Cinematography Archives - … catching light in motion!

Category Archives for "Cinematography"

a few days ago

One reason why I love my job: “The Flamethrower”

Flameflowers are part of what makes me love my job.

I love my job. How can you not get excited, when one of your client calls you and wants to shoot a flamethrower torching his own product? 

At this point that's pretty much all I have to go on. Other than the fact that I need to create a video that will play at a trade show, explaining harsh environments that these could withstand. 

Let me tell you the back story first. A commercial manufacture contacted me to photograph some images for the packaging of his lights. He was updating the look of the boxes that were going to be sold in a national home improvement company in the US. 

A few weeks later the owner calls back to ask if I can come up with a concept for a video. The video will show the specifications of his lights at a trade show. Sure, I love creating interesting ways of telling stories about products. That's kind of what I do.

"Oh," he said, "the only requirement I have, is that we use a flame thrower in the video."
 

Say no more - this sounds like a project that's right up my alley. A few phone calls and meetings later I have the list of specs that I need to talk about in the video:

  1. energy efficiency
  2. weatherproofing
  3. color accuracy
  4. illumination area
  5. heat resistance

The last one is where the flame thrower comes in. The only problem is I can't talk about these specs, I need to show them.

Fast forward to how I create a project from the first phone call or email all the way to the finished video. No peeking I promise you'll see it at the end of this post.

Any project I create breaks down into these four stages:

1) The concept stage:

After the client gives me the parameters I have to come up with how to tell the story.

How do I grab the attention of someone passing a booth selling a light fixture at a home improvement trade show?

Trade shows are typically  noisy environments. Hundreds of vendors compete for the attendees' limited attention. I have to think through the limitations that the viewing environment will dictate.

A trade show floor is not anything like the hushed, darkened atmosphere of a movie theatre. That means my video has to grab your attention. In this case without spoken words. Remember audio is half of what makes a video great. Produce one without relying on sound has its own set of problems.


(I solved the same problem differently for a company that couldn't use sound to deliver its message in a loud sport arena either in a different way).

https://pbd.li/the-briefcase


In addition to this, the visuals must catch the attention of the person who walks by the booth. Cue the flame thrower. Everything we show has to be over the top and make people stop in their tracks. Funny enough a flame thrower will do just that.

2) The approval stage: 

First I figure out how to take one of these specs and show them in a way that will work in the environment that the audience is watching the video in. Then I have to get the idea approved by the client. 

Let's take "weatherproofing" as an example:

I want to show the light working while being drenched. I am also looking for a visual that will make some one stop dead in their tracks. I can't just show the light mounted on the outside wall of a house in a rain storm. That's boring and everyone else does it that way. In fact I just saw a video on YouTube today advertising a new outdoor plug and yes they showed it mounted on a wall in the rain. LOL.

No. We're going bigger - much bigger. My idea is to put his engineer on the stern a fishing yacht cutting through the water. The light he is holding in his hand is drenched in the massive spray the boat kicks up at full speed.

There's only two problems with this.

  1. First I have to convince the client that this idea convinces his audience that this light is water-resistant enough to handle the deluge of saltwater I want to put in through; 
  2. Secondly, I have to find a fishing yacht that I can film on; 
  3. Thirdly, I also have to make sure that the guy  is safe and doesn't get electrocuted while holding the light in a flood of powerful saltwater on the back of a speeding boat;
  4. In addition to that I have to figure out where to put the camera showing this light holding up to the specs, but this second set of problems really only need to be solved in the next phase - I usually jot down a note that I have to figure out how to fix this potential problem. 

Ok. Fine. That's more than 2 problems, you got me there. Once my client has signed of on my idea I'm ready to start on the next step of creating this video.


PRO TIP: don't suggest anything you can't pull off.

If you can't make the yacht work, don't suggest it. 

3) The planning or production stage

This third stage is just a problem-solving stage.

  • Finding a boat means a couple of calls to people I know that would let me hire their boat. 
  • Not injuring the guy holding the light means conferring with my electrician and the people on my safety team on how to insulate the light properly, so that nothing shorts out.
  • Camera placement for this shot is obviously a drone, so I need to hire my drone pilot to get this section of the video done.

This stage is a lot of fun. It's thinking outside of the box while I make sure my ideas can  translate into the budget that the client gives me to work with in real life. It's really no good in coming up with a great idea that will cost $1,000,000 to include in the video if the budget doesn't have a million dollars to make the shot happen. Hey if it does, knock yourself out and go for it. 

Some of the problems that need to be solved are easy, some are not - like how do you power a 110V light while it's mounted on an airboat, as it speeds through the everglades in the dark (and no you shouldn't run a generator on an airboat).

