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The Best Beatle Movies & DVDs

Music fans regularly discuss The Beatles and their legacy. They were – and many would argue, still are – the most-beloved pop/rock music group in history. For some fans, their favorite Beatle album is Abbey Road. For others, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and Revolver get high praise.

Within months of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the group was charting four songs in the Top Ten.

Still others debate what was The Beatles’ best performance or best music video, or what was their best film. The outstanding catalog of work (The Beatles also made five movies) makes it hard to pick a single song or movie, or DVD, but since we’re professed Beatlemaniacs we thought we’d try anyway:

Top Three Beatle DVD’s
The best Beatle DVDs cover the initial rush of Beatlemania that swept over America in early 1964. While it may seem strange to focus on one era, considering their massive catalog, there is a valid reason: Later-period Beatle movies were mostly bizarre comedies and psychedelic romps that were often difficult to follow. Still, each Beatles video cited here captures the infectious energy the band originally generated, while each is from a different cinematic angle:

1. The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles (1964)
Why It Tops The List: The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan performance is one of the most famous television broadcasts of all time.

The Beatles share a candid moment with host Ed Sullivan.

If you really want to witness how The Beatles upended American entertainment, you need to watch the original Ed Sullivan shows, which made the band an international phenomenon. On this two-disc collection, not only do you get The Beatles in all their mop-top glory (with the most appreciative studio audience in broadcast history), but you also see the “normal” TV acts that usually populated American variety television…an assortment of comics, singers, jugglers, impressionists, etc. In addition, you even get some of the original network TV commercials that ran during the original historic broadcasts. This is living history.

2. The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (1990)
Why It Tops The List: This behind-the-scenes documentary captures the moment when pop culture took over not only America, but the world

In this AP Photo, The Beatles meet reporters at Kennedy Airport in New York City on February 7, 1964, after their arrival from London for their first American tour.  The band (from left to right): Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon.

NYC erupted when the Fab Four landed at JFK Airport. This movie captures that moment in a fascinating documentary. The filmmaking Maysles brothers had unprecedented access to the band members, following them around as they remained shut-ins at their hotel, which was then under siege by thousands of crazed teens screaming as if they were being boiled alive. Best moments: The boys break free and head to a dance club where they shake and shimmy with the rest of the crowd: “There’s the Peppermint Lounge crammed to the limit with continental hipsters and transistor sisters all razor-cut and Fabu-lashed, moving and grooving to the Push and Shake,” wrote critic Ronn Spencer.

3. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Why It Tops The List: This crazy, backstage comedy featuring the antics of the Fab Four is considered a cinematic classic.

Paul, Ringo, John and George run from frantic fans. The chase was real and director Richard Lester used it in the amazing opening of A Hard Day’s Night, which perfectly captured all the energy, the fun and the excitement. This was Beatlemania.

Made quickly and with tremendous energy – as Beatlemania was still very much happening - A Hard Day’s Night follows the band on tour on England, in much the same sense as The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit follows the group around New York. Add bright, punchy jokes, some of the greatest tunes in Rock ‘n’ Roll history, and a ridiculous sub-plot of Paul watching over his mischievous grandfather, and you’ve got A Hard Day’s Night. Now considered one of the inspirations for modern music videos, director Richard Lester’s quick cutting, visual wit and marriage of image and sound make A Hard Day’s Night play fresh even now, almost as if it was made just a few weeks ago.

The Rest of The Beatles on DVD
From this point forward, reviewing the rest of the Beatle movies requires some degree of patience. The plot lines get weirder, the visuals become more psychedelic (as was all the rage back then) and the stories become harder to follow. These films also take place as the band is becoming more of an introverted studio band and less of a touring group. Consequently, gone (for the most part) are the lovable, cheerful mop-tops who charmed the world just a few years before.

Help! (1965)
Why Watch It: For the songs, The Beatles and John Lennon’s glasses.

The Beatles in Help! on location in Austria.

