More thoughts on YouTube, Filmmaking and Cameras

A post about filmmaking, YouTube, gear and what on Earth am I doing?

I spent this morning looking at a new camera from Canon. It’s fancy, it has all kinds of great features and it satisfies a number of requirements I have for a camera. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Kind of. I do not believe that it has been released yet but given how the world of cameras works there are many, many reviews of this camera on YouTube. And I doubt I will watch any of them (but if I did it would most likely be Gerald Undone or Potato Jet).

I have not been writing about cameras as much as I used to and, in part, this is because I’ve stopped paying attention to the new models. I’ve discovered that for all of the interest I may have in new cameras and amazing features I do not need anything more than I have. Which is somewhat disappointing as the most popular posts I have all concern cameras. Only I’m not writing here to be popular. I’ve been vocal about trying to figure out why I am write here and my absolute confusion as to what I should post on this site. I am not certain of the answer still. I am certain that I do not what to be a reviewer or someone who chases after what is popular.

All of this thought about the new camera (The Canon R5C) made me think about how different things are now compared to when I first started learning about cameras online. When I bought bought my first proper camera (the DVX 100B) there were not a lot of websites reviewing these cameras. There certainly were not thousands of people on YouTube putting out weekly reviews. What was truly different then was that the cameras I was concerned with were being reviewed from the perspective of how good they were for making films.

By making films I mean feature films being the purpose of these cameras. It was exciting and interesting and all of these famous filmmakers were extolling the virtues of having less expensive cameras for making movies. Steven Soderbergh was shooting films on a prosumer Canon camera (which I shot my first music video on) and Sidney Pollack accidentally did the same (Sketches of Frank Gehry). A new company called RED was going to make a camera and their goal was to have it be inexpensive enough that anyone could make a movie with it, removing the largest hurdle for making movies (I should point out that Jared Land also created a website/forum that was instrumental in providing me with information regarding filmmaking gear).

Now when I see reviews of new cameras nearly everyone is talking about whether it would be good for YouTube. Or weddings. Or some other thing that is not making feature films. Which makes absolute sense as there are millions of people making YouTube videos now. More people are making a living from creating videos for YouTube and other social media platforms than they are from making feature films. It’s just that these same people absolutely do not need amazing cameras to do what they are doing.

About a year ago I found myself watching video after video from YouTube filmmaker Peter McKinnon. I had heard about him for a while and never really found myself watching what he made. For some reason I watched one of his earliest videos and liked it. So I started from the beginning and watched what he made in chronological order. The videos were interesting, they were fun and it was a good way to pass the time in the middle of a pandemic. Then I came across a video where he visited the YouTube studio of someone who went by MKBHD. I had seen his image before but did not know him. It was a decent video, not overly interesting to me but there were two points where it had my attention fully.

The first was when Marques Brownlee was discussing the “sound traps” in his studio which allowed him to record anywhere in the giant space and still have great audio. That was news to me, I had not heard of those before. The other was when he was trying to convince Mr. McKinnon to invest in getting a Red camera. In case you don’t know until two years ago Red cameras were expensive. That initial dream of making affordable cameras for filmmakers never really happened. The least expensive model now sells for about $6,000. The cameras that these two were discussing were all at least double that amount.

I’m delving deep into this one episode but the reason is the arguments presented – shooting in 8k resolution was “future proofing” and that these cameras were vastly superior – were not really valid to Peter McKinnon at the time. He was using a Canon 1DX mark ii (I believe) a $5,000 camera geared more toward still photography than video. Still, an excellent camera and one he had been using for quite some time to make his successful YouTube channel with. I watched a few more videos of Mr. McKinnon’s and what appears on screen? A Red camera.

I just wrote three paragraphs to say something that should be one sentence – if you are making YouTube videos where 90% of what you film is yourself talking to the camera don’t spend a lot of money. Despite so many of these people promoting their Aputure lights and Sennheiser microphones if it’s just your face talking at the camera you don’t need expensive anything. Good lighting will make a better looking image just as a good microphone will make your voice sound better but at the end of the day it’s just a person talking to a camera. If people are willing to watch you do that then you can certainly save thousands of dollars and have it look and sound a bit worse.

Obviously a good looking image is nice.

I seem to have gone off topic here, I apologize. My frustration regarding the world of YouTube, cameras and making short or long form films/videos/content is that all of the focus on gear seems driven by the companies making and selling it. That so many people have a business that consists of reviewing filmmaking equipment on YouTube speaks volumes as to how weird this has gotten. I find it incredibly difficult to find people making actual films whereas if I want to watch a review about the new Panasonic S5 mark ii there are dozens that will come up with my first search.

