Friday, October 26, 2012

Freegans: Creative Living Outside of Capitalism

I have no idea who these Trash Lab guys are but I love this little spot about freegans. This taps into the reason why I love video. It gives people an opportunity to spend time with something they wouldn't otherwise consider. And best of all, its an experience that you are able to craft for them. You paint something together with light and sound. Freeganism is something that crosses political boundaries. Typically associated with socialist tenancies and the far left, freeganism is about identifying that something is wrong with the world as it is presented to us. I think freeganism is fascinating because its about creating a world for yourself that excludes that part of society that might be sick. It cuts off the cancerous part with absolute conviction. I like that idea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stopped And Frisked

Cops and corruption. I snagged this short from The Nation. Great story. Simple message. Whose job is it to police the police?

Film by Ross Tuttle and Erin Schneider.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fashion Editorial

Fashion editorial videos are all about the closeups. As a cinematographer, I look for subtle expressive movements to capture and later edit into the final piece. Like a little tugging with the hand or a slight adjustment in the hip.

I had a lot of fun shooting this video for COUP Boston. If I had to do it again, I think I would be a little more assertive with the creative team about my needs to make the video. Frequently, I shoot with a very passive attitude. If I get it, that's great. If I don't, C'est la vie! But with a little added communication, I could have transformed this video from a good video into a great video.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Think of it as... cost per wear!

Video is expensive.  As a freelance filmmaker, I frequently task myself with tactfully educating my client as to the real cost of making video.  For example, the professional audio gear is not an upgrade.  It's like seat belts.  You need that.

From the production of the short film Nicky.
Its not unusual for a client to come back and say "well, it doesn't have to be that good."

In response to that, I'd like to borrow a piece of sales wisdom from the clothing retail industry.  Like in clothing, video frequently must address pricing concerns with the customer who thinks they can save a couple bucks through lowered expectations. 

I want to save people the mistake of making a poor decision that they will regret in two weeks when they don't get the views they were expecting.  This goes beyond production values and has more to do with developing a story or narrative that will retain an audience long enough to receive your message.

Don't think of it in terms of cost per video.  Think of it in terms of cost per views.  If you can double your views simply by incrementing your budget, your cost per view will go down.  You'll get more traction out of that video content.  You'll look back on the entire process having a better feeling about the whole thing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Capturing The Story

John Gooding came knocking on my door around 7am.  I had crawled out of bed around 5am to film the morning train come into the station but I had gone back to bed so I was lying half awake, half in my sleeping bag.

"You guys want to go out in the boat today?" John asked.

"Lets do it," I told him.

"I'll be back in 20 minutes after I put gas in the tank."

So I lingered for another 10 minutes, drank some water and got my camera gear ready to go.

The three of us - Ben, John and I - were out in the water within half an hour.  Ben is the associate producer acting as sound engineer.  I'm the cinematographer.  John is our subject.  He was a hero during the response to Katrina and today, he continues to shine a light on the environmental fall out following the deepwater horizon oil spill.

It was a bit crowded on the little outboard whaler boat and water was splashing in over the hull.  I locked my camera gear away in the Pelican case and lamented all the moments I could not capture on video.

"If you want, we can go up river," John offered.  "We don't have to go out to Cat Island today."

I pulled the camera back out when we got to Cat Island.  Birds were diving into the water and eating fish.  Even 50 feet out, we had to be careful about beaching the boat so we couldn't get in very close.  The kit lens on my NEX-VG10 goes out to 200mm but the constant tilt and roll of the boat limited my ability to capture the story unfolding in front of me.

Temperature of 85 degrees.  Mild humidity.  We couldn't have picked a better day to go out to the island.

I put the polarizer and UV filters on and did my best to keep up.  As we pulled the boat on shore, John jumped out to look for tar logs.  He'd run out ahead of us pretty far and I wore myself out trying to stay ahead of him.

In response to the oil spill, BP dumped millions of gallons of neurotic dispersant to mitigate the disaster.  According to BP, the problem is all fixed.  According to others, like John Gooding, the oil is still out there and continues to wash ashore in the form of tar logs.  Little globs of tar and sand - roughly the size of a 40oz can of malt liquor.

