Art begins with the slightest of touches
It’s finally time to say good bye to my old portable camera, which happened to be my first generation iPhone. I’ll put it in a desk drawer where I store some of my other electronic junk and forget about it for a few years. It’s a habit of mine. Years later I’ll bump into it again while spring cleaning. I’ll probably turn it on and instinctively check my old text messages and pictures, all my amazing visual memories from 2009 and 2010; old noisy, bad quality, with all sorts of aberrations, but beautiful non-the-less.
About a year ago I was able to sell my Canon Xl-1 and I was left with nothing but my iPhone camera. A few month later my wife bought a Nikon D60, which we both used extensively. This was nice but I still couldn’t record any video. So after some research I opted to get a Canon 5D Mark II. A device hailed as “revolutionary” among filmmakers and photographers alike. A remarkable DSLR that shoots 21 megapixel images and a revolutionary 1080P 24fp HD video. (By the way, in this case I hate calling it “video” because it’s truly something else. It should be called “digital film” or something more appealing to those of us who’ve left traditional video cameras behind to embrace this new trend.) This camera, like the iPhone, can also pull a few tricks of its own. Well, about two and both of them exceptionally well - HD video and still photography; two devices in a small factor camera that is both small and inconspicuous.
Recently, I worked as a DP for the Broadway Bares Documentary, directed by Daniel Robinson in the NYC theater district. My mission was to follow the director, producers, and performers before, during and after the show. Delicate personal spaces needed to be respected, and the last thing I wanted was to walk around with a large video camera, something that screamed “Hello! You are on camera!” Instead, the traditional DSLR look of the Canon 5D allowed me to record some interesting moments without the usual anxiety that the mere presence of a conventional video camera would bring into the mix. The results were amazing moving images of people acting naturally under glowing light bulbs; a masquerade of extroverted personalities rushing in low lit corridors; and the occasional subject posing for the camera thinking I was taking a picture.
The 5D is not only low key, it’s very light and easy to move around with. It does have some limitations, such as the lack of focusing tools and bare minimum sound recording capabilities but already there are a few emerging companies selling all kinds of accessories and tools that take care of any shortcomings. One of my favorites is this DIY style follow focus system and the new CP.2 primes by Zeiss.
But let’s not forget that the 5D is primarily a DSLR picture camera. Luckily, still images have always been a close cousin of the moving picture. Both follow similar principles and aesthetics of composition. During the Broadway Bares shoot I would once in a while take a few still pictures while recording video. If I felt the composition was interesting I would quickly switch the aperture speed and adjust the exposure and press the shutter button to capture a moment within a moment. So when the budget is low, and shooting a video is not on the schedule for a few weeks then with a little inspiration you might end up getting some interesting stills. Tired of taking pictures? Press a few buttons and you have your HD camera back.
I took the following picture during my bus trip back from the documentary shoot. I couldn’t resist this unusual sunset so I got off a few stops ahead and snapped away. This is the same camera I was using just a few hours before to record High Definition video.
I’m just extremely happy with this DSLR. Already I have a few projects lined up and can’t wait to start recording some footage. But for now It’s time to put the old iPhone down. Well, not before retrieving a few pictures left inside.
What a way to go. May my old iPhone rest in peace now.
More iPhone photos and videos:
So why does it take this much time to come up with a storyboard? In our case it’s because we are paying extra attention to the linear and shape patterns of the sets. It could be easy enough to just draw stick figures and throw in whatever background it’s available, but we’ve decided early on that line and shape would play an important role in our composition. If you studied Sergei Eisenstein's Film Form, then watching our movie could be an opportunity to see a bunch of filmmakers attempt to make his theories come to life. Although, I don’t intend on getting as near as symbolical of philosophical as he did on his films.
On my last post I wrote about our office set in terms of tone and color. This time is the same office space viewed from a perspective of lines and shapes.
Two weeks ago I went there and snapped pictures of every corner and every angle I could think of. Every picture revealed a potential linear and shape motif. There are vertical, horizontal in the contours and adjacent planes. There are squares, rectangles, and triangles embedded in the surface textures and shape of things.
And why does this matter to us? Well, It’s been proven since the early days of cinema that a viewer perceives a lot more than actors performing their lines.
There are many elements that make up an image: backgrounds, foregrounds, props, ceilings, lights, furniture, etc. In turn, you can break these elements into basic linear and shape figures. A sofa, could turn into a rectangle and a light beam into a vertical line. Each of these basic elements have an associated level of intensity. Vertical is always more intense than horizontal. Vertical lines make a screen appear a little “stiff,” as if connecting the top and bottom of the frame, resulting in what might be perceived as “rigidness.” But this is also very relative, as you can always establish the mood the lines early on. So if your character is enjoying a Corona next to a background of palm trees, your audience might associate vertical lines with a relaxing and having a good time.
On the other hand, If you leave these elements unattended then you might send your audience the unintended vibe about your scene.
Each shot in our Cerise storyboard comes alive with linear symbolism. Now, I don’t want to start putting “Spoiler Alerts” all over my post, so I won’t talk about the details. But you can take a look at the following tentative Cerise shots and maybe come up with your own interpretations.
It took me a while to come up with a title for my first blog post! I’m not sure if it even works, but at least the name does imply a connection to the Orson Welles’ film-noir classic Touch of Evil, and a basis for the points I’ll try to get through in this very first blog of mine. I actually watched this film a few days ago, but the name is hardly the only thing that stuck in my mind. It was actually the expressive cinematography of Russell Metty, which also became one of the sources of research for an upcoming short film that has nothing to do with corrupt border town police. This film is called Cerise, written and to be directed by the good friend of mine, John T. Trigonis, and for whom I will be doing the cinematography.
The fun begins with the title “Cerise,” a name for a variation of the color red. Now, for a cinematographer this might sound like a golden title of pure cinematic value. Just think of the visual possibilities that the name implies and the countless directions your visual narrative could take. We decided to take quite a few and in the following weeks I will be blogging about them as we narrow them down to a few specific visual choices. For now, I’d like to invite you to take a glimpse into our office space and see how tone and color will play an important role.
Touch of Evil is a black and white film. The shadows, dark alleys and its strong visual contrast walk hand in hand with interpersonal and social themes. Cerise on the other hand deals with a strong inner conflict. It’s the battle of a character dealing with coming up to terms with a word, not cops, gangsters or prostitutes. But sometimes, even a single word can be as powerful and imposing as the distrustful Hank Quinlan, specially when the word is another name for a shade of red.
So given this particular conflict and a descriptive word, what better place to call out action than an office space! A place with an interesting range of subdued tonal contrasts and surface divisions, all smeared with a given range of cool colors. A place that “apparently” says nothing about the word “Cerise.”
A package of Kinos will be used to accentuate the details already in place at this location. There will be a few instances when the action will get very surreal, and not even the most even of all fluorescent panoramas will stop us from getting quite creative.
It might look like a coincidence, but this place has the perfect color palette, and a solid tonal range. There are enough visual cues to make our characters’ inner and interpersonal worlds just much more exiting. It will leave a lot to the imagination as our minds put together a story that advances in both the narrative and visuals in a perfect connection or a perfect disconnection.
Next week I will talk about the ways we intend on exploring space and shape motifs for Cerise. In the meantime here is a nice little crane shot from Touch of Evil.
Taken in Central Park. Shape, form and space will be some of the visual aspects of photography and cinematography that I will indulge on once I get this going.
Strong hope is a much greater stimulant of life than any single realized joy could be.
Before I embark on a trip into the blog-sphere I need to do a few tests first.