Just for the record: we didn't.

This stage also includes some of the most mundane tasks in the production, pulling permits, securing insurance, and scheduling crew, locations, and talent. Sometimes really tedious work but it must be done.

4) Creation stage

After everything is concepted, approved, planned and booked the days of the shoot finally arrive. Now it's all about dealing with the unforeseen problems that occur on the set of every shoot - the drone can't figure out where it is when started up from the boat - the aluminum hull is wreaking havoc with it's GPS.  

After a few days of filming, it's off to the edit bay to cut together the video. It's always fun to see what was only a storyboard a few weeks ago, become reality. It's about telling the story on film now, adding the right music and graphics, and wrapping it into a believable story of why this guy who is stocking shelves spends his weekends doing insane tests on lighting fixtures (that idea was another one of the ones I presented to the client in stage one).

Now it's all about delivering the client what I convinced him I could create for him in the timeframe that I had agreed on. 

The final product looks like this (and yes, the flame thrower is the first test). Check it out:

Let's recap how I approach the 4 stages in all of my productions:

The four stages of a video project

step 1

The concept stage

Review the requirements my client gives me in the initial brief or meeting. Then I get to imagine how I'd love to tell the story. Sometimes a brief is as simple as "I want to use a flame thrower in this video."

step 2

The approval stage

Separate what's possible, affordable and doable. I need to know my clients budget, to figure out how big I can dream. Then I need to sell the ideas to my client, always keeping their budget and time frame and my abilities in mind. 

step 3

The planning stage

Underpromise and overdeliver. I live by those words in every production. I love giving my clients bigger, better and more than we agreed on. Doing this the opposite way is the fastest way to loose clients. 

step 4

The creation stage

The rubber meets the road here. 25+ years of experience in creating photo and video shoots, a deep knowledge of locations, crew and contacts let me create scenes, where others would fail in delivering.

At the end of the day, many advertising agencies or production places can deliver one or more of these stages, but I have often created projects, like this one, in-house. Ideas are always out of the box, unique and I love coming up with a solution that makes the viewer stop and listen to the story you and I are telling them. 

What do you want to say in your next video? Let's talk and find out how I can make it a reality.

a couple of years ago

How to concept, produce, film, edit and deliver a TV ad in 4 days.

It's Wednesday night and I hang up the phone. I got an exciting text last Friday, where my client want to talk about producing a TV ad with me. Today I find out that the ad needs to be finished in 4 days, so it can get submitted to NBC for their approval. Funny. That's impossible.

Impossibility or opportunity?

I don't think that's gonna happen. Actually I'm sure it's not, since I also learned that the client has no story line for the ad. They don't have a treatment. Actually they don't even have an idea on how they could use this ad to sell the service that they offer. 

Timeline for my TV ad production

How do you react to an impossible request? I don't know anyone who can come up with a concept, write a script, produce, film and edit a commercial in 4 days. 

How do you tell the client, that he's asking for the impossible, without destroying an opportunity to create something amazing?

Ignore the problem

Seems a little counter intuitive at first, but one really only has two choices here: 

  1. Give up without trying - it's impossible anyways, right?
  2. Ignore the problem and pitch an idea that's so good, that the client will see the long term benefit and hire you to produce the visual content for him anyway. 


Surprise, surprise, I go with option 2. 

That's how I find myself on a 62' fishing yacht, pitching my idea to my client somewhere out in the ocean, while his crew is rigging the boat for some kite fishing.

Remember, Content is King

6 days later I email the storyboard and script to the client for approval (notice that we're way past the deadline to approve the ad for broadcast), here's what my client tells me:

Business meeting Miami style
"That's the best way anybody has ever described what I do in one sentence."

And because the content is right on the money, no one cares about the initial impossible deadline. Quite the opposite, everyone is excited to see us produce a whole campaign, based on my tagline and concept.

12 days after the initial text message from my client I have one sentence that describes the client's company in 5 words. That's it. 

5 days after that sentence gets approved, I email a script, storyboard and budget to my client. It get ok'd the same day.

5 days from storyboard to film shoot

5 days to scout and confirm 5 locations (the last owner gives us permission 8 hours before the filming). 5 days to cast and book 9 actors, find and hire my crew. 5 days to pull insurance certificates, get permits, book flights, cars, and hotel rooms etc. 

Two weeks after I hung up the phone on the initial phone call - remember the one that gave me an absolutely impossible task - I find myself on a film set of my first ever commercial video advertising production. 

It's a team sport

I couldn't have gotten here on my own. 

