Mar
0

The Metalsmith to air on KCTS’s Reel NW

The new season of Reel NW is about to kick off, with new host Warren Etheredge. And I’m delighted to announce that one of the shorts that Lisa Cooper and I made, The Metalsmith, will be among the many locally produced documentaries that will air on the show. Our film will screen four times, at:

4:50am on 4/15
8:50pm on 4/17
9:50pm on 4/17
12:50pm on 4/18

The new season begins April 11, and the lineup includes a slew of films I’m looking forward to seeing:

Saving Luna
Field Work: A Family Farm
Closure
You Make Me Feel So Young
Holy Rollers

I’m sure host Warren Etheredge will have many more great films up his sleeve. Warren is known for his weekly television series The High Bar, where he has interviewed the likes of Jodie Foster, Cornel West, Nora Ephron, and Salman Rushdie. On Reel NW, he’ll be bringing you the filmmakers behind the features and docs that air on Reel NW.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Mar
0

Sound for Film and Television, Volume II

I credit the guys from Wrightsville Beach Studios with teaching me almost everything I know about dialog recording, thanks to Sound for Film and Television. Now, they are seeking funding to produce a second volume. By backing their Kickstarter campaign today, you can save $25 off the final price. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Here’s the scoop:

At Wrightsville Beach Studios, we’ve spent the last 8 years making great, high-quality training videos teaching people how to make films. Oh, sure, everyone with a YouTube account does that, right? Not the way we do it — we do it with wit, humor, and sketch comedy, and we don’t just stage “setups” or give you “tips” and “tricks”; we go behind the cameras of real, cinematic scenes and short films made specifically for our lessons. We not only teach you how and why to do it, we’re teaching you WHILE we’re doing it — and the proof is right there on the screen.

But don’t let us tell you — here’s what our SOUND volume I viewers have had to say (see these reactions and more starting here):

“Absolutely amazing resource. Of everything I’ve read, seen, and heard from ‘experts’ regarding audio, this DVD blew them away.”

“This is a must-have for any independent filmmaker making their way into this business. Even if you know everything there is to know about sound, you’ll enjoy this DVD.”

“Lots of practical, hands-on information in a very entertaining package. It’s the only one I’ve found so far which really spends a decent time teaching technique.”

Now, we want to do it again! We want to bring the same kind of immersive, high-quality lessons combined with comedy, cinematic vignettes designed to teach you the skills, and we’ll even follow the production of a short film from start to finish, covering advanced sound recording topics on set and finishing with the professional sound mix in post.

Production topics to include:

PRE-PRODUCTION, where the most important planning takes place.

  • Dual-system recording
  • Slating
  • Timecode/Jam synch
  • Sound recorders
  • Wireless systems: UHF/VHF/Digital/Analog/Diversity/Non-diversity
  • Complex booming scenarios
  • Reality TV/news sound setup
  • Field/multi-channel mixing
  • Stereo recording

And then we’ll hand off the program to POST-PRODUCTION host David Jimerson, as he also checks in with Alex Markowski, post-production professional and professor of film studies at UNC-Wilmington. We’ll take the sound we recorded during production and follow the art, craft, and technique of turning it all into a finished professional sound mix.

Post-Production topics to include:

  • PRE-PRODUCTION, coordinating with production recording with post-production concerns in mind
  • Proper sound mixing studio setup
  • Synching via timecode, synching via waveform
  • Intros to Pro Tools, PluralEyes, other software
  • Pulldown/pullup
  • Asset management
  • Setting up audio tracks in editing for optimal export to sound post
  • Sound editing workflow
  • Working with EQ, compressors, limiters, and other sound filters and FX
  • Leaders and timecode burn-in
  • Exporting from edit/NLE to digital audio workstation — formats and workflow
  • Foley
  • ADR
  • 5.1/multi-channel/surround mixing

So, in all, we’ll have:

  • Great lessons from Barry and David
  • Great practical, hands-on expertise from Jeff and Alex
  • Sketch comedy, cinematic vignettes, and our trademark humor
  • A short film designed to get you behind the scenes, following production and post techniques
  • And even a dynamic reality-TV set!

