Category Archives: News

News from my personal and professional life.

Lighting and shooting Baked, a cannabis cooking show

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.39.39 PM

I like to cook. But shooting a cooking show? It’s never been on my must-do list. However, when Pearl producer Heather Olson emailed me a few weeks ago asking if I were interested in DPing a web series about cooking with cannabis, I was intrigued. Legal marijuana is, after all, the fastest-growing industry in the country.  When I learned the proposed show would be hosted by an 84-year-old grandmother, I was in.

The challenge: small space, white walls. The location was an AirBNB rental, a garage that had been converted into a two-story house. It was cramped. And white walls are a terrible color because the brightest object in any frame gets our attention. And usually you want that to be the actors, not the background.

LOCATION SCOUTING PHOTOS
kitchen overview a-cam

The second photo makes the space look MUCH larger than it really is. But it also reveals the challenge: no way to get lights on the camera-right side of the kitchen. I decided to go with a big, soft source on camera left, an active fill next to camera on left side, and just let the white walls take care of the rest.

Working with gaffer Vince Klimek was a treat. He didn’t talk much, and didn’t have any help. He just backed his 3-ton grip truck as close as he could to the location, and started slinging stands, cables and lights. I wish I could work with a gaffer like him more often.

I told him the vibe I was going for – big soft side light, filled on the same side, using the white walls of the space as natural bounce to do the rest of the job. He bounced an Arri M8 hmi into the camera-left wall, further diffusing it through an 8×8 light grid cloth. Then he put a Kino 2×4 close to camera, high on left side, to wrap the key light. There wasn’t any room to place back lights, so we skipped that.

To illuminate the window, he used an Arrisun hmi to brighten the greenery outside the window, and to spill a sliver of sunlight into the background window frame. He spotted a Joleko hmi into the wall behind my camera-left side, to bring up general ambience. Finally, Vince came up with the idea of putting a little light into the alcove under the microwave,  using Light Gear LiteRibbon. And with that, we were ready to shoot.

The fully lit set from A-camera

The fully lit set 

Camera department

We went with a pair of Sony FS7 cameras for this gig, primarily because our second shooter, Chris McElroy, owned one and we wanted the cameras to match. Certainly, the FS7 is a very capable 4K camera, especially when paired, as we did, with the Odyssey7Q+ recorder/monitor. Shooting 4K gave us the option to get two shots from the A-camera: a wide shot establishing the kitchen, and a medium shot for cut-in to the talent.

We used Canon-L glass for the shoot, with Metabones adapters. For A-cam we shot with my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 EF-S zoom, which was a perfect range. Chris mostly shot with a Canon L-series 24-70 f/2.8 zoom, which equated to 36mm – 105mm in full frame terms, perfect for grabbing detail shots off his shoulder-mounted camera, which was positioned at a 3/4 angle near the edge of the counter on camera left.

The Odyssey has an excellent set of LUTs for the FS7, including two that provide exposure compensation. I chose to rate the cameras at ISO 1000, a stop below the camera’s base ISO of 2000. This pull reduces noise in the image overall, particularly in shadows. So I selected the SONY_EE_SL3C_L709A-1.cube LUT, which mimics the low-contrast look of the Alexa, and provides a stop of exposure compensation. Rating the cameras at ISO 1000 gave me f/4 with our lighting setup, which provided enough depth of field to make nailing focus easy, while giving us a little separation from the background.

To get the LUT into the viewfinder required loading it via the SD card slot, and importing it via the file menu as an MLUT. With that step complete, the viewfinder image exactly matched the LUT’ed image on the Odyssey. Here’s a great LUT tutorial for the FS7 that taught me everything I need to know about shooting in Cine EI mode.

I rented a couple of XDCA units so that we could get a raw feed over SDI for the Odysseys. In my testing, this worked great. But we hit a major snag on the day, when it turned out that Chris hadn’t purchased the raw option, which costs an extra $1000, for his Odyssey. So we had to  remove the XDCA and send a 4K signal from his HDMI into his Odyssey’s HDMI-in. Simple, right? But there was just one problem: The monitor LUT stopped working, which was kind of a big deal, because he would be shooting off his shoulder most of the day, making it tough for him to focus and judge exposure, with everything a stop overexposed.

I later learned that sending a 4K stream out of the FS7’s HDMI disables viewfinder MLUTs. Always something with cameras.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.33.09 PM

Chris with his FS7 rigged to send 4K over HDMI to Odyssey, which was located in video village.

One

Our small video village setup allowed director to monitor the shots

Our small video village setup allowed director to monitor the shots

A much more serious problem with sending HDMI to the Odyssey is that HDMI cables tend to work their way loose from the camera accidentally, and this can cause all kinds of problems when you’re recording the signal downstream. So we had to closely monitor that. To make a long story short, next time we’ll definitely be paying the $99 daily rental fee to get raw over SDI into the Odyssey.

