I’ve Started a Second Blog!

1 06 2013

735453_10100527795815001_1731267763_oThis is not really movie related, but I did want to let all my followers over here at Notes on a Film know that I have started a second blog that will run in conjunction with my updates here at Notes on a Film.

Outside of movies, music, golf and being a car enthusiast, I am also a really big pinball nut. I know, I’ve got too many hobbies; my wallet reminds me of that every day. Lately, however, my engagement in the pinball hobby has been in full swing, and I felt it might be nice to have a blog devoted to that interest to cover my collecting adventures, tournaments, game reviews, repairs and anything else related to the playing and collecting of pinball machines. In reality, both of these blogs are partially just a great outlet for me to get some time in one of my other big hobbies: writing.

So, if you have ever thrown a few quarters into a silver ball machine, are a seasoned enthusiast  a collector, or heck, never even seen or heard of one (!), cruise on over to: http://www.thepinballreview.com. I just started it yesterday, so it’s pretty sparse right now, but will continue to get updated regularly as well as here at Notes on a Film getting a renewed portion of my time.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to subscribe, bookmark or check back regularly to both of my blogs!

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Latest Commercial Project Wrapped!

2 09 2012

For those of you who don’t know,  I serve as the Video/Web Specialist for a privately owned commerce company in Winston-Salem, N.C., Inmar, Inc.  One of the recent projects that I worked on was a commercial spot to try to explain exactly who we are and what we do.  Here’s how trying to answer that question usually goes (hang in there): We are a B2B commerce company that operates three individual, though collaborative, networks; those being Supply Chain, Healthcare and Promotions.  In the Supply Chain leg of our business, we handle recalls, remarketing, reverse logistics, returns, hazardous waste management, business intelligence and supply chain consulting.  For Healthcare, we operate much the same, but with emphasis on healthcare and pharmaceutical businesses. For Promotions, we reconcile and offer a multitude of services for both paper and digital coupons.  Gets a bit verbose, eh?

To remedy this situation a bit, I was tasked with creating a :90 to 2 minute spot that helped condense this down and make it more manageable for the everyday person who was unfamiliar with our business. The average person, however, doesn’t always understand the intricacies of a B2B business, so what would be the best approach?  Well, I thought about it for a bit, and what is the one thing we all are?  Consumers.  With the idea of basing the project from the point of view of the consumer and how we touch the transactions that consumers use everyday, we entered into a series of meetings with our writing team and VP of Communications.  One of our writers, Steve Eller, was nominated for the actual writing of the script.  Once his first draft was in, several revisions were made by various people in the company, and within about a week we had a solid script in place.

The script was to a final draft in very early August.  However, a goal was set to allow our CEO to take this video with him for the GMA Executive Conference – that conference began on August 25th.  The script broke down to approximately 9-11 roles, 4 locations and a voiceover underneath.  I was pretty confidant in being able to find the actors, but the 4 locations, which included a residential home, grocery store, pharmacy and returns counter, would prove more difficult.  Furthermore, I was directing, shooting, producing and editing the project; but, not the first time I’ve been on a tight deadline, so I was happy to take the challenge.

The first order of business was casting our lead actress, who ended up being someone I’ve worked with as both a DP and a director in the past, Lisa Sain Odom.  Getting an actress, who appears in every scene of the spot, that I was comfortable with, and who, likewise, was comfortable with me, was paramount.  From there, I hired out another actor I’ve worked with on several occasions, Tommy Trull.  For their children, we used one of our graphic designers, Kristen Hansen’s, kids.  Knowing the residential home would be the easiest location to fill, I set out asking around the office who was open to a small crew and cast taking over their home for a day.  Our head writer, Shannon Hanington, graciously obliged.  For help that day, I hired out longtime colleague Dan A. R. Kelly, who is literally a film production extraordinare, to be my second set of hands and eyes on set.  Our writing team, Greg, Shannon and Steve, were also on hand to help out.  The first and last scenes were shot at this location, and the first day proved a smooth and easy day for both cast and crew.

The second day on the books ended up being the returns counter segment.  At first, I was very concerned about finding this location; well, let’s be honest, I was concerned about all the other locations outside of the residential home.  But, luckily, Inmar has an in-house digital display that our clients can go through that helps show how our software and technology systems work.  Steve and I went over to see if this looked close enough to what a returns counter would at a store, and thank goodness, it looked great.  Being on site at our headquarters, it was easy to book this location, and the two actresses for this part were none other than our gracious host for the residential scenes, Shannon Hanington, and our Communications Intern, Karla Barnes.  Outside of having to send Greg out for some tough green to match the overhead fluorescents, we had another easy setup/easy shoot day.

