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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...