Tuesday, 18 October 2016

☴ REVIEW: Sony Xperia XZ (Platinum, unlocked, 32GB, F8331)

Nowadays it seems a new smartphone release must be a controversial affair for anyone to pay attention and it's against this landscape of headphone jack removal and exploding batteries that Sony have released the Xperia XZ into the world.
Sony Xperia XZ (platinum)

What to say.

There's nothing very controversial about the XZ. It's elegant. Understated. Solid. Tasteful. Minimal. Designful.

Whilst other companies shave off everyday interfaces and leave an empty space with the excuse it helps the acoustics of its product's speakers (and co-incidentally drives sales for its brand of wireless headphones) and call this courageous, Sony has none of it. Instead Sony present (yet another!) iteration of its smartphone design know-how.

The days of being delighted by a smartphone - any smartphone - are long past to anyone who has owned more than a couple of handsets over the last decade. Dare I say the user experience is at a plateau and the land-grab is in full swing. Humans are irrational beings and it's our emotions that are appealed to and right now Sony is the brand that appeals to me - but let me rationalise :)

I'd barely owned my Xperia X Performance (XP) a few weeks when Sony announced the XZ. If you're not interested in videography improvements than I'd say get a deal on the XP now.

The Sony Xperia XZ back camera sensor augmentation
The XZ introduces some new sensors for the videographer, whilst keeping the superior Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS) which produces much better results with the moving image than any current smartphone Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) - especially in environments with high frequency vibrations (for example the dashboard of a car).

I won't bore you with the marketing speak, but basically the XZ camera is augmented with a couple of extra sensors. Once deals with white balance, one with focus. This results in incrementally better video results than the XP (which to my eye is already very good).

The XZ keeps the f2.0 wide lens but still produces very acceptable results in low light compared to any other contemporary smartphone, including those with f1.8 lenses (such as HTC 10 and new iPhone).

The binaural sound recording has been a staple with Xperia since at least the Z2 (my first Xperia purchase) and here again it appears incrementally refined, certainly a better signal-to-noise ratio than the entire Z series by around 3dB.

I still love the fact that the face of the Xperia is uncluttered with any physical button, and I regard the placement of the volume rocker as a distinct advantage in everyday use (I have never accidently changed the volume on an Xperia device, ever - the same cannot be said of the other Androids and iPhones I have owned with more traditional placement of those buttons).

The dedicated camera button on the XZ remains welcome, and is by far the most responsive including versus the XP.

The fingerprint sensor is another button placement that I find perfectly acceptable, and it's very quick to recognise my prints.

Sony Xperia XZ front facing camera records 1080P video
I'm not much of a vlogger but it's good to see that the XZ front-facing camera keeps a wide field of view and records 1080P and looks decent.

No SIM tool is needed to change the SIM or access the microSD slot. Storage expandability is another plus to the Xperia line in my book.

Finally, the XZ brings USB-C to the Xperia X line which is just a much more convenient and potentially more versatile connector than either microUSB or Lightning.

I've noticed the popular press has been kinder to the XZ after pretty much universally slating the XP - which is funny and cements my opinion that if you want a smartphone for a specific purpose you should do your own research; if not it's pretty difficult to find a truly awful smartphone in 2016. Which shows just how far the category has progressed and is an indicator of that plateau.


Did I mention the XZ carries forward the ingress protection (IP68) 'waterproofing' of the top end Xperia line. Although Sony seem to be keen to play this down, and it seems the camera app has had Touch Block removed - it remains to be seen how recording video performs underwater! But it does mean accidental dips should be nothing to worry about.



The Good
Well placed microphones for binaural recording.
Around 3dB (estimated) improvement recording SNR over recent Z5 handsets.
Elegant design.
Improved sensors including addition of laser assisted focusing.
Expandable storage via microSD.
USB-C.
f2.0 / 24mm lens.
Front facing stereo speakers.
Ingress Protection IP68 waterproof.

The Bad
It's quite big and relatively conspicuous.

The Ugly
Sony bloatware cannot be uninstalled.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

New ASMR Genre Emerges in Terror Trailer

I've often thought the intimacy of ASMR lends itself to a potentially fantastic horror film experience - watching a creepy film, alone, in headphones, can be truly scary. Especially if you are in the house alone too.

Here we have a short film that appears to explore the horrors of aquaphobia, although plot details are rather thin and the trailer gives nothing away. Really, nothing.

So turn out the lights, strap on your headphones, and see what sort of goosebumps the trailer for 'Waterfright' might give you.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

☴ ANALYSIS: iPhone 7 binaural videography

iPhone 7 not available in blue.
There's a saying in the film industry: "nobody gives a f5ck about sound". Although that's not strictly true, it is one of the first areas to be compromised in a tight spot during production.

Apple does give a f5ck about sound having employed the likes of Tom Holman to consult on audio direction.

Whilst I believe the iPhone 7 lack of headphone jack is no big deal considering a wired connection remains possible with an adapter, and everything else like dual lenses, stereo speakers, and fast f1.8 lenses is playing catch-up with Android and Windows 10 Mobile Lumia, there remains a glaring omission in the contemporary iPhone spec sheet.

After nearly 10 years the iPhone does not record binaural video (I say binaural video because saying stereo video could mean a stereoscopic 3D effect, but I mean the two-channel sound with video).

The iPhone certainly has enough microphones to have a binaural recording capability. From what I've seen of mic positioning there has been no major changes with iPhone 7 - it has three - one on the front, one on the back, and one on the bottom edge.

This is precisely the same mic positioning as the HTC 10 which does record binaural video. So this is a choice being made by Apple to not record binaural video, not a technical limitation.

Now it might be that Apple are waiting for another design iteration to "do it right" (the HTC mic positioning records mildly biased stereo because left and right channels are not capturing vibrating air molecules equally and it is applying algorithmic compensation and noise cancellation DSP which increases the noise floor with digital uglies in certain scenarios).

