New Design…New Additions to Body of Work
“Almost Holy” Theatrical Release…
It has been an exciting past few months with the theatrical release of Almost Holy (formerly titled “Crocodile Gennadiy”). The film was directed by long time friend and collaborator, Steve Hoover and released through The Orchard. The world premiere was held at Tribeca in 2015.
With Executive Producers, Terrence Malick ,Nicolas Gonda & Animal Media Group as well as an incredible soundtrack by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross & Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak)…I’m beyond excited to finally share the film with as many people as possible! Be sure to visit the Almost Holy site and sign up for updates as to screenings that might be coming to your town!
Available for pre-order through iTunes.
I was first intrigued by the MoVI while in pre-pro for principle photography for Gennadiy, an upcoming documentary with Blood Brother’s Steve Hoover & Danny Yourd. The first thought in my mind was how amazing this tool would be for the story we were about to shoot in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in full on production at the time and we didn’t have the cash to bring the freefly crew out. However, it’s impression didn’t leave me for one second….
I decided to make the full investment in November 2013 and started working with it right away. First thing that I realized was that the M10 is not a grab and go tool. It’s precision mechanics that requires time & understanding of how to utilize it. This is a good thing in my mind because it’s a CRAFT, not a toy. There’s a freedom with the MoVI unlike anything I have experienced. Being able to improvise on the fly with cinematic, complex movements and blocking fires me up! Especially for documentary work or small crews on commercials. In my circles of collaboration, I knew it would be a hit.
After putting it through the test on a slew of jobs of various sizes, crew, budgets, cameras and traveling across the world with it, I’ve learned a thing or two about effectively and efficiently using the MoVI…
For starters…the MoVI really is a two man minimum operation. I am fortunate to know and work with Tyson VanSkiver in Pittsburgh. Wouldn’t want to be on a job without him. My experience with it so far has been acting as both the DP and the operator on set. Tyson takes the responsibility of tuning, balancing and maintaining the MoVI throughout the day. On top of that, he’s a killer focus puller if we’re in majestic mode. When the controller is needed, we’ll have an AC pull focus.
The MoVI is quite the technical orchestration. On top of the 3 axis stabilization, there’s wireless video, power distribution, remote focus pulling, camera maintenance, lens changing, balancing, tuning, operator technique, as well as controller pan & tilt skills (I’ll go into technical details on individual pieces of gear in near future blog posts but we’ll stay at birds eye view for now). These are all things to take into consideration when wanting “fast, cheap and good” all at once. I’ve learned the hard way a few times when people are staring at you because camera isn’t ready or malfunctioning 🙂 Treat it with respect, have a thoroughly tested set up & plan of execution, know how to troubleshoot it quickly and MAYBE allot time for a little bit of blocking.
For my next blog post, I’ll break down a few jobs we did recently and talk about the positives of my experience with the MoVI as well as the challenges we’ve learned from.
Exciting time to be a cinematographer and MoVI owner! More to come…
FYI…currently for hire (inquire for rates)
- MoVI M10 (owner operator only at this time)
- Hocus Focus Axis 1 Wireless FF
- Paralinx Wireless Video System w/ 3 receiver units
- Atomos HDMI to HD-SDI converter kit
- Custom Controller bag & harness
- SmallHD Monitors
- Red Epic Run Cable for Wireless FF Control
- Canon C300 Run Cable for Wireless FF Control
- Red Epic, Scarlet, C300 & Canon DSLR’s
- Experience with Canon Cinema Primes & EOS primes, zooms
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 🙂
Hello friends & colleagues,
The “Thank You Screening” of Blood Brother for friends & family was an overwhelming, incredibly humbling success. It’s only the beginning for the film’s potential to make a sustainable, thought-provoking impact on audiences around the world. Off to the film festivals…
Along with the screening came the release of Rocky’s book “I Was Always Beautiful”. It contains Rocky’s stunning photography of his journey over the past few years as well his journal entries that are brutally honest and heart-wrenchingly real. It is currently available at Animal Media Group.
The Saxman of Cleveland is still moving along. We reached our kickstarter goal thanks to all of the wonderful supporters of the film. The crew recently shot a pick up day of interviews and b-roll last week and will be tackling the remaining principle photography throughout the rest of the year. Stayed tuned for more updates
Lastly, I’m excited to share some recent brand films that I shot with the one and only Kevin DeOliveira as Director of both projects. One was for an independent clothing company out of Braddock, PA called Dead Bury Dead. Love the company and the people behind it. Both the 60 sec & 2 min version are close to heading into the color suite so stay tuned.
There are a few other rad things on the horizon that I will share as soon as the time is right.
Exciting times folks. Thanks for your attention.