John was picking everything up and smelling it.  Little black logs.  Most of the time it was charred organic material like burned logs.  Sometimes it was a tar log.  We also found a hunk of brown sticky rubbery god-knows-what.

Right as we were getting ready to leave for home, we saw storm clouds brewing on the horizon.  Specifically, storm clouds blocking our path back to the mainland.  We decided it was better to wait out the storm on land than to meet it in open water so we stayed put.

We watched as waterspouts dip down from the sky.  Fortunately, the lightening broke or we would have been more anxious about sitting in the path of the storm.  And as it approached, we could see the storm front as physical as a locomotive, barreling down on us.  I filmed for as long as I felt comfortable and then I put the camera back into the case.

Birds went crazy.  Bugs went nuts.  Our sunny day was quickly obscured by the clouds rolling in.  The wind picked up and tossed pellets of rain and saltwater into our eyes.  And I didn't get any of it on film.

After the storm passed we noticed the tide was beginning to change and that our boat was now high in the sand.  So there was that to deal with.  Racing against time, we got to pushing the boat back to the water.  We were soaked up through the soles of our shoes and as the sun came back out the wind dried our shirts and left chunks of sand on our skin and in our hair.

It pains me as a documentary filmmaker to sit back and let these experiences happen to me - especially the emotionally intense moments  - but perhaps it is important to let some of these moments go.  With my eyes free from the frames of the picture, I am able to see the bigger story.

That is, how people meet the challenges life presents to them if that be literal storms or the metaphorical storms of the human condition.

The next day, as John worked on his boat engines, the story manifested itself to me again.  He was trouble shooting an engine that wouldn't start.  He said when engines sit for a long time, the gasoline turns to varnish and blocks the fuel from igniting properly.  The puzzle was in finding the buildup and flushing it out.

With him today, John brought his daughter and his Slavic son-in-law to hand him screws and generally learn everything he knows about boat maintenance.

"Its useless.  This engine is not going to start," John's son-in-law declared.
Well, five minutes later he had it started.  And I captured the moment.  Where other people are quick to give up, John Gooding stays with his problems until he sees that they are fixed.  Its an admirable trait.  And its an incredible feeling, as a cinematographer, to find that trait that really defines a person and to capture it in pictures.  Its incredibly rewarding.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mark Linkous Documentary

Sparklehorse is one of my all time favorite bands. I love the surreal lyrics and tiny intimate sounds that radiate from the music. This is a deeply personal documentary about the man behind the music. I'd like to see a hi-fi version of it somewhere.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Tommy To Tornados

I am exhausted but I am still awake. My camera and computer gear is sprawled out across a dining room table. A dim lamp sits in the corner. Listening to My Bloody Valentine. I'm processing raw video files. We are mid-production on Storm Surge. A documentary film about communities rebuilding after natural disaster.

This is my first meaningful documentary film since my first effort, Tommy Dean & Friends.

I'm wondering how we're going to piece this film together. I'm wondering how this new project fits in with my personal development as a filmmaker. And I'm totally anxious about where this going to take me into the future.

The Tommy Dean film were somewhat high concept films. They were about Tommy Dean, the singer songwriter. As a character driven meditation on a theme, the narrative was free to jump back and forth and spiral out of control. Each scene revealed a new aspect of Tommy's world and the film held your interest for as long as you were interested in that special world I had to share with you.

Storm Surge is a different kind of film because we have important information we want to convey. First, we have the stories of survival. Personal testimonies of surviving natural disaster. Then we have the social and economical issue of disaster preparedness. We look at what people to do protect their families. And third, we have a call to action, inviting individuals to get involved with their communities in building something new.

Survival, resiliency and recovery.

I'm starting to wonder in what ways is Storm Surge also a high concept film. Is it about storms or is it about communities? Its about how storms shape communities. Storms can take the form of the literal natural disaster: a hurricane or tornado. Or in a more broad sense, a storm can be a man made disaster: oil spills. And in the most abstract sense, we can interpret storms as the clash of communities themselves: industry, capitalism, politics, religion, whatever, ect... everything breathing in and out and communing with the creative and destructive powers that be.