Tom Holman's initials form THX (Tom Holman Crossover).
But when? It's been almost 10 years since iPhone dropped and we are in a vibrantly sounding 21st century that would be lovely to capture binaurally with all that hosing of iPhone video.

Clearly, binaural video recording is not important to corporate Apple since Sony Xperia have been offering high end models with binaural video recording for years, and very good it is too. Again it is clearly a choice by Apple not to offer the function because they see it as not important enough to make their list of priorities.

But here's the thing. If you're someone who appreciates sound and making your own recordings, once you've experienced the depth and breadth of decent binaural recording you just don't want to go back to monaural.

There are third party mics that record stereo (the Shure MV88 comes to mind - very good it is too but ultimately creates a biased stage due to it being on the other end to the lens) but the Airninja Movie Method is about less - less to carry, less to remember, less technicalities, just record your damned movie and be assured of decent results by default with a device straight out-of-the-box.

I appreciate that the telephone is a monaural device but an iPhone is so much more than that. It's a pity that out-of-the-box iPhone only creates monaural content. Proof, if any were needed, that binaural sound remains a niche interest - and therefore, opportunity.

The iPhone 7 is also 'water resistant'. The top end Sony Xperia are essentially waterproof in freshwater shallows (IP68) as demonstrated in the following binaural video which ends up fully submerged underwater.




There's just zero reasons for current iPhone to be the airninja's first choice.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

☴ Review: Sony Xperia X Performance (Dual SIM F8132- 64GB - Unlocked)

Lime Gold Sony Xperia X Performance - Dual SIM / F8132 / 64GB
Why would anyone buy this phone?

That was the consensus I kept reading at the Android pop sites. Indie reviews are thin on the ground so you'd be forgiven for thinking this phone is a turkey.

So why would I buy the Sony Xperia X Performance (XP) when so many websites are saying it's a very disappointing phone and there are better alternatives out there in 2016.

I've thought about this, and, ultimately, it's consistency.

I have come to value consistency and relative predictability in my pocket computing devices for these are the staples of reliability.
Sony TRRRS jack present

Sony has rocketed through iterations from the Z1 to XP and arrived at the current evolution through continual improvement.

That's the first thing professional reviewers remark on - the relatively unchanged look of the Xperia line. Well personally, why mess too much with perfection?

There's a reason the Sony Xperia phone line has earned the nickname 'Kubrick' and it's not just because of a monolithic black slab that can project the cinema screen.

Sony Xperia omni-balance earns nickname 'Kubrick'

Kubrick is renowned for balanced perspective framing in his films and the Xperia line strives for a similar omni-balance.

23MP camera for excellent EIS 1080P video
No camera bump on the Xperia line of phones. Stereo speakers. Stereo (binaural) recording. Expandable storage. Ingress Protection (limited waterproof capability). Buttonless face. Volume rockers tucked out of the way. Dedicated camera button. ClearAudio+. Best EIS in class. Well positioned microphones. No SIM tool required to open the tray.

No 4K. Not a loss to me. On a 5" screen what possible good does pixel density that high do that a FHD 1080P display can't do? Just like the lacking 4K video recording which is currently a gimmick and most cinemas you've been to project at 2K and you haven't even noticed.

1080P display, why would you need 4K at 5" size
In short, the Xperia X Performance brings a lot to an Airninja table and jettisons a lot of faddy fluff that is mere distraction and bandwidth hogging. I am primarily concerned with the quality of binaural recording with video.

Sony invented the Walkman. Even the company name is partly derived from Sonus.

Sony, having had it's ups and downs for sure, has movies in its DNA from the mutation with Columbia Pictures. Sony sensors helped capture Star Wars films digitally before it was cool.

Sony consistently delivers a functional form factor that helps me get binaural AV work done with minimal fuss (I have previously owned the Z2, Z3+, and Z5C amongst other brands of smartphones).

Here's a video recorded with my Z5C unboxing the new XP underwater:



THE GOOD
A great all-rounder with well thought out design and engineering that adds value to audio-visual recording in the form of consistent quality of binaural video coupled with excellent standard of electronic image stabilisation (EIS).

THE BAD
Populist specifications such as QHD display and 4K video recording are not implemented. Retail price isn't worth paying once you know the street price, so hunt out a cost saving.

THE UGLY
Long video takes can run with a temperature warning in mild ambient conditions especially if something like Google Photos is uploading the previous video you just took in the background over WiFi.

AIRNINJA OVERVIEW
Definitely a pocketable device capable of running with the Airninja Move Method, though the stereo recording crown still belongs to larger Microsoft Lumia 950XL. Beware of recording video with a lot of WiFi background activity since this will lead to heat; remember to put the Xperia into Airplane mode before filming to avoid the problem.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

World's First ASMR Feature Length Film

MURLYN Films International in association with Trash Arts and Deer Studios announce principal photography for the ASMR movie "P.A.I.N." being directed by britmic begins August 9th 2016 in Portsmouth, UK.

The world's first narrative ASMR feature length movie is entering production and it promises to bring fans of the aural sensation a passionate story of love mixed with the dangers of gambling in gang controlled regions of the coastal city of Portsmouth.

Not much else is known about the story other than the director describing it as "a road movie and a homage to the Wizard of Oz, created with modern techniques for modern audiences".

Part of these modern production techniques include recording the film at 60fps, also known as HFR (High Frame Rate); this is a frame rate even higher than Peter Jackson used in The Hobbit which was just 48fps. Also recording live sounds with an array of microphones to maximise chances of reproducing ASMR trigger moments with viewers (especially if they are listening to playback in headphones).

