Do Cameras Matter in Filmmaking?

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.


BTS Photos: TV Commercial Production

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!

Fun in Casting for a TV Commercial

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.


Posted by in Filmmaking, Rant


A Secret To Working With Guys Like Me

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.



Posted by in Filmmaking, Rant


June Is Simplification Month

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.

Posted by in Rant



A Strange Movie Story


DISCLAIMER: This story would/could only happen in Los Angeles. People living elsewhere have better things to do, I think, and the fact that every person you meet in LA is an aspiring writer, director, or actor makes encounters like these not only a possibility, but a probability. Even for a small festival film like “Unlaced”.

Today I went to a store, and the person behind the counter started talking:

“I know you! You’re that movie guy!”
“Probably not.”
“Yeah, you are- God, I hated your movie, that guys’ wife was such a bitch!”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“Yeah, I was so happy when he fought back and got his life back.”
“Me, too.”
“So, you used to go to the Studio City store, right? I mean, I remember you.”
“Er, yes, yes I did.”
“So you must live around here. I mean, haha, of course you do. You want the usual?”
“The usual?”
“Yeah, you always get the xxxxxx (she tells me exactly my order)”
“Sure, thanks”


Posted by in Filmmaking


Writing With Blake Snyder

I am doing a lot of writing now, so I’ve naturally pulled out my (2nd) beat-up copy of “Save The Cat!” for a quick review. I still love that book. It was written by Blake Snyder, a screenwriter whose legacy wasn’t just the movies he wrote, but the knowledge he shared and the support he freely gave to others pursuing the craft. His books are quite a few years old, now, and Blake is no longer with us, but his “Save The Cat!” series is probably my favorite set of books on how to write stories that resonate with audiences.

I was lucky enough to meet and hang out with Blake one-on-one a couple of years before he died. It was one of those fluke things, where his manager knew someone I knew, and set it up. I’d just finished writing and directing a web series that’d gotten some serious notice and been seen by a huge audience thanks to its distribution on a couple of high-profile mobile platforms, and of course, Blake’s book was out and he was quite the in-demand screenwriting guru.

We talked projects, and he shared a couple he was working on with me, and I with him. As far as I know, none of the projects we discussed that day ever got off the ground, but that’s OK- part of being a writer is knowing that a lot of your ideas just won’t make it past the dreaming stage.

Blake was fascinated with my web series work, and posted a blog about wanting to interview me on the air for his podcast soon. Unfortunately, that never happened- we were both busy, and he died not too long after that. But to me, like many writers, Blake will never truly die- he’s left us a fantastic set of books and a lot of solid thoughts on how to tell stories.

So, here I go again, like thousands of other writers, opening up “Save The Cat!” and reminding myself of his rules on how to create a great screenplay. Thanks, Blake!


Posted by in Filmmaking


Best Director Win at FirstGlance Film Festival for “Unlaced”

Patrick Ortman wins Best Director @ FirstGlance Hollywood Film festival 2013

Patrick Ortman wins Best Director @ FirstGlance Hollywood Film Festival 2013

I’m thrilled to announce that my film “Unlaced” won Best Director at the 2013 Hollywood FirstGlance Film Festival last week. It was a blast seeing our work projected at the Charlie Chaplin Theater in Hollywood, on the lot at Raleigh Studios, and it was great reconnecting with some special members of the crew, and our two awesome female leads in the movie- Ashley Bracken and Joanne Ryan. That’s Ashley, Joanne, me, and producer Kathi in the photo above.

Afterwards, FirstGlance interviewed Kathi and me about the win. I’m sure that video will pop up online at some point.

I enjoyed screening “Unlaced” at FirstGlance. They’re a class act. What’s more, this is the first festival I’ve attended where I wasn’t bored with the program. Every film that played was good, and worthy. Fantastic!


* photo copyright 2013 FirstGlance Film Festival, Hollywood

Producing Lawyer Videos Galore

Last week we went to San Diego and worked with two dozen attorneys to create web videos for their online marketing. It went fantastic. I like working with lawyers, especially when they appreciate the professionalism and quality they’re getting. I’ll post some examples on in a few weeks, to go with our existing corporate video production reel.

Blackmagic Changes Things Again

Today, Blackmagic Designs announced two new cameras (and some other stuff, like a new version of DaVinci Resolve- one of the tools I use every day to make beautiful videos and films). The first is a 4K, super35mm sensor camera that uses Canon EF lenses. Oh, and it’s got a global shutter. Price? $4,000. They claim it’ll be shipping in July, too.

The second is a pocket Super16mm 1080p camera that records ProRes or compressed DNG (like the 4K camera). It’s TINY. It fits in the palm of your hand. And it can use the beautiful Leica and Fuji lenses we own and use on our XPro-1, with an adapter. Price? $999.

This shakes things up quite a bit in my world. Now, if Blackmagic can actually ship these things in quantity, on time… well, it’ll change things for filmmakers of all budgets.

I pre-ordered the pocket one today. Why? Because it’s priced right, and because I can use lenses I love with it, and because I can put it in a bag and use it underwater if I like. It’s just incredibly flexible. Oh, and I’d be able to shoot stuff in crowds and in plain sight without getting busted by the police. Not that I’d ever do that, of course- one must obey the laws of one’s municipality regarding shooting films.

I’ll most likely get the 4K one, too, but I want to see some footage and get some “in the field” reports of it, first.

To me, these cameras really aren’t for TV commercial production, or corporate work. They’re for indie filmmakers. They’re what the RED Scarlet should have been, which is a quality way to record images that look like film. Blackmagic is even branding these cameras as “digital film”. For most TV jobs, we’ll stick to Alexas and Canon’s C-300 or whatever the latest is (that’s another story), because those cameras are the standards and they do an excellent job. But if I were shooting another indie film like “Unlaced”, or maybe a web series, I’d seriously consider using the Blackmagic cinema cameras.


Posted by in Filmmaking, Rant


About PatrickOrtman, Inc.

PatrickOrtman, Inc. is one of the top-rated video production companies in Los Angeles and New York City. We make high-end corporate videos, and commercials for TV and digital for clients that include 11 Fortune 500s.