Archive for the ‘Cinematography’ Category


RIP Gordon Willis, The Prince of Darkness – 19. May, 2014

Cinematographer Gordon Willis died earlier this weekend. While everyone is posting about the revolutionary work he did on The Godfather , I want all of you to bask in the imagery of what is my favorite of his films, Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

A few years ago, as I was wrapping up my shift at the day job, I was asked to spot check a DCP of Manhattan. I started watching the opening images and ended up screening the entire film. I was enraptured.

Do yourself a favor. If this happens to be playing anywhere close to where you live, go see it on the big screen.

Rest in peace Gordon Willis. The cinema is a little less magical without you.

Posted in Cinematography

iPad as Movie Camera – 1. September, 2011

Ever wanted to shoot a film with the most awkward prosumer digital video camera imaginable? If you answered with a confident “yes,” then here you go.

IPad tripod front

I don’t own an iPad but I gotta ask if you would want to step behind this…

IPad tripod back

… the next time you shoot something? Well, I guess it’s only a matter of time before we see the first iPad shot/edited feature.

Posted in Cinematography

Your Next Indie Feature… in 3D! – 24. May, 2010

It’s happening. Your next indie feature could be in 3D thanks to this camera.

These are scary cool times indeed.

Posted in Cinematography

Amazon Spec: Debrief – 3. August, 2009

So while I wait for August 24th to roll around (that’s when Amazon announces the 5 finalist for the audience award and the jury prize winner), here is my promised debrief. Warning, it is very tech heavy.

First, my 30-second spec combined live action and stop-motion animation. I’ve done one other film like this (check out CONVERSING). For that short, I shot both the live action and stop-motion animation with a Panasonic DVX100; I used iStopMotion to record the stop-motion animation to my laptop. The digital video was shot 30p and the animation 15 fps. I used a Sennheiser ME66 and ProTools 6.4 to record the voice talent. I edited the film with Final Cut Pro and mixed in ProTools. I was going to use the same setup for this project but I really wanted a higher resolution final so I thought I’d put the final cut through Instant HD and viola, I’m done.

Just one problem: the test I put through Instant HD didn’t look as good as I hoped. I don’t blame the plugin, I just didn’t know how to punch up the optimum settings for export. Plus I was haunted by this post.

I also had access to both a Sony A1U HDV camcorder and a Nikon D100 plus I was looking for a good excuse to learn After Effects so why not take the plunge with this project? Who doesn’t love a challenge, right?

So, first I recorded my four actors (big thanks to Curtiss, Dan, Karina & Michael for lending their talent) using the above mentioned setup. I quickly cut and mixed the dialog so I could sync it up to my “proof of concept” cut. I then shot the live action (an extra thanks to Dan) as 59.94 HDV with the Sony “fake” Cineframe 30 mode turned on. After shooting I immediatly transcoded all the footage to ProRes for the rest of post. All of that went according to plan. The animation, not so much.

I thought about shooting RAW files with the D100 but I’d heard from my photographer friends that it’s a whole other beast so I chose large RGB TIFF files (3000 x 2000) instead. Unfortunately, the camera came with one 512MB CompactFlash (CF) card. That card coulldn’t hold more than 17 shots so if I had any animation longer than 1s4f (1 second, 4 frames), I’d have to download the card, wipe it clean and pray I hadn’t bumped the camera in the process. Um, no thanks. I looked in the manual and it said the camera could handle the “promised” 1GB card but nothing bigger. Guess what? Today it’s hard to find a CF card smaller than 4GB. Thank the lord the 4GB card worked. Unfortuantely, that was just the start of my troubles.

After shooting my first stop-motion shot I immediately ran head first into another problem. Although I put the camera in full manual, including the iris, the camera still adjusted the f-stop by 1/3 to 1/2 a stop according to the built in spot meter. That meant that the brightness of some frames in a single shot would be different than the others. I’d have to correct brightness frame by frame. Tedious? Yes. Doable? Yes. But that wasn’t the biggest pain in my neck.

No, it was the camera and the CF card that almost killed me. The camera could shoot 6 shots before it needed time to write the images from the internal memory buffer to the CF card. It could take 2-5 minutes to write one image to the CF. But the bigger problem was downloading from the camera into iPhoto. This took around 20 minutes per download and once took almost an hour. This forced my one-day shoot to take twice as long. Ugh.