When asked about these choices (HFR and ASMR) the director tells us, "science shows humans have a great reaction to 60fps film, thrills are more thrilling. This was proven when they were designing the first Star Tours ride but unfortunately technical limitations meant they could not implement [such a high frame rate] at the time [in the 80s]. If you've not heard of ASMR then keep an eye out for this movie's release and be sure to listen to it, really listen to the textures, as well as watch and respond to the visual aesthetic."

Aren't you worried at the reception 48fps screenings of The Hobbit received? "Not at all. The main criticism of The Hobbit screened with HFR was that it seemed too real and exposed the limitations of presenting Hollywood production values in anything but the same old mould. Kubrick once said 'a truly original person with a truly original mind will not be able to function in the old form and will simply do something different' - welcome to my world."

At time of writing confirmed headline cast members include Suzy Weatherall, Patrick Olliver, Phil Lyndon, Simon Berry, Chris Mills, and Michel du Vagin.

Release date for P.A.I.N. is expected to be early 2017.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

☴ Mobile Video ASMR Binaural Recording Awards (Summer 2016)

For as long as I can remember I've enjoyed experiencing hi-fi stereo sound - many an hour spent sitting in that sweet spot listening to an album.

Later I became interested in capturing authentic stereo sounds, experimenting with binaural and mid-side (M/S) stereo recording techniques to create interesting sound experiences for picture. Sound design with minimal design (because all the best design is as little design as possible).

With a surge in interest in ASMR (experiencing head tingles from certain sounds usually through headphones) and the Airninja Movie Method preference for stereo recording it was time for me to rationalise my gear to see what works best for capturing great stereo sound with decent video.


BRONZE - Shure Motiv MV88 and Apple iPhone SE

Shure Motiv MV88 attached to Apple iPhone SE.
This is a great combo, the mic has an excellent SNR and user configurable dynamic compression and limiter which is saved on the mic itself.

KILLER: The killer feature on the iPhone SE is its speed of autofocus utilising 'focus pixel' technology. Its very rare for autofocus to hunt on this device.

PROS: The iPhone SE is a true Airninja device with it's 4 inch screen and unassuming appearance. It's a very powerful device with a f2.2 lens and has a pretty amazing software ecosystem. User configurable dynamic compression and limiter on the MV88 accessory microphone remains persistent, stored in onboard memory.
Because the MV88 does not employ noise cancellation DSP it has no susceptibility to digital artefacts.


The above video was shot using the iPhone SE and MV88 combo.

CONS: The iPhone SE must be accessorised in order to record any stereo sound since the onboard mic array only records mono. This adds complication and decreases spontaneous opportunity. Once an accessory such as the MV88 is plugged into the lightning port on the device it's not possible to use a battery pack and record at the same time. The biggest flaw however is that without even more gear to mount the MV88 more central to the lens it hangs off one side giving an unnatural bias to the stereo sound particularly on close subjects. The MV88 in its case is another thing to carry and potentially lose out in the field.

UGLY: no onboard stereo sound recording on the highest priced smartphone of its class.


SILVER - Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact has a mic on the short side edges.
Slightly smaller than an iPhone 6S the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact with all its features was a very very close contender for Gold - however these awards have a strict focus on audio recording as the deciding factor. As decent as the Z5C is, it does not capture rich bass.

KILLER: If you want to record sound in shallow water this is the only device certified to do it without requiring any special housing.

PROS: The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact uses onboard microphone array to record binaurally with video captured through f2.0 lens. Whilst it may not be true hi-fi since the low-end is lacking somewhat, it does provide decent clarity and positional audio without need for any additional accessories. It's rugged design is dust and water resistant meaning this device can confidently go pretty much anywhere on the spur of the moment where other devices may require some forethought and accessorising. It's a compact device so remains discrete and unassuming.

The video above shot was using only the Xperia Z5 Compact onboard mics.

CONS: The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact audio can regularly be susceptible to quite nasty sounding digital artefacts, likely a result of ambient noise reduction.

UGLY: The camera app shuts down after prolonged use due to overheating issues (for example you won't get an hour long take using 1080P at 60fps, the camera will overheat and shut off after ~45 minutes).


GOLD - Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

Microsoft Lumia 950XL has mics front and back.
If you're going to go large you may as well go all out Xtra Large. The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL is a 5.7 inch screen phablet equipped with astonishing binaural recording capability coupled with great video. It's a great value proposition as long as you don't think about Windows 10 Mobile future too much.

KILLER: The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL inherits Nokia's four microphone array with noise cancellation DSP and records stunning binaural sound with good rear-noise rejection.

PROS: The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL is currently the top-of-the-line Windows 10 Phone and its price has also dropped like a stone. Excellent condition used handsets can also be found for bargain prices. So for mobile recording with video it's a fantastic value proposition. It has everything you need - 'RichRecording' purports to capture true hi-fi sound from 20Hz - 20kHz with a sampling rate at 48kHz. Though it's not perfect it is the best audio recording with DSP  in this class of device and captures a rich range of positional frequencies that generally sound great, particularly in headphones. The camera has a wide lens which is optically stabilised and a f1.9 aperture.


The video above was shot using the 950XL onboard mic array.

CONS: it's phablet sized so not ideal for every size of pocket. A lack of support from Apple or Google for Windows 10 Mobile means that, for example, getting video off the device is best done from a Windows PC. Even uploading directly to YouTube from the device is not officially supported and somewhat flakey. Sure you can record to micro-SD and then take the card out but that's extra faffing about too. Digital artefacts can be present in certain conditions but at levels lower than the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.

UGLY: integration with Google services is lack-lustre to non-existent, including reliable YouTube MCN uploading.


