The Trap of Perfection and Being Ready

The number of projects I have not begun, have begun but not completed or have nearly finished but essentially abandoned is large. When my defenses are working properly there are many wonderful reasons for all of this unfinished work. None of them are terribly original or interesting. In nearly every case the actual reason is the same: what is/was in my head did not/will not be as good when I make it. Perfection is a trap.

Today I was looking through the folders on my computer, for what I no longer remember, and I stumbled down a rabbit hole of past projects and memories that lead me, much like Alice, on a strange and mysterious journey. The journey concluded when I went to my YouTube page and saw that the last video I uploaded was two years ago.

Now, to be fair, YouTube for me is an afterthought. If I make something and want to share it I use Vimeo. The lack of commercials and the overall straightforward nature of the site is why it has become the place where I publish video content. Yet I do try and publish on YouTube because I can use all the views I can get. I am unknown and would like to change that.

Now before you start following links or Googling me the sad truth is I have made very little content to share with the world. Largely it is because I am a stay-at-home dad who mostly shoots videos of his children. I share these videos with family members who say they watch them.

So why am I writing all of this? Where is the bit about perfection?

I came across a video I made in 2007 today. It is called Marty. I am embedding it below. It is less than two minutes long and it would make me happy if you watched it now.

I’ve shared it on this site before but since I had forgotten about it, I am sure you did, too. Now, this is a very short film with almost no story that I made when I knew much less about how to make short films. Yet, it is one of a handful of short films I have made. And I think it is okay. Not amazing but not terrible either.

This past year I have gone to a number of film screenings in Vermont and I’ve connected with numerous filmmakers and watched their work online. What I have taken away from these experiences is fairly simple – it is better to make something and have it be “okay” than to make nothing. Pretty standard stuff, I know. Yet, how many of us are not making things, not sharing things because we feel it isn’t good enough? How many times have you sat down to write but stared at the wall, picked up your guitar only to put it down again, or closed your NLE because you felt your project wasn’t good enough.

I’m not a self help guy and I certainly spend more time feeling like a failure than a success. But, if I have learned one thing in the past year it’s this – people are winning awards making things I would be embarrassed to share. Don’t take this as me being snobbish or looking down my nose at others. Take this for what it is – these people are getting recognition and awards for doing – while I am forgetting videos I’ve made and staring at the wall.

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

Awards Season

 

As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another awards season let us take a moment and reflect on why we, people who have nothing to do with these damn things, care? And let us also add another item to this mental exercise – acquisition formats.

In the past three months the number or articles, tweets, posts, messages and smoke signals I have seen about films like Carol, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and, yes, even Star Wars has been so staggering that even my daughter, who does not use the Internet has become familiar with several of them.

Although she has not asked me if this will be Leo’s year to finally win the Oscar I cannot help that it is not far off. She goes to school now and the things from popular culture that already filter down to a Kindergarten student are somewhat astounding. So while Star Wars has made its way to her the debate of film vs. digital has not.

Which again makes it even more apparent that many of these discussions and debates are just advertising and marketing and promotion and nothing of much value. The number of reviews and comments I have seen about The Revenant that say much of anything of value I can count on one hand. More has been said about the acquisition format of the films I have listed than about the qualities of the films or the actors or even whether people like them.

As someone who is interested not only in watching films but also in making them I find I am interested in these aspects but even still only up to a point. That The Hateful Eight is being presented in 70mm in some locations is less interesting than the “roadshow” aspect of these presentations. Which are not one and the same. Yes, it will look different but that the film will have an intermission, that there will be a printed program, that the filmmakers are making an active push to say, “This is why you should see this film in a movie theater and have a shared experience with your fellow human beings,” is much more interesting.

Yet all anyone can say is, “boy the frame is really wide!” and “he did it for interior scenes” because “it makes the blocking really noticeable!”. Which is all well and good from a technical point of view but very little is being said about whether the movie is any good. Or whether people are finding the movie-going experience to be interesting, new, rewarding, worthwhile or anything else. Very little is being said about this aspect, which is what we should all be talking about.