Now, we get to the hard locations: a grocery store and a pharmacy.  After multiple false starts on both of these locations (who would have thought a grocery store and pharmacy would be so hard to get permission to shoot in?  We even had a budget for the locations!), I finally found two that would work.  The first, was a member of the IGA, Cedar Lodge in Thomasville, N.C., who I can’t speak highly enough of.  They were so gracious and open in letting us shoot at their store, I really can’t thank them enough.  Being that we needed to shoot once the store closed, our shoot day (night) for that ended up being from 8pm-midnight.  Knowing I didn’t have enough in the budget to replace overheads with color balanced tubes, or cover with 1/4 magenta, I had to use the fluorescent fixtures overhead as part of the scene.  I supplemented the ambience with a Jokerbug 800, gelled with full plus green, bounced into beadboard, and accented backlight with two in-house ARRI 650w fresnels, gelled with a 1/2 blue as well.  For this day, as well as the pharmacy shoot, another longtime trusted film colleague was on set to be my extra set of hands and eyes, Shane D. Smith.

My supervisor found us a pharmacy in her hometown the day before we were going to loose our lead actress due to availability – what luck!  The pharmacy we used was Mt. Pilot Drug in Pilot Mountain, another perfect location, and likewise, very gracious owners who didn’t mind our taking over the place for a few hours after closing.  Again, we shot in the late evening, and a very similar lighting setup was used for these scenes as was done in the grocery store with the Jokerbug 800 and the ARRI 650s.  Since the shoot took place over 5 separate days, over a two week period, I had already begun assembling the cut.  Furthermore, I got the voiceover done by professional VO artist Mark Cardnella (http://cardnella.com/), very early on so I could layer footage as it came in.  So, post on the last few scenes wasn’t too rough.

I ended up finishing the project about 3 days ahead of schedule.  Of course, there were some revisions needed as with any project of this size and scope; the final revisions were submitted Thursday late evening before our CEO was to leave the following day.  But, the video made it with him to the conference and, from what I heard, went over very well.  That’s all that really matters in the end, and makes all the stresses of a tight deadline all the more rewarding.

For those interested, here’s a link to the finished cut:


TECH SPECS:

Camera: Sony NEX-FS700 with 18-200 stock E-mount lens

Capture Resolution: 1920×1080 24p

Post: Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with process shot and outro graphic composed in Adobe After Effects CS6.  Grading completed in Adobe Speedgrade CS6.





Production Heavy, Just the Way I Like It!

4 07 2012

From our hottest day on Friday. This was the morning though, when it was still reasonably cool.

So, for the last few weeks, I have been super busy with a number of productions, which is always an excellent thing!  With intent not to bore, I’ll give as much run down on the last few projects I’ve been involved in, without comprising any confidential details about the projects or who was involved in each production specifically.

First up, Down Fenix Media, LLC officially wrapped production on a three-video series for a very large client, who will remain unnamed since I haven’t cleared anything with them, this past Sunday.  We had spent the Saturday before filming at the large Farmer’s Market outside of Greensboro, and then spent two additional days shooting various material at the Arboretum near downtown Greensboro, and one day of interiors at our lead actresses’s apartment.  All days went really smoothly, and it’s a good feeling to have everything in the can on this project.  It’s currently being edited by our resident editor extraordinaire Bryan R. “Higgibaby” (not an official nickname, he will likely punch you if you call him this…he punches me often for it) Higgins.  In other DFM, LLC news, look out for our new (and much improved) Web site coming very soon!

Following those two shoot days over the weekend with DFM, I was back in the office at Inmar Monday morning, and busy with an array of exciting projects we have/had going on.  On Tuesday, I traveled with one of our in-house Communications Writers, our Associate Marketing Manager for Digital Promotions and our Assistant Events Planner, who happened to be pulling double duty that day by also serving as an actress, and headed down to Trailblazers Studios in Raleigh.  There, we were shooting a teaser for our Digital Promotions network, but again I will leave very open ended, because I don’t want to leak too much information….just believe me, exciting stuff!  I was really impressed with Trailblazers, a beautiful and very well-built studio – a rarity for this area!  Also, that day, I was wearing a bit of a different hat than I am used to on set – playing a co-producer/technical advisor role for my company.  It was fun coming at a project from that angle, as I find it exhilarating to try out different roles once in awhile, but my technician side got the best of me a few times and I jumped in to Dolly Grip on a few of the moving shots, since I saw the need arose.

