Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Remains

December 8th, 2009

I recently had the privilege of being a camera operator on Eva Madden-Hagen's latest film, "What Remains". She recently won Film Nova Scotia and CBC's bridge award. The film portrays a newly engaged young women, excited to tell her grandparents the news, only to find out her grandfather has disappeared. (There is so much more to the plot than that. Im sure my brief explanation does no justice to what will surely be a beautiful film).

It was such a treat for me to be a part of this film. Rarely in our obsessive world of documentary film making do we at Hemmings House work on dramas such as this, so for me I was more than happy to deviate from the norm. Ironically, it was my documentary shooting style that got me the job in the first place.

The film was shot over 3 days in and around Halifax. There was a solid crew of about 30 professionals from around the city, all doing their part so precisely to make everything look just right.

It is such a cool feeling to be a camera operator on a film. People work so hard to get the the set looking awesome and you are the one who reaps the benefits. Your essentially the first person who gets to see what the film will look like. (in all truth the editor does, but still).

And shooting drama is so much different and easier than shooting documentary. In docs, you have one chance to catch that vital moment that you don't even know is coming. Whereas in a drama, you know exactly what is going to happen, then you get four or five chances to get exactly what you need. If you get it on the first go (which you should) then you can try other things.

All the while the crew is huddled around 2 small monitors watching your moves. This film was shot with two cameras about %95 of the time. Eva has done her homework and really wanted the film who have real gritty and 'dirty' cutaways and have a certain feel to it.

Christopher Ball was the Director of Photography. Chris has a world of experience and was great to work along side. He was also the other camera operator.

The whole film was shot on a Sony EX3 with a Pro35 adapter with a set of beautiful Zeiss primes. The other camera was a Sony EX1 mounted with a Letus 35mm adapter with Nikon primes. We had to do quite a bit of testing prior to shooting the film to ensure the 2 cameras would match up. Surprisingly, they matched up nicely. The Zeiss lenses were sharper than the Nikons and both sets has a slightly different colour temperature, but all in all they worked nicely along side one another. Because the two cameras are going to be cut against each other, it was paramount they we are closely matched as possible.

I had one steadicam shot to pull off in the entire film. This is always an anxious moment. Especially when everyone else on the set is watching you. It was a simple scene though of following two women from a bench in the backyard to getting in the car. They nailed it in a few takes, but I have to make sure I nail my shot because its rather long and continuous and this was one the rare moments where there was only one camera shooting the scene. The actors and actresses in the film seemed to nail basically every take, so it made everyone's job just a little easier.

The director Eva really did an awesome job on this one. She certainly checked her ego at the front door and was so focused on making the best film possible. She knew what she wanted, but was always open to suggestions. The producer Rebecca Sharratt assembled a very cool crew. The vibe around the set was a pleasure and everyone was so great to work with. Seemed like everyone decided to leave their egos behind on this one, which is the way it always should be. You know, you always hear about how many egos there are in the film industry. Of course there is like in any profession, but they are few and far between in my experience. It's got to be one of the things I love most about it. Collaborating with other people passionate about what they do, coming together and ensuring the sum of its part are greater than the whole.
"What Remains" will be airing on CBC at some point in the not so distant future. Keep your eyes peeled for it!


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Blues on the Boulevard

April 2nd, 2009

There are two things I love the most about being a part of Hemmings House pictures. The first is that we are a group of young guys running our own business, doing what we love and earning a living.

The second is that we ALWAYS end up shooting the coolest gigs and no matter what you specialize in, you always play a major role in every production. This most recent one was no different. I think Greg said it best today when I heard him say: "This concert doesn't have a director, it was directed by Hemmings House Pictures!".

Another live concert. Seems to be our bread and butter. There is nothing else I would rather be shooting. I love it so much! This time it was for the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, occompanied by Matt Andersen and "Les Muses".

