Category Archives: Documentary Films

Truly Seen

I’m thrilled to share this short video, which I made in collaboration with the amazing story team at UW Medicine Advancement. I’m truly honored to work with people so profoundly dedicated to healing.

The story reveals how Mary Larson, a nurse for 23 years at UW Medicine’s Pioneer Square Clinic, has found a very special way to truly see her homeless patients.

For this project, we set 3 GoPros running over a 2-month period to capture Mary’s artwork taking shape. Everything else was shot on a Sony FS5. Nothing fancy, just SLOG0-2 8-bit 4K internal, graded with Alister Chapman’s lovely Venice Look LUT pack.

This is another in a long line of projects that uses my never shoot interviews methodology (for the primary story subject, at least). For the rest, we had an exceptional fine space to film our interviews in – the empty top floor of the Pioneer Square Clinic.

Here’s a sample frame from that interview. Looks almost naturally lit, doesn’t it?

Interview frame

But no! Any time you have a large window in the background of a frame, you know you need to bring a big gun to bring up your subject to match those background levels. Here’s the setup:

UW Medicine shoot w/ Mary Larson and subjects. Photo by Doug Plummer.

This technique is called “carrying the light,” which results in a very natural, almost imperceptibly lit look. We used a single Aputure 300d bounced into a 4×4 foam core, over which we draped a 1/4 grid cloth 8×8 fabric. We had to flag it off aggressively to keep the light off the background with a piece of black foam core that you can see tight against the side of the diffusion. But that’s it – one big light for one beautiful result.

It’s also another example of a framing technique I teach my students: For a pleasing frame, it’s often a good idea to frame your subject in a corner. Not literally – best to give them plenty of distance from the corner – but by lining up the corner behind them in the frame. This adds depth and dimension to the composition. And when you have a window, it’s frame naturally cuts the light off the wall, giving a pleasing light fall-off.

The Mystery of the Flint River

“I hate editing. But I’m good at it.”

That’s what I said to director Michael Hanson when he asked me if I would cut a film from a short trip that he took down the Flint River with his camera and microphone for American Rivers. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through their advocacy efforts. And, Michael is an extraordinary talented photographer who shoots for, among others, National Geographic. So I said yes.

With some consulting help from Mark Bashore, and of course, lots of input from Michael, here is the result.

The music for this piece is so important. It sets the mysterious mood. I discovered it on The Music Bed, two tracks by Steven Gutheinz, “The Sun” and “A Message.”

I had to learn Premiere Pro to cut this film.  I found the experience tolerable and the tool adequate. I’m glad I cut this in Premiere, actually, because it gave me a whole new appreciation for Final Cut Pro X, which remains my NLE of choice. It’s not that Premiere sucks, it’s just that FCPX is so fluid, so quiet, so undemanding. FCPX flows like a river, and Premiere is like driving from Fremont to West Seattle at 4:30pm on a Friday. But in the end, it takes you there.  Just like that river.