We shot in Compass Datacenters' conference room, which was just large enough to accommodate our 10'x20' gray backdrop. However, the elevator was not and we had to carry the frame for the backdrop up 6 flights of stairs because the frame pieces were too long to fit in the elevator. Luckily, the 4 12-ft frame-lengths weighed very little.
We proceeded to set up, working towards the look as we assembled the lights and cameras. Jeff wanted a somewhat moody and low-key look to match a recent Texas Rangers promo shoot he'd done and so we actually ended up using much fewer lights than initially anticipated.
Here's a diagram of our set up:
And here is a timelapse of us setting up, which I speed up nearly 2000% and set to the Benny Hill theme. The music gives you the general feeling of the shoot:
As you can see in the diagram, for lighting we used 2 Kino-Flo 2'-4-bank lights. Just a key and a backlight, that was it.
Initially, I thought we were going to go for an evenly-lit grey background but Jeff wanted a darker, nearly-black grey, and so we just ended up just not lighting the background and even flagging the key with a topper to let the background go dark.
The reason we needed a 10'x20' backdrop in the first place was because we needed a medium shot for the a-camera(a Canon C300 with a 24-70L, opened up to 2.8 and set to Wide DR - also with iPad prompter attached) and a profile shot on a slider for the b-cam(T2i with a Tokina 24-75, f2.8, color profile faithful).
At our projected shoot time of 10:30am, we were all set to shoot - two cameras, one on a slider, lighting tweaked, and aside from a couple of last-minute duvetyne fastening to block out the sunlight from the windows, we were ready.
Our talent, Chris, the CEO of Compass, came in and sat in the hot seat and an hour or so later, the shoot was in the can, material for 3 monthly 3-minute corporate message-style videos.
I wish all shoots went this smoothly. I've worked with Jeff and Amanda numerous times and we've got a great repore. Juan is a top-notch gaffer and was instrumental in making the lighting looking as good as it did.
Here's the finished product - the first of the 3 videos, this one edited by newly-acquired SSR editing ace and personal friend of mine, Aaron Green.
I was really happy with the way the footage turned out and it was a great shoot. Another one for the books.
Moral of the story: It's hard to beat working with your friends, especially if they're smart, attractive, and tell great jokes about Kangaroos.
So, after two years of owning my Canon C300, I finally bought a shoulder rig that I'm happy with. It's not for lack of trying. I shoot mostly one-man-band and small crew shoots, so as much as I covet the top-of-the-line Elements Mantis handheld rig, I had to be realistic - do I need a sliding dovetail and 2 or 3 separate camera plates?
No. I need something that's simple, configurable, and cheap without being a piece of garbage.
What a piece of garbage. Even though it was machined aluminum and I LOVE rosettes in camera rigs, the rig itself felt disposable. I definitely wasn't going to be renting this out.
The worst thing about Tilta shoulder rigs - the thing that nobody tells you - is that at least half of the machined holes on the rig - the holes that look like standard 1/4-20 holes are actually a different size: metric 6, or M6 for short. Which means that there are far fewer mountable points on this rig than advertised.
Seriously, I've seen this rig sold on a lot of websites and not a one mentions that a lot of the machined holes are M6.
So I returned it and spent the next year researching other rigs.
My buddy Sean Anderson had the Tilta V-Lock shoulderpad and built a simple rig around that with Redrock Micro 15mm Handles and a Jag35 counterweight that I'd lent him on the back.
I liked the idea of having a V-Lock shoulder pad for popping on and off the tripod quickly, but there was no way I was buying another Tilta rig(in all fairness I think their Israeli arm is pretty good for the price). Also, it was a lot less pieces than your traditional cinema-style set-up. I shoot mostly interviews and b-roll, so simpler and quicker is always better.
Recently, I worked as B Camera on a shoot in which we got to throw a coffee machine through a three-story window and met an English cameraman named Steven Trinder, who was shooting with his own C300.
What follows is a piece-by-piece description of the rig that he was using, which is also the rig that I ended up purchasing. All prices are from B&H Photo.
A simple, stout V-Lock shoulder support and baseplate. Has rods on both sides so that you can hang a counterweight or battery of the back if you want. Has a manfrotto style quick-release plate on top that mounts to the bottom of the C300, which is a fine way to mount the camera to the baseplate and also allows for the camera to slide backward or forward in the quick-release for balancing purposes.