Back this project on Kickstarter.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Mar
5

One ring to rule them all: seamless focus gears by mechanical engineer Sean McCurry

First you get a DSLR, then you get a follow focus unit. Then a bunch of stuff happens, and you end up with a pile of this on your living room floor:

Today I’m happy to report that such bandaids for dslr lenses are no longer necessary, thanks to a mechanical engineer named Sean McCurry, who is quietly revolutionizing the follow focus gear, one perfectly printed lens gear at a time. Wait, printed? But before we get into that…

I guess you could say that I’m a focus gear whore. I feel like I’ve tried just about everything on the market in hopes of finding one that worked seamlessly (so to speak) with my set of Zeiss/Contax primes. But every one I’ve tried has left me cold. To be specific:

Redrock Micro gears are nice because they give some autofocus lenses some much-needed extra throw. But with my Zeiss primes, I found the extra throw to be too much. And the ergonomics suck: too big to store in my lens case, they have to be assembled before every shoot. Major bummer. I want gears that I can buy and forget about,.

Zacuto Gears are basically thin bands of plastic that have a big awkward bump. They get the job done, but I’ve had them slip off my lenses more than once while running and gunning, because the bit that holds the two ends together gets caught on things. Oh, and they aren’t cheap.

If you want cheap, you want Jag35 zip-tie gears. But like the Zacuto, they catch on things, and they don’t add any throw diameter to your lens, either.

Genus gears are one-size-fits all, which makes them great for larger diameter lenses like my 300mm f/4 Nikon. It’s the only gear I could find to fit it. But not at all great for more standard size lenses, where the tightening screw gets right in the middle of your business. Plus, they tend to loosen up during use, and you have to remember to keep retightening them.

One thing I have never tried: Duclos cine-mod. This is the gold standard of lens gears. And by gold, I mean $105 a pop. But what’s prevented me from going Duclos is that you have to send your lens away for an unknown length of time to have the mod done. That more than anything has been the deal-breaker for me. I need my lenses.

Above: iPhone pano of my set of Zeiss primes, with Sean’s gears.

So. Is it too much to ask to have something as perfect as the Duclos mod, for a third of the price, that without any tools, I can install myself?

Enter a mechanical engineer named Sean McCurry. I accidentally discovered his brilliant work while surfing on Ebay a few weeks ago, when I was startled to see a listing for “Seamless follow focus gears” specifically made for Contax-Zeiss primes. I have a lens set that ranges in size from 25mm – 135mm, and Sean had each of my focal lengths covered. For $35, I took a chance and ordered one for my 50 f/1.7 prime. It arrived three or four days later, and with great curiosity I took it out of the box. Four pages of instructions on lens fitting were included, but were unnecessary: the gear fit PERFECTLY. I simply had to very carefully and slowly wiggle the gear on, until it seated firmly into the spot where I wanted it to stay on the focus barrel of the lens. The fit is so tight that it doesn’t slip at all, doesn’t require glue, and feels like it was made for my lens. Which, in fact, it was.

I’m not 100 percent sure how Sean is able to make such killer gears. But I’m confident it’s because he’s 3D printing them. A close examination of the gears reveals telltale patterns, strata in the plastic that are consistent with 3d printing (click image to enlarge):

One great thing about these gears is that I was able to place them at approximately the same position on 4 of my 5 lenses, so that when swapping lenses, I don’t have to adjust the focus puller position on the rails. Also, my previous gears would ride up and down the lens as they came in and out of their foam Pelican case, requiring constant readjustment, often in the middle of a shoot. These gears stay put.

Need more amazing? Beyond the great ergonomics, these gears producer smoother more predictable and repeatable pulls than I’m used to getting from my previous gears. Maybe it’s the extra gear depth, maybe it’s the precision of the printing, maybe it’s the Delrin they are made from. Whatever it is, these gears have taken my focus pulling to the next level.

Sean is currently making the gears for popular DSLR lenses that include the following:

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8

Set for Contax Zeiss Lenses

Canon 100mm Macro lens

Nikon 105mm f1.8 AI-S Lens

Canon 24-70mm Lens L Series F2.8

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L IS Lens

Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 IF DX II Lens

You can see the full list (currently 105 items) to see if your lenses are on it.

Don’t see your lens on the list? Sean welcomes custom orders. You can measure the circumference of your lens, and email your request to helicoptersean@gmail.com. Or contact him via his Ebay shop.