There seems to be a disconnect between making films and making content and it’s interesting to see that few people make both. Which is not to say that I have not found people that do (Mark Bone in particular comes to mind as does Brady Bessette) but it certainly is rare. In a previous post I shared a clip from a podcast from Corridor Digital with Freddie Wong who had been part of a YouTube channel (RocketJump) and decided to leave in order to make films. I am happy to report he has done this and below I am sharing a video he made with Aputure and his director of photography Bongani Mlambo. It’s short and it’s interesting take a look:

I feel like I tread and retread this ground often with little positivity to add. I’d like to end this post by saying there’s nothing wrong with using great gear. I found it interesting to see videos from Peter McKinnon last year where he started purging all of his large and expensive gear (The Red camera included) because he doesn’t need it. What I like about the above video is when they speak about gear used on this shoot (the video is on the Aputure channel so…) they aren’t talking about using the biggest and best gear. They are highlighting products from this company and explaining why they chose to use what they used. Somehow the feeling I get from someone saying, “I made this and here is how I did it,” is more palatable than someone saying, “If you are going to make something, use this,”. Perhaps that is just personal preference.

Ridley Scott

Recently social media was ablaze with two topics: Russia invading Ukraine and people praising a sequence from West Side Story (the Spielberg version). It was weird. I have nothing to say about the war happening in Ukraine. I do, however, have a few things I’d like to share about the odd “can-you-believe-this-Spielberg-guy?” thing that was happening.

First and foremost this notion of an artist being mainstream and popular somehow taking away from their talent and contributions is bizarre. It’s been going on forever and it makes no sense. The fact that filmmakers and Twitter trolls alike were staring slack-jawed at a sequence from West Side Story is not surprising. The fact that nearly all of them had to then try and wrap their minds around the thought that Steven Spielberg made it happen is maddening. The man has been making amazing motion pictures for forty years. He’s successful, he wins awards, everyone watches his movies. I know it’s the Internet but, come on people, start making sense!

So in this vein I’d like to take a moment to write about Sir Ridley Scott. A few months ago I was shocked to discover that he was the director of House of Gucci. For no reason other than The Last Duel had already come out and he is the director of that, as well. I’ve yet to see House of Gucci but I feel confident in saying most directors will never have a year where they have two films of this caliber appear. Ever.

Ridley Scott is probably more similar to Steven Spielberg than any other living director. They make huge films. They work constantly. Their films never reflect the effort put into making them. Perhaps this does not seem like an accomplishment but if you watch a lot of films, especially large budget films, it becomes apparent how difficult it is to make big and beautiful look effortless.

As I said Mr. Scott had two films come out this past year and, pandemic aside, neither of them fared very well. The reviews were mixed, people said little about The Last Duel until it was out of theaters and House of Gucci was given a lot of flack. Having seen The Last Duel all I can say is that audiences are incredibly spoiled. If this film had come out in 1992 people would never stopped talking about it. It is a wonderful film with fantastic performances and an it is done on an enormous scale. The only positive thing I read about the film was that “all of the money was right there on the screen”. As though it looking expensive (or that the production was lavish) was all it has going for it.

I like to try and spread the good word when I can and in this particular case I’d like to call attention to the numerous films of Ridley Scott that should receive more love and attention than they do.

To begin:

The Duelists

Full disclosure I have not seen this film. I know. This is a bold move on my part. I am including it (and starting with it) based off of a video I watched on the Corridor Crew channel. In this episode they spoke with a swordsman (I’m keeping this title!) who said this is one of the best films about sword fighting ever made. You should watch this episode as the insights into what makes a good sword fight and why this film is excellent should be seen and heard by all (they also praise Troy which makes me happy).

Black Rain

I am not sure the last time I watched this film, it’s been probably thirty years. I am sure there are aspects of it that have not aged well at all. What do I remember? Andy Garcia as the young reckless police officer who is beheaded in front of his partner. Michael Douglas being Michael Douglas. Motorcycles. Beautiful night-time images.

Maybe there is nothing more to this film than what I can remember. What I do remember is so vivid and colorful that I believe it to be worth watching.

Black Hawk Down

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Black Hawk Down. I did not expect to love it. I certainly did not see it when it came out. When did it come out? 2001. The same year that Hannibal, by Ridley Scott, was released. Which happened to be one year after Gladiator. What kind of energy drink was Mr. Scott consuming during this period? Hannibal is by far the smallest of the three pictures and I think for most directors it would be considered a “big” movie.

Black Hawk Down strikes me as being such a complicated film to make. So many actors and sequences and locations. So many things to organize and move and prepare. From a logistical perspective it must of have been incredibly difficult. As a film? It’s an easy watch. You quickly get a sense of the main characters and what they are about. Even during some of the craziest action sequences you know where you are and where the characters are. It’s impressive. Simply put: this film works.

