Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Rules" A short film

In the four years of us attending SVA in Manhattan, Director Brendan Steere and I had always talked about working on a project together, but never seemed to have calendars that lined up. We finally got that chance on Brendan's new short, "Rules."

My first impression of Brendan's work was when I heard he had his film "VelociPastor" aired on G4's Attack of the Show, and was blogged about by The Huffington Post. Since then, Brendan has gone on to direct his first feature, Animosity, which won Best Horror Feature and Best Actress at Buffalo Screams International Film Festival. It was also nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director.

Brendan would always have new ideas for films in his head that he might drop hints of getting together, and finally, we were both able to get together to make this one happen.

"Rules" was shot on the SR3 with the Zeiss Distagons. We had a great crew to make this film possible:

Assistant Director: Brandon Taylor
First AC/Loader: Javier de Pablos Velez
Second AC: Dominic Galeano
Camera PA: Mike Sherry

Sound Recordists: Gideon Hwang and Steve Burgess
Sound Mixing/Editing: Steve Burgess
Colorist: Tom Knight
Music: John Paul Decker

Set Photographer: Alyssa Meadows

Jesse Turits, Shannon Spangler, and Tracy Willet

Brendan shot me the script when I was shooting for LA Fashion Magazine down in Cancun, Mexico. Our shooting schedule was a little hectic at the time, so I told myself I would read it later when things settled down, but I thought I'd just check how many pages the script was... to find that it was only three.

I read the script on the spot and loved it. Straight forward and to the point. The film opens just before a "big moment," and ends just after. Strangely enough, this is the reason why I like Hemingway as an author, and Brendan had later told me Hemingway was one of his inspirations.

Having a script as short as this one gave us quite a bit of breathing room. It actually gave us so much breathing room that stress for time was almost non-existent.  Brendan and I actually found ourselves worrying about not worrying about anything.. if that makes any sense.  Overall, we were working with a two day schedule in Brendan's hometown of Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania.

 The film is a memory of a boy, who at one time in his young life, kissed his cousin in a closet.

 In Brendan's words:

"It feels like a small event that really has no major influence on someone's life, but would stick in their mind forever. Maybe it was thrilling and a huge deal at the time, but when our main character is 35, the most it'll be is "Oh weird, I kissed Emily that one time." That's really interesting to me. This also ties into the idea of it being so short, as when I have memories like this, it's really just a flash of sensation, like what happens in the kissing montage. I get hit by the wave of a memory and then it's over as quickly as it came. So you remember it just as this random event, without much context, because you know the larger context, but probably forget what you ate that morning or where you had to go to after that, etc. It's an isolated story, stranded somewhere in the ürtext of your life."

We had one day of shooting at Brendan's parents home in Pennsylvania, and one day of shooting at Brendan's apartment in Brooklyn.

Suction cup mount to a car window in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania
Dominic Galeano, the man.

When Brendan and I first sat down to talk about the "closet scene" of this film, where both characters kiss in a dimly lit closet, I proposed that we build a closet set. My initial fear with shooting in a real closet was the restriction of room (especially shooting 16mm), but also, the options we would have for lighting would be restricted as well. I had been imagining the scene from E.T., when Elliot's mother opens his closet, looking around suspiciously for an alien in her house. The closet doors had venetian-style panels built in, allowing sunlight from Elliot's room to spill in. This gave the exposure needed in the closet, but also gave nice texture to everything in it with a cookie cutting a venetian style pattern.

After settling on Brendan's apartment as the location where the set would be built and getting the dimensions, I sketched out a blueprint for what we needed, headed to Home Depot, and built a sweet closet! From the poster above, you can see what the final product looked like. From a close-up on either character, the pattern in the door gave a beautiful eye light. We put a 2k open face behind the door with 250 against the blinds to give a nice soft glow. Nothing else necessary!

Here's a timelapse of the building process:

The rest of the film's coverage was shot in Pennsylvania. These shots were all daylight dependent, and required minimal lighting. Given that we had plenty of time to set up shots, a lot of time was spent enjoying the nature and drinking tea.

