The Lonely Lamp

It’s a bit of an inside joke but I made a short film about a lamp that is lonely. I’ll wait, let it sink in.

It’s short take a look if you will.

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Further Ramblings about Filmmaking Gear

I don’t write many blog posts. The reason for this is that I am a writer and putting up written content is giving my work away for free. Often I find myself trying to decide what I can write that makes sense to give away and then wondering if it is worth my time to do so. Truthfully I’m not sure much of what I share here is of interest to other people.

With that out of the way let me write another post concerning filmmaking gear and my struggles to make sense of the no-budget world I inhabit. I shall try and imbue the following nonsense with some sort of value for others.

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I call this “Really making the point.”

This past year I’ve tried to focus more on making things than thinking about how to make them. It’s lead to a few interesting projects and discoveries.

There have been more missteps than leaps forward but any progress is progress. The greatest trap of trying to do this on my own is spending more time on “researching” rather than doing. Case in point:

One of the largest hurdles for me regarding filmmaking gear concerns stabilization. I don’t care much for handheld footage in works of fiction. Usually it strikes me as the wrong choice. That being said the simplest and cheapest form of stabilization (using a tripod) often feels lifeless. Which is why I looked into gimbals this year.

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It’s slim pickings for images out there – this version two of the Merlin, mine was version one

Many moons ago I tried using the Stradicam Merlin with a DVX100B. It was not for me. I found that after weeks of use and practice I could get a steady shot for about thirty seconds at a time. I could never get the camera to balance properly and holding the DVX100B with one arm was a feat I could do for maybe four minutes at a time.

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Not my arm

I assumed the fault was with me. I wasn’t clever enough to balance it properly (the instructions were terrible) and I wasn’t strong enough to hold it for hours at a time because I don’t go to the gym. Simply put – I am not Garrett Brown (genius/strong man/inventor of the steadicam).

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Flash-forward to this year and the pre-Christmas sale for the Moza Air. I gave it another shot and despite numerous YouTube videos demonstrating the ease with which you can balance the gimbal I found myself with another contraption I couldn’t balance and  wondering if I am truly that inept.

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It WILL work

Wherever the fault lies I’ve since returned the gimbal. Yet I still don’t like shaky handheld footage and I have an upcoming shoot where I need some sort of stabilization solution. So, what to do?

I feel foolish because I currently own three cameras (Sony A7S, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and an iPhone 7+) and only one has excellent in-camera stabilization. Yet, and this is forever my conundrum with filmmaking gear, I find myself not wanting to shoot with this option.

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Steven Soderbergh knows my pain

In part this is because the iPhone controls are vastly inferior to those of my other cameras. Both of my proper cameras can get a “better” image than the iPhone and allow for greater flexibility in post production regarding manipulating the image. There is also the sense of ridiculousness that comes from choosing my phone as my capture device when the expensive cameras are in arms reach.

I need to shoot night interiors in a moving car and I know that the iPhone isn’t going to perform as well as the A7S, the low light is going to lead to very grainy footage – but it will have less rolling shutter and micro jitters even if I shoot handheld.

Assuming I go this route I have purchased two small off camera lights –
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Only to find that they have their own set of problems. The Aputure light takes four batteries and most likely won’t make it through a full night of shooting without changing them out. I can solve that one! Both have a cold shoe mount. Meaning I can mount them to a camera but nothing else that I own. So having a light out of frame below the dashboard would require a small tripod and a camera body…which isn’t really a viable set up.

Searching through the selections of possible mount adapters on B&H is a bit daunting. First there is the basic problem of the Internet, everything has a generic name so that you spend more time sifting through detritus than you do looking at viable contenders (looking at you Apple Motion whenever I have attempted to find a tutorial).

Once you get through the dreck there are some inexpensive solutions like this clip mount-

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I’ve no idea if it’s any good. So I need to purchase it (or something like it) then test it to see if works in a moving car. Never mind the fact that there are only so many places where I could put this.

So despite a good deal of searching and listening to those sharing their wisdom online my solution is still “buy it and try it”. I recognize that I am in this place because of my lack of firsthand knowledge and not having a group of likeminded people to bounce these ideas off from.

Nearly all of the advice dispensed at people who are, presumably, like me boils down to – find your tribe. Get that group of people that you can rely on to help you do this stuff. Which sounds great but I’ve no idea how that actually comes to be. Nearly everyone I’ve met in the past three years who is a filmmaker has no interest in watching a short film I’ve made, let alone discussing clamps to hold small lights. Perhaps there’s a secret handshake you need to learn first.

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So I continue to share my ramblings here, now and then getting specific like this post, in the hope that someone out there might connect with the material or the sentiment. I’ve linked the items I’ve posted here to make it easier for anyone interested in checking these things out. I don’t have an affiliation with B&H Photo, I just use them to buy filmmaking equipment.

A Guide to Productive Adulthood

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Eleven years ago I bought a brand new camera for more money than I had and set out to make some movies. Inspired by companies like InDigEnt and films like Pieces of April and November I was certain I was on my way.

Sadly I was wrong. Poor me.