Patsy gets ready to roll

Patsy gets ready to roll on set of Baked

The plan with this show is to use the pilot to attract sponsors from local cannabis shops. Interested in supporting the show? Here’s your chance.

With funding in place, the plan is to rent a location for a week and shoot as many episodes as possible. I’m looking forward to taking everything to the next level when that happens, and helping to introduce the joys of cooking with cannabis to a mainstream audience.

Sound Advice Tour gives filmmakers opportunity to upgrade their audio chops

Werner Herzog was excited. He’d just learned that he was a finalist for a National Science Foundation grant to make a film about Antarctica. But then came the bad news: the other finalist was James Cameron. It costs about $10,000 a day to put a person in Antarctica, so the NSF had a question for the filmmakers: What is the minimum number of crew you need to make the film? Cameron replied that 35 should do it. Herzog pounced. “I need two people,” he said, “and one of them is me.”

Guess who got the gig?

alg-herzog-jpgIn addition to directing Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog assigned himself the job of sound recordist. The film went on to become his first to be nominated for an Oscar.  And it’s no surprise that Herzog, who relishes the “making” part of making movies, chose to wield a microphone instead of a camera. Because sound is the most important part of filmmaking.

Seattle filmmakers will get an opportunity to learn why that is true on May 27, when the Sound Advice Tour rolls into town hosted by legendary Hollywood sound designer Frank Serafine. Designed for filmmakers, editors, and aspiring sound engineers, this all-day workshop will cover techniques and tools to expand your skills and give you a solid foundation in the effective use of audio in all of your projects.

One of Hollywood’s top sound designers, Frank Serafine is an academy award winning sound designer who has created sounds for television shows, video games and major motion pictures, including, Poltergeist and The Hunt for Red October, which earned its sound editing team an Oscar.

IMG_0528_1I had an opportunity to interview Serafine by email recently to learn more about film sound and what filmmakers can expect from the one-day workshop.

Q: The workshop materials state that sound is 70 percent of a movie. How such a big number?

FS: This is something that major directors have been quoted saying, not only me as a supervising sound editor / sound designer. I understand the full importance, drama, atmosphere and psychological impact sound has, even over picture.

Sound is our most prominent sense and it’s omnipresent. We can only see 180 degrees in front of us, but we can hear 360 around. So, it’s really, really important to the success of any film.  Things that can save our life are embedded into our DNA through our hearing sense. For example, if we hear a tiger roar, which we’ve been trained to know a tiger roar. It’s a scary thing, but deep down if you hear that sound in the wild you know danger is lurking. Even if you can’t see it, you know something is wrong. In film sound we trick the listening audience senses into believing in the same way. With the latest sound technology coming into play nowadays we’re really able to trick the senses.  3D surround sound are becoming so sophisticated due to advanced scientific research in reflection and convolution studies, computers can now analyze and visualize the physics of what sound actually does and how the human brain perceives and reacts to it.

IMG_0491 (1)Q: If there is just one thing that a person can do to improve their film audio, what is it?

I would say production audio may be one of the most important parts of learning how to get the best possible sound on the set and in the field. Using a variety of different technologies that are available to us through our new MZed sponsors, Sony, Roland and Rode. Were using the latest location sound field recorders, microphones, boom poles, wireless transmitter/receiver systems, cameras and accessories that help us initially capture the best possible location production sound. The critical thing about good quality production sound is that it carries all the way through the film and an extremely important thing to making your film the best you can from the very beginning. It’s better not to be forced to: “Fix it in Post.”

Q: Why are you taking time out from your busy schedule to share what you know about sound design?

I’ve been an educator throughout my entire career. During the time I worked on the early Star Trek and Tron films and Hunt for Red October,  I was also busy  teaching at the UCLA Extension. I was also hired to write the curriculum, mentored over 1500 students, redesign and run the sound department at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood.  I always enjoyed passing on what I’ve learned from my great mentors, which I think is an important thing to do, otherwise who-else is going it pass on? I really did learn from all the best through out my career, and I’m excited to share all of that with my MZed attendees in 33 cities, throughout the US and Canada this spring.

I also really like Jeff Medford, and what he is doing with MZed. They have been doing advanced film educational tours around the world for a very long time now.  This is their first film sound tour.  With my Sound Advice Tour, not only are we educational, but highly entertaining. I’m using equipment that has never been seen or heard before, and I’ve been training and learning a lot of new things about this gear. I feel like educating people is just another part of my job. It’s what I love to do and something I’ll do the rest of my career, which will be until the last day I’m alive.

Here’s an outline of what will be covered at the workshop:

9:00 AM Introduction 

  • Audio Psychology
  • History of Audio & Film
  • Audio Terms & Lingo

9:30 AM Sound Recording

  • Equipment Introduction

9:45 AM Types of Recording

  • Field, Production, Foley & ADR

10:30 AM Microphone Technology, Options, Placement, Techniques, Types

11:00 AM Recording Challenges 

  • Sealthing, Noise, Ambient, Cloth movement

1:00 PM   Sound Editing

  • Tuning the room, Acoustic Engineering, Setup
  • Dialogue Editing

1:45 PM   Sound Effects

  • Live recording demonstration: Foley, Background, & Hard Effects
  • Sound libraries

2:30 PM  Sound Mixing

3:30 PM  Dealing with Unwanted Sounds

5:00 PM  Sound Design

6:00 PM  Soundtrack

6:30 PM  Sound Inspiration

7:30 PM Wrap-up

Even if you’re primarily a camera person, this will be a killer opportunity to learn the importance of sound and how to solve the problems you’ll encounter in production.

