Intentional Time Off

Freelancing has allowed me a ton of flexibility over the years – sometimes by choice, sometimes because I'm not landing any work. I'm wired to work – just ask my wife. The days I'm not on a shoot I'm normally leaving the apartment by 7:15-7:30a and off to a coffee shop to start in on the day's reading, writing, and emails. If there's no pre- or post-production issues to address the rest of the day, I'm filling my time with busy work or at least trying to be productive. Thank goodness for my wife and family for basically dragging me away on a trip out of the city now and then. Without them I'd otherwise be constantly working myself into the ground and not coming up for air.

This week has us out in southern New Jersey to spend time with family and friends. Anne's mom is in town for the week and we're staying with some close family friends at their home in Cape May Court House. The last time I was here was nearly ten years ago when Anne and I got married. Honestly it was crazy seeing our two boys playing in the exact same part of their back yard where Anne and I exchanged vows.

We've only been here less than 24 hours and good grief I'm glad we were able to get out of the city. Outside a few shoots here in there the last couple months the summer has been pretty slow. Typically the fall is crazy busy so I'm totally down to spend a few days with my family in such an incredibly calm and peaceful place.

"I’m not that good. I could be so much better." - An Oscar Winner

Let's just start this post off with the fact Robert Richardson, ASC has three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography. By all means follow the link above to the Wikipedia entry to see the work his done with Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, and plenty of others. With that out the way, there's a couple solid takeaways from an interview with him in the August 2019 issue of American Cinematographer just as his latest film with Quentin Tarantino hits theatres.

American Cinematographer: You’ve told me that you can get into a different headspace when you’re behind the eyepiece, operating the camera. You’ve called it ‘the cave.’

Robert Richardson: I don’t really know how to talk about it. The cave is a zone – it is a complete blackout. The world around me disappears other than what I see through the viewfinder. It is the place I love most in this world, a place of complete focus…

AC: That seems like a real gift, to be able to access this zone every time you go to the eyepiece.

Richardson: Yes, I go there, but my talent doesn’t always move that way. I can see, but only as far as my capabilities allow. You can only achieve as much as your capacity to draw upon your vision. And vision’s a complicated journey. It requires a great deal of sacrifice. And it also takes scholarship to progress. Otherwise you fall into the patterns that many critics like to refer to as: ‘This is what they do.’

AC: DiCaprio’s character says, ‘I’m a has-been.’

Richardson: A star is either moving towards the top of falling towards the bottom. How do we deal with that? If you look at Brad and Leo in the film, they’re more or less the same character. Brad’s side has this flow – he just flows with it – but Leo’s side is the one responsible for how they both make a living.
Let me ask you: How do you feel about your career at this time in your life? I question my marks all the time.

AC: I want to be Brad, but I’m Leo.

Richardson: Me too. I’ve always been that way with my work. I’ve never known how to go into the next film. This film frightened the hell out of me to shoot. It’s an epic. I didn’t know how to achieve what I wanted. I’m not that talented a DP.

AC: What? I beg to differ.

Richardson: I’m saying I’m not that good. I could be so much better. I don’t know how to shoot a movie. I don’t know what I’m doing. Every time, I start from the beginning.

AC: This mixture of fear and self-doubt may be part of the artistic process. Does it go away once you start shooting the film?

Richardson: It’s always there in the background, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t subside.

AC: Does your collaboration with creative people help?

Richardson: Yes. When you’re linked to a great director, they shift you, they move you. They’re part of the reason that we all move forward, that we become better at our craft – if there’s a capability within us to allow that to take place.

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"I can see, but only as far as my capabilities allow."

"...it also takes scholarship to progress."

"I’m saying I’m not that good. I could be so much better. I don’t know how to shoot a movie. I don’t know what I’m doing. Every time, I start from the beginning."

I just love this. I've never met the man and don't know much about him as a person short of the articles I've read, but the fact that he's pushing the idea to always be learning makes my heart glad. I couldn't tell you if the "...I'm not that good" part is a show for the reporter, but I hope it's true. If such a someone in his position and professional experience is admitting that he too is insecure and unsure about himself and his abilities then good Lord it justifies the rest of our feeling the same way at the start of something new.

