I threw together a quick 2016 reel to show what I've been up to for the past year plus. Enjoy!
I got to write a fun article about action cameras. Turns out, people have been trying to put cameras on their heads for a lot longer than I thought.
I would love to do video work for coffee shops, since I pretty much paid for my film education working in the, Here's a sample video I did to show what I can do when I want to talk about coffee.
I am now doing film blog work at ShareGrid, a website that allows filmmakers to rent gear from one another without having to deal with an insurance company directly. I love this opportunity and have really enjoyed being able to learn more about filmmaking and the filmmakers working today. Here's my first post, about the state of filmmaking in Atlanta.
"The Head" finally has a short trailer. There will be a crowdfunding campaign soon!
"Man, this song moves," was the scary first thought I had when listening to Sidd Kel's "Space Needle" for the first time. I had been tasked with shooting a music video for this song, an electronic dance groove that goes to a lot of places in its almost six-minute run time. The length of the song isn't what scared me, though, the movement of the song did.
To this point, my main camera was the Digital Bolex D16, a wonderful piece of equipment that shoots stunning 16mm-like images in a digital format. I love this camera, but it's semi-large and creating complex, smooth, movements with it are either very difficult or very expensive (for me). Normally this isn't a problem, but for creating images that complement "Space Needle," I was going to need a camera that could fly.
So I took a chance and bought myself a DJI Osmo, a 4k video camera that couldn't be more different than the Bolex. Even operating the camera next to the Bolex seems like engaging in two opposing filmmaking ideologies at once. The Osmo is fluid, crisp, sharp, and new, while the Bolex is rich, grainy, emotive, and old-school. I had no idea if I could tell a single story with these two cameras, but I gave it a try.
Production went very smoothly (the OSMO is super fun to shoot with) but post-production is where I found trouble. The Bolex really shines from a color grading standpoint, its dynamic range and film-like grain make coloring more like an exploration than a correction. The Osmo, however, can't be pushed around as well, so not only was I having to match the color scheme I was good at achieving with the Bolex, but I was having to do so with less of a grade. I'm not a master color grader, this was a pain in the ass.
In the end, though, the struggle was worth it. I feel like the Osmo and the Bolex can really complement each other when used correctly. The Bolex brings richness. The Osmo brings energy, and I just need to find the right balance between the two.
Just dropped a brand new music video for Alaskan Tapes' song, "Never Missed."
This short began as a music video for a local electronic artist. I had created demo footage for the video that involved two models, a tarp, and overlaying images of cities and nature. The style was entirely new to me and offered up all sorts of visual possibilities that I had never experienced before. It felt dynamic, soulful, and original. I was engaged and intoxicated by these images in a way that I hadn't ever been before. Only one problem existed.
The artist didn't like it.
We parted on good terms but I was left with footage that I loved but no home for it. This video needed music, but there wasn't very much music that actually fit the image style. Moreover, finding an artist willing to accept and promote a music video they didn't help conceive was going to be a hard sell. Even if I found said artist, would they (or their promoters) be willing to pay for something like this? I was looking for a perfect suitor in a very imperfect situation and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, I couldn't find a good fit.
So I sulked.
After four months of sitting on this footage that I loved so dearly, I hit creative rock-bottom. There were so many things I wanted for my weird art-child, but I was at a cross between art and commerce that was being compounded by the dissonance of time and perfection. I wanted my film completed now, I wanted it to be perfect, and I wanted to get paid for it. Sadly, it looked like I wasn't going to get any of those things.
Luckily, real estate at rock-bottom comes with a great view of all of the things that never mattered in the first place. Why was I trying to get paid? I had gone this long without seeing a dime from the project and I was doing fine. Also, why does this have to be a music video? Just because this began as one doesn't mean it can't become something else. Slowly, the knots in my brain began to untie and new creativity began to seep in.
I had an idea.
