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 It is an old mill that has been converted to loft apartments, and the circuitry is quite outdated.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.