Video teaser for 2013 Seattle Interactive Conference is now live

Here’s the fruits of our labor for Seattle Interactive Conference this year: the official conference teaser is now live. I would like to send a big thank you to motion graphics designer Jael Topek, who did a bang-up job with the animations, and Michiko Swiggs, the graphic designer who created Timmy, the owl that is the official mascot of the event.

See you all at the conference in October.

The Last Light short film campaign launches

I am thrilled to be DPing a short film later this month called The Last Light. My partner LIsa Cooper is producing the film, which is directed by Jennifer Cummins, whom we met because of the 48 Hour Film Challenge earlier this year. The screenplay was written by Persephone Vandegrift, a talented Seattle writer. Here’s the synopsis:

Karen is a hard-working single mother of two girls, Hanna, 14, and Becca, 6. When the unthinkable happens and Becca’s young life is tragically cut short, Karen faces her fears and searches Becca’s room for the redemption and forgiveness she desperately needs. If we have a light to guide us, we can always find our way home.

THE LAST LIGHT is a story about finding light in the darkest of moments. Grief is a natural emotion, but sometimes it lasts too long. Forgiving oneself and accepting what life delivers is the biggest step toward managing grief. THE LAST LIGHT will inspire not only those who are currently in pain, but also those with loved ones who need help.

This is a film made by women, who fill all but one of the key positions, leaving me as the token male. That’s intentional, because the film is aimed at the Women in Film competition in Vancouver, BC, which requires it. I’m honored to be included. Here’s more about the crew.

Jennifer Cummins (Director) has directed and produced documentaries for Sunsports, ABC News, KelbyTv.com, and KelbyTraining.com. Jennifer has also worked with companies such as Turner Broadcasting, Carnival Cruiselines and Kelby Media Group. Most recently, Jennifer jumped feet first into Seattle’s 48 Hour Film Project where she directed, produced and edited MAN AND A VAN. She is also an avid portrait photographer and founder of www.blueedgephoto.com. Inspired by Gandhi’s quote: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will,” Jennifer has a passion for telling stories of inner strength and overcoming hardships to inspire the soul.

Persephone Vandegrift (Writer) debuted her first mytho/supernatual play, TWO, back in 1996. Since then she’s written several plays that have been performed nationally. Her first feature, DEATH OF A MORTAL WOMAN, has won several screenwriting awards. Her award-winning short script turned film, ALL THINGS HIDDEN, is about to hit the festival circuit. Another feature, THE WATER KING, is currently in development. Check out Seph’s work: www.persephonevandegrift.webs.com.

Lisa Cooper (Producer) With a background in the visual arts, as well as her corporate experience at Amazon, Lisa has an uncompromising ability to deliver on budget and on time. She produced BEYOND NAKED, a recipient of the “Best Documentary” award at Seattle’s STIFF Festival 2013. She most recently wrote and directed a short film called MR FAMOUS, an Audience Choice award winner in the Seattle 48 Hour Film Project. She partners with Dan McComb at Visual Contact.

Dan McComb (Director of Photography) is an award-winning photojournalist, with publication credits including “Time” and “Newsweek.” This experience is the foundation of his current work as a documentary filmmaker. His first feature-length film, BEYOND NAKED, received the “Best Documentary” award at Seattle’s STIFF Festival in 2013. His short films THE COFFINMAKER and THE METALSMITH are recent Vimeo Staff Picks. He partners with Lisa Cooper at Visual Contact.

Catherine Grealish (Composer) is a composer for film, media and live performance who has experience in a wide range of music genres. A multi-instrumentalist, she is a classically and jazz trained singer, and also plays violin, piano, and guitar. Her piano piece Remember Me is featured in our video.

We’re raising money for this film with an IndieGoGo campaign, which launched yesterday. I can’t believe how fast this film has picked up support. It was 50 percent funded within a couple of hours of launch. I’ve never seen a campaign do that well right out of the gate. We still have a ways to go to get fully funded, of course, and for that we need your help. If you’ve ever been touched deeply by grief, please considering supporting this film.