It was also nice to get out of the editing suite. The last few weeks have been very stressful. I am currently in crunch time editing 6 episodes for our latest TV series "Kardinal Sinners" at PowerPost in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dealing with

the broadcaster and working through technical issues has been trying at times to say the least. So this shoot would be some welcome creative release that I was really looking forward to.

So when I heard we were going to be shooting a 7-camera setup, it made me all warm and excited! Steve and Greg did a great job in pre-production and lined up, what I think was our best shooting team ever.

We had six Sony PMW EX1's and one Ex 3. On wide on the balcony we had Alastair Meux. A guy who has more experience than everyone at HHP put together. Steve was on a 16 foot dolly behind the back row of the crowd for one of my favorite concert shots. When it tracks the back of people's hands and heads with the stage in the background. Such a cool shot!

Our veteran comedian, Mike Burchhill from IVS was with his 10 foot jib on stage left, while our new friend Michel Caissie from CBC in Moncton shot with his 18 foot jib just off stage right. Lauchlan was hand held, Greg on the monopod and I was on the Glidecam. Lock, Greg and I were responsible for covering the close-ups around the stage. Backstage we had our buddy James Shaw from Red Fish audio with his 24 track audio setup. Nothing is more important when shooting music (or anything for that matter) than to make sure your audio is stellar. Lastly we had our unsung heroes: Our Production Assistants: Tim Maloney, Nick LeBlanc, John Phillips and Nick Foster. These four guys were amazing! Without them we would have been in big trouble. They busted their asses all day and were so crucial to making this whole thing come together so smoothly. Big props to them!

I had a blast operating the Glidecam 4000. It had been a while since i've used one, so the night before the concert I was going up and down the halls of our hotel shooting James and Mike drinking beers to get some practice in, while taking frequent beer breaks myself. Then basically had it on from sunrise to sunset the day of the show, making sure I was as comfortable as possible with that thing on. Glidecams or Steadicams are my favorite types of shots. I love the three dimentional effect they give. There aren't too many big budget movies or television dramas that don't use one these days. Can't blame em. Im really pumped to have this thing around now, im going to be using it a lot.

The shoot went really well. It was light beautifully as well, which is always crucial. It was also a little stressful shooting with so many EX cameras cause we didn't have enough SxS cards to go around. Our PA's were working overtime making sure we all had fresh cards to shoot on...hence why they were heroes! Don't think we missed a second of the whole shoot....literally. The great thing about shooting with the SxS cards and going tapeless is that you never have to stop your camera to switch a tape. When one card is done, it automatically

records on the next one, meaning you don't miss one second of the show. This was always a minor issue with tapes. The future is here and the future is tapeless shooting!

Everyone really rocked this shoot though. It was different shooting a big orchestra like that. Normally we only have to worry about covering a band of four or five, but in this instance the were more than 80 people on stage! It was tough to decide who gets the closeup time.

Having two jibs is just way too cool! I can't wait to see how it turns out. I'm jealous I don't get to edit this one. Just thinking about cutting such cool looking footage gives me butterflies. It's a beautiful thing this business! As much stress, frustration and heart break that comes along with it, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world!

There are thousands of people who would kill to be in our shoes, doing this and getting paid for it. No doubt its hard work, but is it ever work if you are doing what you love?

Which reminds's officially two years since I started with Hemmings House Pictures with Greg in his basement. Now two years later we have an office in Saint John and Halifax and and a team that has grown 5 times over! Let's just hope our good fortune continues...


Thursday, February 5, 2009

JSB: Live at the Marquee

February 5th, 2009

I'm now officially a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I moved here five days ago to set up shop at Power Post Productions on Hollis Street. Continuing to work with Hemmings House and im excited for the possibilities that lie ahead with this move. Especially after Greg's positive results at the ReelScreen Summit in D.C. But im writing about another Halifax based project we were working on for the last nine months: JSB Live at the Marquee

I remember my first Jimmy Swift Band show eight years ago when they were called "Fly Jimmy Swift", which wasn't their first name, nor the first time they'd swung around to towns all over the place. I think I was 18 years old at the time. It was at the now non-existent "Barn" on the U.P.E.I. campus. My two friends and I rocked out in the front row the whole show. We had never seen anything like it. I recall days after the show hearing "First Tube" by PHISH and thinking it was JSB!

