Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cross Platform Entertainment

NBC is taking a step out of the norm to bring us a new type of game show that will involve viewers right at home. You've probably heard of the widely popular trivia app, QuizUp, but now you can get addicted to it in an entirely new way (as if we needed another activity to suck up all our time). Just yesterday, NBC announced an interactive game show competition that will allow contestants to compete with people at home in real time. The series will be called QuizUp and contestants will get the opportunity to win cash prizes up to one million dollars. The in-studio contestant must win eight trivia battles against eight different players at home. If the at-home player wins a round, they will receive a monetary prize of the equivalent of what that round is worth. Potential contestants must qualify ahead of time, but even those who aren't part of the show can still play along at home.

NBC is trying out this new game show format after having success with other alternative competition shows like The Voice, America's Got Talent and America Ninja Warrior. These shows give viewers at home the opportunity to vote for their favorites and feel a sense of participation. QuizUp will give the audience an even more interactive way of participating. With less and less people watching live television, trying to get people in front of a TV at the same time every week is getting harder and harder. QuizUp will most likely not be the type of show that you will find online the following day to stay caught up on. Instead, it will push for people to sit in front of a real cable television and play in real time. Even Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune doesn't have that kind of audience involvement. This creative new trivia game hopes to bring a new, engaging type of challenge to American television.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Magic Lantern

So I've had my T4i for about four years now. In that time, its gotten a lot to a little bit of use. Well, I'm coming out of my funk of not using the camera after this hiatus. Over the years since I've had the DSLR I've always heard about Magic Lantern and the wonderful tools it gives you. Hesitant might not be the word to accurately describe why I never took the plunge. I'd seen a lot of articles and posts about how buggy the firmware was and that it messed up someone's camera. That was always offputting to me. Well, tonight I decided to install the firmware on my camera. I'm going to be the DP for my Doc Workshop project and the added features will be beneficial for shooting. Having more manual control over what I'm filming will allow me to tailor my image a lot easier and more in depth.

One aspect of the program I'm most excited about is the intervalometer. Ever since I went to High Cascade Snowboard Camp and was shown by Brad Kremer the workflow and how to shoot a proper timelapse I've always been intrigued about, but never was able to, shooting a proper timelapse. I hope to not only utilize this for passion projects but also with my documentary.

I can't wait to start using all of the other features as well!

In Love Or Fear

This past weekend was the first production day for the documentary that Shai and I are working on, and I am already starting to see how documentary filmmaking is different than fiction. In the past, I have only worked on scripted videos, translating stories on the screen that have been thoroughly planned out on the page. With this project, I’m learning how documentary stories can evolve to make themselves become more clear throughout the process. What began as a short documentary about a person doing good became a call to action for a movement of doing good, and this weekend, I could start to see the direction by which we are going to tell the story.

Friday afternoon, Shai and I hit the road to Virginia to shoot our main interview with James Orrigo, the founder of Lad In A Battle and the subject of our film. Just before we left, he called us about another person we could interview for the film, his college guidance counselor, Christine, who had seen him and his movement grow.  She was only an hour’s drive from his home in Virgina, and had a house on Lake Anna, a potentially great interview location. Yet as much as Shai and I were tantalized by the idea of the waterfront backdrop, we knew that it wouldn’t serve our story enough to justify the sound problems it came with.

During her interview, Christine talked about the problem of living one’s life in fear. Fear for the future, for grades, for school, for money. The problem with fear is that it prevents us being happy and from fully embracing the world with love. As I listened through my headphones, watched the microphones levels, and thought about her words, I started to realize how this video was going to take shape. James made a choice back when he got a concussion in high school from lacrosse that nearly killed him; he could either live the rest of his life in fear of the world, or embrace it with love. Immediately after the interview, Christine invited us all out on her boat in Lake Anna, and we Shai and i made the conscious choice to live by the new words of our film. In fact, this could be the angle by which we tackle the rest of the film.

What does it mean to embrace the world with love? It means reaching out to people, it means doing what makes you happy, doing what makes others happy, and finding a way to balance those out everyday. What James does with music for children and the music he played for his mother during her cancer, is his way of bridging what makes those around him happy and what makes him happy. What became even more clear during James’ interview is that something about him and the Lad In A Battle movement is infectious. Early on when he just started Lad In A Battle, he had an idea to get from VA to ME without a car by relying on people along the coast who liked his message and sell t-shirts along the way. James had a choice: to live his life in fear, or in love. The success of this trip and the effects it had on propelling his movement demonstrated the power of this idea that Christine had talked about. Especially at a time when our lives are moving so fast. There is so much pressure for the future, to get good grades to go to a good school to get a good job to have money. Yet James choice to follow his heart and live his life in love for others and now he and his wife are gearing up to build a tiny house on the back of trailer to tour hospitals across the country, all in hopes to kick start his Out Of The Music Box program for children with cancer.  Despite the battles underneath, he’s living his life in love, not in fear, and this is something that we can all do. This is not the way I had thought to tell his story, but now I am realizing that with documentary’s, they like to tell their own stories and we have to guide them.