SUMMARY

These are all great devices with their own particular strengths and weaknesses, but when it comes to the airninja movie method the Microsoft Lumia 950XL is the device to beat. It allows you to remain agile without needing any extra gear to record hi-fi sound and I've recorded an unbroken two-hour long 1080P @ 60fps video take with no issues. It's nimble, versatile, reliable in the field - and unless it's in your pocket the size is not a huge issue ;)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

☴ Ear On The Nokia Lumia 830 (yes Microsoft Windows Phone)

As I do airninja prep on PAINthemovie I am reminded that my current ASMR recording setup still involves a bunch of faff with an external microphone. Wouldn't it be great if there was a video device that could record rich stereo sound along with the picture?

Turns out, there is. And you'll find it that it's not from Apple - their devices after almost 10 years are still only capable of recording mono sound with the onboard mics (as crisp as that may be).

I've been vaguely aware of Nokia's HAAC mic arrays for a while but, well, since the phones that carried them were always out of my price range for a punt and carried a 'losing' OS, I could never bring myself to take that punt.

Until now.

Two things have happened.

Firstly, the Nokia brand has tanked, hit the ground hard, so it's now possible to get the stereo HAAC devices much cheaper - worth taking a punt. I'm not talking about the newest Microsoft branded Lumia devices but ye olde Nokia branded Lumia devices - specifically the 930 and 830.

Secondly, amongst others, the embedded video below - why was I not informed? I am amazed that this sound (as dynamically compressed as it is, natch) could be captured so articulately by a phone released in February 2014.


Oddly, on paper, the mid-range Nokia Lumia 830 offers better value to the ASMRtist than the one-time top-tier 930.

Why?

Well for video the 830's smaller sensor is adequate, the 16GB internal storage on the 830 all but useless for video takes - however the 830 also offers expandable storage via micro SD card and a removable battery - whereas the 930 is fixed with 32GB non-expandable storage and a sealed-in battery that can't be removed.

I've found used carrier-locked 830 in the UK for as low as £50.

I've taken a punt on a £60 "excellent condition" used handset locked to EE - it could yet all go pear shaped (how annoying is it going to be to get video off the device for example?) but, man, it records sweet stereo audio to my ear - rivalling my expensive iOS gear for ASMR video recordings.

One MAJOR caveat for my with the 830 is that it cannot record 60fps video, and that does limit its appeal to zero for HFR ASMR projects I am involved in. But, did I mention, the 830 records sweet stereo audio to my ear - with no extra gear required. Sweet enough to make me consider 30fps ASMR projects.

I expect to get my 830 by early next week. If it's easy to get the videos off I think this will be a great device for ASMR recording. Microsoft's marketing department are missing a trick, I think!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Pompeywood: Pompey Origins

Contemporaries tend to think that 'Pompey' is synonymous with Portsmouth Football Club rather than a referral to the city of Portsmouth itself.

That Portsmouth is an historical naval city cannot be denied.

This press clipping dated October 10th 1934 from the Portsmouth Evening News may shed some light on my impression that Pompey was, and always has been, a moniker for the city at large.

It reads as follows:

THE ORIGIN OF "POMPEY"

Sir,--The "Daily Telegraph" correspondent you refer to in your paper of the 9th inst., seems to be somewhat adrift in his version of the of the name "Pompey" as applied to Portsmouth. I am sure that many old inhabitants of the City can recall the use of the name, long before the existence of the Portsmouth Football Club. It is possible, I believe, to trace the probable origin of the name back to 1797, at the time of the famous Spithead mutiny. Some of the vessels implicated were: Terrible, Queen Charlotte, Glory, Duke, Defiance, Defence, Ramillies, Mars, Robust, Minotaur, Incendiary, Royal Sovereign, and the Pompee. Of these, the Pompee was the vessel most actively concerned in the whole proceedings. It is probable, therefore, that the entire nation came to think in terms of "Pompee" rather than of "Portsmouth," and sailors with their innate love of nicknames were disinclined to cease the practice. In this way the two names became synonymous. This is, I think, a far more probable explanation than the "les pompiers" or Parisian firemen solution of the "Telegraph" correspondent.--Yours, etc.,
CHARLES JENNINGS
100, Marmion Road, Southsea, Hants.
October 10, 1934.

I think Charles is very likely correct - and I'm sure the sailors liked a bit of footie, too.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

FOUND: The Lost Cinema of Michael J Murphy

Michael J. Murphy
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND: Today Murlyn Films International, a British based independent film production company specialising in low budget movie production, announced that over 30 surviving works of late director Michael J Murphy from "Avalon" to "ZK3" are now available for free viewing online.

Upon reaching this milestone, Murphy's archivist and documentary maker Mike Peter Reed said "It's been quite a journey to pull these works together from disparate sources including old VHS recordings, broadcast beta tapes, DVD and Blu-Ray screeners. Sadly we lost Murphy in 2015 aged 64 whilst he was in preproduction of 'Pornophobia' but at least his back catalogue can now be enjoyed, entertain and inspire others for generations to come."

Murphy's archivist explained why Murlyn Films International chose to partner with YouTube:

  •  Youtube is currently the second largest search engine on the planet. It stands to reason that anyone looking for Murphy's cult and obscure films would likely try a search on Youtube.
  •  Ease of uploading feature length content and subsequent reliability of distribution globally. Anyone can do it without involving a middleman or aggregation company.
  • Longevity. It seems likely that YouTube will be around for at least as long as the internet exists meaning Murphy's work can be found and enjoyed by generations to come.


About Murlyn Films International: Murlyn Films International is a British independent film production company based in the historical naval city of Portsmouth, England. Founded in 2013 through a creative collaboration between Michael J Murphy and Philip Lyndon, Murphy's back catalogue stretches back to an acclaimed production of 'Boadicea' in the late 1960s and includes pioneering works during the VHS pre-certification "video nasties" era of the 1980s.

###


Friday, 29 April 2016

Pompeywood Cyber Social

New social channels dispel all doubt of the diversity of output from #Pompeywood and its filmmaking community.