I took the footage to a good friend of mine, Brandon Jordan, who writes music. He's somewhere near as weird as I am so I thought the images might be a good fit for him. He did not disappoint. The score he came up with about a month later was a beautiful, shifting, "Aguirre"-esque experience that gave the images an emotional undercurrent they never had before. This was no longer a music video, there were no verses to tell a story or beats to signal change. Instead, this was a strange experiment that, when completed, moved its two creators at the very least.
And, in the end, that's all that ever mattered. The response to the video has been positive, with some very kind words coming from friends and complete strangers alike, but even a negative reaction would have been fine because we like it. It's our weird art baby and we love it. Isn't that why creative people do what they do, anyway? Forget all of the nonsense and make something you like. Believe me, you'll feel better in the end,
More experience with the Bolex!
This was my first run-and-gun shoot using the Bolex and my homemade shoulder mount. The setup worked pretty well, and was tested not only by the elements but also by the fact that we were in a less-than-safe part of town. I definitely had all of my eggs resting on my shoulder. Not the wisest decision.
We had a blast shooting this, we didn't get mugged, and Sara is one of the most talented artists I've had to the opportunity to work with thus far. Also, this song is gorgeous and I got to hear it live a bunch of times.
Sometimes I will take a break from talking about the films I make to talk about the films I love. This year we passed the halfway mark of the 2010's and I'd like to reflect on the films that affected me the most so far this decade.
10. Dogtooth (2010)
Gorges Lanthimos delivers an unnerving depiction of a family where the parents brainwash their children to keep them from ever leaving the safe confines of their house. The children flail as they grow against the myths their parents are feeding them and the parents struggle to keep up with their own bullshit. It's daring filmmaking and Lanthimos sells it with his barely-moving camera that remains as steadfast on its subjects as the characters are committed to the world they have built for themselves. Their world falls apart, as you'd expect, but this sharp satirical look at a generation of helicopter parents has only grown in my estimation since first seeing it.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen Brothers and leading man Oscar Isaac bring their existential A-games to this one. Set in the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis follows a broke folk singer through an odyssey of a week as he couch surfs, fights with the people he’s close to, and looks for a lost cat. The death-drenched humor is classic Coen, but the brothers sneak a heartfelt sense of longing to the picture that emerges whenever Llewyn brings out his guitar. This subtle human touch is a welcome and radical departure from their previous work, elevating Inside Llewyn Davis to the upper echelons of the Coens’ filmography. Great Coen is about as good as it gets for me.
8. Under the Skin (2014)
Jonathan Glazer very cleverly uses the story of an alien observing humans to deconstruct body image and gender. That's all well and good, but in the process of doing so, he shows us the world through an outsider's eyes. I felt alien to myself after watching this film, undoubtedly due to the methodical pacing, startling shifts between plain reality and intense imagery/situations, and hypnotic images that strip away the viewer's concept of self. This is great science fiction for the 21st century.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
This movie is great for all of the same reasons that most of Wes Anderson's movies are great. It ranks third on my all-time Anderson list (behind "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums") because here he brings a thoughtfulness to each and every character that, in my opinion, separates his good from his great works. The children are spot-on depictions of adolescent angst and ingenuity while the adults are each in hilarious shades of personal crisis. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton give some of the best performances of their careers and the film ends as satisfyingly as it begins. It's funny, heartwarming, and about as Wes Andersonian as his movies get.
6. Upstream Color (2013)
In Upstream Color, there are telepathic pigs, biochemical conspiracies, kidnappings, and a fated love story. The film isn’t easy viewing, but allowing the details to settle and unkink reveals something marvelous. At its core, Upstream Color is a symphony on our longing for identity in a hyper-constructed world. The hypnotic effect of Carruth’s idiosyncratic vision is a testament to the power of montage, and hopefully its narrative boundary-pushing will inspire some of the great filmmakers of the decade's latter half.