On the Way to School

On the way to school is a feature length documentary that chronicles the journey to school for children from four very different countries. I decided to watch this film as a suggestion from a friend who knew I was interested in documentaries. Before I knew it I found myself completely absorbed into the story of these various children. The film was shot and edited in the style of cinema verite, where the camera floats around as if it wasn't even there.
In my opinion this is the truest form of documentary filmmaking. Interviews make people conscious of the fact that they are being filmed and in many cases takes away from the "reality" of the situation. Cinema verite truly captures life at its essence, with no planned lines or designed lighting. Everything happens as is and it is up to the filmmaker to operate on his own two feet to decide what to do. Editing becomes the driving force in telling the story. On the way to school weaves the narratives between the children together and although they are thousands of miles apart, it seems as though they are traveling as one collective.
This is one of the most important films I believe I have watched in a long time. Education is something that many of us in the United States and other first world countries take for granted. The idea of even struggling to get to school is rarely a thought in any of our minds. We grew up with the big yellow school bus picking us up on street corners or some, even more privileged, were taken right from their own driveways. To see the literal struggle that many go through everyday, just to get an education is inspiring and humbling.
This is what I hope to one day do with film. As we wrapped our first weekend of shooting down in Virginia my partner Eric and I are more driven more than ever to help others with film. I don't know where life will take me but all I can hope to do is inspire and hopefully improve the lives of others with film. On the Way to School is currently streaming on Netflix I encourage everyone to watch and try and put themselves in the shoes of these children, if only for the hour the film runs.

19 Profits and Counting

TLC announced today that they would be producing and airing a two new programs featuring 19 Kids and Counting stars, Jill and Jessa Duggar. For those with no background on the show or its subject, 19 Kids and Counting was a reality program that aired on TLC chronicling the day to day lives of supersized family (due to religious beliefs against contraception) the Duggars from Tonitown, Arkansas. The show was a huge hit for TLC, with people tuning in to watch the spectacle that was basically watching these christian human rabbits reproducing at record rates with none of the fun parts. The show was cancelled when it was revealed that oldest Duggar son, Josh Duggar, had molested his two oldest sisters (Jessa and Jill) along with other victims. A situation that would have been traumatic and scandalous for any family but that was now highlighted by the family's christian values that prohibited even hugging before marriage.

However now that the show aka money maker is off the air, TLC has started looking for new ways to exploit the victims of Josh's molestation for their own benefit. First the network will air a documentary called "Breaking the Silence" about the victims involved in child abuse, including interviews from Jill and Jess. The network will then start production on a new show just following the lives of Jill and Jess sans their parents and 17 other siblings. This kind of exploitation is not new for a network for TLC but will be an interesting test for the nielsen homes of America. Will the profiting off the victims of molestation be too much for America to handle or will they welcome it into their homes, like another member of the family?

Jimmy Fallon's Guide To Trend

Since taking over Late Night and later the Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon has pretty much created the manual for how TV personalities should utilize social media. In today's world, it had become much more rare for viewers to sit down and watch television live. With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other subscription based streaming services, the appeal of live TV just isn't what it used to be. So for shows to get into public view, they need to take advantage of all the mediums now available. While all programs should utilize Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, I would argue that it is most valuable for talk show and late night programs. These type of programs often play more like variety shows then one long piece, making them perfect for Internet. With so many different blocks/segments on late night TV, internet videos services are the perfect way to share chunks of the show without having to push the entire hour of content.

Over the last few years, no late night personality has done this better then Jimmy Fallon. A staple of Fallon's Tonight Show has been his many different comedy bits. Fallon consistently rolls off hugely popular segments, with great celebrity cameos and his popular band The Roots. He does everything from funny games, to musical numbers, to surprise reunions. Each of these 2-10 minute segments, instantly goes on to Youtube, where they are viewed, and shared and a rapid rate. These blocks are perfect for Youtube and almost always build enough buzz to start trending on social media. The great thing about sharing these individual segments is that they show the greatest part of Fallon's show while allowing viewers to skip the rest of his program. On a show like the Tonight show that airs five times a week, not every bit hits, but with Youtube, Fallon fans can skip the mediocre parts, pretty much getting a best of highlight reel instead.

Last night, Fallon continued his streak of popular segments, when he reunited Kenan and Kel, popular Nickelodeon stars from the 90's for a "Good Burger" sketch. A big chunk of the Tonight Show's audience has been college students, a group the Fallon usually plays to in his segments. During his run he has staged a series of 90 reunions from "Full House", to "Save By The Bell." These videos have millions of views on Youtube and I'm sure his latest bit will reach high numbers. The "Good Burger" sketch is just the latest example of how Fallon uses perfectly utilizes YouTube, something I'm sure we'll see more of during his reign.

Location is a Character

This may well come off as one of my more obvious blog posts, but I think it's something that's really important for everyone to remember as we all start gearing up to make our films; location should always act as a character. A silent, unflinching, omnipresent character, but a character nonetheless.

Surprisingly enough - as I'm just now finding out - you don't get a whole lot of interesting results when you Google "film locations as characters." But pick any great movie or cinematic TV show and boom: there it is. Let's take, for instance, Mad Max Fury Road. The barren, deserted landscape practically breathes. It not only presents itself as an obstacle to the characters, it comes to life. The movie was filmed in Namibia (unlike the first three which were shot in Australia) and the desert sands and dunes are literally blown out of proportion in order to bring the movie to life. It gives the movie a distinct tone more so than any other element of the film; while the (sparse) dialogue and set design are unique, it would be nothing without the location itself.

Let's take another example: True Detective. The only thing that the first and second season even remotely have in common is how they treat their locations. In the first season, director Cary Fukunaga both played with expectations and met them in his use of the creepy bayous and run-down areas of Louisiana (fun side note, here's a link to a tour you can take that has 13 locations from the show). It also had this boat that looks like it's floating on land, but that's more of a cool shot than anything else. They used the locations to really bump up the level of creepiness that oozes throughout the season, and at a certain point, you start to feel like it's its own entity.

