Back to Family Stuff

Seriously thank goodness I've been staying busy. Work has been coming in and closely followed by invoices and paychecks. Lately I've been on the road quite a bit and the opportunity to travel has always been one of those fringe benefits to what I get to do for a living. It seems like I've worked and travelled more these last two or three months than I had in the last year or two. With that in mind, I'm trying hard to respect the time I get with my family.

I'll never not say it: Saint Anne the Wife is the quarterback of our family while I'm barely the JV waterboy. Being a parent is hard AF and trying to do it in New York City doesn't make it any easier. We're trying our hardest to even reach for the lowest hanging fruit of "not raising terrible and entitled monsters." Are we doing it right? I have no idea, but I'm assuming we're ahead if we aren't the parents letting their kids lay on the floor at Whole Foods.

If you can't tell already, this is one of those phoned in posts because I have more work than time this week. That being said, here's some iPhone stills of us finally getting to visit Coney Island this past weekend.

Shooting Cheap Plastic

Happy Monday yo. I'm back in Brooklyn after spending the majority of last week in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I could go into how weird it was going back home for the first time after moving my family to New York, but no one has time for that. Loved getting to spend some time with my parents and freakin' kudos to Tulsa and all the goings on for the art kids up there.

Now that that's out of the way, on to the main event: me giving in depth tutorials on "how to become a better filmmaker" and trying to sell you a subscription to my inner circle membership. Either that or me just walking you through an idea I'd put aside a while back to actually using it on a paid client project.

Todd Pyland from TPC Studios called a couple weeks ago with a project the first week of April. Any reason to be in Tulsa is a good one so I was all about it. We'd be shooting some interviews for one of their non-profit clients in TPC's white studio space. I sent them a link to some of my other talking head shoots and also put together some options and rough ideas.

We ended up going with a mix of ideas I'd seen from DP Oren Sofer (screen grabs and BTS) and a conversation I'd had with a buddy of mine named Charlie Molleur about another DP who'd shot through clear plastic spoons to get a distorted look into the camera. I'd shot through similar items before and knew the distorted image could help to add an interesting look to these interviews.

The client approved the look and I started working through how to make it work. Oren Sofer used stands and Cardellini clamps to place small sheets of glass in front of the lens; Charlie's guy had taped plastic spoons to a c-stand. When I'd shot similar looks I'd just held the transparent item in front of the lens, but for this shoot I knew I'd be on my own for setup, running both the camera and audio, and we'd planned to slightly vary the look of each of the interviews. With that in mind, I wanted to figure out a way to quickly and easily attach whatever it was I planned to shoot through. Oh, and also didn't want to spend any money doing it.

The first solution was taping the plastic utensil – the knife looked better than the spoon for this shoot – to a bent wire I harvested from a coat hanger attached to the matte box. Yep, held it in place, but quickly became a nightmare in trying to adjust the look. Then I used a spring clip to attach the plastic utensils to a light stand. MUCH easier to adjust vs. the metal wire, but now since it wasn't attached to the camera I couldn't reframe as the talent adjusted in their seat. The final solution was to re-purpose one of the articulating arms I use for my monitors. Turns out a $200 Zacuto Z-arm is MUCH easier to adjust vs. the metal coat hanger gaffe taped to a mattebox or using a spring clip and light stand.

OH! And freakin' shout out to TPC Studios for having two large black v-flats at their space. I wouldn't find out about those being available until LATE into setting up for the shoot. I was absolutely tripping out trying to work out getting any kind of contrast while trying to light in an all white room. Being able to move those around along with different lens lengths (50 & 85mm) and adding a slight Dutch angle to the camera helped add some variation to the shots in what could easily been a sterile looking interview in front of a white wall.

"But Tanner, didn't you already work this out back in 2016 with a prism and talk about it on REDUSER?" - me, just remebering about it while writing this post

The original goal was to do all this nonsense without spending money. There's times when cheap hacks absolutely work, but by all means there a reason why professional gear is worth the investment. Oh, and I'm absolutely including the "figured it out in 2016" thing hoping anyone reading this doesn't think I'm an idiot.

Stumbling Forward

Seems like this "post once a week" nonsense has been getting harder and harder lately. March started off with me basically saying "I'm too busy right now." The next week was me talking about working with other people and not taking their experiences for granted followed up by another week of me saying "Man, I'm so busy right now." Then there was a music video that I'm incredibly self-conscious about.