The new Twitter channel accompanies (and tweets activity from) the Pompeywood Youtube channel. It highlights both contemporary and vintage Portsmouth filmmaking, including visits from Telly Savalas, Universal Pictures and, uh, Mr Bean.

Dig into the embedded playlist below and celebrate the city's rich culture of motion picture arts which belies its roots as a naval port.


Friday, 22 April 2016

PAINthemovie Gets Green Light

The spiritual successor to GAINthemovie will be shooting in summer 2016. The corridors of power in Hollywood are describing it as 'They Live' meets 'The Wizard Of Oz'.

GAINthemovie (Ghostly Apparition Investigation & Neutralisation the movie) pioneered the modern airninja movie method in 2012 and went on to win multiple awards internationally, including the esteemed Wingnut's Choice at the BUFI organised #FrugalWave Power Awards.

Whereas GAIN was directed by Evil C vs britmic, PAIN will be directed solo by britmic (does this mean we can look forward to a solo project by Evil C in future? Let's hope so).

Scant clues to the storyline exist, although rumour has it that 'PAIN' is an acronym for Personal Area Interurban Navigator', inspired by the 'PANIC' - Personal Area Network Internet Computer' - which was cut from britmic vs Evil C flick 'The Fix:'

Although the leads of PAIN have been cast, we are left to guess as to which parts they are playing. Actors include newcomer Suzy Weatherall through to industry veterans Patrick Olliver and Phil Lyndon.

Full listing of known cast below.

Jackson Batchelor

Phil Lyndon

Suzy Weatherall

Chris Mills

Patrick Olliver

Thomas J. Davenport

Sam Mason Bell


Thursday, 21 April 2016

☴ MJM Film Review: INVITATION TO HELL

This is possibly Michael J. Murphy's best known work, certainly in the pre-cert world of video nasties.

It's got a lot to like but at the same time it didn't all hang together that well for me. I appreciate the atmosphere and commend the edginess. The soundtrack alone throws me right back to the VHS era.

A girl turns up to a fancy dress party but is then held captive as part of a bizarre ritual. Simplistic, but there is also a subtle subplot going on if you care to watch the embedded full film below.


☴ MJM Film Review: THE LAST NIGHT

Originally part of a double bill with Invitation to Hell, this film The Last Night shares technical issues associated with its age. No formal previous archiving beyond what can be found on the recent Murlyn channel, founded almost a year after the director's untimely death (he was 64). Sadly this means what the kids would today call "potato vision" where high-detail is non-existent. The technical issues are compounded by lo-fi audio limitations and a production issue with the camera itself which Murphy explains in a later interview.

The story revolves around two escaped convicts who hide in a theatre during the last night of an amateur stage production of Murder In The Dark but invariably get discovered by the staff and cast.

The convicts obviously have to ensure their own freedom endures by murdering various people in (some very) cold blood. Some of the methods of dispatch really are grisly and bear Murphy's unmistakable signature - as does the production design, particularly the convicts' appearance after re-appropriating a blazer, waist-coat and tie they find.

If you can see past the technical limitations of what's thought to be the only surviving version of this film (likely originated from a 240P Scorpio Video pre-cert VHS transfer) it's an enjoyable, disturbing, psychologically terrifying film - with a great synth soundtrack like only that 1980's pre-cert video nasty era can deliver.

Watch the film embedded below or head over to the main channel for a browse.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The iPhone SE has Apple Mojo

So I've had my 64GB iPhone SE a week now.  During the two-week shipping time I re-acclimatised myself with the smaller form-factor by the using my old iPhone 5S before committing myself to selling my 128GB iPhone 6 Plus.

Boxing up my "old" iPhone 6S Plus, filmed with the iPhone 5S whilst my SE was being made at the factory (settle in with headphones for the full ASMR experience):



Whilst using the iPhone 5S I realised I'd only really been chasing the camera and battery tech on the newer iPhone releases. The big screen was nice to have whilst discovering new games but frankly now all the iOS arcade racers and first-person-shooters are the same old tired genres and bore me to tedium. I continue to enjoy classic puzzlers like Scrabble and Words and 10,000,000 and You Must Build a Boat - which play just as well on the SE screen as its larger siblings.

Play a lot of big-name games? Use a console. Categories diverge, always have. For my casual puzzle gaming though, the SE is just fine.

To boot I also sold the 6S Plus at a price that easily covered the cost of the 64GB iPhone SE. The SE is the cheapest iPhone model (if you go for the 16GB model which most people wanting to shoot video probably should avoid) and yet for me it has more mojo than its bigger siblings, it's understated, discrete, just plain stealth.

Unboxing my new favourite iPhone, again filmed with the 5S (and again recorded in a way to maximise any ASMR trigger potential so wear headphones for best effect):



Now obviously the iPhone SE isn't for everyone since Apple will no doubt continue to sell gobs of larger screened phones. I really hope they keep a smaller form-factor in their line-up and this isn't some sort of "one of" Special Edition phone as part of Apple's 40th year.

Right now, for long as 1080P remains a viable consumption format (and I'm sure it will be for another 10 or 20 years or longer) then I don't really have any compelling reason to ever upgrade from the iPhone SE (it can shoot 4K if I can really be bothered) - unless it becomes completely obsolete - which will happen eventually as happens to everything including entire civilisations. (In other words, I'm not going to let that worry me!)

And, did you notice the video above shot with the 5S were 720P@60fps? An ancient phone in technology years.

The iPhone SE shows Apple found some mojo, it didn't wimp out entirely on components and build materials, you could even say iPhone SE is da BOM.

Don't listen to me make up your own mind and exercise your own powers of critical thought. Fink different.

Friday, 15 April 2016

☴ Trendspotting and Avoiding Media Fads

I'm pretty bored of hearing about VR (virtual reality) that I decided to check why it was everywhere in my feeds and streams. It definitely seemed like it was all rooted in some astroturfing PR campaign.