Wednesday, I was swamped in pre-production for another series of three videos, but also part of the same Digital Promotions Network campaign.  We shot this series of three videos with the help of a local LLC, and great bunch of guys, at a perfect location for the stories, the Riverpark at Cooleemee Falls in Davie County, on Thursday and Friday.  Thursday and Friday’s shot lists were completely day exteriors, all 95+ degree weather, so it definitely comprised of some HOT shooting conditions, but everything went smoothly and we popped off the final shots right before we had to leave the location at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon.  In addition to serving as a liaison between Inmar and the contracted LLC for the shoot days, I also got the opportunity to gaff on set, and it was nice meeting and working with the crew and cast on both of those days.

Candid Photo from Thursday’s Digital Promotions Shoot.

Following the grueling heat of Friday’s shoot, I began a five day July 4th staycation, which is finally winding down today.  I’m happy to report that my novel is nearing its final few chapters of the first draft, and look out for some new reviews here on the blog in the coming days.  Thanks for reading and please enjoy a few of the quick production stills I popped off on my iPhone during our shoot days on Thursday and Friday!





Official Online Short Film Release: Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door”

22 05 2012

It is with great pleasure that I officially announce the online release of my directorial debut, “Beyond the Door.”  The film was produced by myself and Dan A. R. Kelly, and stars Lisa Sain Odom as Laura, Reid Dalton as Larry and Eljiah Chester as Bob Chambers.

Shot over Labor Day weekend in 2010, the film went through a lengthy post-production phase, largely in part to my hectic schedule at the time.  The film was shot by the very talented Jeff Stepp, had production design by UNCSA alum Antonia DiNardo and the score and sound design was completed by Down Fenix Media, LLC member Jon Fredette.  Without the generous contribution of all these people, the rest of the crew, my brother John Mandrano and many others, I could have never completed this pet project.

The budget was completely out of pocket; if memory serves me, somewhere in the $3,500 range.  For some that’s not much, but for me at the time that was quite an undertaking in congruence with my regular bills.  Though it was a lot out of my pocket, all the wonderful people who helped me complete this film took huge cuts on their usual rates, some helping for no pay at all, and for that I am eternally grateful.  Over the three days of shooting, no day was less than a 12 hour day and our middle day was close to 17 hours, so it definitely wasn’t a cake shoot.

Anyway, I’ve got several posts on here that dig a little deeper into the production of this film if you are interested in checking them out, namely here and here.  So, without any further adieu, rambling or behind-the-scenes dialog, I present you with my directorial debut and the adaptation of the Philip K. Dick public domain short story “Beyond the Door”:





The Time is Close at Hand: Goodbye Final Cut Pro

21 05 2012

Logos for Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. Copyright Apple and Adobe.

Well, I think the time has finally come that I will be weening off Final Cut Pro for good, as much as it pains me to say.  I began using Final Cut, Apple’s professional non-linear editing software, in 2002 during my freshman year in the then Broadcasting and Cinema Department of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Our editing lab at the time had Mac G4s with FCP 3.0 loaded on them, and we ingested the primary form of media, mini-DV tapes, through mini-DV/VHS combo decks that sat on top of 4:3 color broadcast monitors.  It was humble beginnings with the software, but was fostered through my tenure at UNCG and, subsequent, upgrade of our systems to FCP HD (4.5) by my senior year.

Following graduation in 2006, I embarked on a semester long journey into law school at Elon University’s School of Law.  Still to this day, I will speak high praises of their program; law school just wasn’t right for me personally.  In November of the first semester, I made the hard and long thought out decision to drop out, doing so just before the deadline of making the difference between my professional transcript reading “Withdrawl” rather than “Failed” (since I wouldn’t have taken the exams and completed the mini-semester following).  I used what monies I had set aside for my next semester of law school and bought about $11,000 worth of HD video gear including an HVX-200, FS-100 Firestore device, Lowel lighting kit, Azden shotgun mic and my first ever personally owned Mac: an iMac 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo (which has since been bequeathed to my girlfriend) .  I upgraded the stock RAM and processor to as high as I could on Apple.com and then purchased Final Cut 5.1.  About a year and half later I made the jump to 6.0 and then to 7, the last true version release of the software as far as I am concerned, in 2009.

