I'm a Guest

There's still a good deal of "Hi, it's good to meet you. My name's Tanner." going on nearly six months into living here in NY. I'm constantly meeting new people via work stuff, friends of friends and new friends, and tons of people/parents and orbiting my kids' worlds. Saint Anne the Wife is still driving the boat with the social circles outside my work stuff and she's by far the lead in those relationships.

With that in mind, I desperate try to live out that "I'm a guest" attitude just about wherever I am: our rented apartment, whatever mode of transportation I'm using, the coffee shops I frequent, etc. Focusing in on work stuff I want to say that I approach each client, job, and set I'm on like I would as if I were a guest – because I am.

““When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” - Luke 14:8-11 NLT

Clients with paid work and collaborators with passion projects have reached out to me to do the thing, so I'm basically there because they invited me. I like to think that keeping the "I'm a guest" attitude helps to not be an all around turd.

"You're a guest," so that means not being a jerk or a headache to the other people on set. Do what you're supposed to be doing. Go out of your way to be helpful. Don't suck all the air out of the room by trying to be the most important person there.

"You're a guest," so that means you're not treating their gear or the rental gear like trash. I'm very intentional in how I treat my own gear because it's valuable to me. I spent good money on it and want the return on my investment to last as long as possible. Surely I can treat other's gear with the same respect.

"You're a guest," so that means act in a way that will potentially lead to them inviting you back. That being said, I'm not saying you have to answer their call the next time if they were a dumpster fire and not worth working for again. Still, don't forget that dumpster fire may know people you don't and could help you land your next client/job/project.

(Politely) Saying "No"

"Hey! I'm a person/organization/business offering you money for the thing you do. Would you like to do the thing and me pay you?"

Easily one of the best things to hear as a freelancer. Good grief thankfully I've been hearing that a lot lately. There's much more cinematography work here in New York and one of the major reasons for uprooting and moving our family across the country.

Coming from a smaller market like Oklahoma City I said "yes" to just about everything coming through the door – I had to to keep the financials where I wanted them for my business and our family. Here in New York I've had outlier days where multiple paid job offers come literally minutes to seconds apart.

Please know this isn't meant to be boasting. At this point I've got years of freelancing behind me and ABSOLUTELY know that this line of work is feast or famine. Landing work here in New York came much quicker than I expected so there's no reason for me to believe that it can't just as quickly go to some other hungry hustler doing the same thing. That's the terrifying thing about saying "no" to paid and even some unpaid work. People, organizations, and businesses are literally offering to pay you actual money you can use to pay bills and cover your responsibilities to do the thing you do and you're telling them "no." There's also the thing about during down work and the very real possibility that the person/organization/business falls in love with the next person they call and they never call you back – and tell other people/organizations/businesses to not call you either. That's absolutely terrifying and no question keeps me up at night.

In being transparent about all this nonsense and in the interest of other priorities I have at the moment I'm literally saying "no" to going into how and why I decide to turn down paid work and passion projects. I've for sure got my reasons and could go into how priorities help me make the decision, but that'll need to wait for another time.

Am I doing it right? Again, no clue but I sure hope so.

Proof I'm actually working

Thanks to my fancy-pants spreadsheets, as April 22, 74% of my 2019 revenue has me behind the camera and shooting. The other 26% is stock footage (21%) and editing (5%), but we can talk about that later.

The vast majority of my work as a DP and camera operator has me handing off footage that I'll never see again. From time to time I'll dig around the interwebs looking for footage I've shot and this week I found two episodes of the Take It There sports show I've been shooting with the HSC.tv team. Bonus points for each of the two episodes including me in a shot or two wielding one of their Panasonic EVAs and looking absolutely ravishing in my striped Nike tech shirts. I plan to continue this behind the scenes game of Where's Waldo until I'm told to stop or end up buying some more work clothes without stripes.

Dear reader, do you actually stick around long enough to read the credits – even some of them – at the end of movies and shows? More often than not I'll hold out long enough to make it through the camera, grip/electric, and sound – but not a second more; I'm not a monster. I still trip out seeing my name in the credits of projects I get to work on and hope that feeling never wears off.

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.