So we made a thing

No clue. Absolutely no clue what was going on here. I'm just diggin' the fact that I've got friends who trust me and are basically up to make stuff no matter what.

In the latter part of June I'd bought a one-way ticket to New York City with plans to connect with friends, make stuff, and meet new people. In prepping for the trip I reached out to Olivia Abiassi to see if she'd be up to make something while I was in town.

Olivia is an actress friend of mine who I stumbled upon while casting a short film a few years ago. I say stumbled because she was actually off camera reading the female lead's part to help with the male talent's audition video. In hearing her read I immediately knew she was the lead I was looking for. She worked her tail off for that little passion project of mine and her performance was more than I could ask for. Fast forward a couple years she's now living and working in NYC.

Normally I'll put solid time and effort into prepping for a shoot. This project was more or less thrown together during my 45 minute subway commute from Washington Heights to her place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There was no scout ahead of time; Not even a decent concept. Just me plowing through her Instagram account and listening to a TON of Logic's "The Incredible True Story" album.

A few months ago she had posted a short clip of herself prepping for something and accidentally – and absolutely – struck gold. She's got a great sense of humor and doesn't seem to take herself very seriously. She's also got great eyes and facial expressions which absolutely deliver on camera.

This simple Instagram post opened the idea of her getting completely lost in her own world and caring less about what people around her thought. In just about everything I try to make there's a bit of me braided in somewhere. For this utterly informal short I started her off buried in her phone trying to keep up with either the nonsense of social media or the non-stop stream of the world's bad news. In putting on her headphones, she's able to escape for a bit.

From a production standpoint, the headphones were key. I sent her a playlist I'd put together during my commute, but we ended up keeping Logic's "Fade Away" on repeat and that kept her movement timing consistent. I on the other hand couldn't hear the music, gave some basic direction, and just had to keep up.

Just about every movement piece I've done recently has been shot off speed. There's a TON of grace and forgiveness in shooting in higher frame rates, but for this piece I wanted to challenge myself with shooting in real time and intentionally using longer takes in the edit vs. the easy out with quick pacing to hide mistakes.

The edit took a bit longer than I expected in trying to sync her movements to the music as well as the un-rehearsed and un-controllable aspects of the footage we got. There were plently of interesting looking shots that I just couldn't use because they didn't fit the music – not to mention the unusably soft shots I blew focus on.

We're not curing cancer or anything, but we did have a very loose storyline with a beginning, middle, and end. We honestly just wandered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan not far from her apartment just looking for good/interesting looking light. The ice cream break was intentional, but accidentally hitting someone on the subway with her purse while she was dancing wasn't; Thank God that very large man was cool as hell.

Could've Been Bike Shorts...

"You could always make bike shorts if your idea doesn't work out."

To the nice Hobby Lobby lady who sold me a couple yards of Spandex: Thanks for not tripping out when I showed you some weird reference images on Pinterest and then asked me to come back later show what I ended up making.

So yea, this one went super dark and ghostly. Like the way these things normally start off, I'd been sitting on a handful of reference images and used them as a starting point to make something; I'm suuuper interested in selective focus and in-camera effects.

The internet told me I'd need to shoot through some kind of transparent layer so I started experimenting with different types of plastic diffusion and fabrics. I was looking for something translucent and would look interesting on camera when you touched it. A trip to an arts and crafts store had me finding a couple different types of Spandex that were on sale. Figured I'd need a frame to stretch the fabric to keep it taught, so it was off to Home Depot to spend like $3 on two 1" x .5" x 8' pieces of cheap lumber. I used screws to keep the pieces together and attached the Spandex using spring clips.

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Once I got the framed fabric and my camera setup, it took a bit of experimenting before I finally landed on a look. I'd bought both white and black versions of Spandex and tried out each one individually as well as layering them. The white looked more interesting with the lighting and shadows; Having the black layered behind the white kept the setup from being translucent.

Initially I had the lighting setup on camera right with no diffusion and in front of the fabric. That made for some interesting looking long shadows on camera as I touched the Spandex screen, but wasn't the look I wanted. With how I pictured the edit and knowing I'd never be able to reproduce the light to dark gradient across the screen, I moved the light above the frame but still frontlighting the fabric. Most of the reference images I had were backlit, but I wasn't able to reproduce that look with how small a space I was using. Moving the overhead light just behind the fabric worked for the space I had and gave me the look I wanted. I didn't use any of the footage with my hands in front of the backlit fabric, but it still made for some interesting looking imagery as the light interacted with the fabric stretching the other direction.

A monitor tethered to the camera allowed me to see what I was doing as I was interacting with the fabric. The initial imagery I was getting looked super dark and ghostly and reminded me of a Nine Inch Nails track I'd heard from an interview with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on the Song Exploder podcastI'd highly recommend checking it out if you've not heard it already.

The initial test footage was shot at 48 frames/second, but was still too fast for the look I wanted. 60 frames/second didn't work either, so I lowered my camera resolution from 8k to 6k widescreen so I could get to 99.9 frames/second on my RED Weapon Helium. The movement speed looked right, but I ran into flicker issues with the lighting and my shutter set to 180°. The FLICKERfree iPhone app fixed that by letting me know I needed a 299.7° shutter angle. Thanks internet...

