. Even better when those tools help me try as many ideas as I want without asking me to spend triple the time creating their foundation or waiting for them to render. Mostly, it’s exciting that app developers are thinking on this level today, in a way which will enable filmmakers to brainstorm and communicate better in the future, without bogging down their creative process with a counterintuitive interface.

2 comments on “Finally, a Practical App for Directors

  1. Ben You have such great posts,….you need to be published (and paid) on this stuff…..maybe you are…but anyway, I love reading them. barbi

    Barbi Veitch

    Cell: (305) 606-7909 Fax: (877) 419-3413 Email: filmbarbi@yahoo.com Website: http://www.filmbarbi.com/

    >________________________________ >From: Neptune Salad >To: filmbarbi@yahoo.com >Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3:14 AM >Subject: [New post] Finally, a Practical App for Directors > >neptunesalad posted: “Is There an App for Disappointment? It’s sad to say, but I thought I’d love my iPad more than I do. The promise of a different kind of user experience – like the iPhone but bigger – seemed like a great thing to have in my information-shuffling arsenal. D” >

  2. [...] Recently I blogged about Hollywood Shot Designer app, a product I’ve come to know and love. And use – on every shoot. I went the next step, geekdom-wise, and even joined their beta team so now I’m one of the people testing new versions before the public gets them. It’s an app I really believe in because it does a few things supremely right: [...]

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