Ken Simpson: My 720p beats your 4k

Here’s a rare and refreshing perspective: a director willing to call bullshit on the rush to 4k. You tell ‘em Ken! Story is still very much king. So how come all you hear about his the latest camera? I’m guilty of that too, certainly. And the reason has to have something to do with the fact that story is hard, and it means talking about individual projects, and, as is pointed out in Ken’s rant, there aren’t any large camera companies that have stories to promote – they have cameras to sell. The narrative of filmmaking tends to be dominated by companies with products to push. Happily, we have Ken’s reminder about what the real deal is: story.

We Make Seattle project kicks off

I’m officially on board with an exciting new film project. It’s a short called We Make Seattle, which I’m going to DP for Scott Berkun. Bryan Zug and Adam Baggett of Bootstrapper Studios are producing it. We need to raise $28k to make this film. Here’s the pitch:

I’m thrilled to be lensing this film because entrepreneurship is near and dear to my heart. My very first short, Shine, was all about small business people chasing their dreams. But perhaps most exciting for me is the opportunity to make a film with Scott Berkun. Scott is an incredible writer and all around bright guy, whose work I’ve been reading and following for five years or more. His latest book, The Year Without Pants, chronicles his adventures working as a remote employee for WordPress.com for one year.

Scott has made no secret about his desire to try his hand at filmmaking, and I’m deeply honored to have the opportunity to work with him on his first short. And, this is a film about my favorite city in the whole world. From the film’s website:

This short film is a celebration of what makes Seattle the best place in the world for entrepreneurs and creatives to live. It tells the story of the vibrant and supportive community we have for starting companies, betting on dreams, and chasing big ideas.

Despite being named the #1 tech city in America by The Atlantic, and consistent top rankings on the list of the world’s most livable city, we’re frequently overlooked as the place to go for people with big talents and ideas. This film will change that.

The film has three goals:

1. Celebrate the creative community. We have all personally benefited from the Seattle community, and the film will be a reflection back to the community itself on how many amazing companies, events, and projects are based here. In our daily lives we rarely step back to see the entire city, and We Make Seattle will inspire by telling the story of how many great things happen around us.

2. Help recruiters and entrepreneurs attract talent. NYC, LA and even Portland have produced short videos to help local companies tell the story of their city. Seattle has no such film, until now. The film will be the perfect one link to send to convince ambitious creatives, potential business partners, or top candidates from around the world to bring their passions to the northwest.

3. Have the community tell its own story. Everything about this project is built by the Seattle community itself, and led by well known leaders who have benefited from our creative city and want to give something back. We’ll be inviting people to contribute in various ways throughout the production of the film.

All funds beyond our budget will be used to promote the video, as PR and reaching a wide audience is as important as the video itself.

Just published: Inside the Bullitt Center

When Fast Company Magazine invited Lisa and I to pitch Seattle story ideas, we thought, what’s more heroic than the Bullitt Foundation’s brave new building in Capitol Hill? It’s undeniably the greenest office building in the world. But is it the future of architecture, or an expensive monument to sustainability? Watch the video and let us know what you think.

Technical info:

Camera: 5dmkiii, with Eos-adapted Zeiss prime lens set.
Aviator travel jib.
Graded with Film Convert Pro.

Seattle 48-Hour Film Project fun

Some photos from our foray into narrative filmmaking last weekend, taken by keen eyed Kollin O’Dannel. Lisa and I teamed up with Sean McGrath and his crew to create an entry in the Seattle 48-Hour Film Project, with the help of some amazing volunteers and cast, who worked their hearts out all weekend. It was a blast! Lisa has been hankering to direct for a long time, and she seized on this opportunity to build a crew and shoot something. The result of her first narrative short: audience appreciation award in Category D! Congratulations, Lisa, and thank you to everyone on “Team Naked.”

Want to see it and the other winners? Join us on Aug. 7 at SIFF Cinema at Uptown 7pm at the Best Of 48-Hour screening.