I try not to delve into the world of Rotten Tomato scores and box office revenue when talking about films (now, I used to try and it was a mistake). It may have been well received on all fronts. What I remember was hearing quite a lot about Hannibal (and seeing that in the theater) and hearing little to nothing about this film. There was a lot of talk about the make up and prosthetics used on Gary Oldman in Hannibal and not so much about the intense crashes and firefights in this film. It feels familiar to what happened with Mr. Scott’s films this year and I find that strange.

Kingdom of Heaven

This is another film that I have not seen. In trying to recall why I did not watch it at its release I have two thoughts: 1) Alexander had come out the year before and was savaged. There was a general sense of these epics being overblown and not good. 2) Orlando Bloom burnout. After the Lord of The Rings and Pirates of the Caribean Films (and all of the tabloid nonsense) there was a feeling of needing a break from Mr. Bloom (at least for me).

This is another film that Mr. Scott released a director’s cut of and I can’t help but wonder if that did not hurt its reputation as well. I have no doubt that watching this film will be a masterclass in all aspects of filmmaking, I’ve just not done it yet.

A Good Year

A great example of what happens when a director subverts expectations, A Good Year is a lovely film that people do not seem to respond to. I don’t get it. The scale is small, the performances as wonderful – there is nothing to find fault with in this movie.

I’m not sure how faithful an adaptation this is to the book, the could be part of the issue. As I have not read the book I am not burdened with this problem. Of the many wonderful things in this film I find Russel Crowe to be my favorite. He has not played many roles like this and it is wonderful to see him play a relatively normal person (Rough Magic, Breaking Up, The Sum of Us and Mystery Alaska are other films where he shines in a “normal” role).

I am not sure if there is a definitive Ridley Scott movie. I am sure for some people it would be something from the Alien franchise. For me I tend to equate it with larger productions with multiple locations and violence. Neon signs. This film has none of those things. It’s lovely though and quite human.

Body of Lies

This is a film I want to watch whenever I see the poster or icon on a streaming service. I want to watch it right now looking at this poster. I think it is an incredible movie that was largely ignored. Made just before Leonardo DiCaprio began his interesting run of films starting with Inception, it sees him playing a role he had not really done before. That coupled with Russel Crowe in yet another atypical role makes for an interesting combination.

I love this film because it does not take a side on the issue of terrorism or how a country should respond to it. Perhaps this is why it was not well received. I think if you watch this film with an open mind you’ll find that the Russel Crowe character makes as many valid points as the Leonardo DiCaprio character does. I think if you are really paying attention you’ll see that Mark Strong’s character might make the most sense of all.

So what does all of that nonsense mean? This is such a well-made film. It’s divided into sections that could feel unrelated to one another but don’t. Whereas the different sections of The Hurt Locker feels like different films with some of the same characters, Body of Lies manages to maintain several threads of plot while veering off into different directions. The first twenty minutes feel nothing like the section with the blossoming love story. Russel Crowe with his family, which is truly like something on Mars, is grounded in the reality of what all of the characters are dealing with. The film is cleverly constructed and the characters, though typically apart, are always connected.

I think this is one of Ridley Scott’s best films and it amazes me that it does not receive more praise or attention.

Robin Hood

This film is another great example of people bringing their own baggage to a movie and ruining their good time. I tried to watch this with my wife, who grew up on Errol Flynn, and it failed miserably. I think we made it twenty minutes before she paused it to explain everything wrong with the movie. A few weeks later I watched it alone and thought it was great.

Again, it’s Ridley Scott, so the sections that are big and battle-filled are absolutely in his wheel-house. Cate Blanchett is wonderful as always. Russel Crowe delivers. The story isn’t the same as every other version of Robin Hood, which is a good thing. In many ways this is similar to Guy Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes. It is not a familiar retread and if you go in expecting something different I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

This post took on a life of its own. What began with my confusion regarding people on the Internet reacting to Steven Spielberg became a mini-appreciation post of Ridley Scott. I did not see that coming. I am glad it did, as seeing the comments and reviews of his most recent films I could not help but feel people have begun dismissing his works. To operate at the highest level as an artist – which I believe both Mr. Scott and Mr. Spielberg do and have done for a long time, tends to bring expectations and a sense of familiarity to the work. It feels similar to when spectators become accustomed to the excellence of professional athletes and take their weekly feats as something to be expected.