Fortnite World Cup

The last six days had me in dress blacks and wearing a robot while filming teenagers play video games for a living. I was back at it with HSC.tv and their client shooting a documentary about the Fortnite World Cup here in New York. This was in addition to the Fortnite ProAm event we shot mid-June out in LA. Not sure when the documentary comes out, but the producers took a TREMENDOUSLY DEEP dive into all that went on to make the event happen.

The numbers and scale of everything involved in this project are absolutely mind boggling – especially to someone (me) not even close to being a gamer. Something like 40 million Fortnite players from around the world participated and 300+ qualified for the event. Each qualifier earned $50,000 and competed for even more money. The winners in the Duo and Solo events took home a combined $6,000,000.

Not surprisingly the New York Times was out in force at the event and released a whole slew of articles about the Fortnite World Cup event, winners, and also into the business side of whether or not the genere has peaked.

You up to talk about gear? Well, I'd mentioned wearing a robot for six days on this job. The HSC.tv crew was shooting on two Arri Amiras along with an Alexa Mini. Most the time the DP was shooting handheld on an Amira with a Canon 17-120 zoom lens; I was on Movi duty and wearing a Ready Rig with the Mini and a small handful of wide Zeiss CP2s and another 11-16mm lens.

The interviews were shot on the two Amiras and CP2s and a couple of the interview setups had me operating on the assistant side of the camera seeing as how there wasn't enough space on the operator side. In flipping the ARRI viewfinder to the other side of the camera, the flip out monitor self-corrected, but the image in the eyepiece was upside down. Surely there's a fix in the menu side of things, but we didn't have time for that nonsense. Absolutely a mind blow trying to frame up and focus a shot upside down.

Side note: I couldn't tell you how many times I got asked something along the lines of "How much does that weigh?" or "Is that heavy?" Yes, for the most part but that's why the Ready Rig was there to help take the strain of carrying the Movi/Mini setup off my arms. As any normal person would do, after the third or fourth day I ended up making tally marks everytime a stranger mentioned it. The picture below was right after I got started tracking it, but by the end of the shoot I was using two pieces of tape.

"Hooray for You"

Hi. It's Monday morning. You realize I'm constantly wrestling with this weekly blogpost nonsense. There's times where I'm stoked to post work or recent projects I've been on, but it feels like there's plenty of other times when it's like a visit to the dentist. By no stretch do I enjoy having someone scrape the last six months of plaque off my teeth. It sucks, but I know it's a helpful and healthy habit.

I'm constantly questioning why I'm trying to keep up with this nonsense. Why I'm bashing my head into the brick wall of a blank page with no ideas. I've kept a journal since I was a teenager and don't plan on stopping that anytime soon. It's full of me working through whatever was on my mind at the time, daily to-do lists, and stamps and stickers tracking where I've been and what I've done. I feel like this blog is the public and hopefully more polished version of those black Moleskine notebooks I've been carrying around for years.

There was a New York Times article over the weekend asking "Have We Hit Peak Podcast?" A few things lines stuck out and obviously had me thinking about how it fit in what I was doing here.

It’s no wonder that the phrase “everyone has a podcast” has become a Twitter punch line. Like the blogs of yore, podcasts...are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation.

We’re not necessarily sick of listening to interesting programs; but we’re definitely tired of hearing from every friend, relative and co-worker who thinks they’re just an iPhone recording away from creating the next “Serial.”

“Being a podcast host plays into people’s self-importance,” ...And it projects that importance to others.

“I love podcasting, and the more shows in the mix the better, as long as they’re done by someone who actually cares and isn’t just trying to get a piece of pie.” What needs to be created, he said, is “a real conversation that will benefit the audience, not the host.”

Surely it’s a healthy exercise to poke around at the “why” of what you do and how you choose to spend your time. I’ve not kept track of how long it takes to write these posts or the energy and effort spent doing the research, editing, and proof reading. I enjoy the writing process and the pressure it puts on me to try and understand what it is I’m trying to say.

