While the first half of 2015 or so was a definite lull in my film activities, I purchased a Sony FS7 camera in June and have been putting it through its paces ever since on a handful of projects. I've worked with a lot of new filmmakers this year, and also continued to work with some familiar faces. I have recommitted myself to filmmaking as my passion, and, quite obviously, buying a new camera was a part of that. Not only did I want a video camera that was designed purposefully for video, as opposed to the photography centric Canon 5D Mark III, I figured it would be a good idea to future proof the purchase with 4K capability up to 60p and slow motion in HD up to 180 frames per second. While I can't yet show off many of the projects I've contributed to here just yet, I will go into a moderate amount of detail about each of the major productions. I'm quite excited to see and show off the finished projects when they are ready for release, and I think I've really started to improve my cinematography skills this year!
The Index Web Series/Transmedia Project Shoots Its First Short
The Index is the big project I've been eagerly anticipating working on all year it seems. I was approached by director/producer/creator Rustin L. Odom in November of last year about this grand project, a science fiction series and the type of passion project I think I was desperately wanting to work on before it was even proposed to me. We had a number of obstacles when it came to bringing his creative vision to life, but our planning paid off when we commenced two days of principal shooting for the short "53" August 8th and 9th. Rustin had, along with a team of other very committed filmmakers, built a set with flats and had the kind of production design you don't usually see in Arizona. I feel like that's been a big missing puzzle piece in several of my previous films, and I was overjoyed to see the results!
53 involves 3 college dropouts working to hack reality via a collective unconsciousness type setup (Carl Jung would approve) and a number of gadgets. Their experiment is finally a success, but there are some unforeseen consequences. The film is intended to be the final piece leading up to the production of the web series, which is planned for the not-so-distant future. It was a great experience and I think the footage is going to look amazing, but it certainly helps that we had a very talented cast and crew. Hopefully, many of them will return to work on two other shorts we have planned for this year. You can follow the developments on Facebook here and see a bunch of behind the scenes and promotional photos as well!
Vincent & Me Returns for a Fifth and Final Season of the Comedy Web Series
I was not content to work on just one online/web series project, as just two weeks before we shot 53, I was helping local filmmaker Mack Duncan shoot the first two episodes of the fifth season of his comedy web series starring a man (Mack Duncan) and his puppet roommate Vincent. Vincent & Me is one of those special projects you want to work on that doesn't come around very often. First of all, it involved working with puppets, which I guess you could say was a wish of mine that I kind of unknowingly fulfilled before I realized it was something I really, really wanted to do. Second, I met Mack some months prior to shooting and really empathized with his desire to finish the web series he started just over six years ago. Finally, I really appreciated some of the themes that he worked into the final season, and, not to spoil anything, but the final episodes really have some gravitas about the experience of getting older, maturing, and realizing you aren't the same person you were when you were younger. All that, and the new season still manages to have the occasionally crude, referential humor that made the first four seasons of the show (shot on miniDV!) worth watching.
Despite having a small crew, we worked really hard and accomplished a lot in one weekend while shooting the first two five planned episodes. The IndieGoGo campaign to finance paying the crew and costs for the final season is coming to a close, but there's still time to donate if you feel generous! I only wish I could have helped shoot the following three episodes, but The Index would take up most of my time the following two wee
Omerta Modernizes the Black and White Gangster Film
IndieGoGo campaigns really do seem to be the most desirable way to finance independent films in Arizona. July truly was a busy month for me. The weekend following the production of the award-winning IFP Phoenix Beat the Clock 48 Hour Challenge (which I will write about next), I found myself outside (but mostly in the shade) in the summer heat helping director/writer Wm. Hayden Edgmon and DoP Rich Goldstein shoot a promo video for their own IndieGoGo campaign for the feature film Omerta. Omerta might be the most experimental project to be made in Arizona this year. Edgmon's project seeks to modernize the silent black and white gangster film with high end cinematography, slick acting and even slicker locations.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was operating a remote camera head on a 13 foot crane suspended over a lengthy swimming pool. It was the first time I had operated such fancy equipment, and it really came proved capable to achieve some otherwise nigh impossible camera movements. Rich's Sony FS700 with the Odyssey 7Q really came in handy to get some beautiful shots, and he was a pleasure to learn from. You can watch the promo trailer below, and you can donate to the IndieGoGo campaign here. I was definitely pleased with the shots I obtained of the man and woman drinking, playing chess, and the slider shot of him drinking alone toward the end!
Happy Anniversary, an Award-Winning Studio Gaijin 48 Hour Film Project
Finally, the weekend of July 10th through the 12th, I teamed up with Shawn Esplin and team Studio Gaijin to shoot Happy Anniversary, our most successful IFP Phoenix Break the Clock 48 Hour Challenge submission to date. After the success of Rigged, our 2014 IFP Breakout Challenge Audience submission and winner of the Audience Award, we had only won the Best Poster award for the 2014 Beat the Clock Challenge entry Dear Claire. I'm proud to say that Happy Anniversary won two awards - one very deserved award to the great local actor Bill Wetherill, who played a man coming out to his wife as transgender on their anniversary, and Best Trailer.
This was my first major project while shooting with the Sony FS7, and there's some mistakes I made that I wish I hadn't while filming. It was definitely a learning experience for me, as every project is. However, I think this was, ultimately, a big step for director Shawn Esplin, who not only helped Bill win the acting award but also edited the trailer. Happy Anniversary certainly has some potential and I think he intends to continue working on an extended edit to be submitted to festivals in the future, which means an online release may be a ways off, unfortunately. Like all 48 hour challenges, it was a long weekend, but the day of production didn't feel so bad thanks to an excellent crew, many of whom would go on to work on 53.
Conclusions and Things to Come
I have to say I've been very fortunate to work with some excellent filmmakers so far this year, many of whom have some very exciting projects coming up after this! I certainly don't plan on quitting filmmaking any time soon. My confidence is growing and I'll continue networking and building my skills. On Monday August 17th, I even attended SNL Film Unit DP Alex Buono's Visual Storytelling 2 workshop, which was educational and a lot of food for thought! Buono has some interesting insights into cinematography, and he also seems to have a passion for documentaries, something I want to delve further into in the future!