Archive for December, 2012

We are in the midst of shooting a music video that contains two parts; the artist performance and a series of story vignettes that are peppered throughout using some of Portland's best actors. We just got finished shooting the latter.

Most of the shots were exteriors so we were keeping a close eye on the weather for weeks. As the shooting schedule drew near, the news from weather.com was not encouraging. Rain was predicted for both of our shooting days. We knew this was going to be a challenge not only for the comfort of our actors but the continuity of each shot and for trying to keep the camera equipment dry.

Our first scene of the day was set in a local park. We arose at the crack of dawn and when we arrived it was still dark… but at least there was no rain. Glenn and I dragged the equipment from our truck and set everything up. As the first glimmer of light emerged, our actors began to arrive. Tara, my daughter is one of the main characters and she had traveled with us, preferring to stay in the warmth of the truck until she was needed.

It was one of those mornings where it doesn't feel cold but I felt the pain you feel just before frostbite and your hand quite literally falls off. Handling metal in the winter can do that to you. We set everything up and waited for optimal light levels and then we began rolling. Our two young lovers, played by Britt Harris and Katy Beckemeyer were sitting on a park bench while an older woman with a cane, played by Suzanne Owens-Duval, approached them. We ran through the scene a few times and then the rain began to fall. It fell by the bucketful and it would not let up. We used umbrellas to keep the actors dry and kept shooting. Keeping hair dry was the toughest part. Thankfully, everyone stayed positive and we got the footage we needed. We said goodbye to our actors and packed away our soaking wet equipment.

The next location was a bridge about 30 minutes away. The scenes only required Tara so it would be fairly simple. As we sat in the truck with Tara sandwiched between me and Glenn, we thought about postponing that location until the next day. Being wet and cold didn't help and I almost agreed but I gathered all the strength I could muster and said “nope, let's shoot it because we won't have time tomorrow.” The weather forecast indicated that the driving rain would continue so it was time to just suck it up. We headed for the next destination post haste.

People sometimes ask me how I'm able to capture this shot or that shot and the answer is usually 95% perspiration, 2% inspiration and 3% dumb luck. Really, when it comes down to it, you need to be ready to work long hard hours to get consistently good shots.

When we reached the bridge, we used the rain to our advantage, getting nice reflection shots in the puddles and availing of the wonderful light that acted as a giant softbox. Tara was a real trooper and did the same moves over and over again until it was just right. Happy that we had not given up on this location, we packed up the truck and grabbed a sandwich before continuing on to the third and final location of the day.

Friends Dill and Nicholas generously allowed us to use their house for some interior shots and, as we pulled up to their place in the early afternoon, the rain continued to mock us. We unloaded the truck once again and dragged all our stuff into the hallway. Nicholas was a great help grabbing anything he could get his hands on and lightening our load. The food had given us some extra energy and the adrenaline of preparing for the shoot helped keep us focussed.

The next scene centered around a couple arguing, played by our very own Glenn Scott Lacey and actress Kim Kenney. Tara had some scenes in her fake bedroom but that would be later. As we were setting up our lights, fake mom was getting to know fake daughter while fake dad continued to unload the truck.

Nothing could be further from the truth because as soon as we began shooting, it was hard for me to believe that this wasn't a real family. I cannot describe the thrill I get from working with great actors. It's a little surreal actually because I feel like an unseen ghost in the midst of a real drama unfolding. I decided to shoot handheld to mimic the frantic energy of the argument and it worked well. Glenn and Kim completely immersed themselves in their roles but there was only so many times they could go at it because it was so emotionally draining.

Next up, we shot some scenes with Tara in the bedroom and then more back downstairs with all three players. At the end of the shoot we were physically and mentally exhausted. Despite a respite in the rainfall earlier, it had picked back up again. I looked outside at the truck and the reflection of the streetlights in the soaked asphalt. I then looked back at the pile of equipment we still had to pack up and I swear I almost cried. It took everything in me to keep going. At this point, we had been running around for nearly 15 hours.

Tomorrow's schedule was much easier although it would still mean shooting outside in the rain. After a great meal and some excellent IPAs (and a soda for Tara), we made it back to Glenn's house. Did we go to bed right away? Hell no, we were ready to look at the footage. I can never truly relax or celebrate a day's work until I've seen the “dailies”. To my relief, everything looked really good and now I was ready to hit the hay and set my alarm for 5:30am.

 

This post first appeared as a featured article on the 500px blog.

Background

About a year ago, Glenn Scott Lacey and I pooled our talents and experience together and created Americonic Films. Since then we have shot commercials, documentaries and are currently finishing up a music video. All of these endeavors were shot using a DSLR. Technology today enables filmmakers like us to create moving images of extraordinary quality with traditional still cameras.

Although everything we do together is creative, we wanted to do something that was purely artistic. We stumbled upon Diane Ward’s beautiful poem “I Soar” quite by accident on YouTube. We were struck not only by the words, but also by the honesty of the poet’s reading and immediately wanted to create a short interpretive film. We had found our art project! Glenn contacted Diane in Liverpool and she was very receptive to the idea.

