Philadelphia for a Night and Day

Just before moving to New York a client I've worked with the last few years reached out about a quick shoot in Philadelphia. No question – let's go. I knew I'd already be in Brooklyn at the time so I did the normal thing and looked for flights, this time out of New York City. Google Maps made fun of me and let me know Philadelphia is a two hour drive from the city.

"Don't be dumb, get a rental car." - Google Maps (pretty much).

Booking a car and picking it up in my neighborhood – easy. Driving in and around NYC and trying to park – I'd rather lose a fingertip in a fight with a table saw.

Not having to fly my gear on this shoot allowed a bit of wiggle room with my grip and electric budget. All the cool kids on the internet shoot with those fancy Quasar LED tubes but it's tough getting your hands on those Jedi laser swords in Oklahoma City. This is where Lightbulb Grip & Electric comes in. By far they were more than accommodating in my small order and made sure I had what I needed and knew how to use it. They set me up with two 4' Quasar Crossfades, dimmers, clamps, and c-stands.

After more than an hour trying to drive the four or so miles from Park Slope to the other side of Brooklyn to pickup the gear at Lightbulb, I was off to Philadelphia and working up fresh 'Yo Momma' jokes for the next table saw I came across. Good lord it was weird being out of the city after not being more than six to eight miles from my apartment for nearly a month.

It was dark by the time I got to my hotel in downtown Philadelphia and paid the $30 for overnight parking. I bundled up and headed out with a camera instead of camping out in my room because, again, that's what the cool kids do (I'm told). Word to the wise, the National Park Service Rangers – or at least the hired overnight security guards – will yell at you if you're walking too close to the chain railing on the street next to Independence Hall. Also, make sure your headphones aren't up too loud so you can hear them yell at you the first time. Oh, and they're not up for jokes if you're trying to lighten the mood and get them to stop yelling at you.

The actual shoot the next morning and reason I was in Philadelphia went very well. We were shooting another two camera interview for a series of client videos. It's not like these things come with a built in location scout, so I showed up with my normal Rock-N-Roller cart full of gear. Thank goodness for carts. We had to park in a garage a couple blocks away and then use a service elevator to get where we needed to be in another building. Luckily I was able to get all my nonsense from the car to where it needed to be in one trip.

So those Quasars... I'm a fan. We were shooting in a white room with plenty of daylight bouncing around. If I'd just had my trusty tungsten ARRI kit (650/300/150) I'd be freaking out knowing the gel and diffusion death march I'd be putting it through in getting the color and softness I wanted while praying it still had enough horsepower to overcome the ambient light coming through the windows. Those Quasar Crossfades were soft, bright, and I was able to quickly dial in the color temperature to what I wanted. They also weren't hot so the talent wasn't melting and I didn't have to wait for them to cool off before packing up. They felt a bit more magenta than I was use to, but that could've been how my monitor was setup. I've heard the color temp warms up a bit as they're dimmed down, but I had them at full blast. Seemingly the only butt-pain in using these lights in a travel kit would be hauling around c-stands; surely there's an easy solution to that.

Clara the dog is up here with me in NYC and needed to be boarded overnight while I was gone. That was a whole thing too, but it was a great experience with both the neighborhood vets office and the actual boarding facility. I'm assuming you're not here to read about my dog, but I will say she had a good time riding the subway. You're not supposed to have a dog on the train without them being in some kind of carrier – which again is a whole thing – but she immediately made friends on the train and surely made it on at least one more Instagram account.

Latenights @ Lightbulb: Metro Camera Cars

So straight up one of my big attractions to New York City is the concentration of filmmakers and opportunities to make stuff. Good grief the number of emails, direct messages, and coffee meetings I've been able to make the last few weeks has been fantastic. One of those coffee meetings was with a guy I met during the Film+Music Conference in Ft. Worth this past September. Dustin Ward is a Brooklyn based filmmaker and cool enough to point me towards Lighbulb Grip & Electric. Along with being a rental house, they do these free events called Latenights @ Lightbulb: Free Education for Filmmakers, by Filmmakers. Up this past week was Metro Camera Cars.

