Crucial Moments

There’s this friend of mine that I try to visit at least once a month. It’s a ninety some-odd mile drive without many distractions; a really good time to think over ideas.

Anyway, all of us at Arpi-Revo met this friend at the same time. We were out location scouting for “Inquisition” and found a warehouse in Clarkdale, AZ. As we drove up for a closer look, all of us knew that we had found something special and decided to ring the doorbell. A head popped out from one of the top floor windows for a brief moment and quickly disappeared.

Waiting by the loading dock, the sound of echoing footsteps were growing louder. Within moments, a tall, quirky man in his sixties opened the door. This was Michael L. Turner.

Not used to random visitors, he stood in a slightly confused state. We gave him our pitch and he decided to let us in. Michael gave us a tour of the place, we got to know each other, and things clicked almost immediately. At this point I had realized that we hadn’t just found a great location…we found a new collaborator.

Michael is also an artist that works with holographic mylar, along with many other materials. I could try to explain what he does, but I think it would be best to let the man talk for himself.  Here is a video that Em’leh and myself spontaneously filmed with Michael:

-Keeje

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Tips On How To Shoot and Edit Like a Pro

Rule #1: Manual Focus

Follow your subject as it (or the camera) moves to maintain sharp, professional image quality. This takes a lot of practice, and is difficult to do with a small viewfinder. Also, some lenses are easier to focus than others. *Cinema lenses are easier to focus than photography lenses because cinema lenses are designed to be resistant for smooth, precise focusing, and photography lenses are designed to be loose for quick auto-focusing.

 

Rule # 2: Manual Exposure

Use cameras and lenses that give you the option to set exposure manually, including the aperture/iris, shutter speed, and ISO/gain. Learn to use your camera’s histogram to ensure that you are not loosing too much detail in the shadows or highlights. Expose for the important information, and remember that sometimes it is OK to over or under expose an area as long as the subject (or important part) is well exposed.

 

Rule # 3: Custom White Balance

Observe your shooting conditions to determine if there is any mixed lighting. (Example: Sunlight through window mixed with table lamp.) Some areas of the room might have different degrees of color temperature than others. Mixed or not, always custom white balance. Much like you do with exposure, adjust the white balance based on the subject or important information. This will save you A LOT of time in post-production. Do this even if you intend to go for a black and white look, or day-for-night to keep your options open. The time to build looks is in post-production, not while shooting!

 

Rule # 4: The 180 Degree Shutter Rule

Your starting point for shutter speed should be double your frame rate. Once get comfortable with this rule, you may break it to achieve a different look or effect. All effects should be used sparingly.

 

Rule # 5: Take it easy on the ISO/gain

Don’t push the camera too far in low-light situations. Your image will become too noisy, and you will lose detail by removing the noise in post. Generally, the more expensive cameras can be pushed further on ISO and still maintain a nice image. But even on my 5D Mark III, I keep it as low as possible in multiples of 160 to maintain the best possible image.

 

Rule # 6: Understanding Aperture/Iris, and Depth of Field

“Stopping down” is increasing the f/stop number. So if you’re going from f/2.8 to f/4, you are stopping down. The aperture blades are closing to allow less volume of light to enter the lens. This affects depth of field, and sharpness.

Lower f/stop numbers = More light entering lens = Shallow depth of field = smaller area in focus, blurry background. Typically used for selective focus if other parts of the composition are not important to the story.

Higher f/stop numbers = Less light entering lens = Deep depth of field = larger area in focus. Typically used for landscapes, or wide shots.

Every lens has a different “sweet spot” so to speak, and not necessarily sharp at every stop. Generally, the more expensive lenses are sharper all-around and better for low-light. There is no right or wrong here, but by understanding aperture as an element of exposure, you may use it with artist’s discretion.

 

Rule # 7: No Neck Strap

Leave your neck strap behind. These are for photographers, but we don’t need them for video. In my experience, they just get in the way. Your camera should either be on a rig, or back in the case.

 

Rule # 8: Go to the transitions menu in your editing program. Say your goodbyes. Delete every last one. Picture fades should be used sparingly and created manually using a pen tool.

 

Rule # 9: Just because your camera is good in low light doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to light your shots. Using available, household, cheap light sources is still better than not using anything at all. Sure, you can still nail the exposure without the use of lighting, but your image will probably end up looking very two-dimensional and unattractive. Lighting techniques are for a different blog post…

 

Rule # 10: Understanding Picture Profiles

Finding an appropriate picture profile takes trial and error, user preference, and really depends on what your plans are for post-production. When I shoot Web/TV or corporate stuff that just has to get the point across and doesn’t need to be artistic, I will choose a standard picture profile because I know I won’t be color grading much of anything. When I shoot stuff that, well… I care more about… I go for a really flat, washed-out option that doesn’t look great right out of the camera, but is more ideal for color grading because more detail is preserved. Think of it like a blank canvas.