Primarily a secret-agent spoof (remember, the film was made in James Bond’s heyday), Help! has some great numbers in it (like the title track and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,”). It also has a plot that’s more tangled than a game of Twister, but it features some interesting bits of Beatles trivia, including the first appearance of John Lennon on film wearing his trademark round granny glasses. (Recommended, with Reservations)

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Why Watch It: There are some great songs, but with a confusing and psychedelic plot, it’s a movie only a Beatlemaniac could love.

John Lennon as a spaghetti-shoveling waiter is one of the highlights – and low lights – of Magical Mystery Tour.

The soundtrack ain’t bad, but the plot (featuring a bus tour of oddball characters and Beatles) was (and maybe still is) too far out for public consumption. Some of the images—such as John Lennon costumed as a mustachioed waiter serving spaghetti literally by the shovelful—are amazing, but often too surreal. This film was one of the few Beatles projects that bombed with both critics and fans. (Not Recommended)

Yellow Submarine (1968)
Why Watch It: It’s an animated classic. Although sadly, currently it’s out of print and unavailable.

John, George, Paul and Ringo’s animated counterparts. The band didn’t even lend their voices to the characters. 

One film later, The Beatles returned to form with this charming animated feature. Yellow Submarine is an eye-popping presentation that took existing Beatle themes (such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the title track) and spun them into a wondrous, pop-art excursion. The film is still as entertaining as it is colorful and Yellow Submarine is being remade by Robert Zemeckis as a 3D computer-animated release. (Highly Recommended)

Let It Be (1970)
Why Watch It: It showcases The Beatles’ last public performance and their squabbles, which would ultimately permanently separate the band. Also, currently out of print.

The decision to release Let It Be as a film was based on financial reasons. The Beatles spent so much money on the project that their accountants informed the band they couldn’t afford to bury it, as much as the Beatles wanted to.

The Beatles were always light years ahead of the contemporary culture; here the band anticipates today’s reality TV obsession by creating the first portrait of a four-way divorce ever filmed. Let It Be is supposed to capture the taping of the next-to-last studio album, and it does that. But it also recorded all the ugly in-fighting that was taking place within the band as it started heading toward complete meltdown. You’ll hear great songs if you can stand wading through all this painful bitterness, especially the impromptu rooftop jam that would mark the group’s last public performance. (Highly Recommended)

The Beatles Anthology (1995)
Why Watch It: It’s the comprehensive and final word on all things Beatle.

The Beatles through the years.

There is one mega-DVD package to rule them all. The Beatles Anthology was made with the extensive cooperation and many interviews with the three remaining Beatles of the time – Paul, George and Ringo. It’s a five-disc documentary that starts at the very beginning, back when the four lads were starting out. From the band’s Liverpool origins, to its rugged apprenticeship in Hamburg, to the extraordinary early recordings, to worldwide celebrity and critical acclaim, all of the important themes are covered in depth. For dedicated Beatle fans who want a good ten-hour overview of the world’s top pop band.  (Highly Recommended)

Following in The Beatles’ Footsteps
The Beatles’ creativity knew no bounds. Not only did they dominate and revolutionize popular music, they also triumphed in the world of film. In addition, they were visionary in their approach to blending the two.

Even in later years, The Beatles still championed the use of new technology. 

Music and film have been fused together for years now and both media are constantly overlapping in today’s global entertainment marketplace. If the Beatles were still around today, you’d see them using some the technological tools now available to create powerful music and films. Thankfully, unlike the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, technology is considerably more accessible and cheaper. Today all you need is a computer and a little direction to follow in The Beatles’ footsteps.

For teens and kids, computer summer camps like Digital Media Academy can teach both music production and filmmaking. In some cases, music and filmmaking summer camps and programs are combined for the best of both worlds. The Beatles would certainly approve.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

A Tribute: Mary Blair, Artist

She was one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists. Mary Blair was a conceptual designer, artist and painter for The Walt Disney Company. It was under her artistic direction that the look of animated classics like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the theme park legend it’s a small world were created.

While other Disney artists (like the group known as the Nine Old Men) worked on the same films, it was Mary who held a special place in Walt’s heart.

