Mr. Brightside - Looping Cello Cover

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I recently put together this brief cello cover of The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" and was pleased to see that it was mentioned at both LaughingSquid and Devour this morning.

Each one of these videos takes a lengthy amount of time to practice for, shoot, and then edit, so it's always gratifying to see that people are watching these videos and enjoying them. If you've ever looked/liked/shared, thanks so much! You're giving me the motivation to keep going.

Why I Helped Produce 'Layover'

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This year at the Seattle International Film Festival, I saw a movie called Layover, which tells the story of how a young Parisian named Simone gets stuck in LA on an extended layover and ends up learning more about her hopes and dreams than she had anticipated. At the time, I wrote about the film at /Film:

Layover is a film in the tradition of Linklater’s Before series, and I found that it perfectly captured the paradox encountered by many a millennial: feeling trapped, while also realizing that the possibilities for your life are still endless. It’s a beautiful, moving, and wistful film.

Not only was I impressed with the film, I also loved the story of how director Joshua Caldwell made the film for about $6,000. Layover is a testament to what can be accomplished with a solid script, a strong directorial eye, a single Canon 5D Mark II camera, and sheer willpower.

In fact, I enjoyed the film so much that I signed on to become a producer for it. So what exactly does that mean?


In this instance, since Layover was already completed, there were very few conventional production duties that I could help fill. Instead, I helped provide finishing funds for the film and consulted on several elements of their distribution plan and publicity. You can read more about how Caldwell made the film here and here, and also read about his decision to directly distribute the movie. 

You can probably guess: The fact that the film was only made for $6K made it much easier for a person of my limited means to invest in it. A few thousand dollars of my money could go a much longer way on Layover than it would on a production that cost $100K or $500K. But beyond that, I saw several unique opportunities that becoming a producer would present.

Firstly, since I'm directing a film myself this year -- and one that will very likely require self-distribution -- I felt being involved with Layover would give me a front-row seat to all the challenges involved in getting the word out about a movie. Thus far, I have already learned a lot about what platforms to use to distribute, the advantages of each, and what the most effective ways of driving publicity are. Undoubtedly, these learnings will require a whole other blog post to cover.

Secondly, and more importantly, every year thousands of movies like this screen at indie film festivals around the country and are promptly forgotten or never heard from again. They are movies with limited appeal on the mass market - maybe they don't have big stars, or maybe (in the case of Layover) they are shot in a foreign language and presented with English subtitles. I knew there was a risk that Layover would become one of these films, and with the audience I have via /Film and the /Filmcast, I saw an opportunity to bring attention to a film that would otherwise never have received it.

Finally, I saw it as an opportunity to get involved with a promising young filmmaker. I don't know where the careers of writer/director Joshua Caldwell and his producing/writing partner Travis Oberlander will end up. But even if this is the only thing they make that I ever love, I'm very proud to have my name on it.

You can buy Layover right now for $6 with promo code "filmcast", DRM-free. If you'd like to support an exciting new filmmaker, the concept of indie distribution, or my work in general, I would be grateful if you could check it out. Thanks!

Observations on 'Gone Girl'

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I had a great time watching Gone Girl this afternoon at Seattle's Sundance Theaters in the U-District. A few stray observations, in advance of the our /Filmcast review (which I'll update this post with when it goes live in a few days):