Just last year, the latest official release, Final Cut Pro X, was released.  The new release, a complete redesign of the program, has all but neglected the professional clientele who use the software and caters to high grade consumer-based editing.  Essentially, it’s iMovie Pro.  I tried the free trial version of the software for about three weeks and hated it; it was one of the worst editing environments I had ever used.  Even with some of the firmware updates that were released to clear up some of the original issues, it still wasn’t the FCP I know and love.

Yet, still I persevered and continue using FCP 7 and the rest of the associated programs with FCP Studio 3 as my primary NLE.  I dabbled in Adobe Premiere during this disheartening time, but still found myself coming back to FCP 7.  However, the time has come where I must make the cut for good.  FCP 7, now a three year old software, will only run as a 32-bit program, limits the amount of RAM you are able to utilize and has several other antiquated features that are pushing it further and further into being obsolete.  Meanwhile, competitors like Adobe just keep sweetening the deal.  With their recent release of Adobe CS6, I think they have finally won me over; that, and the fact that my new job will require me to edit in a PC environment.  But, since I am switching for work, I think it is a good time to go ahead and make the switch at home as well.

In reading over the upgrades to the CS6 Master Collection suite, I found my mouth watering.  With updates to Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Audition, as well as the addition of Speedgrade, a color correction software, and the ease of use with Prelude and Encore, all programs working seamlessly together, I just can’t continue using an outdated program.  Heck, Adobe even makes the switch easy for you by allowing you to choose Final Cut Pro Keyboard Shortcuts in the Preferences menu!

I’m excited about the opportunity to grow as an Adobe user, but will be saddened to leave behind Final Cut Pro.  It will be like the loss of an old friend, one that I have had a now ten year relationship with.   This is not to say that I will never consider Apple’s wonderful NLE again, but they will have to do some major overhauls to convert me back.  Until then, Adobe here I come!





How to Work with a Creative Person

24 12 2011

Photo by Johnny Magnusson

After years of working freelance and producing content for a wide range of clients, witnessing a barrage of content that is excruciatingly below par both on a micro and macro level and the recent headlines regarding such decisions as CNN firing photojournalists in favor of iReport, I have decided to create a handy guide on how to work with creative people to elicit the best end user products.  I think a lot of left brainers have a hard time working with creative people, and, in turn, the same can be said vice versa.  I’m not trying to put you down or declare the left brain way wrong, I’m just trying to help you all get good quality of work from the money you spend on us to produce the said work.   So, without further adieu, here are things to keep in mind when working with a “creative type”:

1. Let us do our job

This is probably the biggest problem in the creative industry.  As a videographer, editor, graphic designer, musician or visual artist, you hire us because you want a certain calibre of quality brought to the project you are trying to produce.  Henceforth, you feel that our skill level, resume and portfolio speaks for itself to a degree that we can make sound judgements producing content of such a form as you desire.  The worst thing you can do is hire us and then try to take over all the creative decisions.  We want to make your ideas come to life and we want them to be the best they can possibly be!  After all, we take as much pride in our work as I’m sure you do in yours.  Here’s an analogy: if you went to the doctor for an illness, you would be paying for his expertise in the problem that was ailing you.  If he recommended you do x, y and z, wouldn’t you heed his instructions?  You wouldn’t second guess his work, education or treatment plan; a plan he has no doubt likely given to many other patients with similar symptoms.  We are the same way, though on a much less life or death scale.  This is what we do day in and day out and we have encountered scenarios similar to yours hundreds of times.  We know what works and what doesn’t, so if you hire us to do a project, please accept our professional opinions.  We know what we are doing and we promise it will help your business if you can trust in our advice and let us implement the look and feel of the design.  After all, what else are you paying us for?  We are technicians to a degree, but the skill is only part of the package – the vision is the rest.

2. Our dressing the part is different from yours

I understand how important a professional attire is in any professional situation.  However, each job has specifics for suitable dress depending on various circumstances.  For instance, it would be a bit off putting if I hired a carpenter to build a house, and he showed up in a three piece suit to complete the job.  For certain creative professionals whose work is primarily computer driven, the concern about wearing slacks and collared shirts is not too big a deal.  However, for videographers that are out in the field with two to three tons of gear in the middle of the summer in the desert, or musicians that are on stage under bright lights with 20 lbs. of instrument strapped around their necks, the requirement for “formal dress code” is a bit unreasonable.  It isn’t that we are all just a bunch of hippies who can’t stand cutting our hair and wearing a tie (though to be fair, there are some of us out there that fit this bill), it’s that to do our job at times, we need to have the option of wearing a tee shirt and jeans to maneuver properly and be somewhat comfortable.

