Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stills from Dan Norton's short,"Proverbs 31"

So, the film negative came back from the lab and Dan put together the first pass of the rough cut. I have to admit, I was worried about a lot, considering it was officially my first time DPing a 16mm short. Not only that but it was sort of shot in a rush so we were worried how it would cut together.

Today I went to a screening for Dan's production class at SVA. I have to admit I'm very surprised and impressed with the way it came out. Check out these still frames from the rough cut. I should be posting the final cut with in a week or two, depending on Dan's busy schedule since he's the editor.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My first 16mm Shoot as DP

Over this past weekend, I shot an experimental, black and white 16mm film in Brooklyn with my close friend Dan Norton. Dan and I graduated from The Art Institute together and he's currently studying at the film at the School of Visual Arts. This project is for his final in production class and we shot it in his grandmother's basement. The concept was his idea, and we ended up co-writing/directing the piece. I was the DP for the film. We made up the entire crew so you can only imagine the challenges!

Dan came to me with references from the film Napoleon. I wasn't able to find clips of the film to post but I will see if Dan can provide me with some. I forgot when the film was made but it came out in the early 1900's and was one of the first films to try what is now wide screen. They positioned three cameras side by side and recorded footage simultaneously. The images from each camera were synced together and scaled down to fit all 3 into a projection without distorting the image or stretching it out. Sometimes the film would display three different shots on the screen at once.

We ended up checking out an Arriflex 16BL from SVA's production house. This camera is very old, made in West Germany in the 1960's, so it was quite an experience. Dan wanted to get an Arriflex SR but they were all reserved. The button to roll the camera was slightly broken so we had to hold it down in order to get a successful take all the way through, otherwise it would stop rolling at random times. I must admit, I was a bit paranoid about loading both the feed and take of the magazine in the tent but it was a lot easier than I thought. On the SR models, the feed and take are on two different sides of the magazine. The feed side must always be done in the tent but the take side can usually be done in the light if it has it's own side on the mag with it's own door.

Loading the mag in the changing tent

Threading the film to the registration pin and pull-down claw

Dan wanted to go for a similar editing style with this experimental film. The only difference is we didn't have three cameras. We had a black back drop to work with and a small Mole Richardson light kit which consisted of three 650W fresnels. Not much, but we figured out a system that would work (at least we hope).

Adjusting the mole light. Creating fill by bouncing from the white ceiling.

1) In the edit there will be three images on the screen.

2) The main character goes through the story in her own form of dance which will show mood and conflict.

3) She will always be traveling from screen right to screen left. This gives it a 2D feel.

4) She will pass through each image as if they were one entire image so when she leaves the frame of one image, she enters another.

5) Each image will be slightly different, either in the main props or the lighting.

Scene 1 in a forest of lights

It was a pretty short day although it was longer than we thought. We sort of thought up the concept on the fly. At the same time our actress became ill during the shoot which slowed things down dramatically but she was great and stuck it through like a champ!

My only concerns, considering that this is my first time working with 16mm film, is that it's all correctly exposed. I've been studying my ass off and reading all sorts of content on working with film. I hate to admit it but I'm a bit spoiled from working with digital since i could make a mistake and see it right away if I could correct the issue. I will know how the footage looks in 10 days once Dan picks up the film from the lab. The film should be complete before January and I will hopefully be able to post it ASAP.

Monday, November 30, 2009

"No Pay?"

I absolutely love the art of cinematography and film making in general. I'm sure about 80% of everyone who graduated from film school feels the same way. But how in the world are we supposed to make a living off of this if no one is paying? All of us poor film school grads spend thousands of dollars to earn a degree in what seems to be an impossible industry at the moment. I feel as though the only ways to survive are:

-Having you're own gear that you bought yourself.

-Knowing someone else who owns gear and will be willing to negotiate a split in profits.

-Graduating 5-10 years before when things were better.

I'm just frustrated with how this seems to be going for me and most of my fellow grads. I hope things get better soon.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Film Camera Tutorials

I found these amazing film camera tutorials on Vimeo. I found them to be extremely helpful. Check them out.

Bolex Reflex 16mm Motion Picture Camera from Adam Olson on Vimeo.

"Anyone But Me" Webisode Series

This posting may be slightly late but last week I worked as a 2nd AC on a webisode series called "Anyone But Me". Here's a brief summary of the film that I found on the webisode's main site.

"When 16 year old Vivian McMillan has to move from New York City to the suburbs, her relationships, past and present, are tested. And her identity goes through seismic changes. The daughter of a NYC firefighter, Vivian has no choice but to leave the city with her dad after health problems he suffered trying to save people on September 11th force him to retire. This moving, funny, and relevant new drama speaks to all ages and hearts as it follows the journey of six teenagers and the adults who try to understand them."