 

Rule # 11: Understanding In-Camera Sharpness, and Post-Sharpening

The best form of sharpness comes organically from your lens. But you will also need to digitally enhance the sharpness of your image. In-camera sharpening, and sharpening in post-production are both forms of artificial sharpness. Remember: You can always add if there is too little sharpness, but you can’t reduce sharpness if it was recorded too high. The safest way to shoot is with the in-camera sharpness turned all the way off. Like I said before, looks should be built in post, not while shooting, so concentrate on recording clean shots and worry about the looks later. Post-sharpening will not magically fix your shots that are improperly focused. Also, over-sharpening will make flaws more apparent like noise, moire and aliasing.

 

Rule # 12: Always use a rig… even for handheld effects. You can use a tripod for handheld effects by simply lifting the tripod with the camera on it. Handheld is an effect and all effects should be used sparingly. Having a good, fluid-head tripod is critical. It will become the most important equipment you have. It will last your entire career, while cameras go obsolete after just a few years. I would rather have one good 1,500 dollar tripod than have multiple rigs, sliders, glidecams, etcetera that total the same price.

 

Rule # 13: Don’t forget about sound.

This is a separate blog post as well. Please, don’t forget about sound. Record clean sound.

 

Rule # 14: Trust your eyes, and your gut

If it doesn’t look or feel right, and you’re worried about the rules, throw out the rules and trust yourself. Create new rules. Find out what works for you. Get out there, and shoot!

 

Matt, filmmaker/blogger

Arpi-Revo

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The Texas Incident

There were a lot of unusual incidents throughout the production of our last film, “Up/Down.” Faulty electrical equipment, an encounter with ostriches, and more crazy weather stories than you could ever possibly imagine. However, one story sticks out a lot more than the others. I like to refer to it as, “The Texas Incident.”

In August of 2010, we had finished shooting all of the interviews for “Up/Down.” As I was editing the film and piecing together the intro, I recorded a temporary narration in a very unusual voice: that of Patrick Bateman as played by Christian Bale in the superb film, “American Psycho.” Why did I choose that voice? I’m not sure, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t want to listen to my own voice throughout a solid chunk of the post-production process…so why not have a little fun with it?

By the time we had a locked cut of the film, I still hadn’t found a proper narrator. I was completely against using a celebrity connected to bipolar disorder (Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, etc.), primarily because I wanted this film to be about every day people with bipolar disorder. If a celebrity were thrown into the mix, much of the attention would end up going to them rather than to the real world wisdom of the interview subjects.

So, I started to scout some voice actors and still was unable to find a proper fit. I spoke to my cinematographer (Emily Warren) about the difficulties of obtaining a narrator. Minutes into the conversation, she suggested that our producer, Matt, could probably do it. I thought it over and realized that his voice had many of the qualities I was searching for. The solution was right in front of my face. Naturally, I called him up and presented the idea to him. Matt agreed and the next big question was, “How are we going to do this?”

Keep in mind that we were low on funds. We make things work with what little resources we have. It’s the punk-rock way, damn it! Additionally, we were in separate states. I was living in Phoenix, Arizona and he was living in Dallas, Texas. We came up with two options:

1. Book studio time in Dallas, record the narration, send it back to me, and see what I could do with it.

2. Meet somewhere in between Phoenix and Dallas, I’ll bring my audio equipment, and we’ll record it in a motel room.

For a while, we were leaning toward the first option largely due to the fact that we knew the quality would be solid. However, we ran into a couple of issues: the cost would have been much higher and I wouldn’t be around to direct the narration. If the delivery of a segment was a bit off, we would have to go back and spend more money at the studio. So, we were left with option number two.

We scheduled the meet-up in early or mid November and booked a cheap motel in a small town in Texas. I left Phoenix at roughly 6:00 AM and arrived at the destination around 2:30 or 3:00 PM. Matt had been there for an hour or so and checked into the place already. We unloaded the gear from my car and started to set things up. After a few test lines, we knew this set-up would not work. We could hear the cars driving by, people talking, and televisions playing. What were we going to do? One thing was for sure: not give up.

Within a few moments of our most recent failure, we had the bright idea of recording the ADR in Matt’s car. Why not? It functioned just like a small recording booth. All we had to do was find a nice, quiet location to park. The first place we started cruising was a residential area. After some brief scanning, we noticed a quaint alleyway and approached a man nearby. He gave us the go-ahead, so we drove around back and parked. We were thrilled and relieved that we had found a solution. And for maybe half an hour, things were going smoothly…until a dog noticed us and decided to let the entire neighborhood know of our presence. We moved the car down the alley and started again…but the dog started barking fifteen minutes later. This game was played for about an hour until we said, “Fuck it. Let’s find a new place.”

