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16 November, 2013

A Lot Of Art

First off, please excuse the title pun.  You'll see...

For those of you that have known me or have followed my blog and/or tweets, you've heard all about the variety of art videos I work on.  For years, I've been shooting art-related content for Philip Dolin of Particle Productions but over the last twelve months, I've added Christie's to the mix.  Shooting artist interviews and exhibits is great fun - shooting auctions bringing in millions of dollars is, well, a whole other game.  I guess the function is similar, but to be in that high stakes auction environment is unlike anything I've ever done.  Last week, I was fortunate enough to be shooting at a record-setting sale at the NYC auction house, and you can check out the video below.  If I can track down other videos I've been a part of, I'll post them as well so check back soon and often :)

25 July, 2013

Good News!

Today's post comes as a bit of a surprise to many, including Dave Dodds of a number of years ago, when I began my freelance career in the film business.  I've discovered a deep appreciation for an unexpected part of the film and video world... News.  In June 2013, I joined the roster of cameramen at News 12 Long Island.  I think many in the filmmaking community devalue news for it's incredible pace and varying standards, and I'll admit, I've seen some sh**ty news shooting.  But done right, it's really worth taking the time to admire.

First off, there's no B.S. in news - there's no time for it.  Most days, your job is to get important content quickly so it can go out the same day.  No time for pre-production or location scouting before, or assembly cuts and copious amounts of post time afterwards.  Story happened today, so it goes out today.  Go into a place blind (unless you've been there before on another story) and make a decision quick about where you want to shoot.  Usually there isn't time to bring in your lights, so use what's there.  Quick!  Find your background.  Quicker!!  Now you're done, so hurry back to the studio to cut (or do it on your laptop in the field).  The 5pm show is quickly approaching!  Edit faster!!  There's a lot of room for the careless errors that fuel negative stereotypes of news production, but a newsman with a good eye can make it work.  That pace, though frustrating at times, can be exhilarating.

It's also an interesting feeling to see through a news package from pre to post in a workday.  There's a great sense of satisfaction to have your work on the air at the end of the day, unlike in the straight doc or doc tv world where you've got at least a few months turnaround.  I've often had things air so far after shooting that I've almost completely forgotten what it was all about.

I'm not going to be turning down Discovery Channel any time soon.  I enjoy the scale of that work and the care put into the projects there and in other longer forms of documentary.  But, I'll definitely look forward to the news days and the refreshing change of scenery and pace... not to mention the 15 minute commute to and from the studio :)

19 May, 2013

Hi, my name is Dave. I'll be your [insert title here] today...

If you've been reading this blog, you'll have read "my clients this" and "my clients that."  Every business around is about providing a service to a client, whether that service is a design or website or even a tall non-fat chai latte.  Fast food customers are clients just as much as a brand is to an ad agency.  Sometimes, however, the whole client relationship can get a bit confusing.  Take my role as a freelance cameraman, for instance.  My clients are usually the producers.  Most of the time, the producers have clients as well.  So that would be the client of my client.  Sometimes there's even one more layer of clients... So who the heck are we serving?  In the most ideal situation, my client, the producer, has his/her client's best interest in mind, so everything is in line.  I'm lucky enough that all of the people I deal with are good enough at their jobs that there is no confusion.  But, oh, I've heard horror stories...

For a freelancer in a crew position (cameraman, sound, gaffer, etc.) most of the time the client relationship is very simple.  You're there to do something you're good at (that's why you were hired) and you really only have to do that job.  When you're the producer on a shoot, though, everything is different.  For the longest time, though, us crew folk never had to worry about the extras.  Things, however, are rapidly changing in the industry.

About a year ago I was in Florida on a shoot.  The sound guy was hired locally, so during a break, I casually asked how the industry was down there... boy, should I just have kept that curiosity to myself.  It's rough, I was told.  Less and less work for sound mixers with cameramen being expected to pull double duty.  Even the camera guys are starting to struggle now that producers are learning how to shoot.  One day soon, the editors will be struggling, after they coach the producers how to cut...  Basically, it's getting to the point where if you want to survive in this industry in this market, you're going to soon have to know how to do EVERYTHING.  Great...