Check out the trailer!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

New Zealand tour with Mt. Eden!

     I've just returned to NYC from the land of Kiwi birds and sheep, having been in New Zealand for the past two months. Seth Hagenstein and I were asked by Mt. Eden if we were interested in joining them in their "Sky is Gold Tour" in New Zealand, hitting 6 venues all across the north and South Islands of New Zealand in 12 days. I think it took us less than three seconds to give a 100% yes to their offer.

     After a 22 hour flight and a few in-flight movies, we arrive in New Zealand.

     Having never been to New Zealand, there was a lot we wanted to do. See the cities, nature, nightlife, food and discover some Kiwi things we may not be accustomed to in the U.S. Luckily with the tour being all over NZ, it wasn't hard to fit in almost everything on that list. We usually had about one day between shows which gave us some time to hang out and discover the surrounding areas, as well as transfer footage and get organized for the next day. Keeping everything together wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be, but keeping everything charged is always a challenge when embarking on any kind of road-trip. It ultimately comes down to priority when your hostel has one outlet with three laptops and 5 dead batteries. Surge protectors are key in these situations. Or you might even be lucky enough to get a motel room with... no outlets... yes, we were that lucky at times.  

     For the most part, I was rocking the 7D with an onboard mic, LED light and a Tokina 11-16mm f./2.8 for practically the entire tour. This kept things simple. I can pull it out of my bag at a moments notice with no assembly, it's lightweight and was unobtrusive. It's a perfect camera for behind the scenes footage, and with the chaos that comes with being on tour, a wider lens like the Tokina 11-16mm always has your back when it comes to minimal focus pulling. Seth was rocking his RED Epic, used for Mt. Eden's performances, making way for some 5k action and plenty of slow mo. He recently acquired a v-mount belt clip that would hold the red's battery to his waist, giving his already stripped down Epic a higher level of convenience.

     We wanted to make sure that everything was captured - taking planes, driving in the tour van, sound checks, laughing, drinking, playing pranks, etc. We wanted to give the audience an idea of what it like to be on tour with Mt. Eden and what Mt. Eden is all about.

     Having known the duo, Jesse Cooper and Harley Reyner, for the past year, we knew were in for some good times - and we were not let down. From late nights in the Auckland club scene to house parties after epic shows, BBQ's on the regular, and even spending Christmas in NZ away from home. This experience was an exceptional one. The hospitality we were given from Jesse, his parents, Jesse's girlfriend, Talia Koifman, and her family was incredible and will not be forgotten.

     As it seems pretty much impossible to type out everything that happened on this trip, I figured I would let some of the photos below do the explaining. Keep a look out for the Mt. Eden "Sky is Gold Tour" video on youtube, it will be worth watching!

Getting hyped for the first show of the tour in Mangawhai.

A Christmas day get together at Harley's place, complete with homemade pizza and some BBQ action.

Quite the epic breakfast after a long night out.

Harley giving the MTV Cribs tour of the pad.

The repercussions of not being the last one to fall asleep.

Some dancing in the rain action.

Jesse hitting some golf balls at 7:30 in the morning. No big deal.

Catching a flight to Riwaka

Prateek (Overkill) and Jesse doing some sound check in Riwaka.

Grabbing the essentials.

Harley strapping on the Go Pro, ready to give the POV of what it's like to be in Mt. Eden's shoes.

A nice day on the beach - Seth's and my first experience eating fish & chips on a beach!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A week with Lorde

     This past week, I've had the pleasure of shooting for singer/songwriter Lorde - New Zealand's first solo artist to have a number one song in the United States. Her first single, "Royals" hit number one on New Zealand's top 40 after it's release on November 22, 2012, and became number one on Billboard Hot 100 soon after. Her début album, Pure Heroine, was released this past month, September 27th 2013.

     Director Seth Hagenstein was approached to direct this video segment for Vevo - a segment that would include interviews, as well as live performance footage. Our week consisted of traveling with Ella to three of her performances in New York. Two of these performances were held at Webster Hall, NYC, and one at the Warsaw, Brooklyn. Given that I had never heard Ella's music before, it was great to hear a few tunes and know you're in for a week of good music.

