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28 December, 2009

Happy Holidays!

2009 has been a nice year for me. I started it by making a film I'm really proud of, and throughout the year, my work has been very satisfying and quite diverse. Going from shooting the outrageous (and talented) Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert, to the classy (and also talented) Joshua Bell and, of course, Barbra Streisand. Lensing everything from art to coffee. One day out at the Easternmost tip of Long Island shooting a charity bike ride, and then two in Dallas, Texas covering the pilot program of a new wave in social and digital marketing. New clients and opportunities galore this year...

What's in store for 2010? Things look good for a follow-up to the Gevalia spot - this time for their tea lines. Also, I'm attached to shoot an independent feature film in May. Everything else will come as it comes and hopefully next year will continue to build on this year's momentum. Can't wait to see what's next.

Happy New Year, everyone!

07 December, 2009

More Music and More Live shooting

First thing's first - here are two pics from last week's Gevalia shoot. The shoot was awesome but my Blackberry takes crappy pictures. I'll see if I can get a hold of some production stills, but until then-

Setup for a macro shot on the water-level indicator.

The setup for a few passes on a wall of Gevalia boxes.

We shot on the Canon 5D mkII, an HDSLR, in 1080/30p. The day after this shoot, the production was to shoot a "coffee-tasting party" using mostly available light. Since all of their stuff would allow the windows to go blue, I decided that these product shots should carry over some of that look. I gelled the kitchen windows with half CTO (to get the daylight a little closer to our lights), and we shot with a Tungsten white balance. All in all, I'm VERY happy with the images we got. Just got word that the client was too and there will likely be more stuff coming our way from Gevalia.

Thanks to this shoot, I'm starting to really think hard about buying an HDSLR...

As for news, tomorrow night I've got another concert shoot with director, Scott Lochmus. Looking forward to the excitement and incredible pace and energy of shooting live to tape (a sort of oxymoron - meaning, the footage will be switched/edited in real time). I'll be operating alongside Roger Grange again, and what's particularly cool is that it's going to be a VERY different feel from the Streisand gig. The featured act is Lady Gaga, who I hear is quite the performer. Should be fun!

02 December, 2009

Testing, testing...

"Hi, my name is Dave, and I don't own an HD camera." "Welcome, Dave. We're all here to help."

(from a Cinematographers Who Haven't Made the Jump to HD Anonymous meeting)

I've shot HD before and it sure is lovely. I've actually used just about every different HD format currently available - they're all great. But they're not for me. I must admit, I'm wary to make an investment. Things are just shifting so rapidly, that I don't think I can safely make an investment that will pay out over time. If I always had my way regarding shooting format, I could get something, but for most of my for-hire shoots, the production decides. What if they want to use a different camera?!

That said, I think the time may be fast approaching when I should buy an HD camera - so, what to do? There are a plethora of options. If I wanted to spend more than ten grand, the decision is easier, but frankly, that's not what I want.

One of the current trends is HDSLR cameras - small cameras intended for still photography that are also quite capable hidef beauties. So, lately, I've been researching the different cameras out there - particularly the Canon 7D and 5D, and the Panasonic GH1. Number one research method is searching online for sample footage. So, I go on www.vimeo.com and search "7D." Results come up - countless videos titled "7D test." Great. Someone did the work for me. Click, open, load the video... WTF?!

By now, I've seen hundreds of shaky, out of focus, poorly lit, crappily composed, unstable footage set to great music. This tells me nothing. Just like when 35mm lens adapters were coming out, none of the videos online help me at all. What I need is real world film-style testing. Good composition, good lighting, appropriate camera movement - stuff that reflects what I'll be doing with the camera. Among the thousands of 7D videos online, but a few dozen are appropriate for my research, and they're damned hard to find.

So that's it for this post. Sorry it's just a rant, but that's what I felt like today. Tomorrow I'm shooting some product work for Gevalia coffee - I think I'll have a nice amount of freedom to do my thing, so I'm looking forward to it. If I remember, I'll take stills and finally have some shots to share.

21 November, 2009

Everything is bigger... except the lighting setups...

So Dallas was cool. Didn't actually see much of it (working, you know?) but what I did see was nice. The hotel was SWEET and the food was great.