We shot on the HVX200 with a Brevis 35mm adapter and nikon primes. I had the privilege to work under cinematographer, Ava Berkofsky. She was very fun to work with and gave me a pointer or two on 2nd ACing. She actually ended up having me swinging between 2nd AC and Grip since the crew was somewhat skeleton. It was cool of her to trust me on both departments although I was still learning a little bit. Of course my main duty was a 2nd AC but I was in charge of dumping the footage from the P2 cards, something I'm very familiar with. Luckily nothing went wrong during the transfers and that made the director, Tina Cesa Ward, very happy. We had some great locations, one being an apartment on Central Park West with awesome views of the city. The other locations was a house located in Westchester, and Brooklyn School of the Arts which was amazing to shoot in considering all of the wonderfall artwork all over the building. We shot in one of their art studios, their auditorium, as well as the girls bathroom. This shoot set the record for my longest time in a girls bathroom haha. It was pretty tight in there considering there was a 2k mole and 2 4-bank kinos and a chinaball set up. It was surpisingly cool and breezy in the bathroom despite all the lights and people that were crammed into the space.

Shout outs to the amazing crew but especially Omar for picking me up in the mornings from my house and giving me a ride to the sets. I don't think any one's ever given me that favor before haha. Everyone who is reading this should check out the "Anyone But Me" website and watch season 1 before season 2 is edited and posted online. I definitely enjoyed watching it as much as filming it and I'm looking forward to the next season. You can find out more about the series at its home site which is http://anyonebutmeseries.com/.

Also check out cinematographer, Ava Berkofsky's work at http://www.avaberkofsky.com/

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aaton XTR-J Camera Demonstration

Today, myself and two of my friends/partners went to Brian Fass' place for a Aaton XTR-J Camera Demonstration. It was our compensation for working for free on a low budget feature that he was DPing.

Since I come from a video background, I always imagined what it would be like to deal with actual film. Unfortunately, my film school experience wasn't glamorous enough to allow the gain of such hands on experience. That's why this demonstration meant so much to me. This is the starting block of gaining more experience on film cameras and possibly more job opportunities in the industry and hopefully Local 600.

Brian did a great job describing every piece of the camera starting with the body. First off, one of the best features of the camera is that it shoots Super 16mm as well as regular 16mm which eliminates the need for two different cameras. It's very basic, consisting of a PL mount (Positive Lock), a digital display which reads out the status of the magazine's roll, as well as battery information. On this specific version of the Aaton XTR, it takes 16v batteries instead of 12v, like on the normal XTR model. It has a film gate/aperture, registration pin, and shutter as well. The gate can be sealed off by a magnetic plate which is simply placed on top of it.

Batteries slide right into the back and are easy to mount and eject. Magazines are equally as user friendly, They just slide right in (you push until you hear a lock/click sound). Typically, you would want to check the film gate before loading any mags onto the body of the camera. This can be performed by simply shining a flashlight into it and checking for any artifacts such as hairs, dust, or oil (although no one should be touching the gate with their bare hands unless for reasons of repair). Using compressed air is a fast way to ensure that nothing stays there before mounting the magazine to the camera. Once the mag is secured on the body, you should turn the power on the camera which will activate the registration pin in the gate. That pin has to be synced with the perforations on the film (the holes on the side of the strip of film). You'll know it's synced correctly once you hear a click. Let the film role for a second to pass any flash frames (exposed film from loading and threading the mag) pass through the gate then turn the power off. You should wave a hand in front of the lens to notify the editor that those are just test frames which have no real use in the edit.

Lenses pop on very easy to the PL mount. It's pretty standard and self explanatory. Lucky I'm familiar with this mount because of working on the RED ONE recently.

Loading the magazine is very easy but would be too much to explain on this blog. Brian let all three of us practice on dummy rolls for now until a few weeks when we can practice using the changing bag and tent. You would normally put a fresh roll of 16mm film on the "feed" side of mag. This is where the film is fed through the film gate and then you have to thread the film through the "take" side of the mag where all the film goes once it's exposed. Threading the "take" side of the mag can be performed in light as these are going to be unusable "flash" frames. When a roll is finished, unloading the mag will obviously be performed in a changing tent to ensure that the film isn't further exposed beyond it's pass through the film gate.

