I love the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. It’s fantastic. Makes gorgeous pictures. But in doing tests for a possible new project, we found one issue: moire. See, the BMCC doesn’t have an optical low pass filter on it. That manifests itself in some nasty moire if you’re shooting, as we were, architectural shots of a city. You know, situations where there’s going to be a lot of tight, fine line details.
Luckily, there’s an add-on OLPF coming out from a third party that’ll alleviate this problem. That, plus the global shutter of the rumored 4K Blackmagic Production Camera, may actually prove itself to be quite viable for projects like the one we’re undertaking.
The best visual effects are pretty seamless. You don’t know they’re there, basically. The fact is, on a decent production- even on small ones- it’s quite common for us to do a whole lot in the visual effects arena that the typical viewer won’t notice, unless you saw the original shots. Don’t like the view out the window? Easily changed. Don’t like the sky above? We can change that. Actress has a pimple? Digital makeup. We’ve created whole worlds on greenscreen stages for clients.
Speaking of small productions, here’s a really simple, low-budget VFX shot for an app promo we did. We didn’t have the budget to bring in a Hong Kong taxicab, but the client really wanted one. So we brought in a normal car off the street, and made it look like a Hong Kong taxi, including putting it into a street in Hong Kong, complete with window reflections and more.
When the RED first came out, it changed everything. The picture was stunning for the price. Yeah, it was buggy, but they eventually ironed most of that out. And today, we have a plethora of amazing choices when it comes time to choose a camera for our films. Even on the lower-budget end of things.
These days, most professional camera systems are capable of fantastic pictures. There’s a particular few cameras that I personally like for filmmaking, though. And they are these: Canon’s C-series, Blackmagic’s cameras, Sony’s recent 35mm sensor cams, and (under certain circumstances) the RED. If you’re renting, throw in Alexa, of course.
Any of these cameras can give you a startlingly fantastic image. And it’s been like this for a couple of years, now.
The difference between the images you get and the images the pros get, though, isn’t the camera itself. What really sets the work apart is your choice of lenses, and lighting. These days, assuming you’re using a good camera system, the camera you’re using matters far less than your talent and your lens collection.
I know a bunch of camera fanboys just shit themselves, and are rising up to argue. That’s fine- you guys keep on arguing stupid things like specs and resolution. We’re set on making beautiful images. The fact is, once you reach a certain threshold in camera technology, what starts to hold you back is the optics. Great optics are not cheap, by the way! And your ability as a filmmaker to sculpt the light and create a look matters a lot, obviously.
So do cameras matter in filmmaking? Yes, and no. But certainly, rather than obsessing over camera specs, I think one would be wise to spend that effort on learning how to light and getting some good lenses. Bonus: lenses are a fantastic long-term investment, unlike cameras.
Here’s a ton of BTS (that’s Behind-The-Scenes) photos from my most recent TV commercial production. I directed it, and it was a local commercial for a real estate company. Enjoy!
This week we officially started preproduction for a new TV commercial. I love new beginnings. Of course, we’re behind the 8 Ball on securing locations, but I’m hopeful my contacts and our awesome friends (especially Gary) will be able to help us out and let us create something that’s visually fantastic for this spot.
The exciting thing is, we did casting this week. Unlike a lot of TV commercials, this one actually has a concept and the client’s put some thought into their brand. So finding the perfect people to help realize his vision is paramount. Jess and I set up shop with the client at Spacestation Casting (my favorite for smaller projects) in Hollywood, and we saw about 60 people. I think out of that 60, only two didn’t really give of themselves- everyone for the most part was, as good actors are, very giving and open and fun.
It’s hard to be an actor. You’re running around Los Angeles all day, popping in and giving of yourself for a few minutes, then back in your car and onward. You’re constantly honing your craft, taking classes, performing in theater and web series projects. And you work hard at keeping your instrument in tune. You meet a lot of people, and it’s a life filled with hundreds of “no”s, yet it only takes a strategic few “yes” calls to turn your life around. I respect actors.
It’s also not so easy on the other side of things, if you do it right. Most casting directors are lazy, and they don’t do it right. I do. I feel if I’m meeting people who give of themselves, it’s incumbent upon me to give of myself, too. So I work hard at remaining present, engaged, and open to the actors I meet, and I genuinely try to help them create the performance they need so they get the job.
It’s kinda like going to 60 auditions in one day. But it’s worth it, when you find the right fits for the project at hand.
My grandmother was an artist, and she painted until she died. Mostly the folk art of Tole Painting, and she was pretty good at it. As far as I know, she never asked for, or received, payment for her work. It was all about the art and the craft of creating something beautiful and unique, then sharing it with people she loved.
I’m a little like her, in that I absolutely consider myself an artist and craftsman. You know what? All good filmmakers are. If you’re in it only for the money, if you’re dispassionate about your work, even if you’re “just” doing TV and web commercials, then you’re a hack. In this business, your job is to create something, and part of that is creating a connection between audience and idea/client/product/service. If you’re not full of wonder and proud of what you’re doing, then you’re a sucky hack. And your work will reflect that suckiness.
I’m not saying money doesn’t matter, by the way. It matters a lot. But money without passion or love is… well, crap.
And no, I’m not naive enough to think every video I direct is art. That’s silly. But there’s a certain craftsman’s pride that I need to infuse into every video and every film that I create. That’s a good thing, not just for me but also for my clients. It makes the work better. And sometimes it’s the difference that elevates and makes the work resonate with audiences in ways that continue to amaze me. What we do is powerful magic, and to attempt to reduce it to a formula or paint-by-numbers assembly line loses that magic.
Leo over at zenhabits is proposing a “Simplify Your Day Challenge” for June. He’s got a whole program you can sign up for, an app for your phone, etc., to make it easier to simplify your day.
I’m skipping all that. It sounds too complicated.
I jest. Of course, Leo’s program has a lot of merit. And I love his blog and book. But I’m (as usual) doing my own thing.
I’m cutting down how often I check and respond to email. Unless we’re in crunch-mode on a project, I’m cutting down to 3 times a day on weekdays and once a day (maximum) on weekend days. And when on vacation? Phone’s off (unless, again, a client emergency’s brewing).
Truthfully, I’m getting better and better at turning the phone off or leaving it at home. Used to be, that phone’d be with me everywhere and I’d check it obsessively. But I still check email way too often. That’s gotta change.
I’m not doing it to simplify my day, though. I’m making this change to make space and time to do more, and more outstanding work. See, studies say that when you interrupt a task you’re working on (to, for instance, obsessively check your email), it takes 25 minutes to really get back in the groove.
If you check your email obsessively, like I do, that adds up to a ton of lost productivity and fun every day. What could you do if you had an extra, oh, 3 hours a day of productivity? I could do a lot.
So that’s my contribution to June Simplification Month. Humble (and simple) though it may be.