The same is true of The Revenant. The experience is “immersive”, the bear attack is “realistic” and shooting only with natural light is “neat-o”. But then all of the comments concerning the film itself are either snarky and flippant, to one writer being thankful to have made it through the film (which is clever because their experience seems to mirror that of the main character…dear lord) or just that most in general found the film to be difficult to watch and grueling. Because, of course, when you watch a film that is about one man’s incredible tale of survival against all odds you expect it to be light and chipper and float on by.

Because, of course, The Revenant is not trying to offer a unique filmgoing experience with anything other than the film itself. Which is not to diminish the film, the filmmakers or what they have achieved. But you cannot help and see that although these two films, which have in a way become pitted against each other (one for resurrecting not only a forgotten acquisition format and the other for being the first to make use of a cutting-edge technology) are getting attention for parts of their productions that are perhaps not the most interesting thing about them. That they were acquired under harsh conditions using these interesting technologies maybe isn’t what we should spend all of our time talking about.

The same can be said for Carol, for different reasons and even the new Star Wars. Article after article has been written and shared about the formats chosen, the reasons why and what wonderful results have been achieved. Except, of course, the results we should be focused on are the films themselves. Not excluding the lighting and the look and grain structure but absolutely not limited to these aspects either.

I am ranting now and I try not to do that with strangers so forgive me. I have been paying more attention that usual to the state of film, largely because all of us are (I believe). What I find odd is that I am not sure what is being presented (the end is nigh) reflects that actual state of things. When The Walking Dead, Carol and fifty other well known television shows and films are making use of the super 16mm format is it really dead or about to be? When Kodak announces the release of a new, hybrid super 8mm camera are we living in the end times?

I know that many filmmakers are currently being asked to weigh in on the future of film and that is why the endless articles are appearing but it would seem, and forgive me if I am wrong, that the timing of this is about two years too late. Filmmakers and studios bonded together to give Kodak a reprieve. Now, indie filmmakers who had previously embraced low budget technologies to inexpensively make their films are choosing to make their new movies shooting using actual film.

Perhaps it is healthy that this issue is near constantly mentioned. That unlike two years ago when few were speaking or reading about it and the future of this format was truly in jeopardy now people are paying attention. I do not know.

What I do know is that so much attention is being paid to how the movie was acquired or how it is viewed but so little is being said about how people like or dislike the movie.

Perhaps that is what this award season is good for, with categories for the technical achievements as well as acting, direction and things like costumes it allows us to filter and sort through these different aspects. I am not sure.

What it feels like, as does nearly everything these days, is that it is just another marketed aspect of movies. Because we don’t talk about whether Carol is a better film than the new Star Wars. We don’t compare them for so many different reasons. I used to think this made sense. Cliffhanger should not be pitted against Casino, they are different kinds of movies with different aspirations. Yet we lump Carol with Tangerine and Sicario because of their budgets or subject matters or who the filmmakers are behind the films and, obviously, that makes much more sense.

The Wonderful World of Cameras

A year and a half ago I found myself thinking “it’s time for me to take the plunge and buy a dslr.” My reasoning was that I take a thousand or so pictures each month and I’ve been attempting to shoot short films and music videos with my phone. I had the money: (I thought) it was time to commit.

I am going to share the process I went through along with numerous links and videos and write an absurdly long post on this subject. The reason being that I have not put the issue to bed. Four cameras, several lenses and numerous pieces of gear later and I am asking, daily: “should I sell X and start over or should I just make do with my iPhone and forget this nonsense.”

My hope is that by putting this out into the world I might just spare someone else the frustration of going down this path.

To begin – when I decided to buy a camera I was only considering DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and DSLM (digital single lens mirror less) cameras. Why? Because my initial searches all indicated that a person interested in DIY filmmaking should consider these. The selling points are: they are small, lightweight, shallow depth of field can easily be attained and you can use interchangeable lenses with these cameras. These are the features that stood out to me.

Price was also key. For $1,000 or less you could purchase a camera that would deliver quality video. So far, so good. Unfortunately this is where the Internet stops being helpful. You now enter a space where no two people can agree on which features are most important or, better stated, which are the ones a  filmmaker truly needs.

I, absurdly, had gone down this path before (in 2007) and it was much simpler then. Twenty-four frames per second shot progressively (not interlaced) and with a LCD display were the key features. Now, whether the camera has focus peaking, variable frame rates it can shoot at ( for either smoother, more video-like footage or to be slowed down for the effect in post production) an EVF display, high dynamic range, or does it suffer from moire and aliasing are just a handful of the debated points with these cameras.

