Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Arm Wrestlers

A few months ago my friend Miles was in Charleston for a few days with his friend Keefe and they wanted to shoot something. Originally I wrote a 10 page script about a prostitute but working out a multi-scene shoot on the fly just didn't happen. So we decided on doing a single scene. So I popped out a 4 pager about two guys in an arm wrestling match. This was an interesting shoot because the actors didn't have time to read the script before we started shooting. So we more or less wrote the script as we rehearsed the scene right before we shot it.

There were two things that stood out with this shoot. First, I decided on a whim to shoot it outside on my landlord/pal Zsolt's 2nd story patio. We already had the lights set up inside his living room, but it was really hot since it was summer and Zsolt is European so he doesn't believe in the inefficiency of AC. Plus one side of our vantage point outside was pure black as it was nighttime and the Zsolt's patio is on the second story.

The other thing that stood out was the process of shooting. We wanted to start shooting early. However it took hours to hash out a bare bones scene that the actors could make it through. And it still wasn't pretty. By the time we finally started shooting moral and expectations were pretty low. We did two takes of the master and it was horrible. At least that's how I felt at the time.

I once read about directing techniques in regards to working with actors. In this literature there was a suggestion to be conscious of which actor you choose to cover first. Actor A might be up and running at full force, and Actor B might need to warm up a bit in order to crank out their best stuff. So shooting closeups of Actor B first will yield a sub-par performance from him/her while spending all of Actor A's mojo while he/she isn't even being shot. And in this case, I began by covering Keefe first. Now, Keefe did an excellent job in this short, but he is a less experienced actor than Miles. More importantly, Miles and I have worked together a lot and this was my first time shooting with Keefe.

At the point when I switched from the master to covering Keefe, the scene just wasn't functioning right. If the actors weren't comfortable enough with the scene to start the shoot when we took the master, then why would they be when we moved to tighter shots? In hindsight it didn't matter (see below) but it's always regrettable to continue shooting something that isn't working. Fix it before moving on... but I was more focused on damage control at that point.

So we were doing tighter shots of Keefe, and it was just not working. He wasn't warmed up yet, and I, as the camera operator, wasn't warmed up either. A few more takes and there was a breaking point. Everything I had shot looked bad, the acting was bad, the pacing was bad, and everyone was aware of this. It became a joke to all of us. Of course going into it we should have known that even if it were a great script, putting something together on the fly always makes you vulnerable.

It was then that I more or less pulled the plug. If all we were doing was wasting time, then we needed to minimize the amount of it we were wasting. The goal changed to simply getting it done. All the while we were joking about how awful it was going to be. We more or less came to the conclusion that we'd be lucky to each come away with a few shots for our reels. We've all made terrible projects before. At a certain point, it's important to know when to just give up if something isn't going to turn out. We decided to get a few takes of Miles, call it quits and go to a bar.

Granted, this was first thing I'd shot since finishing Republic of Pete. At this point in the night, all I could think about was how pathetic it was to come off of a feature making something so amateurish, how I had failed to learn anything, etc. It was a really bad feeling: doubt of the worst degree. But when we switched to shooting Miles, something changed. As we were running through takes, I found a sweet spot on the lens. And Miles tried some things with the part. And voila, it suddenly went from a worst case scenario to something I could work with. But why?

The simple fact that we stopped caring is what allowed us to get it right. Without inhibitions, it stopped being a laborious pain in the ass, and started being fun and worthwhile.

What's really nice about shooting digital is that you can readily show people what you've shot. So right after I got a good angle, I showed it to the actors. And moral was boosted. So we finished up Miles and went back and grabbed more takes of a now warmed up and on point Keefe and finished it.

Granted, the sound is still awful. But I think all in all, the scene... well to just have any scene turn out is a success in this scenario... even with bad sound. Here is the end result:

Special thanks to Ryan Holderfield for hooking it up with a nasty lens, some lights, and some lighting skills. And of course thanks to Zsolt for letting us film in his house.

This post was written while taking a break from helping edit the Alvin Greene doc I helped out a couple of days on before the election. I'm in LA working on this until mid January, doing the LA thing (working a lot and drinking a lot of coffee). I still have a ton of pics that I'll eventually use for a few pic blogs about Alvin, but I'm still figuring out exactly what I think about him. And it's likely I'll be doing that for a long, long time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Salesforce Contest Entry

Voiced over by yours truly...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Afternoon at the Fair with Alvin Greene

A few weeks I had the opportunity to do some filming for Leslie Beaumont and David Garrett's documentary Who is Alvin Greene? Alvin Greene's run for office turned him into a celebrity overnight. He did no real campaigning, lives at his dad's house, and somehow beat an established Democrat in the primary. There are conspiracy theories that the Republicans fronted him the $10,000 running fee for the primary to assure an embarrassing defeat for the Democrats. But truth be told, Alvin Greene is just a random guy who had the idea of running for office and got lucky. As my friend Nate said , is it really so crazy to think that a normal person would want to run for public office? Normal might be used loosely in Alvin Greene's context, but he's much more like the average American than some pedigreed party/lobbyist controlled asshole like most other American politicians. But I digress. Here are some pics:

Alvin at the entrance.

