Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Movie at Walmart

Yesterday was the North America release date for the film I wrote and directed entitled "The Solomon Bunch." Marty Kendra, who starred in the film as Officer Perry, posted this picture to Facebook showing them on the shelves at Walmart. We are currently working on finding the right distributor for the foreign release and may even have a bit of a limited theatrical release (it's backwards, I know).

I have been spending most of my time over the last couple of weeks writing another family feature that we will likely shoot in the summer. This one is set in Washington DC, although the large majority will be shot in and around Atlanta, GA.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Leatherman Raptor Videos

As promised in an earlier post, here is the finished version of the promotional piece for the new Leatherman Raptor. The tool was very well received at the recent SOMA expo in Tampa, FL, which is a trade show specifically for Special Operations Medics.

Promotional Video
Web Spot

Friday, December 21, 2012

One Hour Music Video

Yesterday I recorded a video for my kids' school. They are entering a contest by Rack Room Shoes in which the school can win $15,000 if their video gets the most votes. Instead of just setting up a camera and filming from one location, I decided to spice it up a bit. Once they were all in place and ready to go, I only had one hour, so I had to move fast, but here is the process I used to pull it off.

Step One - Sound. I recorded sound using essentially 10 microphone sources spread amongst three devices. A Tascam DR680 recorded the four "close" mics. These included three Shure SM-58's in front of the choir and one AKG C451 in front of the flute section (since they tend to get overpowered by the rest of the band). You can see the recorder sitting on a chair in front of the conductor. A Tascam DR40 was set up about 30 feet behind the conductor to record the room (on the onboard stereo mics)--and the band on a couple of AKG C535's set about 10 feet in front of each side of the band. I also mixed in a little audio from the camera mics that was recorded during the master shot.

Step Two - Master Shot. At the same time I was recording sound, I shot the master on the Sony EX1. This was a simple dolly back and forth on a wide shot of the band entire group (almost). I used my pipe dolly on the hardwood floor instead of on pipes with the tripod at its maximum height, so it is a little shaky in a couple of spots. I did not take the time to stabilize the footage in post.

Step Three - Closeups. After about 20 minutes, we felt like we had a start-to-finish performance of the song that was as good as they could do. I had the conductor put on a set of headphones to listen to playback from the DR680 recording. For the next 30 minutes, the group performed the number about 10 more times as he directed them in-time with our master audio recording. Each time, I shot handheld footage from different angles all around the room. On these, I had to keep the conductor out of the shot since he was wearing headphones instead of the Santa hat. For a final take, he put the hat on again and directed without listening to the recording (This take's footage was, of course, not synced to the recording, so a little adjusting had to be done on the timeline during the edit--but not a big deal at all).

Step Four - Making Up. When we were finished I had to then apologize to the students for yelling at them so much while shooting (mostly for looking at the camera and for trying to sit down between takes) and to tell them they did a great job.

Step Five - Editing. To sync my video takes and audio sources, I set each clip to start at the frame where you hear the attack on the first note of the song. Once they were all lined up top to bottom on the timeline, I threw away the audio portion of every video clip except the master shot. Then, I spent a couple of hours essentially doing a multi-camera "shoot". I chose the best shots I had at each point in the song, with the wide shot being my go-to whenever there was nothing better. I did move a few shots from one chorus to the other as needed, but mostly they stayed in place on the timeline. After editing, I added a little reverb to the close mics to make them match the sound in the room and corrected a few shots for brightness. The final look is a desaturation with a touch of sepia tone added. A vignette was added as well. Watch the final product here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Location With America's Finest

This week we are in production on several promotional pieces for a new tool coming soon from Leatherman. We have had a "blast" shooting with Navy SEAL's, Marine Recon and other tier one special forces operators. We shot at T1G in Arkansas, a specialized military training facility, where we got some amazing footage of firefights and rescues as well as fantastic slow-motion shots of explosions.

We also shot at Combat Hard in Atlanta for footage of a SWAT team in action. It's amazing what a little bit of smoke and haze can do, and I was excited to see some of the images we were able to get in the shoot-house at this facility.

In the bottom photo, Leatherman Senior Designer Anthony Perez looks on as we set up a shot. I am looking at a Blackmagic Smartview Duo monitor (which gave me two 8" monitors--one for each of our two primary cameras). In order to shade the monitors from the sun, it is mounted on the rails at the back of the case.