If anything I am glad to have written these words as a reminder to myself. I continually watch new and lauded films and television shows. Many of them disappoint. Many are chasing trends or fads and they feel lesser because of it. I am happy to reminded of these filmmakers and their films because they stand outside of these trends and they rarely disappoint.

iPhone Cinema – Life is But a Dream (Park Chan-Wook)

A short post about a great film made with an iPhone.

I am once again writing about a film made with an iPhone. I don’t feel like I need to do this but after watching Life is But a Dream I want to do it. For those of you unfamiliar with Park Chan-Wook he is an incredibly successful Korean filmmaker. I’ve not seen all of his films but those I have seen certainly made an impression. The Handmaiden in particular knocked my socks off. If you have not seen it do so – and go in knowing as little as possible.

Today I want to share the video he made with the iPhone 13 Pro – Life is but a Dream. I had assumed, incorrectly, that after the Lunar New Year video Apple would not be trying to promote anything else until next year. I am happy to be wrong.

What can I say about this film? It’s interesting. It does not feel like a film made with an iPhone. It tells a unique story and it is not a small production. I certainly could not have made this film. I am posting it below.

I appreciate that they now share the “making of” videos to accompany these films. It is interesting to see how they are made. It’s more than just the gear being used, you are able to see the techniques and tricks they employ.

At this point it really is just a behind the scenes video about making a film. The capture device is simply different.

Stock Footage

A few thoughts about stock footage, laziness and burning pianos.

Before memes existed my concept of stock footage was poor. I knew of it, had certainly seen it but probably could not have told you what it is. Now all of us are knee-deep in some form of it or another on a daily basis.

Again, they are bracelets not rings.

This past weekend I decided to finally give in to an urge and joined a stock footage site. What kind of urge can only be satisfied by joining a stock footage site you ask? Why the video making urge. Still unclear?

For me, a person who is primarily a writer, I continually come up with ideas that are expressed only as words. Before I started writing screenplays this was not troubling. Once I began my foray into the world of screenwriting I found myself wanting to make the things I was writing. Which is, to put it very mildly, a whole other kettle of fish.

Over the years I have bought cameras, written about buying cameras, and spent a great deal of time learning how to use said cameras. I think I have improved. But what I actually have achieved is still a long ways off from what I write.

Recently I have been flying my drone more. At times I have been getting footage that is downright good. I want to do more with this footage than just stick it on a hard drive. So I’ve been trying to edit the footage together and do…something with it. Only it’s footage of rivers and buildings and people the size of ants walking their dogs. It is not terribly interesting. Enter – stock footage.

My hope was to join a quality site, I chose for a number of reasons, and be off and running. The main reason I chose Artgrid is that their policies are similar to which I use already for music. It is a decent service, you get to use the clips you download as much as you want and how you want and there is no weirdness about leaving their site and losing access to the video or music you previously downloaded. I love the clips on Artgrid, the things I have found over the course of the past two days surpass anything I have shot and I am amazed at the variety.

This is a roundabout way of saying my expectations were surpassed. I had heard a song on Artlist last month that excited me greatly. I wanted to use it. Only I don’t have any footage that works with the song. I kept thinking about what I could shoot but it kept coming back to other people. And motorcycles. And fire.

Which is what stock footage is meant to help you with. And it has. I spent about an hour on the site, found a number of clips that are interesting and perfect for the song and put something together. I have had to remove it because I have cancelled my subscription and no longer have access to the clips I downloaded. Instead I am going to include the winner from a competition from FilmSupply. This person went above and beyond and did a voice over and created visual effects for their trailer but the it’s the same basic thought.

Immediately after putting this together my next thought was, “Now what?”. And I had all of these clever ideas for using my drone footage with stock footage to tell a wonderful story. Only those ideas all quickly fell apart. The reasons are simple.

First, nearly all stock footage comes without dialog. So yes I have clips of people but they aren’t talking and even when you take a number of clips for the same sequence you do not really have a story. This is a man bringing his vegetables to his farm stand to sell them. He interacts with a customer, counts his money, smiles at the woman with him. That’s it. I’m not saying you can’t craft a story from that but it certainly isn’t War and Peace.

The second reason isn’t really a reason just how things are: this isn’t meant to substitute going out and shooting things for yourself. The general idea is you need to fill a specific hole or gap in your film. An exterior shot of the doctor’s office or the drone shot following the car driving up the coast. Or a piano that is on fire slowly falling off of a cliff.

These sites have these things and allow you to complete your story without spending a few days driving around to try and find something that works (or setting a piano on fire – this can be very helpful and keep you out of prison). It’s not meant to give you the exact storyline you were looking for, with all the little looks between your leads, so you can direct your movie without leaving your home.