Alvin couldn't walk more than a few steps before being stopped by fans. He would ask everyone he met "Where you from?". As if it was a tip from some political playbook.

Sitting in the shade on a hot fall day in South Carolina.

A pensive Greene looks toward the crowd...

And while Alvin was always looking for a chance to talk to his fans,
they would often lose interest in him as soon as they finished their photographs.

The wacky environment of the fair compliments the bizarre conditions of Greene's political stardom.

Underdog Greene looks back while a white suited man on stilts looms over him.

And not even yours truly could resist the chance to take a picture with the phenomenon himself.

I'll do another one of these in a few days...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Skinful Video

I had the pleasure of helping film Skinful with Justin Nathanson last weekend. This was without a doubt the best party I've ever been to. Here's what Justin cut together:

Skinful Halloween 2010 : debauchery from Justin Nathanson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great Night Movies

In the spirit of Halloween/Fall I was trying to think of some great movies that take place almost entirely at night. First on the list is what made me think to post about this topic:

1. The Warriors

I can't believe I hadn't seen this movie before. A gang called the warriors has to fight their way home across New York City after they are blamed for the murder of the leader of the most powerful gang in the city. Great concept, gangs and their respective outfits, and locations. This is what every comic book movie should strive to be.

2. Night on Earth

Jim Jarmusch's tale of four taxi experiences in four cities across the globe is a feat of filmmaking. To keep an audience intrigued by what is basically a two hour cab ride... well you get this picture. It's fun, clever, and exactly what should be expected of a Jarmusch film made during his prime.

3. Dark City

A well executed dark concept film about a man whose special ability leads him to discover that his entire city has been turned into an alien experiment. I saw this in the theater as a kid and I'll never forget it.

4. Touch of Evil

Orson Welles acts/directs in this story of good cop vs. bad cop on a border town between the US and Mexico is ultra stylized film noir. Known for it's first shot, which is a very long and intricate long take and for the fact that Charleton Heston plays a Mexican, this film is about as dark as they come. Welles created a dark carnival of a world. And he supposedly shot at night so the studio execs would be asleep instead of bothering him in the middle of the night on set.

5. After Hours

It's nowhere near Scorsese's best work, but there's something about a crazy night in the city that leaves you with a good feeling when it's over. Bonus points for Clarence Felder playing a bouncer at a weird bar.

6. Escape from New York

I love John Carpenter. As all of his movies are being remade by Hollywood hacks, it become more and more apparent how great of a director he was.

7. The Crow

Another example of a comic book type movie done right. And Ernie Hudson nails it in his role as a cop.

8. Alphaville

Alphaville wraps up this list. Godard's futuristic detective story was shot in Paris in the early 60's yet it looks authentically futuristic. It's about the only big brother type movie that isn't disgustingly hackneyed. I saw this movie for the first time earlier this year and have watched it at least 10 times since.

The End

New Reel

Here's my new reel with a couple of shots from the soon to be finished Arm Wrestlers short short.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Picture blog: 3 Dude's at the 2010 Charleston Green Fair

Back to the Greenfair two years after I did a pic post with shots taken for a doc Justin Nathanson was making. I was taking pics again as Justin was filming a concert by the very young local band 3 Dudes. Here are some pics:
Poster for the band
The dudes before the show
Justin wondering if it's raining
Sound check
Badass soundguy who was wearing a Howlin Wolf t-shirt
Setting up drums
The stage at Marion Square
The show
The show pt 2
Nice drum face
No photoshop here, fun w/ focus on my 50mm lens
Ancient symmetry
Hoola hoop girl    

My fav pic of the set
Nice promo pose    

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

American Heart Association - Spanish Commercial Entry

So I made this for a video contest, which I'm going to start doing a lot more of in the future. My roomate's mom was in town and nice enough to do the voice over... the commercial had to be in Spanish and she is Puerto Rican.

Wish me luck! And if you're a member of leave a comment and show me some love!

Boardwalk Empire Review

Scorcese's The Departed laid out the blueprint for Boardwalk Empire to fail. Now that he's an old Hollywood legend, he can somehow do no wrong. I thought the great directors were supposed to do porno after they peaked?

Scorcese was onto something with his early films. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver were raw and gritty. They had soul. And now he has perfected his style to the point that it isn't much more than seeing something which is technically sound but lacks the dazzle that once made it shine. He is past his prime.