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Just a heads up, this isn't a paid post and I've not worked with these guys – I did get a chance to meet them though. They've got a cool thing going and I'm down with what they're trying to do.

By no means am I swimming in budgets with cash to burn. I've had projects where we needed a driving shot and I've done my fair share of "let's-hang-the-camera-guy-out-the-car" setups to – hopefully – get what we needed. More often than not it wasn't safe, the shot looks like garbage, and again, hanging someone out of a car isn't safe. The guys at Metro Camera Cars are out to make "high-end, dynamic, fluid camera movement accessible for all budgets... With skilled drivers and technicians, [their] goal is to increase your production value while decreasing risk."

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Cutting to the chase on all this, they've got fully motorized jib arm with a DJI Ronin 2 attached to the business end of it – you provide the camera and lens package. That whole setup is attached to a blacked out Honda Fit piloted by a stunt driver and filled with all kinds of gadgets and crew to make all the fluid and dynamic camera movement nonsense happen. Through their presentation they ran us through their gear, the basics of working with a camera car, and a solid Q&A session. Afterwards we all bundled up and went outside to actually see the setup. I've included my notes from the talk below.

Am I planning to hire out a camera car for an upcoming shoot? No. Do I now have a better idea as to what goes into a shoot with a camera car and a group to reach out to that would do a great job, especially with a tighter budget? Yes. Oh, and did I meet a solid handful of likeminded people who I may get a chance to work with at some point? Again, yes.

Two Weeks In

So two weeks in to living in New York City at this point. I'm nearly done unpacking and good lord I hope we're close to done spending the crazy money necessary in a cross-country move like this.

I've gone from an un-Godly amount of effort and work the last year and a half to get to this point and now that I'm here, it's a bit disorienting. Thank goodness I've already got a few friends and contacts up here answering my emails and direct messages and also introducing me people they know. Thankfully I had a conversation with a director I met the other day and he asked "What are your goals? What do you want to do?" A day or two after that conversation I honestly reached back out and apologized for the mangled stream of consciousness I laid out. After all that I've been through the last few months – emotionally, physically, and financially – I'd pretty much put that first impression performance up there with a dog bringing home the rancid parts of a dead bird it found in the street. Woof...

This is such an unusual time in my life. I'm an adult without a regular job living in a new city in a different part the country without the most important people in my life. The family and I have regular connections via phone calls, video chats, and text messages, but it's very weird knowing I'm physically removed from some of my responsibilities as a parent and husband. Obviously I married up considering how much a rockstar she is and has been throughout our relationship – especially the last few months. Anne the Wife will be working the next couple months and I've got quite a few invoices out, but I can imagine we'll soon be living off savings – at least in part.

This is normally the start of my slow season professionally. That's part of why we decided I should move up a couple months before Anne and the boys do. Thankfully I've got some work the next few weeks with existing clients. I'm supposed to be on a shoot in Philadelphia next week followed by a potential job in Kansas City; I've also got some editing work needing to be done.

Creatively, I'm ready to burst. Short of a few personal projects this past summer I've not had the margin or the outlet due to family responsibilities and prepping for the move. Now that I'm here and the tornadoes of the past season are spinning down I want to be part of a creative project so bad I can't stand it. I heard someone say something yesterday about wanting something so bad that their body hurt. I may not be to that point just yet, but I'd be completely lying if I said I wasn't nearly vibrating after seeing a full block of production trucks and trailers in my neighborhood last week. It took just about all of me to not walk up to the nearest person wearing a walkie and ask if I could just stand there with them. No question I'd have gotten the Production Assistant coffee if they wanted.

I've been intentional about going out with a stills camera in addition to always have my iPhone camera at the ready. It's fascinating seeing the subtle differences in how the existing light works here, especially with the sun going down around 4:30p. For one, that's mind-bending to me considering Oklahoma's daylight hours. Two, the afternoon light makes for a gorgeous backlight during the steady flow of people making their way home. Oh, and the street lamps everywhere are making for super interesting light and shadows. Good grief, I can't wait to get on a project soon.