As for the shoot, the producer managed to get together a budget to fly me down there and put us up in a nice place, but other than that, the production's hands were sort of tied. So we had to make do with only what we could bring with us (which wasn't much) - no rentals or anything. As for lighting, all we could manage was a softbox setup (daylight and tungsten) and a small fresnel. And you know what? It turned out pretty darn well. I've always said you can make great images with very little more than skill and Dallas really drove that home. Sure, we fought a little with the finicky sun and didn't have much to work with location-wise, but I think I was able to get some really nice lighting and composition for our interviews. I should really start taking pictures on-set.

Also, the PAs in Texas are awesome. There are great ones in New York, but there are also a ton of people who are just "trying to work in film." It seems like in Texas - and other non-NY locales - that the PAs are not trying to do anything. They're working and that's that. This is what they do and they know their stuff. The first day, we had Ben - young guy with a lot of camera and grip experience. The second day, we had Tom - a real veteran. He's done it all, from being a stand in for Chuck Norris on two seasons of Walker: Texas Ranger, to producing an indie feature and even a string of large-scale live events. What a guy! Nice, totally knowledgeable, and constantly one step ahead of the game. On top of all that, after we wrapped, he found us a great Texas BBQ joint. Wow.

16 November, 2009

What a day!

Today is November 16th, 2009. Nice day so far.

First I received a package - opened carefully, found something bubbled and wrapped in paper and an envelope. It was an award and a letter. Turns out my short film, Johnny B, was selected as one of the Ten Best of 2009 by the North American Movie Makers Awards (American Motion Picture Society). Needless to say, the cast, crew and I are all very happy.

Also, finally locked down a shoot in Dallas, TX. A corporate piece for Nokia and the Wunderman Agency. Heading down early Wednesday and returning Thursday night. Haven't been in Dallas since I was a baby (which I don't remember), so I'm definitely looking forward to it.

This is definitely an up week.

08 November, 2009

Slow week...


Last week had some cool stuff. First, an interview with the owner of the Village Vanguard (for the Babs DVD). The next day, I gaffed an interview for "American Masters" (Thirteen), with DP, Eddie Marritz. Eddie is a great cameraman and someone I've always looked up to. He was one of the DPs that I used to assist under as I was honing the craft and it was always a pleasure and a real learning experience to work with him. Earlier this year, I operated second camera under Eddie for an upcoming feature doc on magician, Ricky Jay, but other than that, it's been a while since I worked with him. Last week was nice.

And this week is slow. Them's the breaks. Gonna try to use this free time wisely... finish up on some personal projects and maybe even start something new. We'll see how that goes.

26 October, 2009

What's Up, Doc?

My life as it relates to film has taken a number of unexpected turns over the years. When I first got into film, I did so because I had an idea for a film and wanted to follow through. That particular movie has not been made yet. It is shelved but not forgotten. Through college, I maintained my interest in narrative films, particularly in becoming a successful Hollywood director. When I started learning about cinematography, I found I had a knack for it, and my classmates noticed too. As I shot more and more, I realized that I might be happy becoming a big-time Hollywood DP. And then life happened...

When I graduated college and had to figure out how to make a living, I realized that if I was going to direct, I'd have to spend a lot of my own money. So I turned instead to the camera and lighting departments, where I'd work for all those directors-to-be who were spending their money.

Remember that whole bit about being a Hollywood DP? Yeah, not the easiest thing to do on the opposite coast. There is a lot of fiction work in NY, but the most work for a cameraman in NYC is in documentary. I assisted under some of the most notable documentary cameramen and slowly but surely began to really feel my place was there. In time, shooting documentary work became my bread and butter. There's something special about it - it's spontaneous, energetic... I enjoy it more and more on each doc shoot I do. There's always something new and interesting and I always learn something. Sometimes, I figure out a new way of shooting or lighting. Often, I learn just stuff I never knew or never thought I would ever know because of the documentary subject itself... and I love learning.