Anyway, after setting up a project and arriving at my parents house to make a movie with friends – I found myself with no friends and no movie to make. So I shuffled about the house for a few days with a bunch of camera equipment. I started filming things. Then myself. Then myself doing things.

I had quite a bit of fun and laughed (alone, which is either a healthy thing or unhealthy, I am not certain). Eight moves and a lot of boxes later I found myself going through the old DV tapes not long ago wondering what was on them. Lo and behold I found this footage (and quite a bit of other footage that I am sure will surface some day – why not share?).

Below is the fruit of my labors when I was licking my wounds and trying to figure out why I spent so much money on camera gear. If only that wasn’t a pattern!

I hope you enjoy it. The quality isn’t what I’d like because the camera is now outdated and I knew even less than I do now.

See it Again – Message From the King

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Message From the King is a strange film for me to include in the “See it Again” category. For one thing it came out very recently. For another, since it was released on Netflix I do not have a sense of how it was received either by critics or normal folk like you and I. As much as I dislike Rotten Tomatoes and similar sites, trying to write about why you should give a film another chance feels a bit strange when you have no idea how people feel about it in the first place.

That being said I liked this film but I did not love it. Again, a weird way to go, I know. Usually strong feelings dictate which films I write about and while I certainly like this film, aside from the look and the acting, I do not feel strongly about it.

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So with all of those reasons not to write out of the way, let me say some kind words about it.

First, this is beautiful looking film. According to an interview I found online With a bit of this appears to be shot on film. The grain is visible in many scenes, and perhaps because of my age, I find it terribly pleasing. The way the faces are lit is just wonderful. Sometimes they are hauntingly beautiful other times haunting. Often there is a gritty, grimy quality to the images that is perfectly suited for the story being told.

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If you enjoy this kind of film, a noir-ish revenge drama with mystery and violence, Message From the King will deliver what you are looking for. Chadwick Boseman gives an excellent performance. There is something quite powerful (and meaningful) in his silences and the pacing of the editing effectively builds tension and suspense.

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The supporting cast is quite good as well, there are some big names in Message From the King yet everyone plays their supporting roles as they should be. It is clear whose movie this is and as the viewer we are always with the protagonist and his story.

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Opposed to several other films I have watched recently about the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles the grit and texture of Message From the King feels integral the story rather than an attempt to be the story. This is a lithe film that moves from scene to scene without getting bogged down in trying to say more than it needs to.

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If you have Message From the King in your queue or have been debating whether or not you should check out the film with that guy from Black Panther I suggest you do. It’s not high art and it won’t leave you feeling profoundly changed but it is beautiful and unexpected.

Remembering a Year

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Yesterday I had a slight mishap with my phone that led to me looking at emails I had sent over a decade ago. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening and by the time I did I was hooked.

I can’t say I would recommend this for most people but for me yesterday was tremendously positive. It confirmed something I have suspected for quite some time: my memory is not as good as I believe it is.

In short I have a distinct sense of a five year period of my life when I lived in Washington, D.C. My memory of events has me doing little with next to nothing to show for it. The emails from yesterday paint a different picture, in some ways positive and others less so. But to be clear – there are some glaring holes in my memory of projects I was involved with, for months, that I have no memory of. This is disturbing.

This made me stop and reflect on the past year – questioning what exactly have I done. Several months ago I started making a list, after seeing Steven Soderbergh’s again, in an effort of better remembering what I actually watch. I am continually amazed when I add to this list that films I watched only a few months before have been all but forgotten (until I read the names, to be clear this isn’t an article about me suffering from some form of memory loss).

Below are a list of sorts of  projects I worked on this past year – in the hope that someone, somewhere finds this interesting or helpful.

Nearly one year ago I participated in the FilmSupply Challenge. It was a interesting competition in that participants were given access to both FilmSupply’s catalogue of stock footage and The MusicBed‘s selection of music to create either a trailer for a movie, a commercial or a title sequence.

I chose to make a film trailer and although it was difficult to find unrelated clips (with no dialog) to string together to tell a story I am proud of my results. The rules of the competition make it impossible for me to share my trailer but one of the judges, FilmRiot‘s Ryan Connolly, made a trailer that I can share.

I will say, seeing the winners of the competition, if I had better understood the freedom of creating audio content for these videos I would have done something different. All things considered I am happy with what I did – but more importantly it was an great exercise in editing and storytelling and I am happy to have been able to participate.

While attempting to put together the trailer for the FilmSupply Challenge I also adapted my unpublished novel into a screenplay. The Stowe Story Labs in Vermont have a fall narrative lab (and were promoting but decided not to hold a November adaptation lab) that I scrambled to apply to. Numerous film/video related ventures offer fellowships  to help with the cost of tuition to attend the labs. I was not awarded a fellowship, so despite being accepted I found I was unable to attend which was disheartening.

What might seem like a negative experience was, unexpectedly, quite positive. In addition to having proper motivation to stay up late and write I was made aware of other writing programs in and out of the state of Vermont (and film/video related entities as well).

Becoming clued in to the Story Labs was due in part to attending the White River Independent Film Festival. There I met several local filmmakers who helped steer me toward wonderful resources (and people) in the state. I also became aware of the Vermont Media Alliance at the event.