Another unexpected result from the testing was how flexible the look was once I got it into post; Obviously though working with a high-end camera and raw .r3d files doesn't hurt. My reference images were black and white, but after experimenting with different color temperatures I again fell in love with shooting with tungsten lighting on a white background at 4500k. Neither the blacks nor whites were being clipped in the raw .r3d files so there was still all the color information to use in post. I kept the in camera dark and ghostly look for this edit and didn't do any color correction or grading, but can easily imagine other possibilities with this footage.

After 8pm

Anne the Wife and I gots the two kids: one is 5 years old, the other is 11 months. Turns out neither of them can be trusted to cook, bathe, and/or get themselves ready for bed on their own, so we pretty much close up shop after 6pm for family stuff. By the time we get those two tiny humans fed, cleaned up, and to sleep, Anne and I basically collapse from the day only to get up the next morning to start all over.

A couple weeks ago Anne and The Boys were out of town a few days and I made it a point to be out after 8pm. That's a freakin' double rainbow covered in unicorns around here so I lined up a shoot with an absolute BEAST of a dancer I met through Instagram named Emmett Prince. He's a dance student at the University of Central Oklahoma and was up to shoot around downtown Oklahoma City after dark with a couple complete strangers.

Somehow I also wrangled another two filmmaker buddies of mine to help out on our shoot: John Dewberry is a saint and a kick arse AC; Steve Mathis's last real jobs were gaffing Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, so he basically just puts up with me.

In getting all this nonsense together, I had a couple key reference images and videos plus I was listening to a ton of Frank Ocean and Anderson .Paak. There wasn't a proper storyline, but I had the locations in mind and I wanted to work with a black male dancer in his early 20s. If you're up for it, here's the link to download the look book as well as the music playlist we used during the shoot.

All the nervousness kicked in right before our 8pm call time and I was ready to puke in the parking lot just to get it over with. The three guys on the project were donating their time and I made sure to keep the shoot under two-ish hours total with a round of drinks on me afterwards. I'd scouted earlier in the week and lucked out with all of the locations being pretty close to each other. The look at the first location didn't end up working and we only made it to three of the other five locations I had in mind. The footage we were getting felt right and I had no problem nixing the other two spots so we could keep within the promised time frame. Crazy thanks to John the AC for snapping some behind the scenes pics at our last location.

There's always the urge to just throw money at a project and this one was no different. That being said, I didn't have the money to throw at it. And two, I know through personal experience that throwing money at a thing isn't always the best solution. The goal was to shoot this project in a way where I was participating with the talent vs. simply observing them at a distance. This could've been a great situation to break out my Steadicam setup, but I knew I'd need to rent out a wireless follow focus and monitor package for my AC. An EasyRig would've been IDEAL to balance out a handheld look and not straight up kill my back, but again I'd need to rent one of those. "No self-respecting Director/DP would go into creative battle without the proper tools," right?

I'd packed my Steadicam but ended up not using it after only a few minutes – the camera angles just weren't right; Thank goodness I didn't drop the money on a wireless follow focus and monitor kit rental. I'm not going to say an EasyRig wouldn't have been helpful, but not shooting with one actually freed me up to try camera angles and movements that I wouldn't have otherwise.

One key piece of additional gear was a battery powered Bluetooth speaker. I've done shoots with music sputtering out through my iPhone, but the sound quality and volume is passable at best. We used a JBL Flip 4 connected to my phone and it worked like a champ. The burrito sized speaker was loud enough, sounded great, and the setup was dummy-proof. Either John the AC was holding it or I had it clipped to the small messenger bag I had on me throughout the shoot.

For the gear-heads, we shot with my RED Weapon Helium at 8k widescreen and ether 60 or 48 frames/second depending on the light levels. In terms of lensing, my 25mm Zeiss CP.2 emphasized the on-screen talent and his performance, but didn't separate him from the locations like a tighter lens would. I swear if I were forced to choose between a 25mm lens or food and water, I'd still pick food and water but I'd have to think about it for a minute.

We were shooting with existing light at each location so we tested to make sure we weren't getting a flicker fight between shutter speeds and the light fixtures. The first two locations had no beef with a typical 180° shutter, but at one point we had to break out John's FLICKERfree Calculator app and adjust accordingly.

Knowing that we'd be dealing with lower light levels, I evicted the Standard OLPF that's set up camp in my RED for the Low Light version. It’s the first time I'd used it so I made sure to check out test footage online beforehand – which for the most part ended up being a waste of time. There's very few situations where I'd use the Skin Tone-Highlight OLPF, but I feel like the Low Light optimized version helped to give me just a bit more light, especially with my T2.1 lens and shooting around ISO 1600-2000 on the high end. All of this footage is straight out of camera BTW using RED's RedGamma 4 / Dragon Color 2 look – which I absolutely dig. Given the opportunity, I'd love to see what a qualified colorist could do with the raw .r3d files.

DIRECTOR, CAMERA, & EDITOR - me
FEATURING - Emmett Prince
CAMERA ASSISTANT - John Dewberry
GAFFER - Steve Mathis
MUSIC - "White" by tiedy ky