Same goes for season 2. No matter what your opinion of it may be (it sucked) they still use location as a major indicator of what's happening and what matters. I'm pretty sure that the aerial shots of freeways and various roads take up more screentime than Rachel McAdam's character. It, too, sets the tone: instead of the slow burn, Southern feel of season one, we now know that we're in a world where everything is constantly moving forward, with little hope of ever coming to a halt. It's a bit more inconsistent than the previous season, but the point still comes across.

No Country for Old Men, Lost in Translation, Cool Hand Luke, Drive, any movie that prominently features the city of New York: all of these treat their locations as a character (to see where I got all of those ideas from, here's a list on letterboxd I found that more or less sums up what I've been talking about). Locations can add tone, texture, and feeling to a film, and if you use them right, you'll be that much better for having done it.

The Emmy's Nailed It

It's very unusual that anything in Hollywood happens with few critiques. This year's Emmy awards did just that, keeping the viewers entertained and successfully avoiding any dragging moments in the entire broadcast. The night went without controversy and celebrated television in a way that only focused on the beauty of television itself. Andy Samberg came out strong in his first experience as host, keeping everything moving quickly in a light and fun way, setting the tone for the entire night. The award show was filled with beautiful moments, along with speeches that didn't make you fall asleep during those two minutes. Game of Thrones took home a record number of awards, to everyone's delight and no one's surprise. And this year we finally got to see Jon Hamm receive an Emmy for his performance in Mad Men, after 7 years of nominations. It was a touching moment that even the actor couldn't wrap his head around, saying over an over "This must be a mistake." Now if only Leonardo DiCaprio can finally get his Oscar....

The night held a few more touching moments, including ones from Viola Davis and Tracy Morgan. Davis, who won best lead actress in a drama, accepted her award with a speech that moved everyone in attendance. She spoke fiercely about how colored women are only as successful as their opportunities, and those opportunities being the only thing that separate them from anyone else. Samberg followed by saying "Hollywood fixed racism! Don't fact check that." Towards the end of the night we witnessed a touching moment as Tracy Morgan returned the stage for the first time after his car accident. He addressed his past year with both tears and laughter, warming the hearts of everyone.

The night's only major fault was their decision to tribute the shows that just ended by showing clips of their finale. Hello, major spoiler! Don't they know no one watches anything live anymore? While the intent was good, it was a bit unnecessary and the Twitter world was not happy about it.

Yet, overall, this year's Emmy show truly killed it. It was entertaining, funny, heartfelt, and never felt like it was dragging. The stage was futuristic and beautiful, and the host was a perfect choice. Great job, Emmys, you nailed it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tokina 11-16mm Lens Review

Your always looking for that next beautiful landscape shot, or the perfect astrophotography time lapse, but what the lens do you have by your side to capture these amazing scenes. While there are so many options and each lens have it's perks, there is not one perfect lens for any given scenario. It is up to you as the operator to compose the picture how you see fit. however, I recently picked up the Tokina 11-16mm for landscape and time lapse photography due to the amazing wide angle it provided, because I think in this type of photography this is going to help you gather the most interesting shots available.

(Due to uploading to blogger, the quality is quite poor.)
                 (Captured with the Sony a7s with the Tokina 11-16mm and Glidecam HD 4000)

This past Sunday I took to the football field to gather some B-roll of the stadium, I put together this teaser as a test video of the footage gathered. All material is shot in 60FPS conformed in post.

In the first shot you can see one huge problem right off the bat. The lens flare. While I love a good lens flare, it can be a bit much sometimes. I had no lens hood on while I shot because I was observing the flares and how they compared to my other lenses. But it would be interesting to see how it worked against preventing them. One interesting effect that occurs due to the full frame sensor, is that when completely wide at 11mm a picture will result like this.

The huge vignette is quite unflattering thus making the lens primarily fixed at 16mm. The great
APC-S feature of the camera turns this 11-16mm into a 17-24mm which is a handy trick to get a bit more punch as well as helps with the vignetting.

The football teaser above also demonstrates the issue with the ND filter. Due to the sunny weather we had this past Sunday, the ND was necessary to be able to shoot at an appropriate F-stop. The filter is variable up to 8 stops, but getting close to 6 is when the black streak in the top right corner of the image occurs, in some images it is more noticeable, but is very noticeable in the time lapse below.

While those two issues occurred in the video, the lens overall is very useful. First off the field of view is amazing. Paired with the full frame, even when punched in to the 17-24 APS-C mode, the lens is so wide and if you want that extra wideness, the 16mm is more than useable, however filters do come in to frame so indoors might be the best option for that. But this wide lens is great to make your shot extra smooth with the Glidecam, as well as capturing a a large canvas with time lapse. 

(The vertical capability is also a feature which needs exploring.)

A feature I neglected to touch upon until this point is the speed of this lens. With f2.8, this is amazing for night time photography. I've been meaning to test out the low light monster that is the a7s, combined with this lens, because I think it would have amazing results. Now just to get to somewhere that lacks light pollution. 

The final picture is one testing long exposure with the ND filter. While in the corners, the vignette is present, the ability to do a 30 sec exposure really made the water quite milky. 
Overall, testing new gear is stressful but enjoyable and you learn that ever piece of equipment has its pros and cons. In the end you just have to decide what you want to put up with more and if its worth the resulting image.

The new RED Raven

RED has teased at it's newest camera, The Raven, and will be announced September 25th. It is currently rumored to shoot 4K at 120 FPS and has built-in WiFi.