So here we are. Living in a world where the best stuff can come out of a printer. Welcome to the future.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Mar
0

SEEDArts Cinema Series “Made in Seattle” coming April 4 & 5

Seattle, WA – Bicycling nudists, Rwandan filmmakers and a Seattle family confronted by terrorism are the intriguing characters you’ll meet at the second annual SEED Arts Cinema Series SEEDArts Cinema Series, “Made in Seattle: Homegrown Documentaries”. The two-day series, April 4 & 5, is comprised of three dynamic, award-winning, locally made documentaries to be screened at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. The films are Finding Hillywood (4/4 at 7pm), Barzan (4/5 at 5pm), and Beyond Naked (4/5 at 7pm). Each film will be followed by a community conversation with the filmmakers and moderated by Rustin Thompson, The Restless Critic.

The Cinema Series opens on Friday, April 4 at 7pm with a screening of Finding Hillywood. Set amongst the hills of Rwanda, Finding Hillywood chronicles one man’s road to forgiveness, his effort to heal his country, and the realization that we all must one day face our past. A unique and endearing phenomenon film about the very beginning of Rwanda’s film industry and the pioneers who bring local films to rural communities. A real life example of the power of film to heal a man and a nation.

The Series continues on Saturday, April 5, with an evening double feature. At 5 pm, we present Barzan by directors Alex Stonehill & Bradley Hutchinson. Barzan is an intimate portrait of a suburban family ripped apart by a terrorism accusation. Shot both in Iraq and Seattle, this investigative documentary examines terrorism, immigration, and the sacrifices we make to protect the American dream.

The series concludes at 7pm with Beyond Naked, the “Best Documentary” of the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (2013). This film shows what happens when four first-timers accept a challenge to ride naked in Seattle’s legendary Solstice Parade. This feature-length documentary explores our deep-rooted fear and awkward fascination with nakedness through the lens of one of Seattle’s most popular traditions.

Admission to the Cinema Series is $5 per film. All films will be screened on the new digital projection system at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. Limited concessions will be available. For more information and updates, call 206.760.4285 or visit www.rainiervalleyculturalcenter.org/cinema.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Mar
0

Magic Lantern raw now supports audio recording with MLV format

Magic Lantern raw keeps getting better. It’s been awhile since I downloaded and tested the latest nightly builds. Turns out there’s a LOT of progress being made: the latest releases include the option for a new recording file format called MLV (for magic lantern video). This format allows for some really great stuff, most significantly for me, audio recording.

Post-production keeps getting better, too. There’s a new batch-conversion utility called MLV Mystic that allows Mac users to unpack the MLV files directly into cinema DNG files, which can then be opened directly into Davinci Resolve 10.

HDMI monitoring is also vastly improved. Gone is the bug that caused pink-frame tearing when recording 3x (which at the press of a button turns any lens into a macro). No more pink frame tearing! Also, the monitor display bugs that incorrectly drew the boundaries of the frame are fixed.

HDMI tip: I discovered this weekend while testing that it’s critical to plug in your hdmi monitor to your camera in the correct order. First, with your camera off, power on your HDMI monitor and plug it into the camera. Then, power up the camera. This way, it will correctly draw the HDMI screen. Otherwise, you get some misaligned black bands encroaching into the display from top and bottom.

Another sweet thing, and this is a big one: I discovered after much testing that Magic Lantern’s focus peaking is just killer. It works like magic to help you find focus, and you can select from three settings: one for darkly lit subjects, one for brightly lit subjects, and one that is a bit of both, for average scenes. This peaking is the first I’ve ever used that actually works without over sharpening to death or otherwise unacceptably screwing with my monitor. I’ll be using it by default from now on.

All I can say is: thank you Magic Lantern team. You guys are tireless in continuing to unlock the potential of this amazing image making tool called the Canon DSLR. The raw video image coming out of this camera is breathtaking.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Feb
0

Beyond Naked screens April 5 at Made in Seattle festival

I’m happy to announce that Beyond Naked, my first feature-length doc, completed last year, will have another Seattle screening on April 5 as part of the Made in Seattle: Hometown Documentary Series. The venue will be the beautiful Rainier Valley Cultural Center. Here’s the full festival lineup:

Finding Hillywood, Friday April 4th, 7pm.
Barzan, Saturday April 5th, 5pm
Beyond Naked, Saturday April 5th, 7pm

No word on tickets yet – will post here as soon as I have that info.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Feb
0

Flashpoint 180 Monolight is a low-budget cord cutter

Speedlites are great for shooting on the go. And monolights and power packs are great for studio work. But what if you seek the flexibility of a monolight (i.e. you can use it with soft boxes or beauty dishes), with the portability of a battery powered flash, for half the cost of a Speedlite? Would that be too much to ask?