As with all of these lessons I learn, I am sure this is obvious to nearly everyone else. I tend to be a bit slow on the uptake with such matters. I’m pleased I was able to put together my fake trailer and be rid of the nagging thought of needing to do something with that song. I wish I could have done so without having to pay for it.

Let’s Talk About Drones

Some thoughts and musings about drones and filmmaking.

To begin: I am not (yet) a licensed drone pilot. I want to get this out of the way as it means I cannot make money from anything related to drone photography/videography. Since I do not make money from this site I can post images and videos here from my drone flights without violating any rules or laws. I have registered my drone with the FAA and I do follow the rules everyone must follow in order to fly a drone legally. Let’s all rest easy knowing we are standing on the right side of the line.

Christmas 2020. My wife listens to months of hints that I would like to finally buy myself a drone but I feel it is an unwarranted expense. She removes the guilt and gives me a DJI Mini 2. I am beyond pleased. I unwrap it and get things charging so I can take my first flight. Three minutes into that first flight I know that I was correct (I love it) and that I should have asked for the mid-level model, the Mavic Air 2.

So I spend the next two days flying the drone and taking pictures and getting video while I place an order for the new drone. I return the Mini, get the Air 2 and fly away like the little drone pilot I was meant to be.

Why write about this? I’d like to share some insights and thoughts I’ve had since getting a drone and flying it. There are a number of people on YouTube who make great videos about choosing a drone, or how to get set up for your first flight. I am going to put two videos I found helpful below.

If you have already chosen the drone you want and would like to watch a comprehensive video that walks you through every aspect of the device watch one from Jeven Dovey. I’ve put the Air 2S above but he’s made one for all of the DJI drones. As I mentioned I have now owned two different models and his walkthroughs for each helped me tremendously. He’s thorough, if you watch the entire video all basic aspects of the physical drone and how to use it will be covered.

Aside from having a channel name that I dislike there is nothing but goodness with QuickAssTutorials. He talks fast, doesn’t waste time with nonsense and offers practical advice. If you are looking for something other than a walkthrough about basics I would recommend looking at his videos.

I always say this but I think it is true – if you are anything like me then buying a drone probably does not make sense for you. I wanted a drone for impractical purposes. I keep writing screenplays and having establishing shots, the town center or the lonely house on the hill, and when I think about how I would execute these shots I am stumped. Or I was. Because I would need something like a drone to capture these images and I did not have one.

Now I have a drone and largely I am still not shooting these projects because this $1,000 device I own did not solve the other problems keeping me from making that short film. Namely that I don’t have actors or locations or a crew. So to bang this drum one last time – if you are anything like me (thinking and hoping but not actually doing) reconsider the purchase.

Some Things I Did Not Realize About Drones That I Should Have

My primary interest for drones concerns videography. So if you are reading this as a photographer, I am sorry, most of my thoughts and comments probably are not that interesting to you. Let’s state the first obvious point that escaped me: drones do not record audio. I know that this is glaringly obvious but if I can help one other person realize this then my job is done.

When you watch a video with drone footage and there is sound: ambient, voices, whatever, that’s all coming from elsewhere. The drone is capturing nothing. Most of you (maybe all of you) know this. I did not. It’s not major but I was surprised as I filmed my kids only to later discover I had no audio to go with it. It means an extra step if you are looking to capture audio at the time of capture.

The next big point: most drones have a fixed aperture. I’ve written about this with the iPhone. If I ever write about my action camera it will come up there as well. People do not address this enough: the aperture is fixed. What this means is if you are flying in some difficult lighting conditions, which you most likely will, you only have the ISO and shutter speed to control the amount of light hitting the sensor (it is another reason why having ND filters for your drone are a must).

This only applies if you are buying the lower end models of the DJI line. The Mavic 3 and the Mavic 2 Pro allow you to control the aperture. This is important to remember because if you try and rely on the auto features it could mean some really wonky settings for your video. For photography it is less of a big deal.

Something else to consider would be the obstacle avoidance feature. The Mini 2 does not have this (despite being the entry level drone) and what that means is the drone will not protect itself from flying into things. My Air 2 does have it and it is a wonderful feature. I am not overly careful when I fly (the video here shows that) and even with this feature engaged I still end up in trees. I’ve only found one person on YouTube who stressed this point and I think it matters. If you are just starting out it is helpful to have features that protect you from yourself.

Final point of this nature – internal storage. The Mini 2 does not have this feature and the Air 2 does. I cannot tell you how many times I have left my SD card in my computer and gone out to fly. I now keep a second SD card in my bag but before that I was so pleased that I could record onto the internal storage for the drone. It holds 8 GB which is ample and allowed me to do what I wanted to do. This is a really wonderful feature to have especially if you are traveling for the express purpose of shooting drone footage.