They say film making is a team effort, so with that in mind I want to thank Hugo, George, Chris, Scott and Eric for helping me develop my creative treatment.

Jon, Jason, Joe, John and Jim for walking me though the real life equivalent of the scenes.

David, Sam and Scott, Benny for working on locations with me.

The funny thing is at this point we haven’t even shot a single frame of the video yet. That takes a whole other crew (and a whole 'nother blog post) ...

The secret of how to beat an expensive one-way ticket #AroundTheWorldTravelTip No.1

Put together a one-way airline ticket or three and you're around the world

Around the world on a one-way airline ticket

In September I get to fly around the world. I’ve never done that before. Needless to say, I’m very excited! Yes, this is for work, I’m filming an annual meeting of a large company in Vietnam, but being able to travel like this is one of the reasons that I love my job! Now I’ve been traveling for work for that past 25 years across 5 continents (I haven’t been to Australia or Antarctica yet). However, this trip almost didn’t happen, because of a one-way airline ticket, that was just way too expensive!

Put together a one-way airline ticket or three and voila - you're around the world

This trip is posing some unique problems. I’m filming for two different clients, one is a paid job – the annual meeting. The other is a pro-bono personal project, so coordinating travel dates, flights and budgets is a logistical challenge. Oh, just in case you’re wondering pro-bono means I work for free, but the client is still paying all my expenses.

From now until I return home in late September I’m going to be sharing what I’m learning on my blog, and you’ll be able to follow my trip on the blog and on my Instagram account, but let me share one trick with you now, that I learned yesterday:

How to beat the expensive One-Way ticket

round trip vs one-way airline ticket pricesHere’s a flight that’s similar to mine. Each leg of the round trip ticket will cost around $3,700. If I take the same flight outbound flight as a one-way airline ticket, the price for that one flight goes up to $5,900 -! That’s an almost 60% fare increase than the exact same flight on the same day when purchased as part of a round trip airfare.

Makes no sense to me, but that’s how it is. In my case client ‘A’ is paying me for round trip business class airfare to Vietnam, where we are filming for a Fortune 500 company. Client ‘B’ is paying my airfare from Vietnam to Nepal, where I’m filming the project with a humanitarian organization – this project will be similar to the first documentary I filmed.

On Wings Of Hope tells the story of a little boy in Afghanistan, who has his head split open when a motor cycle crashes into him. With no medical treatment available, he will die in the remote mountain village, unless he can be medivac-ed out into Kabul …

one-way airline ticket pricingSolving the expensive one-way airline ticket dilemma

I could just extend my round trip to Vietnam to include the second job’s dates, but I thought that it may be possible to fly out of Nepal. That way I could continue my trek westward, circumnavigating the globe: #bucketlist.

My problem was that I didn’t want to spend almost the whole round trip cost of $7,400 on a $5,900 one-way airline ticket. Doing so would leave me only $1,500 to pay for my trip home. Here’s how you beat the expensive one-way fare. Look at the picture again. The airline wants you to book a return flight. But nobody says that it needs to be in the same class of service. Yup, I booked an economy ticket home for $448. That means my inbound trip now costs $4,120, leaving me $3,280 dollars for my trip back heading west.

Well, now we’re talking. I can find a flight via a lot of different countries back into the US for that kind of money. And I get to fly all the way around the world. All I have to do now is pick the airlines associated with my favorite frequent flyer program.

Choose your frequent flyer program

Oh, speaking of frequent flyer programs, the second leg of my flight that originates on United is with one of my programs frequent flyer programs. All you have to do is call up that airline. Ask them to credit the leg that you’re flying on their airplane to your frequent flyer program. They’ll be happy to do it. If you don’t the miles end up in my United Airlines mileage account and I usually don’t fly them.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I’m not flying for 4 consecutive days to get around the globe. That’s how much time I’ll be flying in airplanes over the span of the 3-week project.

It’s fly – film – fly – film – fly.

My September sounds like a MasterCard commercial:

Airlines I’ll fly: 6
Distance to be flown: 22,620 miles.
8 flights, 9 airports, 6 countries.
Total time flying: Over 4 days (50+ hours)
Number of film shoots: 2
One #AroundTheWorld adventure!

Having a job (and a family) that lets you do this: #Priceless

Caution: Personal work could kill your commercial success!

Caution sign that reads

Be careful personal work could kill your career!

Over the last few weeks I’ve hosted a couple discussions in various LinkedIn Groups asking “does personal work matter?” Predictably many of the photographers, who chimed in, answered a resounding YES! We get to show our capabilities without the constraints of a client brief, art buyers love to see personal work, it’s satisfying, ect.