It's also got a bubble level on the top of the baseplate which is kind of neat I think.
Comparable and better top handles for the C300 cost $300 and up. The factory top handle that comes with the camera is terrible, so it's advisable to upgrade.
This one is metal, cost-effective, has top rods, and a nifty sideways-rod tie-down on which to mount your factory monitor for handheld work. This can be accomplished with a 6-inch 15mm rod and our next accessory...
Kind of pricey at 56 bucks, but this little doo-dad lets you, with the help of the Genustech Top Handle, extend the factory clamshell monitor 4-6 extra inches in front of your face. The added distance makes all the difference when operating this set-up handheld, which is actually, obviously the whole point of this post.
So there you have it, a solid handheld rig for $842.32. Compare that to the Stinger or the Mantis or the Zacuto Rigs. Hell, even the Tilta is more.
This is a cheaper, better, more solid rig.
So - you're welcome, I guess.
Thanks to DP and Lighting Cameraman Steven Trinder who initially conceived of this rig. I met Steven on a recent shoot and he was kind enough to give me a rundown of the rig, piece-by-piece. I liked it so much, I ended up purchasing it, piece-by-piece.
So I'm going to start posting sections of the book that I'm working on which is titled, Don't Do What I Did: How to Make a Career in Film and Video.
The book is written to be a handbook for those starting out or considering a career in film and video production.
What follows is a section titled, "Working for Free", which is something that I actually haven't done for a while, since I've been editing a feature-length documentary, as well as writing my first book. I'm focusing more on creating my own content, as you can very well see, but if the right opportunity came along - working on a cool, worthwhile project with good people - I'd definitely consider it.
Anyway, without any further ado:
Working for free
When you are starting out, you’re probably going to have to work for free(sometimes also called “working for credit” - I call it “working for pizza”). This is not such a terrible thing. I mean, if you’re a film major in college, you technically will “work for free” on more than a few films throughout your college career, hopefully.
Working for free as 2nd AC on a short film titled Departure in Dallas, TX, 2011
Working for free is a good thing. You can avoid it if you somehow luck into a job in a studio or at a production company, but I recommend it.
If you love indie film, working for free is practically currency. You work on enough other people’s films for free, they’ll work on your or lend you gear when you need it.
It’s rare that anyone gets a job in production without at least a modicum of experience already under their belt. Even as a production assistant, there are some things you must know, like how to properly use a walkie and how to do a lock-up.
Here is an oft-repeated myth you may hear from film industry vets when they talk about how they got their start:
A young whippersnapper walks into a production office, looking sharp and with resume in hand.
“Are you guys hiring? Do you need any help around here?”
“When can you start?”, says the boss. “Now?”, says the young whippersnapper.
And the boss puts him to work right then and there. The young whippersnapper hauled sandbags and wrangled cable all day and has been working in production ever since, or so the story goes.
Internships can be a boon to those that have the time to work in one(i.e. college students) and are a great way into the business. I got my first hands-on camera experience shooting concerts as an intern for a tiny Austin-TX web startup. Although that internship didn’t necessarily lead anywhere, I got the experience I desired and it piqued my interest in film and video. And, actually, it did - one of the guys who founded the web startup started another site called shortfilmtx.com, through which I book many a meals and credit gig, cutting my teeth in the process.
Boom Op workin' for credit and pizza on The Keymaker, the very first short film that I worked on. Thanks, shortfilmtx!
"Smart" Working for Free, Not "Hard" Working for Free
Working for free, also expect to work long hours and eat a lot of pizza. Even if you’re young, single, and have enough money saved up to pay your bills for a few months, it will still be a challenge to get your foot in the door. Don’t worry. There are plenty of no/lo-budget productions that will happily utilize/exploit you for your free labor. This is how you get your foot in the door.
I didn’t get my first film production check until I’d worked on around 7 short film projects for free, in addition to also having shot countless low-production value comedic web shorts of my own. I worked for free off-and-on for a couple years more, working odd jobs, until I finally started to get enough paying work to pay my bills.
It could have been a shorter process if I’d(pay attention, these are the shortcuts into the business):
* Went to film school.