There is a lot to talk about from this shoot, and maybe I will get a chance to do that once the project is complete.

Shooting a Parade

This was fun. We shot the Atlanta Parade of Excellence on Saturday in downtown Atlanta. It was broadcast on the local ABC affiliate, WSB TV. I had the long lens shot using a 70x lens. I was so far away, that I could not really even pick out which group we were covering when I tried to look out from behind the camera. It was a great angle, though for getting the front of each group. Since I was the furthest down the street, I was also the "salvage shot" in case the anchors talked for too long about a particular float. Jovita Moore had to anchor on her own for the start of the show since her co-host Fred Blankenship was running behind. Once he arrived, she simply said, "Fred Blankenship joins us it was planned all along.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Compromising Situations

Here are a couple of picts from a shoot that I lit last week. We were on the rooftop of a building in  Atlanta shooting promos for a cable television network.

Most of our lighting came from the sun. We used silks and bounce as creatively as possible for each of the different angles that they chose to shoot. We used just one light for the shoot, the ARRI M18, an 1800 watt HMI, and had quite a time keeping even that one on using the power from the  building. It is an old mill that has been converted to loft apartments, and the circuitry is quite outdated.  The HMI was used as the key light when the subject was backlit by the sun, and as the rim light when the sun was the key.

Our biggest issue on the shoot (other than fog that would not lift for several hours) was that a key visual element in each shot was a large sheet of plexiglass on which an artist was painting. And, of course, every camera, stand and lighting instrument was reflected in the shot. It took very unique shooting angles and unconventional reflector placements to keep the shot clean. We kept our grips busy moving from spot to spot until we could find just the right position on each one. I think it turned out well in the end, although I much prefer being able to put the lighting where it needs to go rather than having to compromise. But, the fact is, compromise and creativity is a huge part of lighting for film and video. If every scene could be lit from a textbook, then anyone could do the job and it would not be nearly as much fun. It can be quite rewarding to end up with a great shot from a situation that seemed impossible when you first arrived on set. The challenge of it all is the thing that makes you actually look forward to working in the blistering Atlanta sun for 14 hours on the top of a building.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Amazing Equipment Cases

One of the best investments you can make is good quality cases for your equipment. Not only does it protect it from damage, but it makes everything easier to transport--and makes you look more professional (much better than showing up with stuff in cardboard boxes and WalMart bags, both of which I have been guilty of at some point in the past). The problem is that good cases are usually very expensive. I have recently come across a company that makes a very high quality case at an incredibly affordable price. This case, which has an interior dimension of 19.75" x 14" x 8.5" and high-quality pick-and-pluck foam, is just $65 plus shipping. When you consider that a case from Pelican (the industry standard) of the same size and build quality will run two to three times as much, this is a fantastic price. My only complaint is that they do not offer any cases that are larger than this, though it is possible that they will in the future. This particular case is just right for sound equipment, DSLR cameras, lenses, handheld camcorders, hard drives, field monitors and any number of other pieces of equipment you may have. Check out Bolton Tools and pick up some of these cases for your gear. You will not be disappointed in what you get.

Your Extensive Music Library

I am asked the question often, "Where do you get the music for your videos?" The answer is, "Wherever I can find it!" Occasionally, I will be working on an edit that has the budget for original music, and I am able to work with a composer. However, the majority of the time, I am  simply searching through whatever resources I own or can find online to come up with the right cut of music. The best option for most projects is royalty-free music. This means that once you purchase the song, you are able to use it in any of your everyday productions without paying any additional fees. (I should note that even royalty-free providers usually have limitations on use. For example, they might say an additional license must be purchased if it is used in a production that will have more than 10,000 copies made or that will be used on national network.) There are tons of options for royalty-free music, and a quick Google search is a good place to start. Here are a few sources I use for finding music. Some are collections you purchase, and some are online collections that offer single song licenses for purchase: My Music Source, Digital Juice, Footage Firm, Sounddogs, SoundRangers, Audio Jungle,, Pond5 and a few more that I am sure I am forgetting. If there are some other good ones that you use, please let me know! The good news is that there are tons of options. When I first started working in radio/tv, at most stations we would generally have one CD library of anywhere from 10-30 discs. And because most of those discs were specialized and rarely useful (eg. Caribbean, Techno, Punk, Metal, Groovy, etc.), you pulled most cuts from about 3 or 4 discs (eg. Corporate, Motivational, Reflective, Up Tempo, etc.). That was it. Producing several spots a day sometimes, the same songs got used over and over and over. That is not a problem anymore. There is plenty to choose from, it just takes a little time to track it down.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Recording Contest for Pianists