Now a New Yorker

So I'm learning what it's like to not own a car. I'm also learning how to care for a dog while living in a small apartment with no yard. Oh, and my wife and kids are now 1500+ miles and a two-and-a-half-day drive away from where I live. It's been exactly one week since Clara the Dog and I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, NY.

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Anne and I have been super quiet about all this, but nearly 18 months ago we decided to uproot our family and move to New York City. It's been something I'd considered since my time in college; Anne and I have been talking about It for nearly 10 years.

A number of factors finally broke surface tension of actually committing to the move: I felt like my work and creative growth had plateaued; Oklahoma is 50th in the nation in teacher pay and the public education system – short of a few bright spots – is a hot mess; The world is a big place with lots of ideas and dIfferent kinds of people. Anne and I feel like we need to make sure our two kids know and experience that first hand.

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GOOD GRIEF it’s been a hard few weeks and months thanks to all the pressures, excitement, and anxieties riding shotgun with a cross-country move – not to mention doing all this with two small children and no steady jobs lined up.

The cost of just about everything here in NYC is quite the cold shower from how inexpensive it is to live in Oklahoma. I’ll still be freelancing and thankfully I’ve got some work already lined up. Anne is planning to take a semester off from teaching to help settle into a new city with a young family. We’ve got a bit of a financial runway after selling our house in Oklahoma City as well as both our cars, but we’ll get to the end of that soon enough.

Anne is a teacher and she's staying with the boys in Oklahoma City till the end of the year to finish out the fall school semester. The next month-and-a-half are an opportunity for me to hit the ground running here in New York to develop the relationships needed as a freelancer. Clara the Dog and I'll make the two-and-a-half day drive back to OKC for Christmas and we'll all come back afterward as a full family to our new home – crazy...

I’d feel better if I could just puke right now

Deadlines be damned – at least every now and then. We're CRAZY DEEP in major life transitions at the moment so this week's Monday post is being pushed out on Wednesday night. It's all good though seeing how I'm emotionally and physically wiped with everything going on. Oh, I also had a super quick shoot just outside St. Louis, MO, Monday & Tuesday of this week.

Freelancing means taking what you can when you can. What that sometimes looks like is me running so hard in the Houston airport Tuesday night that I needed to puke once I got the gate agent to re-open the jetway and let me on the plane. My flight out of St. Louis was delayed and I had to seriously hustle if I wanted to make the final Oklahoma City bound flight out of Houston that night. In full transparency I didn't end up throwing up on the plane, but good lord I apologize to anyone who heard me and my unsuccessful attempts in that tiny airplane bathroom.

With all that being said, I'll be quick with this week's post: Monday & Tuesday had me out of town with a longtime client. They reached out with a new batch of shoots the next few months and our first was just outside St. Louis, MO. It was a simple two camera talking head with additional b-roll for the edit.

The project had me shooting on their Canon 7D as well as me flying out with my Canon 5Dmk3 package and basic lighting kit. There wasn't a scout ahead of time, so I just packed what I had and hoped for the best. I've had that camera and lighting kit for years, but this was the first shoot with my new SmallHD 702 Bright monitor. I'd rented them over the years as needed, but finally replaced my aging 7" Marshall monitor thanks to a recent ShareGrid & AbleCine sale.

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The interview setup was very straight forward. We shot next to nearly floor to ceiling windows on a balcony overlooking a large lobby area. We had mostly clear skies that day and the wall was a patchwork of glass with a few of the windows having a blue tint to them. We also had tungsten lighting overhead, so basically a mess of color temps going on the whole time. My best option was to use the existing daylight blasting through the windows and try to augment the look with my small lighting package.

Having to wrangle the mess of color temps had me adding a blue gel to my tungten lights to try and get closer to the daylight pouring through the windows. I also set the white balance in each camera to something like 4800k to try and come close to what was happening in the space light-wise. I'll normally shoot a flat color profile on DSLRs so the image can be more easily fixed as needed in post. These two shots ended up being a bit more green than I'd expected, but not a big deal.