Learn more about the Sound Advice tour and sign up for the $299 workshop.

Perceptiv SHIFT drone upgrade simplifies cinematic tracking shots

One of the most difficult things about shooting video with my Phantom II is tracking shots. I’ve found it’s very difficult to keep the camera focused on an object while the drone moves around it, much less stay focused on an object that is itself moving. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a smart app that would allow you to tell the camera what to focus on, freeing you to do the flying?

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.29.59 AMStarting this fall, you’ll be able to do that, thanks to well-funded startup called Perceptiv, which has announced a relatively affordable upgrade it to your Phantom or 3DR Iris drone. The pre-order price is $600, which their website says will rise to $800 after the units being shipping.

It’s clear to me that DJI has realized how difficult getting cinematic shots is, by including a dual-operator option on the new Inspire 1. This will allow splitting camera operation and flying into two jobs, and give the camera operator a fighting chance of getting great tracking and parallax shots. But this tool looks even easier.

I’ll look forward to seeing how it works in real life, though. Most of the shots in the demo video are shot against green grass, which mimics green screen, probably the easiest situation for a camera to track. What would happen when you’re trying to track, for example, a specific car on a road full of other cars? I look forward to finding out.

Pearl is 62 percent funded with 6 days to go. UPDATE: fully funded!

Update: Since this post was made, Pearl was fully funded. Huge thank you to everyone who supported our campaign. See you at the screening!

Hey Seattle film fans, here’s a project worthy of your support. Pearl is a film I DP’d for director Amy Sedgwick over the summer, and it’s in the home stretch of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its completion. Check it out:

The film is about woman who works in an oyster factory and dreams of a life outside her small town. But what price is she willing to pay to break free?

Please consider backing this project! We need your support to keep growing our talents right here in Seattle.

UPDATE: Pearl is within $250 of being funded with 12 hours left to go in campaign. Help us get across the finish line!

Seattle DSLR cinematography workshop May 31

I’ve been invited to teach a private DSLR cinematography workshop, and I thought, why not add a few more spots and make a day of it? So if you’re looking to get cinematic with your DSLR, consider joining us on May 31!

DSLRs are incredibly powerful filmmaking tools – in the right hands. Why not your hands? Join award-winning Seattle filmmaker Dan McComb, a cinematography instructor at Art Institute of Seattle, for a day of hands-on instruction that will take your DSLR cinematography skills to the next level.

Dan will share techniques and equipment secrets that will empower you to tell stories that connect with your audience.  

You’ll get personalized, hands-on training using professional equipment that includes: 

  • Dana Dolly
  • Dual-system sound recording
  • Zeiss prime lenses

You’ll get answers to questions like:

  • How do I set up the camera for cinematic shooting?
  • Monitors and EVFs: which is right for me?
  • How does focus pulling work? 
  • How do I properly expose skin tones?
  • How do I get rid of camera shake and avoid jello shutter?

You’ll learn why shooting manual beats autoexposure, and which settings to pay attention to most. Why using neutral density filters is essential for shooting outdoors in daylight, and which ones are the best value (as well as which ones to avoid). Why shooting closeups is different than shooting medium and long shots, and what that means for lighting. 

Plus tips on:

  • Camera motion: when to use it, and how to do it
  • Choosing a camera rig or custom-building your own. 
  • Dynamic range: getting the most lattitude from your camera using picture profiles
  • Stabilzers: how to get rid of camera shake and jello shutter

We’ll take a look at aspect ratios, and how to shoot widescreen for that super cinematic look and feel. You’ll learn how to build an action-ready camera package from the ground up using matteboxes, baseplates, battery distribution systems, and much, much more, including answers to your questions. 

Workshop is limited to four participants. 

Learn more and sign up here.

Total Inclusion: UW's Experimental Education Unit

The Experimental Education Unit is a school, located on the north side of the Montlake Cut just inside the University of Washington campus, that does impossible things every day by putting special needs students into classrooms with their typically developing peers.

This video, which Lisa Cooper and I produced for the University of Washington, was shown at a fundraising auction this weekend. It features founding director Dr. Norris Haring reflecting on his dream for the program, which is today a reality.

This is the second video I’ve made for EEU (the first one you can see here). I wanted to get as close as possible to the amazing faces of the kids, so we shot with 100mm macro and 80-200mm zoom for much of the production. I also shot quite a bit of 60p, which at times I conformed to 24 for some lovely slow motion.

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.

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.

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.

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.