In my regular end of week "oh man, what am I going to write about?" panic, I end up coming back to the purpose and goal of regular blog posts: a self imposed discipline to reflect and continue improving on whatever it is I'm doing.

At church this past Sunday the guest speaker opened his sermon by basically saying "I don't have anything that anyone needs." Good Lord that's entirely appropriate for anything I‘ve ever written. Instead of pretending to be an expert I’m admiting to times of "stumbling forward" in hopes it'll be helpful to someone else.

March was a good month – stressful, but good. Financially it was the best March I've had since I started keeping records. I'm crazy thankful to have had 14 days of paid shoots and be working out of town nearly as much as I was home. It was also one of my better stock footage months too, so by all means I'm down with that. April is off to a good start and I've already booked three shoots back in Oklahoma this first week.

Months ago I'd given myself an April 1st deadline as to whether or not I'd continue freelancing or go after a full-time job here in New York. Well, it's April 1st and I'm planning to continue freelancing for the foreseeable future. That's not something I'm taking lightly by any means.

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This freelance nonsense is feast or famine and I know full well that work can dry up just as fast as it comes. Still, every once in awhile I get to look up from whatever viewfinder I'm shooting through while walking backwards covering a scene and get to see views like this one from just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. I'm pretty sure experiences like this are a major reason I still love what I get to do for a living.

Elena Goddard - "Disappear"

"I do my best to evesdrop on converstations. That's why I spend so much time at coffee shops." - me, not really (the evesdropping part)

Actually that's somewhat true on this one. Short of leaving a tooth brush in their bathroom I've pretty much claimed Brooklyn Habit as my go to coffee shop since moving to NYC. Most weekday mornings you'll find me there in front of my laptop, notebook, and a black coffee. A few weeks ago I'd overheard one of the baristas talking about a music video she'd just put out. She'd mentioned wanted to another one for an upcoming release and had a few ideas.

Elena Goddard's day job is helping keep Brooklynites caffeinated, but this Canadian singer/songwriter has been doing her own music since she was little. We ended up talking about doing a music video after a few of her other options had flamed out. I showed her some of my work, she sent me a few references, and we went from there.

Now to be straight about all this, Elena's is the first music video I've done with an artist from beginning to end. I'd cam op'd a music video for another DP waaay back in the day, shot a ton of live performances, and cut together footage I'd shot to music I like. For sure I approached this with those experiences in mind but also worked through the concept to help direct Elena through the process. Here's a link to the treatment if you're up to check it out. Another thing I'd done was put together a proof of concept edit using some of the reference images. The concept morphed a bit once we got to post but the exercise was still helpful in thinking through the project ahead of time as well as pitching the idea to Elena.

By no means was what I'd wanted to do a ground breaking concept. The song is about being in a dark place in life and not knowing how to communicate that with others or if they'd even know if you were gone. I've been in crazy dark places in my own life and thankfully come out healthier on the other side. I saw the verses being what she presented to the public; choruses were how she actually felt but would never share; the bridge visually represented how out of control she felt emotionally.

Each section had a specific look lighting-wise. Elena had originally sent me Jessie J's "Not My Ex" and we both liked the idea of a simple shot in front of a solid background. For the chorus I was absolutely set on a single reference image shot by Daniel Routh for a short by Matthew P. Rojas. I thought the tight framing and short sided look represented our character being at end of her rope and ready to accept a dark fate. For the more abstract inner struggle stuff the thought was to make it feel like the world in front of our character was dark but not realize there's still light somewhere.

Thank goodness for making connections here in NYC. I met Christiana Lopez at a Christmas party through a friend of David Bizzaro. She'd seen the Slam Dunk video we'd done with his Bayr character and was down to make stuff if anything came up. She basically wore all the hats on this shoot short of what all Elena and I were doing. Absolutely look forward to getting a chance to work with her again soon.

Elena looked around for a few afforadable studio spaces in Brooklyn and found gem of a space in Clinton Hill. At $40/hour the space ticked all our "must haves" and she booked us six hours; totally worth it. We got there early and hustled through the shoot using every bit of that time. There was a booking immediately after us and I made them leave the room when they showed up early.