     For the three live performances we shot, we had about five camera operators on average as crew - Mike Mastroserio, Kevin Huang, Casey Stein, Matt Fleischmann, and myself. We had an RED Epic on stage most of the time to capture slow motion footage, a C300 to capture the master shot for the first performance, then the front-row-center for the second, and DSLR's (5D mkIII, 5D mkII and a 7D) to cover the rest of the coverage such as crowd reactions and detail shots.

     Lorde's performance was difficult to capture on video because of how dark the stage was throughout the show. The stage lighting was very minimal with two tungsten 650s' downstage right and left to illuminate Ella, and three Skypans' left to right upstage that had LEDs bouncing into them, allowing full control of color and intensity. Every once in a while, the stage would be lit up by a whole arrangement of lights behind the band, but this only happened for maybe 30% of particular songs. After the first night of shooting Lorde's performance, new positioning of camera operators for the next two nights was taken into consideration to get the most out of what lighting was provided to us.

     When we weren't organizing to shoot Lorde live, our time was spent capturing time-lapses of New York City or prepping to get an interview with Ella. With the insane schedule Ella had, running back and forth between Good Morning America, Jimmy Fallon and the RIAA to receive her certification for platinum record, we found that you're not always guaranteed to get an interview with an artist that has such a high profile. Because of this, we decided to prep to interview Ella on the rooftop of the Hudson Hotel, the very hotel she was staying in. By making her interview spot so convenient, we were more likely to get the time we needed with her. I believe this also made her relaxed, knowing that she's an elevator ride away from a quick nap, or a bit of lounging.

Prepping for an interview with Ella on the rooftop of the Hudson Hotel.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A day with The Clash and Fred Armisen

     If you've ever heard the songs by the name of "London Calling" or "Rock the Casbah," you are listening to one of the most legendary punk bands since the genre's inception. As of yesterday, I had the utmost pleasure in meeting and working with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, the last two standing members of "The Clash."

     Having grown up listening to rock & roll and punk, this shoot hit close to home. The location we shot at was at a recording studio in Greenwhich Village, originally built by Jimi Hendrix, known as "Electric Lady Studio's." This is a studio I have wanted to visit for years, and having the opportunity the experience the studio in person was breathtaking. The long standing history of this establishment dates back to 1970 and has had some of the world's most well-known artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie record here. The studio was designed by John Storyk, and was built in a way to inspire Jimi Hendrix's creativity with round windows, curvy architecture, and incredible psychedelic space-themed painting by the talented Lance Jost.

     When Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffrey jointly invested roughly a million dollars in turning "The Village Barn" nightclub into a professional recording studio, they had no idea what was in store for them. Shortly after demolition commenced, it was found that the site sat on the tributary of an underground river, Minetta Creek. To continue construction, sump pumps had to be installed then soundproofed, costing them an additional million and forcing them to take out a loan from Warner Brothers. After recording in his studio for four weeks during the final phases of construction, Hendrix set off on tour in an effort to pay back his loan. After boarding a plane to London and playing the Isle of Wight Festival, Jimi Hendrix died less than three weeks later.

     This Funny or Die script, directed by Oz Rodrigues and Matt Villines had Fred Armisen portray a fictional punk rock character by the name of "Ian Rubbish." Ian had his band "Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros" sort of play a few shows with The Clash back in the day, and was pretty good friends with them - or at least thought he was pretty good friends with them. They also shared some musical ideas with each other, although Ian and the Bizzaros mainly copied everything The Clash did. Actually, no ones sure if the The Clash have even heard of this "Ian Rubbish" character..

     Being that Fred Armisen is a huge Clash fan, seeing them perform songs together for this script was an incredible experience. Everyone got along so well, telling jokes and laughing the whole time. It was apparent that everyone involved in the making of this video really enjoyed themselves, and generally had the utmost respect for such a legendary band.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico - Behind-the-scenes shoot for LA Fashion Magazine

     Just got back from Mexico yesterday night from a shoot with Giancarlo Marino for LA Fashion Magazine. Seth Hagenstein asked me to join him on his directing voyage after him and Giancarlo planned the filming of behind-the-scenes of this shoot, along with a short film that parallels the storyline of the 10 page photo spread for the magazine. This was definitely on my list for one of the most interesting locations I've had the pleasure of shooting in.  We stayed for 6 days, arriving on Monday afternoon, and leaving Saturday afternoon.

