Recent activity & shop talk.

Canon 7D

Tri-C Blood Brother Screening and Q&A

This friday, I’ll be doing a Q&A at Tri-C in Cleveland for Blood Brother. Starts at 6pm…

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Interview with Canon USA

I had the honor of sitting down with Steve Tobenkin from Canon USA regarding our camera choices for Blood Brother. Also a reminder of which side of the camera I like to be on. Behind 🙂


Blood Brother Cinematography Nomination Cameraimage Fest 2013

BB_Blog_resizeI’m excited to announce that Blood Brother has been nominated for a cinematography award at Cameraimage Fest in Poland! I’ll be heading to Gdansk next week to represent the film.

Huge thank you to Max Rivera ( Rocky’s Bratt’s brother ) and his crew for putting together a screening of Blood Brother in North Canton, OH. It was an opportunity to not only share with friends and family but to also meet new people. Thank you kindly for your continued support!

For those of you who don’t know, Blood Brother received the highest honors this year at Sundance by taking home both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the US Documentary Category. There are no words to describe how humbled I am to be a part of a story that has moved many hearts and minds across the world.

Much more to come.


The Saxman of Cleveland documentary to be shot on the brand new Canon C300.

The Saxman of Cleveland - Maurice Reedus Jr.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I was at a Dredg concert in Cleveland, OH.  Before playing one of my favorite songs, they announced that they were bringing up a guest musician that they met on the street earlier that day.  Out of the shadows of the stage, came a lanky, yet smooth and stylish man carrying a sax.  The intro started up and he improved with the band as if they had rehearsed it a thousand times before.  It was the most memorable moment of the concert. There was something very special about this guy.  I could just feel it.

If you would have told me that in 6 or 7 years that I would be the cinematographer of a documentary about Maurice Reedus Jr’s life, the one and only “Saxman of Cleveland”, I would have thought that you were one of those crazy sages or mages that go around saying crazy things.  No…really.  Turns out that he is pretty special and we’re about to embark on a journey of telling his story.

Another amazing aspect from a technical side is that we have the honor to be some of the first people to shoot on the Canon C300!!  This could not have been possible without some wonderful people including Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video (www.ohiohdvideo.com) and Mick Edmundson at Canon U.S.A.  Anyone who knows about the camera knows that there aren’t many available on the market at the moment.  This is very special and we’re are extremely grateful for the opportunity to tell this story on the C300.  Mick has requested that we review the camera and I will be providing lots of details both during and after our first bout of shooting.  I got an extensive look into the C300’s abilities during a recent workshop hosted by Andy Shipsides from Abel Cinetech.  Although the camera is brand new, I definitely think that it’s the right tool for the job.  In fact, I’m going to venture to say that it has strong potential to be one of the best options for documentaries of all kinds.

Canon C300 Body

Obviously, there’s much more to share but it’s late and our first stint of principle photography starts tomorrow morning in Cleveland, OH.  I’ll be posting about both the Canon C300 and the shoot itself.  This documentary is going to be shot over the span of one year…winter of 2012 to winter of 2013.

See you soon and thanks for reading!


As They Sleep “Oracle of the Dead” Music Video – Good Friends, Rooftop Pizza, Disappearing Laptop and a 20+hour day.

In the fall of 2010, I got a call from Director Drew Russ about doing a music video for Tooth & Nail / Solid State’s As They Sleep.  The concept was different from anything I have done and I knew Drew from our musical paths crossing in the past so I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  It was a fun idea for such an intense song which was a breath of fresh air compared to my history of shooting metal bands who always want something dark and creepy.  How can you go wrong with amateur wrestling? Drew sent me the treatment and I started working on how to execute the look of the video.

The first challenge was finding a location without either Drew or I being there.  Drew lives in Florida and I live in Ohio…the shoot was taking place in Detroit. Drew was relying on the band and some wrestlers to secure a good location.  This is problematic for a director and cinematographer because we were basing our logistical decisions off of cell phone photos and word of mouth from people who don’t know what to look for.  But it was the reality at hand and sometimes we need to be flexible with these kinds of things.  Ask any DP if they always get a location scout and/or a tech scout and you’ll be hard up to find one that says yes.