All of this is well and good but it is information you could get from anyone else – so why am I writing this? What I have learned about done videography over the past year is that it is a small part of filmmaking. Much like owning an action camera, the number of shots you actually need one of these devices for is quite low. I keep using my drone because I like it. I take pictures whenever I fly and I shoot a lot of video. But for me, a person who presently is only a hobbyist, I have little to no use for any of these things.

I post to Instagram and occasionally Twitter. Largely I edit together clips and they sit on a hard drive. If I make a short film I put a shot or two into the video and that is it. I love the drone, I love flying the drone but I am continually amazed at how little I need it.

Who you are and what you do is going to differ, greatly I imagine, from me. What I have found since getting a drone is that when I watch films or even YouTube videos (that are not reviews of drones) is that the shots are quick and few. If you were to look at the average length of a drone shot in a YouTube video that is not a review I would guess it is about three seconds long. Even the travel videos designed to highlight drone footage cut very quickly. Often they will incorporate a person is these videos, standing on top of a car in the middle of an empty expanse, and still the quick cutting.

Matti Haapoja is a master of standing on top of things.

In films they tend to be longer but there are perhaps three to five shots over the course of a feature length film. Which is not me disparaging the shots. Only to point out that I thought this would be a huge component of everything I would be making, now I find myself with a lot of footage and nowhere to put it.

These are specialized shots, almost on par with something like that probe lens that took over the Internet two years ago, for particular situations. I write this to offer up something that should have been obvious to me – this isn’t going to be the tool that allows you to suddenly make everything you want.

It’s fun, it just isn’t necessary.

Top down shots for life!

Zhang Meng – Lunar New Year (iPhone Cinema).

Yet another excellent short film from Apple made to showcase the iPhone.

Show of hands, who knew that Apple had been commissioning films for Lunar New Year for the past five years? It wasn’t just me? Great. Moving on.

Last week I discovered a new film, shot on iPhones, made to celebrate the Lunar New Year. You may recall I gushed over Lulu Wang’s film, Nian, which was also made on iPhones to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This is neat.

I really enjoyed this film despite being a bit put off by the beginning. It is big and fancy and not what I was expecting. Turns out, that was the point. Stick with it.

I love this kind of film. It has a simple story told in a heartfelt manner. I’m sure this why I like the Nian so much, these are just my kind of movies.

I also love seeing the videos that show how these films were made. There is a lot of ingenuity and creativity in their filmmaking process. Simple solutions to get interesting shots. I am posting both videos below – enjoy!

A Man and His Mug

So I started shooting this short in March. I quickly lost interest and gave up. Then, sometime in October I realized that other than random drone footage I really had not shot much this year (I only just realized that my last post on this site was February 14th 2021). So I tinkered and rethought what I wanted to do.

Let me link this video before I say more –

It isn’t Citizen Kane but it also isn’t terrible. I’m happy about that. 2021 was supposed to be a year where I did some formal interviews and took the test so I could use my drone footage to make money. Neither happened. A lot of homeschooling happened as well as a lot of waiting for a vaccine (June for me) and all of the other nonsense we’ve all been dealing with.

What made me happy about taking a break from this video is it went from being a lot of footage of brewing coffee (I shot about an hour’s worth) to being something kind of fun and playful. It’s absolutely the kind of thing I wanted and needed to see and do this past year.

Hopefully someone watches this. If you do and want to tell me what you think I’d like that.

YouTube and Me

A new plan for making short videos.

In an effort to be more productive and stop skulking around the house I’ve decided to start making short films and upload them on YouTube. As a result I will be posting here about that process and linking the videos. What. A. Treat.

This past week the company Moment uploaded a review of the new Sony A1 camera. The review was made by the filmmaker Joshua Martin . He’s made a number of videos for Moment this past year and I’ve enjoyed his laid-back style. He started this review with a cinematic short film to demonstrate what the A1 is capable of. I enjoyed that greatly as most reviews are just a person sitting and talking at the camera.

I enjoyed the short so much that I stopped the video when that ended and found myself thinking about how I would like to make a similar video and the proceeded to daydream about what I would do for quite some time. The following day I had time to myself so I went out and shot two hours worth of footage and make my own version.

Once I had everything ingested into my computer I went through the footage and saw all the mistakes I had made. I shot near noon, which is never a good idea, but it was a sunny day. For portions of the video I was shooting handheld and moving the camera in front of my face and body. Shadows of the camera and mic kept playing on my face and chest, ruining the shots. There were a number of other mistakes I had made, forgotten shots, things being out of focus and it became obvious that I would have to reshoot most of the footage.