Once in iPhoto, I renamed and exported the TIFF files to an external drive. It was then time for some After Effects magic. I was glad AFX allowed me to import a folder of still images as a contiguous video clip. Once in a timeline, I corrected the gamma to fix for the iris adjustment. Damn, that took a long time and boy did I grind my teeth. After that I created JPEG proxy files for the TIFF clips (a very good idea that saved me a ton of time). I then created another AFX project where I would lay in the animated clips end to end to get a sense of editing and pace. And, as I had 3000×2000 images but knew my final output would be a 1920×1080 HD Quicktime, I decided to create camera moves in post. Oh boy, the results looked so good I couldn’t have been happier.

Also, at this point, I could fix any image problems while still in the highest possible resolution; the Clone tool became one of my most trusted tools and Keylight is awesome for green-screen work. Once that was done, I took each shot and output it as a 1920×1080 ProRes Quciktime so that I could combine my live action and stop motion in a single AFX comp where I could color correct with Colorista which is a GPU based plugin; As you’d know from a previous post, the TIFF files were too big for this.

Once I laid out all the clips, it was time to apply Colorista. I took the Stu Maschwitz method and used Adjustment Layers instead of loading effects onto the master clip. This came in handy when I wanted to swap out clips (which happened more than a few times). Each clip had one color correction layer and all the live action clips had a secondary correction layer so I could bring my actor’s eyes up out of the darkness. Lastly, I applied a final “looks” layer over the whole project.

On the sound side, I tried Soundtrack Pro but grew frustrated so quickly I fell back to ProTools for the sound edit, design and mix. I did have to add a bit of music and I used GarageBand to create the cues and then exported them to ProTools.

Lastly, FYI, it took 14 minutes to render out a 30-second clip in After Effects but I’m incredibly happy with the results.

Here’s hoping you get to see the fruit of my labors as a finalist.

Importing HVX Footage into Final Cut Pro – 28. January, 2009

As I’ve had a few requests, I’ve decided to post instructions for importing footage shot w/ the Panasonic HVX200 into Final Cut Pro.  I created this document for my DIT.

For reference:

Lastly, you should know that I culled this from Creative Cow and Shane Ross, an editor I once worked with.

Best of luck.

Small Format Monsters – 31. January, 2008

If you’ve seen CLOVERFIELD you’ve witnessed the prosumer high-definition revolution co-opted by a huge studio event picture… sort of. Most of that “film” was shot with the incredibly popular Panasonic HVX200 (the same camera used to shoot QUIET CITY). Still, in order to maintain maximum image integrity for all the CGI, the production employed the much heftier (and costlier) Thomson Viper and Sony F-23 high-definition cameras. You can read the Videography magazine article here.

Posted in Cinematography

Results: Green Screen-o-rama! – 22. September, 2007

This past week was the art opening for that green screen work I did back in May (those blogs are filed under Cinematography). The exhibition was being held at H.D. Buttercup which, from what I can tell, is a furniture store for Hollywood executives once they’re promoted to Sr. VP of something useless. I’m not deriding their crap. It’s awesome but it’s not for those of us that struggle to pay the bills. I promise to buy something nice from them after I sell that first spec script for six figures.

After a long and winding walk/tour through the store I finally reached an area where music was blasting. As I entered, I saw it on my left: a projector throwing my cinematography on a good sized screen.  The dancer was pulled out of the image so she was just a blank/white silhouette but I could see the splotches of green from the cyc we used.  My stomach started racing for my knees.

But maybe this was just a preview, something to whet the appetite. Maybe inside the work would look sharper, more refined once fully realized on one of the promised plasma screens; the projection was rather washed out.

I stepped inside and the first thing to hit me was all the sponsorship. Honestly, it was more than you’d see at a racetrack. I think there was a Hawaiian resort, Lotus of Beverly Hills, a vodka company, a Japanese restaurant, a Los Angeles publication, heck, our servers were part of a thing called Beautiful Bartenders (the one girl I kept hitting up for drinks looked like the best possible cross of Bettie Page and Lena Horne).

Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sponsorship. The arts have always required some sort of patronage. I was just impressed/overwhelmed with the amount I was seeing here. Never in my LA art going experience have I seen it at this level.  A++ to the person that pulled these sponsors together.

But all this is besides the point. As I turned a corner, I saw it. I saw the video projection inside the exhibit.


(taken with my Nokia cell phone)

It looked exactly like what I saw outside except it wasn’t projected onto a proper screen. I won’t say anymore because I like the artist personally and I think there is something magical and playful about some of her paintings and drawings but this… I remembered why I decided I’d rather direct than shoot (I’m a control freak).

So I’m feeling down and It didn’t help that everyone was super snooty. Oh yeah, they were also hot as hell. I kid you not, the room was averaging a high 8 and that’s by LA standards. Christ, there was this one girl, she had killer legs that went on forever…


(pardon the terrible framing but I was trying to be sly)

Was I gonna sidle up to her and say, “Hey, I shot that. Yeah, I’m a successful artist and cinematographer. Wanna split and have a drink back at my place?”