5. Her (2014)
Spike Jonze could have really dropped the ball with this one. There are about twelve moments in "Her" where a lesser auteur would have lingered too long on something, taken the plot into the wrong place, or missed the right tone of a particular moment. The fact that Jonze managed to stick all of these difficult landings is enough to earn my respect, but it’s every glorious moment in between that makes this movie something special. "Her" is heartbreaking, but it’s also hilarious, thought provoking, and gorgeous to look at. It sports a performance by Joaquin Phoenix that shouldn’t even be possible. How does someone pull off playing a character that is guarded, vulnerable, likable, sad, funny, and believable in a way that makes you think he could fall in love with an operating system? This isn’t really a film about falling in love with technology though. Why would it be? All of that stuff only exists to enhance a thesis on the vulnerability of human relationships. Somehow Jonze and Phoenix pull it all together and the result is transcendent as hell.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
I refuse to write a top ten films list that doesn't include the movie that made me laugh the most. Luckily, that movie also happens to contain what might be my favorite use of CGI in a film ever. This joke-a-second visual extravaganza is unlike anything that came before it and better than most things that have come after it. Thank writer/director Edgar Wright, whose comedic voice is singular, potent, and only matched by his eye for visuals. I might just watch it again after writing this list.
3. A Separation (2011)
Nobody today can make a domestic drama as immersive and powerful as Asghar Farhadi. His camera finds characters at their most vulnerable, but never intrudes on the moment. "A Separation" is a film where one dispute, a divorce, connects to a myriad of other disputes; a harmony of intricate dysfunctions. All of the characters have their reasons and none of them are entirely right. This is a film about the difficulties of making decisions when other decision-making people are involved. Farhadi's storytelling does not encourage judgement or offer room for melodrama. Instead, it delivers a heartbreaking eulogy for the perfect outcome. It's "Tokyo Story" for the 2010's.
2. The Master (2012)
"The Master" is a dense, inscrutable, pain in the ass of a movie. It features a main character whose actions rarely make sense and scenes that, although engaging, don't seem to all fit into the same movie on the first viewing. Those scenes, however, are as electric as anything I've ever seen on screen. Featuring career-best performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams with Paul Thomas Anderson's par-none visual eye, "The Master" is a puzzle that I'm eager to continue putting together.
1. The Tree of Life (2011)
"The Tree of Life" is a pure artistic expression that culminates a lifetime of Terrence Malick's obsessions into one epic, poetic, and astonishingly beautiful film. This is Malick's most abstract film to date, but housed in all of its ethereal qualities is a fairly simple story of boyhood and loss. The more straightforward scenes that follow the dynamic of a suburban family in Texas are so effective that they render the film's higher wonderings into a single powerful, palpable, experience. This was a game-changer for me and I continually look to it when I need a dose of inspiration. It hasn't let me down yet.
I just finished watching Alex Ross Perry's "Queen of Earth," one of my favorite films of this year from a filmmaker who has been very vocal in support of shooting on film despite the now digitally dominated cinema landscape. He isn't the only filmmaker with this preference. High profile Hollywood names like Christopher Nolan and JJ Abrams have insisted on using 35mm on their productions despite recent trends as well, and Quentin Tarantino is having theaters project his new film, "The Hateful Eight," in "Glorious 70mm." While the disciples of analogue are a force to be reckoned with, however, the advantages of going fully digital are only growing for both indie and big-budget filmmakers.
If we eventually lose the analogue format altogether, will we be taking a special tool away from the kinds of minds that are currently giving us wonderful films like "The Master," "Drinking Buddies," and "The Immigrant"? Or will filmmakers be equally inspired as digital technology progresses and offers new advancements?
Well, What Looks Better?
This question is broad, subjective, and impossible to answer. Everyone's tastes are different, but there are fundamental qualities to both formats that make them appealing. My favorite "filmic" advantage is its effect on skin tones. Skin looks fantastic on film, especially on 16mm, because film grain tends to look warm and touchable over skin while digital can often look glossy and distant.