Canon's new 24-70 f/4 makes shooting handheld DSLR video a real possibility

The professional DSLR community has collectively yawned at the recent release of Canon’s 24-70 f/4 zoom. “Too slow for me,” is the conventional wisdom. So far, this lens is getting ignored. And that’s a real shame. Because it has the killer app: hybrid stabilization. For video shooters like me, this turns out to be huge. Game changing, even.

I rented this lens from Lensrentals to test it out (it’s not available at my local rental house, Glazers). Yesterday I took this lens along on a picnic with my wife to Seattle’s Carkeek Park. I shot this video entirely handheld, with my 5dmkiii (in Magic Lantern raw). Check it out:

This lens is a miracle. Forget everything else anybody is saying about it being slow. With a 5dmkiii, just boost your ISO a stop and forget about it. Only one thing matters: you can actually shoot great looking video handheld with it. Let me repeat that: You can shoot handheld with it.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned to NEVER handhold a dslr while shooting video. This is true for almost anyone, but me in particular. My hands are shaky. I wouldn’t even THINK of trying a camera move like the last shot, a tilt up and pan left.

One of my favorite lenses is the 100mm macro L glass from Canon. I like it because the IS on it is amazing. I’ve been wondering ever since why Canon hasn’t built hybrid IS into more lenses. So I was excited to try this new zoom when it was announced, to see if it was able to bring the same formidable stabilization to a general purpose lens. They have, and it rocks.

Stable shooting in 3x. There are two clips in my video that reveal how truly incredible this IS is. Noticing the extreme close up shot at 11:05, and the train approaching at 15:08. These were both shot handheld in Magic Lantern’s crop-sensor mode, which triples the effective focal length of the lens. In the case of the train approaching, I was shoot at 70mm, so x3 = 210mm. Ever try to handhold a 200mm lens while shooting video?

Other nice things about this glass:

1. The size is perfect (small). It feels “just right” on my 5dmkiii.
2. It has a 77mm filter size. Works with all my expensive filters.
3. The image stabilizer is SILENT. I put my ear right up against it, and it just doesn’t make a sound. All of my other Canon IS glass makes too much noise for use with on-camera mic.
4. It has macro, so you can use it in a pinch to grab extreme close up detail shots without reaching for specialty glass.
5. You can shoot stills with it! Zippy autofocus makes grabbing snaps like this easy:

For shooting video, I’m blown away by what this makes possible. I won’t be abandoning my tripod or shoulder rig any time soon, but this lens gives me a whole ‘nother option, one I never imagined I would have with a dslr. I want this lens.

Workflow secrets for rocking RAW on your 5dmkiii

I’ve been going nuts ever since the big announcement came last week that Magic Lantern had cracked the code. I raced to try it out, following the easy setup guide from Andrew Reid at Eoshd.com, who has been blogging at a fever pitch all week. It’s been fascinating to hear the silence on the subject from big-name DSLR bloggers like Philip Bloom (who belatedly invited James Miller to guest post on the topic), Vince Laforet. But I digress. Sexy is back on the 5dmkiii in a very big way.

Here’s a few clips I shot this weekend to test things out:

I’ve never seen colors like this, never seen sharpness like this, never seen files that hold up to heavy, serious color grading. It’s a whole new world.

But as with any new world, there’s lots to be discovered. Here’s a few things I’ve identified that can help you harness the breakthrough.

Get a 64 GB 1000x (udma 7) card.. Actually, get two: one to use until it’s (almost) full, then pop it out and start offloading to your laptop immediately. Continue shooting on your second one. I have what I believe is the fastest 64GB card on the market, the Lexar UDMA 7 1000x. It will set you back a whopping $300. On advice of Andrew at EOSHD, I picked up a $100 Komputer Bay 64GB 1000x. It writes just slightly slower than the Lexar, but fast enough to record full 1920×1080 raw without dropping frames. The word on the street is they are actually Lexar cards that didn’t pass stringent speed tests. This doesn’t make them any less reliable. Note, it takes about 8 minutes to offload a full 64GB card using a USB 3 Lexar CF card reader.

Format your CF card to Exfat (not Fat32). This will give you the option to record files larger than 4GB. On Mac, I used Disk Utility to do this.

