Thursday, July 31, 2014

48 Hour Film Challenge – A test of my resolve to be a film maker.

I've joined a 48 hour film challenge team and will be the Director of Photography (DP or cinematographer) on a short film being made this weekend. Initially I was contacted to do sound. Luckily I had just acquired sound recording equipment and a boom pole and microphone. Then the DP had to drop out to take a paying gig (can't blame him for wanting to get paid) and I was bumped up to the DP role. Yeah me. But this also meant that some of the camera gear I had on my list needed to be acquired more quickly so I'd be ready to shoot.

[Canon T2i with Magic Lantern, a cage, follow-focus, matte box, and shoulder mount rig]

I've been taking various parts of my life that I'm not using and converting them to money on eBay to finance the filmmaking venture. As I mentioned I have sound recording stuff now and with these acquisitions, I should be able to shoot some video 'footage' and have it look pretty good.

At least that's what I'm planning on happening. The world of cinematography can be tricky and I make no claims to being be best at shaping light or creating the best shots. I know about coverage, crossing the line, getting things in focus and hopefully enough about lighting and camera movements to get something usable and possibly even good. But I'm still somewhat nervous.

I've come a long way from March of 2011 when I made the choice to pursue filmmaking. I'd spent the last 15 years doing IT work and I was pretty satisfied with all of that. I mean, I'm a big old geek that does like playing with computers and since I was getting paid for it, all the better. But after two layoffs in two years, I felt it was time to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. So I took some re-training time and money and went to Seattle Film Institute to learn how to make, edit, and write movies. And I think I did a pretty good job of absorbing lots of information and taking advantage of the opportunities to get experience. I found that I do like the standard writing and directing that every film maker aspires to do. But I also really like shooting the film (or video) and editing.

For a year after film school I was able to work full-time as an editor and DP and just about anything else they wanted me to do (build sets, move storage, investigate color correction systems, etc.). But that job is over and now I'm revamping my skills to include more graphic design, multimedia, motion graphics and 3-D animation.

A lot has happened since March of 2011. Much of it good and some of it bad. I collaborated on a short film that got into the Seattle International Film Festival. I went to film school. I spent all of my retirement 401-K. I got to work on some amazing projects during 2012 and 2013. I had a small nervous breakdown. My second marriage ended. I went through a four month period that was the most painful time in my life.

I built a lot of bridges over the last three years and I'm sure I've burned a few too. Didn't mean to but I'm sure it happened. But now I have a new life, new school, and am building toward creating things with film and video.

So this is the first film project since my last job ended (OK, it's the second, but still the first as DP). I'm taking steps in the right direction and moving forward.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hot Heat and a Fountain Denied (and Regained).

Seattle is pretty hot right now. It's only in the upper eighties so the really hot parts of the country can still scoff and laugh at how the delicate flowers of the Pacific Northwest wilt at the first sign of a real summer. And while that's primarily true, its also true that almost no place in the Pacific Northwest has air conditioning. So while the person in Phoenix or Atlanta can sit in the 90+ heat (with added humidity for Atlanta) and mainly be cool in the air conditioned comfort. That just isn't an option for the Seattleite. There are some air conditioned buildings, I stumbled across one that I'm writing in now. But when I go home there will be no AC. And the half-million dollar house down the road will also have no AC. But tonight it should get down into the 50s so don't pack away that jacket just yet.

I really wanted to get out of the house and do something but sometimes its hard. The boys are in Oklahoma with their Mom and I don't have any scheduled activities. I've been doing school work and puttering around the house (I should have some photos from an Aperture assignment to put up on Facebook soon). I've been watching some old movies (sometimes multiple times); Five Easy Pieces, The Conversation, and The Long Goodbye. Its interesting to see what movies in the seventies looked like and the camera movements and lighting used. I also went and saw the new Captain America movie. Part of what was interesting to me was to see what was filmed versus what was added in post animation. It seems to be a stark contrast from some of the deep action that happened in older films like Oliver. Modern films like Children of Men seem to still use the concept of multiple layers of background action to capture on the film much of what you see on the screen (not that the same director didn't make Gravity where much of what you saw on the screen was composited and animated).