Here's Jason Schwartzman's face in "Listen Up, Philip," shot on 16mm.
Here is his face again in "Big Eyes," shot digitally in the same year for a much larger budget on an Arri Alexa.
Neither of these is superior, and both of these images serve their intended purpose. The ARRI Alexa dominated the Oscar list for cinematography last year (and was used on the winning film, "Birdman") but the appeal of getting an authentic film look remains.
A new question emerges.
Can Digital Replicate the Look of Film?
I like this question because, at first glance, it appears to be more objective and answer-able. Since I am not a tech junkie or a lifelong cinematographer, I look to the guidance of industry legends and personal heroes to answer this for me. Unfortunately, this also does not come with a unified answer.
The side of digital filmmaking has been backed up recently on WTF with Marc Maron, where separate interviews with Robert Rodriguez and Vince Gilligan saw both filmmakers sing the praises of digital filmmaking. Both filmmakers comment that the true difference between film and digital is unnoticeable. Rodriguez discusses the advantages of shooting digitally from a creative standpoint, giving him post production malleability that film doesn't offer. Gilligan sounds remorseful about his own transition from film to digital, but notes the budgetary advantages of going digital (he claims to save $100,000 per episode of "Better Call Saul" when he shoots digitally) while noting that his strenuous side-by-side comparisons have led him to find no noticeable difference in the formats at this point.
On the indie end, Joe Swanberg and Alex Ross Perry have been the most recent defenders of shooting on film. Swanberg, who used to be a strong advocate of DV, has noted that the digital landscape has made film differentiate his projects "in a really interesting way." Ross Perry has taken a more militant approach, noting the dynamics of film create "an instant and overwhelmingly present aesthetic" absent from digital images.
So I guess the final question is;
Is There a Fundamental Philosophical Difference Between Shooting on Film Versus Shooting Digitally?
In reading recent interviews with analogue fans Joe Swanberg, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alex Ross Perry, it's hard not to notice a sense of nostalgia underlying their case for shooting on an older format. For all intents and purposes, it seems like Tarantino's decision to shoot "The Hateful Eight" was to engage in a conversation about film history, which is fine, but doesn't do much to back up Tarantino's attitudes about film's superiority. On the other hand, maybe an academic defense is the only one needed for film. There is a science to movie making, but in the end movies are still an art form.
Although it appears that shooting on film allows certain filmmakers to commune with the history and culture of their art form, digital filmmaking seems to allow other filmmakers to embrace the present and future of the medium. David Fincher has used digital filmmaking to breathe new life into the film noir genre (with "Zodiac," "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Gone Girl") while also using it to help engage in a cultural conversation ("The Social Network"). Looking at his post-digital body of work, it's impossible to write off his motives as merely pragmatic. He has proven that digital filmmaking can be used as meaningfully as shooting on film.
What Did We Learn?
It would be a shame to see actual film filmmaking go extinct in the future, as it seems to serve as a great muse and too for so many wonderful talents while also providing a sense history to the movie watching experience. However, even the early achievements of digital filmmaking have shown that we are certainly not facing Tarantino's "death of cinema" any time soon.
Maybe shooting on film becomes exclusively a feature of die hard indie filmmakers, while Hollywood and the rest of the cinematic landscape explore the emerging capabilities of digital technology? While it might not be ideal for all, it certainly seems like a happy medium to me.
For the past four months or so, I've been attempting to build my camera setup for the future. I'm not naturally a tech guy, so making a final decision was anxiety-inducing. However, I finally landed on a camera that I have committed to being my partner in crime; the Digital Bolex D16.
Why the Bolex?
I'm not a cinematographer. Learning the art and details of camera operation has been essential to creating the work that I'm most proud of, but it hasn't been a driving force for me creatively. I wanted to change that. Before owning the Bolex, I had bounced around between using DSLRs and my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. While I found both experiences rewarding, and would happily shoot with those cameras again, the looks I got from them felt like a means to an end. More specifically, my videos looked like most of the other videos I was seeing being put out by indie filmmakers even with the personal touches I was adding. These cameras were getting the job done, but weren't inspiring me as an artist.