The most baffling new issue relates to crop factors due to the CMOS sensors the cameras use. Some are considered full frame (they have a physically larger sensor and use the entirety of it in video mode) while others use a portion of the (already physically smaller) sensor and effectively crop out the unused section. This is incredibly important when making a purchase because this crop factor effects the amount of light the sensor receives (which when applied decreases the size of the aperture – increases the f stop) and increases the focal length of the lens used. This is confusing. A crop factor effects both the field of view and the f stop. If your camera, like mine, has a 2x crop factor that means your 25mm lens set to f 2.0 is in fact behaving like a 50mm lens at f 4.0.

So what does all this mean? Essentially people really like full frame cameras. The can obtain a shallow depth of field very easily. They perform better in low light situations. They also do not change the focal length – if the lens being used is 50mm it stays a 50mm.

Canon-EF-1200mm-f-5.6-L-USM-Lens-Above-City

Okay so get a full frame camera. Only, a year and a half ago, there were two available adjacent to my budget (this is untrue, the Nikon D800 was also available but since I have found only one person online who seems to shoot video with it I ruled out this option quickly) – the 5d mark iii and the 6d: both Canon cameras. Only they each camera cost more than $2,000 dollars – without lenses. So if you are anything like me and are working with no budget and have no expected income from making this purchase: start over.

People all over the Internet sing the praises of micro four-thirds cameras. These cameras almost all have a crop factor of 2x meaning you multiply the aperture and the focal length of the lens by two. Suddenly your 50mm set to 1.7 is a 100mm at 3.4. Yet the cameras are mostly cheaper, much cheaper than their full frame counterparts. They are small and here is the main point of praise: they have a micro four thirds lens mount – which allows them (with an adapter) to use virtually any lens in existence. Everyone is very excited about this feature. The reason being, if you already own seven Nikon lenses you do not have to sell those lenses if you decide to start using a m4/3 camera. You now can purchase a lens adapter and use those very expensive lenses on your new, small camera.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/video/hands-reviews/micro-four-thirds-format-filmmakers

So a year and a half ago all anyone was really talking about were the Panasonic LUMIX GH2 cameras. At that point the camera was old and outdated, Panasonic had released the next camera (GH3) in this line. What the GH2 had going for it was it was tested. Already used in many different settings by many different filmmakers this camera absolutely had a lot of things going for it. And it had many flaws. Weird work-arounds had to be employed for capturing sound and the headphone jack was an irregular size and people had to purchase adapters  in order to plug in head phones. A third party hack was required to add features that allowed filmmakers to get cinematic images from the camera.

That being said what that camera could achieve is really very impressive: Shane Carruth filmed Upstream Color using a GH2 and if you saw the film I doubt anyone would ever question if it was filmed on a “real” camera. In 2012 Zacuto held “The Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout” and one of the competitors was the GH2. If you follow the link there are lengthy explanations and videos showing how exactly they conducted their tests but the quick explanation is this – they pitted all kinds of cameras against one another in a situation designed to level the playing field between them. They then showed the finished results to audiences and had them pick their favorites, without knowing which camera was used. This resulted in a $900 camera (not to mention an iPhone) holding their own against the best cameras available.

So in an attempt at brevity (ha!) I ruled out buying this camera because 1) it was old 2) it did not simply work out of the box without hacks, add ons and enhancements 3) people wanted far too much money for an old, used camera on Ebay. I opted for the next model, the GH3 for a number of reasons.

  1. It has variable frame rates. Shooting at 60p allows you to play the footage back in “slow-motion”
  2. The camera can shoot time lapse photography in camera.
  3. No hacks are required to capture cinematic images.
  4. It has a fully articulating LCD screen

There are other things about the camera that appealed to me but these were the main factors. To not have to buy an external monitor to see what you are shooting seems like a simple request but apparently the people who make cameras are not in agreement on this matter. Slow motion is a fun tool to be able to use in music videos and narrative films. Time lapse photography is interesting and used in all kinds of filmmaking today and yet many cameras require you purchasing additional items if you wish to create them. Not having to run a hack to use the camera appeals to me greatly. The fewer modifications I have to make the better.