I had the pleasure of volunteering with the VMA from June until December last year. In addition to playing a role in organizing, reshaping and formatting their website and social media presence I was able to connect with numerous people in the local film industry. It was particularly amusing to be corresponding with the head of the Stowe Story Labs, David Rocchio, both as an applicant to the Labs and as a potential partner via the VMA – simultaneously.

Being able to see the infrastructure and resources in place in Vermont from an “insider’s” point of view gave me a better sense of what is possible (and what is not) in Vermont. I am particularly proud of two interviews I was able to do while working with the VMA.

The first is with Matt Lennon, a filmmaker who lives and works in Middlebury, Vermont. The second is with composer Zackery Nicolosi. The two of them worked together to create the trailer for the Middlebury New Filmmaker’s Festival. I was impressed with the way Mr. Lennon was able to use sections of the many different works to convey emotions and give a sense of what to expect from the festival. The music that Mr. Nicolosi wrote to accompany the visuals is moving and unexpected. Take a look below –

I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible efforts and work done by Phoebe Lewis on behalf of the festival. In addition to helping me wrangle these two for interviews she organized all of the communications between the VMA and MNFF and bantered with me via social media far more than I deserved.

From attending events, working with the VMA and generally benefitting from the hospitality of those gracious enough to spend time chatting with me, I have been able to get to know a few Vermont filmmakers whose work I admire. Below are a handful of videos from some of these filmmakers.

Michael Fisher –

Ben Silberfarb –

Jon Andrews –

Matt Lennon –

Bill Philips –

Sadly there are others, like Ethan Murphy, whose work I cannot find online to share with you. Then there are those that I was not able to become acquainted with, like Nora Jacobson and Jay Craven but given their contributions to the Vermont film community and the impact of their work I am including two trailers below –

In March of 2017 The MusicBed held their Film Initiative which I participated in. I have been working on a science fiction screenplay for more than a decade and when I saw how this competition worked it seemed like an opportune time to try and put together a visual submission that would take me outside of my comfort zone.

In an act of kindness the good people at The MusicBed put up the package the 2016 winner of the competition submitted. I was able to download and study that submission in order to have a real sense of what was expected. I can no longer find the page they had which contained the interview and submission but on Shane Hurlbut‘s site there is a blog post which contains most of the information (and the short film that was made after winning – I have posted it below).

I’ve never attempted to distill any piece of writing into minimal text and a few broad images and the process was helpful, to say the least. Problems with my script became apparent immediately, as did solutions. In using images I found online I was able to better conceive of the story I wanted to tell – as well as the themes and issues I had been struggling to articulate and explore. I would encourage any writer who does not tend to think visually to experiment with this process as it does force you to think differently and, for me at least, the results are pleasing.

Sadly I did not win the competition but, again, the process was so helpful to my writing that I do feel like I won in some ways. Perhaps that is corny but anything that improves the work is a good thing.

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I’ve tried not to make this a self-centered post, I may have failed. My hope was to point out a few of the experiences I had this past year (I did apply to the FilmicPro competition but I submitted a previously completed work so no real lesson was learned there) in an effort to show how even in failing I feel like I succeeded.

I think it is easy when there are no immediate, tangible results to gloss over a period of time and think, “Nothing happened,” but rarely is that true. I wrote and shared numerous short screenplays this past year in a hope of getting something, anything made. The only short film I completed was one I made by myself – without a script. I did have the experience, for the first time, of writing with someone specific in mind to direct and then having the ticklish conversations that follow when they don’t want to work with you.

It’s a process and I can honestly say as much as I didn’t like many parts of this process over the past year, I think, it’s gotten me to a better place. There is concrete evidence that things did happen and being reminded of that is helpful.

The Canon C200 and PremiumBeat

This morning I saw a blog post on the website for PremiumBeat https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/first-short-film-canon-c200/

PremiumBeat is a curated royalty-free website that also happens to have a blog about things related to filmmaking. They are one of several sites that offer a blog of this kind and I often read posts such as the one I linked.

This post in particular caught my attention, less because it is about a shiny new camera and more because of the two videos that are contained within. The first is a short film made by Canon with director Andrew Fried and director of photography Byrant Fisher – called “From Dock to Dish”. You can watch it below:

First and foremost I think this is an excellent video. A few months ago my wife and I began watching the four part documentary Cooked on Netflix. We had previously seen two seasons of Chef’s Table (which Mr. Fried is both a producer and director for) and it seemed like a natural extension of our now food-oriented television watching. Both shows are excellent but Cooked caused both of us to start thinking about what we eat, why we eat it and where the food truly comes from.

This video takes a look at that particular chain regarding fish and it’s as entertaining and interesting as any episode of Chef’s Table I have watched (I have now seen all three seasons and Chef’s Table France).

The blog post also contains a second video, which offers behind the scenes interviews and footage about the making of “From Dock to Dish” which I think most people would find interesting. This is largely a promotional film for the C200 but a good deal of the content is about the hows and whys of capturing the images to tell this story. I enjoyed it greatly and I hope you do, too.