Most of the information currently known is based on speculation, leaked information, and leaked photos via employees and the president at RED. The raven will most likely feature a fixed mount, which fans are speculating will be an EF mount. From the above picture it is likely that the Raven will take mini-mags for media storage. 

Based on announcements from other companies, fans are guessing that the Raven will come at a price point of under $10,000 (body only) and will be replacing SCARLET MX. More information will be released on Friday during the official announcement, but until then, speculation will have to get your fix. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Louis Theroux

I’ve always been a fan of investigative doc shows, specifically things like Frontline, 60 Minutes, and even some of the stuff that Vice puts out there. But probably my favorite investigative docs are those made by Louis Theroux for the BBC. 

Louis Theroux started off at the BBC in the late 90’s with the show Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, in which he would primarily investigate American subcultures. This particular series (especially the earlier episodes) generally focuses more on oddities without too much social or political significance. In these episodes Louis often attempts to immerse himself in the world he is exploring. Due to his mannerisms, accent, and stature he always sticks out like a sore thumb, leading to many comedic situations. For example, in one episode he takes a look at the world of professional wrestling.

After Weird Weekends, Louis’ docs have become much more serious in nature. His BBC specials regard topics ranging from the Westboro Baptist Church, to prisons and jails, to American neo-nazis. While in Weird Weekends you often see a more humorous side of Louis, these docs really let you see his exceptional investigative ability. He is able to seem innocent and non-threatening, all the while being very adamant and asking very difficult questions.

When Comedy Ladies Write Books

I hate Lena Dunham's book. Whew that feels good to get off my chest. I hated it. I remember running out to buy it and thinking why I didn't like it at all. I loved Mindy Kaling's book and Amy Poehler's and Tina Fey's. Why didn't I like Lena Dunham's? When my comedy friends, especially the women asked me, I couldn't articulate an answer. Only after I took the time to re-read Kaling's, Poehler's and Fey's book did I realize: Dunham's didn't follow the formula. The former mentioned followed a strict formula of an advisory tone, an objective assertion of truth and a promise that being a woman in comedy is a universal union. Dunham's was a book about herself because, as promised, it was a memoir.

This same truth carries into these women's shows, in the formers' shows they are all working professionals, unapologetic about their opinions and goals. While Dunham's show, GIRLS, is a more objective portrayal of how women can sometimes suck. Like her book, Dunham's show also receives more criticism because of what it asserts. It doesn't propose a truth that women are strong and powerful, it represents a truth that sometimes they're not and she is not the authority to say that they are. With her book Dunham was trying to say "this is me" while the other three were trying to say "this is me and you" and I hated Dunham's because I wasn't represented in the equation.

I bring this up because of the release of Mindy Kaling's new book, Why Not Me? A book I hope lives up to the standard of the other one but that reaches it in a new way. I want to work an industry that allows women to be varied in their portrayal even if I'm not part of it.

Adobe Morph Cut

I don't know how many of you have seen or heard about this new feature in Adobe Premiere called Morph Cut, but it is really cool (and scary). Basically, the premise of Morph Cut goes like this: it fixes jump cut interviews. Awesome, right? Yeah, it is, but it's also intimidating for the editor because it represents a shift in film editing that moves toward the computer controlling everything, rather than the editor. Will this be the start of robots being editors?? Nobody knows! Okay, enough of my dystopian view of this effect and now for the nitty gritty.

Morph Cut works like this. You have an interview with someone that goes as such: "So was road and uh, uhm, we saw a deer in the street but it uh...uhm...was too late for us to uhh move so...uh...we hit the uh...deer." Wow, that is like pulling teeth. What would be an 8-second sentence turned into a 25-second sentence. If this was essential to the story, and there was no way to schedule a reshoot, the clip would have to be cut to exclude the uh's and the uhm's and the lapses in talking altogether. What would result is a jump cut edit that would pretty much suck. The character would be jerking around in the frame everytime a cut had to be made and it would essentially be unwatchable. Enter Morph Cut. Morph Cut is an effect that will be implemented in Premiere Pro down the line that analyzes the footage and presents a seamless edit that is free of the jump cuts. Below is a presentation by Adobe about this. Really worth the watch.

The Never Ending Commitment of Will Ferrell

Who is your favorite actor? Tough question I know. And with a never ending range of options it's a pretty difficult thing to answer. But back in my youth, there was a simple and easy response: Will Ferrell. 

It's not easy to sell Will Ferrell as the best actor around, and today I'd give a different answer, but back in my younger days he was my top choice. The reason was pretty simple, everything he did made me laugh. I can't tell you how many hours my brother and I spent locked in our TV room watching "Anchorman" or "Old School" or his SNL best of DVD. When it came to Will Ferrell we just couldn't get enough. As I've gotten older my taste has matured somewhat and I've somewhat moved on from the brand of comedy that filled my youth. It's part of growing up and everyone leaves parts of their childhood behind. However, with Farrell there's an element of nostalgia, that keeps me invested in his career.  

Most recently Farrell stared in a 50 minute HBO Baseball mockumentary entitled, "Farrell Takes The Field." The special had Farrell playing 10 different positions for 10 different Major League Baseball teams, a record first achieved by Bert Campaneris in 1965. As a big fan of baseball and Will Farrell, I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Last March, Farrell filmed the special in Arizona playing briefly in 5 different games. Because he filmed it during spring training I was actually able to follow each game online with exclusive footage provided by MLB. The glimpse I got was hilarious and I had high expectations going into Saturday's premiere. 

