Brass Tacks: A Shot in The Arm

In our effort to continually improve and evolve this blog as a resource for filmmakers and creative artists, today we are launching a new series that goes beyond gear and camera specs. Welcome to Brass Tacks. We will devote this series to all aspects of filmmaking fundamentals. Today’s post will not only discuss shots from various movies but hopefully give you a “shot in the arm,” hence the post title.

There is so much that goes into crafting a shot: composition, lighting, space, lens choice, set design, color and so much more. It’d be impossible to cover it all in one blog post. Departing from my normal self-indulgent ramblings on inspiration and pseudo-intellectual dissections of the world-at-large, this post will feature shots from various movies. This is not an in-depth tutorial but will hopefully spark a discussion and get you to analyze some of the shots below. Let’s get into it shall we.

Rules Were Made to Be Broken

This shot from The Departed is a bit of a contradiction. It follows the rule of thirds but glaringly lacks the proper lead room in front of Jack Nicholson’s face. In order for this to follow the rule he’d have to  face the opposite way with the negative space in front of him like this shot below from Minority Report.

You will also notice a huge difference in the lighting of these two shots. In the shot from The Departed it has been lit in a way that doesn’t allow us to really see the subjects face. None of this happens by accident. The fact that he doesn’t have the proper lead room creates a jarring effect. Your brain knows something isn’t right. You have been manipulated into subconsciously feeling uneasy. This may be an oversimplification but the fact he is silhouetted is your cue that this is a “shadowy” figure.

The Eyes Never Lie
In this first shot from Fight Club, Ed Norton is ever so slightly off-center, head cocked and staring past the camera. This one frame alone tells an entire story.This character does not want to be here. His distant gaze tells us he’s somewhere else in his mind. The blueish green tint in the shadows and mid tones not only complements his skin tones but also impacts us emotionally.

Now, this shot of Brad Pitt although clearly much tighter employs a similar angle to the shot above. However, the biggest difference in this case is that Brad Pitt is slightly more centered and staring directly into camera. This has produced a very confrontational feeling. This character is very much engaged in the here and now and connects directly with the audience.

Take a look at this shot below and think about how it makes you feel. Again, one single frame telling an entire story.

The scene is lit in a way that looks completely natural even though nothing could be further from the truth. One thing often overlooked in lighting is that it’s as much about what isn’t lit. In this case the character is wearing sunglasses. This hides the eyes and coupled with the lighting, tilted hat and dark clothing adds a sense of mystery. Not being able to see her eyes because of the sunglasses creates the same effect poker players use them for. You can’t see her eyes and therefore can’t get a “read” on her. Who is this woman? What is she thinking?

Below are three more shots. Look at the eyes in relation to the framing. Why were these shots composed this way in correlation to where the eyes are looking?

The Impact of Color
Same shot. Two totally different feels. This is an extreme example to illustrate a point.

Let’s take a look at a shot of Matt Damon that I have colored differently using Magic Bullet Looks just to show the insane difference you can create in a shot just by quickly tweaking the color and contrast.
The Original


Parting Shots
I hope to continue doing posts like this regularly. This barely scratched the surface but hopefully at least it forced you to get back to brass tacks.Here are a few random shots I found interesting for a variety of reasons. Love to hear what you think about them in the comments below.

The New Breed of Photographer: Joey L.

As we’ve gotten to spend more and more time in New York, Jon and I have gotten to meet a lot of talented artists and made a lot of great new friends. Joey L. is both of those. Over the last two months we’ve been able to work on set with him and are always amazed by both his contagious energy and the incredible images he creates. His clients include Coca-Cola, National Geographic, JWT, Doner, McGarry Bowen, Upshot, Cimarron Group, Verizon, Nickelodeon, History channel, FX Channel, Smirnoff, Pennzoil, Kawasaki, Summit Entertainment, Forbes, Services for the Underserved, and The Government of Abu Dhabi. What’s even more impressive is that  Joey started his career at 18 and has continued to push the envelope. In addition to his extensive photography portfolio, Joey has also made his debut as a co-director on a recent film entitled “The Perfectionist” which is shown below.
What we love most about Joey is how down to earth he is with having achieved as much success as he has. He has had an incredible journey, between the images he’s captured in Ethiopia and his various commissions for the entertainment industry, he has set himself apart as not only a leader but as an educator.

I am incredibly excited to have Joey L. on a special edition of the Masters In Motion podcast with Karen Abad & I this Saturday, August 25th at 5pm eastern. Make sure to join us for some live q+a right here.

Coca-Cola, “The Perfectionist” from Variable on Vimeo.

For more information on Joey L. or to check out his full portfolio, visit his site.

Revolutionizing Everything

Unreal. Our mind has officially been blown. This is one of those times when you finish watching a short film and immediately start it over again just to make sure your eyes didn’t deceive you and to soak in the glorious visual display that has been laid out for you, one more time. When we approached Khalid Mohtaseb, Tyler Ginter, and Jonathan Bregel about speaking at our Masters in Motion event in Austin we were already good friends with them and respected the hell out of them for how talented they are. In order to be great you need to surround yourself with passionate, driven, extraordinary people.

