XXL Freshmen 2016 Freestyles

The nice thing about New York City is that everyone is just a subway ride away and if you already have a metrocard, it only costs an hour of your life and a couple bucks for a cup of coffee to see if you vibe with another filmmaker. In LA I would have had to sit in traffic and potentially burn 4 hours of my day. 

I met Travis Satten one cold morning in winter and we kept in touch, so when he brought up this project he thought I'd be good for, and it was shooting the new crop of rappers for the year, I was psyched. 

He described the approach as classy and intimate portrait shots we'd push in or pull out as our talent performed to camera. Black and white was key from the start and he wanted the looks to be unique for each artist. He referenced a photographer named Platon, who's portraits are very personal, yet powerful, and wanted the lighting to wrap and shape in different ways as we moved in and their performance unfolded. He spoke about the look "unfolding" as we learned more about each artist. It's always great to collaborate with a director looking to elevate what could have been just simple profile captures. 

The freestyles were shot along side a lot of content (interviews, promos, etc) on the same day and XXL has been putting this together for many years so they were already sure where and how it works. We shot at Dune studios in lower Manhattan as it offered production several floors for the different stages, and greenrooms. It is mainly a MOS photo studio but works well for their purpose as they can take over everything and have several units running at the same time. 

I shot TONS of these Tory Burch videos there so I knew Dune well and knew that although, they are comfy, the Cyc walls are clean, and the lunch is delicious ;-) the stage presents a few issues to someone used to larger stages, the main one being that there is no overhead grid for rigging lights. My task was to create a unique, changing, clean look for each artist and I'd have to put everything on the floor? No no no. Sometimes if god gives you lemons, do the work to look for an orange tree. 

We would BUILD a grid. And we'd circle our talent with soft lights that I could bring up or down based on the design. And all the lights would be dimmable. I had a pretty good feeling that my approach would be costly, yet I knew that the initial time investment early in the day would save us in between set ups and still give us the class and unique looks Travis was looking for.

I had recently purchased an amazing product to be able to visualize set ups called Cine Designer , developed by a DP named Matt Workman. It is a plug in for Cinema 4d that allows you to pre-visualize everything from specific shots from actual camera frames to huge lighting design in a to-scale 3d space. it uses to-scale representations of actual lights, camera, and grip gear This would be a perfect project to use Cine Design for as it would correctly describe my vision and justify the extra costs to production. Instead of just drawing it out and asking people to trust me, it would make it something they could actually see. 

Key grip Chris Wiesehahn made some notes and executed the rig flawlessly. The stands obviously would become crankovators to hold the weight and I cut the frontal octabank for a more controlled chimera. Jason Duffett gaffed and ran everything through a wireless dimmer board app on his Ipad. Once we were off and running it was just a flick of a switch to be able to change looks and make adjustments on the fly. 

We shot Alexa spherical on Leica Summilux glass and I kept the stop around a 2.8-4 split. I monitored a B&W lut out of camera for client after confirming there was no way it would ever be in color. 

A few spots have gone viral so far and have garnered hundreds of parodies, so I guess I've "made it" now. Just kidding. It was a pretty interesting project to be part of and I learned a lot in the process about how important being able to describe (and sell) a "big" idea is to a commercial client. After all, they hire a DP to utilize their experience and explain the bast way to accomplish everything. So it's important to push for the things you know you'll need and not be discouraged to the limitations inside the box, as long as you have a reason. 

You can view all of the freestyles here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNVdzHCSB2xKo0eIfxCHZ9CAeTClZ9nrL and below is the 45 second promo. 



Coldplay "Up and Up"

A producer reached out to me asking about my green-screen experience and I told him I'd send what I had, and then I asked who the video was for. Needless to say I was excited. 

As far as green-screen experience goes, I had plenty. I considered myself very proficient in it. Besides the tons of sit down interviews that came my way, and I didn't bother to hold on to :-/, I also shot Season 3 of The Legend of Neil  Directed by Sandeep Parikh way back in 2010 that had some large scale (on a web series budget) vfx work including flying miniature fairies, giants, and our main character falling off a cliff. The difficult thing about this project is that it's always difficult to know wether to send to clients as the effects, styling, and art direction are low-fi on purpose, 8-bit in a way. It's difficult to know wether a client can see past the stylistic choices and see the technical accomplishments. 