How it all began

Glenn, a professional film composer, wrote and produced music to the poem keeping Diane’s original reading intact. Chris Stewart, whom Glenn worked with on a feature film, performed the violin solo part to Glenn’s prerecorded orchestral tracks in his studio as we watched via a Skype session.

It was a wonderful creative challenge for me to shoot the images to fit the already produced and timed audio track. I worked with Glenn to plan a framework and list of moments that would honor both the sweeping and intimate imagery of the poem.

We cast actress Britt Harris as the young woman. I knew from working with her in an Americonic Films commercial project earlier in the year, that she had a timeless quality and the depth to convey the emotions of the work. She is also a trooper, Glenn and I like to work by talking through and setting up the situation of the shot and then letting everyone’s creativity get to the reality of the moment. So improvisation and trust are key to the way we work.

Location

We scouted locations and the area in Oregon where we shot. We loaded up the truck with gear and headed out at 4am, just the three of us, Glenn, myself and Britt. For the way we work it’s important to keep the crew to the absolute minimum. We try to strip away all the artifice and pretense of movie making and it allows us to be fluid and open.

Several of the shots were changed to locations that we happened upon that day. We passed a barn that felt perfect for the father’s collapse. So we pulled up to the house and Glenn knocked on the door and asked the owner if we might shoot a short scene on their property.

From the truck I spotted the location of the shot with Britt sketching the singular tree. They had cut the hay into long sweeping rows and the sky was perfect for the mood we were after. We pulled the truck over to the side of the road and Glenn and I lugged the equipment and dolly out into the field while Britt changed her dress in the truck; no fancy dressing rooms. We all were very excited about the location and what it meant for the film. Two hours later when we passed by the same field, tractors were almost done picking up the rows of hay and the beautiful cloud cover had dissipated. Again, keeping the production small and being open allowed us to capture a beautiful moment that we couldn’t have otherwise planned.

Casting Evie

The young girl, Evie, was cast through a friend of a friend from a Facebook post. We needed a certain age that could play the young version of Britt. Though the little girl didn’t have previous acting experience she came from a very creative and talented family. Glenn prefers working with child actors that have absolutely no acting experience. We have cast young actors in several commercials and films that aren’t tainted with acting lessons. As is the case in this film, the girl isn’t acting, she is playing with her real father who we smartly cast to be the father in the film.

Glenn never instructed her on how to act, the performance all came out of the real interactions with her dad. Evie enjoyed the experience and told her parents that she wants to be an actress, she has since been going on auditions for other parts. One interesting thing to look for in the shot where the dad lifts the little girl is the shadow of the action on the tree. The shadow represents the scene as a memory.

Feedback

After all the footage was shot Glenn did an edit to which we made small adjustments and collaborated on the final picture. The decision to make the film black and white was again to impart a timeless feel. Everything was shot in natural light to the same end. What’s so interesting to us is that we received more than one comment on how people liked the colors in the piece. It may be that the black and white allows them to see a color pallet that they imagine based on their memories of an earlier time.

The project was very fulfilling, and we find it important to take the time from commercial work to make films that have personal meaning for us. It was also rewarding that Diane had such a positive reaction to the film and felt we did her beautiful poem justice.

You can view the film on our Film Clips Page


As 2012 winds down, I am sitting in my favorite armchair reflecting on all the wonderful experiences I've had.

A real motivator for me in my daily life is to imagine myself doing versus not doing. Many a morning I have looked out the window at dreary weather and then looked back at this comfy chair. I wonder if I really want to make the effort to get out there and, in my case, photograph something. Mostly I grab my camera gear anyway and come back with at least one shot that becomes a favorite. In fact, I've actually sold some work that nearly didn't exist because I almost chose the comfy chair.

My point is, for most of us, there are choices to be made everyday that will decide whether we just exist or enrich our lives in some small or big way. The bigger reward, ironically, is the harder choice mainly because it requires effort. It's becoming increasingly harder for us to get motivated in a largely passive world. Everything is at our fingertips and we are bombarded with things that entertain us. It's not even necessary anymore for us to use our imagination. Are parts of our brains shutting down due to inactivity? Maybe.

Just over a year ago, Glenn and I founded Americonic Films. The experiences we have had in that short time have been amazing to say the least. We have produced a commercial, a number of documentaries, a music video and a creative short film. Each of these projects has provided opportunities for us to work with wonderful people. These artists are not only highly skilled but some of the kindest I have ever known. There is no pretense, no obligation to prove ourselves and no ego on the set. We are all equals and the mutual respect we have for each other brings out the very best in us. And in the end, the finished work moves every person who helped make it. I never lose sight of the incredible gift I've been given to be part of this world.

So, as much as I love my big comfy armchair, I'm not really at ease in it anymore. Glenn and I constantly motivate each other because each time we work together, miracles occur. I'm looking forward to creating new films, new memories and new friendships in the coming year.