Well, look no further, the team at Variable are those people.

Their latest work “Holi” is a testament to their fearless approach to their craft. Their keen eye for lighting and composition are supremely evident. Their ability to draw in the viewer is on display for a minute and 47 seconds that you wish would never end. In that short amount of time we were projected into a world we knew little of but now are fascinated by. The ability to move the viewer on an emotional level is the goal for all of us, or at least it should be. In this case Variable not only knocked it out of the park, they grabbed a hot dog on the way to the parking lot, retrieved the ball, autographed it, put it in a display case and hand-delivered it to a deserving fan.

We tip our proverbial caps to you and can’t wait to see what you have in store next. We are positive it will be nothing less then amazing.

Enjoy this film and stay thirsty my friends!

Cristina + Jon


Reel World: 64 Bit Films shoots “Monitor” on the Canon 60D

64 Bit Films is a small production company founded by student filmmakers Jared Rosenthal, Luca Repola, Cosmo Scharf and Kai Demler. Cristina and I had a chance to meet Jared and Cosmo, at a Philip Bloom DSLR meet-up in Brooklyn, a year or two ago. We were instantly impressed by how passionate they were about filmmaking. I could tell after talking to Jared, for awhile, that 64 Bit Films was going places. Here is the trailer to their latest work a short film titled “Monitor”.

Monitor | Official Trailer from 64BitFilms on Vimeo.

I was so impressed with the quality of this trailer, I needed to know more. I caught up with the Director, Jared Rosenthal, via email and asked him some questions.

How long have you been interested in filmmaking?

When I was a little kid I had a fascination with animated movies. I started working with stop motion animation, and then jumped into live-action filmmaking with a DV camera when I was 12. I’m 17 now, and in my senior year of high school, but I’ve never really had a doubt in my mind about what I want to do as a career. For me, it’s always been film. I spent six weeks in 2009 and again in 2010 with a summer film conservatory, where I had a few incredible instructors who really taught me the ins and outs of filmmaking. Between those two years I also met two of my three partners in our production company, 64 Bit Films.

What was your role in this film?

I directed, co-wrote and edited Monitor, but the entire thing was really a collaborative effort. When it’s four teenagers all pouring their time and money into a project like this, everyone’s opinion needs to be heard. When we were on set we were careful not to step on each others’ toes, but in pre and post production we would debate plot points and review the rough cut as a group. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Luca Repola, our cinematographer, knew the script just as well as anyone else on set, and that was invaluable. I could leave the room for 10 minutes and have a long discussion with an actor, and trust him to move onto the next setup and create something not only aesthetically appealing — but something that served the story as well. The same held true for our co-writer and assistant director, Cosmo Scharf, and our producer, Kai Demler. It was incredibly comforting to know I could focus my attention on blocking the next scene while they grabbed great coverage from the next room.

Where did you come up with the idea for this?

My aunt had thrown around the idea for a book or something similar that involved a woman hearing a murder over a baby monitor. And the main character would hear some sort of motif that would eventually lead her back to the real murderer. That was about all there was to the story. We were bouncing ideas around for the “next big project” and I called up my aunt. I asked her if she would mind if we ran with the story, and she seemed to have no problem with it.

Who wrote the script?

I had pitched the idea to the original team in 2009. They liked the idea, so I wrote up a two-page treatment. Between the summer of 2009 all the way up to early 2011 I did a bunch of different versions of the script. Each one was a different length. At that point, we had no idea what we could afford or handle shooting, so we were toying with length and plot structure to try and gauge what worked. We knew we wanted to shoot in the summer of 2011, so we were moving full-steam ahead on the production and the elements that we knew we would need.

The characters remained pretty much the same throughout the entire process, so we cast our lead (Anne DeAcetis) really early on in the process and started locking down locations and the like. But then our 2011 shooting deadline kept coming at us faster and faster, and we still didn’t have a script that really worked. I contacted Cosmo, one of our friends from the film conservatory, and sent him the script. He’s got a fantastic creative mind, but what he does better than anything else is he can look at a piece of work for the first time and immediately identify where the problems are. With about two months remaining until the shoot, I went to his house every day for about a week and we tossed around a whiffle ball and talked through the major plot points in the script and re-wrote the entire thing from scratch. So the final thing that’s on the screen was really a collaborative effort.

What challenges did you face when making this film?

