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!

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LED vs. Tungsten: Not Such a Hard Choice Afterall

24 05 2012

The anatomy of an LED.

I have had this argument with colleagues countless times and it looks like I will finally get a bit of retribution on the issue.  Though LED and Tungsten are not the only two types of lighting units employed in film and video production (HMIs and Fluorescents being the other two big contenders), there has been a huge push by manufacturers of late to bring LED technology to the forefront as a major player, possibly even as an alternative to the tungsten arsenal.

The proponents of LEDs, or light emitting diodes, will generally argue one or a combination of several points heavily: temperature, weight and ease of use.  There is no argument that LEDs are a much cooler alternative to a tungsten light.  In fact, there is hardly any heat at all from these instruments, even after extended use.  Also, because the units are just a panel of light emitting diodes arranged in vertical and horizontal grids, these instruments tend to be lighter, more ergonomic and easier to transport.  The last cornerstone of the pro LED faction is the ease of use, as many of these instruments have not only built-in abilities to dim the emitted light, but also color temperature controls as well.  In theory LEDs seem like a no brainer, don’t they?  If you took these arguments at face value, then sure it would be; however, if you delve a little deeper into the makeup of light, vision and how cameras read the color spectrum, then it’s not such an easy sale.

A classic Mole Richardson tungsten unit

I have always been a strong supporter of the other side of the coin.  Unless I have to, I rarely use anything outside of tungsten or HMI instruments, with LEDs being my last choice, even below fluorescents tube technology instruments like Kino-Flos.  Tungsten instruments have been industry standard since nearly the beginning of motion picture artificial lighting use over 80 years ago.  Tungsten lights work by heating a filament of tungsten in a halogen gas encased tube to temperatures hot enough to glow.  Being a continuous source, these instruments have an arc that creates a very consistent, clean looking stream of visible light both to the eye and through the lens of a camera.  Because these lights are heating the filament to extreme temperatures, they do get hot, and yes, the housing to contain the lamps has to be built in such a way that the lighting instrument isn’t dangerous to use, which more times than not can make these units big and bulky for the amount of output they produce.  All of these physical properties do have their disadvantages, but the one point that can’t be argued is that tungsten instruments produce a very pleasurable light for film and video production.

To illustrate the point, here is a video from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that explains some of the correlations between film emulsions and color, and the relative shortcomings of LED units in today’s productions.  Further results of their extensive studies on the subject are available on the Academy’s Web site at: http://www.oscars.org/science-technology/council/projects/ssl/index.html.

Though it didn’t take a multi-million dollar study by the Academy to convince me that I’d go with a 40-year-old Tweenie over a brand new LED, it does feel good to have some deeply scientific research on hand to help prove my point to detractors.  I will admit that LED technology is an interesting and potentially wonderful tool for filmmakers, but err on the side of caution that this technology is not quite where it needs to be yet to fully incorporate into production workflows on set, unless of course you are going for a specific look that these inferior discontinuous instruments produce.  In that case, I guess you are creating art.





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!





New Bond Film “Skyfall” Moving Forward Nicely

23 02 2012

Copyright 2011 EON Productions

Daniel Craig’s third outing as British super spy James Bond is due out on November 9th.  On the official James Bond 007 Web site, a video blog was recently released detailing director Sam Mendes’s thoughts on the production and reasons for getting involved in the project.  That video can be viewed here:

Few details have been released on the film, outside of the fact that the story will test Bond’s loyalty to his supervisor at MI5, M (Judi Dench).  The production crew compiled for the film is an impressive, though somewhat non-traditional group.  Director Sam Mendes, whose previous credits include the Academy Award-Winning American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road and indie comedy-drama Away We Go, is an interesting pick for the multi-billion dollar Bond franchise.  However, I’m very curious as to how this film will be handled by a director not accustomed per se to large budget action oriented filmmaking.  The previous film in the canon, Quantum of Solace, seemed to suffer under the helm of Marc Forster, who like Mendes, is not a traditional big budget director.  However, personally, I have much preferred Mendes’s output to Forsters’, outside of the dreadful Away We Go.

Another newcomer to the Bond franchise is long time Coen Brother cinematographer, Roger Deakins.  Deakins, whose resume reads almost as a top movie list of the past twenty some odd years, is one of the most well-respected DPs in the business and has garnered an impressive nine Oscar nominations, though no wins.  Always the bridesmaid, but no less an amazingly talented artist and one of my favorite working cinematographers in the industry today, his soft light, naturalistic approach to imaging will be an interesting contrast to the usually over the top stylization of a Bond film.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have definitely taken a chance on hiring extremely talented, though somewhat out of the norm picks for two positions that are highly influential in the production of a Bond movie.  However, like all iconic franchises, there is always a time for recreating the image to stay up with the times, and now is no better a time after the disappointing reception of the last Bond film.  Hopefully, the glorious rebirth of the Bond image we experienced in Casino Royale will once again come to fruition on November 9th when we get to see the curtain come up and experience our twenty third adventure with James Bond in Skyfall.





CLAW Award for “Banks of the Vltava”

1 11 2011

Copyright 2011 Walk in the Park Pictures, LLC

Banks of the Vltava is a short film project that I shot for frequent collaborator, Dan A. R. Kelly.  It’s a very near and dear project to my heart, as every member of both the cast and crew put 110% into this project to make it happen.  From the first read through of the script, we all knew that it was going to be an ambitious film to complete.  However, everyone involved was committed to the story and the determination and drive that exuded from writer/director Kelly spilled onto all those involved.  One of the most ambitious elements of the story is the fact that it takes place in Prague in 1943, but was of course to be shot in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2009-10.  This required numerous period costumes, props and other pieces to sell the time period.  On a large budget production, acquiring these items isn’t a problem, but on a smaller budget it’s much more difficult to secure.  Furthermore, the project required a large ensemble cast, an array of visual and makeup effects (as it is a horror film) and almost a complete schedule of night shoots.