I will say I'm digging the SmallHD monitor so far; For sure feels lighter than the dinosaur of a 7" Marshall I've been rockin’ since the early years of the Obama administration. One of my favorite features from that Marshall monitor was the false color option. Unfortunately that psychedelic godsend finally crapped out on my relic a while back and I was forced to judge exposure by eye like some kind of monster. This fancy pants SmallHD monitor has multiple false color options, but the corresponding IRE color representation is a bit different than the Marshall so I'm still getting the hang of it.

Oh, and a couple side notes: One, my rental car was brand new and literally had five miles on the odometer when I got it. And B, go find Sump Coffee if you're needing a caffeine fix in St. Louis. They're doing the Lord's Work out there.

Film+Music 2018: Everything Else

Jumped the gun a couple weeks ago in thinking I'd have a good deal of content to share from the 2018 Film+Music Conference. Absolutely worth the price of admission and then some in hearing from solid speakers and connecting with such a hotbed of creatives from around the world, but looking through the rest of my notes from the event I figured I'd give a single shotgun blast of what I'm holding near and dear.

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GENERAL NOTES

I kept a running list of general notes throughout the conference; Rough ideas, discarded gum wrappers, and random tidbits all got thrown into the pile. Here's the condensed version:

  • Write another story

Following the experience with my 2015 short film Nora I'd kinda given up on the idea of seriously leading another narrative short film. Considering the amount of money and resources I'd dumped into that short, the return on investment just wasn't there. "Boo-hoo" and "woe-is-me," but I learned quite a bit in the process and had a great time making something with good friends. But again, I spent too much of my own money. 2016 brought an opportunity to direct a 48 Hour Film Project in Oklahoma City. That short, Illustrator's Anonymous, – again alongside Producer Amanda Hyden – was a much better experience, WAY the hell cheaper, and garnered a much better reception.

All that being said, being around such incredible creatives who're out making stuff and pushing forward was the prodding I needed to not give up on story. It's about time I get my nonsense together and move towards another narrative project with my name somewhere on it.

  • Connect with production companies

Surely to those in the know, this is a given. Oklahoma is a small market and production companies hiring out freelancers isn't a thriving thing here – at least in my experience. The majority of my DP, Director, and/or Production work comes directly through ad agencies, PR firms, and directly from businesses and non-profits. I get the random contact from out of state production companies for work now and then, but those are the outliers. More often than not those groups are phoning in their direction and I'm a "one-man-band" or simply running a 2-3 person crew.

Moving forward, I plan to keep the work and take the phone calls I'm already getting, but I absolutely see the value and built in infrastructure associated with production companies that are more than one or two people who got a bank loan for some gear and became a "Production Company" – i.e. Tanner Herriott Productions, LLC.

  • Fake it till you make it

This goes without saying. I was on a shoot not long ago where the client asked me directly if I'd "worked with (insert specific thing)." I'd literally worked with (insert specific thing) for the first time the day before so I wasn't "technically" lying, but I was for sure sewing the parachute together after jumping out of the plane on that project. Looking back at it now, that was exactly what needed to have been said and the project turned out well.

SPEAKER NOTES

Robert Legato was the opening speaker and is a VFX Supervisory wizard. He's been on major films like Jungle Book, Hugo, and Titanic. He pulled back the curtain on some of the technology used in those major motion pictures. He also talked about how "making something that's meaningful to you [being] at the heart of what we do" and "doing your thing and hoping someone likes it." In the end, "If they don't, well...that sucks." There was also the well-earned wisdom of "figuring out your 'work around' to get to the level you're wanting to reach. If something's on a high shelf, you build a ladder."

DP Laura Merians Goncalves's first of two breakout sessions focused on the creative- and career-oriented side of cinematography. Everything seemed to focus on being patient and kind to yourself throughout the process. Please keep in mind that anything that'll last is not built overnight. Looking again through my notes I highlighted "Just keep shooting" and "Rest well and keep going." There's also the point of "You've got to get out there and make connections and maintain those relationships," an important fact with which I'm constantly struggling. There's more in my notes below if you're up to check them out.