I just got done spending four days of extensive shooting with the brand spankin’ new Canon C300. The background of the documentary can be found in my previous post about the Saxman of Cleveland. The four days included a massive amount of freezing temperature day and night exteriors as well as day and night interiors. Our mission for this part of the story was focused on capturing content. This meant we had to be quick and ready for anything. It was gorilla style film making on city streets and rooftops for extended periods of time. Interiors consisted of bars, restaurants, theaters with villainous volunteer ushers, very tight one bedroom apartments filled with Bruce Lee & super hero posters as well as a cat on crack that attacked Kevin DeOliveira, our AC. The crew was small but full of trusted & talented colleagues. Lighting consisted of two 1×1 LED light panels and natural light. There’s a lot to say so I’ll do my best to make it as organized as possible.
Why do I think the C300 is a great camera? Because it allowed me as a cinematographer, to quickly get to what made me start doing this in the first place…creative and beautiful story telling. Period.
Breakdown of Aesthetic Decisions & Logistics for the Project:
One of the biggest reasons I rallied for the C300 was because of its performance in low light. We were going to be shooting of a ton of night exteriors in a dark city and I was worried from previous tests that DSLR’s weren’t going to cut it. From what I had been reading and seeing online, this camera seemed to be the right fit for what we were doing. With higher ISO’s that are relatively clean and fast lenses…this camera practically sees in the dark.
Another very important reason this camera was chosen was because of it’s ability to relay record and not have to cut the clip (in context of us almost having to strictly shoot DSLRS for this project due to budget constraints). We were going to be shooting a lot of emotional content and asking someone to stop telling a story during an interview because our DSLR has limited record time was unacceptable.
Since this was a multi-cam shoot, the C300 acted as our A Cam. Two Canon 5D’s were our B Cams. I wanted to utilize Canon’s Log gamma mode (monitoring in REC709) which meant I would have to figure something out for the 5D’s to match the C300 as best as possible. I had been curious about the “technicolor” look for the 5D and decided it would be the best option for the task at hand. After some tests, it seemed that it was going to work for our purposes. I was impressed with the Canon Log gamma and the latitude of the camera was pretty darn fantastic. Exteriors in the city can be a big challenge because of dramatic contrast ratios but it seemed to hold up well. We shot 24 fps for the most part with the 50mb / 4:2:2 compression option on 32 gb CF cards. At 1080, that gave us 82 minutes of record time per card.
Lastly, the director Joe Siebert and I discussed the idea of using deeper DOF on this film. A lot of us are very aware of the very narrow DOF associated with the Canon 5D’s full frame sensor. Quite frankly, my eyes are going to explode if I continue to see obnoxiously-shallow-DOF-macro-porn plastered all over vimeo. Sometimes its nice to be able to tell what a location looks like instead of appearing to be a complete blob of nothing behind the subject. The C300’s sensitivity allowed for us to stop down to achieve deeper DOF.
Configurations on Set:
The camera work consisted of handheld, tripod and slider movement. I used a simple frankenstein rig from Ohio HD video that was actually my favorite rig I have used to date for handheld work. The C300 was mounted on a Zacuto baseplate, 15mm rods, a shoulder pad (not sure of the manufacturer) and the one and only O’Connor O Grips. We did a lot of following talent from behind (ala Aronofski / The Wrestler style) and the rig was awesome for that. I also used a Zacuto EVF for daytime exteriors via the C300’s HDMI port. FYI…I was able to use the Zacuto EVF and Canon’s LCD at the same time. The bonus with this set up was being able to give the director something to look at while staying light. Also, I could use my other eye to peek up at the LCD to see the live waveform and keep watch on my exposure during a shot. There were times I needed to move a lot quicker or shoot in a car interior and for that, I stripped down the camera to the body and lens which was very easy to operate with. We also used the Kessler Cine Slider for all of our dolly work. The camera weight was in perfect range for it.
The Good Stuff:
1. Image quality & sensitivity blew my mind with low-light / night photography. I pushed the ISO to 3200 and was pleased with what I was seeing in the dailies. The noise pattern was tight and provides an interesting texture.
2. Extremely sensitive camera in low light with a native ISO of 850. I never drifted from that number until we ran out of daylight.
3. Highlight and shadow retention is impressive.
4. Moire, rolling shutter and “jello” dramatically reduced.
5. If you are used to using DSLR’s in tight spaces, the C300’s footprint is still manageable & fits nicely in that scenario without much headache.
6. Legit professional audio options (XLR, headphones..etc). Who would have thought?
7. Ergonomics are flexible and the weight is light for shooting very long days under strenuous conditions. Adjustable side grip and top handle are nice.
8. Magnifying for focus while recording is a nice option.
9. Live waveform and vector.
10. Professional output and monitoring options…HD-SDI…thank you Canon. I have grown to HATE using HDMI. That connection is horrendous and unreliable for professional film making.
