Category Archives: Video clips

Random video clips that I’ve made from work in progress or elsewhere.

New video for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Here’s an informative little cancer video project my crew and I just delivered to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a client that’s been keeping us very busy this summer. We’ll be doing a lot more videos of this kind for SCCA over the next few months, uncovering powerful human stories about these innovative healthcare providers and the patients they serve.

How it was lit

I typically start to light a scene by deciding which light to take away. In this case,  the lab was grossly over illuminated (for filmmaking purposes) with ugly overhead fluorescents. I wanted to separate the doctor from the background, through both luminosity and color. So I turned off half the overheads, the half behind the subject, and left the half in front of him on. Then, by setting my Sony FS5’s color temp to 3200K, I was able to create a nice blue wash in the background from light leaking through the closed windows. That created nice color separation. But his face was now too dark. I fixed that by filling  strongly with my LiteGear LiteMat2 placed camera left, through 1/2 grid cloth. Next, I gave a little blue kick to his shoulder with my lovely new Dedolight DLED7 through Hampshire frost. Then I just set the aperture on my Zeiss 50mm with Speedbooster to f/2.0, and boom! Done.

B-Roll

B-roll was all shot very quickly, handheld with Zeiss primes and a 100mm Canon macro for the tight stuff. When I got to cutting the piece, I was reminded why my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens is usually my go-go b-roll lens: because it is image stabilized! My FS5 is so ergonomically awesome, that I find myself shooting handheld more than ever. But when doing so, a lens with IS really is nice to smooth things out. Nevertheless, I sure do love that full-frame look of those Speedboostered Zeiss primes.

Sidebar: I am taking another look at Canon’s 24-70 f/4 IS lens, not because of its optics, but because of its image stabilization. In theory, with a Speedbooster it should look virtually identical to and be just as fast as my Canon EF 17-55 f/2.8, only with much better handholding because of it’s 4-stop hybrid IS. Will be experimenting with that combo on my Sony FS5 on an upcoming shoot and look forward to sharing the results.

Thoughts on 4K

I’m finally coming around to shooting my interviews in 4K. It really is nice to have the option to punch in for a tight shot pulled from a medium shot. But the drawback is focus. Focus is really, REALLY important to nail when shooting 4K. And on both the FS5’s LCD and my SmallHD 502 monitor, it’s harder to gauge focus in 4K, because the image looks a little smudged compared to HD. So it really does require careful monitoring during a shoot, especially when you do what I do, which is shoot damn near wide open all the time to visually separate the subject from their background.

I’ve shot with both the internally recorded 4K and with external recorders, and I gotta say, for the type of work I’m using it for (well lit interviews), the drawbacks of external recording outweigh the benefits of internal. Smaller file size counts for a LOT.

Many thanks to my crew – producer Sara Finkelstein, camera assistant Kollin O’Dannel (who took one for the team when he nearly fainted as the doctor described a surgery), and intern Alexandra Watkins who rolled sound.

A life-and-death decision

A Life and Death Decision

My most recent project, for UW Medicine, explains palliative care through the eyes of Mark and Alice Beaty, who faced a life-and-death decision when their son Adam was in a terrible accident.

Working on this video, I was reminded why story is king. Palliative care is a pretty dry topic to talk about, but listening to Mark and Alice tell their story is arresting. And by breaking up their story into several parts, we were able to get the client’s required background into the piece (who their largest donors are, etc.) without it becoming overwhelmingly boring.

This piece was shot over three and a half days of interviews, with b-roll comprised of stock footage, family photos and drone footage shot with my Phantom 2.

If there’s one thing I learned on this project, it’s that  a 2-person crew just doesn’t cut it for projects of this kind. My assistant Ryan Schwalm and I were physically overextended by having to push a huge cart of equipment around to the many locations. And a two-camera shoot really needs an operator for each camera – it’s not possible for me as director to do a great job interviewing AND maintaining focus.

I just finished another shoot for a different client in which I had a 5-person crew, including myself (gaffer/dp, grip, camera assistant, and sound recordist). That was a revelation to me: everything ran smooth, nobody was stressed out, the client was thrilled, and I actually enjoyed myself. Wow.

I will be planning for more crew on just about everything I do from here on out.

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.

"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.

The Dollmaker, and 7 thoughts about Magic Lantern raw

I love my 5dmkiii. There’s still nothing like shooting video on a full-frame sensor. So when Magic Lantern released a firmware hack that allows shooting video in raw, I was eager to try it out. And it’s amazing: super vibrant 14-bit color, captured with 12.5 stops of dynamic range. That’s a whole ‘nother league beyond the 8 stops of DR and 8-bit color that comes out of the 5dmkiii natively. But it’s quirky to shoot with, and buggy enough that I haven’t been able to use to complete a project. Until today.

Today Lisa and I are thrilled to release our first project shot entirely in Magic Lantern raw, The Dollmaker. It’s part of our Makers series, which focuses on people who make things by hand. We love topics that are slightly dark, and when we saw Clarissa Callesen’s work, we knew we had to film her. She graciously allowed us to invade her studio for a day, and shoot this piece.