 

North End Studios

Drew scheduled a tech scout the day before the shoot, so the assistant cameraman, Mike Thorn AC and I headed up to check things out. Imagine driving through the dirty slums of Detroit, turning a corner and all of a sudden…you are hit in the face with a rainbow of bright colors running down the side of a nine story building. The interior was just as interesting.  Not sure what this place used to be but a bunch of artists have taken it over  and use it for music shows, art galleries and raves.

 

The location we were using was on the 4th floor.  Upon entering…we see long rows of columns and brooding, black metal doors lined all the way down the room on both walls.  This place looked like a Fight Club location but perfect for the mood of the video. Some initial things I look for on a scout are usually electricity and how we’re going to get equipment in. For being a factory of some sort, this place had ONE outlet on each floor. BIG PROBLEM.  I have lights…therefor I need electricity.  This is why a tech scout needs to happen earlier than the day before so you can have a little time to remedy and prepare for any problems encountered.  We had to run out and get a 6000W generator from Home Depot and pull power from the light sockets in the ceiling which seemed to have no ryhm or reason as to the way they were wired on the circuit.

Ok…electricity can be dealt with.  Now…onto getting the equipment up to the 4th floor.  Where’s the freight elevator?  What’s that you say?  Broken?  Six flights of narrow stairs for a one ton grip truck and wrestling ring to come up?  Yes folks.  Mush forward and smile.

After hauling the equipment up the stairs, I approached my gaffer Derek Urey about the overhead lighting plan I had for the ring.  I wanted to create a ring of flourescent lights above the wrestlers but due the the height of the wrestling ring floor, low ceilings and big action of the wrestlers, the fixtures had to be securely fitted to the ceiling for clearance.  Time to bust out the cement drill! It was getting late by this point but like always…the guys stood and delivered with heart.

The shoot was fast paced and hectic but luckily, a lot of great people were involved.  Props to the wrestlers for having such incredible attitudes and patience.  They made the shoot fun while delivering performances above and beyond our expectations.  I was impressed with what we did for the budget.  Those Home Depot fluorescent work lights have more than paid for themselves.

The day was very long…dealing with a ton of set ups, power issues, a crowd of extras that were extremely tough to wrangle, Drew’s stolen laptop while we were shooting, a filthy environment with more dust than you can imagine (we were partially to blame for that…homemade haze!) and the most intense load out ever including carrying a 100+ pound generator down six flights of stairs. Overall, the video turned out awesome for all the challenges we faced.  Great job to Drew Russ as well!

Most importantly, I want to emphasize the fact that I could not have done what I did as a cinematographer without the crew that I had. Mike Thorn AC (AC, Grip/Electric, DIT), Derek Urey (Gaffer, Camera B Op) and Kevin DeOliveira (Grip/Electric/Camera C Op) are some of the most talented people I know with hearts of lions.  They executed with fire, fought for me and most importantly, had amazing attitudes in all that they did. They made me laugh and smile in hour 23 of the day…a time where I didn’t think I could muster a smurk.  Sure…you can do great work as an individual and I’ll never take that away from those kinds of artists…but as for me…I believe the sky is the limit when you have a team like the people I am so fortunate to know and work with.

Shot on Canon 7D’s.  Glass used:  Zeiss ZF 25mm F2.8, 50mm F2 and 100mm F2.

Check out As They Sleep’s “Oracle of the Dead” music video.

More Production Photos

 

dinner on the roof. unforgettable.


Six Months of Insanity

The past six months have been incredibly busy…perhaps more so than ever.  It started with the epic ad campaign for Range Resources in western Pennsylvania.  The production consisted of close to a month of shooting but was broken up into 4-5 consecutive days at a time. I had the pleasure of being one of the DP’s on the shoot, taking on the visuals of barns filled with light breaking through their weathered walls, rolling midwest hay fields, an accomplished artist and his birds, farmers with endless stories in their faces, the sincerity of middle-class America and the best BBQ pulled pork I have ever had (just to name a few).  I reunited with the talented duo Danny Yourd and Steve Hoover of Endeavor Media/Animal out of Pittsburgh, PA.