We also briefly went over film stocks and ASA but more on that later. Again, a huge shout out and thank you to Brian Fass for allowing us to come to his house for two hours and listen to him discuss the camera. Also, shout outs to Kentrell and Agulo for making it out and making the demo more enjoyable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"iWrapz" ipod Accessory Spot

Yesterday I was a 2nd AC on a commercial for an i-pod accessory called "iWrapz". They are decals that you can put on your ipod and iphone and they come in different designs. It was shot on the RED ONE. It was a two camera shoot with one on sticks (tripod) and one on a steadicam which got some awesome moving and tracking shots of the product in use. It really came in handy when the Lamborghini rental showed up in Manhattan's financial district. An actor pulls up in the Lamborghini, parks, gets out of the car and receives a phone call. At that point the Steadicam does a CU of the product in use and makes a 180 degree move from behind the actor to the front of the actor. It was such an awesome shot. Half way through the day a jib-arm owner/operator came with his gear and used it in a BMX park located in Manhattan under the Brooklyn bridge. We shot a BMX rider doing tricks, then landing on a quarter half pipe, he then takes out his ipod to change a song then continues to ride down the quarter half pipe. The Steadicam got some great stuff of him doing tricks and spins.

What's interesting is I ran into several people from the Art Institute of New York City which is where I went to film school. At the beginning of the day there were a bunch of students looking for a shoot that their instructor organized. They though that the shoot I was on was that but they were looking for Ryo which is an intro to video teacher. They were on time but apparently he wasn't. They kept asking everyone on set about it but we didn't know anything about their project. I wonder if Ryo ever showed up for them. I also ran into Harley DiBlasio who is a fellow AINYC alumni. He graduated around the time that I started and he has a lot of experience in G&E (grips & electrics). His call was about half way into the day so i ran into him out of nowhere during lunch. Although we know who each other are, we haven't talked much before yesterday so I hope to work with this guy a lot in the future.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Canvas" Fashion Spot (at least I think it was a fashion spot...)

Yesterday I was on set as a 2nd AC for the RED ONE. It seemed like no one on the crew knew what we were really shooting or who it was for. But by the end of the day we concluded that It was a fun and playful spot for a somewhat decent fashion line. The spot's visual theme was "canvas", so the models were being playful in a white void and at the end they spray paint the "TV"screen of the viewer. This footage will be inter-cut with footage of the models in front of a very well art-directed set with paintings and art supplies. The lighting was of course very soft and high key and the models looked great.

Anyway, my intentions were to learn more about the RED ONE, and I did, thanks to Johnny who was the 1st AC/DIT (odd combination but it's because I wasn't fully knowledgeable on managing RED data. So I apologize to him for having to run back in forth between the dumping station and the monitor to pull focus for Chase (DP) lol), I was able to physically touch the camera more. By doing that I was able to confirm everything that I have been reading on the camera. The best thing Johnny taught me was how to work with lenses as the 2nd AC. How to mount and un-mount lenses on the RED Bayonet mount. He also taught me the proper way to hand off lenses to another person as well as what and what not to bring with you while running a lens from it's lens case. All great information! Thanks Johnny!

Unfortunately, there was no chance of me getting hands on with the RED data while dumping because the director's set up was not the correct set up for this work flow. Johnny was literally just copying all of the raw data onto the hard drives which he mentioned is completely unsafe because you should always look at the footage to spot any problems that might be fixable on set while everyone is still on set. It would be interesting if we shot all day and nothing came out right so then either we'd have to re-shoot or just leave it as is.

Aside from the things I learned during the beginning of the day during the set-up, a few cool things happened.

1) Flipping the RED ONE upside down and cradling it in your arm like a baby is pretty interesting. ( I had to hold it while Johnny mounted the base plate for the steady cam.)

2) Seeing the RED ONE on the steady cam was a treat in itself. It just looks bad ass.

But, believe it or not most of my day was pretty uneventful and boring. I ended up having to make runs with the Director for some things that he needed for the shoot. Packing a large pedestal (a metal spinning platform that runs on a motor with an adjustable speed) into his really expensive Mercedes was not fun. Somehow I ended up operating the fan to get movement in the clothes in model's hair. I was really bored but Johnny came over and joked around with me, He said "Hey there buddy, are you learning a lot today?!" and I said "Sure am!" haha. And of course the part with the high power fan and the models skirt and the fact that she's standing but im sitting Indian style on the floor but we're not going to get into that. There just wasn't that much for me to do this time around.

My point of view for most of the shoot. Behind the fan...

Anyway, it was a good day regardless and it was a lot better than sitting at home doing nothing. Shout outs to Johnny Sousa (1st AC/DIT), Chasel Bowman (Director of Photography), Zeynep Catal (Key Grip) and Blake Eichenseer (Gaffer). Great crew! I hope to see these guys again in the near future.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Halo 3 ODST: Live Action Trailer

I'm not saying that a Halo film couldn't be done before but I hope this trailer pushes the Halo film back into pre-production. With films such as District 9 with it's composting and creature design and Gamer with it's shot's that make you feel like you're in a game with the characters, I think we will definitely see something soon. Having the RED will significantly lower the budget of the film so more can go into the art direction and animation similar to what we saw in this amazing live action spot.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"The Existential Question" Short Film

I just came off of the first two days of production on the short film called "The Existential Question". The first time director, Ernesto Diaz, did pretty good for being inexperienced. We had a lot of fun and the story is great from what I saw on set. More on that later. Actually the diner scenes took place in Clinton Diner where a scene from Goodfellas was shot as well as a car chase scene from The Sopranos, so it was a very cool location. I'm going to have to come back one day with Pia (my girlfriend).