Most of the credit for this piece goes to my partner Lisa Cooper, who produced, directed and edIted the film. I stayed focused on cinematography on this one. And I have a few things to say about shooting raw on the 5dmkiii.

First, it’s a data hog. A 64 gigabyte CF card fills up in about 10 minutes. And the cards are expensive enough that I only own three of them. So it was necessary to lay off the cards as soon as they were shot, in order to always have a fresh one ready to go. This would work better if we had a DIT person on set, but of course, that’s a luxury we don’t have (or want, really) for these unpaid, self-assigned projects. It basically meant that we had to have a laptop with CF card reader and hard drive going all day on location. But when you consider that old film spools were about 9 minutes, hey, it’s not so bad.

Second, there is quite a bit of assembly required in post, before you get a video clip. I had to unpack the files using a utility called RawMagic, and then I had to convert the many individual DNG files (one for every frame of video, which each weigh about 4 megabytes) into ProRes for editing in Final Cut Pro X. I used Adobe After Effects for this, and it’s mind-numbingly slow. Davinci Resolve has since added support for the type of Cinema DNG file that Magic Lantern produces, and this speeds up the process tremendously. Best of all, the Lite version of Resolve is free, and nearly full-featured.

Third, once you get a ProRes daily generated, the colors, crispness and dynamic range of the image are freakishly awesome. We love the ProRes file so much that we just throw away the raw. It’s too expensive for us to store it, and the ProRes is so good, in comparison to what we’re used to with H264, that we are thrilled with it. But this does mean you have to be making some basic color grading decisions at the time you generate the daily. Not a big deal – because with a DSLR, you are making those decisions at the time you shoot anyway. Saving the raw files would allow you to defer those choices as long as you wanted.

Fourth, raw wants slight overexposure, unlike h264 on the 5d, which wants slight underexposure. I’m still getting used to this idea. But with Magic Lantern raw, underexposure = noise. Lots of noise. You can add denoising in post, and the 10-bit daily cleans up nicely, much nicer than the 8-bit I’m used to. But still, you’re so much better off to overexpose a little, and not have to deal with the noise at all. I’m finding about 1/2-stop of overexposure is about right. It’s kind of like shooting negative film – a little overexposure just gives you more detail to pull a print from.

Fifth, there is no sync sound in Magic Lantern raw. So that means clapping everything, which I kind of hate doing on docs. I prefer using PluralEyes to sync my footage. And you can’t do that with Magic Lantern raw. You’ll notice this video has no sync sound – we recorded the sound effects that you hear, but I had to play around with getting them to sound right, since they weren’t synced. Another big time drain. So I definitely would not recommend using Magic Lantern raw on any project that needed sync sound.

Sixth, color grading is harder, even though the file is better. It’s the paradox of choice: you can do so many things in the grade, that you can get lost in the weeds trying on options. Because I’m not a professional colorist, I like the predictability of dropping FilmConvert Pro onto my footage, which is pre-mapped to 5dmkiii with the picture style that I use. I get great results every time that way. But with these raw files, you have to really approach the grade like a pro, without presets. So it’s more work.

Seventh, you can turn any lens into a macro by using Magic Lantern’s crop-sensor shooting mode. But beware: if you have an hdmi monitor connected, it will result in pink-frame tearing. In fact, you’ll get a few random pink frames into your footage even if you disconnect the monitor. So it’s not a feature you can really depend on. But there’s something incredible about being able to be shooting with a 50mm lens, and just punch in the focus, and start rolling at 150mm equivalent, up close. Notice the shot of the brooch in the heart-shaped case at 1:22:20. You could pull the artist’s fingerprint off one of these frames! That’s with a 50mm, non-macro lens, in crop-sensor mode. It’s sick.

I’ll definitely be using Magic Lantern more in future projects. The image is just too good to be resisted! But the challenges associated with acquiring it and the workflow issues will probably keep me from using this extensively for now.

New work for IndieFlix

Our latest project is a short web promo for Seattle streaming video startup IndieFlix. Using footage from a few of the thousands of titles in their library, Lisa and I cut several versions of this teaser, which is aimed at helping IndieFlix do for independent cinefiles what NetFlix has done for mainstream moviegoers. Check it out:

We’re thrilled to be in production on another web promo for IndieFlix, that will be released in time for Sundance.

Findus: Rolf

Here’s a video that was shared by of IDEO’s Jen Panasik during her talk at the Seattle Interactive Conference on Friday.

I left thinking that it was an example of IDEO’s work, but a little research reveals it was actually produced in 2010 by a UK filmmaker named Ben Fogg of Asylum Films.

Part of a seven episode series filmed in 2010. All shot on location in Sweden. written, directed and edited by Ben Fogg. My idea was to reposition Findus as a more natural brand by focusing on each
part of their operation and the passionate people they had working for the company.

Regardless of where it came from, it’s flat-out brilliant storytelling that leaves me feeling inspired.