And then there's stuff like today. Today I shot an interview with video artist, Bill Viola, for director/producer, Philip Dolin. First of all, I was very pleased with how it looked. Found an excellent framing and the lighting was great. The film is about his latest installation, basically a room of screens and this carefully constructed beautiful display of audio and visual white noise. We framed his sit-down so that the background was half black (directly behind Bill) and half his piece. I set a daylight softbox as Bill's key (daylight to match the color temperature of the projections), bounced some of that back for an edge, and let the projections subtly play over Bill's fill-side. Everyone was really happy with the visuals.

On top of the look, Bill was probably one of the most kind, profound, funny people I've ever met. Such a sweetheart with such amazing things to say about his work and inspiration, life and death, love, religion... it goes on... coming out of the interview, I just felt good.

That's documentary for ya'. And I love it.

22 October, 2009

Confidence (monitor)

The 3-day Lon Blais ended up being only 1. Early that morning, the s#*t hit the fan for Lon. Within hours, Lon found out that his dear puppy Aggie was sick and then Lon's escort from NY to North Carolina - 1/3 of the trip - had a medical/family emergency and would not be able to do it after all. On the ferry trip over from CT to Orient Point, NY, Lon decided he should ride as much as he can and when he's tired, just get driven home. He figured he'd be in a better space for the ass-hauling he'd need to do to rally emergency support for the next leg. So we set off to ride as far west as possible.

I hate shooting from cars with handheld cameras. Full-size shoulder cams are fine, but small guys, like the DVX100 cams we're using for this piece, are a bitch to keep steady in a moving vehicle. The DVX is probably the best-looking non-HD camera around (in the hands of a capable cameraman), but it's small size meant I was really insecure about shooting from the chase car. I brought along whatever I had that would help me keep it together. One thing was my saddlebag, which is one of my favorite tools. It allowed be to lean up on the windowframe or dashboard and really keep things together. Another thing I had was my trusty monopod. Extended fully, I was able to shoot out of the sunroof with the stick firmly pressed against whatever was nearby. So we rode and shot and rode and shot and got whatever we can. I cussed a number of times when I thought things weren't working quite well and wasn't feeling it most of the time. The stuff at the stops when were were out of the car and shooting more traditionally was good - really good. There just wasn't enough of it. One of the better moments was Lon's day-early arrival home. Lon's wife, Joanna, and of course Aggie, were thrilled to see him again after 2 weeks. Jo was concerned and supportive of the problems Lon now faced. It was dramatic, warm, and I think really nice stuff.

After we wrapped for the day, Bret (my sound guy and amazing pace car driver), went to my place and plugged into my trusty Ikegami CRT monitor just to see how things really looked. My on-camera LCD isn't exactly spot-on and it wasn't easy to tell how smooth things were when I was being tossed around in the car. But on a carefully calibrated and extremely accurate monitor... wow... We done good.

Today was uneventful - no shooting. Tomorrow, a NY1 crew will be filming a story about Lon for a nighttime broadcast. Bret and I are covering that and will shoot a little with Lon after the news crew leaves. Sunday, Lon's taking off at dawn no matter what. With an escort if possible or just by himself with the only bare essentials on his back. Elana will be taping the goodbyes and Lon riding off on what will probably be the most challenging part of his journey - and the part which happens to have no video support either :(

Monday, I'm shooting a modern art installation in the morning for producer Philip Dolin, and then at night, shooting some footage for a spec doc with director, Scott Floyd Lochmus.

Talks are continuing on the possible feature film. More on that and anything else soon...

20 October, 2009

Nature of the business

The freedom of freelance is great and I love what I do but it certainly does have its ups and downs. The ups are that I truly love what I do and if I ever want to go away or do something with my family or whatever, I don't have to ask anyone if it's OK. Also, when business is good, it's really good (if you get my drift). The downs suck, though. While half the time you get booked with a lot of notice, the other half of the jobs come up with really short notice. This is more on the documentary side as reality doesn't always have the luxury of careful planning like commercial and fiction work. So you often find yourself making last-minute changes to your personal life. Sometimes it's not a problem, sometimes it is. It's a balancing act. Ups and downs...

Last week's thing with Clive Davis didn't happen... that was a down.

The Mira Nair thing two weeks ago was interesting to say the least. I liked the people I was working with but there were definitely some communication issues between the Fox Searchlight people and the Indian TV folks. Despite some equipment hiccups, we made the best of what we had and though it wasn't quite what was expected, we got some nice footage.