Consider the $250 Flashpoint 180 battery powered monolight. I’ve been using one for the past six weeks, thanks to a loaner from Adorama, and I’d like to share what’s great about this unit, along with a couple things that could stand improvement.

Cords suck. Even if you’re working in a location that has power, it’s often much faster, easier and safer to shoot from battery power. If nothing else, going cordless saves you from running extension cords, which people can trip over. And this unit gives you approximately 700 full-power flashes – more than enough for all but the most demanding assignments. I found that at full power, it took between 4 and 5 seconds to recycle. That’s long enough to seriously take you out of the moment if you’re shooting a portrait, though, so I recommend dialing it back to around 1/2 power, which gives you a much snappier recycle time of about 2 seconds. At 1/3 power, you get a 1-second recycle time.

One of the things that is brilliant about this unit is the choice of commonly available NP-F960 batteries for power. I already own a bunch of these for my Switronix Bolt LED lights, and they are quite affordable if you pick up the knock-off NP-F960s, which work fine for me and can be had for about $25.

It’s important to note that this unit does not come with an AC power option. So if you do run the batteries down, you will need to carry backup batteries.

This monolight is compatible with Bowens-style modifiers such as soft boxes, beauty dishes and such. It also has a friction-based receiver for an umbrella, which I wished could have gripped a little stronger. It was struggling to hold my 60″ umbrella securely, but just managed. It’s really designed for use with small to medium sized umbrellas, one of which is included with the kit. The included shoot-through umbrella is very compact, and features a telescoping core.

Seattle photographer John Cornicello recently pointed out that it’s more than just size – it’s what you put into light modifiers that counts. You CAN use a Speedlite with your 7′ umbrella, but you may not be getting the same light quality as you get with a studio head. This head certainly doesn’t come close to the power of the 2400-watt/second head that John was using in his test, but it IS a monolight. I found I was able to get fantastic results with up to a 60″ reflector.

However, I was a little disappointed when I tried it out with my 47-inch Grand Softbox. Not because the quality of the light suffered, but because the plastic stand clamp on the 180 Monolight isn’t strong enough to support the weight of the Grand. I had to considerably overcrank it to get it to hold the nose up even temporarily. I’m pretty sure it would break if I did that more than a few times. So I wouldn’t recommend this unit for large light modifiers. I wish this light used a stronger metal stand clamp. I’m sure the choice of plastic was dictated by price, but I’d be willing to pay a few more bucks for a clamp that would hold larger modifiers.

Another thing I found myself wishing for was a sync cable longer than the included 10′ one. I don’t know about you, but I need more than 10′ to work with. I have some longer ones, but they use standard phono plugs, and this unit uses a non-standard 1/8″ plug (see photo). So your longer cords won’t work.

Tip: Use a SCRIM BAG to hang the battery pack. This one, which fits the battery pack perfectly, is a Lindcraft SB2 scrim bag, available from Filmtools.com.

The DC power cable that runs from battery to the light head is also a very short 5 feet, which means you’ll need to devise a way to hang the battery pack from near the top of the light stand. My solution is to use a scrim bag (see sidebar).

The battery pack does have a belt clip, but it’s useless for attaching the battery pack to a light stand, which is where it needs to go. There’s a blue-handled attachment for handheld use of the strobe, but it doesn’t extend at all, limiting its usefulness.

You might think that because it’s battery powered, the modeling light would either be missing or would be a big power drain. The engineers have finessed this by including an small LED modeling light, which isn’t very bright, but gets the job done. It’s an elegant compromise.

On the top of this monolight, like a small rotating periscope, is the optical slave. Its so sensitive that I never needed to mess with it, but if necessary you can rotate the cover to point at your master strobe (or to hide it from some other strobe source that you don’t want as a trigger).

The power knob allows you to steplessly adjust between 1/16th and full power. There is of course no TTL control of this unit, so I did find myself wishing I could dial in even LESS power occasionally. I often want just a tiny bit of fill, something Speedlites are great at providing. I find myself shooting all the time at higher ISOs, to take advantage of natural light. I’d welcome the ability to dial down to 1/64 power.