The biggest challenges we faced were probably due to our age. It’s really hard to gain peoples’ confidence when you have a fairly limited body of work and you’re 17 years old. Our biggest concern was funding the project. We wanted to pay for it as much as possible out of pocket, but the limited freelance work we were able to pick up could only earn us so much. Ultimately, we had to find donors to help back the film, and we had to figure out ways to trim the budget. We knew we absolutely needed to have professional actors in the film, and we were blessed with the cast we got. They were incredibly talented and generous. Most of them worked for free. We paid the leads, but not nearly enough for the time they put in and the risk they took by signing onto a short film made by teenagers. We had a lot of concerns about the casting process. We weren’t sure what adult actors were going to do when they walked into an audition held by kids, but to our surprise no one really had anything to say about it. We were incredibly grateful for that. The other big challenge had to do with securing gear. We spent the better part of two years hunting down film equipment companies (like Kessler Crane and Red Giant, and a handful of others) to sponsor the film, and their generosity was overwhelming. We ended up shooting a film for under $4,000 with equipment we never could have afforded otherwise. We save additional money by shooting on DSLRs (we used two Canon 60Ds), which really allowed us to maintain our shoestring budget. We toyed with the idea of renting lenses, but didn’t really have the time or budget to do screen tests with them or keep them for a week, so we used a Sigma that we already owned and really loved and the Canon “nifty/thrifty” 50mm f1.8. For a dirt cheap lens, the 50mm performed admirably, especially when working on night scenes.

I’m a gear nerd. Did you have anything else in the arsenal ?

We used Kessler Crane’s KC-Lite as the “big gun” in our arsenal. It performed beautifully. It was incredibly lightweight, and by the end of the six-day shoot we could set it up and properly counterweight it in less than 90 seconds. The biggest urge with using the jib was to always do some kind of crazy, dynamic move with it — which it always did beautifully — but having the camera swoop around a room isn’t always what’s right for a scene. So I guess we figured we’d use the jib a few times for those epic trailer-type shots (there are a few of those in the actual trailer), but we ended up using it way more than we expected. We were able to get a whole ton of coverage out of the Lite. We’d put a wide-angle lens on it and position the jib where you could never really get a camera, and let it roll. So it ended up serving a much larger purpose than we initially expected.

What makes you want to make films?

I think there’s something magical about sitting down in a movie theater and watching the lights dim and escaping to a completely different universe for about two hours. If a story’s engaging enough, you can completely lose yourself — and that’s what I strive for. If I can glance over at someone viewing a film (whether it’s mine or someone else’s) and they’re completely slack-jawed and staring at the screen, I think that’s great. My mom consistently screams at certain points in Monitor even though she’s already seen it about 20 times. If I can get my mom to audibly react, then I know what I’ve made is good.

When can we expect the final film to be done?

We just completed the film this week and sent it off to the Tribeca Film Festival to be considered for the student film division. If it’s accepted, then we’ll have the honor of premiering it at Tribeca. If not, we’ll shop it around to other festivals as much as possible and maybe put it online. And we’ll probably do DVD sales at a later date.

For more info on Jared and the team check out 64 Bit Films.

Reel World: Table 7 – Short Film

Table 7 – short film from Marko Slavnic on Vimeo.

Thanks to @mariofeil for directing my attention to this short film shot on the Red One. I enjoyed the lighting, composition, camera movement and sound design on this. The story was simple but effective with a nice funny twist. I think the attention to the small details here added up to a very excellent finished product.

This was Written and Directed by Marko Slavnic.

Photo Credit: Screen Grab from Table 7- Short Film

Music Video Shot on the Panasonic AF-101 by Philip Bloom

So we made it back home from London… It was a great trip for quite a few reasons but one of the highlights was getting to work with Philip Bloom on what turned out to be a great music video shoot for Turin Brakes

Ever since the announcement of the Panasonic AF-101 I’ve been adamant about it not being worth it… Before you chew my head off let me just explain.

Prior to using Canon’s line of DSLRs, the only video cameras I had owned were the Canon XL2 and the XHA1. This may already clearly explain to you why I instantly fell in love with my 5d 🙂 Of course we’ve all wanted the DSLR technology in a traditional video camera with basic things like xlr inputs and a reasonable time limit but will that happen and if so, when? Regardless of where that is headed, Panasonic was able to come out with a remarkable video camera at quite a reasonable price. Yes, I was extremely impressed with the funtionality and results of the AF-101 from the music video shoot. Check it out… Philip did a great job and read more about the shoot on Philip’s blog.

Make sure to check out some of the photos I took in London with Philip’s AMAZING Leica M9:

HDR Timelapse with Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly

We finally got to meet Jimmy Moreland at the #NYCDSLR meet-up at Lucky Strike in Manhattan after day one of the Photo Plus Expo. We had been friends with him via twitter for quite a long time so it is always very cool to be able to put a face to the name. (The tiny avatar pics from twitter don’t count.) Anyway I was extremely impressed by the HDR phtography work Jimmy had done. I was even more intrigued when he told me he was going to try to do it for a timelapse. Here is the result of the first test. Pretty impressive. Now my only question is how he handled this in post. Thoughts?
NOTE: Halfway through this video Jimmy accidentally bumped into the tripod. So that jerky move is a human error not defective equipment.

After I posted this I was alerted by Nino Leitner of the works of Patryk Kizny who I have been following for some time on Twitter but somehow I missed his HDR Timelapse work which is phenomenal.
I have posted an example of it below. Also follow him on Twitter @pacocreative and check ou his website