I spent the night brooding on this and thinking of how to improve the story I was telling while also adding new elements and not making mistakes. A number of firsts came out of this process, like making a shot list and mounting my gimbal onto a tripod for shots in my car and I am pleased with the results.

Did I get it all right? Not even close. I still forgot shots, misunderstood the placement of my camera and shot at a terrible time of day in unflattering light. As tempted as I was to redo everything again I didn’t, I worked with the footage and came up with what I think is a decent video. It’s not perfect but it’s done.

So this is part of my new plan, I hope to write more here that isn’t just about cameras or plugging my videos – in addition to making videos on a regular basis for YouTube. There is more certainly a stigma attached to doing such things and interestingly I am finding freedom in this particular act of self-publishing. There is an audience, not cost to the creator and absolute unchecked creativity in what is possible. It’s kind of amazing.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Lulu Wang – The Nian (iPhone Cinema)

A quick post about Lulu Wang’s new film, Nian.

Yep, you heard right. Another iPhone post. It feels silly. I know other companies are making phones that do incredible things. I’ve never used them though and honestly in my circle of knowledge (aww, how cute) they never appear. If anyone wants to send some short films (or features) made with smartphones my way I’d be interested in seeing what people are doing.

I’m not a person who is devoted to any particular brand or product line, so repeatedly coming back to these devices feels strange to me. You can’t deny the quality of what people are doing with iPhones and the ingenuity they implement in their productions. So, what am I talking about?

I’m talking about the new short film, Nian, made by none other than Lulu Wang. It was released less than a day ago so the information I am able to find about the film and its production is scarce. What I do know – this is a great film. I’ve seen it twice already, first by myself and then I dragged my wife into the room to watch it with me. I plan on doing the same when my kids get home from school today.

Here it is –

So ignoring all technical aspects, I think this is a great film. The feeling to it, the way it is told, the overall message – I really like it. There was several moments when I was watching where I thought, “Oh that’s funny,” only to then have the moment or shot immerse me back into the story. It was an interesting push and pull that I do not typically experience watching a film.

Examples of this? The first was the dishwashing sequence. I’ve seen a few people do similar shots to this and I don’t mean to say it feels gimmicky (to immerse the camera in the sink) but it never felt necessary. A good example of a video with these kinds of shots would be this –

Obviously Josh Yeo used an Osmo Action but the idea is the same

Josh Yeo’s video was made to show the possibilities of what you can do with such a small camera and I think, despite possibly implying otherwise, it’s great. He does shot after shot demonstrating the possibilities which is the purpose of his video, whereas Nian is short narrative film that incorporates some innovated camera moves/placements to tell its story (both are good, just trying to be clear here).

The second example would be when Ah Ting and The Nian are rolling down the hill together. At first the rotating camera pulled me completely out of the story but then her face pulled me back in and I felt her joy as she tumbled with her friend. It’s a pretty special moment and seeing the behind the scenes video of how they achieved this shot is fantastic and helpful.

The other impressive (amazing?) aspect of this film would be the low light performance of the phone. As someone who has shot in all kinds of conditions, usually without lights, starting with an iPhone 5 I can attest to the limitations of smartphones when it comes to low light situations. Several moments in this film, whether in the home or the cave or the fireworks scene are impressive for how well the camera handles the lack of light. I’m actually waiting until the sun sets today to watch the film again in my living room as the daylight coming in maybe the viewing experience less than it should have been.

My only complaint about this behind the scenes video is that it is far too short. Give me more! Give me everything! I wish they had covered more about how the production was handled (Ms. Wang being in the U.S. while filming took place in China), more specifics on how they set up and used the camera and their post production workflow.

All in all this is yet another great example of how far the technology has progressed and what is possible with these tiny devices. It’s inspiring and I feel one of the filmmakers interviewed said it best when she said that the iPhone allows a person to do more by themselves. That is certainly a benefit in these times where in order to make something you need to keep the number of people involved to a minimum.

Apple Videos for The New iPhones

A rambling post about what I need versus what my mind fixates on.

I just wrote a post about YouTube and companies using it to post exclusive content and quite frankly it is a mess. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to make what I wrote into something coherent but today is not that day. Instead I’d like to share a few videos that Apple made to promote the iPhone.

I write about the iPhone often and I think part of the reason why is how appealing it seems to use them to make films. I italicized seems because in actual practice I find it to be more difficult when I try and use them compared to a camera designed to shoot video. For quickly getting some clips of my kids messing about it’s a great thing to have. My phone can capture video and audio and I can do a fair bit to make the quality decent. It’s when I try and replicate what I would do with my video camera that I tend to become frustrated and annoyed.