I, like many other fans, have been hooked to their music, especially their live show. So when JSB frontman Craig Mercer approached Greg about a live DVD idea at last year's ECMA's, we were all over the idea! But it had to be bigger and better than anything we'd ever done, or anyone would ever imagine. I truely feel we accomplished our goal....

Like anything, we we're way too busy on other projects to really be %100 ready to shoot such a show, but in true HHP fashion, we flew by the seats of our pants (to an extent) and went for it!

We secured at jib from our friends at IVS in Saint John, and a full Steadicam rig from our Director of Photography, Kelsey Smith.

The show was amazing! I remember being so nervous for hours before we started shooting...and having to pee a
a thousand times before I felt I was comfortable. It always happens to me when im nervous/pumped for anything. So we all got ready inside the Marquee while a late winter storm was dumping down on the streets of Halifax.

I was positioned at the front left of the stage, Lauchlan to my right. Greg on stage with Kelsey on the Steadicam, Steve and Craig wide right, and wide left respectively with Tidby roaming around whevever he pleased. Topping it off we Darrell maning the jib crane, coming inches from taking people's heads off with each swoop. The roof at the Marquee is quite low.

We all shot a wicked show and I had to settle in to start editing. A process that spanned over 9 months of being excited, heartbroken, pumped, anxious, frustrated, excited again, devastated, worried, beyond stressed, and so unbeleively proud and excited all over again! That's the film making process in a nutshell....well for me anyways!

Once I started post production, I had so many issues with formats. In our haste of being so excited prior to the show, coupled with a few errors on other peoples part, I was left with footage shot at 1080, 60i....720p, 30 fps...and 720p, 24 fps undercranked footage! ARGH!!!!!!!! What a nightmare. I compare to an artist sitting down to make a painting, with three different kinds of paint; Water based, oil and acrylic....non of which mix together properly on the canvas. (I don't think they do anyways....but you get my drift).

Although its not such an issue recently due to certain software updates, any young filmmaker out there.....DO NOT MIX FORMATS.....if at all possible. Make sure all your footage is either interlaced or progressive and at the same frame rate. Seems simple enough right? That's exactly what I said....but I was left to deal with the mess as the head editor.

It took me a month to sort it out. I called everyone in the business for a solution. Most responses being, " Wow...I have no idea how to fix're kind of on your own on this one pal". But with some help with my friends at PowerPost and a few clever work arounds, we eventually started cutting.

And cut we did! I cut most of the show with Lauchlan taking shifts on it when he could. The band then wanted changes. Then Greg took it for a ride once we had the whole thing in near picture lock and stepped it up a notch!

Then the band wanted more changes, so we did them. Then between Lauchlan and myself, we spent almost 5 months putting in time whenever we could. It was essentially cut, but we wanted it to really capture the energy of the show, so that meant making 6 cuts in less than a second, or whatever. We have so many edits that last like 5 frames etc...its crazy. In the end there are thousands of tiny cuts all throughout a concert like this. Meaning during colour correction, we had thousnads of shots of correct. But JSB's music is so inspirational to cut to. I would start cutting this all over again if I could. It was just that much fun!

Personally I was really influenced by a few livd DVD's i've seen in the past; in particular: Coldplay Live 2003, which unreal! STS9 : Live As Time Changes, and Rage Agianst the Machine: Battle of Mexico City. These 3 DVD's are so well done and so original. So our goal was to create something amazing and origianl, with the flavours of our favorite productions.

In the end the band was really pumped about the DVD and so were we. Having the band members react so well was realy encouraging. Aaron the keyborad player did an amazing job on the audio as well. Such a huge part of a production like my opinion, more important than the video. We even got a big plug on our favorite podcast Jaybird's Endless Boundries. Check out EB 572.