  • Overall, I really enjoyed the film, but it's definitely one that I'm still considering and turning over in my head. It is so perfect in its depiction of the media being gripped by missing white woman syndrome that it doesn't even feel like satire (which might have been the intention). 
  • My friend/colleague Peter Sciretta points out (and I agree) that this film is primarily about media and public perception. Society is engineered to expect people to behave in certain ways when they are in the spotlight. Any deviation from that expectation is met with righteous, irrational anger. Why do we engage in these behaviors? For us, cable news has made real-life into a television show. We invest emotionally in these character arcs just like we would for The Sopranos, forgetting that actual lives are at stake and that these people will exist long after the spotlight has departed them. Gone Girl holds up a mirror to us and asks: Is this kind of thing productive? Is it fair? 
  • The film complicates the concept of modern marriage in America. Sure, marriage can be fun and meaningful, but if you think about it, it's also kind of insane: you join in a bond and partnership that you will only break in the event of one of your death, no matter how much the other person changes, or no matter how horrible they become/behave. And you become so emotionally invested in this person that you are willing to do unthinkable things for them. You may be willing to kill for them. That is kind of nuts, and I like how Gone Girl explores that dynamic.
  • This movie twists and turns in ways that I did not expect. It's not an exaggeration to say it becomes several different types of movies during its 150-minute runtime.
  • On that note, it was refreshing to me how Fincher chose to end the film. That's all I can say without spoiling anything.
  • Fincher remains a master craftsman and his attention to detail is on full display here. I'm particularly impressed by the work of Set Decorator Douglas Mowat and Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who are able to create some a pretty intense, effective juxtapositions of quaint suburban life and its seedy underbelly.
  • There are several sequences make great use of the close-up. Sometimes the close-ups come so fast and furious that you barely can register what is being shown before we're off to the next thing. Love the details that the filmmakers are able to bring out of each scene and location. 
  • This film probably has the shortest opening credits sequences out of any David Fincher film, but the way it's done feels very purposeful. Can't say any more than that for now. 
  • This is far from my favorite Fincher film (that's probably still Se7en), but there were definitely several moments in it when many elements of the film lock into place and create an exhilarating thrill of discovery. Nice work by Fincher and Editor Kirk Baxter in crafting these. 
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do scoring duties again and acquit themselves well. The score is really understated this time, but still quite effective. 
  • Tyler Perry is great in this movie. Great. Seriously. Probably my favorite character in the film.

Megan and Alex's Wedding

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I had the opportunity to film my friend's lovely wedding last weekend at Lakedale Resort in Friday Harbor, WA. It was an unconventional shoot; since I was recovering from a recent surgery, I wasn't even sure I could attend the wedding until a few days before the event, let alone film it.

As a result, I didn't have a chance to film any of the preparations, first look, or any of the other conventional stuff that a videographer capturing the day would usually get. Instead, I just stole whatever shots I could during the ceremony and afterwards at the reception. What really saved me is that I was able to hook up a wireless lavalier microphone onto the officiant (Jason, a local friend) to capture the ceremony. All the audio in the video is from that single microphone, and it really gave the video a solid backbone.


This video was filmed with a Panasonic GH4, mostly at 24fps and occasionally at 72fps conformed to 24fps. The ceremony was lovely, although the lighting conditions were punishing from a photography standpoint - because the ceremony was outside and in direct sunlight, a lot of the colors were washed out by default and saturation had to be added back in in post. The microphone was plugged into a Zoom H4N (my poor Zoom H4N is slowly dying after many years of good service - pretty sure i will need an H5 soon to replace it). I used my standard cheap-o Polaroid rig to stabilize the camera, plus used a stabilization filter in post.

Technical elements aside, it was an emotional, joyous day. I hope the video is able to capture that.


Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, Live at the Paramount Theatre

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As long as I can remember, one of my favorite shows on public radio has been "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me" (the NPR News Quiz). I recently attended one of their live shows at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle and had a lovely time. But I also learned many things about what goes into making this wildly popular radio show. Some recollections from the evening:

- Our guests were Luke Burbank, Paula Poundstone, and Maz Jobrani. Each of them had some great moments throughout the evening.

- The regular show is edited into a tightly paced, 51-minute program, but the live show goes on for over 2 hours. That's because Peter often riffs with the panelists for a long time on a single question, then take the best sections and edit the result down to what you hear in the final show. In fact, their riff off the very first question, "fill in the blank," went on for about 10 minutes, when its final form will probably end up being about 1-2 minutes at most. The same goes for the "Not my job" interview, which is way longer in person than it is on the final show.