When I was whittling down my choices for a camera upgrade and came upon the Digital Bolex, I was fascinated by the footage people were getting. It looked astonishingly like the 16mm film I was used to seeing on older independent productions, but with the vitality of modern digital filmmakers behind it. Bright colors popped, skin looked soft and smooth, and movements looked natural. There were other cameras with specs that sounded more appealing and sharpness that looked more marketable, but in the end it was the Bolex's images that I couldn't get out of my head.
How's the Setup?
Inspired by my great experience with the Metabones Micro 4/3 Speedbooster for Nikon that I had on the BMPCC, I bought the micro 4/3 mount for the Bolex and transitioned all of my Nikon glass over to it. This turned out to be a great decision, because the Bolex is a real pain in the ass in low light, and the speedbooster is a real lifesaver when combined with relatively fast lenses. Plus, Nikon has a great catalogue of vintage lenses to play with, so I still get the fun of seeing what old glass looks like on such a filmic camera.
The screen on the Bolex requires an external monitor, so I went basic with the Lilliput 668 GL. It gets the job done, but eventually I'd like to upgrade to the Zacuto Z-Finder or something along those lines.
The battery on the Bolex is built-in and doesn't last particularly long. I bought the Switchtronix Powerbase with the camera and haven't looked back since. Being used to switching batteries in and out constantly on DSLRs and the BMPCC, I love having a battery pack that has powered 12-hour shoots with lots of room to spare. I will run out of the 512 GB of storage on this thing before I run out of battery life.
On the storage note, the Bolex shoots huge RAW files and has forced me to really step up my file management game (and buy a few more terabytes in external hard drives). It's a hurdle that hasn't been to difficult to clear, yet...
Having used this camera on a few paid DP gigs, a comedy sketch, and a music video, I'm very excited about the things I'm going to be able to do with the Bolex in the future. It has been even more creatively inspiring than I had hoped and its limitations have already forced me to become a better filmmaker in a number of ways. I will be sharing more about the camera, along with videos I have taken with it, soon.
Feel free to comment below and stay tuned for more about my experiences with the Digital Bolex D16.
I'm really excited to be premiering this music video for Southbound, a hip-hop track featuring some great production by Koresma and killer vocals by local rapper Sir Bishop. I'm very pleased with how the video has turned out.
EDIT: Here's a link to a great writeup of the song.
A few weeks ago, armed with my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and a tripod, I got up super early on a Sunday morning to shoot my first hip-hop video. The song is a collaboration between local producer Koresma and local rapper Sir Bishop.
I was a little anxious to shoot this one, since we decided to shoot on MARTA and had very little control of our surroundings. Luckily, though, we happened to catch one of the most beautiful sunrises I've seen in a while, leading to some pretty striking images for this video. We should be releasing it later this month.
I met Waylon Elsberry at an open mic night that I couldn't have been less interested in attending. It was typical coffee shop fair. Lots of acoustic acts singing soulful pop songs about love. As the night came to a close, the guy with a kick drum, guitar, and harmonica approached the stage looking jittery as hell. He spoke to the crowd like a Baptist preacher but sang songs like someone picked out of a 1960's war protest. He was crude, raw, and unbelievably entertaining.
Needless to say, I got his number and just about demanded to make a music video for him. Two months later, we were filming a gonzo, slapstick, interracial romance and I couldn't be more pleased with the result.
If you like the song, make sure you check out Waylon's other work here.
Production wrapped on the music video for "Golden," a collaborative single between electronic producers Feverkin and Koresma and saxophonist Cuff Malloy. Our shooting took us all over Atlanta and ended on a pretty pitch-perfect sunset. I'm in the editing process right now and am pretty damn excited for the April 3rd release of the video.