The breakout session from the Evolve Studios leadership further pushed the importance of a production company. They spoke about growing slowly and having the "infrastructure in place to further your career and get bigger opportunities." They also stressed how as a professional creative, you're in the service industry. "Protect your clients' interests and they'll keep hiring you."

Franklin Leonard of The Black List fame basically did his own thing and blew up any idea of what we expected to hear from a speaker at an event like this. You don't need me to tell you, but America is in an unusual time in its history with all that's going on politically, racially, socially, etc, and in no way was Franklin Leonard there to make us feel comfortable with what's going on. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke the truth in love to a roomful of creatives who're able to contribute to the needed change in the industry and otherwise.

"If I keep talking about how dirty [the world] is out here, someone is going to clean it up." - Tupac Shakur

Q: "As a white male filmmaker, how can I contribute to change?"
A: "Step out of the circle of people who look like you and invest in other people... Talent isn't concentrated among the people who are just like you."

Q: "Should someone from a majority race approach telling stories of minorities?"
A: "It's important to 'write what you know,' but equally as important to 'write what you research.'"

Again, seriously a solid event that I hope continues to grow and help shape this generation of filmmakers and creatives. Already looking forward to next year's conference.

Slam Dunk - The Bayr Show

Meet Bayr. He's the Bayr from The Bayr Show. Here's the first short I got to shoot in NYC this summer to help kick off Season Two of the show.

If you've followed along for any length of time, you'll have already been introduced to the puppet wizard David Bizzaro. He's the one you literally won't see making the magic happen. Back in July we hiked down to a park not far from his place in upper Manhattan to shoot "Slam Dunk" along with fellow puppeteer Jake Bazel.

After a bit of a hiatus The Bayr Show is back up and in pre-production with plenty of crazy down the road. I've done a few projects with David and Bizzaro Studios in the last year or so and they've asked me to DP Season Two of the show. Shooting with puppets is whole thing in itself and after we get a few more projects done I plan to share what I've learned in the process.

For more information about the show, go check out The Bayr Show Patreon page.

"The Bayr Show is a 10-minute surrealist comedy series that celebrates joy and reminds everyone that they are awesome creatures. Bayr is the host of the show interviewing crazy guests, dancing and singing to original music, and going on mind bending adventures."

Film+Music 2018: Making a Monster with Diego Contreras

You up for some of creative nuggets I picked up during the 2018 Film+Music Conference? Over the next few weeks I'm planing to share some of the highlights and my major takeaways. First up, Diego Contreras and his "Making a Monster" breakout session.

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Big fan of this guy. Pretty sure the first time I'd heard of Diego was through Khalid Mohtaseb around the time of their Lincoln "Bloom" spot. Or maybe it was The Sandman via the Films About Numbers days.

Diego is legendary in terms of writing treatments and Film+Music had him out this year to do a breakout session. Most of the talk focused on his recent project with Facebook.

My experience hasn't had me around too many project "treatments" over the years, but more recently I've been intentional about writing out the ideas and concepts for a project and putting together production notebooks to help keep clients and crew on the same page throughout production. Hearing from someone who seems to know what they're doing in terms of "writing a treatment" still feels like hearing from someone who's actually seen the Lost City of Atlantis.

Diego's talk for sure wasn't the cure all or definitive text in writing treatments, but his ideas about busting your tail and putting yourself into it vs. being lazy and just doing what you're told, setting the tone of the project early on, and especially writing before looking for visual references were gold.

He also pulled scripture into the talk in referencing 2 Timothy 1.7: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." I'm assuming he's going after the idea of not being afraid as a director to pour yourself into a project and be okay with making them deeply personal when appropriate.

The takeaways in terms of bigger ideas from his talk were "Making your own opportunities" and "Using every 'No' as an opportunity to get better." Sure, they aren't really concrete ideas in terms of "writing a treatment" but still solid.

All this fanboying on my part does come with a few very strong caveats. More than once Diego talked about how much of his life is consumed with his work: Not sleeping for days on end while plowing through new treatments; Fully owning up to flaking out on personal commitments when new work came knocking. There's also the fact that all the projects he writes on short of his personal work come through his director representation – not really a problem the rest of us plebeians face. All that being said, I still respect this guy and his work. It's always up to the individual to take in what they've learned and apply it to what they're already doing.