I’m not looking to “start a conversation” or “engage with my audience.” Every now and then I talk to someone who’s read some of this nonsense, but I've yet to have someone hand me money afterwards; it's not the goal. By all means I keep an eye on the analytics and track the numbers. It's trippy as hell to see people finding my website from six of the seven continents, but by all means let's keep all this in perspective. If these posts help me process and polish what I'm working through I call that a success. If a potential client, peer, or anyone else looking to piece together a road map for their thing and even a small bit of what I've already worked through and processed is helpful, then hot damn. Glad to hear it.

All that being said, I'd like to wrap it up this week's post with some drag queen wisdom.

“I always had hopes of being a big star. As you get older you aim a little lower and I just say “Well, yeah you still might make an impression.” Everybody wants to leave something behind them. Some impression, some mark upon the world. And then you think you left a mark upon the world if you just get through it and a few people remember your name. Then you left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better just to enjoy it. Pay your dues and enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high: hooray for you.” - Dorian Corey

Slooow...

Good grief it's been slow the last couple weeks. Remember me talking about "multiple paid job offers come literally minutes to seconds apart"? Yea, it's been awhile since then. July is typically a bad month for work – but fantastic for heading out on vacation. That's probably why it's a terrible paid work month.

Speaking of vacation, Saint Anne the Wife and our two boys are still in Oklahoma after we all headed out to spend time with family earlier this month. I came back to NYC early for a job last week and to work on some personal projects.

Honestly, there's some wisdom in not being in the city right now – one being that it's crazy hot and muggy here at the moment. I had a shoot in Harlem this past Tuesday and during my trek back to Brooklyn afterwards felt like I was dealing with a mild bout of heat exhaustion.

It's not easy being okay with not having paid work. I'd connected with another guy about it recently and he'd mentioned one year only having a couple days of work between May and September. Woof... He dealt with it by heading out to the pool, golf course, and barbecuing – honestly much better than sitting in front of a spreadsheet and tripping out that your monthly averages are now taking a hit. You've got to put money aside when things are good for times when they're not. Luckily I've been tucking more away than usual so at least I've got that going for me. That and there's quite a few beaches not too far from here. Oh, and don't forget about me working my way through Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

"I hope you get where you're going, and be happy when you do."

"She was a nice little girl, simple and true, and tremendously frightened of sex. I told her it was beautiful. I wanted to prove this to her. She let me prove it, but I was too impatient and proved nothing. She sighed in the dark."

"They spent all week saving pennies and went out Saturdays to spend fifty bucks in three hours."

Am I freaking out because work is incredibly slow? Yes, yes I am. Based on my professional and financial history, should I? No. Spoiler: I'm still kinda freaking out that things are so slow.

Summer's Halfway Over

Summer always felt halfway over following the Fourth of July holiday. Growing up we'd finish the spring semester in late May so June was there to do as you pleased. School started back up around the end of August making Labor Day like one last gasp of summer air before going back under for the school year.

By all means right now is the time for people to leave the city. Saint Anne the Wife and our boys are still in the middle of the country after we'd spent nearly a week with my parents in Oklahoma; I'm back to work in New York while they're spending more of the break with the other side of the family. It's hot and muggy here and I'm already missing the central AC that's somehow only acceptable in other parts of the country.

Late yesterday had me out to Coney Island to scout for a shoot this Thursday only to have my good intentions dashed by reality. Luckily not all was lost. Some of the ideas I'd had are for sure toast, but I walked away with a handful of stills (random & project references), a couple locations, and a decent production time frame.

Sidenote: I picked up Jack Kerouac's On the Road so I apologize in advance if I end up posting a ton of quotes.

“He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him.” - Jack Kerouac

Fighting Off the Downward Spiral

Last week was a slow one and I'm blaming the upcoming July 4th holiday. Down time usually means questioning every life choice I've ever made and making sure my wife doesn't hear me crying myself to sleep. So in fighting the downward spiral this past week I worked on filling the creative bucket that never seems to get enough attention.