Tomorrow I'm off to shoot the 3-day Long Island stretch of Lon Blais's charity bike ride. Last night I met up with Elana, who shot him in Maine and is editing the piece. Stuff looks good but it's hard to say at this point if there's anything substantial. There's definitely enough to edit something together but I'm not sure if there's a story this year. We'll see what happens in L.I.

Also, looks like the Babs concert at the Village Vanguard will be released as a DVD. Not sure when, but that's the word from the director. Will update on that.

Stay tuned for a report from the road and more fun stuff (a possible feature shoot on the horizon).

07 October, 2009

Shooting PAL, shooting Clive, and a bike ride.

Operating on a doc shoot tomorrow under DP, Ben Wolf. It's a PAL shoot for an Indian documentary somehow related to Bollywood (directed by Tavishi Alagh). Tomorrow's subject is the acclaimed B'wood director, Mira Nair (who directed the upcoming biopic, "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere). Ben is always a blast to work with, so I'm definitely looking forward to it.

The highlight of next week is another shoot for Sony with DP, Roger Grange and director, Scott Floyd Lochmus. Not sure what the piece is, but the shoot is an interview with legendary music producer, Clive Davis. The shoot is with the full-size Panasonic HDX900 - rather than another gig with a half-size camera tricked out to be just as big... This gig is not 100% but looks good.

The week after that, I'll be meeting up with actor/personal trainer/life coach, Lon Blais to shoot the Long Island run of his East Coast charity (Alzheimer's Awareness) bike ride. I'm directing a short verité piece about the trip to be edited by Elana A. Mugdan.

Will update...

28 September, 2009

Village Vanguard recap.

The day started at the ungodly hour of 8AM. It was brisk - I was a little chilled in a fleece jumper - but the crafty frying pans were sizzling hit. I heard the "ssssssss" as I rounded the corner and my mouth began to water. I was one of the first to arrive.
Soon after, Roger, the Director of Photography, strolled around the corner. He smiled, shook my hand and proceeded towards the omelet station. Pleasantries and good, hot eats took a half hour or so.

The morning was camera setup. I set up the bazookas (adjustable pole-like camera platforms) and gave the video technicians a hand running cables. And oh, was there a lot of cable. Once all of the cable was set, I took to breaking out the cameras. We were using heavily modified Sony EX3's. The camera, a solid-state HD camera, is, in its stock form, sortof small. Perhaps 18" front to back. Ours were modified to be ideal for multi-camera live switching. The longest, were perhaps a foot longer than stock. The three main cameras were fitted with larger-than-stock lenses. 2/3" 21X and 22X HD zoom lenses from Canon and Fujinon. The left and right side cameras had 1/2" wide-angle zoom lenses. At the back of each camera was a metal plate supporting a control unit that allowed each camera to send and receive lens data, camera settings, and all sorts of other fun stuff. This also facilitate careful matching between cameras by JM, our faithful video engineer. By about 2pm, all cameras were set, matched and ready to go. So we took lunch.

Upon our return from our meal, Barbra's band began filing in. There was a soundcheck for the sound department and a Babs stand-in for all of us on the visual side. The G&E crew made lighting adjustments and the camera's ran more tests. The director informed the camera and lighting crew where exactly the Clinton family would be sitting. Yes, those Clintons.

By 4pm, Barbra had arrived (with James Brolin in tow), and we were ready to do a rehearsal and test edit so Babs and her people could take a look at what we had done. Up until this point, I had been assigned to the wide master. Once Babs got a look, though, she expressed a preference for how she looked in my camera position's closer framings. So Camera 1, my camera, became the medium to close. Can't say I was disappointed at all.

Come shoot time, it was understood that while I would dwell in the mid to close range, Roger (who was operating two feet to my right) and I would ping pong our framings. So if the director called for a slow zoom from Roger's wide into a song, I would reframe while he was live so they'd have still have a wide frame to cut back to if need be. That said, I was medium and close a lot of the time so needless to say, many of my shots made the cut.