Before you go and think me lazy, I'll remind you (in case you haven't read the "about me" section), I have a very well-rounded formal training in filmmaking.  In addition to cinematography, I studied the ins and outs of editing, sound, producing, writing, and all of that.  I spent a lot of time doing all of that stuff in and out of school.  My B.F.A. was all about becoming a good all around filmmaker.  I know how to record and edit sound and I know how to cut on all major digital editing systems, and even on an analog 16mm flatbed system.  After college, though, one of the biggest accomplishments I was working towards (and was proud to achieve) was becoming a specialist.  It was a sign of professionalism, I thought, to be just a great cameraman.  Avoid that whole jack of all trades stigma...  I shoot for a living, I told people.  I didn't mention the editing or writing or anything like that.  It avoided a lot of eyerolls that I saw my colleagues do when encountering excited interns who were "cinematographers and directors and editors and writers and..." - you get the point.

I think a lot of what has changed as of late  is the accessibility of it all and the economics.  Video cameras and editing systems are easier to use than ever before, so many producers of corporate and industrial video shoot and edit for themselves.  Often, they do very good jobs at it and, being able to do it all, they can keep their costs low and price their services more competitively.  However, for the freelance cameramen (and women) who do a lot of corporate work, this means fewer gigs in that world.  So the specialists, if they want to keep working, need to open up a bit.

So where does one draw the line in defining themselves professionally?  For me, it's been (until recently) easy to keep my experience in one department.  My IMDb page has credits as cameraman, director of photography, camera operator and gaffer throughout.  All of those, you can argue, are within the realm of image acquisition, and in a lot of ways, they all support each other.  The gaffer work illustrates that I've got a command of lighting, which is certainly a boost when I'm being considered for a DP gig.  The operating credits say that I understand composition (also good to think about in other types of work).  I've even recently done a number of days as Technical Director on a multi-cam talkshow (too recent to appear on my IMDb just yet), which encompasses a lot of the skills I use in other crew roles; being able to communicate with the show's Lighting Director and the camera operators and handling the engineering aspects of the job (which I'm comfortable with having spent so much time on the other side of the headset as an operator on multi-cam things).  That's pretty consistent in terms of branding my skillset as a camera & lighting professional.  But wait, there's more...

One of my better clients a few years ago was a startup marketing/ad/consulting company that was still defining itself.  A very big part of their work was video storytelling, so they had a producer, director and editors on staff.  For the smaller things, the producer or director would grab a camera and shoot.  For the larger, more complex stuff, they hired a DP (me).  It was a very comfortable relationship and very much within my advertised skillset.  A couple of years into this particular client-vendor relationship, however, the company took a shift to the somewhat more cerebral stuff.  They began to spend more time in design and less in the conventional marketing elements.  Shooting jobs with them all but dried up for almost a year.  In that time, there was some internal restructuring there and the staff video guys moved on to other things.  As luck would have it, about a year ago, one of the design gigs morphed for them.  A very large client of this company needed a video and, as I understand it, knew of the quality and style they turned out back when video was big for them.  Suddenly, I was in a meeting, discussing the project as - get this - a producer.  You see, having shifted their staff around, there was no longer any full-timers to handle the producing and editing, so knowing the quality I had always delivered as a shooter, they approached me first to discuss a new relationship.  Eager to rekindle the fire with a company that was, at one time, an excellent client of mine, I obliged and sat down to meet.  It was a very successful get-together and a gentleman's agreement was made at the end of it.  Going forward, I would be their go-to video vendor.  They'd give me the budgets and the directives and I'd make it happen.  Now I can add bona fide producer to my list of credits...  It's been a trip taking on this new roll.  I'm still shooting (yes, now I'm one of those producers who also shoots), although I hire very very competent 2nd shooters for all of the shoots that call for it.  I try to hire a sound mixer whenever budget allows, although sometimes I do have to mic up the interviewees and worry about sound all by myself (so yes, now I'm one of those shooters that does their own sound).  I also usually edit these videos, because it makes the most sense with the budgets I'm getting (sigh, a producer/shooter who edits).

Yep... I did it...  I'm that guy, the one who does it all.

In my defense, this new role only takes up a small portion of my workload.  For the most part, I'm still a camera/lighting specialist, but the variety does keep life interesting.   I mean, hell, isn't that why I chose to freelance in the first place?