While it was a pleasant 50 minutes of content, I was overall disappointed with it. They shortened some of my favorite moments from the day and it felt like they cut some great content in order to carry on jokes, that didn't quite hit. While I wasn't completely satisfied with the special as a whole, I still admired Farrell's performance overall. 

One of the things that has made Farrell great throughout his career is his unwavering commitment to a role. Even when the premise of his piece is ridiculous he is completely committed to taking it seriously. In the HBO special, Farrell goes through the games as though he is trying to secure a spot on each team and although it is obvious to everyone involved that it is a joke, Farrell never drops from character. His interactions with the players and the coaches read like a utility infielder trying to fit into a new situation after every trade. And regardless of how the mockumentary came out, all the proceeds raised during the special went to a cancer foundation that Farrell started and that's something everyone can get behind.

While Farrell's movies haven't exactly hit it big the last few years, he has always done a great job of staying relevant through all the different medias that are available to us. Whether he's appearing in random Milwaukee Beer commercials, or creating and posting Funny or Die videos,  he has found a way to stay current. And in each ridiculous video, his complete devotion to the comedy can be seen. Regardless of of your thoughts on Will Ferrell, it's hard not to appreciate his dedication to his craft. His unwavering commitment to each role is something every actor can learn from.

An Advertiser's New Approach

With less and less people watching live television, advertisers are straining to reach an audience. As long as Netflix is around, we can expect commercials to have diminishing effects on viewers, simply because more and more people are binge watching this commercial-free medium. DVR is also last fault for letting viewers completely skip over commercial breaks. As an avid television viewer, I love the technological advancements that have let me cheat advertisements, but as a future employee of the television world, I know advertisements will keep my job afloat. Our careers run on the finances of advertisers so we have to acknowledge the problem that less people are watching them. So how to fix this issue....

Concepts like product placement and branded entertainment have not been getting the credit they deserve. While not necessarily the most glorious options, these two concepts have found a way to link entertainment with advertising, sometimes without the viewer even noticing. Product placement puts a company's logo or product seamlessly into a scene with an organic touch. Perhaps there is a Coke can sitting in front of Ted Mosby in an episode of How I Met Your Mother. This is great exposure for the brand, and viewers may subconsciously notice it but it doesn't take away from the scene. This could be done during the filming process or even thrown in during post production. Episodes of Friends have been edited to show a box of Oreos on the table while the characters are sitting around it carrying on conversations. This could be much more beneficial for Coke and Oreos rather than a commercial that may never been seen by the viewer. With the reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Friends on Netflix, those are the products you will still see today versus whatever advertisements were played during the commercial break when they aired.

Branded entertainment is a similar concept except that it has much more control than product placement. In branded entertainment, a company will pay a production studio to create the show they desire and will obviously include their brand in a beneficial way. IKEA created a web series, "Easy to Assemble", that generated a lot of buzz and many guest stars, flag shipping this new way of advertising. The main character was an employee for IKEA, so the brand was included but there was a storyline with the characters that was separate from the furniture store. Branded entertainment can be a subtle way to advertise your company while still allowing a lot of creative control with plots and characters, without being overbearing.

If company's can find a way to integrate advertising without distracting the viewers from the content, it could be a win-win for everyone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Magic and Good Set Design

Unarguably set design is one of the most important parts of a film. You can have the best looking shot in the world but if your interior 1970's bar looks like a Starbucks you're going to have some serious issues. Learning how to disguise your sets as whatever you want them to be is one of the most useful skills to have. Thats where the movie magic is. Convincing your audience that what they see is reality. Even in older movies this holds true. If if the CGI is clunky and hysterically bad.

It's one thing to master this skill on a location to location bases but Vancouver as a city has covered it all. Disguised as any city you can imagine, yes even Brooklyn NY, Vancouver has planted itself firmly into the film industry as whatever you want it to be. In the video below the many faces of Vancouver are revealed in a startling show of what I like to call movie magic. I'm wholeheartedly impressed with Vancouver's ability to play such a wide host of cities. Hopefully one day she'll finally get a chance to just be herself.

"Dickture" Gallery and the search for Creative Content

In today's media saturated world, the search for creative content is getting tougher and tougher. I have found it increasingly difficult to come up with a concept that hasn't been covered already in one form or another. Each time I find myself sitting down to write, I always end up shaking my head when my script inevitably runs up against a formulaic plotline or a story arc that has already been explored.

When I was shown the post on f-stoppers covering the gallery I was instantly struck by how the artist chose such a simple topic and skewed it into a daring and hilarious concept. She took "dick pics" and spun it into an entire gallery of elaborately dressed penises. She has encouraged people, through this gallery, to remember not to take art and themselves too seriously.

The content is, of course not safe for work, so I wont include any pictures here. I'll link the video below, and the gallery. I highly recommend giving it a look and reminding yourself not to always take yourself too seriously.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Revolutionary Gimbal For Now

As filmmakers we are always trying to get the shot no one else can get, the smoothest footage, the money shot. Recently, numerous 3-axis gimbal stabilizers have been released which have thought to be the replacement of the Steadicam. While there is a lot of controversy about this topic, a new piece of equipment has been released that might throw all we know about stabilizers out the window.

As you see in the video, Sachtler has combined the brilliant gimbal benefits, that are available through use of devices like the DJI Ronin and the Movi, and the steadicam, which has long been the go to method of tracking shots. The movie "Goodfellas" has a historic tacking sequence all thanks to our beloved steadicam. This amazing idea provides a whole new style of filmmaking. As mentioned in the video above one shot that has been created through this system is being able to peak around corners with the camera. This could be great for giving a shot the feeling that someone is watching a character in a film. Being able to invert the camera as well makes this tool that much more versatile. Low angle shots were not attainable with former steadicams. Due to this item being brand new, there are limited visuals of real world applications so far, but by combining both of these amazing stabilization systems, the world of filmmaking just got a little crazier.