I had the camera for about nine months, I got to know how to use it and produce results that I was pleased with. I learned a number of valuable things.

  1. When people talk about poor low light performance you should listen.
  2. Crop factors are tricky. Some times you cannot get far enough back to get the image you want.
  3. Shallow depth of field is not that hard to obtain on a m4/3 camera.
  4. Underexposing images is strange but effective.

When people talk about poor low light performance I tend to be a bit skeptical. Largely because film is notorious for performing poorly in low light and all of us have seen plenty of films that have great, low light scenes. That being said once you start trying to use a camera like the GH3 you start to understand that what constitutes low light is a very subjective concept. For example, my living room has four lights in it, two 75 watt bulbs and two forty watt bulbs. This isn’t scientific or professional, just an observation. The room is not cavernous but it is not a broom closet either. Trying to shoot video in this room at night with all of the lights on, the aperture set to 1.8 (so really 3.6) and the iso at 1600 I can get almost nothing usable. The image has a lot of noise, very little is visible and when I take the footage into my editing software I cannot do much with it.

Dave Dugdale made a wonderful statement about crop factors in that there are times you cannot get far enough away from your subject to get what you want in frame. This could be as simple as you want to get an interviewee’s entire body in the frame and there is a wall preventing you from doing so. I have had this on many occasions, simply trying to get more than a person’s face into the frame using a 50mm (effectively 100mm) lens. This is a problem.

There are many things people like about shallow depth of field, the blurred background that allows for a separation between the subject and the background is very pleasing. The strength of m4/3 cameras is their ability to have a deep depth of field – to be able to get everything into focus easily. While I have found that to be true, shooting landscapes is easy for me, I also have found that setting my aperture at 1.8 allows me to have a fairly shallow depth of field (certainly enough that I cannot get all of a face in focus).

Slightly under exposing your image so that you can lighten it in post is weird. It is. The logic behind it is simple, video cameras do better with the dark portions of the image than with the bright. If you slightly underexpose you will protect the highlights better (you will have more detail in the bright parts) and when you brighten the image you will find that detail was hiding in the shadows. It feels wrong to not try and expose the image perfectly but it is, absolutely, an effective way to capture excellent images with these cameras.

All this is to say that after a good amount of use I found myself getting images from the camera I was happy with. Then, out of nowhere, Blackmagic Design cut the price of their Pocket Cinema Camera by $500 for one month. When I had been considering buying my GH3 this camera had cropped up several times. It sells for $1,000 normally and it is, in many respects, an excellent camera.

It does not, however, take still images. So when I was deciding on what to buy I chose not to purchase this camera based largely on it lacking this feature. At $500 (and already owning a still camera) it was too temping and I bought one.

This camera also has a m4/3 mount which meant my lenses and my lens adapters would work on both cameras. I forgot to mention my lenses, didn’t I? An account on twitter, Vintage Lenses proved to be very helpful. The user posts Ebay auctions most weeks of vintage lenses that work well for video. I followed up on one of these posts, spent $17 and bought two Minolta lenses that with a $30 adapter allowed me to start using my camera. Later I found a used lens made by Panasonic that would allow me to use the automatic functions of my camera (even though everyone will tell you never to use the autofocus or auto white balance features there are times when it is handy to do so).

But back to the pocket camera. Once it came it was time to try and learn how to shoot. It had a number of new, and according to the Internet, must have features and I was eager to see what they could do for me.

  1. It can record in either ProRes format or RAW.
  2. It captures footage in a Log profile.
  3. The color space (depth?) is 10 bit 4:2:2.

So what do these things mean? ProRes is the codec, the container, that the camera puts your footage into. Apparently ProRes is one of the better codecs that a camera can use. Since I have owned the camera Blackmagic has released several firmware updates that have expanded the varieties of the codec. This is really something because these allow you to have greater flexibility manipulating the footage in post production. RAW is another step further, where the footage is captured with the understanding that you have to manipulate it greatly to have a usable image. As such I have only attempted to do so once and found that it is not a format for me.

As for the color space, I do not pretend to know/understand all of this so I am going to directly quote someone here:

First some math: 8 bit color yields 16,777,216 possible colors. 10 bit color yields over 1 Billion possible colors. And for exponential reference, 12 bit is over 68 Billion possible colors.