Back to the films though. The first I watched today is made by none other than Emmanuel Lubezki. Which is honestly why I watched the video in the first place. To see that he has been filming with the iPhone 12 Pro (and that they made a behind the scenes commercial from this) is really interesting. Here it is –

So it’s hardly surprising that one of the greatest cinematographers created stunning images for this video. His commentary about the technology and how the size and ease of use frees him up and allows him to get the shots he wants is seductive. I won’t lie, by the time the video ended I was checking to see how much the new phone is and how much I can get for my current model.

After some quiet reflection my head cooled a bit and I remembered, among other things, my post about the Moment Anamorphic Lenses where I went through the actual cost of all the things needed to use an iPhone as a proper camera. It’s not a terrible idea but it is also not a cheap and easy one, either. Which is what made me realize I’d rather invest that $700 in what I already have than try and add another camera option to my life.

To be specific about what I would do with that money: I have two areas where my current equipment is lacking, sound and lighting. I have a bit of each but what I have is slapdash and incomplete. As someone who would like to film fairly standard, sit-down interviews, I am missing some crucial pieces of equipment. Case in point, I do not own a boom pole or a microphone that doesn’t attach to a camera (aside from the Rode Wireless Go which is another story). Enter the following videos from Deity Microphones.

What is attractive about each of these videos is they are offering solutions at reasonable prices. Are they using the best equipment available? Not even close. Do I need the best equipment available? I think we all know the answer to that.

So after watching these two videos I see several items I can purchase that will let me use my existing equipment and have a better/improved audio interview set up. Not only that but each video demonstrates techniques to use with the equipment which I find terribly helpful. Which is not to besmirch Mr. Lubezki but his video does little to show you how he’s using the iPhone to capture those wonderful images (you can see he uses a gimbal and Filmic Pro). It’s so helpful, especially with unfamiliar technology, when people show you how to use whatever the thing is.

Lighting is a bit of a different story as I know what the default lighting answer is (up until a week ago) – everyone said get the Aputure 120d mkII but it’s a $750 light that still needs a soft box that sells for $220. Last week Aputure released four new lights which are all substantially less expensive than the 120d but I honestly have no idea if they are what I need and the total cost is around $300 for the cheapest light. At this point I will stick with my strange Neewer light that I’ve used once.

I have digressed. The other iPhone video I watched today was this –

I remember when this was released because everyone was talking about it. I didn’t watch because I don’t really care about vertical cinema. It’s weird and unnecessary and I honestly don’t see the value of it. When it was used in season one of Homecoming it had a purpose but I’m not sure that the payoff mattered all that much. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeonI did watch this until the end and it’s a nice film. It’s a interesting film in that the story it tells is a history of stunt people in Hollywood and given that I watch the Stunt People React series from Corridor Crew (new episode out today!) –

I found myself connecting with this material more than I thought I would have.

So to try and bring this all back together, considering buying a new phone, actually buying some new audio gear and trying to lean more about lights – I find myself in the seemingly never-ending mindset of learning and thinking about film gear. It’s not a bad place but it’s not a rewarding one, for me, either. At the end of the day I know that getting a great light or using a mediocre one is not that big of a deal for me. The reason for this is because I am happiest just using the light from a window or being outside (at the moment). I’m not fussy and I’m not a perfectionist and often if I can do something easily (regarding filming) that’s the way I want to do it.

I don’t have a project that I am working on, I don’t have a budget for this non-existent project and I don’t have people to hire and help me with it. It’s just me. I’m flying my new drone and learning how to walk with my gimbal and largely I am shooting test footage to try and not be terrible with what I have.

Oh and I’ve started using Lumiar and still don’t know how I feel about sky replacements

I love this notion of new technology solving problems and a smaller camera freeing people up to capture whatever it is they imagine. When I see what people actually do, though, like with Chivo’s video, it’s just a woman in the desert walking around. I can do that (without the desert) whenever I like. I think most of us can do some version of that. YouTube is full of people doing some version of that. (I am certain he shot a film with much more than that, his video is full of different scenes in locations. I was trying to stress that so much of what people do with all this great new technology is a slow motion montage of making coffee and no one needs to spend money they don’t have to create one of these)

If there is a positive message I am trying to impart with all of this it’s that I’m looking to connect with other people and try and tell interesting and meaningful stories. Obsessing over having 10 bit log footage in my phone or whether I need daylight balanced or bi-color lights all seems like secondary stuff that ends up becoming what my mind fixates on and this bothers me. Pre-pandemic and especially now I find it so hard to connect with other people with similar interests and if there is a problem I have that needs a solution that’s it. The quality of the footage I shoot is a distant second.