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Author Archive | Kevin O'Brien

The Tools of “With You (I Feel Again)”

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In my last post, I wrote about some of the challenges that presented themselves in the development and production of “With You.” One of the coolest parts of working on this project (besides using a OneRepublic song) was being able to rent two cool pieces of equipment:

1. The Canon C100
2. The Defy G5 (3 axis gimbal)

C100THE CANON C100
I was first introduced to the C100 at Alex Buono’s (DP of SNL’s Film Crew) “The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour” last summer and immediately fell in love with it. However, it was certainly out of my price range.

Since I started Journey Box Media, I committed to keep the company debt free, not get caught up in ‘Gear Envy’, and rely on the quality of the stories over the camera and equipment I used. So from the beginning I have shot every project on the Canon T3i that my church let me use. Yes, it’s true, Journey Box Media doesn’t own a camera.

But for this project, I decided to rent the C100 for a practical reason: lighting. DSLRs are famous for low-light shooting, but I wanted to use natural light coming in from the windows of our location. With the room being so large, and after a few test shots, I knew my trusted T3i wouldn’t cut it. Once I get above 1600 ISO, the picture becomes grainy. The C100, however, allows up to 20,000 ISO with a clean picture (and Canon just introduced a firmware update allowing up to 80,000 ISO).

The C100 is the newest and most inexpensive camera in Canon’s cinema line with some amazing features, including built in ND Filters, dual XLR inputs, and C-LOG (an ultra flat image setting that allows for much more control in color grading).

Built in ND Filters
When shooting outside or anywhere with bright light, you need an ND filter to lower the intensity of light so you don’t overexpose. This allows more flexibility for shallow depth of field while keeping the shutter speed the same.

Built in XLR Inputs
No more secondary audio recording! While, at times, off-camera audio may be the best way to go, nothing beats the convenience of being able to record your audio (with great quality) right on your video media – especially on a ‘run-and-gun’ style project. This cuts down post time incredibly, and provides a much more streamlined workflow.

The camera allows for individual level control, with meters and a headphone jack for monitoring. That’s something I can’t get with the T3i.

C-LOG
In the T3i, I record the visuals with a very flat setting. This allows for the most versatility in color grading. The C-LOG takes it to a new level, almost matching the RAW capture you can get in RED cameras. Though there is not nearly as much information captured as in those cameras, I found more flexibility than I needed in color correction. Even if you just throw on a preset color style from Magic Bullet or Looks, you can get a great looking grade to your image.

I loved the camera and it will definitely be my next purchase. The C100 is currently $4,999 on B&H.

G5THE DEFY G5
Many of you may heard of the Movi (the first well-known motorized 3-axis gimbal). It’s basically a steadycam on steroids.

The Defy G5 is a lower-priced version of the same concept. It allows for great movement by the camera operator while keeping the camera level and smooth.

While the possibilities are amazing with this tool, the important thing to remember is that it’s a tool. One of many we use in visual storytelling. It can be very easy to get caught up on the moving camera trend, but that will actually diminish it’s effect. Camera movement is a lot like bolding text. If everything is bold, nothing is.

So the key is to be selective and intentional with the camera movements.

In “With You” I wanted to have camera movement for the opening shot, to establish our teen as a loner. He has purposefully shut everyone else out.

Once he walks through the doors to his “prison”, the camera movements become static, as if there is no where to go.

Then, towards the end, once his mom sees his interaction, dancing and laughing with new friends, the camera starts moving again. There is now life within, as well as movement and joy.

I also had the shot in mind about our friend Eddie (older gentleman) taking the framed picture to his wife. I wanted to follow the frame to allow us time to see the image and see the dancing continuing behind him, as he is taking the joy with him to his wife suffering from Alzheimers.

This shot did not come off perfectly, as my arms got tired. It was the last shot we got with the movements. I learned quickly that many workouts were needed to strengthen my arms.

While the movement did take some getting used to, I was able to get comfortable with it within a day. The most challenging part of the G5 was balancing. It look me about 45 minutes to balance my first time, but after several tries I was able to balance it within 10 minutes.

I took the G5 with me on a trip and got some test footage with it.

The Defy G5 can be purchased for $3,800 on Defy’s website.

In the end, I decided the G5 was not the tool for me to invest money in right now. I would not be used in every project, and at $4,000 I’d much rather get a camera I’ll use on every project.

With new technology being released practically every week, it can be so easy to get caught up in the gear game. Let’s stay committed to telling better stories, regardless of what tools we have. Use what you have to the best of your ability, and spend the time in story development to create the best story you can. That’s our responsibility as storytellers.

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The Challenges of “With You (I Feel Again)”

WIth You BTS1 CMBFrom the moment I heard the song “Feel Again” by OneRepublic, I wanted to create a film with it. The song demands smiles and movement, and I wanted to bring that visually to life.