Well I was not surprised to see this trend line:


It's clearly a campaign push media idiot feedback loop bound for a deep deep trough of disillusionment.

Compare that with more steady interest in Deep Learning:


Heck, even the humble old staycation is a safer bet for sustainable growth (which itself may have arisen from a campaign push media idiot feedback loop):


Proof, if any were needed, VR is in a bubble and it's very likely about to come down the other side of its spike. I won't be wasting my time or money on it just yet. I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

☴ Book Review - Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael is a very simple, quite short, book. Whilst some highbrows deplore the style, I found it highly accessible and slightly whimsy in a Philip K. Dick dark undertone kind of way: a telepathic gorilla instructs the protagonist on how the state of the world came to be, why, and what can potentially be done about it.

The structure of the book is such that it follows the rules of cliffhangers and revelations, withholds key parts of the narrative to keep you reading.

The story presents a concept that will stay with me. The idea that, what if our entire civilised culture is enacting upon erroneous perceptions that are so deeply ingrained in how we do things that to question them is absolute heresy. That there is an alternative, and by the way here is one such alternative you could begin enacting as an individual today; now.

Difficult to go beyond the surface without spoilers, but it presents a hypothesis and suggests a practical, easy, effortless solution. It might even contribute to your well-being and improving positive mental health. And/or put you in the mood to re-watch The Matrix.

If you don't want the toil, why not herd?

Value people and life, not things. Don't seek to conquer; rather participate in nourishing. Prepare the world for the future rather than consume it for the now. The usual hippy shit, then explains why such mind-sets fail to get traction (bear in mind the book was published in the early 1990s).

Whilst this book undoubtedly belongs in the "New Age" section alongside David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake and, ahem, David Icke - it rethinks contemporary dominant global culture in ways that make logical and rational sense - in the context of a conversation with a gorilla.

Why review this book on a blog about compact capability? Because only the outlaws are truly free.


Ishmael on Amazon UK

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Remembering Michael J. Murphy

Michael J. Murphy, 1951 - 2015
As a relative outsider it is testament to Michael J. Murphy's (MJM) larger than life personality that after only meeting him twice I was keen to get to know him and his work beyond the surface.

The man may be gone but his work lives on.

By the end of March 2016 I had managed to archive digital versions of most of his significant works on the official Murlyn Films International channel on Youtube.

It may not quite be definitive (only fuzzy clips of Boadicea remain as part of the original BBC broadcast profiling MJM) but later professional works are well represented but much products of their time - VHS is a 240P format at best so we were lucky to get some of his work sourced from master tapes - but it seems zero celluloid survives.

His work lives on, as does his power to inspire. Phil Lyndon (the surviving Murlyn business partner) received this praise via Facebook (reproduced with permission):


Hello Mr. Lyndon.
Of course you don't know me, so a brief introduction: I'm Joe Chapman from Pennsylvania. I have a video and photo studio, Chapman Productions, in the city of Allentown, where my fiance, Libby, and I work on various projects. Recently, I happened upon Invitation to Hell and The last Night on Youtube, and watched them both. I then investigated into who this fellow, Michael J. Murphy was, which led to my discovery of his recent passing - my condolences. Watching the video interview of Mr. Murphy on the MurLyn Films website painted him in a very favorable light to me, and prompted me to watch more of his work. I then proceeded to view everything I could find with great enjoyment. The long interview on Youtube with him by you pressed upon me to learn more about all of you. I suppose my discovery of MurLyn Films came at an opportune moment for me, as gearing up to shoot our first feature has been somewhat stressful, but hearing Mr. Murphy speak so candidly about his career making films, and seeing his films myself, was exactly the inspiration that I needed to snap me out of my doubtful mindset. So this is simply a letter of thanks to Director Michael J. Murphy, to you for keeping MurLyn Films aloft, and to the cast and crew of all of MurLyn Films' productions. Also, if we can be of service to your future productions in any way then let us know. It would be an honor to help keep Mr. Murphy's love of filmmaking going, and a pleasure to work with you and MurLyn Films.
Sincerely,
Joe Chapman


Discover the obscure world of Michael J. Murphy yourself, here are some pointers:

MURLYN films

Rare video interview with Michael J. Murphy by Chris Jupp

MJM's Facebook cover picture shows the director with his stalwart Murphy cam rig

Murlyn Films International on Youtube archive works of MJM

Michael J. Murphy on IMDb

Michael J. Murphy on Letterboxd

MJM Interview on The Zone by Paul Higson

Dead Or Alive:British Horror Films 1980 - 1989

Michael J. Murphy Tribute Video


And remember, "the next one will be bloody marvellous."

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Smartphones Are Legit Production Tools

Just as pencils and the public's ability to write diminished the scribe's monopoly of skill, today's smartphones are media production power houses that the establishment do not ignore.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Ungraded Movie Reveals Filmed on iPhone 4S

Yes shooting your feature film on an iPhone is old hat, but in 2012 nobody figured out that the Pompeywood paranormal frugalwave flick "GAIN" had been shot on a phone.

Here we are in 2016 and the truth has been revealed!



From the video description (at time of writing):
Feature film filmed on iPhone 4S, ungraded.
This version divides opinion - those who side with britmic believe no grading is necessary in order to preserve the laziness of reality.
Conversely, the final release was colour graded before Evil C would give it his approval since it was felt lazy reality was too harsh, particularly the scene in the supermarket.

Friday, 25 March 2016

iPhone SE - A Lot To Like



So the 4" screen iPhone SE is here, retailing in the UK for £439 with 64GB storage onboard.

The real kicker? It has the guts of the latest iPhone 6S inside in terms of A9 processor and 12MP iSight camera with focus pixels.