One of my clients, Greg Howlett, and I have teamed up for a contest offering a free recording to the pianist with the best overall skill and originality. The contest involves submitting one song for review that will be judged not only by Greg, but by online voting as well. I will be offering my engineering services for the recording, and Greg will be acting as producer. We plan to record either at the Murray SoundLab in Atlanta (pictured here) or at Playground Recording Studios in Nashville. Both are great facilities with fantastic pianos. You can read more about what is offered (about a $6,000 value) by visiting the Greg Howlett website. Pass the word along if you know any great piano players. Submissions are accepted through the end of October.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New EF Mount Cinema Lenses

One of the problems with shooting films on DSLR and a few other new cinema cameras is that lens choices are severely limited. Really, the only choice for a true cinema lens with a Canon mount is the Zeiss CP.2 compact primes at over $4,000 per lens. Up until now, the next best thing was simply using still lenses, which are very difficult to pull focus on, are prone to breathing when focusing and do not have gears for a follow focus to make use of. They also have an obvious visible transition from f-stop to f-stop. Of course, film makers have had to find work-arounds and make modifications--or simply accept these problems as a part of their productions.

Rokinon has recently released the first couple of lenses in their new Cine Lens series. They solve all of the above problems and have a consistent front diameter between lenses, which is a real time-saver when working with a mattebox and rail system. The 8mm Fisheye and 14mm lenses (T3.5 and T3.1 respectively) have been released already and the 24mm is coming any day. The 24, 35 and 85 lenses will all have a T1.5 rating, which is even better than the Zeiss CP.2's, most of which are at T2.1. Now, no one is saying these are better lenses than the Zeiss. They still do not have as long a focus throw as the CP.2's and the glass is not quite at the same level. Early reviews, however, say that the Rokinons are very sharp (aside from maybe the 8mm) and are great lenses--and the stuff they have had on the market for still shooters is top-knotch. Here's the thing. For an average price of only $600 per lens, you really can't go wrong using them for most projects. Low budget indy films will all be shot on these lenses for the next couple of years, since you can purchase a set for the same price you would pay to rent Zeiss lenses for a month of shooting. Definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sony FS-700 at "Home On The Range"

Here is the video I blogged about a few days ago. It was shot with two Sony FS-700's at a local gun range. Jon Minnihan brought a bunch of his guns and Derek Arwood and I shot a couple of sequences. The footage you see here was recorded to the internal SD card at either 240 or 480 frames per second, then transcoded to ProRes422(HQ) before editing. The color correction was done using FCP 7's built in 3-way corrector, and the look was applied with the Luca Visual FX plugin. The graininess and the softness in the blacks is all from the look. The image was very clean to start with. After watching my edit, you can take a look at Jon Minnihan's edit as well. And I don't need to hear how much better his is than mine, thank you very much.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Best Recorded Sound Quality?

JuicedLink has conducted a test that shows the capability of its Riggy Assist preamp/mixer for use with DSLR's. After having used DSLR's for a while now, I was resigned to the fact that you really have not choice but to record audio to an external recorder and sync in post when shooting anything where dialogue would be out front. With the Riggy Assist, however, you can get amazingly clean and fairly rich audio right in-camera. How clean? Well, actually very close to the Sound Devices 702 preamps--and far better than the Zoom H4N's.

This test was also very helpful in comparing the different types of external recorders. The Tascam DR-680 and the Sound Devices 702 were the clear winners here, not only for noise levels, but for quality of sound.

Thanks to for posting this very helpful comparison test. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shooting With the Sony FS-700

Had the opportunity to shoot some gun sequences yesterday on the new Sony NEX-FS700 camera. We were working primarily in super-slow motion, with the expectation that we will use a good bit of speed ramping in the final edit. Derek Arwood and Jon Minnihan (standing next to me) worked on the project as well. I will post the final edit here once it is complete so you can see how it turned out.

