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Happy Holidays!

This is a short piece that I did in collaboration with the Marketing & Communications Dept. at Humboldt State University.  It was a lot of fun to make!

 

They came up with the concept and design.  All I did was light, shoot, and edit it.  The idea was to build the viewer’s interest by having the set slowly be put together piece by piece until the final touch (pun intended).  Short & sweet!

The lighting was pretty basic, just a diffuse key light and a spotted back light.  I did add some very narrow side lighting for the snow to bring out the sparkles (we mixed fake snow with glitter).  I used a 500W lamp with a black wrap snoot for that.  It was tricky to keep that harsh light off the trees and Lucky Logger.  This was accomplished by using a silver reflector held in place by a sand bag as a flag.  It worked pretty well!

Holiday Card Set

I shot the scene using my Panasonic GH3 with the Lumix 12-35mm, which was fully extended to 35mm (an effective 70mm since my camera has a 2x crop factor) and wide open at f2.8.  This gave a pretty flat image with shallow depth of field so that the Lucky Logger would be in focus while the background would be a little soft.

Here’s a quick snapshot I took with my iPhone 5 just for comparison.  (I used the Snapseed app to add a little soft focus to the background and a little vintage film emulation to the image)

iPhone Photo

 

This is a good project to end the year on.  Who am I kidding?  I’ve got dozens of videos in production and there’s no end in sight!  It’s really not a bad sort of problem to have :) It’s the time of year to reflect on our blessings and I sure am.  Happy holidays, everyone!

tip:  I knew that I would want to slow down the falling snow at the end of the video, so I shot everything in 60 frames per second.  By shooting in 60 fps and then exporting the video in 30 fps I was able to get 0.5x slow motion without losing any image quality.  This gave the ending scene a little dreamy, snow globe quality.

The Chancellor Challenge

Back in April I was asked to follow Timothy White, the new Chancellor of the California State University system, as he toured the campus of Humboldt State University.  He was only visiting for 1.5 days, but those 36 hours were full of activities around campus and throughout the local community, and I couldn’t miss any of it.  I was to record his experiences and then later make a short video showcasing his impression of the university.

Shooting the Chancellor inside the HSU Library

Chancellor White had taken on the challenge of visiting each and every campus in the CSU system within his first year in office.  That’s no easy feat considering that there are 23 campuses spread out across the state.  He had already visited Sacramento State, one of the biggest CSU campuses (four times the size of HSU), and their Marketing Dept. had created a short video documenting his experience there.  It was a high quality video, it was produced by professional filmmakers, it made the university look really good, it was probably the reason why I was hired to record his visit to HSU, and so it was my new challenge to top it in every way possible.

Now this goal was mine and mine alone, but I felt strongly about it.  HSU is my Alma mater, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, and I like to give back to it when & where I can.  This was an excellent opportunity to do that.  So it was game on.  Sac State was up by one point, there was a little time left on the clock, and I had the ball.

The first thing I did was to put together a shoulder-mounted rig for my GH3 camera.  Up until this point I’d never used a rig before.  I’d mostly done shots on tripods or dolly sliders.  But in order to follow along with a multiple-hour-long walking campus tour I really needed a shoulder-mounted solution.  So after a lot of searching & reviewing I purchased a used shoulder rig off Ebay and a brand-new follow focus.  However, that was only the beginning of my rig.  Here’s the full list of what I ended up using for this shoot.

1.  Edelkrone Modula 5 (shoulder rig)

2.  Edelkrone Follow Focus

3.  SmallHD DP6 Monitor

4.  JuicedLink DT414 Pre-Amp

5.  Rode NTG-3 Shotgun Mic (w/ furry)

6.  Sony UWP-V1 Wireless Lav Mic

7.  Sennheiser HD280 Headphones

8.  VidPro 96 LED Lights

And at the center of it all was my Panasonic GH3 with the Voigtlander 25mm on it.  Add to all of that my camera backpack full of lenses, batteries, chargers, filters, extra cables, etc. and my Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod in its over-the-shoulder bag.  While everything was relatively lightweight for what it was, all together it still added up to be quite a heavy package to carry around for 12 hours straight.