The directors on the job were Vania Heymann and Gal Muggia who both have a great body of effects-driven work. Natan Schottenfels and Juliette Larthe of Prettybird produced and we shot the band portion of the video here in New York. They sent me the 13 or so plate shots we would comp the band into, truly larger than life! Most of them were stock footage shot from above and from planes, helicopters, or space stations and the band would perform as giants on farmland, in valleys, or on an island. 

This job was purely a prep job. Almost all the work would be done before we get to our shoot day. My initial concern was getting the perspective right, deciding from the plates where the camera was in relation to the earths plane and the horizon and what the movement was. Since most of the shots were from far away, the perspective changes but very slightly, we would want to be on mostly long lenses sometimes from high angles. 

Immediately I knew the space we were planning to shoot in was too small. They were holding a studio with 12' ceilings and I knew we'd want to be on a jib/dolly or telescopic crane. After the top of the crane, the remote head and the camera, we'd be near 9' and that would mean I'd have to be on wider lenses to be able to shoot someone full body, especially from more top down angles. I had to urge production to book a larger stage. In the end we settled at Highline, as they were the only place in Manhattan with the largest ceiling height that was within their budget and had all the other production niceties. 15' ceilings would have to do. 

With a set time with each band member for their shots, this job would be all about efficiency. I planned the lighting to match our plates way in advance and created diagrams for every shot I had a plate for. There were separate diagrams for our Techno 15 and lighting, so I could send to my gaffer and techno tech beforehand and on set all we had to do was flip a page and execute. 

The general lighting plot involved 6k spacelights in the air, 10ks into 12x12 bounces, a 20k for a hard sunlight punch, and some 5ks for here and there. Lighting green-screen for exterior work is fairly easy when you start to break down what the environment is doing. Where is the sun? Are their clouds bouncing back? Are we in space and the dark side should be very dark? I ended up ordering a 12x2 skyblue muslin for when the bounce back was just sky and we warmed up the sun when needed with Straw gel.

We shot Arriraw on a Fujinon zoom and I used a sharper shutter to minimize the motion blur. I must say they did and excellent job blending all the stock, archive, and Kiev footage shot by Roman Linetsky with our band stuff. I couldn't have expected a more amazing masterpiece out of it all and am very grateful to have been a part of it. 


When Trent Jaklitsch approached me with this short film idea it immediately caught my attention. He wanted to make a film that captured the memories and feeling of a home, not just a building we call a house.

He wanted it to be a single shot where we float through a decaying house as the audience is immersed in the audio of a family's first moments to their final breaths. As if the memories of the house had travelled with it, and the smudges on the wall, broken records in a bedroom and the physical structure all told a story. 

What I loved about the idea was that although I thought audio would play a larger role than the visuals, there we're no people and connecting the story just to a place serves new challenges that I had never experienced. As the idea was developed what excited me most was the way the audio and the visuals complemented each other so well. Some ideas were in the existing audio from the start and some ideas were born after finding our house. 

My initial references came from Todd Hido, A masterful photographer especially when it comes to empty spaces. Apologies to the rest of the artists I stole from and didn't credit here, it was a while back.

What seemingly was a very simple idea, soon became very difficult to pull off. Finding an empty house that was either abandoned or could be made to look so became Trent's biggest challenge. At a short film's scale and budget, a location manager (or location fees) became a hurdle. Trent must have looked through thousands of houses in California, Maryland and New York.

My challenges as the DP greatly expanded as I broke it down. Firstly being movement, We didn't want it to be noticeable at all. We wanted the camera to float through but not as though it was a POV, some sort of ghost. You might see this a lot in slow art films but rarely does it go on for 4 minutes. We played with the idea of crane and motion control but getting it into a practical location and into bedrooms nixed that. Steadicam was the next thought but there was also possibly going to be some dramatic vertical changes. We ended up shooting with a Ronin gimbal which I operated. 