11. Hi res on-board LCD is bright and easy on the eyes. Looks great.
12. Time Code options
13. Tally lamp on the rear of the camera is a must when shooting with the on-screen display turned off.
14. Relay recording between two cards and not having to cut the clip is a welcomed improvement
15. Built-in ND filters
16. Solid & reliable performance in extremely cold temperatures. Never slowed us down.
The Bad Stuff:
1. Native ISO of 850? I’m curious as to where that number came from? Makes reciprocity a challenge when matching exposure on multi-cam shoots. I would imagine a lot of people will be mixing the C300 with 5D’s, 7D’s, 60D’s…etc. I’ve been used to working in third stop increments. Can this be changed in a firmware update?? Even if it were a native ISO of 800, it would still fall on one of the noisier ISO’s of the 5D and 7D (see this article on Native ISO’s for Canon 5D and 7D). Currently, this is the biggest issue with the camera IMHO.
2. The Start/Stop (record) button on the rear left side of the camera is very difficult to activate. I missed a few seconds of action a couple of times during the shoot because of this. Luckily, the on-board LCD and side grip’s record buttons work just fine. A handle remote on one of the O Grips is a must for the next round of shooting with the rig.
3. Unable to see the On Screen Display through third party EVF via HDMI. This was a hassle for knowing when I was recording. Luckily, a glance at the tally lamp does the trick. Maybe this could be fixed in a firmware update or maybe I missed an option in the menu to enable it.
CORRECTION: During my second time using the C300, I used a Marshall 7″ LCD via HDMI and was able to see the on-screen display from the camera. Not sure why it wasn’t working with the Zacuto EVF.
4. When using Canon glass and electronic aperture controls, the camera does weird increments “in-between” thirds of a stop. The menu gives you options to work in either third or fourth stop increments. But each click on the jog wheel failed to increase or decrease the light level in tandem with the on-screen aperture number.
5. Electronic aperture complaint number two: Increasing or decreasing your aperture on the fly is not smooth and is very visible. Only way to get around this is by using manual lenses with de-clicked aperture rings OR get the version with the PL mount and use cine lenses. This isn’t really a deal breaker though.
6. When fully built with top handle and on-board monitor panel on top, the rig is awkwardly tall. I probably could have come up with another configuration if I had more time but it made shooting in tight spaces a pain. Again, not a deal breaker. I’m sure all of the overpriced third party accessory manufacturers will come up with a million different options that they can price gouge the public with.
7. Wish the built-in ND filters were in increments of 1 stop, 2 stops, 3 stops, 4 stops (ND.03, .06, .09, 1.2). But then filtration manufacturers wouldn’t be very happy because people wouldn’t need to load down their cameras with extra glass.
8. Would have been nice to have a quick switch or user button dedicated to 60p / over-crank mode.
8. Price. Yeah yeah…I know. Everyone complains about price.
Additional Notes On Glass:
We used mostly Canon L glass for the shoot. I’m a big fan of L glass because of their quality, wide range of focal lengths in both primes and zooms, availability as well as being light weight for documentary work. I’d like give a huge thanks to Mick Edmundson and Brian Matsumoto at Canon USA for hooking us up with a couple of lenses that made a significant difference in making our days as efficient as possible without having to compromise in image quality or variety. The following glass was used on the shoot:
– (x2) 24-70mm F2.8L – staple lens for any documentary being shot on a camera with an EOS mount.
– 24-105mm F4L IS – great range. Only caveat to this lens is that a weird delay effect happens when zooming out manually. Not sure what it is but it doesn’t work for me. manual zooms have to be slow for it to work. Other than that, this lens has an awesome range and is very compatible with the sensitivity of the C300.
– 70-200mm F2.8L IS – another staple lens
– 70-200mm F4 IS – much lighter than the F2.8L for long days of shooting handheld. The sensitivity of the C300 makes this lens an awesome asset to any arsenal.
– 16-35mm F2.8L – 16mm is a must for cropped / super 35 sensors for getting wide angle FOV. This lens was great for walking handheld as well. If you want the effect of full frame barrel distortion, try the Tokina 11-16mm. Gave that effect to all the 7D / 60D users out there.
– 24mm F1.4L – awesome for night exteriors or low light interiors. I love this lens.
– Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4 (de-clicked) – came in handy a few times.
– Filtration used: 77mm Fader ND & 82mm Fader ND
I think the Canon C300 has the potential to be one of the best tools at this time for not only documentaries but many other genres of production. The image quality, sensitivity, flexibility & ease of use make it quite a contender. I’ll be using it again this upcoming week for a commercial shoot which means I’ll have the opportunity to dive in a little deeper. Props to Canon for yet again making a great tool to add to a cinematographer’s arsenal. Can’t wait to shoot with it some more!
If you have any questions, email me at email@example.com. I’m always up for talking shop.
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.
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.