As a result, the show is much slower paced than I was used to. At times, it was actually kind of a slog. But what felt really amazing was at the end when we finally finished the last segment, it really felt like we'd all accomplished something together. We'd collectively made an episode of a program that would be listened to be millions of people (or at least, we'd made the raw materials for said program). That felt pretty awesome, and unlike most of the other live shows that I go to. 

- The most fascinating part of the show for me was when they recorded a segment about Scottish Independence, and then went back and RE-recorded the same segment but with a different outcome. See, the show was recorded during the Scottish vote, and while all signs pointed to a "No to Independence" vote, they wanted to cover their bases, so they recorded a slightly modified segment in which Scotland actually voted "Yes." Different news outcome, somewhat similar riffs. I suppose the NPR audience is unforgiving when it comes to uncertainty about something like this, especially since "Wait Wait" takes a few days to be released after it is recorded.

- In addition to the hosts and panelists, there was a team of producers(?) behind them, sitting in relative darkness. At the end of the show, Peter had to go back and re-record a bunch of different intros and outros that he had flubbed the first time. From my perspective, it looked like the producers were taking copious notes throughout the show and then beaming him text to his iPad that they wanted him to repeat. The whole process took only 3-4 minutes and as Peter explained, they have it pretty much down to a science at this point. It struck me as ruthlessly, and impressively, efficient.

- After the show, they brought up the house lights and did a Q&A. Super fun and very nice of them, although a lot of the questions asked by my audience were pretty silly, unfortunately.

Is this an experience I'd recommend? I'd say only if you're a die-hard fan of the show, as I am. Plus, I'm a public radio junkie, so I love seeing the "behind-the-scenes" stuff like this. But it is a pricey ticket for someone who isn't a huge fan to see how the show is made, and what you see is not at all like the snappy program that we hear each week on the radio. As long as your expectations are set correctly, you'll enjoy it greatly.

Getting Through Film Festival Season

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Applying to film festivals is sometimes a confusing and strange experience. I wrote about my first time doing so with The Primary Instinct over at /Film. Check it out.

Stuff to do in Seattle

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I often get emails and tweets from total strangers asking me: "I'm coming to Seattle! What should I do?"

Initially I thought it might be worth making a list, but I actually think that 7x7's list of 100 things to do in Seattle before you die is pretty solid. I've personally done at least half of these and found these items to be either tasks that I've enjoyed, or could easily imagine myself enjoying.

So, if you're coming to Seattle and you and I have never had an in-person conversation before, please: Just consult the list.

Things I learned while making my first movie

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I made my first film this summer. I also learned a lot of really difficult lessons, which I wrote about for /Film. Check it out.

U2's With or Without You - a Looping Cello cover version

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I spent about 10 years of my childhood playing cello. But when I got to college, other responsibilities took over and I let the cello fall by the wayside. Now, about a decade later, I have picked up the cello again, but with a twist: I'm playing it using a looping pedal and an electric pickup.

Today, I've launched a new Youtube channel and plan to release one of these videos per month. My first video is below:


If you like these kinds of videos, feel free to Subscribe to my Youtube page or Like me on Facebook.

Shooting a Wedding with a Panasonic GH4

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I had the honor of shooting a friend's wedding last weekend in British Columbia, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to try doing a professional gig using the Panasonic GH4 and my brand new Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 lens (a full review of that lens will come later, hopefully). I've shot dozens of weddings in the past, but I've used a Canon camera for every single one (occasionally supplemented with a Fuji X100). Could a Micro 4/3rds camera measure up to full frame?

Here are some of the pros and cons of shooting a wedding with a GH4, compared to, say, a Canon 5D Mark III.