Here's a reference video for the tone and Movement of the piece that I collected from various sources. Also I don't own any of this footage it was just a reference: 


The next thing I felt was paramount was helping Trent decide on a location. This house would be our ONLY character and getting it right and working within the practical implications of the audio/script whilst also providing a space that allowed us to move through it in a fluid continuous fashion was the biggest challenge. Too many pans on a wider lens and the audience is reminded about the physical aspect of a camera and I wanted to immerse them in the story. Also, because there are no actors, no wardrobe, nothing else to focus on, the only way to control the tone was to decide on the production design. Since there was not going to be much of that, I knew the only way was to stay on top of the location and give as much input as I could. When there's someone in frame, I can  create shallow focus, I can expose the background differently, I can mess with the composition to look at only the parts of the house that works. He found several in the end in Virginia and we scouted 4 on a weekend. 

And the Winner is:

Which brings me to my next issue. Lighting. In a perfect world, this would have been fully lit with 12ks out the window and rigging in certain rooms. In low budget world, it once again came back to finding a location that worked well. The house we found would have great afternoon light that hit the rooms that we wanted to be warm and left our more somber scenes cooler. We had many conversations about the color meaning and theory.  We emphasized it a bit more with Daniel Silverman at MPC in the color suite. I would be traveling down with no more than a generator, and some grip. We just had to pray for sun. 

I always try and be as big a part of prep as time allows and being that this pushed at least once, time was what was on our side. In the end we ended up PULLING the shoot forward a day because of weather. And ended up with a perfect sunny day. 

The challenges on set we're magnified as the sun got lower. It did create some very dramatic shafts yet as it bounced around, there was no way I could avoid operating through it, changing the shadows, subtle color shifts, and adding iris pulls to the mix made it quite difficult. Some handheld solids and a ballet of timing did the trick. Plus a tiny bit more love in color and vfx. You'd never notice it at first viewing but I guess that's the point. 

It was a very rewarding project and I'm happy it touched so many people. Here it is and share if you like

2016 starting off right: Spirit Animal "Regular world" Music Video

After the holidays in Italy with my lady's family, I got back to work on a Music video for Brooklyn Based band Spirit Animal, for their upcoming single "Regular World". The video was directed by Shal Ngo of Acres New York. It was the second project I'd shoot for him, the first that wasn't a personal project of his. And quite an ambitious one at that. The budget was tight, aren't all music videos, but involved a board room "focus group" scenario where Coop the lead singer humorously takes the group through a "regular world" slides presentation and during the chorus, breaks out into more intensifying levels of ROCK! At the end the walls fall down and they are in a stage/raw space "rock world" setting. 

The Set was planned without any windows so the only possible place to light would be above, and because we were going to be on steadicam AND have to move quick AND wanted to shoot anamorphic to accentuate the gravitas of our rock scenes, I'd need an anamorphic zoom, and the only one that would get us our wides and not be too heavy for steadicam, was the new Angenieux 30-72S and it only opens up to a T4 of course. I knew the only way to light this set would be from above and the source would have to be very powerful.  

I decided an 8x8 soft box with Mole Richardson 9-light fays above the set would be the best way to motivate an above source that still felt soft enough to look like an office but strong enough to get me easily to a 4 and more considering we'd want to do some 48fps as well. After the walls fall the open space would be set like a stage with lines of parcans facing back at the band, and I wanted to be able to flash, dim, and always keep a far side backlight as steadicam moved around.

Gaffer Brad Burke and Key Grip Justin Lee did an incredible job taking my initial plan here and making it a reality, and Justin even brought a wireless dmx controller so he could fade and dim the backlights from his Iphone. 

I settled on about 8 parcans rigged to the balcony of the space and kept a few extras for ground units, fill, and a couple of lekos for some accents and flares. It was a number crunch with Mark Forlenza the producer, because the location determined we'd definitely need a generator for all this light, but we made it work and both the band and everyone involved was thrilled with the final look.