There's honestly no shortage of inspiration here. You've got your pick of world class museums, fantastic people watching, and those random ideas that get to bounce into each other and spark something else. Oh, plus Netflix released Paul Thomas Anderson's short film ”Anima" as a partner piece to the new Thom Yorke album.

The Brooklyn Museum is walking distance from our place in Park Slope; The Met is a bit of a hike, but I made it out there too this past week. It's not like I head out to a museum looking for something specific. I'm literally out there looking for something that'll get my attention and keep it. If whatever I find – imagery, idea, feeling – leads me to something else I consider that a productive day. If that visual idea or feeling sticks around and leads to a project, even better.

Another part of literally "trying to do the thing" is intentionally roaming around with a camera. I had an early afternoon meeting near Wall Street Thursday and spent the rest of the working day shooting shadows for the most part. Not a big fan of that mid- to early afternoon light on people's faces (plus I'm still nervous AF about getting up in people's business to shoot a more traditional portrait).

This Week and Staying Organized

This past week was spent trying to catch up after being out of town the week before.

Monday was mostly spent traveling home from Los Angeles.
Tuesday had our older boy "Graduating" from Kindergarten and me in a meeting with an agency guy I'd just met.
Wednesday had me taking all the public transits (subway, train, bus) out to Long Island to shoot second camera on a lacrosse tutorial with a professional athlete.
Thursday was pretty much an exhausted blur and I apologize again to Saint Anne the Wife for falling asleep on the couch around 8pm.
Friday was pretty great seeing as how I recently got connected with a local Lululemon store. I was in a couple weeks ago to buy some work clothes and ended up having a conversation with one of the staffers about what I did for a living plus how I used their clothes. They ended up thinking all that nonsense was interesting enough to invite me back in for an additional shirt, pair of pants, and socks at no cost and no strings attached short of just staying in touch and letting them know how I'm continuing to use their clothing for work. Freakin' rad way to build customer loyalty.

In addition to all this nonsense I learned some new spreadsheet formulas to help automate some business related issues – super interesting obviously...

In keeping track of my time editing, I'd always tracked my hours in a simple spreadsheet. I'd plug in my start and end times, but never had the spreadsheet do the math for me. Some of my recent shooting jobs have had us going over the agreed on 10 hour days and I found myself digging through callsheets and any kind of digital record (text messages, Instagram DMs, etc.) to try and remember start and stop times. Turns out I've been missing out on some unpaid overtime.

With that in mind I ended up built out a somewhat souped up timecard spreadsheet. After plugging in my call and wrap times, the spreadsheet would automatically do the math and calculate overtime based on the day duration. I'm still working on cleaning it up and adding the options that'll automatically account for day rates as well as travel days, but that shouldn't too difficult.

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  • The HOURS column calculates the total hours worked that day.

    • =END '06/22/19'−START '06/22/19'
  • The next column calculates if the day was less than or equal to the amount of agreed on hours – in this case, a 10 hour day. If it's over, the text "OT" shows up in the following column; if not, it's a blank cell.

    • =IF(STRIPDURATION(HOURS '06/22/19')≤F$2÷24,"","OT")
  • The OT column calculates if there is overtime and how much; if none, it's a blank cell.

    • =IF('Hours:' '06/22/19'="OT",(HOURS '06/22/19'−F$2),"")
  • Finally the TOTAL OVER TIME is calculated by adding up the values in the OT column.

    • =SUM(F6:F9)

Another means of keeping my nonsense organized has me screenshoting images and/or taking photos then taking those images into the GoodNotes app on my iPad so I can make any handwritten notes as needed. Here's a couple rough notes from walking around and a quick visit to the Brooklyn Museum this past week.

Reggie Furrz - Space Magic

New stuff with Mr. David Bizzaro. It started out over coffee awhile back with David wanting to do a project with a new music track he'd written for his Reggie Furrz puppet. Fast forward to late April and we were in the studio shooting this magical bag of sparkles.

WRITER, DIRECTOR, PUPPETEER: David Bizzaro
PRODUCER: Cassie Bizzaro
DP: Me
AC: Christiana Lopez
VFX & EDIT: David Bizzaro