* Approached production companies directly about wanting to work as a PA.
* Worked at a rental house.
* Known somebody already in the industry who could’ve gotten me a job as a PA.
The reason it took me so long to become a full-time freelancer in film and video production is that I didn’t think it was possible to do this for a living. I didn’t know anybody who worked in TV and film. I had no idea where all of the electricians and set PAs and 2nd 2nd ADs whose names scrolled by in movie and TV end credits came from. I suppose I thought that there were only film technicians in LA or New York and that, to get a job in film, you had to go to a really, really prestigious film school, or have a family member working in the film industry to give you a leg up. Probably both. Those things definitely help, but they’re not prerequisites.
You just need to get that first job. Kick ass, and more jobs will follow.
Another piece of advice is to “know where you’re going”. Always have goals that you’re working towards. Do you want to work in film and video for the rest of your life? Some people do. It’s an exciting profession, most of the time. If you have other skills, think about ways to incorporate those skills into your production life. If you speak Spanish, maybe start to look for jobs that need a bilingual field producer or cameraman. If you have programming skills, consider writing programs or apps for film set use.
This book is about using all of your skills to be able to work when and on what you want. The great thing about working in film and video production is that the only things that limit your opportunities are your own work ethic and creativity(in that order).
Honestly, all throughout your career it’s not a bad idea to keep working for free - but only for people you know and want to help. Once you are established, you can be a lot more discerning and only work on your experienced and genius film-friends as opposed to begging your way onto any and every set that will take you. You’re a professional now, so act like it.
Yesterday, I attended a small informal talk given by Jim Shields, who is the creative owner of a production company called Twist and Shout, jointly-based in Dallas, TX and Leicester, England.
That's us. Jim is on the far right. Nice room, eh?
He's writing a book about taking control of your creative freelance career, and, as I am also writing a book regarding the same topic(albeit with a focus on those just starting out in the business), I thought it wise to attend. I was not disappointed.
We had to finagle our way into taking over the backroom area of Mudsmith, politely asking the regular denizens of this faux-mahogany mansionesque faux-reading-room area if they really wanted to sit and listen to a 2 hour talk on career strategy for freelance creatives. Once the 7 or so of us were settled, Jim began to speak about what it means to freelance as a creative and how to be the captain of your own ship(my cliché, not his).
I took notes. Here's what I took away:
You can either be "Some Guy", "That Guy", or "THE Guy"
Some Guy - ex. "We need some guy who can operate a camera."
That Guy - ex. "We need to hire that one guy who is shoots documentaries."
THE Guy - ex. "WE ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE RON FRICKE!"
Jim spoke at length about how in smaller markets it's typical for creatives to fashion themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, and how, when all creatives do pretty much the same thing, they become a commodity instead of thinking, feeling, problem-solving creatives.
It's important to specialize. That's how you stand out in the crowd.
The Danger of Replicating Mediocrity
A lot of times clients just want what the next guy has. And that's fine, I guess, but it's definitely not a great feeling to be hired to copy someone else's work.
One of the great concepts of the talk was the idea that every project can be approached with the question, "What's the problem we are solving?"
Giving your client a carbon copy of a website or a video or other piece of content really isn't solving any problem except, "I need a video" or "I need a new website", and in that case, it's kind of just money down the drain, because the opportunity has been missed to create content that's tailored to solving a particular need or issue.
Use Your Blog as a Tool
Jim spoke about using your blog and social media to "raise a tribe", which to me, means a community of people who share your specific focus, people who are excited about the same nitty-gritty niche parts of your field that you are.
Your "tribe" is defined as a group of people(typically around 200 people after the initial two years of "raising a tribe", according to Jim) that actively participates and is engaged in the content you post. Hopefully you recipocrate that engagement by staying involved in their social media output. Kind of like an ongoing conversation.
Also, a blog is a great way for potential clients to get to know you before up you meet them. Establishing yourself as an expert online gives you added caché in booking and negotiating the terms of projects.
You can use your blog to educate your clients, as well. One example is writing posts on how you solved particular problems and then pointing to those posts as needed if and when you are negotiating the terms of a project with a client.
It's a good thing to be hyperspecific in your blog. Jim spoke of the importance of finding the focus of what you do - "your cause" - by "writing about what makes you angry".