Pros 

Weight - WOW this setup is light! You can pack a single small camera bag with the Panasonic GH4, a 12-35mm lens and a 35-100mm lens (the rough equivalent of a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm on a Canon 5d Mark III) and switch between them all day without feeling any impact on your back and shoulders. Those who have shot weddings using Canon gear will know the pain of which I speak. (One of my mentors actually got a pinched nerve from all of her gear!) By far this is the hugest advantage of using the GH4 compared to any full frame camera.

It also has other implications. Since you're traveling lighter, you can carry more stuff and be more nimble and experimental when it comes to finding the right shot. For instance, the photo at the top of this page was taken using a bare LumoPro flash, remote triggered from behind the couple. But it was done in haste between group photos. If I'd had a heavier setup, I might not have been able to move as quickly to try and snap this shot.

Cost - Buying a Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens will cost you roughly $7000, give or take $500 or so depending on whether you buy all the stuff new. Through some deal-hunting and eBay-ing, I was able to purchase a GH4 with lenses of equivalent focal lengths to the above for about $3500 total. That is a huge difference in price, especially if you're just starting out.

Drive mode - The GH4 can shoot up to 12 frames per second. It is SUPER fast. And at a wedding, this can be particularly useful when you're trying to capture specific moments during a ceremony, or with interactions between the couple and their guests. Whenever I saw something interesting happening, I'd just let the drive mode rip and then have a ton of options to choose from in post.

File sizes - RAW files on the GH4 are significantly smaller than on the Canon 5D Mark III. This means fewer cards and more photos (P.S. This is also a negative, as I will discuss below).



Cons 

Shallow depth of field - I've already discussed this in previous posts, but obviously the shallow depth of field on the GH4 will never measure up to what you can get on a full frame camera. That's particularly unfortunate for a wedding, because a lot of clients are looking for that creamy bokeh in their wedding shots. This camera, even at a 200mm focal length, really struggles to deliver on that front. You'll have greatest success when there's a lot of physical distance between yourself and the object.

Aesthetics - As of this writing, the GH4 retails for $1700. But because of its size and weight, it certainly doesn't LOOK like a professional grade camera. People expect to see a Canon/Nikon-size full frame camera at weddings. It's hard to look "legit" when you are toting the GH4 around. I realize this isn't really a con from a photography perspective, but it's worth noting for people considering this as a tool to build a career on.

Low light performance - The GH4 does just okay up to ISO 3200, but a Canon 5D Mark III blows this camera out of the water when it comes to low light performance. I took tons of shots in low light situations that were just completely unusable. Honestly, I wouldn't go above ISO 1600 on the GH4, which is practically impossible at weddings (nearly all of which involve at least some low light situations).

On that note...

Megapixels - The GH4 has about 16 megapixels. The Canon 5D Mark III has around 22. I'm aware that megapixels don't necessarily determine picture quality and that there were other factors involved, but there were definitely instances where I took photos with the GH4 that I needed to crop, and on a smaller sensor with fewer megapixels, you definitely "feel" that crop a lot more in terms of loss of quality. The resulting image can be muddier or noisier than the same image would have been on the 5D Mark III.



Conclusion

So overall, is this a setup I would recommend for weddings? Yes and no. This gig was for a friend, so it wasn't a conventional client situation. I was pretty happy with the photos that I got and so was the couple. But I also was able to enjoy the evening - the camera was so light that the process of taking the photos wasn't onerous at all from a physical perspective. This can't be understated.

If you are already a videographer/photographer who has decided to go with the GH4 for the advantages that it provides, you should definitely feel good about shooting a wedding with it (but only if you have the 35-100mm lens). The drive mode in particular can be an amazing benefit, and the photos obviously have great focus and sharpness.

However, if you're still deciding between a GH4 and a full frame or APS-C camera for wedding photography, there's nothing that's going to beat a larger sensor for getting great low light photos and shallow depth of field. If I had to choose only one type of camera to shoot weddings with for the rest of my life, it'd be a full frame camera. I'm fortunate to not have to choose, so I will probably use the two for different scenarios as time goes on, based on which advantages from each are important to me at the time.