All three of these items essentially add up to one thing – you can do a lot with the way your footage looks in post. Whether you are attempting to brighten or darken the image or create specific looks, the BMPCC gives you greater flexibility to do so compared to a camera like the GH3.

The downsides are plenty though. The GH3 has batteries that never seem to run out. I believe you can shoot continuously for four hours. At best you can get 40 minutes with the BMPCC. The screen does not move on the BMPCC which means if you are attempting to any kind of handheld, documentary-style shooting without an external monitor you are not going to be able to see what you are capturing a fair bit of the time.

Which is fine, that is not what this camera is for. This camera is for controlled shoots. It has settings for adjusting the aperture and focusing that are done by pushing a button. Nothing is automatic, nothing is set up for run and gun style shooting. It is a very different tool. Once I learned and accepted this most things became simple.

So I said four cameras and I have written an epic saga and covered two. Fascinating! Let me just recap quickly.

I found myself with two m4/3 cameras which were made for very different purposes. I suddenly found myself with a new and unexpected problem, which camera should I use? I am in the backyard, trying to get some footage of my daughter running around but I brought the BMPCC and now I cannot take pictures. Or I brought the GH3 and I find myself in a low light situation – and although the BMPCC is not very good in low light I can get at better image because I can manipulate the footage more in post.

Suddenly I found myself either trying to bring everything I owned with me or I was constantly wishing I just had one camera that did everything well.

About six months after I purchased the GH3 Panasonic released the GH4. I learned something valuable: there is no good time to buy a camera. They come out with new ones at breakneck speed and there is always something bigger, better and faster than what you just bought. I let it go. For one thing, the GH4 cost more and now that it was out the sell price of my GH3 on Ebay was nowhere near what I spent purchasing it.

Flash-forward to a month ago, tax returns arrive, I am continually annoyed that I cannot shoot unless there is an abundance of light and I still have this “which camera should I use” problem. B&H runs a promotion on the GH4, my will is weak and I decide to give this camera that everyone has been praising a try.

It comes and I start testing. What had I heard that made this a “must have” camera?

  1. It shoots 4k (resolution) video.
  2. It shoots 96 frames per second video that it conforms in camera to slow motion.
  3. Improved codecs.
  4. Focus peaking.
  5. Better quality video if exported out via HDMI into an external recorder.

So numerous people, Philip Bloom being the first I heard it from, stated how wonderful shooting in 4k can be. One of the biggest selling points comes from shooting the footage at 4k then downscaling it to 1080p. What this allows you to do is move the footage an reframe without any loss of quality. If you shoot an interview you can fake having two cameras with this method of shooting by having a wide shot and a close up. If you shoot hand held and use some form of stabilization in your post production workflow the cropping that comes from this technique won’t result in a loss of quality. There are numerous benefits to shooting in 4k and outputting to 1080p, especially if you shoot by yourself, which I do.

What I found was my computer was very unhappy with this workflow. My iMac is from 2011 and although it had decent specs at the time it is not equipped with a graphics card that is meant for 4k footage. Suddenly the computer was performing tasks very slowly. It also was crashing often.

People praise the GH4 for conforming the 96 frame per second footage in camera. What this means is when you play the footage back it has already been converted to 24 fps and is playing at 1/4 speed. What no one mentions is that this method makes it impossible to record audio in this mode. Why is this a problem? If you ever watch any snowboarding or surfing videos (or music videos for that matter) one of my favorite editing tricks they employ is having the footage play at a normal speed and then at a key moment going into slow motion. If you only are shooting with one camera the method of doing this is shooting at a high frame rate (96 fps say) but having it play back at a normal speed until that critical moment. Much like downsampling the 4k footage this is very easy to do in post production. Unlike downsampling this does not tax your computer terribly.

So what I found was while this is a fun feature to use, suddenly my footage was devoid of sound (plus I have to stop shooting and change the settings to use the feature). If I were shooting footage where I did not care about sound this would be fine but for most situations I would want to retain the sound.

The GH4 has improved codecs and new picture profiles. All of this means that you can capture video with more information that should be easier to manipulate in post. I have found this to be true and the footage certainly can be made more cinematic than the GH3 but it is still nowhere near as flexible as the BMPCC. Which is disappointing because the camera costs $500 more than the BMPCC.