So I packed up some camera stuff and my laptop and hit a bus from North Seattle to downtown. I was going to take some pictures of the International Fountain at Seattle Center to experiment with shutter speed and its effect on moving objects (water from the fountain for today). I took some pictures and video out the window of the bus to see what it looks like but I don't expect any of that to be any good.

When I got to Seattle Center I found a Polish Festival. Walking around that I found a tall fence with a green screen blocking the view about eight feet up. Walking around this to get to the fountain I found the “Chive Fest” that was going on at Seattle Center also. After walking almost all of the way across the Seattle Center area I saw a sign saying the fountain was not available unless you paid to enter Chive Fest. Since the tickets were almost $80 per person I opted not to do this. Off in the distance there was a smaller fountain unrestricted by the Fest. It was also packed as many families had the same idea as me only they wanted to give the kids an opportunity to play in the fountain and cool off. They still had a fountain, albeit smaller, but the kids didn't seem to mind.
I got lots of photos of the water in various states of motion.
(300mm; F5.6; Shutter 1/4000 Sec; ISO 1600 or 3200)

(28mm; F16; Shutter 1/8 Sec; ISO 100)

Then went and got some tea from Starbucks and relaxed at the Polish Festival. A man came around and gave me a sample of some sausage (with a pickle slice). I could probably eat about a pound of that without any problem at all (it was good).
So tomorrow I'll meet up with with the 48 hour film challenge team and talk about what we're going to be doing with that. The contest goes from August 1-3 with filming on August 2. We'll see what we can do.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Summer School and Practical Effects

The boys and their mother are off to Oklahoma for a couple of weeks and I'm here in Seattle continuing my education. I'm a lot busier now that school is in session but my life is still basically boring. Of course that won't keep me from describing my life in excruciating detail. Being somewhat lazy and not wanting to write several thousand words before going to bed will keep me from describing my life in excruciating detail.

So here are some highlights. In 2D design we finished our Tangram assignments. I used three Tans (the 7 item set that fits in a square and is used to make silhouettes of objects). I had two Tans using a four inch square (one orange and the other light brown) and one Tan that was from a two inch square (also light brown). With these objects I made a man playing a guitar. The item was well received.

We now have to take a letter and cut out the spaces around the letter and then rearrange those negative space cutouts as a separate art piece to illustrate the way the mind works with foreground and background areas even when they are not part of something immediately recognizable.

I know there are actual design concepts that are being covered but I sometimes feel like I'm doing the arts and crafts equivalent of “Wax on, wax off.” But then again, Daniel listened to Miyagi and won the fight at the end of the movie. So I do the work, pay attention and take notes.

I've chosen the letter M and have a version of that letter that I think will work very well for this assignment.

Photography is going well but is somewhat more frustrating. I'm working on the Photograms and I'm trying to get layers of objects in a way that simulates distance. I think I've got it down.

I guess I should post some pictures to the blog at some point so all of this excruciating detail will have some context.

I'm really into the photograms and when that's done I have to shoot some black and white film in a depth of field experiment. I pick a scene with objects in the foreground and background. Set the camera at 50mm focal length and adjust the aperture and shutter speed to get the same picture with different depth of field (deep focus). After about 8 scenes with 3 apertures each (a roll of 24), I get to develop the film, make a contact sheet and select 2 or 3 (I forget what the requirement is for the assignment) and make prints of those.

Now, I've gone through the filmmaking program at Seattle Film Institute so I'm no stranger to aperture, focus, ISO, and the such. But I've never worked with film in a darkroom so this is all pretty exciting stuff for me.

I've also been watching Sci-Fi and horror stuff from before the age of After Effects. Some of the practical effects and the way things were shot and lit in those movies lends itself to lower budget filmmaking. There's a great doc about Peter Jackson's - Bad Taste which he shot on a wind-up 16mm Bolex (I don't think he did much with sync sound on that one). But he did make a lot of masks for practical special effects and built his own camera crane and steadycam rigs that he used in the filming. In some scenes it's “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” level of special effects but it did screen at Cannes and sold in many markets. And then he's done a few things after that too.