Archive for February, 2013

Unless you are a “gear head”, you probably don't care about the technical side of filmmaking, but even so, the technology of today always amazes me…that, and the fact that it only takes a couple of people to operate it.

Take us here at Americonic Films for instance. We are about as lean as it gets, comprising two core people; Glenn Scott Lacey and myself, Steven Dempsey. Even with the exceptional and dedicated people who assist during the shoot we are still a tiny crew. It all works so well because we are a mulitalented bunch. Glenn is a film composer, director, editor, schmoozer and solution-finder. I am a camera operator, lighting director and, well, that's about it but we do kind of share roles when it's needed. So really, our combined skills could be spread out over at least six or more people. But because we love doing what we do and keep going until we literally fall down, we don't ever regard this as actual work. No way, it's play…(n.b. on our invoice it's still billed as “work”).

But back to the technology part. It's now possible to shoot a really really high quality video using just a still camera and some decent lenses. Canon introduced the first full-frame video-capable camera about 5 years ago and the technology exploded in the world of independent filmmakers. Before that, I was attaching all kinds of adapters to my regular video camera to get the “film look”. Hey wait, what's a film look and where can I get one? Well, for some reason people think that when the subject of the frame is in focus and the background is out of focus, it looks more appealing (or filmic). You see this kind of aesthetic in most movies and TV dramas and, up until recently, only movie cameras using actual film could make a moving picture look this way.
Regular still cameras have been capable of shooting this way for eons but companies like Nikon and Canon only recently figured out how to make these still frames move. The benefit to people like us is that we no longer need a fork lift and associated crew to move our gear. Most of it can be carried quite easily by our lean team. Not only does this give us many more options in terms of location but most of all it allows us to work faster and more efficiently. Of course, you can't just pick up one of these cameras and suddenly make beautiful pictures…at least not on purpose. There is a wealth of knowledge that goes into framing, exposing and moving the camera as well as learning the actual language of film and knowing how to direct actors, etc…oh, and don't get me started on how much work goes into post production.
Still, I never become complacent about the fact that I have everything I ever wanted now and the capture quality of my beloved 5D MarkII, the camera that really started it all, continues to blow my mind.
Despite the copyright watermark on the photos, they were taken by Nicholas Nascimento.


When we first heard Tyler Stenson's music, we knew we had to work with him. The award winning Portland-based singer/songwriter’s music has a timelessness about it, with layers of melancholy, tragedy, and hope. We had already shot the story vignettes for his music video and it was now time to get together with Tyler to shoot the performance part.

Shooting was scheduled for Saturday so I arrived a day early to go visit Glenn's choice locations. It was a cloudy morning when I arrived in Portland and Glenn and I got to it right away. After doing some test shots at the locations, we met Tyler in the early afternoon for coffee. We again discussed our ideas and talked about the look and feel of the music video. We also finalized wardrobe with the options Tyler brought along. He is as laid back as his music. He's easy to talk to, passionate about his art, and he got us damned excited about the final leg of the video shoot.

We had been keeping an eye on the weather for the past week or so and after the last rain-soaked shoot we were glad to see the forecast was on our side. Fog was predicted for the morning and partly cloudy skies for the rest of the day, making for ideal filming conditions. We wanted to avoid the harsh shadows that plague a shoot during full sun.

That evening we packed up the truck while carefully checking through the equipment list. We went over the shot list one more time and then hit the hay in anticipation of an early rising.

I heard Glenn whistling some happy tune in the kitchen at 5:30am the morning of the shoot. As previously mentioned, both of us are morning people so we tend to be pretty cheerful and ready for action before sunrise. We finished loading the more delicate electronics into the truck and headed out. I looked up into the dark sky and could see the stars. So pretty, I thought and then I looked at Glenn and said, “Shit! We can see the stars!” What I meant was there were no clouds. Fine for regular civilians but not for us filmmakers, no sir. This meant we had to hustle to beat the naked sun. Our first shoot was on the Steel Bridge, which is a hive of activity for joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, you name it. But most of all it faced east and that meant the rising sun was going to be shining on us in all its harsh glory unless we moved quickly to get those shots off. On the way to the bridge we picked up our friend and production assistant Nicholas Nascimento.

When we arrived, we quickly set up the equipment and then waited for the talent to arrive. Tyler was going to be accompanied by Tommy Alfson, a musician friend of his who would play drums in the music video. As the sun began to glow just below the horizon, we started shooting. I was using a Glidecam which allows the camera to “float” and move without a traditional dolly. It's a little tough on the arm after a while. Imagine holding an 8lb weight at arm's length, all day long, for minutes at a time. The resulting footage is certainly worth the effort. We shot the scene despite an array of the aforementioned joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Some people sped by at about 30 mph while others jokingly asked if they could be in the video. Tyler and Tommy expertly performed the song with emotion and depth despite the activity around them. The sun would soon be up and it was required for our next shot, so we hustled our way to the second location.

Within walking distance, we headed down to the river by a small rocky beach. Almost immediately a huge fog bank moved in just as the sun was rising and cast a magical golden glow across the now distant bridge. We quickly set up and managed to capture some of this beautiful light. Glenn and I tried to retain a professional demeanor but failed miserably. We were jumping up and down and grinning like idiots when we saw how beautiful the footage looked.


We shot at a couple more nearby locations, still engulfed in fog and then headed to a dilapidated building location. Here we set up a medium size crane and got some very nice shots of Tyler and Tommy moving through the world of the music video. Now, as the last bit of beautiful morning light was waning and the fog was lifting, it was time for a coffee break. If you ever find yourself in Portland, go to Water Ave Coffee. Not only is the atmosphere great but the coffee is some of the best I've had. We snuck in some sandwiches prepared by Glenn’s wife Kristen to have with our delicious beverages.

After capturing a quick scene near the coffee shop, we drove to the next location; the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. This museum has a breathtaking collection of steam locomotives and other early twentieth century paraphernalia. We had scouted some modern trains outside the day before that were ideal for the music video. As we arrived at the museum entrance, some of the patrons were intrigued by the parade of cameras, monitors, stands, drums and guitars…hardly your common or garden clientele.


Glenn and I joked that the film-gods were watching over us; all the shots looked great and the weather was cooperating right on schedule. On top of that, we were running on time! What could go wrong at this late stage? How about a flat tire? Yep, as we walked to our truck, we could see the back wheel was flat as a pancake. Well shit. Tyler and Tommy had their own car so they took off and planned to meet us later at the final locations. Nicholas intercepted Glenn's attempt to call AAA. He volunteered to put the spare on for us. Cool! Nicholas never stops amazing us with all of his various skills. He's not like one guy, no, he's like a team of guys. What a great help he was during the day. He changed that sucker like an Oil Can Henry and soon we were back on the road.

The last few shots of the day were going to be right in Nicholas' neighborhood of Irvington in northeast Portland. We drove around until we found the perfect house exterior and the owner so happened to be a friend of Nicholas. Have I mentioned that Nicholas is awesome?? Should I say Nicholas one more time in this paragraph?? :) Yes, why not? The final shot took place on the steps of his home.

We said our goodbyes to Tyler and Tommy and made our way home. Kris had prepared a wonderful dinner and Nicholas and his significant other, Dill, joined us for a fun night of chat and chow.

On Sunday Glenn and I were again up at 5:30am working on the edit. We were really pleased with the footage and were able to create a rough cut by early afternoon. Tyler came over to take a look and had some minor edit changes but otherwise he was thrilled with the resulting music video.

As usual, working with Glenn was a blast and everyone involved in the project helped to make this a very special experience.

Check out the music video here


blog post pictures by – Nicholas Nascimento