Having used the DJI Ronin quite extensively, as well as owning a Glidecam, I have experience advantages and disadvantages of both systems. First off the Ronin is electric and must be calibrated for the specific weight load that it is carrying. This is frustrating because with my Glidecam and many other traditional Steadicams, all weight adjustments are done through physical weight distribution adjustments. With my Glidecam the weight distribution does not have to be perfect either to still get a smooth shot, this is great for run and gun when you can't always count on a motor holding up for the entire shoot. The motor also is very susceptible to the cold due to the intricate mechanics of the system.

The Ronin however does trump the Glidecam in certain ways though. Getting low angle shots is extremely hard when the weights on the bottom of your Glidecam are hitting the ground. The Ronin is great for these types of shots because you are almost using your body as a crane and you can control the height of the Ronin to a much more specific point. The motor of the ronin, while running haywire occasionally, does however help with any bumpy steps you are taking as well.

Sachtler having combined these two amazing tools is really on to something. As mentioned earlier a new age of filmmaking with emerge from this system, but it is also costs about 15,800 Euros at the moment and the price truly makes it a professional piece of equipment. I previously thought the Movi would be the top stabilizer in the industry for sometime, however this industry changes faster than you can adjust and I'm sure this currently revolutionary equipment will soon be outdated and the bigger and better stabilizer will be running the streets soon.

"The Revenant" might change the way movies are made, but at what cost?

Make no mistake, guys: I'm excited for The Revenant. It's got everything that I need in a movie right now, including camera work by my boy Emmanuel Lubezki, lots of people running around in bear-skin clothing, actual BEARS, and Leonardo DiCaprio in another intense role that he probably won't win an Oscar for, even though he completely deserves it. It's got Tom Hardy. It's got action, revenge, old-timey guns. I mean hell, it's got this trailer.

But it's also got Alejandro Inarritu. And yes, oddly enough, that might just be a bad thing.

Inarritu got a lot of recognition really quickly earlier this year when his little film "Birdman" won best original screenplay, best director, and best film at the 2015 Oscars. It was also, coincidentally, one of my favorite films of the years. Accolades aside, though (because let's be honest, awards mean nothing in the scheme of things) it was a really impressive film, both technically and in terms of the performances strangled out of its actors. The cinematography was just delightful to watch, and no other movie has made me said "woah, yeah, ok, Emma Stone can really act." It was great.

Fast forward one year and here we are, with another Inarritu film garnering buzz just as awards season lumbers towards us. This one is based on "actual events," and centers around the fur trapper Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio) after he is mauled by a bear, robbed by his friends, and left to die. You had me at "actual events."

One of the big selling points for the movie, for film nerds at least, is that the whole thing has reportedly been shot using only natural lighting. A second look at the trailer shows that this just might be the case. Lubezki has also been utilizing more of the long takes that he so enjoyed in Birdman and Children of Men, so combined with the lighting, this movie seems like it was probably an ungodly pain in the ass to make... And that's the problem.

Reports from the set have literally called it "a living hell." And who could blame them. If even half of the stories coming off the set of the Revenant are to be believed, then it's time Inarritu stops, takes a deep breath, looks at himself in a mirror and says "what the fuck is the point of it all." The full report from the Hollywood Reporter is right here in all it's glory, but reports include: asking actors to go without hats and glove in -40 degree weather because it was supposed to be autumn in the film, dragging a naked character along the ground with debatable safety precautions, and cutting holes in the necks of wetsuits so that characters in water looked like were actually submerged.

A lot of blame has been thrown around, but it ultimately comes back to Inarritu and producer Jim Skotchdopole. Other issues with the film included scheduling dates (Hardy was forced to drop out of Suicide Six due to an elongated Revenant schedule), weather problems, and miscommunication. All of this leads me to ask: ultimately, at what cost are you willing to make a good movie? Right now, I'm sacrificing sleep and possible good grades in other classes so that I can do an extra bit of location scouting. I'm kind of sick, but whatever, I'll deal with it. But if we're to believe some of these reports, the crew of the Revenant were more than just a little uncomfortable or chilly: they were potentially in danger.

I've said this in past blog posts too, but I'll say it again; it's so incredibly important to put things in perspective. Yes, the Revenant may revolutionize the way movies are shot, and yes, maybe it'll end up being my absolute favorite film of the year. Maybe of all time. Maybe it'll finally get Leo that Oscar. But you can never forget, through it all, the things that really matter. Nobody in the film industry benefits from reports like these. Art is great, yeah, but never outstay your welcome.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A camera that makes you be original

Philipp Schmidt, a photographer and designer, has recently released prototype designs of a camera that forces the photographer to take original photos.

This is only a prototype, currently 3D printed with a controller inside, but the concept remains the same. The camera searches the web for photos taken within a 35 meter radius, and displays the number found with a counter on the back of the camera. If the counter displays a number too high the camera will prevent you from taking a photo. When too many photos have been taken the viewfinder will display a red "X" indicating that it will not allow you to take a picture.

The camera was designed primarily to "help the photographer avoid contributing to the ever-growing mountain of duplicate images available online." This would pose problems for tourists who often seek popular places to take photographs while on vacation. 