Production spanned over, I believe, about a 15-16 day shoot over nearly a one and a half year period.  As stated earlier, nearly all of these days, outside of about two, were night shoots (6pm-6am).  During the time we shot this production, the commonality of DSLRs had not yet hit the market.  If you wanted a shallow depth of field and cinematic look on a lower budget camera package, a good old DOF adapter was really the way to go.  So, the film was shot on my HVX-200 with a Redrock m2 adapter and Nikon glass; this yielded a relative ISO of about 100.  For those of you not familiar with film sensitivity ratings, it takes A LOT of light to properly expose an image at 100 ISO when you are shooting at night.  We only had HMI availability on two nights, so the majority of the film was lit with an array of 1k and 2k fresnels, 1k PARs, a pair of Blondes, a Redhead, various smaller unit fresnels, a pair of Kino 2-4ft banks and a 750 ZIP light.  There are times where all units we had access to were being powered by a set of generators out in the woods.  In the end, I feel we did a good job of pulling it all off, and some of that was validated this weekend, which is really the true point of the post.

Over the weekend, the film screened at two festivals: the Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia, Penn. and the Buffalo Screams Film Festival in Buffalo, N.Y.  We were very happy to be nominated for awards at both festivals!  At the Terror Film Festival, nominations for their CLAW Awards were given to Best Horror Short Film, Best Specials Effects for the brilliant work by Shane D. Smith, Best Actor to our lead Rami Rothstein, and Best Director of Photography for myself.  At Buffalo Screams, the film was nominated for Best Makeup Effects by the talented Gretchen Adams.  Late on Saturday night, as I was watching an episode of Storage Wars on the couch with Maddie, I got a text from Dan, who had gone to Philadelphia to represent the film at the Terror Film Festival.  Turns out, we won the CLAW award for Best Director of Photography.  Needless to say, it was very exciting news and always a good feeling to be recognized for your contribution on a film.  It was also a very special film, personally, to be recognized for, because of the extra mile that was gone on all of our crew and casts’ behalf to get the film produced.  Also, as with anything, it’s a collaborative effort and I had a wonderful crew to support me in achieving the look I was implementing for Dan.

Check out more about this film and other WiTPP productions at: http://www.walkintheparkpictures.com





Project Log: UNC-Greensboro Text Campaign Shoot #3

5 10 2011

My final project on the “Text” campaign for UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning and my final project during my tenure at UNCG in general has been released.  The idea behind this entry into the campaign was to mimic the trailers of 1950s horror films such as The Blob.  Various ideas were thrown out on how best to go about the project, which was to feature the idea of “Text” (representing text on a page Web sites for educational learning) taking over the country and rearing its ugly face across the nation and beyond.

The first idea was to shoot on the RED One and filmize the footage with grain, color correction and motion blur to help sell a 1950s film look.  Being the DP, I highly recommended that we don’t go that route.  The problem that arises, no matter how well done the digital manipulation is, is that it isn’t film.  There is no way to make the response of added grain natural or the motion blur properly controlled.  The second idea to implement this project was to take public domain footage from various B movies from the Prelinger Archives and other sources and cut the trailer in this manner.  After hours of looking through various footage on Prelinger and other online archives, we found that most of the footage was terribly compressed and, even though there was a plethora of B movie material available, little had the exact moments we were hoping to capture.  At this point, I recommended we just shoot on 16mm film with an older camera and older lens.  This way, there is no lifting in post; the film, mixed in with the older camera movement and 40 year old lens technology, would sell itself.  Patrick, our Multimedia Lead, brought this idea up to the Marketing Director at the Office of Online Learning, Jaap-Jan van Duin, and he gave us the greenlight as long as we could keep the budget under $1,000.  We enthusiastically agreed to keeping in budget and were excited to shoot a project for the division on 16mm film; something very few companies or organizations are doing in this day and age at all.

The first order of business was where to find a camera.  I contacted a few people I knew who owned various film cameras, but most were either hesitant to let it go for little or no pay, or had not run film through it in so long that they couldn’t assure functionality.  Having matriculated though the UNCG Media Studies program years ago, I knew they had a few Bolex H-16s in tote, so I called the Operations Manager, Ken Terres, and asked if we could borrow one for the shoot.  He was very kind and let us have one of the H-16s with an Angenieux 12-120mm lenses for the week.  Over the course of the week, we shot 600 ft. of film (Kodak Vision 3 500T and Vision 3 250D) for our little trailer in about 4-5 different locations.  Throughout filming, I tried to light in a manner reminiscent of 1950s B movies, so many of scenes are lit with hard light and very little diffusion.  Furthermore, there are a decent amount of shots that went handheld to give the extra horror “cheese” factor.  The film was subsequently sent off to Cinelab in Massachusetts, who unbeknownst to us at the time was in the process of a move.  Because of the move, it took longer than usual to get the film back, but we were very happy with their price and job on the processing and HD transfer.

Patrick Griffin and Bryan R. Higgins, by this point the only two members on the Multimedia Team at the Office of Online Learning due to state layoffs, did the edit and VFX work on the piece.  With great pride I give you the final product of our efforts:

WHEN TEXT ATTACKS!  (and you can see the Behind the Scenes here).  I love feedback, comments, criticism and questions, so let me know what you think!

 

 

 








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