Mary Blair is best known for the conceptual designs for Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and the classic Peter Pan (1953). And she also designed the look and theme for a little boat ride in Anaheim, California, called “It’s a Small World.” An impressive visual stylist, Mary Blair stands among Disney legends like Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas in the company archives. Furthermore, she held her own in a male-dominated profession.

The Google Doodle
Google even paid tribute to celebrate what would have been Mary Blair’s 100th birthday. ”She influenced the tone of the picture with her use of color and design,” said Michael Giaimo, who served as the art director for Disney’s 1995 Pocahontas. “Where Mary Blair was unique was that the work that she did here at the studio was not only beautiful work. What she did went beyond the project into a pure art form. It became art. It became a statement unto itself.”

 Mary Blair was honored with a Google Doodle. 

Blair was the featured subject at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 17th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation lecture at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Pete Docter, who directed the 2009 Oscar winner Up as well as Monsters, Inc., was one of the many animation giants who came out to honor Blair with “Mary Blair’s World of Color — A Centennial Tribute.”

Walt and El Groupo
Mary started her career at the Walt Disney Studios in 1940, initially working on Dumbo in 1941. Blair and her husband were asked by Walt Disney to join him and other animators (as well as Walt’s wife, Lillian) on a good-neighbor trip to South America.

Mary Blair conceptual art for The Three Caballeros.

Walt Disney had been asked to take the trip on behalf of the U.S. government to help secure southern neighbors during wartime. Walt decided to chronicle the event in his own unique way, making movies out of them. The trip was recently chronicled in the documentary Walt and El Groupo, now available on DVD. Mary Blair was also responsible for helping establish the look of the Technicolor-animated wonders Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Mary received credit as art supervisor for the films.

Artistic Inspiration
Mary Blair worked on Disney Studio’s animated features for more than 20 years — and was the only woman to hold such a significant position at the company. Mary died in 1978 at the age 66 and left behind an amazing body of work, which still influences artists today (click the image for a larger view):

Mary’s combination of commercial and personal artistic sense can still be seen today – and at several places, including Disneyland. In fact, Mary made several large murals. Her design for a 90-foot-high mural is the focal point of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and can be seen inside of the hotel.

The massive Mary Blair mural inside the Contemporary is one of the lesser known gems of the Walt Disney World resort. 

Another animator commented on Blair’s ability for “putting together simplified shapes and colors to make them really pop forward. She had a great ability with lighting. A lot of times in art direction, it seems very flat. But with just a little bit of lighting, you can change the atmosphere of the whole scene.” Mary Blair and her creations still find a way to inspire budding young artists.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

Film Camp. Watch a Stop Motion Movie made at DMA Summer Camp with Skittles!

See what teens made at Digital Media Academy film camp this summer in Chicago!

This video was made by shooting hundreds of individual JPEG photos and piecing/editing them together in Final Cut Pro. This was made during DMA Film Camp in Chicago this past summer in the Teen Film Editing and  Filmmaking Course. Learn how to make a movie like this at a DMA course this summer!


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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have Comment (1)

Hands-On Digital Filmmaking: Collaboration is Key! Film Camp

By Katy Scoggin – Lead Instructor Hands On Digital Filmmaking for Teens

Last August, I taught Hands On Digital Filmmaking for Teens at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The class was a really successful exercise in collaboration and one of the highlights of my summer. I think everybody realized during that week that what you can accomplish as a group is a lot bigger than what you can create on your own.

It took me a lot of years to realize the value of teamwork. As a high school student, I loathed group projects because they always meant the same thing: I would end up doing all the work for several people. What a drag.

Since becoming a filmmaker, though, I’ve learned that teamwork is not about a bunch of slackers and the over-achievers who pick up after them. Real teamwork is about getting a bunch of creative minds together, bouncing ideas off one another, distributing work evenly and according to different folks’ strengths, and eventually coming up with a project that is bigger—and far cooler—than what any member of the group could have created alone.

That’s what my Philly students did last summer in the film camp course. They began by working individually on script ideas, which they later pitched to the class. Everybody got really excited about one student’s thriller idea. The story is about a girl who reveals the identity of a serial killer by posting a video of his latest murder on YouTube. After developing the script to suit everyone’s taste, we cast the project with some of our more performative members and broke the script down according to location.