Schmidt has failed to mention the benefits of choosing this camera over a more standard DSLR design, currently there only appear to be restricting negatives. It is possible that more information will be available closer to release when more designs have been prototyped but currently I am struggling to see the benefits of shooting with this camera over another. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Stephen Colbert Creates a Different Lie

We all know Stephen Colbert as the guy who pretended to be a Republican pundit on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Some of us, of the more liberal persuasion, were comforted by the warmth of the satire. But that security blanket is gone and the honest persona has entered the scene, the real Stephen Colbert as brought about by The Late Show With Stephen Colber. However I think we were lucky to find that he's still funny and personable, I know I was excited to watch this new Stephen. But, to mimic the dramatic affect of Colbert's former character, we're still being lied to.

Back in August, Glamour magazine ran an article, written by Colbert and some of his writers, promising to make his new show a place where women would have a presence. It was called "Stephen Colbert Shares Why He Thinks Women Should Be in Charge of Everything". Colbert wrote impassioned about his quest to make sure The Late Show would be a feminist creative space, one that late night television specifically was lacking. Here are some choice sections I'll share:

"While there are many talented female comedians out there, right now the world of late-night is a bit of a sausagefest."

"To be honest, sometimes I wonder whether the world would be a better place if women were in charge. It would be pretty easy to make that happen. Simply tell the men of the world that you're trying to start a campfire. While we're all arguing with one another about proper kindling placement and whether using lighter fluid is cheating,* women can just quietly start getting stuff done."

"Point is, I'm here for you, and that means I'm going to do my best to create a Late Show that not only appeals to women but also celebrates their voices."

Women everywhere, including myself, rejoiced! "Yes" I thought, "Stephen Colbert has follow through, this will be the first late night show that gets ahead of that criticism and we'll see a balance in late night comedy"


The Late Show With Stephen Colbert has exactly 2 female writers. There are 17 male writers. And then an additional 0 women. Stephen Colbert has yet again feigned sincerity to bring attention to an issue. Except this time instead of playing a trick old evil Republican old white dudes he's fooling women everywhere, especially female comedians. And just like the members of the GOP, I feel let down to realize he's not actually on our side.


Friday, September 11, 2015


Yeah I'm late. BUT thats only because I heard about this announcement from Sony and I wanted to wait to see if it got confirmed today. It did! The A7S II is finally here and it is impressive. The camera builds on the power of its predecessor while introducing new elements from the A7R line. Notably, the camera now shoots natively in 4K. Unlike the previous model, which you would need an external recorder to squeeze out any more than 1080p, this one shoots it directly onto your cards. The low light range has been kept the same (still absolutely insane at a possible 400,000+ ISO) but an added bonus is the internal image stabilization that we saw introduced to the A7 and A7R lines not too long ago.

As an active proponent for Canon, even I am finding it difficult not to make the switch when such amazing possibilities are becoming available. The only thing that is currently keeping me where I am is the lens selection, but their 8K cameras are still less than impressive. Its time for them to pick up their game and catch up with the advancements of Sony.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Spaced is a British sitcom directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg as Tim, and Jessica Stevenson as Daisy. The show was short-lived, as it only ran for two seasons - one in 1999 and then again in 2001. Spaced revolves around Tim and Daisy, two somewhat comically depressing protagonists, both of whom are looking for an apartment after getting kicked out of their respective homes. Initially strangers, Tim and Daisy meet coincidentally while both looking at the same apartment ad. While the apartment seems to be the perfect match for both of them, the landlady requires tenants be a ‘professional couple.’ So of course, Tim and Daisy pose as a couple to get the apartment. 

Spaced has a couple big appeals to me, the first of which is the supporting characters and their interactions with each other. Supporting characters are comprised of Tim’s friends, Daisy’s friends, and other people in the apartment building. Very few characters in the show had ever known or met each other beforehand, and they all represent vastly different character tropes. These characters are all comically exaggerated, such as Tim’s best friend Mike Watt (played by Nick Frost) - a member of the Army Reserves, a job which he takes very seriously much to his avail. The fact that most characters in the show are strangers with one another along with the extreme clashing of character types leads to many hilariously awkward and absurd situations. Here is one such situation in which Tim has a 'heart-to-heart conversation' with his neighbor Brian, an eccentric tortured artist:

Secondly, the main appeal which drew me into the show was the director and actors. I found Spaced quite some time after it originally aired, after watching and loving Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. These movies are the first two of the “Cornetto Triology”, all of which were made by the trio of Edgar Wright (director/writer), Simon Pegg (writer/actor), and Nick Frost (actor). Spaced allowed me to watch a creation from that same trio, that was made before the “Cornetto” films. That made it all the more interesting for me, as watching through you can basically see how the films evolved from the show. The comedic style and timing used are very similar, and even little things like transitions used and little quips from Simon Pegg carry over to the movies.

Spaced is somewhat unpolished and doesn’t really hold up from a production standpoint today, so it might not be the easiest show to get in to. But if you’re a fan of the “Cornetto Trilogy” and somehow haven’t seen Spaced, I’d recommend it. In the end, it’s only 14 episodes over two seasons, and a fun watch. 

It's Not the Camera...

The common questions that is raised among student filmmakers is, "What camera did you use?" While each camera has it's own perk, the Phantom with amazing variable frame rates, the RED with insane resolution reaching up to 8K, or even the A7s with its outstanding low light capabilities, it all really comes down to the operator. Its proven every day on Instagram that you can produce beautiful images with an Iphone or Go Pro. But there have also been plenty of bad movies shot on high level cinema cameras as well.