"We've got the room for another 13 minutes so I'm gonna need you to wait outside." - me

Everything was shot on my RED Weapon Helium and Zeiss CP.2 lens set. The direct to camera stuff was shot in 8k at 23.98fps while the slow motion stuff was in 5k at 96.39fps. The plan was to deliver a 4k final and I'd planned to do some digital zooms with the slow motion footage. We initially had a flicker using my tungsten light and the higher frame rate shots so out came the Flicker Free app to get us to a 298.2° shutter.

Part of making stuff is always knowing there were things I'd have done better or differently once a project is wrapped up. Once I started in on the edit I wish I'd have shot with more light and cooled my jets a bit with the haze.

The verse sections were lit with an ARRI 650 through a Matthews Road Rags 24"x36" silk. The chorus had us pushing an ARRI 150 through a silk and raising the ambient by shooting an ARRI 300 into the white ceiling way camera left. The abstract stuff had us putting a snoot made of black wrap on the 300 and hazing the crap out of the room to get a shaft of light; wish I'd have let the haze chill the F out a bit more before each take so it would've looked more uniform. We blew through a can of Atmosphere Aerosol I had left over from a feature shoot a couple years ago.

By far the verse section was my least favorite shot in the whole thing. I dug the lighting on Elena, but the brightness of the white background was no question too high. That was the first setup and in the rush to get going I didn't realize we also had gray paper available. We ended up shooting on gray through the rest of the day and didn't have time to go through the verse section again. I tried fixing it in post with a secondary HSL adjustment but no dice. Surely a colorist who knew what they were doing could've saved that shot.

One of the "happy accidents" from the shoot was how the light reflected off Elena's backless body suit. The idea was to have her in silhouette and the light reflecting off her back and additional haze helped to separate her even more from the backdrop. I absolutely dig the warmer color tones we got in camera but ended up cooling off the shot in post to reinforce our concept.

Staying Busy (in Chicago)

Having been on both sides of the "I'm so busy" coin I think it's absolutely abhorrent when freelancers complain about having a ton of work. That being said: last week was incredibly busy.

Being busy with paid work means having invoices out and not taking an angry backhoe to our savings but also balancing "man, it's great to stop and process the last few days." You'd think that as a semi-adult I'd have worked through the "grass is always greener on the other side" thing – nope.

A text message Tuesday evening this past week led to me being on a job in Chicago the next few days. Just want to make it clear that work situations like that aren't incredibly unusual, but it's by far an outlier for me. I'd been out on the west coast for a good part of the week before so jumping back on another plane to somewhere else was crazy exciting. Freakin' kudos to Saint Anne the Wife for putting up with me and my atypical work schedule.

Through a connection I'd made here in New York via Filmsupply I got to DP an additional unit on a project shooting in Chicago. After getting there late Wednesday night I got to quickly meet the director, producer, and 1st Unit DP and go through through some early edits. My footage needed to blend with what they were already doing so having that time to connect and get an idea of what they were expecting from me was incredibly helpful. Again, crazy thankful I got to be part of their project.

Thursday's shoot went well and I got to try out some visual ideas via the 1st Unit DP that I'll use again in one way or another. The project leadership had a rad team/crew in place and allowed me to jump into their already well oiled machine to shoot in a way that will cut well with the footage from the other units; can't wait to see the edits sometime down the road. Bonus points for randomly getting to work with an AC that I actually worked with 10+ years ago in Oklahoma at my last full-time job.

Friday had me flying back to New York but that was a bit of a hot mess. Our flight out of Chicago was delayed and then we ran into some weather issues that diverted us to Syracuse to re-fuel. We got stuck there due to even more weather problems and instead of getting home around 7p I stumbled into our apartment around 2:30a the next morning.

At this point it looks like I'll be shooting at least a day or two here locally on top of a few other pojects that will be wrapping up this week.

Other People > You

The end of last week had me on the west coast with a New York based production company. Early Thursday morning through a red-eye flight Sunday night I was a second camera on a project shooting in Portland and Los Angeles.

“So I’m writing this week’s blog post from an airplane.” - me (absolutely true but I’ll never be a big enough deal to say something like that and not sound like a d-bag)

Part of freelancing is constantly working with different people and more often than not I’m on jobs with people who’ve been part of some extremely interesting things. This trip alone had me working with someone who was previously an Army sniper; a producer who was working on Mt. Everest a few years back during a deadly avalanche; and a DP who worked on a project in Antarctica.