A Love For Cattle

We shot on RED for testimonials / hero shots and Canon 5D Mark II & 7D for abstract b-roll / candid moments.  I had a chance to see the 5D and 7D go toe to toe with the RED on a scratch system in all it’s digital glory because we were mixing all the footage together in both the 30 second spots and web spots.  The 5D really impressed me with how well it held up in CU shots next to the RED footage. But where they really fell short (especially the 7D) were in wide, high detail shots.  Banding becomes a hideous issue when shooting fine detail and patterns with wider lenses.  Things like water, hay / straw and shingles on a roof start to fall apart with a lens like the Canon 16-35mm.  Not to say that lens isn’t usable (I absolutely love it), but knowing when and where to use it is critical.

Obviously the RED camera offers much greater control over the image both in camera and in post but I can say with full confidence that we wouldn’t have been able to get the amount of dynamic shots that we did in a day without using the Canons and Kessler Cine Slider.  It’s all about knowing the capabilities of your tools and using them for the right job.  That comes with testing and experience.

Currently, the 30 second spots are all over the television in Pittsburgh and quite a few of the web versions can be found at MyRangeResources.com

Director Kevin DeOliveira and I shot some moving pieces for Stark County Children Services involving people with various backgrounds coming up through the foster care system.  This was an extreme run & gun scenario that left us with limited time and resources…but the end result was fantastic.  We shot with both the 5D and 7D.  The videos can be viewed here.

In October of 2009, I started working on a micro-doc with Director Joe Siebert about a couple of cowboys making impressive amateur Western films in Canton during the 1940’s.

Cowboy Len

The Real Bold Badmen finished production earlier in the year and was received admirably not only at the 2010 Akron Film Festival but even more so by cowboy Len Zaleski and his family.  Len, who was battling cancer, attended the screening and received praise from an audience who was moved by his story.  This project was extremely rewarding as a filmmaker and I am blessed to know the Zaleski family and to have known Len himself. Happy trails to you Cowboy Len…until we meet again! (Len Zaleski 1931-2010). Check out The Real Bold Badmen.

Immediately following the 2010 Akron Film Festival, I conducted my first cinematography workshop at the Akron Art Museum.  The core subject material was based off of the role and expectations of a working DP as well as an overview of shooting with DSLR’s.  I was taken back by how many were in attendance!  It was a lot of fun and I hope to do more events like this in the future.  I owe a huge thanks to the patrons who participated and Akron Film for growing and maintaining the local film community.

In between Range Resources shoots, StoneKap did a fantastic VFX piece for The Timken Company.  It was a mixture of real-world environment on white and a virtual pop-up book. Shot on RED and directed by Kevin DeOliveira.
Next on the list, I shot a TV spot for the Saab 9/3, directed by Kevin DeOliveira  and produced by StoneKap Productions.  Shoot days consisted of hanging out of the back of a cargo van with the RED on bungee straps and a studio shoot that felt like sprinting a full marathon.  The end result was well worth it.

I came up with a lighting design that consisted of fluorescent work-light fixtures being arranged in a half sun shape, hanging over the car.  Gaffer, Derek Urey took on the challenge of actually finding a way to hang the fixtures.  His results were remarkably insane looking but executed with great success.  All I have to say is that my old back yard chain-link fence was hanging in the grid of the studio. What made this day so crazy was the fact that the pre-light AND the shoot were in the same day…and yes…we made our day thanks to the incredible crew.  This was another RED/5D shoot and huge part of making our day without sacrificing production quality was using the Kessler Cine Slider with the 5D.  By far, this has been the best small format slider I have ever used.  I’ll post a link to the final product ASAP.

Following the Saab shoot, I headed out to NYC to shoot an Express runway show in Manhattan for good friend and Director Andy Reale.  It was definitely run & gun/docu-style shooting but fun nonetheless. Getting some insight into the fashion industry was a great experience as well.  During the short time I was there, I had the opportunity to grab some interesting textures of the city.  I’ll post photos at a later date.