Above is a video created by DigitalRev that shows filmmaker Philip Bloom create a very unique piece of work with just the camera that comes in a specialized Barbie doll. If you have the chance to watch it please do, it is quite amusing and the results will amaze you. Below is the trailer to a recent Sundance film that was shot completely on the Iphone 5s and has been one of the most talked about movies to come out of the festival.

These are just two real world examples of how the camera really doesn't matter when it comes to story. Films are about relaying a message. Even though I would love to shoot pretty Bokeh images all day long, the fact of the matter is viewership comes from how well the story is told. Only the film students in the audience will be thinking about what camera and lens the DP used, the rest of the audience will be focused on what is happening in the universe that is being created before their eyes.

Composition of shots and the technical precision of the camera work will be noticed in film only when done badly. But when done right, these factors drive the film. Blown out windows is commonly a jarring feature of a movie and the most common mistake among students is breaking the 180 degree rule. But both a RED and a Iphone can break this universal rule.

We are no longer in the age of film where every shot literally costed money. With digital media you can shoot for hours on end for no extra cost, and this has created a shift in the way filmmakers work. Any yahoo can operate a camera but doing it well is another story. 3 hours worth of bad footage will never trump the longed for 1 minute tracking shot. We are sacrificing quantity for quality and students are the number one culprit. We need to get back to focusing on how the technology we have available to us can add to the story rather than focusing on what certain cameras can and cannot do. Will 4k really make your movie better? Or is it just being used because thats what "The Hobbit" shot in? Story is the center of cinema, the camera is what relays that story, they are two separate factors that combine to make a masterpiece, but only when sculpted together with the right hands.

'Girl Meets World': An Automatic Marketing Winner

I was very cautious going into my first episode of 'Girl Meets World,' Disney's new (as of 2014) spin-off of the popular 90s ABC sitcom 'Boy Meets World.' I, probably like you, followed the life and love story of Cory Matthews and his girlfriend (later wife) Topanga, and fell deeply in love with best friend-sidekick Shaun Hunter.

'Girl Meets World' takes place more than a decade later. Cory and Topanga's daughter, Riley, is trying to navigate her tween years -- and problems that go with them -- especially in regard to bonds with family and friends. At John Quincy Adams Middle School in Manhattan, Riley finds being a student more difficult because her dad is a history teacher there, and she's in his class. Her mom, a lawyer, is involved in her social life and owns a trendy teen hangout. Among Riley's classmates are best friend Maya (who reminds us oh so much of Cory's childhood bestie Shaun), crush Lucas, and quirky Farkle (son of Cory and Topanga's classmate Stuart Minkus).

You can see why I was nervous. 'Girl Meets World' had (and still has) some big shoes to fill, with its predecessor having a seven season run. But I had to watch it. I mean, they got Ben Savage and Danielle Fischer to reprise their roles as Cory and Topanga. So I watched the pilot. Then I watched the next one. Then I binged the entire season.

Whether you're a fan of 'Boy Meets World' or not, 'Girl Meets World' is important and I'll tell you why. I haven't watched a show on Disney Channel by choice in years, but I had to watch this one. 'Boy Meets World' ran from 1993-2000 and a lot of their fans are now parents. As a generation of new parents watch characters they watched as teens become parents themselves, Disney is perfectly targeting adults and teens with this new show.

Not to mention, we're all guilty of claiming the children's programming back in our day was way better than the crap they make nowadays. Well now the youth of America is experiencing the brilliance of Mr. Feeny and his lessons. Only this time it's Cory giving the lesson, not Feeny. Just imagine how satifying that must be for those parents. 'Boy Meets World' was a genius franchise to build on. You can watch season 1 of 'Girl Meets World' on Netflix.

Children of Men (and why it's my favorite movie)

This past weekend I watched the film Children of Men for probably the 8th time in the past two years. My girlfriend and I have a running list of films to watch and since she has never seen this movie and I have, we decided on it.

For those of you haven't heard of or seen Children of Men, the film is set in 2027 when infertility strikes the planet and women around the world are unable to reproduce. It's been over 18 years since the last child was born, and the world has literally gone to shit. Not only has the world stopped producing children, but much of the world is either at war or has collapsed. Britain, where the film is set, is the only functioning government. The country is dealing with a massive refugee crisis, with government propaganda everywhere telling the population to be vigilant and see something and say something. Seen throughout the movie are shots of people locked in cages, treated like cattle with dozens of police making their lives even more of a hell than it already is. The main character, Theo, who is played by Clive Owen, is a drunk living in Britain. After almost dying in a bombing, he is thrust into helping a young, pregnant woman, who is being moved by the Fishes, a terrorist group. The group wants to take her to meet with the Human Project, which is a group of scientists who are working to find a fix to humanity's most pressing issue ever. His ex-wife, who is the leader of the terrorist group, recruits him to get transit papers for the girl. Because of the complexity of these documents, Theo is accidentally pushed to come on the trip. Along the way, his ex-wife, Juliann, is killed by another member of the group who wants to use the woman's baby as a tool for a coming revolution. Theo learns of this and takes her to Bexhill, a large refugee camp on the coast where he finally meets up with the Human Project.

Wow, that was a lot. Through this film are heavy themes of dystopia and despair. These two are the reasons why I love the movie. I'm fascinated by the idea of the collapse of civilization. Not for the death of people, but how the world copes with such calamity, and how nature begins to take over. This can be seen with the schools that are
abandoned because of the lack of children. As for the world coping, in Children of Men, it is barely hanging on. For example, the United States, after having nukes dropped on the country, is embroiled in a civil war. One of the most powerful nations in history is turned to nothing.