“I’ve been at it long enough to have my own stories, but I’m pretty sure it’s still better to listen more than you speak.” - me (again, the guy writing this post that still probably talks too much)

There's always some kind of down time during shoots – especially when you're traveling together for multiple days at a time – and seems like small talk always circles around to stories of previous jobs and time on the road; I'm all about it BTW. This line of work has brought some rad life experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve got my go-to stories that I just know everyone wants to hear about. That's basically the point when I've stopped listening to what other people have to say and just wait for my turn to try and one up their stories. That's pretty much the worst and I'm awful at not being that guy.

Basic Life Tip: contribute more than you consume.

Never be the most important person in the room. You have an awesome story? Rad. I bet someone else does too. You finished with what you're doing and able to be helpful to someone else? Get to it. Are you causing more problems than you're solving? Hey dummy, stop it. No matter how good you are at what you do as a freelancer, if people don't like being around you you’re not helping your chances of getting hired again.

Head Down and Working

It’s Monday, past my self imposed 10am deadline, and there’s no blogpost. I’m typing away on my iPhone because my laptop is out for a week or two to be serviced. On top of that there’s the whole thing of our 700sq foot apartment being filled with young children today — only two of those are mine. There’s a whole backstory to it, but know there’s no way I’m going to get any writing and/or work done on my desktop computer.

Rather than kick myself because I missed my deadline and don’t have the margin to write, I’m just keeping it short this week. There’s just a TON going on at the moment. Early last week had me with my head down in prep for a music video that we shot Wednesday with Elena Goddard. More on that to come for sure. In the meantime, here’s a couple teasers.

WTH is Midwinter Break?!

So turns out NYC has a "Midwinter Break" which means the public school kids are out for a whole week. By 10am Monday morning Saint Anne the Wife and I realized why all the other NYC parents take their kids and leave town. By early that afternoon we had our two boys bundled up and off to find the middle of nearby Prospect Park before one of us burst into flames and burned down our side of Brooklyn.

If you've been following along for any length of time you'll know I'm big on routines, systems, and absolutely bent towards working all the time. Turns out that's not how being part of a family works so this past week was a growing – or at least stretching – one for me personally.

I'll never not admit that I married up; Anne is still by far the best part of my life. For as much as I'm working my tail off to get things going professionally here in a new city, she's lapping me in making sure our family is getting settled and surrounded by a solid community of people. With the amount of stress I've taken on being the breadwinner for our family during this time surely I've vastly underestimated what she has on her plate. If you’re ever inclined to see how strong your marriage is, try moving across the country, with two small children, no jobs, and away from extended family.

Speaking of breadwinning, Wednesday had me on my second paid job of 2019. A friend of a friend connected me with Plywood Pictures here in Brooklyn and they had me out to shoot on a project not far outside the city. The shoot went well and I had a good opportunity to connect with the producer. Hopefully they'll keep me around and I'll be able to land more work with them down the road.

This week also had me making some progress on a couple different music videos in the works – both as a DP working with a director and as a director/DP. It'd been awhile since I'd put together a treatment so it felt good to flex those mental muscles again.

Oh, and Thursday had me out with a stills camera and wandering around the city again. I'm currently obsessed with watching how street photographers work and had a quick second to watch a stranger doing their thing on the subway. Surely I'll have more to say about that later. In the meantime, I'll just post a few from Thursday.

Fixing my train wreck in post

So, uh... Anyone else get sick to your stomach after finishing something and absolutely know you weren't as prepared as you thought you were? Ooo, it's even worse when you get other people involved. It's like that time as a sophomore when I talked a senior girl into being my date to the highschool band equivalent of prom and didn't realize it was a formal event. She looked great in her formal gown but you should've seen me in my khakis, denim button up, and Goofy tie. She sat at another table and got a ride home with other friends that night.

Last Monday I reached out again to Olivia Abassi to see if she'd be up to make something. We've made other stuff in the past and I had a couple loose ideas and some references, but those basically got tossed once we started. She's fantastic on camera and an even better person; Anne and I have basically claimed her as our younger cousin. I think that's why I felt sick to my stomach afterwards knowing she gave up her free time to go make something with me and I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was.