November was kicked off by a shoot at Akron Children’s Hospital for a great ad agency in Cleveland. Talk about a rewarding couple of days…We were able to get up close and personal with a bunch of great kids at the hospital and capture some beautiful moments.  The crew needed to remain small and move swiftly. Derek Urey and I shot extensively with the Canon 5D and 7D along with the Kessler Cine Slider.  Of course, everything was natural lighting with a raw approach to the visuals.

A few weeks ago, Mike Thorn AC and I found ourselves in frigid conditions under Friday night lights in Coshocton, OH.  We were shooting pick-ups and inserts for a film called Touchback, starring Kurt Douglas and directed by Don Hanfield.  This was my first time using the RED MX-Sensor, which was fantastic.  I couldn’t believe how well it performed for night exteriors, especially compared to the original sensor, which I usually rate around an ASA of 160 or 200.  I was rating the camera at 800 ASA for some of the night exteriors and the image held up pretty well in most cases.  I also had the opportunity to truly fall in love with the Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm.  What a beautiful piece of glass (and brutally heavy for “run & gun” scenarios).  I’ve used the lens before but didn’t have the time with it that I did while shooting Touchback.

Recently, director Drew Russ invited my team and I to tackle his recent music video for As They Sleep in Detroit, MI.  Legit amateur wrestlers + guys getting hit in the head with metal trash cans + guys getting hit with lumber & chairs + over-the-top scary faces + metal = a sick video.  However, unloading a one ton grip & lighting package up six flights of stairs = bad news and sore legs.  Especially after working for over 20 hours straight.  I’m currently prepping to do the color grade.  Stay tuned.

Animal called me back out for a studio shoot in Pittsburgh, PA for four days to do some table top product shots for a local hospital’s “get to know your doctor” web videos.  My time consisted of setting up small dolly shots on the Kessler with infinite configurations of Jenga-style apple box support (apple boxes are a man’s best friend when it comes to sliders).  Actually, I learned a ton on this shoot because I was challenged to make 10 pairs of running shoes, 5 sets of golf clubs, 4 sets of tennis rackets, a water ski vest, endless photos and books, Mickey Mouse paraphernalia and lots of guns all look interesting on a white void cyc.  The lighting design wasn’t super complicated.  I wanted contrast but it couldn’t be too moody because of the nature of the piece.  These items belong to the friendly neighborhood doctors so it needed to be inviting and bright.  Although I was sick on this shoot…I had a blast with Danny on set.  Mickey Mouse ears, pump jumps and shotguns to Tyson’s face…’nuff said.

The year was wrapped up with a few fun projects.  The first being an eye insurance shoot at Classic Worldwide Productions in Cleveland that involved over 40,000 watts of power to shoot some high speed green screen shots on RED and white cyc scenes on 5D and 7D.  Attaining proper exposure was difficult due to the fact that we were shooting at faster frame rates AND losing a little over one whole stop of light because we were using a teleprompter (shooting through reflective glass).  It also takes quite a bit of light to make a white cyc WHITE and not grey.  A couple of 14″ 5K Fresnels did the trick nicely.

The second project involved Joe, Beau, Derek and I traveling to snowy Syracuse, NY to shoot a marketing piece for ICM Controls in their state-of-the-art, energy efficient facility.  I actually shot with the HPX170 for the first time in a LONG time and to be quite honest…it’s still one of my favorite cameras to operate with.  It’s not always feasible or in the budget to have an AC on every shoot which made this camera along with the HVX200 the right tools for the job.  We shot this “dirty jobs” style, hosted by talent and the company’s president, which keeps what could be a very mundane marketing video…interesting.  Note:  I’m very jealous of their conference room.

Last but not least for the year…the StoneKap 2010 Holiday E-Card.  We had a blast making this one.   http://www.stonekap.net/stonekap/ecard2010/

A lot more to come.  Thanks for reading!


Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 2) – Zeiss CP.2 Compact Prime bliss

The highlight of the event was experiencing the image quality and mechanics of the Zeiss CP.2 Compact Primes.  Scott had a 50mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 5D and a 85mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 7D.  The 5D was feeding to a Panasonic BT-LH1710P production monitor so I was able to accurately evaluate the image.