What I didn’t expect was that it would take 6 months to complete the project.

Licensing
The first and most obvious challenge was attaining the rights to the song. A project like this requires both the sync rights (by the song owners allowing us to put images to the song), and the master rights (by the record label that released that specific album).

After some research on BMI.com, I was able to track down the appropriate agencies for both. This took several weeks, going back and forth between large record label companies, waiting a week for an email that reads “We do not handle this song anymore. Try this person at this company.”

I almost gave up at this stage, but thankfully I kept trying, and eventually found the right combination of people.

Story
The development of story was a tricky process. I had to have some sort of story overview when requesting the Sync and Master rights, but I didn’t want to put in a ton of development time just to be told “we don’t do licensing for that kind of project” (which I’ve been told before by The Civil Wars and The Lumineers).

So after tossing around a few ideas, I settled on the idea that it would involve a “lifeless senior center brought to life by interaction.” This provided enough of the story to complete the applications, but left us a lot of room to figure out the details.

Once the licensing looked promising (I had to pinch myself), I was able to spend serious time working through the story of the project. For this process, I enlisted a few trusted friends and film students. I wanted to allow the story to develop, and out of this several-weeks-long process came the story of a ‘numb’ teenager who has to sit at the senior center his mom works at every day after school.

Location
Location scouting is never easy, especially when you need a full facility and as many extras as you can get. We planned a day of visiting retirement homes, noting the size, layout, and residents. Our first searches were for assisted living facilities (older residents), but quickly realized those gentle folks would not be able to get up out of their wheelchairs to dance (which the story required).

We decided to go with a 55+ Golfing community. We live in Florida so there are plenty to choose from. Amazingly, we had a connection with the manager of one place, but on first visit we were afraid the room was too big. Really, I was scared that either we couldn’t get enough people to help out, or that if we got enough, I wouldn’t know how to ‘handle’ that many extras.

Big Room Directing

Extras
We put out the word, visited one of their weekly bingo nights, and hoped we would get 30 people to show up. We had 55 actually show up! We were blown away.

The shoot took 4 hours, and for the first 2 hours the seniors enjoyed a free lunch and bingo games. Then it was time for the dancing! I didn’t realize until afterwards that I accidentally forced these great people to dance for 20 minutes straight, and they were very tired. Some of them tried to escape at one point, and we had to reassure them that we were almost finished.

Big Room

One of my favorite moments of the project was the Viewing Party we threw at the senior center. We provided cupcakes and punch, set up a big screen, and enjoyed the film together. They loved it, and demanded a second showing. It was great to be with them as they watched themselves, laughing at each other and enjoying the moment.

Takeaway
I don’t know if “With You (I Feel Again)” will be a hit or not. What I do know is that it speaks a message that is close to my heart: all we are asked to do is to love the unloved. They are all around us, isolated, lonely, and shut off from life. If you see an opportunity, take it. Show interest. Love as Christ has loved us. And in doing so, even the most lifeless can feel again.

In my next post, I’ll write about my experience with two new pieces of equipment I used for shooting “With You”: The Canon C100 and the Defy G5.

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How Do We Tell the Same Story in a Fresh Way?

In December 2012 I came across a blog post by Lisa-Jo Baker (lisajobaker.com). Lisa-Jo blogs about being a mother, with all the highs and lows involved. As soon as I read this post I wanted to base our next Mother’s Day video on it. I saw in her writing what I try to put in my films: raw, authentic emotion. Over the following months I contacted Lisa-Jo, got permission, and created Mighty.

Mighty was rather popular last year for many of the same reasons I was moved by the writing: it was real, raw, and respectful. We chose to surround the moment of decision for a mom: when the door is slammed in her face, and she feels less than mighty.

One of the most dreaded moments for me last year was when I sent Lisa-Jo the link to the video. I was so nervous about her response to how I interpreted her words.

Thankfully, she LOVED it.

It turns out that she had just finished writing her first book and loved Mighty so much that she asked me to create the book trailer for Surprised by Motherhood. I certainly loved working with her words and the result of that collaboration is Here’s to the Mothers.

The most challenging part of making Here’s to the Mothers was finding a way to keep what Lisa-Jo loved about Mighty while giving it a new voice.

Over many skype chats we revealed what we wanted to be similar between the two projects: the “realness” of the scenes and moms, the celebration of who a mom is.

As we dissected, cut down, exploded, and reworked the script, we slowly came to feel the difference. While Mighty was an exploration of a single moment, Here’s the the Mothers was much more a celebration of every “ordinary” moment a mother has. A call for moms to realize that every small moment counts. The mundane is directly connected to the eternal.

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This is the same challenge most church creative teams and pastors face on a weekly basis: how do we tell the same story in a fresh way?

Nevermind Christmas and Easter. Most of the time, if we boil it down, the story we are telling each week is that humanity is wounded and God can heal us. We are lost and he can find us.