The answers that surprised me though came from the other side of the desk, from art directors, creative professionals, designers and editors from around the world:

I can see how personal projects can become an obstacle. – Creative Director, Serbia

All personal work could seriously affect your commercial success. – Marketing President, USA

I have not hired someone, because of their personal work. – Designer, Netherlands

No personal work to me is an indication of stagnation. – Magazine editor, Germany

Wait, what? I thought personal work was always a good thing. Something that would always benefit your career. “Be careful” warns the US Marketing exec. “If your personal work is too provocative, it may leave the wrong or negative impression in a client’s mind.” Another US branding director echoes this sentiment: “If [the personal work is] very offensive I would reconsider hiring the [artist].”  I hear it again and again: Have two sites.  What about the case that someone has done pro-bono work for a certain cause, that you feel strongly against?

Personal work can make you a killing!

Now to be fair each one of these people who hire us also said that personal work is vital, critically important and that they love seeing it. Just remember that the assumption is you had unlimited time and resources to craft this piece of personal work into the perfect calling card for your brand. “To me [personal work] matters quite a bit. (…) that’s where we most often have the chance to stretch our abilities, research new methods and test them” says a US director of marketing “pet projects may very well become tomorrow’s next big service!”

Your personal work shows me what you’re really passionate about, and how creatively and independently you tackle such a self-chosen project. It tells me how you work conceptually. I also get a good idea about the style you prefer and you feel comfortable with.” says the german magazine editor “Or how versatile you really are.

Personal work is a two edged sword

Personal work is a must for today’s creative. The fastest (and scariest) way to revamp your career is to throw out the images that show what you have shot and only show those images and projects that you would like to shoot. Christina Force a folio consultant wrote a great blog post called 4 reasons to throw out your babies. Personal work is what your passionate about, stand behind it whole heartedly. Personal work must be excellent, award winning, your highest caliber work. Personal work must set you apart from the pack–take risks, be willing to fail. If you don’t go for the impossible, your results will be mediocre and average at best.


This article was first published on the American Society of Media Photographers blog Strictly Business.

From Contact Form To Contract: Read The Fine Print

Read the fine print

Read the fine print

I recently was hired to create photographs and video for a client. We agreed on number of images and video I was to create in which time for what amount of money, subject to a joint usage agreement. OK. No problem so far. Then I got the agreement and read the fine print.

Here’s what the proposed contract read:

An example of bad fine print

This job was bid out for a specific number of images and videos. This wording in the fine print says I will turn over every photo I take and every frame of footage I capture at the end of the job for future use and on top of that, I will transfer all rights to the client.

Don’t be afraid to say no (in a very nice way)

If you’re in a situation like this, how do you handle this request? Here’s what I did: I went and rewrote the fine print of the agreement, changing the language to grant the client unlimited and exclusive usage to the images a final videos we’re creating for them, which is exactly what they need. I added a line that I may use the material licensed to them for self promotional purposes and that all other usage would need written authorization from the client.

Then I submitted the reworded agreement. I received an email asking for clarification on some other issues, that had nothing to do with the usage, reworked the agreement’s fine print again and received a signed copy today.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Just because you’re dealing with a big client, don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms with them. It never hurts to ask. I know many photographers that would have signed the first contract, saying “Oh, well it’s just the way that CLIENT does business and if I want the job, I’ll need to play by their rules.”

Suggest solutions – don’t point out problems

Sure, I could have pointed out why this doesn’t seem fair, but that usually gets you nowhere. Instead submitting a fair change to the agreement, which now reflects what we had talked about in the first conversations gets you much further. Realize that many big companies have boiler plate language in their agreements that may totally not apply to your project. An agreement is a starting point to negotiate from, not the end. And if it is the end remember you always have the right to walk away from the job, before you sign on the dotted line, but never ever neglect to read (and change) the fine print.

Remember:

Please take the time to read the agreements you’re asked to work under and don’t assume that they were crafted specifically for your project.

Have your own terms and conditions (your part of the fine print) in place and send them to the client with the first document describing scope, time or cost. I don’t send out an estimate without attaching mine, with this job it won’t be my terms and conditions, but the agreement that we’ve crafted together.

Look for a win for both parties and stick to your guns.

No, really it’s ok to turn down work (sometimes you actually have to)

Who isn’t excited about a 5 figure job?