Whereas he once made films with techniques that challenged conventions of cinema, he is now making over-stylized garbage. Granted this is tv (say what you will HBO, but it's all the same). But the audience of Boardwalk Empire's premier was subjected to a full hour and a half of relentless camera movement seemingly for no reason other than to keep a dimwitted viewer engaged. Boardwalk is nothing more than a hackneyed storyline of Steve Buscemi as a crooked politico alcohol cartel during prohibition. Some will draw inferences on the current prohibition of marijuana. If such symbolic ties exist by the hands of the filmmakers they are most likely light and superficial like the rest of this show... especially it's characters.

The story is predictable for Scorcese and for HBO. That's really all that needs to be said because if you are familiar with modern gangster shows Empire is the Soprano's with Steve Buscemi as the boss in the 1920s. But Buscemi is not a big scary mean looking mofo. He's a skimpy ugly sort of fellow that's made a name for himself playing poor schmucks. And if the general premise of Buscemi playing this particular lead isn't perculiar, imagine him somehow having the strength to smash a guy twice his size into a roulette table. Obviously nobody realized how this or many other little things simply did not work while they were filming. 

Buscemi is known for his talents as a character actor, however he has starred as the lead before. The one film which comes to mind is Tree's Lounge which he also directed. In that film handled himself fine in the big actor's (and director's) shoes. So what makes this perfectly capable actor come off so flatly?

Whether it's Scorcese's focus on the style of this project as opposed to the acting, or the awful dialogue, or the poor writing, Boardwalk Empire is a huge letdown. We're talking writing which gives characters problems that should make them pop out of their cardboard shell but said problems are so obvious that they are worse than having none at all. Typical by the books scriptwriting that should be offensive to a man of Scorcese's likes. From Paul Schrader to this!?!

Besides the awkward acting there are more than enough awkward jarring edits. How did these slip by Scorcese or the producers? The color correction is overdone to the point where some shots which might have had no CGI look full of it. CGI is distractingly fake looking and unappealing. But these are just a few more things to add to the list of Boardwalk's disappointments.

After hearing about this show I wanted for it to be good. I wanted the same while watching it. But as the premier progressed the quality control issues began to blare out of the television building up and expanding like the blood boiling under my skin.
The (Only) Good: The supporting role of a young Al Capone was a wonderful idea for this show. I have no idea if it is any bit historically accurate, nor do I care. Seeing the young version of an American legend is enough to make me want to watch another episode. The actor in this case nailed it. And I suppose any series can start off with a piss poor episode... so there's a chance it might get better.

The Bad: Steve Buscemi is looking like a miscast. Scorcese is way past his prime. He's directed this show before as a bunch of other movies, most of which are better than Boardwalk Empire.

The Ugly: The dialogue, the predictability of the story and characters, and the fact that it embodies the current Entourage mentality of fast cutting style over fresh writing and good acting. Somewhere in it's creation, this show managed to be birthed without an authentic soul.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Avant Grade - Hot Garbage

So I found out about Createspace, a publishing company owned by Amazon. And I've decided to put out the collection of music that I've been working on for the past year or so. I'm calling the album "Hot Garbage". I took some stills of a piece of art I acquired to use as the artwork. And I'm pretty pleased with how the packaging (and music) turned out. Some tracks are available for listen/download at my soundcloud.

Buy it at for the low low price of $12 plus shipping.

S.O.B. on the Documentary Channel

What a bad blogger I've been... S.O.B. began it's 2 year contract with the Documentary Channel halfway through August. The Documentary Channel is available through Dish Network and DirectTV. The next screening will be 9/23 at 6pm on 197 Dish Network, or 267 DirectTV. Here's a link:


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Transformus 2010 Pics

I went to a music/art festival outside of Ashville NC and took some pictures with my new camera last week. It has been a while since I've blogged but I'll post a real update sometime soon...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Republic of Pete Trailer

Here's a trailer for Republic of Pete.

There are very few tickets left for the premier so if you want to attend buy your tickets asap.

If Pete is sold out and you should check out films made by our friends screening at the film fest.


Or Death and Life:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Republic of Pete Premier

Republic of Pete premiers Friday April 9th at 9pm with the Charleston International Film Festival at the American Theater!

Pick up your tickets online:

Or check out the film festival's web site:

Stay tuned for a trailer and gripes about soundtrack pro!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Avant Grade Music on the Cosmic Lounge

Good news for the new year, one of my music tracks was put up on the Cosmic Lounge channel on youtube. This channel is what really introduced me to a new realm of electronic music. I sent in a few tracks and was lucky enough to get one added. Thanks again Prof!

And as for the Republic of Pete. ONLY ONE MORE SCENE TO FILM! And now its time to edit my life away. I finished a rough, and I mean rough rough cut of the film more for story purposes than anything else. I'll be working with at least one more editor and a host of people to get everything right. More later...