For starters, I absolutely loved the fact that the mounts are interchangeable on the lens itself.

Zeiss CP.2 50mm T2.1

Permanently modifying my 5D is not an option because I use it for stills as well.  But if you wanted to throw the CP’s on the RED or any other camera with a PL mount, you simply swap out the EF mount for a PL mount on the lens, which is a killer and versatile feature!

The image quality of the CP’s is incredible.  Their color and contrast resolve beautifully, have very low distortion, show minimal breathing from what I could see (if any) and are color matched across the set.   The CP.2’s gave me that warm fuzzy feeling when looking at the monitor.  Sometimes you can’t explain the exact details of why a lens feels good…you just have to go with it.  Lenses can be a matter of preference and the Zeiss’ definitely have a cinematic personality of their own.

Anyone who has shot with HDSLR’s knows the challenges of using still photo lenses on their cameras.  Aperture rings that inhibit the full range of an F stop, wonky follow focus rings that get in the way, making an AC’s life a living hell with the touchy and inaccurate short focus distance…etc.  Although the Zeiss ZF 35mm still lenses are some of my favorite pieces of glass to use with HDSLR’s, they were made to be exactly what they are…still photography lenses.

Another fantastic feature is that the Zeiss CP.2 primes finally bring professional cinema lens mechanics to the HDSLR world without permanently modifying your camera.  They have silky smooth aperture rings for accurate T stop increments, calibrated focus marks and a calibrated focus barrel that has a nice long focus throw which gives your AC a fighting chance at pulling focus (especially shooting wide open on the 5D).  What a refreshing feeling to actually have this option on the Canons.

We did some comparison tests with a few lenses on hand just to see the difference between lenses we use on a regular basis and the compact prime.  The glass under study was a Contax Zeiss F1.4 50mm and a Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L Series zoom. Shot with the 5D, the settings on both the camera and the lenses are as follows:  F2.8, 1/50th shutter, ISO 640, balanced to 5500K and lighting consisted of Lite Panel 1×1 LED’s slightly mixed with natural mid afternoon daylight coming in through some windows.  Interestingly, both the Contax Zeiss and compact primes weren’t that different in their optical performance.  They both actually retained more contrast and detail in the shadows as you can see from the stills.  The color temperature is off a bit which is due to the temperature of the Lite Panels but I didn’t want to custom white balance for each lens because lenses usually vary in their warmth or coolness. I expected the 24-70mm to fall short of both lenses due to the obvious fact that it’s a zoom as opposed to a prime and I’ve never really gotten the sharpest images from it.  There’s also a considerable difference in contrast with the 24-70. Not good. Stills are ungraded.

Lens comparisons

You might ask why would you want the compact primes when you can just use Zeiss ZF’s, Canon L glass or any other higher grade 35mm still lens and achieve nice results?  Well, if you shoot professionally, you’ll know and appreciate cine lens contrast and resolution, no breathing, smooth and accurate focus pulls, durable and smooth mechanics and being color matched across the set.  Why is color matching important?  So you don’t end up with a total mess during the grading phase in post.  Lenses tend to have tints due to their coatings and sometimes it is very subtle.  However, if you have a bunch of mismatched glass…like different focal lengths from various manufacturers or product lines, chances are that you’ll run into some potential pitfalls in post with tints in the highlights, mids and / or the shadows.  Unless you’re making an artistic choice to mix lenses, I highly recommend sticking with a matched set.

Another notable aspect is that they are much quicker to work with than still lenses.  For starters, primes aren’t necessarily conducive to hectic, run & gun jobs where time is always against you.  Start throwing lens gears onto the rig and messing with lens mounts (if using anything but Canon L glass)…you start eating up precious time in the camera department.  Being a professional doesn’t just consist of pretty pictures.  You have a job to do, limited time to get the shot off and the less you have to mess with or modify…the better for everyone on the set.

Bottom line:  The Zeiss CP.2 primes are love at first sight.  A solid set of these things would run you around $20K…but that’s cheap for cine lenses.  Better yet, help out the guys in town and rent them from Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video.  You won’t be disappointed.