Following the Chancellor’s Walking Campus Tour

The Chancellor’s visit contained all sorts of various activities, and I had to be able to record all of them.  I had to be ready for indoor shots and outdoor shots, walking shots and tripod shots, close up shots and distant shots.  That’s why my rig was the first thing that I assembled for the job.  It had to be a versatile solution to a variable problem.

Another consideration that I had to make was whether or not to hire additional help for the job.  After all, I was bringing a lot of gear to the show and it’d be nice to have some helping hands.  This was a tough decision but in the end I decided to do it alone and I’ll tell you why:  because I couldn’t find anyone available to help me!  I laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t so humorous.  These events where happening on weekdays and everyone that I knew who could help me was either working, in class, or out of town.  I did manage to find some help for a couple hours on the first day and for one hour on the second day, but other than that I was on my own.  That made me more than a little nervous.

In the end, it worked perfectly.  I didn’t even need any help for most of the job.  My rig was relatively lightweight and very versatile, and I managed to get great shots of all the Chancellor’s experiences while exploring the HSU campus and interacting with students.  However, there was one thing that wasn’t perfect:  the Chancellor had no time in his busy schedule for an interview with me.  And at the time I thought that I really needed an interview because the Sac State video had one.  What to do?

Well, it just so happened that one of the activities scheduled for the Chancellor was a radio interview, and I was able to record it!

Shooting the Chancellor’s Radio Interview on KHSU

The radio interview ended up working perfectly as the basis for my short video about the Chancellor’s visit to HSU.  Luckily for me, the interviewer, Paul Mann, asked the Chancellor some great questions that prompted some great responses about his impression of HSU.  (You might notice that the Chancellor is wearing headphones in the photo but is not wearing them in the video.  I actually sort-of interrupted the interview in order to ask that he remove them.  Sorry, Paul!  Don’t worry, it was during a commercial break.  Sometimes what sounds great on the radio just doesn’t look good on video.)

So here it is, my short piece about the Chancellor’s visit to HSU.  I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it!

 

And just for comparison, here is the Sac State video.  What do you think, did I meet my challenge?

 

 

Oh yeah.  And GO LUMBERJACKS!

 

Tip:  I found my Variable ND filter and Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 lens to be very useful combination on this shoot.  The Voigtlander is fast enough to handle indoor locations with minimal light while the Variable ND filter was able to reduce the bright sunlight when shooting outdoors.  I mostly kept my Voigtlander wide open at f0.95 and adjusted exposure using the Variable ND filter.  This gave the footage a soft, dreamy feel that I think adds to the character of the overall piece.  It was also very useful to have a strong follow focus attached to the Voigtlander so that I could keep the subject in focus as he moved through the frame.  Shooting 10 ft. away with a 25mm at f0.95 gives approx. 17″ of in-focus area to work with.  That’s pretty tight.  But as the day progressed I got more accustomed to the Chancellor’s behavior and I got better at anticipating his movements.  That said, I couldn’t have done it without my SmallHD monitor with Focus Peaking enabled.  It allows me to see precisely what’s in focus and what is not in focus.

Shooting in Snow Shoes

Late last year I was asked by the College of Professional Studies at Humboldt State University to make a promotional video for their Recreation Management Program.  In order to get the best footage of the program’s opportunities for students I chose to tag along with the Winter Adventure Leadership class on their culminating field project:  surviving four days in the winter wilderness up on the side of a mountain.  Here is the video that resulted from that field project.  The story behind the video follows beneath it.

I had never shot video in snow before, let alone a mountain wilderness setting, so it was a learning experience for me.  I researched the equipment that I would need and how to use it.  What I didn’t already own I had to rent, borrow, or buy.  I hired a Rec.Mgmt. student who had done the class before to be my guide.  Together we plotted out the travel/hike/shoot schedules with plenty of wiggle room for unexpected delays… except there was more wiggling than I expected.