The same is true for focus peaking. This is a feature I was very excited for and once it came to the BMPCC I found I was shooting with greater confidence. The screens on these cameras are small and not always easy to see under the best conditions. The focus peaking on the GH4 seems to work differently than the BMPCC and I have found it is not as easy to use. Considering that these cameras are known for their ease of achieving a deep depth of field with the GH4 I have been surprised at how hard it is to know that my image is in focus. Part of the reason for this is that the camera is no better than the GH3 in low light, which means you are shooting at apertures like 3.5 when you do not wish to be.

This problem feeds directly into external monitors, something I have no experience with – I do not have the budget for them. Aside from the cost of these monitors you have to figure out where you are going to put them, which often require buying a cage for your camera to attach the monitor to. At the most recent N.A.B. two companies announced iPhone-sized external monitors but even the cheaper of the two, the Blackmagic Video Assist, will sell for $500. Even with something this small you leave the realm of easy, handheld shooting and need either a rig or a tripod, which can be problematic.

All of this led to me to decide that the GH4 is not worth the cost of upgrading. Yes it is a better camera than the GH3. B&H offered to buy the GH3 for $375 and is selling the GH4 for $1,500. For me, with my limited budget this just did not make a lot of sense. If I did not already own the BMPCC? Maybe. I found that what I can do without the GH4 is almost exactly the same as with it (splitting the work between the GH3 and BMPCC) and I don’t need to spend any money to get a similar result. So I am back to the two cameras one person dilemma.

On to camera number four. The Sony A7S. If you somehow have not heard of this camera I am amazed (if you are still reading this I am equally amazed and I love you). More disruptive than the GH4 and constantly compared to it, this offering from Sony sells for $2,600. Why am I considering it:

  1. This is a full frame camera. No crop factor is applied to anything.
  2. It can shoot at unheard of ISO levels with usable results.
  3. It can shoot at 120 fps (but only at 720p resolution).
  4. It has an APS-C crop mode.

The camera has other exciting features like focus peaking and an amazing viewfinder but I want to try and focus on these points. Full frame is neat, it really is. I had not had the opportunity to shoot with it prior to this camera and it is quite nice. People refer to the full frame look and after a limited amount of time with the camera I cannot say that I see this look, for sure. There is something different, especially with photographs but what it is I am not exactly sure.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 1.43.58 PM

Point number four ties into this one- the APS-C crop factor. This may seem counter-intuitive, why would you want a crop factor? This camera offers two shooting modes with no penalties. What this means is you can have all the benefits of full frame shooting or with the push of a button you can have a 1.5 crop factor that allows you to use the same lens but with a different field of view. Why is this good? Today I was testing the camera in my backyard. My daughter was quite far away and even though I was shooting with a 50mm lens I wanted to get closer to her. I was on a tripod and I did not want to move it, so with the push of a button I now have a 75mm lens. I found this to be quite handy.

If you know about this camera you know about its ability to show in very low light. This is absolutely a see-it-to-believe-it kind of thing and there are many, many videos online that do just that.

For myself I have already noticed how handy this feature is, in mundane settings. In my living room at night I cannot really shoot with my m4/3 cameras and get decent results. With the A7S I can not only get great results but I don’t have to go anywhere near the noisy edge of its ISO capabilities. What does this mean? Well for me it means quite a lot. I own only a couple of lights and they are not very good. I bought them for doing a basic interview set up. Which means 90% of the time I am shooting with available light. With this camera I see myself being able to get usable, decent results in all kinds of conditions. And I will be able to control what is in focus with greater ease because I will not be tied to any particular f stop. Whereas before I found myself not even taking out my camera, despite the fact that I was standing under a street light, or looking at a city street, simply because the camera could not find enough light to produce a usable image.

Soon…

Unlike the GH4 the A7S does not conform its high frame rate footage in camera. So while I dislike that the resolution drops to 720p I do like that it captures audio. Since nearly everything I make is posted to the web this is not much of an issue for me. I can either make the entire project 720p or I can upscale the slow motion footage to 1080p and use it in my timeline. The footage from the GH4 was also lesser quality at these higher frame rates (in its own way) so while I wish all of the options were great I will take what I can get. With the A7S I can still have the sound and choose when I want to make things very slow.