And like the Tommy Dean film, music is going to be the glue that keeps it together. More than that, music is the TARDIS that enables the narrative to jump from emergency responders to social media mavens to political figures to survivors.

This film is going to be a total psychic blast. A spiritual journey. And a tome to the human spirit. All that happy stuff.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Two Films I'm Pumped About

These two films are meditations on Detroit, the economic problems that face Detroit and the people who continue to live there.

The first, Street Fighting Man seems to be the most character based story of the two. It follows three characters in their struggle to rebuild the community they once loved.

Detropia is a personal project from the acclaimed filmmakers behind Jesus Camp. If this film is anything like Jesus Camp, I expect to see a fresh and surreal look at a subject that is at the front of American politics.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hard Drives and Internet

I'm on the road right now. In Joplin, MO and talking to people about the community rebuilding efforts since the tornado that came through the town last year. It's been a total consciousness shifting experience. One big thing that I wish we had more of was hard drive space and internet connection. I am shooting an easy 30GB every day. Maybe half of my footage is backed up in two places and half of it is sitting precariously on only one hard drive. Following conventional wisdom of file storage, I don't have any footage yet. This drive could fail at any time and I would be fucked. Not an unlikely scenario for a dude who is currently camping in a tent.

We've been tossing around the idea of picking up a wireless modem. We would like to either upload our archived footage to the cloud or shoot the footage directly to our editors using bit-torrent.
We've been spending a lot of time at Starbucks.  I've been making the mistake of asking about natural beef at sports bars.   I've been struggling to drink enough water.  And I think I've seen more variety of bugs on this trip than I have in my entire life.  More on that later.

Jesus is so prevalent in all corners of life here.  There was a bible reading from The Book Of Job at the high school.  A middle school principal shared with us her experience in witnessing the hand of god comforting people through these hard times.  Many people recount stories about white butterflies or angels in black suits literally guiding people to safety.  To these people, the personal relationship with Christ is not an abstract or intellectual thing.  Its real.  They feel it almost on a primal level.  More on that later.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Shooting Live Bands

The Now & Forevers are an exceptionally watchable band, especially for a wedding band whose purpose is not so much to look pretty as sit back and create an ambiance for comfortable mingling. I had a lot of fun filming them and I would like to film them again.

Conspicuously missing from this video is the mingling. If I were to film them again, I would like to film them at an outdoor lawn party or some sort of well lit event where I can film people gettin' jiggy to their sweet jams.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three things that can help a live band video.

Picking an interesting location is probably the easiest thing you can do. It doesn't have to be a rooftop but that isn't a bad idea. A a jet hanger or cluttered film studio are some other ideas that work.

Finding a good on camera audience is another good option. I did this with my buddy Brody Willis for our Battle Of The Buskers videos. This is probably my favorite kind of live band video because it shows that music doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Lastly, you can find a band that just has a talent for sharing their love for music. Many otherwise amazing artists don't have this quality. The visual presentation of the music is generally an after thought. Materialistically so for indie bands. My favorite example is Tommy Dean.

Shooting live bands can be fun. A long time ago, I shot some stuff with KEXP. They do some great stuff with the tiny studio space they have so check it out.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The White Background

This is my first time working on my own as Gaffer. I've lit for scenarios like this before but always with an experienced Director of Photography looking over my shoulder, telling me what works and what doesn't.

And of course, I didn't have all the tools in my tool kit that I would like. No frosties or gels to soften the light. No flags or silks, either. No waveform monitors or histograms. Not even a light meter.

The result is a strange graduated background. And the skin tones are a bit warmer than I would like.

The narrative came together very nicely. Its a great mix of voices. And I like how the little light in everybody's eyes makes them look like they're on the verge of tears. I think I successful captured the honesty and earnestness of these women. So I'm pretty happy with that bit.

As soon as I get a chance, I'd like to find out the ISO rating of my camera. Then I'd like to get a light meter. I don't do a whole lot of interview scenarios where I would need lights and everything but I want to be ready for when that job comes in.