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 d├ębut 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:

     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!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tristam - Truth. One unforgetable two week journey for Tristam's new music video

     Where do I begin with this one? It's hard to recount all the amazing things that was experienced on this trip. It will certainly be hard to top a shoot like this in the years to come.

     This two week expedition all started with the love Seth Hagenstein and I share for EDM (electronic dance music). We set off to shoot a music video for an EDM artist, but didn't know who, or how we would get in touch with them. It wasn't even a week later I ran into a good friend of mine Annie Rinsky who I see time to time working at webster hall. She is the co-founder of the ever popular "BASSment Saturdays", a weekly saturday night event at Webster Hall that promises a full house and energy fueled night of electronic music. I knew she was the person to talk to, and when I told her about the project Seth and I were pursuing, she immediately got on the case. It wasn't even a week later Annie hooked us up with Jake Udell, the manager for Tristam, a young and upcoming artist. Tristam has acquired millions of hits on tracks you can find on youtube, and was discovered by Jake Udell - who is also the manager of Krewella.

     Seth put three treatments together for the music video to present to Jake. Two of these treatments would have most likely been shot entirely in New York, and one would take place along the west coast though deserts, mountains and forests. After having the treatments looked over, Tristam and Jake sided on the west coast treatment - which I could not be more happy about.

     I had traveled the west coast a year prior to this music video with one of my best friends Kathryn Palmieri. Kathryn is also a photographer, so we were always on the same page when it came to finding visually incredible locations. We flew into Albuquerque, New Mexico (home of Walter White and family) and drove up the coast to Portland, Oregon hitting national parks and Navajo reservations the whole way. I learned a lot along this trip regarding film/photo permits, how accessible certain locations can be and how to get to them. It is easy to lose a few hours looking for the salt flats in Death Valley or Antelope Canyon in Arizona. We even went to the Redwood Forest in San Francisco looking for the huge iconic redwood trees, only to find incredibly tall skinny trees. We then found that there are two types of redwood trees - the sequoia sempervirens and the sequiadendron giganteum. We went to see the sequoia sempervirens…

     During our trip out there, a lot of our time was spent doing time-lapses. It was only recently before this trip I acquired a time-lapse dolly manufactured by Dynamic Perception. If Kathryn and I saw a great spot for photo, we would stop and hang there for an hour or two, which gave me enough time to set the dolly up and program it to capture a time-lapse. 

     I didn't realize at the time, but having this time-lapse dolly with us the entire trip was good preparation for the Tristam music video. Now I had an idea of how difficult it could be hiking out to certain locations with equipment and how long it could take. I found how frequently storms roll through the west coast and how to deal with them in the middle of a time-lapse, and how to estimate how long it will take before getting caught in the middle of one. Traveling the west coast is one of the most beautiful trips I've ever been on - being prepared for what mother nature can throw at you will make it even better.

     The story Seth had written consisted of two girls chasing each other though doorways through surreal locations. If the girls run though a door on the salt flats in Utah, they might pop out on a beach in Washington. This idea called for a moderate amount of VFX work. Making the "passage" to the next location seem believable. Throughout the story, we had a handful of transitions that required a lot of attention when shooting. Making sure that horizon lines matched, the camera height, distance and pan/tilt angle were the exact same, along with F stop, ISO, focal length and making sure the girls were walking or running the same way through this transition. What made this task a challenge is that these transitions took a few day to complete. We might shoot one half of the transition in Woodstock, NY (our first day of shooting before flying to Oregon), but won't complete it for over a week until we arrive in Arizona. Inevitably, things are forgotten, and notes along with screen shots are crucial to keep you from ripping your hair out in post.

     A lot of what you experience along a road trip such as this one has a lot to do with who you are traveling with. Being honest, I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to travel with. Seth had brought on Austin Dill as producer, who always has energy and a great sense of humor. The two stars of the video, Ali Donahue and Deana Sophia were incredible. Sticking it through in freezing weather dressed in practically nothing, running crazy lengths, and overall having incredible ambition during the entire shoot. I can't image how this shoot would have gone if even one of us was missing from this group. I'm glad we became such a strong team, and ultimately became even better friends.