Creating live music productions is our companies passion. We all love it so much and have such a blast doing them. This particular DVD for JSB was a real honour and a blast for all of us. I can honestly say I will never get tired of shooting and cutting live music! It seriously just gives me butterflies just writing this.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the Road Shooting Kardinal Sinners

December 21st, 2008

We packed ourselves top to bottom into two mini vans. One with the crew and gear and the other with five wrestlers and one unlucky, or depending on how you look at it, lucky crew member. Our our way to the nations capital, Ottawa, Ontario to shoot 3 wrestling shows and finish off shooting for our television show "Kardinal Sinners" for Rush HD.

This road trip wraps up shooting that has spanned over the last 6 weeks. Its basically the 2nd season of our "Wrestling Reality" show. But since the Fight Network screwed us over, Rush HD picked up the show and we changed the name to "Kardinal Sinners"- the name of the "greatest wrestling faction in history" of Brody Steele, Kowboy Mike Hughes and Trash Canyon. So essentially we were to follow those three, "Wildman" Gray Williams and Frankie Sloan (who hails from Liverpool, UK) to Ottawa where we were scheduled to shoot 3 nights of matches and everything that happens in between.

Shooting a documentary series like this is kind of like guerrilla warfare. The smaller and more mobile and tactical group (in this case, the filmmakers) maneuver, weave and bob our way around "shooting" the bigger, more powerful, albeit, less mobile group which are the wrestlers. Although I love following these characters around and have developed an unlikely friendship with all of them, its much like babysitting a group of large children. The good thing is, the more ridiculous they act, the better story you usually have!

One thing I have learned from shooting such this last year is that gaining their respect and trust is paramount to getting good content. I always make a conscious effort to be around them as much as possible in any given situation, to build a bond. Once you get that, then you can get the gold. They trust telling you everything, even when the camera is right in their face. Even when they tell you "don't film this", you do it anyway without them noticing. Not to exploit them in any way, because I would never do that, but to get as much "real" content as possible. (Im sure im going to get a black eye for doing this eventually).

I say "real" content because it's very difficult to actually capture something pure and real. Having a camera in any environment automatically changes the majority of situations when the subject knows the camera is present. Once they know a camera is there, they will most often act differently than they normally would if there were no camera in the room.

Thankfully for us though, our wrestlers are all excellent on camera. We often don't have to ask them questions, they will just say what we want to hear. Making our jobs a lot easier.

We shot this season with a 4 camera set-up compared to a 6 camera set-up last year because less of our attention was focused on the matches themselves. We used 3 Sony EX1's and 1 Sony EX3 ( third from the right). So for the events we had a 3-camera setup, then I was backstage with Greg on the main documentary camera. Then once the matches were finished, we would usually have two documentary camera's on hand at all times.

We followed the wrestlers name it. I once again volunteered for the first night shift in Quebec City following a group of drunk englishh giants around a beautiful French town in thirty below zero snow storm. This always makes for a golden opportunity to get some good content, cause they usually love the camera once they loosen up a bit. Its always good for a laugh and this year was no exception.

Things would have been a lot more interesting though for outdoor shooting if temperatures had been more favourable. We still managed to drag them out to the parliament buildings in Ottawa and when they went to get their afternoon tan, we stuck around to get some great shots of the city. It was so cold though. It's really hard to wear gloves as well when you are operating a camera hand held, so I remember my fingers in agony after 5 minutes of shooting. I still remember the look of anguish on Lauchlan's face when we were shooting. It was that "Are we really shooting in this weather?" look. Although he had more things in store for him (can't say anymore about the subject)

It's always a marathon shooting these run and gun style of documentaries, but its what we do best. We always manage to make it work and we do great work spontaneously.

It's an exhausting process though. Shooting 16-20 hour days, then staying up most of the night dumping and organizing footage, organizing gear, charging batteries, then crashing for a few hours only to wake up exhausted and do it all over again.

It's a process I don't think anyone gets used to, but I love it. Filmmaking always seems like such a glamorous process, when it fact it is the furthest thing from it. I feel so privileged everyday to do this and get paid for it. I never get sick of that...and after all the shooting is said and done and evreryone is exhausted and tired after weeks of shooting.....