Having lost track of our original entrance point, we drove down the alley and looked for any possible escape. Thankfully, we saw a truck going through a dirt road that led to the main street. Just as we hit the pavement, a gentleman stepped out of his home, pointed at Matt’s car, and then THREE POLICE CARS SURROUNDED US. Apparently, many of the town’s citizens thought we were running drugs across the border or, at the very least, doing a drug deal. We tried to explain the situation to the older police officers, but they were still quite skeptical…even though there was audio equipment sitting in the front seat of the car. We used the same excuse we use for every similar situation: “We’re film students.”

After a seemingly endless lecture spoken in a coarse tone, the guy in charge let us go. We got back in the car and had the following exchange:

Matt: “We should have just started making out. They probably would have let us go right away.”

Keeje: “Well, maybe next time.”

We completed the rest of the ADR along the side of a rarely-traveled state highway, drank some wine at the hotel, watched “The Room,” and the rest is history.

-Keeje, filmmaker/blogger
Arpi-Revo

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The 4Kraze

There is a lot of buzz about shooting in high resolution, 2K or 4K.  Sure, it’s great and exciting, but not a huge selling point for me.  At least not yet.

With the internet as my main platform of distribution, I’m not exporting anything above 720p anyway for security reasons.  Even if I wanted to use the original high-resolution on YouTube, most people don’t have internet speed fast enough to watch it, or patience enough to sit and wait for it to load (I know I don’t).  I’d rather my work play smoothly than not be played at all.

Another big thing to consider is media storage.  Think of it like gas mileage on your car.  Shooting a 4K camera would be the equivalent to driving a giant truck with terrible gas mileage.  They’re media guzzlers.  It’s expensive to store it all–– especially if you back up everything 3+ times like any professional should–– and takes a beastly-powerful computer post-process it.  So don’t pour all of your money into a 4K camera and expect to not change the way you manage your media.

Is 4K a useful tool?  Yes.  It looks bad-ass.

Do I want to shoot every project in high-res?  No.  It’s not necessary for me right now.

I heard someone say that the Canon C300 is not worth the money because it doesn’t output at 4K.  That is an ignorant statement.  It’s fair to say that 4K is important to you, but that does not mean that it is the main value of the camera…

You could have two 1080p cameras side by side–– with the same lens–– which output the same resolution on paper, but they could each turn out to look very different.  One could even appear to be higher resolution when they are technically the same.  This is what I like to refer to as “pixel quality.” (It’s not a real term, just something I made up.)  Every camera has a unique look to it, and handles conditions differently.  It takes hands on experience and quite a bit of trial-and-error to familiarize yourself with what they can do, and how the images they produce will look.

For me, unique image qualities that cannot be recorded on paper are what I value the most.  Lenses also have unique characteristics that have no technical reason or explanation.  Just aesthetics.  You could read tech specs and forums all day long, but you really don’t know what you are getting until you put it to work and see how it looks.  I like to take an artistic approach with my projects, so having confidence in what something will look like–– rather than technicalities of it–– are a big part of pre-production for my cinematography.

I’m not anti-4K by any means.  I think it’s great, too.  I just want to remind everyone that resolution isn’t everything.  Nowadays, almost any camera can produce professional results when used properly.  If I’m ever short a camera, I have the comfort of knowing that nearly any electronics store will have something under $600 that will get the job done.  Lenses are your real investment, but that is a different blog entry for a different day.

Matt, filmmaker/blogger

Arpi-Revo

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We Control the Fast Food Kingdom

This has absolutely nothing to do with our films or filmmaking, but we’re going to share it with you because…well, because we can.  It’s silly, ridiculous, and 100 percent Arpi-Revo.

In August (I think) of 2010, I contacted Wendy’s about a particular problem I had with their business.  Here’s what I wrote:

While your chain of fast food restaurants is one of the more enjoyable and least disgusting, there is one issue I have with your business: your napkins.  There is a problem with the fact that your napkins are yellow.  They automatically appear to have been used in some way or another.  Yellow reminds me of grease and, because of that, I often feel like the napkins are soaking with it.  I strongly suggest that you switch to white napkins.  Blame it on my OCD, but whatever.  Those yellow napkins seriously disturb me.

By the way, Dave Thomas fucking owned.

-Kyle Gehring

Go to any Wendy’s today and…that’s right…you’ll see white napkins instead of the old yellow ones.  It was probably just a coincidence and I’m sure Wendy’s already had a plan to make the change, but I like to jokingly believe that punk-rock filmmakers control the fast food kingdom.

-Keeje, filmmaker/blogger
Arpi-Revo

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