The first delay happened on our way to the trailhead.  We were driving on a plowed, back country road looking for a poorly labeled intersection when suddenly the plowed road segued into un-plowed road and we slid straight into a 4 ft. snow drift.  We were platformed on top of 2 ft. of solid snow/ice.  It took us an hour to dig/push the car out that situation.

The second delay happened on our hike up the mountain, which took twice as long as we had planned.  This was mostly due to the fact that I was carrying 80 lbs. of camera gear, I had never snow shoed before in my life, and I may have been just a little bit out of shape (too much time sitting at my desk editing video!).

We reached base camp 2 hours behind schedule.  I had only planned on shooting for 6 hours so there was precious little time left.  After hydrating and eating a small snack, I immediately began shooting the students as they excavated their snow dwellings.  I managed to coax a few of them away from their duties to be interviewed.  I also set up a time lapse camera on the camp’s periphery in the hope that it would capture something interesting.  I didn’t want to miss anything.  It’s always better to have too much footage in the editing room than too little.

Shooting on the Dolly Slider

 

I didn’t want to stop shooting but it was getting dark and beginning to snow.  We packed up and began hiking down the mountain about 1 hour behind our now-shattered schedule.  Luckily, it took us half the time to hike down as it did for us to hike up, so we ended up reaching our car just as the last twilight left the sky.  We only had to wear our headlamps for the last 10 minutes of the hike.

Did I mention that the trail head was 4.5 hours from my front door?  We had left at 3am and we didn’t get home until well after midnight.  Boy, what a day.  And the next day was something else as well.  I could barely walk my legs being so sore from all the mountain snow shoeing.  But it was all worth it.  I got some great footage and some great stories from those students, and it turned out to be a pretty good video I think.  Just next time, I might opt to get a hotel room closer to the trail head, and I might take those back-country roads a little slower too.

Tip:  One of the challenges of shooting in the snow is that the Auto Exposure camera function will underexpose your footage if you rely on it.  This is because it uses an average value of brightness in the frame to achieve a balanced exposure, and a snowy landscape is very bright and occupies a lot of the frame area, so the camera lowers the exposure to balance it.  The result is that the snow looks greyish instead of bright white and everything else (like someone’s face) looks very dark.  The solution is to use Manual Exposure.  However, if you manually set your exposure to be perfect for someone’s face then the snow surrounding them is over-exposed.  So I set the exposure so that the snow was just under 100% luminosity.  This resulted in slightly dark faces and figures, but the detail in the snow was preserved.  Then later, while editing the footage inside Final Cut Pro, I used a Three-Wheel Color Corrector filter to raise the mid-tones so that people’s figures and faces were brighter but the snow kept its detail.

The Humboldt Film Festival

I was honored last night to see my short time lapse “The Heavens of Humboldt” screened at the 46th Annual Humboldt Film Festival.

It’s always nice to see your work up on the big screen, and to see how people react to it. I was very satisfied by the audience’s reaction last night. And what an audience it was, over 180 people, for experimental films on a Wednesday night! That’s more than we had at the festival when I was a Co-Director back in 2008. The Co-Directors this year are doing something right, something very right indeed.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the festival. Documentaries screen tonight, Thursday, and narratives screen Friday night. Saturday night all the winners of the festival screen again for “Best of the Fest Night”. I’m going to be there. Will you?

Here’s the link to the festival website: http://www.hsufilmfestival.com/

And here’s my submission in competition for Best Experimental, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice Award:

 

Image

My Very Own Local Filmmakers Night!

My Very Own Local Filmmakers Night!

Access Humboldt and the Humboldt Film Commission have chosen to honor me with a Local Filmmakers Night event screening selections of my work. The event flyer, generously created by Access Humboldt, has all the relevant details. I hope to see many friends and to meet new friends there.