In Jim's case, what made him angry is how corporations often mistreat their employees and customers by seeing them as numbers and not as creative, problem-solving human beings(my words). Knowing that allowed him to find his cause.
Here a piece by Twist and Shout which imagines how a corporation would propose marriage to their girlfriend:
After lots and lots of deliberation, I finally made the decision to invest in a new camera. To be exact, I bought a Canon C300 with EF mount.
I have been agonizing for almost 2 months now over getting a C300, a used RED MX, or putting together a DIT cart. I've owned a 7D for a couple of years now and my hope was that purchasing a higher end camera would help me get better work/less run 'n' gun videography-type gigs, or at the very least, provide me with another stream of income through rentals.
I considered many options but one of my main criteria is "what do people want to rent?". Through research and recent experience working at a rental house, I narrowed it down to two cameras: the RED MX and the Canon C300. I would've gone for the EPIC but that was simply out of my price range.
You may disagree that the RED MX is still a popular camera to rent but, I have to say, I know some local owner/operators of RED Camera packages and they stay pretty busy in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. And now they all have EPICs. It's hard to deny that RED has a certain mystique that producers and filmmakers will pay to make their movie with. It seems that, at least here in Texas, buying a RED is a great way to gain credits on low-budget indie shoots and make a living as an owner/op.
I've used the C300 to shoot some BTS and was really pleased with it's ease of use and the quality of the images that came out. I've always had my hands on the MX enough times to comfortably operate it but in the end, I felt the C300 was better suited to my needs. Here's why:
-Warranty/Dependability in the Field: Canon has a standard 1-year manufacturer's warranty as opposed to the 3-month warranty I'd get from RED after paying their $750 transfer of ownership fee. Also, Canon has been around longer and their gear is simply just much more dependable than RED's. All RED cameras thus far have been plagued with strange issues and quirks. From firsthand experience and research on the net, I've heard nothing of the sort concerning the C300.
-Ease of Use: Everything I need to shoot comes with the C300 - onboard monitor, Viewfinder, batteries, AC power. All that's need is CF cards and an EF. I already have those too. Not to mention camera support such as tripod, etc. If I bought a used MX package, most likely there would be something missing in terms of memory or power, I'd need to purchase a relatively heavy duty tripod head and sticks, not to mention purchase a computer that has more processing power than my 2.4 GHz, 4gb of RAM Macbook Pro. Which brings me to my next bullet point.
-Editing/Post: Like I stated above, if I bought a RED MX, I'd need to buy a better computer because I know that at some point I'm going to need to edit stuff that I shoot, at the very least for tests and putting together a reel. I shoot and edit the same projects fairly often so this was a concern. The C300's 8-bit 422 broadcast codec edits without any hiccups whatsoever in Final Cut 7.
-Low-Light Performance: At this point, there aren't any digital cinema cameras that can rival the C300's low-light performance. Not the REDs, not the Alexa, not the F3. Film might be able to if you push it two or three stops. I love to paint with light and always strive for healthy exposures but the low signal-to-noise ratio is really what makes the camera special, aside it's usability and accurate color science.
Some other notes:
I did not consider the Scarlet because I do not like it's design. It's a cube. It's like RED gave zero thought to the form factor of the camera. I mean, the C300 is no Aaton but it can be comfortably handheld. I think sometimes the whole modular thing works against RED in some cases.
Another thing I don't like about the Scarlet/Epic's design is the one HD-SDI port nestled in a recessed spot on the back of the camera. It's annoying and hard to reach whenever you need to disconnect an SDI cable. Just one of many design flaws that beg for 3rd party bolt-on hardware that is often shoddy.
The RED MX has multiple HD-SDI outs, as well as HDMI out that can run simultaneously, and the C300 has an HD-SDI out and HDMI out that can run simultaneously. Not sure if this disables the factory onboard monitor but we'll see.
Don't get me wrong, RED has done some amazing things in it's short lifespan. Pushing digital cinema to 4k, 5k, 6k. And for the price 12-bit(RED MX) or 16-bit(SCARLET/EPIC) Redcode RAW is amazing. However, for where I'm at, financially and career-wise, the C300 is the better decision. I am an avid Reduser lurker and sometimes poster and if I had more money, I probably would've bought an EPIC. Based on my circumstances the C300 was the best option.