I have to say, while I'm talking about the shoot itself, I really enjoy shooting live. I couldn't tell you how long it's been since I'd done it last and I had forgotten how fun it is. Mind you, it's a lot different than regular doc shooting. With this setup, you don't have to worry about camera setting or exposure or anything like that - there's a guy in the truck with scopes for that. It's just you, the camera and the subject. Just frame it up, focus, and stay alert. The director and the TD in your ear, talking to you, talking to someone else, talking to each other. There's an amazing energy when your offline, getting something good they can switch to. And then when they do, when that tally light in your eyepiece comes on and you are live. Hold your shot, make any moves count. It's like a performance in itself. Babs is up there, singing, and everyone is right there with her - but you're there too, catching the beats like her band, playing off the crowd.

After all was done, all of us camera ops just remained perched above the crowd as they filed past us, towards Babs, towards the exits, towards each other. Bill, Hilary and Chelsea, hovered a bit in front of me. SJP and Nicole Kidman greeted each other and caught up some ways away from me. James Brolin spoke to some fans who seemed to love him as much as they loved his wife. Donna Karan was lost in the crowd - to me, at least. For all I knew, she was the woman who smiled at me as she left - probably not, though. Not sure I know what she (or her famous daughter) looks like. I've got a belt of hers, I think. Actually, no. Mine says "CK." Just goes to show you, maybe that nice woman was her.

When the club was empty, the crew wrapped. Took down the cameras and handed them off to the video techs. Broke down the jib and packed it up outside in the rain. Camera was wrapped a good hour - at least - before G&E, so I said my goodbyes. Wished everyone well, and grabbed a tomato, mozzarella and basil sandwich on Ciabatta from crafty. Ate it on the way to the subway, and got flower from the bread all over my black shirt.

Spent the train ride home with a bit of a high - exhausted but feeling accomplished. I smiled to myself knowing what the other passengers around me did not know - that just an hour or so earlier, I had been in the presence of Yentl, Slick Willy, the Secretary of State, DKNY herself, SJP, and the glamorous Nicole Kidman. When they all went online the following day to watch highlights, or when they eventually would see the broadcast or DVD of the show, they would see my work. And they would never know that it was me, that young guy on the train, in the powder-coated black dress shirt with the tired eyes and stupid grin on his face, who executed that smooth, steady, felt-but-not-noticed, 60 second push in on Barbra Streisand.

What a night!


The Babs show was great. Check out highlights online at http://music.aol.com/sessions/ or http://www.barbrastreisand.com

Oh, and if anyone wants to play spot Dave's shots, the head-on shots where you can see the piano stick and its shadow are me :)

23 September, 2009

Upcoming Projects

This Saturday, I'll be shooting Barbra Streisand Live from The Village Vanguard.
Director - Scott Floyd Lochmus
Director of Photography - Roger Grange
Camera Operator - ME (and others)

Also in development is Gloomy Sunday, a short drama.
Writer and Director - April Bennett
Director of Photography - ME

Current Projects

Alfa Garcia - Live from The Bitter End, a series of concert videos I directed and am editing.
Camera operators - Jorge Abreu, Jr., Bret Scheinfeld

Past Projects

Johnny B, a short film I shot and directed (among other things), is currently making the festival rounds.

Joshua Bell - At Home With Friends, a music video I worked on is just about finished (I'm told). It will be released with the release of violinist Joshua Bell's new album of the same name.
Director - Scott Floyd Lochmus
Director of Photography - Roger Grange
Camera Operator - ME (and others)

Dream Builders, a documentary about the legendary Lehrer/McGovern construction management company, is nearing completion.
Director - Larry Locke
Director of Photography - Ben Wolf
Gaffer - ME

Deceptive Practices: Ricky Jay's Personal History of Magic, a feature documentary about the world famous magician, Ricky Jay, is nearing completion.
Director - Molly Bernstein
Director of Photography - various
Camera Operator - ME (and others)


Hello, I'm Dave. I'm a freelance cameraman and director.

I decided to start this blog because I really enjoy talking/writing about what I do. If you've got any interest in film and video production, lighting, photography, camera technology and anything like that, check back often for videos, screenshots, lighting breakdowns, and all sorts of fun, nerdy things.

See you soon!