The bottom line: For traveling light and shooting on location with small to medium Bowens modifiers, this monolight is a winner. It’s price, small size and power-cord-free operation put it within the reach of just about anyone looking to take their still photos up a notch from Speedlites.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Jan
0

Grimaldis IndieGoGo campaign launches

As crowd funding becomes a staple of more and more creative projects, I’ve been getting a lot of work helping artists find work! For this campaign, I shot a bunch of interviews for my friend Dane Ballard, the writer of an unconventional musical that he’s hoping to bring to Seattle after a successful run in San Francisco. Here’s the scoop:

The Story

For generations, the Grimaldi family has thrilled audiences the world over. From the opera houses of old Europe to America’s silver screen, they were the quintessential showbiz family. Now the last surviving member of the Grimaldis is dead and the auction house of Sutter and Son is liquidating their estate.

As our show begins, we meet Walter Sutter, a friendly and somewhat awkward young man who is the block clerk for the auction house, and the “son” in Sutter and Son. The auction business bores Walter and he dreams of a life in show business, a dream discouraged by his rather gruff and overly practical father Hiram Sutter.

When the ghosts of the Grimaldis start to haunt the auction house with their dazzling performances, Walter not only learns what it really means to be in show biz, but he also uncovers dark secrets about his own destiny.

The Grimaldis may be dead, but the show must go on.

The Show

“The Grimaldis” is a new story written by Dane Ballard and is directed by Kerry Christianson. The script celebrates the triumphs and tragedies of a life in show business from the eerie perspective of a family of performing ghosts.

Featuring original songs by John Woods, “The Grimaldis” is a mix of cabaret, circus, improv and musical theatre. The experience is immersive with the audience finding performances happening all around them. With the absence of the fourth wall, the characters interact directly with the guests, mingling with the audience throughout the show. Even the food and drink is presented as part of the story, a sort of “theatre amuse bouche” to pull the audience further into the experience.

The Goal

We need $30,400 to cover the cost of a TWO WEEK Off-Off-Broadway run of “The Grimaldis” (May 16th, 17th, 18th & May 23rd, 24th, 25th). Money needed includes theater rental; rehearsal space; the services of our creative team of artistic and musical directors, fourteen actors, and a four-person live band; costumes; props; lighting; sound; and set design.

An independent show this big can’t happen without the support of people who care about performance art.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Jan
0

“Add IndieFlix” campaign launches

Today our client IndieFlix, a Seattle movie streaming service, released a 30-second spot we produced for them, with some amazingly talented people.

IndieFlix CEO Scilla Andreen provided the location for the shoot: her living room, which we converted into a studio for a day. Her son Ian (home on winter break from college), and daughter Natalie both make brief appearances in the video, and worked as PAs on set.

Ruben Rodriguez is a young documentary filmmaker we have worked with in the past, and for this project we brought him on as PA. Ruben ended up on the other side of the lens too, playing a young filmmaker musing on how much he likes getting paid. Say it for all of us, Ruben!

Randall Dai, Telissa Steen and Victoria Kieburtz are in the picture, all of whom we met from short narratives we worked on last summer for the 48-hour film project and The Last Light. Jeff Hedgepeth, one of our main characters in Beyond Naked, pitched in, as did some of Lisa’s dance community friends including Susan Rubens, Leslie Rosen, and Dennis Richards.

Thank you to everyone for bringing your talents to the project and we look forward to working with you again soon.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Jan
2

SOLD: Like-new Redrock Micro Crossover Kit for sale used or trade for Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro

UPDATE: Item sale has been SOLD via Ebay. Thanks for bidding!

I’m doing something I hardly ever do: selling gear that I really like. I was fortunate enough to win my Redrock Micro Crossover Kit last summer in the American Photographic Artists short video contest. But I already own three matte boxes, and I find I’m just not using this one. And you know, this matte box deserves to have work doing what it was born to do: make movies.

Everything about this kit is pure mint – I’ve had it out of the original packaging just once to play with it. The lifetime warranty is included for you to register, #19830. This kit retails for $995 – I’ll sell it to you for $840, in the original packaging. Sorry, the cat is not included!

TRADE OPTION: I’m willing to trade for a 100mm Canon f/2.8 macro IS lens.

Drop me an email to dan@visualcontact.com or call me at 206.228.0780. I’ll make an update to this post when it’s sold – so if you are seeing this, that means it’s still available if you’re quick!

Popularity: 3% [?]