I get to spend the next ten weeks widleing down over 100 hours of footage into six, 22-minute episodes of entertainment. Wish me luck!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lighting Space.....Knights

December 11th, 2008

It's 7am and we're off to Ottawa this morning to shoot the last section of "Kardinal Sinners" wrestling show. I was at the office until 1am last night finishing things for other clients before we head out on the road. Not quite sure why im up writing a blog, but im having a little trouble sleeping.

I wanted to talk about lighting in this post. Recently Mark Hemmings and I went to FatKat Animation in Mirimachi, NB to shoot a series of 30 second commercials for their show "Space Knights".

From what I understand the show cartoon is about 4 'power ranger' type super heroes who are trying to save the world. But they aren't exactly politically correct superheroes....and one of them is gay and in a wheelchair...not that there is anything wrong with that! I just think its funny for a superhero. I guess that's why the show is a comedy.

So they wanted to shoot 4 public service announcements to help promote the show and had FatKat employee's dress up in the Space Knight costumes and act out the parts in live action.

It's so much fun to go up to FatKat. They have such a cool spot and always treat us so well. We seem to really connect well with them when we are there and the owner Gene Fowler always has time to welcome us and crack us up a thousand times over. Im glad we have formed such a good relationship, which such a talented and creative company.

It's always such a pleasure to shoot anything with Mark as well. I respect his abilities so much, especially when it comes to lighting. He just knows how to paint a scene so meticulously. Lighting is such a crucial part of shooting anything...whether is be photos, video or film, so setting up any shot with Mark is fascinating!

It took us about an hour and a half to set up this first scene. Below you will see how we did it.

They really wanted a nice warm feel to these first 2 scenes. So we brought a giant white bed sheet and suspended it from the roof to create the same effects of a giant soft box.

We then shinned 2, 300 watt and 2 500 watt lights directly down through the sheet. The result is a nice soft light that falls on the subject (as you can see in the picture at the top)

We then filled behind him with a 500 watt softbox with a blue gel. The blue gel is used to create the illusion that light is coming from the window. It gave us some really nice defined edges around the shoulders and top of the head.

We then used 2, 1000 watt lights you would buy at any hardware store and bounced them off the reflector to create a soft key light on the subject's face.

I then set up our Sony ex1 with the Letus extreme 35mm adapter. Used a 50mm f 1.4 nikon lens, which is near perfect! It gives such a perfect depth of feild...especially for this camera. I used 8 feet of track and set the camera up on our dolly. Our final image was lit perfectly. The Space Knight in the chair was clearly and softly defined. Because the chair was a darker red than his suit, the foreground was slightly darker than the subject. It made the image stand out even more and almost looked like there was a soft vingette in the bottom third of the picture. (that's me with the space helmet on!)

We headed down to the bar next and shot the final 2 commercials. One was of the space knight getting wasted in the bar talking about how to treat your woman.

Then we shot the green knight in the wheelchair in a janitors closet. Talking about how disappointed he is that he is always left behind. Mark again lit this beautifully. To top it all off he swung one our our lights from the ceiling to really give that storage closet effect. It turned out amazing!

Everyone was really pleased with the final images! We shot everything at 24p and FatKat is editing the footage and adding all the sound and voice overs in post.

It was actually really nice to only have to shoot something for a change and not have to edit it at all. It was a 17 hour day by the end of it for Mark and I....seems pretty good for 4 commercials, considering all the tear down and setup required. Hopefully I will be able to post some of the shots once FatKat is finished!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Under Appreciated Art Form

November 10th, 2008

Today was a nice day to have off. In the 6 previous days to this I logged more than 100 hours of work...way too much I know. I don't really want to do that again. I don't think anyone should have to work that much! It's just not healthy...but in this case I didn't have much of a choice.