Beginnings Matter

Of all the short documentaries that I produced for the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center this is perhaps my favorite piece.

Elephant Seals: Our Window to the Ocean from Mahalo Video on Vimeo.

When I first began making documentaries at Point Reyes National Seashore I was asked to make a piece on elephant seals.  Point Reyes has long been a destination for elephant seals who like to breed and molt on its shores.  They don’t do these things just anywhere, so it’s a special characteristic of the park.  Also, elephant seals are the very definition of charismatic mega-fauna, so they make excellent video subjects.  The only problem I foresaw was collecting footage:  I began working at Point Reyes in the summer and elephant seals only breed there in winter.

The solution was to use the park’s own footage of the seals for my documentary.  Park Rangers and park biologists had been collecting elephant seal footage for years, and I had access to all of it.  However, their expertise was not in shooting video but rather in studying these animals, so the footage was rough. I began culling the copious amounts of seal footage for usable tidbits.  This process took a long time.

Once I had enough elephant seal footage I began writing a script for the documentary based on the selected footage.  Then I interviewed the park’s elephant seal experts using questions gleaned from my script.  Using this interview footage I wrote a voice over narration script to fill-in the missing pieces of the elephant seals’ story.  I then pulled all these pieces together into a rough cut of the documentary.  This rough cut was reviewed by my superiors who absolutely loved it.  Except for one thing:  they thought that the elephant seal footage was lacking a professional touch.

So they invited me to come back to the park in the winter to shoot the elephant seals myself.  I could then use my footage in the fine cut of the elephant seal documentary.  No problem.  Except for one thing:  the entire script had been written around the original footage which had been shot by the park’s biologists.

To work around this I had to recreate the same shots I used in the rough cut.  Not an altogether easy task when working with wild animals, unpredictable weather, and a very limited amount of production days.  But in the end I got my footage, I supplanted it into my final draft of the documentary, and I do believe that it turned out well.  But you just never know where a video production is going to take you once you start in on it… and beginnings matter.

Caution:  elephant seals are a territorial and unpredicable species, especially during their breeding season when they are hulled out on shore.  It may be tempting to approach them for pictures or video but please keep your distance.  Not only could you endanger yourself but you could also threaten their natural breeding behavior.  Their species is still recovering from near extinction due to human interference.  They need all the peace and protection that they can get.

Running & Gunning

Mixing sound for the AF4Q Documentary

Operating the Boom on location in Eureka

In the business they call it Run & Gun filmmaking.  There’s no script.  There’s no schedule.  There might not even be a Director.  There’s just what’s happening and you have to capture it on video / audio to the best of your abilities.  It occurs mostly on documentary productions, news reporting, live television, and reality shows.  You can’t be sure that you’re in the right place at the right time because there really isn’t a right place or right time.  If it looks interesting then you stay on it until something else looks more interesting.  You just “catch as catch can” and hope that what you captured pans out in post.  Let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun.

I got to do some running & gunning on a little documentary about healthcare providers and healthcare recipients.  A New York City film crew came out to our little hamlet to shoot this short doc and hired me as a local gun. It was a lean crew, just four of us total, which allowed us to fit into some tight spaces and get great shots.  There were a lot of interview setups in small medical offices which were challenging.  Then there were several large gatherings of healthcare providers & recipients where we had to run & gun it.  They also needed general around-town shots of our community so we often pulled over to the side of the road and just started shooting stuff.  It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

They brought their own gear which included a Sony PMW-F3 camera (so popular right now that stores can’t keep them in stock), some Kino Flo Diva lights, and a Sound Devices Mixer/Sennheiser Boom Mic package.  And I got to work with all of it.  I love it when that happens.

Tip:  a small crew is essential for documentary filmmaking.  Bringing a large crew into someone’s house or a working environment is just not feasible.  Also, having conspicuous crew members hanging around the production will alter the documentary subjects’ behavior giving the footage a falseness.  Having a light crew footprint will allow you to get some great candid footage that will make for an interesting documentary.

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