I’ve been working on producing a 5 figure job over the past few weeks, that I was referred to by a friend of mine. Everything looked great, every discussion I had with the client was promising. They liked my work. They were happy with the budget. They were in agreement with the conditions for the job, which we had defined in the fine print of our terms and conditions. They had the money for the 50% deposit. Everything was going smoothly, until

Miami’s future

CreativeMornings/Miami future

Miami’s future

If you want to be blown away by some young talent in Miami check out the Taste of Design at DASH – the Design and Architecture Senior High School in the Design district. Ranked the #2 high school in Florida (#20 in the nation according to US News) this school crafts young artists into unbelievable creative powerhouses in architecture, fashion design, film, graphic design, and industrial Design.

One of my daughter's artworks she created while studying at DASH.

Ink drawing by Raphaelle Depuhl (DASH class of 2016)

The art these kids put out is nothing less than inspiring and the spirit of collaboration and cooperation is jaw dropping. It’s not the easiest magnet school to get into (you’ll need a killer portfolio) and the admissions process is made up out of a live drawing audition, a review of said portfolio and an interview of the student (…)

(This week I get to take over CreativeMornings/Miami’s tumblr blog. I’ll share some of my favorite places and people, who make Miami an awesome place to live. Check it out. Read the rest of this post on tumblr)

The Blogger Union has partnered with CreativeMornings/Miami for a collaborative storytelling marathon. Tune in to read the story of our city told by local creatives, bloggers and entrepreneurs. Each week, a different member of CreativeMornings will take over to post what inspires them about South Florida. Do yo want to take over the CreativeMornings/Miami blog and share your take on our community? Email Paola at info@thebloggerunion and we’ll get working on it!

Editing, a quick primer: Cut it short!

Pascal loved editing his letters

Shakespeare must have been thinking about video editing when he penned the words “Brevity is the soul of wit“. There’s a reason it’s called the “cutting room floor” and not the “‘let’s cram some more content into this video’ room floor”. When you’re editing, you’re trimming individual clips, cutting out whole scenes, shortening, condensing and although it seems counterintuitive, the shorter the piece is that you are working on, the longer it’s going to take to edit it. 

Short takes time. Long goes quick.

Blaise Pascal wrote it in 1657 “I have made this (letter) longer than usual, because I have not had time to make it shorter.” If you’re new to editing, you’ll quickly find that cutting together a video will take much more time, than shooting the footage. Our experience in still photography is often quite the opposite. I just finished a 6 day catalog photo shoot and finished editing, i.E. picking the final images by the next morning. A week later I was shooting 3 days of a multi-month motion project and editing that footage will take me much longer than 3 days. 

2 suggestions when you get started editing

Even though editing has a pretty steep learning curve, I strongly recommend that you edit your own work, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better cinematographer. Fast.

On the other hand I strongly recommend that you work with an experienced video editor, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better editor. Fast.

Edit your own footage – it’ll make you a better cinematographer

Editing On Wings of Hope made me a better cinematographer. Collaborating with professional editors made me a better editor.

I remember coming back from filming my first corporate documentary film in Afghanistan in 2012. I shoot for 2 and a half weeks and had planned on spending a week to edit the movie. Just for the record, it ended up taking me a longer. Much longer. However editing the footage myself, really helped me understand which shots I had missed or screwed up, where I had to abandon ideas, because of a non-existent camera angles or bad takes I had not retaken in the field. Those realizations are painful, but I won’t be making the same mistakes again. 

Collaborate with professional editors – it’ll make you a better editor

I also send pieces of the short film to friends of mine–experienced film industry pros–and the feedback I got from them was sometimes painful, but I learned a lot in a very short time. 

One email was especially painful. It came from a seasoned Hollywood director friend of mine and begins with the words: “Ok. If you’ll notice the time you may give some thought to how much you’re loved and appreciated. For both expediency and brevity’s sake I’m not going to perfume my words…

Then it goes into 3 pages of non-perfumed words, ripping apart every scene I’d lovingly cut together. Telling me (in no uncertain terms) where there was significant room for improvement. Honestly I did not feel happy when I read that email for the first time. Or the second time. But when I finally re-edited the film following his suggestions, they made the movie a million times better. A printout of his email sits on my desk and I reread it from time to time.

In case you’re still not clear about this: Editing is cutting.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Edit your video. Then cut out half of the footage. Once you’ve done that, congratulate yourself and cut it again by half. Now you’re in the ballpark of how long your motion piece should be. Brevity is the soul of wit, especially when it comes to editing.

Where to go from here

If you’re looking for a great book on editing, check out “In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, by Walter Murch” its basically the Film Editors bible. Brand new to video? Check out Pascals talk at WordCamp Miami How to step up your video” and learn about story, sound, visuals and edit.

[This post was originally published on the American Society of Media Photographers ‘Strictly Business’ blog.]

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