     We stayed in Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun. This area has less of a tourist population than Cancun, making a visible contrast between rich and poor. One moment we were shooting on a white powder beach in an exclusive resort, next we would be driving through a poverty-stricken town.

     The police here are not like guys you will see in the US. Being that this area of Mexico attracts tourism, police must protect against any threat the mexican drug cartel might poses. They drive around in pickup trucks, armed to the teeth, strapped with AK-47s'. Driving down main roads you'll find a checkpoint every few miles with officers staring down all vehicles passing by, while other officers sit on motorcycles or stand behind sand barricades. If the cartel was to inflict any harm to this area, we would most likely see a dramatic decline in tourism as we did in border cities such as Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo. Both of which have been affected by drug-fueled violence that cost more than 70,000 lives in the past six years. 

     The shoot was split into two days. One would be the "storyline" photo shoot in the jungle of Sian Ka'an about an hour south from where we were staying, and the other would be a swimwear shoot on the beach at the Maroma Resort in Riviera Maya, a 30 minute drive north. The jungle shoot consisted of two girls being stranded on an abandoned road in the middle of the jungle, until hijacking an unexpected driver's car, leaving him in the dust. The swimwear shoot was a bit more simplistic - shooting two girls in swimwear on the beach and different exotic locations in the Maroma resort, most of which were Mayan themed.


Everything seemed to be lined up and ready to go, the only problem that had us worried was this:

     Although the weather seemed unforgiving, both days went pretty smooth. The rain in the jungle of Sian Ka'an actually helped to create some awesome imagery and atmosphere - the girls kicking puddles of water in slow motion, along with the soft light we had all day. As for the swimwear portion of the shoot, shooting in various places throughout the resort rather than soley on the beach helped draw attention away from the weather and more on the environment where the model was. Towards the end of the day, the skies actually opened up for a good 45 minutes, giving Giancarlo an opportunity to snag some photos with the good-weather look. Opposed to the it's-stormy-and-raining look.

Friday, August 9, 2013

ESSIE - A Nail of two Cities (Commercial)

     This was definitely one of my favorite projects in the past few months. Director Seth Hagenstein had pitched an awesome script to ICED Media that was picked up and given a green light. The story is a simple one: Two bottles of nail polish that fall in love in the nail bottle factory, but are dramatically separated. One bottle is flown to Paris, and the other is flown to California. It appears the bottles will never see each other again until both bottles are chosen and applied by two different women, who both fly to New York for fashion week sit next to each other at a fashion show. They turn out to be best friends and hold hands, rejoicing the nail polish.

     This script encompassed a few challenges that would take a bit of pre-production to get an idea of how we can make things possible the day of shooting. Broken down, there are only a few locations that we will be shooting:

- Essie bottle factory
- New York Fashion Show
- Various EXT. NYC shots (hailing cab, establishing shots)
- Hotel INT. girls getting ready

     Out of these four groups of locations, the "Essie bottle factory" and the "NY Fashion Show" were where most of my attention went to initially for pre-production. The NYC exteriors and hotel interiors would of need some love in the near future, but they didn't require as much time considering they didn't have to be built from the ground up like the others.  I got straight to work on designing a test for the factory. 

     Seth had given myself and Art Director, Nicole Eure some references, including a behind the scenes for a spectacular short film titled "The Last 3 Minutes," shot by Shane Hurlbut. The look Seth was looking for became clear - a white/clean environment with moving bokeh in the background to simulate factory movement. After building a factory out of styrofoam bricks, Christmas lights, plastic cardboard and a slider, this was my result:

 You can also check out the video I recorded of this test here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9J8iptCNBQ

     As you can see from the test, the bokeh look is important in these shots. It took some time shopping at home depot to gather supplies to make "bokeh lights" bright enough to use in the background. I ended up piecing together three strips of lamp wire with 60W incandescent bulbs with tabletop dimmers to replicate the Christmas lights from the test.