For an airninja like me that is very very tempting. Why? Apart from the fact it is simply light and powerful and strips away a lot of the flimflam.

Over the years my iPhone usage has matured, much like my iPad usage - which has fallen away completely. I'm old, I'm boring, I don't play games (at least, I have played my favourite genres to the point of boredom) - the idea of having an understated - yet powerful - iPhone appeals.

And I've had extensive use of all the public iPhone form factors at this point.

I started using big screen phones with the Dell Streak, believing that I would soon be able to get real meaty work done with the occasional attachment of a keyboard. It's never really happened though - my usage pattern has basically reverted to iPhone for comms/navigation/camcorder and any heavy lifting done on my 2013 13" MacBook Air - if that computer is tied up doing a heavy render I reach for a ChromeBook to do stuff.

I think this is a result of failed mobile UX paradigms as much as my own brain calcification. Which ever way you look at it, editing a video is fiddly on a small screen (I attach my 13" MBA to a 24" display for proper narrative video editing sessions - though I did edit my first feature film on the 12" screen of a PowerBook).

There are a couple, and only a couple, of reasons I will resist pulling the trigger on a 64GB iPhone SE purchase:

1. My current 128GB iPhone 6S Plus has 61GB storage free - this tells me that 64GB max storage just isn't going to cut it for me without additional admin/habits.

2. The size of the iPhone 6(S) Plus means it has a huge battery relative to smaller models. I am just not concerned about shooting video all day whilst powering a microphone on the lightning port. Take that battery away and it becomes a choice of lightning microphone or an external battery pack - and, that's right, potentially a whole bunch of admin.

It's a case of iPhone SE at £439 (still a significant chunk of change) vs my iPhone 6S Plus at £789 though - and the airninja movie method has always been about grasping value propositions early on. For my actual usage, I suspect the iPhone SE with 64GB would do just fine (after all, I have made feature films using iPhone 4S - albeit with onboard mics and an external battery pack).

Remember, zig when they zag. Avoid the mushy middle. It is tempting.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Economics of Filmmaking & Finding Your Audience

Hands up if your film has made a net or gross profit.

OK, anyone with their hands up, they can leave the room. You have nothing to learn here (although you are welcome to stay and gloat).

If you want to give up the day job and earn a living through the business of show, you have to have your content make money, right? I mean sure, "do what you love and the money will follow" is something people say to the aspirational but at what point can you make a profit from passion?

I'm not sure I have any answers, but I do have research. Data. 18 months worth of data.

I present to you, Exhibit A - an award winning short film made by a team of dedicated filmmakers with much care and attention - and a passion for storytelling. It was shot over a few nights in November 2014 and cut into its final form and uploaded to the public in January 2016. The film has been marketed to festivals across the world (as well as a lot of admin time this costs real money in terms of entry fees - arguably tax deductible as part of the marketing budget). It's now on Youtube with appropriate metadata tags for SEO.

208 views at time of writing.


Here I present to you Exhibit B - a genre and brand exploiting short video made in a few minutes by a single hack of a filmmaker with a focus on delivering an experience for a defined audience - and a passion for stereo sound. It was shot realtime and uploaded with no editing. Tagged in Youtube within minutes. The film has had no active marketing; only passive metadata tagging for SEO. Arguably someone had to buy the product in this video which is a negative cost - however, it is a tax deductible line item from the marketing budget, right?

423 views at time of writing.


I said I don't have any real answers. I don't. There can be no absolutes when markets are fluid.

Which movie would you rather watch, and why?

Which movie would you rather make, and why?

What I will say at this point is that both of these movies have generated revenue on Youtube - and at time of writing one of them has generated almost 400% more revenue than the other.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

UPDATE: Murphy's Lore

The development of my documentary around the late prolific Portsmouth filmmaker Michael J. Murphy takes another turn as the Merlin/Murlin/Murlyn portfolio becomes officially available on the internet.




It's made me realise that to truly do justice to his story I need to be more familiar with his body of work. Basically, that means watching it!

Before I interviewed Murphy I had watched bootleg copies of Death Run and Bloodstream and seen a few trailers. He'd also invited me over for a private screening of his last film entitled The Return of Alan Strange which I duly attended.

After he passed away I discovered that as well as a cult horror following some of his work has a peplum following too.

Whereas his horror stuff that I've seen to date reveals themes of cannibalism, satanic rituals and general low budget gore, the peplum productions are another side of his character I need to become better acquainted with.

The MURLYN INTERNATIONAL Youtube channel is being populated with Murphy's back catalogue.


So having said that, I have resolved to watch the remainder of his surviving filmography as it becomes available on his youtube channel over the coming weeks. I suspect I may start reviewing his work here on my blog, too. All in an effort to inform the sensitivity of the documentary I produce, which you may have guessed is consequently not going to get completed any time soon!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Top 5 Things I Learned Directing for TrashArts

Tuesday evening during a live film screening event an episode of "Making Of" being produced by TrashArts was shot before, during, and after. Directed by me.

DSLR and stereo X/Y mic atop for POV experience
Fortunately the actors knew their characters really well so it was more a case of AD'ing myself and being continuity person (fuck continuity) to ensure enough coverage for the edit.

What a luxury to just turn up, direct, and go home!

The current cut of "Episode 2" is a shade under 20 minutes. We shot it all in one location in just over four hours.

Anyhow, what did I actually learn?


1. Microphone technology, and audience tastes, have shifted to the point where the camera can truly become a character (indeed this was part of the brief).
Despite shooting at a noisy event in a pub screening the football and a short film night the Røde Stereo Videomic picked up a fine stereo soundstage and intelligible dialogue (at my direction, natch - move closer!)

2. The film clips of the late Michael J Murphy went down a storm.
Part of the script called for reactions to local low budget films. I opted to show excerpts from Murphy's Avalon (German release) and his commercially unreleased super8 Bloodstream.