So the conclusion: I really do not know. Isn’t that awful? Today is really the first day that I have gotten to play around with the A7S and once I started comparing the footage it captures against the BMPCC I was disappointed. Mind you the best mode for capturing footage is S-LOG which has a minimum ISO of 3,200 – which means a whole lot of neutral density filters (which I do not have) or you shoot in another mode. I have some filters but nothing strong enough to make that high of an ISO usable. I am also guessing that without filters that deal with infrared you get IR pollution and things look terrible.

https://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2014/02/tiffen-vari-irnd/

That being said this camera has many more controls and options over the image than I am used to with the GH3 and the BMPCC. If I do decide to keep it I will most likely purchase an in-depth guide like this one to make sure I am getting the most out of the camera. A video shared by B&H of Philip Bloom explaining his settings for the camera has served as a useful starting point for me and given me some confidence that I am not doing everything completely wrong.

I am learning as I go and sadly this is a very expensive hobby. If you are smart you are already working with your camera and adding bits and pieces as you go. I am not so smart. My hope with this post is to share what I have learned and try and offer a way to bypass a number of the mistakes I have made.

I am in the position now of keeping the A7S mostly for the low light capabilities but still relying on the BMPCC for the more controlled shots or returning the A7S and getting my GH3 back. If the GH3 can be intercut with the BMPCC I know the A7S can, the question is it worth all of the extra money. If I were to spend half of what I spent on the A7S I could buy a number of accessories that would make my shooting life easier (slider, skate dolly, external monitor). Mind you if none of those are lights I am going to find myself unable to shoot in all sorts of situations again.

Question of the Week #8

Question:

How do you use social media as a writer? It strikes me that those are not easy waters to navigate.

Answer:

I could not agree more. Everything that I do that is related to video is infinitely easier to adapt to social media. Why? Because you are either giving it away for free to begin with, or you can pare it down and make a teaser version of a video to share and that is generally accepted. It is difficult to share writing online without giving it away and I find writing to consume a great deal more time and energy than video-related projects. A short story takes me months to write and at the end of that the thought of just putting online is somewhat depressing. It also means I will never make money from that particular story, which would be a pretty nice thing to have happen.

That being said social media is supposed to be about interacting and sharing not just promoting your own work. So I have been earnestly attempting to do just this for a few years now. The results are lackluster. I find it difficult to engage most people online. One of my posts on this site recently had a comment that seemed like an excellent opportunity to engage someone in a debate. Only the comment was, like most of online comments, slightly off. I chose, perhaps wrongly, to not respond because I did not want to have to include a section that read, “If you refer back to what I originally wrote I addressed the point you made…” because 1) this comes off poorly and 2) it makes me sad. If you are going to bother to try and critique something someone has shared at least take a moment and read all of what they wrote. Then reread what you are writing to them and make sure you understand what you are saying. Or don’t, but then expect to get what you get in return.

This response has turned bitter, forgive me. Returning to the question, I have attempted to follow a number of writers on different social media platforms and what I have found is that none of them share much that interests me. Either they are simply promoting their work (and if I follow them on social media I usually know when their new works are published) or they post things that are personal/silly/political and not of interest to me. What should they be posting though? I feel that this is the problem with social media, what should any of us be posting? A link to the article that everyone else is posting? Photographs of us when we were six with some playful comment? Deeply held opinions that then taint our future works for the reader/viewer? For me this is the conundrum. I am unknown online and therefore I cannot imagine anyone is terribly interested in what I have to say.  Without one of my works being seen by many I am not sure how or why this would change.

Yet I keep plugging along with social media and now more with this site, in the hope that if I keep sharing and trying to put original works out into that endless data stream, that little by little this will change. So my current thought, and answer to this question is: I try and use this site to share writings that are not as labor intensive and to interact with others. My hope is that if some shorter piece I share here is of interest to someone that they may wish to read something else I have written. Or they may wish to share something with me. It is vague still as I think many of the goals of social media are but it is what I have.

Question of the Week #7

Question:

You are a writer and a filmmaker, so what’s up with writing about music once a week? Wouldn’t writing about writing or film on a weekly basis make more sense?

Answer:

It absolutely would. The not so clever answer as to why I am doing what I am doing is that I don’t pretend to have any knowledge or expertise regarding music. I listen to it, I like what I like and my goal with Music Mondays is to try and share this with other people.