Everyone who was interested in shooting—including the actors—had the opportunity to get behind the camera. Other students learned how to slate each take as camera assistants; lock the set down and watch for oncoming pedestrians as production assistants; and hold the boom pole as sound recordists. Everybody always had a job to do. And if each individual hadn’t held his or her own weight, we would not have completed the movie in such a short time span.

They say each movie is made three times: First you write it. Then you shoot it. Then you edit. After our two-day production period was over, we hunkered down and started to put the movie together. If you’ve ever written a paper, you understand that editing is basically rewriting. It’s the same in the cutting room: once you put the images you’ve captured into order, you can reorder them in a thousand different ways. Finding the best way to tell a visual story is one of the most challenging and, ultimately, most gratifying aspects of filmmaking.

In our digital film class, we decided to keep things collaborative through to the end: Each student picked one scene to edit, after which we cut the entire story together. At the end of the week, when we screened our short film for parents, I think everybody was happily surprised to see how much they’d been able to accomplish as a group in just one short week. The experience was a great one, and I look forward to having more like it this summer!

Learn more about DMA Teen Film Courses and Summer Computer Camps

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have No Comments

Video Compression for Producers and Editors : How Big is It?

Written by Jeff Sobel of the John Lennon Bus

A video producer often needs to be able to estimate the size of a video file before that video has been recorded, imported or exported.  Do you need a magic crystal ball to predict how large a video file will be before you hit that Export button?  Nope.  You just need a 5th grader’s grasp of basic math.  Here’s how:

Let’s take the example of exporting a video using Apple’s Compressor which comes standard with Final Cut Studio 2.
The first thing you should know is that digital video is encoded at a certain datarate, commonly called the bitrate.  Higher bitrates generally produce better quality video (less “pixelation” or graininess) but will create larger files.  You need to be sure that you choose a bitrate that’s high enough to achieve satisfactory quality but not so high that the video can’t be streamed on the web, downloaded in a reasonable amount of time, emailed, or however you intend to get it to your audience.  Compressor has presets which are great starting points for making this decision.

The screenshot below shows Compressor’s stock presets for iPodiPhone, and AppleTV:

You’ll see that there are two different presets for iPod/iPhone.  The 1st is “h.264 video @ 600kbps” and the 2nd is “h.264 video @ 1500kbps”.  Now, it’s safe to assume that the 2nd preset will produce better quality video, but how big will the files be?  Let say we have a 2min long video and we’re hoping to compress it to a small enough filesize to be able to email it.  Will the 600kbps setting do that for us?  Let’s figure it out.

The 1st thing you need to know is that “600kbps” stands for “600 kilobits per second”.  Now, we’re all pretty used to hearing about kilobytes, megabytes, even terabytes.  But what’s a kilobit?  A bit is the smallest piece of data there is.  We represent bit with a lowercase b and byte with an uppercase B.  All you need to know is:
There are 8 bits in a byte.  
There are 1024 bits in a kilobit.  
There are 1024 kilobits in a kilobyte. 
There are 1024 kilobytes in a megabyte.

It’s not nearly as complicated as it might seem at first.  It’s just like measurements you make in a kitchen.  You know, 16oz in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, 4 quarts in a gallon, etc…

So let’s figure out how big our 2min video is going to be after we compress it using the 600kbps preset in Compressor:
600kbps / 8 = 75 kilobytes per second
75KB/s * 60 = 4500 kilobytes per minute
4500KB/m / 1024 = 4.4 megabytes per minute

Our 2min video is going to be about 9megabytes when exported with this preset.  Small enough that you might be able to email it.

Now what if we compressed it using the AppleTV preset?  That’s a 5mbps bitrate (5 megabits per second) so:
5mbps * 1024 = 5120 kilobits per second
5120kbps / 8 = 640 kilobytes per second
640KB/s * 60 = 38,400KB per minute
38,400KB / 1024 = 37.5 megabytes per minute

At this setting our 2min video will be about 75 megabytes.  Much larger.  But it’s going to look much better as well, even on an HD TV.