     For the fashion show segment, I sketched out a lighting setup that seemed to best suit the coverage we would be capturing the day of. As you can see, we only set up one side of what a traditional runway would be. This is because most of our coverage was close-ups and didn't call for a bigger setup.

    Both of these setups were built in Stage B at Highline Stages in Manhattan on a 63' x 46' 3" white cyc with a 15' ceiling. 

The art department did an incredible job building the conveyor belts for the Essie bottles to travel on, as well as other trinkets to simulate the processes of an actual nail polish factory These designs included a way to have the bottles caps drilled on, and for the bottles to systematically be pushed onto a lazy-susan type machine.

     One lighting note I made a conscious effort to stay on top of during the shooting of this commercial was to give the nails a sheen, similar to how you would strive to bring eye light to your character in most situations. The only difference with eye light vs. giving nails a sheen is that the nails (and/or light) have to be at a very particular angle to reflect - opposed to an eye where you have nearly 180° to play with. This sheen was as easy as flying a pizza box reflector in, or even a 2' x 4 bank kino (although I prefer the reflector). Also, when shooting a nail polish bottle, treat it the same way you would any reflective surface object (cars, beer bottle, bowling ball, etc). You run the risk of having your entire environment reflected on your object, whether it be film equipment, crew members, or the ceiling. Enclose your object with showcard, duvatine, or anything you find suiting. Find a studio with a cyc wall that is large enough to cover your peripherals. If you're using diffusion, make sure it's seamless to avoid reflecting unwanted lines on the product you are trying to sell.

 The Red Epic with a Canon 30-105 T2.8 with a 7.7" AC7 SmallHD OLED monitor.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Midnight Ladies Sonata" Music Video

     80's glam rock wardrobe, squealing guitars, and smoke - A LOT of it. A brief description of the new music video for Shred Sean and James J Larue, two incredibly talented guitarists with extensive and impressive credits in the rock & roll world. The two came together to form a diverse series of instrumental tracks - one of which is called "Midnight Ladies Sonata."

     Being a big fan of Sean's past work from his band "Blessed by A Broken Heart," I was psyched to direct this video for his new project. Sean's pitch for the video included lasers shooting out of guitars and dancing girls with a New York City feel. Basically - the direction of the video we were going for was a cheesy one - over-dramatic, a bit edgy and imaginative.

     When Sean explained the vision he had of the 80's throwback, with one of his biggest visual inspirations being the album artwork for Ratt's 1984 album "Out of the Cellar," the first thing that came to my head was the lighting style associated to most 80's music videos: low-key lighting. Most music video's made though the 1980's to early 90's had high contrast look due to low ASA film stock which isn't anything near as sensitive as the stock we have today. Music video's could be shot on the cheap with some 16mm 200ASA film and a bright light or two, when now, music video's on average are shot on native 800 ISO sensors with even less light - all on the same budget.

     To achieve an 80's music video that would look in the "higher-budget" range for it's time, we wanted to have a "studio" feel to the music video. Instead of lighting in a realistic sense, we would light in a way to replicate videos from bands like Poison, Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue. Strong backlight, strong key, and interesting color choices. And smoke...

     We took out a studio of an alley way and one of a bar - two prime locations to play out the storyline of "Midnight Ladies Sonata." Two girls take the wrong street down to a dead end after a long night of drinking, when they find they are closed in by a creep who has been following closely behind. It is at this point that Shred Sean and James J LaRue come to the rescue, rising from the ground in cloud of smoke to warn this creepy man he is not welcome. It is only a little later on the girls find themselves in a bad situation again after hitting another bar and finding that the creep is there with them. When things get a bit too close for comfort, Sean and James burst through the bar doors and attack the villain with their laser-shooting guitars, leaving victorious ending and becoming heros.

Anthony Carella with some dolly action on the Fisher 10.

Clean up time!