Boy did those clips get reactions! Secretly, I think MJM would be proud even from the afterlife.

3. Let go but keep time.
This was shot from a five page treatment (by the time I'd added my notes) and then completely performed improv. In the chaos of the venue it was pointless to have done too much planning - but doing just enough to, well, provide direction (as the director, see?)
Antagonists

4. Texan four bean soup sure does look like puke.
I wasn't sure whether to go for the brown realism or the camera friendly yellow-y GAIN style demonic possession vomit. The brown stuff worked out just swell in context.

5. Great actors can appear from nowhere.
I don't know where Sam Mason Bell finds them, but the casting really works. Like I say it probably helps that the majority have already been through the award winning "Episode 1" experience. Those that hadn't were well prepared and researched - leading to some great ad-hoc exchanges between the protagonists and antagonists.


So despite the football running into extra time (I have no idea what the final score was) and a room full of local film nerds watching what film nerds watch at these events I brought a 20 minute episode in on time and under budget (the Texan four bean soup is a tax deductible line item I assured them).

All in all, 21st Century Fat Fox movie magic.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Relax. You're Quite Safe Here.

How new interest in VR could re-ignite the music video and album sales.

Not wearing headphones.
There's been a lot of chatter recently about VR (and AR) from the usual suspects. Apparently the tech is a lot better looking now, you know, realistic and immersive.

The immersive part always makes me laugh. I can be immersive with a pair of headphones and a decent binaural recording. I can be immersed reading a book. Imagine! I digress.

The point was, the narrative goes, VR failed in the 80s/90s because it was clunky low resolution shit.

True dat.

VR - then.
VR - now.
It was also true that gaming in the 80s/90s was clunky low resolution shit. It fucking rocked and a new industry was born - well documented in crowdfunded Bedrooms To Billions for one (I particularly like the founder of U.S. Gold admitting that he had no idea what he was doing).

So VR failed, 8-bit gaming skyrocketed through to the consolidated industry we know today. Stay with me.

Sitting passively wearing headphones. And that other thing.
I believe that VR may continue to fail whist it is physically non-passive. It will appeal to paintballers and lots of other people but who will actually prance around all day in that get up? I don't see it being as big as console gaming (famous last words of course). You can sit playing games at a console all day. VR all day? Be my guest.

Gaming, in common with watching movies, or watching a hybrid of the two - a Twitch stream - is largely passive, hypnotic.

Contemporary VR you must be awake standing up looking around bending reaching tripping over your furniture.

So even though today VR may look amazing it's is not a medium to be frolicking in for hours on end around staircases.

So, by my reckoning, VR must become a more passive activity to succeed - whatever success is nowadays.

VR reminds me of 3D in the cinema - it's going to be rolled out every generation to see if it sticks.

Anyway.

Passive VR. Immersive. Remember what I said about headphones and binaural? This has lead to a boom in Youtube videos promoting ASMR - sounds that make you feel good - and discussions around frisson - music that makes you feel good.

Strikes me that ASMR and frisson typically occur when the subject is passive rather than running around having all senses abused and bruised.

Still no headphones.
So if VR is to become a household medium, how could we shoehorn VR with sounds that make you feel good? Music, of course. Ambient soundscapes. More. No doubt over time a grammar would develop more akin to cinema than gaming (but Twitch is evidence that lots of people enjoy watching games passively and this goes right back to the days when computer games were in the arcade at the seafront - I remember watching that guy beat Space Harrier, awesome!).

Music video can be a great experimental landscape, as indeed can music itself.

VR is so fixated on the vision it forgets the wave.

Ignore the tech companies, ask an anthropologist.

Or, of course, not.

Persuading anyone that they need a helmet to listen to the latest album by the current big thing won't be easy. That's why a new category needs to be invented, and a progressive company needs to be first in it. Which is where it all falls apart. No smart money here! (unless the helmet plugs into a lightning port).

'EyePhone' VR, 1989. Note single cup headphone, d'oh.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Problem Solved: If Apple Ditch The Headphone Jack

The sky is falling as Apple is rumoured to be ditching the headphone jack in iPhone 7. Aside from the fact it is merely conjecture at this point, the entire planet seems to have forgotten that Apple are unlikely to ditch Bluetooth and, that being the case, instead of lining Apple's pockets you can buy a third party Bluetooth receiver to use with your old headphones.




Sure, this is not perfect - if you are able, use a cable - because of course the Bluetooth receiver costs money and is another battery to charge, another device to pair, another complication in your life (simplicity at Apple died with Steve Jobs?) - but it does make Apple's decision easier to deal with if they do indeed ditch the headphone jack and you really want to keep hold of your old headphones (I'm quite attached to my iGrado pair for example).

Actually, it's a TRRS jack, and I'm kind of more annoyed that it will render my Røde Smartlav+ microphone obsolete without some Lightning adapter or improved Bluetooth protocol inclusion.

There's always Android!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Wireless Binaural Recording Coming To Smartphones ... probably

Whilst I refine my own smartphone binaural recording technique (very much wired as at now - if you are able use a cable, right?!) it seems at least two wireless bluetooth binaural products are in the works.



One is OpenEars by Binauric.





The other is the Hooke Audio Verse.





Whilst prototypes are in use in both these wireless cases, I've been using my wired OKM-II for quite some years now and always pleased with the results when the iPhone actually bothers to record the video with a stereo soundtrack.



That's the biggest issue turning me off my current wired solution: unpredictable with iPhone video recording - sometimes you end up with a mono video. I could record double-system reliably but it's just not cost effective and just adds a layer of complexity.

What turns me off the wireless solutions, assuming they make it to market, is yet more battery management/recharging in the field. Boring!

This does however show that binaural recording is getting a respectable foothold in the modern market, albeit nascent from the mainstream perspective right now.