I was assigned as a grip but shortly after arriving on set on the first day I was quickly promoted to gaffer. I guess the other guy didnt show up. The same thing happened to Emilie Jackson who was the other grip but ended up 1st ACing. Pretty interesting. She kicked ass by the way. We worked along side cinematographer, Marcin Kapron, who was great fun to work with. We shot on the Sony EX-1 with a letus 35 extreme and carl zeiss primes. The shots came out great and Marcin provided his awesome hand-held style to many of the shots. I ended up learning more on different types of diffusion for controlling light. I was also inspired to research more on different types of gels thanks to Marcin.

Other than those major details, shout outs to Jaime Ekkens (2nd AC), Spencer Moore (Boom Op), Emilie Jackson (1st AC), Marcin Kapron (Cinematographer), and all the wonderful crew and amazing actors that I didn't list. I hope to work with these guys again soon.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Today was my second shoot using RED stock. Actually it was a 2 RED camera shoot this time. Cool stuff! I was brought on board by Brendon Cochrane (DIT/RED owner) as a camera intern primarily to gain hands-on experience with the RED camera. This production was perfect for me to learn because it was a talking head style shoot which consisted of only Interviews. The set wasn't so busy so Tony Segreto (Camera Operator) was able to give me the very basics of the RED hardware.

First he took me through how to swap out batteries (RED Brick) and mount them to the camera body as well as the battery charger. What I found interesting is that it doesn't slide onto the camera like a typical Li-Ion battery. Instead it connects to the body with a DC power cable. What I found convenient and safe was that all the RED cables use a hook system. When the cable is plugged into the body or accessory, there are hooks that lock it in. You hear a click and and you know it's secure. If you try to pull it out it wont come out. In order to disconnect the cable you have to pull down the metal sleeve on the connection head in order to disengage the hooks. Once that happens it's safe to pull out the cable.

Soon after I learned how to load and unload the RED hard drive (Digital Magazine) from the camera. It's the same process as ejecting a hard drive from a mac, very easy. Loading is easy as well. Once the Hard drive is connected to the camera, it automatically reads the drive and knows that it's loaded and ready to go. Most of the time the mag will have clips already saved on it so it's best to format the drive and give it a new reel number before the camera is ready to shoot.

I feel great about my new knowledge of the RED and hopefully I'll be able to learn more during the next week or two if Brenden hires me on his next project.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shot on the RED: Gamer

I went to see "Gamer" with Pia (my girlfriend) today.

"Gamer" is a high-concept action thriller set in a near future when gaming and entertainment have evolved into a terrifying new hybrid. Humans control other humans in mass-scale, multi-player online games: people play people...for keeps. Mind-control technology is widespread, and at the hear
t of the controversial games is its creator, reclusive billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). His latest brainchild, the first-person shooter game "Slayers," allows millions to act out their most savage fantasies online in front of a global audience, using real prisoners as avatars with whom they fight to the death.

Kable (300's Gerard Butler) is the superstar and cult hero of the ultra violent "Slayers." Kable is controlled by Simon, a young gamer with rock star status who continues to defy all odds by guiding Kable to victory each week. Taken from his family, imprisoned and forced to fight against his will, the modern day gladiator must survive long enough to escape the game to free his family, regain his identity and to save mankind from Castle's ruthless technology.

It was definitely a ride. Gamer opened right away with a great hand-held action sequence with awesome editing and motion graphics effects. Ekkehart Pollack (DP) definitely pushed the RED to it's limits during these intense hand-held fire fights. From what I hear, the RED tends to dump footage during high impact and intense hand-held operation. So it seems as if that issue didnt come up during this production. His color and lighting treatments worked so well for the in game sequences with "Slayers" as well as "Society". "Society" is this films version of "The Sims" or "Playstation Home". Unfortunately, I couldn't find too many stills from those scenes. The lighting is very soft and even and all the colors pop. Instead, I'm going to compare the film stills to stills of actual games. I really felt like I was playing a video game when I was watching, haha. Below is at trailer to the film. Be sure to watch it in full HD to get as much quality as possible.


Video Game Stills

So i guess my point is that Ekkehart kicked ass and really made this film feel like a next generation game. You should check out Ekkehart Pollack's website.


He's definitely an up and coming feature DP worth mentioning!