So the challenge is to listen for the tone of the week. What do you hear? Do you hear a soft invitation? A heartfelt plea? A daring challenge?

How can you change the tone of the message to make it fresh and intriguing this week? I’m not saying to add fluff and weirdness for its own sake. I’m saying let’s spend a few extra minutes to listen from the community’s ears. Will they hear the same thing they did last week? And the week before?

God’s story deserves mystery and intrigue. Let’s honor that.

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Creating “Sick”

Going into my third year of producing mini-movies, the one thing I have learned for certain is that I have so much more to learn. If I live true to my mantra of “Why tell a story if it’s safe?”, each project I work on should push my knowledge and involve techniques and challenges I haven’t faced before. This was certainly the case with SICK. SICK provided so many ways to use some cool techniques and learn some new ones.

The Hallway

Rather than shooting in a medical facility (though we tried to find one), we decided to bring in medical equipment and convert the back hallway of our church into the set. This gave us much more flexibility and time both preparing for and on the day of the shoot.

Sick_Before

The Lighting

The hallway is lit with fluorescent in the ceiling, so we started with those, taking out two of every 3 lights to give a bit more dynamic diversity in the hallway.

One of the biggest challenges of “SICK” was the hallway lighting. I knew I wanted the hallway to be dingy and gross, giving a sense that you did not want to be there.

I also wanted the room at the end to be a bright and clean feeling room.

I could have achieved this in post production, but it was much easier to do this with different lighting fixtures and gels on the set.

Another reason for doing it on the set was the final shot would show both the clean room and the dingy hallway. I wanted there to be an obvious contrast in the lighting.

I knew that if you white balance to a tungsten (normal household) lightbulb, that automatically gives most fluorescent bulbs a greenish tint, but in my tests, it wasn’t green enough.

To add to the green tint, we also used “plus-green” gels to the hallway, and “minus-green” gels to the last room. We then used a custom white balance from the final room, which made the hallway even greener.

Sick_Lighting

The Smoke

One other thing we did to add a bit of nastiness to the hallway was to use a hazer. These are often used in films to add a bit of texture to the air and make it feel more aged. We used a light covering, not billows of smoke. More of a constant layer of texture in the air which can be seen nicely in the final shot of contrast.

Sick_Smoke

The Blocking

One of my biggest fears about this project was the blocking of 25 extras (telling them where to stand and when to move).

Most of my projects involve very small casts, and only 1-2 extras if any.

Sick however was mostly a hallway of 25 people, most of them moving to and from somewhere.

Sick_Cast

I happened upon an amazing ipad app called Shot Designer that made this process so much better. It allowed me to create my hallway, place my props, actors and camera, and even animate the character and camera movements so I could know what it all looked like before I got there.

This video required me to push my boundaries and learn new skills and techniques – something I feel to be crucial when seeking to improve my craft.

How have you been challenging yourself lately?

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There is Nothing Ordinary About Mothering

Many of the biggest holidays seem to be more magical and meaningful as a child: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Columbus Day. As I grow older, its easy to become cynical of these dates as the conspiracy of card printers, electronic stores, and candy makers. What once was magical time becomes an onslaught of stress, bills, and unwanted family visits.

One holiday that has taken the opposite course for me is Mother’s Day.

As a child, Mother’s day was a day my teachers or my Dad had me make an otherwise terrible craft to give to my mom (luckily for me, Mom’s don’t care what these things look like). As I got older, Mother’s day became a last minute card purchase and quick note to my mom, usually a few days late, saying something about how great she has been.

Then came the day that my wife became a mother. That changed things. Mother’s day quickly became a celebration of the woman who gave birth to my son. That first year is one you really don’t want to mess up on, and I’m willing to bet 98% of men are unsure what to do. But we do our best.

The amazing thing about watching my wife become a mother is how great she is at it, and how much deeper that role gets with each passing year. It never gets easier. In fact, it gets more complicated, and more demanding, as time passes. I have seen my wife love more and hurt more as a Mother than she could as a daughter, girlfriend, fiancé, or a wife. There may not be any bond stronger than the bond between Mother and child.

One interesting bonus of watching my wife become stronger as a mother is that I now have a glimpse of all the junk I put my mom through, and how mighty she was to put up with and love me. I have realized that I owe her much more than I can repay.

So this year, may I endeavor to make the mothers in my life know how mighty they are, simply because they mother. There is nothing ordinary about that.

Mighty was based on a blog post written by Lisa-Jo Baker, who believes motherhood should come with its own super hero cape and blogs about it at lisajobaker.com. Her words have been incredibly inspiring to my wife and many other mothers I know. I challenge you to encourage the mothers in your community long after Mother’s Day by connecting them with Lisa-Jo at her blog. You could send an email with the link or print a handout with some info about it. The words found there will bring them strength when they need it the most (every day).

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