In our next installment we’ll talk about how you can estimate how much disk space you’ll need before capturing or importing your footage from a video camera.

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have No Comments

Digital Filmmaking Bootcamp @ Stanford University

Last summer the Digital Media Academy offered a brand new filmmaking course and I was honored that they had chosen me to teach the class. The course was Digital Filmmaking Bootcamp and it was a huge success. We wanted to create a class where students could come in and learn every aspect of filmmaking in five action packed days. That’s exactly what we did and it resulted in one of the best screenings in any of my closing DMA film festivals.

The typical student that enrolls in Digital Filmmaking Bootcamp comes in with a little or no filmmaking experience, but leaves with a movie that they shot, edited, and compressed for DVD and web. We shoot with professional Sony HD cameras and edit with screaming fast Macs on Final Cut Pro. In fact, at times I found myself jealous that my students have better equipment to learn with, than the equipment I have at my studio to produce content with ;) .

Before teaching the class, I knew it would be a busy 5 days but I had no idea how much fun I would have teaching it. When the screening came we had 20 students with 20 amazing films to watch. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to watch students learn how to plan, shoot, edit, and distribute their films in such a short amount of time. I invite you to watch a couple of the videos that I posted from this class.



Both of these videos were created from students that had no experience shooting or editing. They are definitely two different genres but both videos are an amazing success for students with no prior experience.

You can also check out the Teen Filmmaking Bootcamp Courses geared specifically to teens or the Kids Film & Movie Making Courses.

Till next time,
Travis Schlafmann
DMA Instructor/Cinematographer & Editor

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HD and Blu-ray Quality Movies Getting Too Real?

There I am standing in front of the most beautiful high definition audio and visual setup money can buy. I have completely lost reality of where I am. I have totally forgotten what I am doing inside an electronics store. I am surrounded with the televisions, computers, cameras, gadgets and only the latest technology (at the best prices I’m told), but none of that matters to me now. I have completely lost touch with reality. I am completely transfixed with the 60″+ flat screen, crisp surround sound system with the super 1200 watt subwoofer, and the high definition blu-ray player in front of me. It seems nothing can suck me out of this odd technology trance I have been sucked into.

High Definition Experience

For a moment I feel as though I am a real pirate in the Caribbean on board with Captain Jack and the crew. I get kind of grossed out with Davy Jones squirming tentacles. Ewww. I never noticed his mouth moved like that when he talked! I have to turn away, but my eyes become glued to another 65″ flat plasma screen. Then I am suddenly on the back of a funny looking dragon flying down into a huge canyon. As silly as it sounds, I was momentarily scared. Then I stop and realize the 3d dragon looks…. fake. Lame. I turn to another huge LCD flat-screen to get pulled into an amazing live concert. Now this is great! The crowd is screaming. The music is pumping out of the awesome surround sound speakers, the lights are flashing. I feel like I am inside a Rock Band video game. I feel like I am on the front row at the concert…. and all of a sudden I realize how scratched and ugly Sting’s guitar is. Actually, the whole group looks really old. Look how much he is sweating. OK. That’s enough.

Then, all of a sudden I am pulled out of my technology trance and out of the home video and audio department. I need to go find the Apple computers. Do they have those new 17″ MacBook Pro laptops yet?

As I stroll back down the large aisles I begin to think about how quickly technology is moving. Can designers, digital artists, 3d animators, filmmakers, audio technicians, and creative programmers keep up? You better bring your best 3d models and animated characters if your viewers are going to be critiquing them on a ginormous flat screen TV with the highest of high definition disc players.

Think about it. I was snapped out of the movie by thinking about how fake the 3d character looked in the movie. If the the movie had been on a low resolution, old-school setup, I might have been able to pass over the poorly rendered and animated polygons. I wouldn’t have noticed. I’m just saying…. 

It’s time to flex your creative muscle at Digital Media Academy. Get in some of the computer courses this summer at any of the prestigious summer locations.

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have No Comments