Also, regarding PL vs. EF on the C300, I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of Canon EF lenses, L-series or not, but, for the future, Zeiss CP2s are decent and come in EF mount and there's a wide range of stills lenses out there(Zeiss Contax, Leicas, Nikkors) that make beautiful pictures. I went with the EF mount because the price difference between EF lenses and PL lenses is gigantic. Also, if we're gonna get really cine-vised there are affordable EF to PL adapters that will fit most zooms such as Angenieuxs or Cookes.
The WFT for the C300 that allows you to control focus, aperture, remote start/stop, and metadata from a smartphone or tablet was a deciding factor in getting an EF mount as well.
Anyway, last I heard, the C300 was still renting pretty well at rental houses and that a lot of Alexa shoots are using them as B-cams. I'm hoping that trend lasts!
If you are interested in renting an EF-Mount C300 camera package, please email me or call me at 214-213-4840. Rates are flexible. We want to rent out this camera!
Have been absolutely horrible about blogging the past few months due to work, work, and more work. Not that I have consistent readership(yet) that I'm letting down, but I still feel I've dropped the ball and this situation needs to be rectified immediately.
I promise I will blog more often.
I promise I will blog more often.
I promise I wi-
Working on a new demo reel and I have a shiny, new list of production-related things to blog about.
I've been doing some tests recently and have come to two conclusions regarding recovering lost data from the SxS Pro cards to which the Arri Alexa records:
1) PhotoRec is an amazing piece of freeware. In the course of my tests I tried DiskDrill, DiskWarrior, FileSalvage, as well as TestDisk(also made by the creator of PhotoRec, both available for download here). Not only was PhotoRec the only program that yielded any retrieved video files, it retrieved whole cards worth and then some. Not bad for a free download.
2) There is no way you're getting back data from an SxS card recorded to by the Alexa if you erase the card using the "Erase SxS" option. The results I got using PhotoRec were possible only because the cards were formatted using the other formatting option on the camera, "Quick Format". If you choose Erase SxS, the camera writes a null data(read a bunch of zeroes) over the card and blanks the card for good. At that point, your only option is to send the offending cards into Arri.
From the video: "[Scorsese] hadn't made a film in 5 years. He kept trying to film Last Temptation and it never worked. And then friends offered him this film - and said 'Hey, Marty, can ya make a film for four million?' He said - 'ask Michael'."
In the future, I'm going to focus my posts more towards certain categories, such as, "DIY Filmmaker Resources", "People I'd Like to Meet", "How to Become a Cinematographer(my best guesses)", and "Great Sequences". Etc, etc, etc. For this post, a smattering of things, simply for the sake of getting back in the saddle and getting something up.
Shit, where to begin...
The Cinematography Mailing List
One of my favorite recent discoveries is the Cinematography Mailing List. It's an email list where cinematographers, young and old, post questions and other cinematographers answers them. In depth. Often to a scientific degree. It seems a lot of us young cats claim to want to be cinematographers and DP's but alas, from the mouths of babes. Subscribing to the CML is an insight into the thought processes and technical skills needed to be REAL cinematographer, not just some wet-eared yokel with an HDSLR.
From their website:
"The Cinematography Mailing List, CML, was started by Geoff Boyle in 1996 so that 60 Cinematographers could talk about work. We now have 20 lists, with a total of over 16,000 members, 9 lists with more than 4,000 members and 10 with over 2,500 members. Over 42 million messages were sent out in the last year with a successful delivery rate of over 99%."
Check it out. One of the best free resources for cinematography. I really dig the format. To me, the fact that it's emailed makes it super-digestable and has an almost 'Word of the Day'-like effect.
Low-Budget Music Videos
Been talking to some different groups and musicians around town lately about doing some videos lo-no-budget so I've been doing some research.
Here are some of my favorites:
So freaking cool. Just found out about Sia. Her videos are weird, strange, and pretty neat. This one is my favorite because I'm a sucker for artful repetition. It's one shot(not one take, mind you, but one camera setup - one shot)and the props for the video consist of scotch tape, c-47s (ha, film term, omg - "clothespins" to normal folk), a condom, many types of stockings and pantyhose, and, of course, Sia(she crazy). Also, props for the 'Glamour Shots'-esque background. Song's pretty durned catchy as well. Quality thinking man's Pop Music. Big ups.