I was cutting our latest documentary "Airplane Journals", which documents Greg's adventures in the world of coaching. He has been coached since he started the company by a guy named Dave Veale. ( As Greg has travelled the world he has interviewed countless numbers of coaches. Everything from executive coaches, surf coaches, acting coaches, hockey coaches, wrestling coaches, vocal name it. Getting all of their different philosophies on coaching. All the while his coaching sessions with Dave tell the story of how our business has grown with the help of Dave's coaching.

On top of that I was finishing up a pretty big corporate project that turned out awsome! And I was also doing a bit more directing for our Jessica Rhaye DVD. Both of which were very time consuming.

But back to the doc....

I had basically started editing this doc on Wednesday and it was due Sunday morning at 6 a.m.
Not a lot of time, especially seen as the goal of this film is to be a television hour: 45-52 minute range. Greg had roughed out how he wanted the story to go, but there was a tonne of work to do on it. I didn't think it would be possible to cut it in such a short amount of time...but I dug in!

It had to be done. Greg and Dave were heading to the International Coaches Federation Annual conference in Montreal. A perfect place to screen it for the first time. Especially seen as the world best executive coaches were in the film and would be there.

I worked 17 hours per day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on it and made good progress. I had 17 minutes locked by then, with 24 hours left...A long way to go to get to that hour! But the first third of the doc was really thin on images to tell the story. You have to have coverage for what is being talked about. So I had to be creative in ways to tell this story. That meant adding a lot of old photos, newspaper clippings, and documents. It was extremely time consuming, not to mention the animated maps I made in after effects that illustrate Greg's globetrotting. It was successful though at creating the proper visuals for the audio.

If you look below and above at the screen shots from my editing suite, you can kind of see how it works. The blue and yellow blocks are the video tracks, and the green are for the audio. Then the computer reads what is always on the top line. That is what you end up seeing on screen! It also plays the all the audio tracks.

The reason I feel like editing is such an under appreciated art is that no one has no idea how much influence an editor as on a film. Unless you have actually done it, or watch someone do it, it would be hard for you to understand how much time it takes to cut 50 hours of footage down to 50 minutes, or how an editor can take a film in so many directions, depending on the vision of the director. I really feel like the edit suite is where the film is truly made.

Im lucky cause Greg gives me a lot of creative control when i'm editing his pieces. We're really on the same page. So he gives me a lot of room and trust to cut as I see fit. Something as simple as choice of music and when you bring it in, when you fade it out can completely change the feel or meaning of a scene. It's perhaps my favorite part.

Its such a puzzle. You take someones interview and rip it to pieces. You mix and match their dialogue so much. Take a piece here, put it there,. Take a couple words and add them somewhere else. Take out all the umm's and ah's. (people do that a lot). Basically you have to get their point across as quickly as possible. So, a point that may take a minute to say in the raw footage of an interview might be mixed, mashed, and slashed so it lasts 10 seconds. That's why coverage is so crucial. If you put images over top of their interview, no one will ever know it was manipulated. Without it, all interviews you see would be filled with jump cuts.

So Saturday morning I woke up bright and early and got to work on cutting the remaining 30 minutes. It took me 24 hours! Straight! Not the first time I sat in an editing suite that long and won't be the last. It got a little lonely at about midnight. So I went to Steve's for some grub. Then back to work! I ended up finishing it on time, then proceeded to sleep the rest of day, naturally.

I really love editing though. I love the challenge of telling a story, and evoking emotion from the viewer. It's an amazing feeling. Especially when your scene really works. It moves he story forward, looks great and more importantly sounds great. In my opinion editing is about %80 audio, %20 visual. You can not fool people with bad audio. You have to be able to watch it with your eyes closed...then if that works, then you make the visuals fit.

When it all comes together though, its a beautiful thing! It really is a piece of art, a creation. Kinda like painting a picture and writing a novel all in one. It feels so good to sit and watch something you know is great. I tend to watch scenes I've cut over and over and over. Then when the film is finished and ready for people to enjoy, I don't really want to look at it again! A nice dose of irony don't ya think?