As far as observations with the camera. The workflow when doing super slow-mo is very different, especially when trying to move on a quick schedule. Because the camera needs time to write shots to the drive, you are forced to wait a while between shots. This, coupled with the time it takes to review slow-motion footage (which we did often)--over the course of a day can add hours of extra down time. At 240fps (the maximum fps at full 1920x1080 resolution), an 8-second capture (the maximum recording time allowed) takes around a minute and a half to play back at 24fps. It seems to write quite a bit faster than real time, but still takes a while. And the wait for shots at 480fps or higher are excruciating.

There are three record-button options for Super Slow Motion. In the first option, pressing the start button will record the next 8 seconds. The downside with this is that it does not allow you to see what you are shooting in real time. The moment you press the start button, it immediately begins showing you what it is writing to disk--the slow motion version. That means this option is virtually useless if you are following action. I should note here that we did not consult the manual, so it is possible I am wrong about this. In the second option, pressing the start button will record the previous 8 seconds (the camera is always buffering). We found this to be the most useful. Once the action is finished, you simply press the record button and it accepts that as the out-point. The third option is a combination of the two, in which the previous 4 seconds are recorded from buffer memory and the next 4 seconds are recorded after that.

The most difficult thing I found was the timing of shots. Any kind of creative movement requires planning. For example, I had a shot where I wanted to come out from behind the shooter's head just in time to see the target explode. In order to make that happen precisely, we had to do a three count. On two-and-a-half, I would quickly whip the camera (on a slider) out from behind his head in order to catch the target exploding as he pulled the trigger exactly on the count of three. All of this to get a final shot that looks like a nice slow dolly shot. There are also considerations when shooting handheld. On the positive side, it is next to impossible to shoot shaky footage. Even when running handheld, the footage seems very smooth. On the other hand, the minor corrections you do handheld, such as panning slightly past the subject in a swish pan and then correcting back to the proper composition can be problematic. Once played back in slow motion, it may take 10 seconds for the camera to "find" the proper composition. In the meantime, the viewer is watching something that feels very off.

These are just some quick and simple observations. The FS-700 is a great camera and the footage looks amazing. Any criticisms I have are far outweighed by the advantages this platform brings to the table. I look forward to shooting much more with it in the future.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Worst Movie Opening in History

In recent years we have seen a number of huge success stories at the box office. Films made for a few thousand dollars earning hundreds of millions on more than one occasion. But I guess for every amazing success, there has to be a dismal failure, and here it is. As a director, I hate to be critical of any film, since I realize there is much to criticize in my own work as well. However, this new film will likely become a study in what not to do. "The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure" debuted to the worst numbers in history last week, with a per-theater average attendance of around 30 people (or about 10 people per day)! The total spent on the picture, including advertising, was close to $60 million--actual production costs were about a third of that.

Now, first of all, if you were to guess the cost of production just based on what we see in the trailer, you would have to think the picture could have easily been made for under a million. The puppetry is strikingly bad and the cinematography only so-so. Aside from the sets and the well-known guest stars, the production value is very low. Of course, there are many films that you could say the same thing about--but none that spent 60 million to make $400,000 opening weekend.

The biggest problem I can see here is the decision to target the toddler market with a trailer that is almost exclusively crass humor. The target for this trailer really needs to be the parents--and you have to know that a large number of parents are looking for wholesome entertainment for their kids. Even if the film contains this type of humor, it would be wise to temper that for the purposes of the trailer when you are trying to get EVERY parent to shell out a substantial amount of money to take the kids to the theater. I assume this is a successful TV show, although I have never heard of it before this week, so there is also some disconnect with the parents and kids who are already fans. It seems they should have attracted a substantial audience just from that group--certainly more than 10 people per day per theater. If you have an interest in seeing the movie, you might check out WalMart as the DVD's will probably hit the stores before the week is out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Delivering to a Distributor

We just yesterday shipped off deliverables to Image Entertainment, the distribution company that will be handling the recent film I directed, The Solomon Bunch. It occurred to me that some may be interested in what a distribution company requires, since it is always good to know before you start what will be needed in the end. Of course, different companies have different requirements, and the requirements are also different when delivering for theatrical release than for DVD/VOD (as was the case with this one). Still, it may help to know the list we fulfilled for Image...