It’s important to be running the latest nightly build. The improvements are coming fast, and the difference between the build that Andrew posted in his easy guide and the latest nightly are substantial. You can download the latest pre-compiled build here. Simply overwrite the similar files on your CF card to install.

The raw workflow is a lot of work, but the benefits are breathtaking. Besides the image, which I’m still blown away by, perhaps the most interesting benefit is that I’m forced to review all of my footage immediately after I’ve shot it. Since you have to make decisions about how to interpret your footage when you open it in Camera Raw, you get to think about the shot, how you exposed it, etc. It’s meditative, almost like the old darkroom days (without the smelly chemicals).

Raw files are way too expensive to store for very long. So don’t. Instead, commit. Make dailies immediately and delete the raw files. You’ll still have a thousand times more flexibility to grade your footage later than you ever dreamed of having before. Doing this, I’m actually saving storage space vs. my h264 workflow, because on FCPX, I don’t have to save an original file any more: the ProResHQ daily that I’m generating from raw IS the original file.

Don’t let yourself run out of card while shooting. The files that end because the space ran out seem to be non-openable by raw2dng. This will likely be fixed by a future update to either the firmware to to raw2dng.

Shooting at high isos seems to result in dropped frames (ie, your clip ends before you tell it to). Again, hopefully this won’t be an issue in the future, but for now, shooting with low iso helps.

Turn off sound and global draw to get the best results from your card. There is a small performance hit to using them, and this can make the difference. Record dual-system sound. There is an audio setting that emits a beep at clip start, which you can record with your external recorder, to help you sync your footage later in post.

There are several steps to the workflow: 1. Convert raw to DNG using Raw2dng. This app has gotten WAY better since the easy guide – be very sure to grab the latest version (currently 1.0).

Batch process your raw files by dragging the entire folder onto Raw2DNG.

When you’re ready to do the Camera Raw conversion, you have two options: Photoshop, and After Effects. Photoshop is nice for one-offs, and some people claim it’s faster. But there is a big problem with using Photoshop.

If you’re using Photoshop, you have to save out tifs, and open them in Quicktime 7 to save out the image sequence. And Quicktime 7, for some reason, causes a big gamma shift during this process. Every clip I make this way ends up being too light in the highlights. There’s probably some fix for this, but for me, it’s called AfterEffects.

Using AfterEffects is a little more clunky than Photoshop, but it allows you to queue your work. So it’s actually much less demanding on your attention. You can, in a single session, open all of your clips in Camera Raw, assign each to a different Comp, and add them to the Render Queue. Then when you’re ready to do something else, you hit “Render” and go. You can’t do this with the Photoshop method.

After Effects is painfully slow in rendering out ProRes dailies from dng. It takes about two hours to render a single 64GB card worth of clips on my MacBook Pro 2012 with Nvidia card and 8gb of ram. It’s even slower on my iMac 2011. And tinkering with the preferences and enabling multiprocessor support in AE seems to have no impact. Instead, I have a low tech solution to render speed: Use more than one computer. Yep. A raw workflow will easily keep more than one machine busy. The good news is a subscription to Adobe allows two computers to use the same software license, which I was happy to discover.

I’m hopeful that the Magic Lantern team can figure out how to save CinemaDNG files, because that would mean we could go straight into Davinci Resolve with the raw. That would be seriously awesome.

In the mean time, what workflow tricks are you using to manage your 5dmkRaw workflow?

The Coffinmaker makes Vimeo Staff pick

Thank you, Vimeo. The short video that Lisa and I made, The Coffinmaker, was just named today’s Vimeo Staff Pick. It’s a big thrill to have the second film in our series make Staff Pick, because it ensures tens of thousands of people will see it. And I think Marcus Daly’s work deserves to be known far beyond Vashon Island, don’t you?

I also want to thank Jesse Solomon Clark for his original music, which really brings the piece home.

The only thing that sucks about having the last two films in this series be so well received, is that it sure puts the pressure on our next one! We are looking for people in Seattle area who make things by hand, so if you know someone who you think would be a good fit for this series, please drop me a line and suggest them.