In the end we ended up with two different edited pieces, but actually making the sausage couldn't have been pleasant to watch. In going out I'd wanted to shoot some stock type footage to send to my FilmSupply account. The hope was that any sales would pay for our expenses (pizza, coffee, train ride) plus generate some additional passive income for both of us over time. I honestly didn't feel like anything was landing so we stopped for coffee and assessed what we had. We had one shot I absolutely dug and we went back to what we'd enjoyed doing before (her dancing in public to music no one around could hear). She and I came up with two different songs we're each obsessed with at the moment. Olivia knew all the words to "I'd Rather be Blue" sung by Barbra Streisand and I've been wearing out "Ladders" by Mac Miller.

I'm also still working my way through Principles by Ray Dalio and some of it fits in nicely with [in my opinion was] Monday night's train wreck.

"Bad times coupled with good reflections provide some of the best lessons."

"An ability to figure things out is more important than having specific knowledge of how to do something."

"The key is to fail, learn, and improve quickly."

Originally we'd planned to do Olivia's song as one long take. We did a few different takes and were happy with a couple of them – her performance and my shooting. But once I got back and started through the edit I realized it just wasn't working. Each take had great parts that I didn't want to ditch just because the original idea was to have one single performance. I ended up syncing up the different takes like a multicam shoot and edited using that idea. I'd already made 2k proxies from the original 8k .R3D files so it wasn't that taxing on my computer run the multiple takes at once. It actually made for an interesting way to approach the edit and an idea I'd be all about using again.

The Mac Miller track ended up being way too long to stay interesting with my original idea. We did a few take with her dancing to the nearly five minute track and I knew right off the bat it wasn't going to work using a single take. Rather than just ditching the footage in post, I synced it up with the track and marked each downbeat throughout each take. From there I made a 60 second edit of the track and pulled some selects from the stock footage we shot at the beginning of the night. The thought was to make a short piece where our hero, Oliva, was trying to get to an event or meet up with someone who in the end would cancel. The dancing part was what she had to do mentally to deal with the stress of someone bailing on her.

Lunar New Year

This past Tuesday was the Lunar New Year. I'd seen photos and footage from years past and knew to be in Chinatown with a camera in hand. It took a bit to work through the footage and tame those 8k R3D files with proxies, but I'm diggin' what I got.

One of the big draws to Tuesday's New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival event was the something like 600k firecrackers being set off. With how the event space was shaped and laid out I was never in a good spot to see them go off. What I ended up with was a ton of people watching the event plus a good deal of paper confetti flying around. I went out thinking I'd get some footage of the dragon dances, but there actually wasn't much of that. In the end I worked towards making a somewhat whimsical cut with the confetti paper playing as big a role as the people watching it fly around.

CAMERA & EDIT: me
MUSIC: Kabul To Paramaribo by Clap! Clap!

The first time I went to China was around this time of year in 2007. A Christian non-profit based in Tulsa hired me out to help film some of the work they were doing there. It's been a minute since then, but I absolutely have some fantastic memories from that two week trip. Bonus points for the BTS photo of me from that trip DEEP into my Euro-mullet days.

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It wasn't my first time overseas, but China was my first experience being in a non-western country. I remember kinda tripping out when we got there because it was late-January and they were prepping for the upcoming "New Year." We'd already done our thing back in the west and the early 20s me had zero clue about a lunar calendar. Honestly the later 30s me is still on the western end of just reading a few Wikipedia entries about a calendar based on moon cycles and the Chinese zodiac. I'm diggin' the fact though that both 2007 and 2019 are Years of the Pig. Oh, and let's not talk about the image and resolution difference between the Panasonic DVX100b I was rockin' back then and my RED Weapon Helium now.

When I first moved to NYC, Yelp sent me to Chinatown for hand pulled noodles. Since then I've gone out of my way to spend time in that part of town and drag my family along when I can. I'd read something about how you're supposed to eat dumplings and noodles during the holiday for good luck, so obviously dinner had us taking the train back to Chinatown. Afterwards we waded through the closed and confettied streets where events that night were being wrapping up. You know it's a good party when it takes a fleet of garbage trucks and an army sanitation workers wielding push brooms and leaf blowers to clean up.