CHRIST NO! I was feeling so awkward and out of place I just started pounding vodka martinis. After about the 5th or 6th one I could barely see straight. I should have taken a date. I should not have gone solo. Ack!

On the plus side, I didn’t have a hangover the next day. Also, I was inspired to try a documentary/self-portrait series but that’ll have to wait until after my thesis this December and my feature next summer. And I’m not done with the LA art scene. For all the horror I described, I’d do it all over again. So, artists, if you’re out there and you need a bad ass DP, here I am.

Posted in Cinematography

P2 Field Report – 1. September, 2007

First, a warning to save often. I had written a massive post on this subject but wasn’t saving regularly. When I finally did, my wi-fi was down and I got the “try again” message. I hit “reload” and everything was gone. 🙁

Frustrated and angry, I’ve decided to blog using short bullet points.

Recently I was hired to AC (1st & 2nd) a shoot using the HVX200 and P2 cards. Here’s what I learned:

  • Panasonic recently released a 16 GB P2 card. That gets you 16 minutes at 1080i (this project’s format).
  • You need a driver for your Mac and Final Cut Pro to see the new 16 GB P2 card. Otherwise they won’t show up.
  • The P2 records MXF (Material Exchange Format) files but ingesting the data into FCP will place them in a Quicktime wrapper. Note: you must bring in all the metadata, not just the “video” or “audio” content in the MXF, for FCP to see your footage.
  • “Incomplete” clips aren’t really incomplete. They’re clips that span over two P2 cards. Ingest the data from both cards at the same time and FCP will make them into a contiguous/”spanned” clip.
  • You may find “spanned” clip on a single P2 card. Don’t worry. Because the cards are formatted FAT32, no single file can be over 4 GB. Therefore, continuous shots over 4 minutes long in 1080i are stored as two files. When you ingest this footage into FCP, the clip will appear as one contiguous shot.
  • We were shooting 1080-24pA (that’s 1080 vertical lines of hi-definition resolution at 24 frames per second shooting progressive with an advanced pull-down of 3:2:2:3) but we’re actually recording 1080-60i (60 interlaced fields per second), as if we were laying down to tape. The HVX200 can record 24p-N (24 frames per second shooting progressive in the native frame rate – no duplicated frames and no pull-down required) but only when shooting 720p.
  • The filmmakers rented a P2 Store and it stayed in the box the whole weekend. Why? First, we had a G4 Powerbook (with PCMCIA slot for the P2 cards) and two 320 GB G-Raid drives to store and back up the data. Second, because of a hardware glitch, although the P2 Store is USB 2.0 capable with Macs it can only transfer at USB 1.1 rates. That means a 3:1 ratio and 48 minutes to copy 16 minutes of footage is just plain stupid.
  • The filmmakers should have rented a Firestore FS-100. It’s a 100 GB portable hard drive that connects directly to the camera via firewire. I’ve only heard two complaints about this device. First, when it heats up the fan can be obnoxiously loud. Second, all reports indicate that you can’t record in the “native” format (although the manufacturer says they’ve repaired this with a firmware update). Still, this point would have been moot on our set as we were shooting 1080i and the “native” frame rate is only an option when recording 720p.
  • Although some people suggested we use HD Log or P2 Genie to transfer the data from P2 card to our hard drives, I transfered material using the old fashioned method of “drag and drop”. It worked fine.

In the end, I found this workflow to be incredibly addicting. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching dailies 30 minutes after they were shot. What’s more, someone could have edited the first day’s footage by the middle of the second day. Amazing. After this experience, I’m 93% positive I want to use this camera to shoot my thesis; that remaining 7% of uncertainty is in regards to the camera having a 1/3″ chip instead of a 2/3″ and my desire to use prime lenses.

I Hate the Chainsaw – 26. June, 2007

I’ve been shooting for the past three days with the Canon XL H1 (often called “the chainsaw” for its front-heavy design) and I can say that, while it does capture pretty images, it’s terribly designed, counter intuitive and a pain in the ass (or more correctly the upper back) when shooting hand-held. Do yourself a favor and shoot anything other than this camera.

Posted in Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki: Uncensored – 5. June, 2007

A friend of mine found this unedited interview with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, most recently lauded for his lensing on CHILDREN OF MEN. It’s a fascinating listen, almost as if you were eavesdropping. The quality is rough and it is long but it’s worth the time.

Posted in Cinematography