This square-format wonder actually comes to us from the days of Standard Def(shudder; @ the format, not the time period), those days of yore. Before iPhones, when reality TV was really just a show called The Real World.
I may have been a pre-teen in those golden years of American pop-culture but I still lived them. God damn, did I live them.
Anyway, this video looks like nothing special to the untrained viewer. Just another "band playing their hit song in their practice space video. At first glance, it's visually not much - it's Weezer playing sweet, beautiful alt-rock in a garage(the garage they practiced in around that time) and then there's a gratuitous slo-mo hacky-sacking during the guitar solo. The whole video looks like someone shot it with a Canon 7D. However, they didn't have those back in the day.
So this video looks like nothing special but, if, like me, you appreciate the finer things in life, like fleeting moments of an awesome young superband's humanity(exhibits A, B, and C: band members ironic faux-seriousness, the drummer's polite smile at the pause before the beginning of the 2nd verse, and Rivers' juicebox at the end, among many others) edited into a eloquently composed and shot music video, then you understand how great this little sequence-of-images-set-to-song is.
If you're interested, this video was directed by Sophie Muller, who had been shooting videos for at least 13 years before this video. She cut her teeth shooting videos for Sade and the Eurythmics, and later shot a lot of No Doubt's videos. She's still working today, I believe.
I'm planning on doing a "People I'd Like to Meet" category of posts for this blog. Yup, she definitely qualifies.
Anyway, one last thing before the embed. Did you guys know that Ric Ocasek of The Cars fame produced "Say It Ain't So"? Me neither, but it's true. Epic.
I could go on and on about this video. I love it so much.
Legally, I can't marry it. Too bad.
Good for you guys, though. Watch.
One more. Another "blast from the past" from when I was still a wee lad, "still in shortpants", as they say.
Blur, "Song 2"
Another 90's gem. Which, coincidentally, was also directed by Ms. Muller. Weird. Just found that out researching her video as I write this.. Apparently, I'm a big fan. Huh, cool.
What I like about the video:
A lot of the same things I liked about the Weezer video. The expertly-composed, gorgeous static shots and the perfect cuts between those shots. The whimsicality of the video. According to Wikipedia, the song was intended as a playful jab at the American Grunge-Rock genre.
And, during the chorus, the slo-mo slamming into the walls, hard light sources cutting on and off and then wind machine and contribute to a glorious visual assault of badassery.
Time for bed. End post.
Oh, and fuck Vevo. I don't have to be happy(or even indifferent) about being advertised to every time I want to watch an old video. And any company owning that much of an era's content can't be a good thing.
Read The Five C's of Cinematography. Thoroughly enjoyable. Even though it was probably written in the 50's. There are a lot of great ideas in there and explanations why things are shot a certain way. A wealth of information on topics such as Camera Angle, Continuity, Cutting, Close-Ups, and Composition(if you guessed it, you're right - those are the 5 C's!).
Also, read The 30 Second Storyteller: The Art and Business of Directing Commercials. Explains the various genres/niches of commercials one might direct(ie Car, Liquids, Kids, Comedy, Storytelling, etc) and also takes you through the production of a commercial firsthand, from pre-production to post. Another great read, especially for understanding more than just the technical aspects of shooting a commercial.
Served as a shooter for the Live From Dan's musical performance series shot in Dan's Silverleaf in Denton and hosted by kxt.org radio personality Paul Slavens. Here's a picture of me opping camera(Sorry to post a pic of myself - couldn't help it - the image is so cool!). It was a blast - met some good people, got a free Guinness, and learned a little about shooting for live broadcast. Here's a link to all of the episodes uploaded so far, in case you were interested in checking it out. The episode I helped shoot is not up yet, but hopefully soon. Hopefully, they'll put some of the behind the scenes stuff I shot with my 7D in there as well!
For Christmas, I received a Jag35 D-Focus, which I'm happy to say, is pretty darn cool. It gives the same functionality as pro ff's I've used for a fraction of the price. I have a spec commercial coming up that is being shot to put up on poptent.net, which is a site where filmmakers can post spec spots and corporate entities can purchase them, and I can't wait to use it on the shoot. OMG