   • HD master of the feature in the original aspect ratio
   • HD master of the feature in 16:9 anamorphic (1.78 aspect ratio)
   • SD down conversion in original ratio enhanced for 16:9 anamorphic
   • SD pan & scan version in 4:3 ratio (this was not a lot of fun)
   • HD master of the trailer and bonus features
   • Viewable DVD's of each of the above for their reviewers

   • 4-Channel audio built into each of the above masters (1/2 Stereo, 3/4 Music & Effects Mix)
   • Dialog, Music and Effects stems as stand-alone stereo files
   • 5.1 Multi-channel surround file
   • All original music cues as stand-alone files
   • Playable audio CD containing all music cues for their reviewers

   • Pop-on closed captions in the formats of .cap, .scc and .txt

Each of the master video files also had to include "textless elements at the tail." This means that any segment of the movie or trailer that included text (credits, location descriptions, etc.) had to be included at the end of the film as "clean" clips. When they do foreign language versions of the film, they will now be able to do new titles in place of the English. Also, with the sound DM&E files, they have the option to drop the dialog altogether in favor of a new language or they can simply duck the dialog track to a much lower level so as not to compete with the translation. This can be done without harming the music and effects levels, which they have as distinct "stems" (def: a sub-mixdown of all tracks in a particular category). What they were not interested in was any of the editing or mixing files from Final Cut/Avid/Nuendo, etc. The locked picture is all they required.

What I have listed here is the mastering deliverables only. There were also Creative and Legal deliverables. Creative included artwork, photos, logos, press reviews and quotes, etc. Legal included proof of ownership of all aspects of the film and story, copyright registrations, production contracts with cast, creatives, crew and locations, tax forms for the corporation and a certificate of E&O insurance (which is quite expensive, by the way).

Click the "Film Directing" link at right for more about what we learned on this film.

Storytelling Through Composition

In considering ways to make my blog as helpful and effective as possible, I think I have found a solution. I should just forward my domain to Shane Hurlbut's blog. I have mentioned his posts often, and I will reiterate that any videographer or DP should visit Shane's blog often. It is amazing how much insight he shares on things that are often closely guarded by the DP's who are the best in the business. This particular set of posts does not necessarily have any new revelations, but it does point out and illustrate some foundational things that we all need to learn and/or be reminded of. It also may introduce you to some new terms you are not familiar with (granted, some are Shane's own creations). The waister, choker, doinker and dirty over are all great tools to use in storytelling. And John Fording is a great way to naturally get to a closeup. Read to learn more.

Storytelling Through Composition Part I
Storytelling Through Compostition Part II

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One Trillion Frames Per Second!

For all of you who can't wait to get your hands on the new Sony FS-700 camera, here's a little rain on your parade. While you are shooting all of the amazing things that happen in slow-motion at 960 frames per second, someone else is shooting footage at 1,000,000,000,000 frames per second--and capturing light in motion. This new trillion fps camera is amazing, and captures images in such extreme slow-motion that it would take an entire year to watch a bullet travel the length of this Coke bottle. I doubt we will see this camera in the B&H catalog any time soon, but this video is well worth the few minutes it will take to watch it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunset Jazz at Chastain

Shot video on Saturday night for a concert event at Chastain Park in Atlanta. The 7,000-seat amphitheater was sold out for the concert, which featured a number of the country's top jazz artists, including legendary saxaphone player David Sanborn teamed up with Brian Culbertson for an amazing performance (pictured here).

I can't post any of the video I shot since I do not own it (this pict is from my iPhone), but here is a link to one of Culbertson's videos.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Congrats to the Bates!

I am excited for my friends, the Gil Bates family, who this week had their first show on TLC. Many people know them already from their regular appearances over the years on the Duggar's show, 19 Kids and Counting. They are a great family and I have enjoyed working with one of their talented family members, Erin, as producer in the recording studio (TLC taped one of our sessions, but I am sure I was not pretty enough to make the cut). Check out their show each week at 9pm Eastern on the TLC network. You can purchase Erin's CDs on their personal website.

The Aspire Network

Shot a promo earlier this week for the  brand new Aspire Network. This is an Atlanta-based cable/satellite network that has only been on the air for a month or two. Magic Johnson is the owner of the network and the target audience is African-American families. They are currently airing popular shows of the past such as The Cosby Show, but are beginning production on new shows that are uplifting and inspirational.