3. We have bills too

Believe it or not, most of us actually have the same bills you do every month.  We have to keep a roof over our heads, pay for our car when it breaks down, put food in our mouths, enjoy having pets, etc.  So, when I see ads for freelance opportunities asking for creative services that offer little to no money, I am very disheartened.  Most of the creative professionals I know have put years and years of blood, sweat, tears, trial and tribulation into their craft to become good enough at it to call themselves professionals and try to make a living doing said work.  Not everyone can design a Web site, play an instrument, light a set, write a script or take a well composed photograph; the ability to do so takes years of practice.  Picasso said it best to a woman who had asked him to draw a sketch on a napkin at a restaurant during his later years: he drew the sketch and then told her the cost of the drawing would be $10,000.  Exasperated, the woman replied, “But that only took you five minutes to draw!”  To which, Picasso responded, “No madam, it took me a lifetime.”

4. We are not magicians

Though we take our jobs very seriously and work diligently to be the best we can be, there is a point where the boundaries of physics, software, hardware, human will or a mixture of all come to an end.  We are always happy to try our best to make you happy, but there are some things that simply cannot be done.  One time, the team I was working on was asked to “photoshop in” people into a moving dolly shot; things like this simply cannot be done, unless quality is willing to be sacrificed to the point of being laughable.  That’s why it is important when working with a creative person to plan extensively for what you want as an end product.  There are too many facets of our work that cannot simply be undone or redone; we would much rather spend extra time working with you to understand a full idea of your vision, than have to practically redo the entire project after its essentially completed.  In similar regards, please, please don’t ever totally change your vision once 90% of a project is complete.  There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time, effort and energy to accomplish your vision, just to find that you had an epiphany the night of the final deadline and said vision has completely changed.

5. You are still the boss

So, the first 4 steps are generally guides on what is tough for us, but we all understand that you are still the boss.  If we are lagging behind or taking an absorbent amount of time to create something or finish it, it is still your place to push us along.  Also, some creative types have a problem getting so creative they forget what the budget is on a particularly project; this is another great place for you to intervene.  We are not unreasonable people and we want to understand your side as much as we want you to understand ours.  I hope this has been helpful and I love working for you guys, I really do!  It’s hard taking the left brain and right brain and meeting in the middle, and if this has presented any further light on the situation to you guys, then I’m very happy about that.  If you think I’m just a snobby little day-dreaming right brainer who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I can accept that too.  We all have our opinions and thanks for reading!

 





Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

22 12 2011

I apologize for the low amount of posts this month, but it has been quite a month.  I know not all of you care what I’m up to in my personal life, but I figure I’ll fill you guys in on a little bit of my latest happenings.

In addition to the normal routine of work mixed with movie watching, playing guitar, playing golf and working towards a novel, I have also been working on closing on a new house this month.  Having lived in a condo now for over 3 years, the new 2400 sq. ft. home with 1 acre of land will be a much welcomed amenity.  I will finally have the space for a true “man cave,” and have the yardage to grow a garden and possibly even practice my chipping.  If you haven’t been through buying a new home since the economy crash, it is about the most frustrating thing you will ever go through.  When I bought my condo in 2008, it was a breeze; but now, even a well qualified individual for a certain property has to go through more hoops than I care to remember.  However, it looks like all will work out, and we will be moving in just after Christmas into our new home.  To celebrate, we may even adopt a second dog (Maddie, if you are reading this, the key word in this sentence is may).

Anyway, I’ve felt blessed this year and happy with a lot of innovations that have been happening in both my work and personal life.  My novel is making good head way (20,000 words in!) and it’s the first novel I’ve began that I feel is actually a good, well-structured story even this far in.  In addition, I’m still in constant talks with filmmaking buddies about various projects we are hoping to pursue on the horizon and other exciting prospects in narrative and non-narrative film production.  I hope all of you are doing well and to sign out for my five day holiday vacation, I leave you with a short list of some of my personal favorite Christmas films:

5. Love, Actually

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. A Christmas Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Scrooged

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. It’s a Wonderful Life








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