My quickly scribbled notes – misspellings and all – plus stills from his talk are included below. Some of the text in the stills may be hard to read, but I'll include it in the picture description.

Not a Normal Week

Hi Monday, it's Tanner. Hope all's well.

Sorry I wasn't able to get back to you last week; It's been nuts the last few days. Turns out you're supposed to move out of house when they're doing renovations. Either that or you just live in the house without a working bathroom and sleep next to piles of sheetrock dust. Nah, I'm good. Let's go stay with Anne's mom for a few days.

I will say changing things up hasn't been entirely awful. I discovered the glory of the self-service dog wash. You literally pay a place $10 and use their bathtub, water, and supplies to wash your dog and then THEY clean up afterwards. Clara the Dog was nowhere near as impressed.

Oh, and I wanted to mention that I got to speak on a panel during an event for Oklahoma college students studying broadcast journalism. I got a call a few weeks ago from a nice woman from the Oklahoma Broadcast Education Association asking if I'd be interested in speaking about my experience as a freelancer and "alternative career paths" during their OETA-OBEA Student Seminar Day.

Panel Moderator: "What is one thing you'd have done differently in college?"
Me: "Study engineering...?"

Needless to say, it went well. Thank you for asking.

In terms of "actually working," my desk, editing setup, and camera gear were all packed away during the house renovations, but there were a few things this week.

You remember David Bizzaro? He's the puppet guy and director I've connected with up in NYC. We've shot a few things and he hit me up about DP'ing season two of The Bayr Show. So that's rad. If you're in NYC October 15th there's a screening party at the Made in NY Media Center to kick off the new season.

Oh, and I got to fill in as 'DP for the day' on a feature a long time buddy of mine is directing out in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. You should go give Ryan Staples Scott a follow.

The plan is for us to move back into our house early this week, but we'll see how that goes. Hit me up if you need something; I'll still be around.

Thanks again,

tanner

Becoming an Old Freelancer - Community

Community is fresh on my mind following this past weekend's Film + Music Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. If you've not heard of it, it's worth booking your tickets now for next year's event.

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My experience as a freelancer has me spending the VAST majority of my time alone. On a typical weekday, I'll help get Anne the Wife and our two boys out the door and off to school/work just after 7am. By 7:30am, I'm at one of my regular coffeeshops in the Oklahoma City area reading, writing, and plowing through emails thanks to a cup of coffee that'll typically be cold before I'm finished. Around 9:30-10am it’s back to the house to continue working until Anne and the boys get home by 5pm. On most weekdays my local coffeeshop is literally the only time and place I'll see someone other than my wife and kids.

Obviously there are production days, errands, and face-to-face client interactions, but having that much alone is something I didn't expect when leaving my last full-time job back in January 2011; Unquestionably I miss having that built in work family. They still hire me as a freelancer now and then and though it's been almost eight years they still feel like extended family members.

My work family now is a loosely connected group of other freelancers, clients, and vendors mostly in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but also across the country. There are seasons where I'm on the road with clients and crew anywhere from a couple days up to multiple weeks at a time. Those shared experiences allow you to develop stronger relationships, but afterwards you each go your separate ways not knowing if and when you’ll ever see each other again. Thankfully I've kept in touch over the years with those I've connected with across the country and around the world, but it takes intentional effort maintaining those relationships through email, text messages, phone calls, etc.

Events like the Film + Music Conference are gold to me. You're able to sharpen your craft by learning from industry leaders, but connecting face-to-face with other creatives is where it's at. Networking events still make this self-described introvert cringe, but the immediate urge to vomit and curl up into a the fetal position has lessened the more I’ve forced myself to suck it up and introduce myself to new people; It helps to know they're probably feeling the same way at the same time.

I'd love to say that this is an industry based on merit and ability, but it's one of relationships and self-motivation. You’d better believe I read and re-read this New York Times article about How to be Better at Parties before heading off to last weekend’s conference.