Since I don’t have anything professionally invested in music I find it is easier and more freeing to try and write about the subject. If I were to try and offer up a book each week or even a film there would be pressure (applied only by me) to have each post really say something. To try and offer some deep analysis, or to dig up obscure works and try and offer something new about them.

It saddens me, but I have gone this route before, even with the See it Again section I have on this site. I have numerous drafts of films that I want to share but when I sit and try and write why I think you should give them another chance, unless I have some big, impressive point to make, it feels like I am failing.

Not so with music. I am not sure I said anything that pretends to be insight this week but that does not trouble me. As I have stated I listen to music and I enjoy it, that is where my relationship with music ends. I actively try and create stories and because of this I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the processes – even attempting to study how other people create, and this takes the fun out of trying to write something like a blog post about books or movies.

I plan to work on this though because I love to talk about both so the next logical step would be to try and write about them. As with everything I simply need to change my way of thinking about this matter and then everything will fall into place. This weekly thing might be a bit much though. We shall see.

Question of the Week #6

Question:

Are you planning on watching the Oscars? If so, what do you like about them? If not, why not?

Answer:

I see how it is, a question within a question! I did not watch the Oscars. The why is because I don’t find them interesting. I don’t find them fair or honest in their purpose. I don’t feel that they have defined their categories well enough to begin to make educated decisions.

If I were in the industry, making films and working with the people who receive the awards I might find it interesting or worthwhile to pay attention to the Oscars but since I am not the importance of who-wins-what escapes me. So Birdman won best picture (and other categories, I know). Does this increase my interest in seeing the film? Not really. I was pretty keen to watch it prior to the all of the accolades it has amassed yet I did not buy the film tonight, I am still waiting to rent it. Conversely, I have no interest in watching The Theory of Everything despite Eddie Redmayne winning best actor.

The main problem I have with awards like the Oscars is that there is little to no objectivity. Humphrey Bogart felt that it was impossible to compare actors unless they were performing the same role and I suppose I do as well. Did Michael Keaton not carry Birdman, winner of every major award? Was his performance in some way subpar? What did he not do that Eddie Redmayne did? Was it that The Theory of Everything was subpar on other levels which allowed Mr. Redmayne’s performance to shine that much brighter? It is impossible to say and is, quite frankly, arbitrary. Which is why I feel that the choosing of who-gets-what is dishonest. It is not about best because as it is there is no clear or obvious way to determine what “best” is. Which is part of the reason that some years you have all sorts of small films that are more “independent” that sweep the Oscars and other years where it seems exclusive to big budget blockbusters.

The Oscars suffer from being the pinnacle of awards for filmmaking. They cannot take the risks that other, lesser, awards can take. The Golden Globes can not only take greater risks but they also have created more categories and separated drama and comedy so that two entirely different kinds of filmmaking can be judged according to their means and abilities. Which of course is one of the major problems with having all different kinds of films compete with one another. If film A wants to make you laugh, film B make you cry, film C make you terrified and film D wants to entertain you with action and witty comments how do you sift through and decide which is “the best”.

So this is my long-winded and still incomplete answer to the question. Some of the awards are just terribly vague. Best Director. What does that mean? Do any two directors direct the same way? If you have seen any behind the scenes footage of directors at work, or listened to commentaries for films where actors and directors discuss what they did, you have noticed that there are infinite ways that directors direct. Are they involved in everything, right down to the smallest minutiae of every department? Do they delegate to their second in commands and then sit back and wait? Do they care only for the actors and let everything else sort itself out? Do they have their fingers in everything but take credit only for directing? Do they do several, key jobs on each production and always take credit?

I ask these questions thinking of specific directors and then I ask my own question – how closely tied is best director to best picture? What else could you be basing the award on? Gossip? It must be the film, which is why so often the picture that wins also has the director that wins. So in the cases when that isn’t true, what happened? What insight was gleaned that allowed you to know that Ben Affleck really wasn’t as good of a director even though you thought his film was the best?

I am stopping now because for so many categories this is where my brain invariable goes, down this terrible logic spiral that is without end or counter-arguments. People like watching the show, commenting on the clothing and cheering for the winners. I guess that is good. It all feels a bit arbitrary to me and I am not interested in clothes.