Saturday, 7 January 2017

Back from the Dead!

Two somewhat large yet opposing tech stories have emerged this week from CES, the huge consumer and technology show in the states. One of these was the release model and specs for the Panasonic GH5, the hugely anticipated (and far from disappointing!) latest iteration of a camera that will do more for filmmakers within a budget to make stupidly high-quality digital video than anything else currently on the market (until next week at least...!).

And I do want one. More interesting, however, was the unexpected (but suspected at some point) announcement from Kodak that they would be re-introducing Ektachrome reversal film stock after an absence of several years. For both photographers AND filmmakers. S**t the bed. This is good.

The announcement can be found here: Kodak brings back a Classic

For those of you who may not know (or care) why, let me tell you - briefly! For Super 8mm (cine-film) filmmakers there is a tangibility when it comes to using the medium. Reversal stock provides a positive print, so film can be shot, processed at home and projected, all within an hour or so. There is no need for lab development, positive prints taken from the negative, etc to get a result. It is immediate. The colours are richly saturated, the contrast and tone is beautiful, I could go on.

Here's me processing film in a Travelodge bathroom when I was running a weekend course for Raindance in London a few years ago:


When Kodak filed for bankruptcy a few years ago one of the first casualties was the end of production of all reversal film. After what had been quite a resurgence in recent years, especially among artist filmmakers, Super 8mm filmmaking hit a downward spiral. Sure negative film stock was available but it is harder to process and the result is not as pleasing. We wept collectively. Then I lost interest. There were (and are) several grass-roots companies that have tried to keep it alive but production was slow, it was hard to get hold of and expensive.

At the same time the drive towards 4K, 8K etc continued unabated and continues to do so, however slowly but surely the argument about film vs. digital raged on and proponents of film began to regain traction. Take Star Wars: The Force Awakens for example, without a doubt one of the biggest films ever, and shot on 35mm. The re-structuring at Kodak also began to pay dividends. There were whispers of new labs worldwide, new cameras (and there hasn't been a new commercial Super 8mm camera made since the 80's - please correct me if I'm wrong) and it has all come to fruition.

Excited doesn't describe it. I can't wait until it's released. Time to get on Ebay before the price of cameras skyrockets!

Here's one I made earlier, a bit of fun while on holiday:

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Bit of Community Spirit

For the last year or so there has been a drive in my village to re-create more of a community spirit as in the good-old rose tinted days of yore. The local group championing this, Gunnislake Community Matters, alongside the annual village festival committee and the newly re-formed PTA at the village school have been working extremely hard, putting on events and trying to spread the word and despite an uphill struggle (I guess down to modern day isolationism, general apathy and busy everydayness if there is such a word), slowly but surely more people have been getting involved and coming (back) together.

Unfortunately I haven't had a huge amount of time to get involved due to the day job and trying to establish my freelance work but where possible I have been providing my time to document some of these events through photos and video and whereas before I suffered from the malaise mentioned above I have been enjoying meeting new people, getting out and generally joining in.

One of the latest projects has been to transform the dilapidated village car park into something a bit more warm and inviting for both locals and visitors to the village alike. As well as painting walls and railings it was decided to paint a mural, depicting some of the rich mining culture and history of the village and its ties to the painter Turner. The design was orchestrated by local artist Jo March and the mural was open for anyone to come along and join in with.

So under a grey leaden sky threatening a torrential downpour we had the grand unveiling (despite bright autumnal sunshine on the days either side as is always the case), to which there was a decent turnout and overall great atmosphere of anticipation and I was there, camera in hand to record it all.

This is the resulting video capturing some of the highlights:

As an added bonus (to myself anyway!!) the event made the front page of the local rag, with one of my pictures taking centre stage:

So if you happen to be in the Gunnislake area at any point, rather than drive through take a break and have a look, not just at the mural, which is fantastic in itself, but at a village that is trying hard to rejuvenate itself, balance old and new and move forward positively into the future.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Breaking the 4th Wall

With Halloween just around the corner it's time to decorate the house for the inevitable kids party and for them to decide which horrific creation they want to be. As it turns out things are quite tame this year, my 5yr old son wants to be Harry Potter and my 3yr old is happy to follow suit as Hermione.

They both adore dressing up and acting out pretty much every character under the sun, from Marvel & DC superheroes to Star Wars/Trek, Indiana Jones etc - you name it they'll be it! Having said that my son frightens easily and if he sees someone else dressed up (especially if they're wearing a mask) or the slightest sign of peril in a film or cartoon you'll probably find him hiding behind the sofa in the very best Kids vs. Doctor Who tradition.

To help him along I try to break down the mechanisms of film making so that he can see that what he sees on screen is actually all make believe and that monsters/aliens/giant marauding insects aren't real and are in fact actors in suits or computer-generated effects, or in the case of a DevCon event, geeks (not meant as derogatory as I class myself as one!) dressed up in Cosplay heaven (we almost had to leave the recent Plymouth one before we even got in due to an over-friendly Predator)!

We have toyed with stop-motion animation before but after introducing them to Star Trek for the first time we decided to make our own short film. The kids were both involved in deciding on the basic plot and script and we went through the process of rehearsals and different takes. I showed them how scenes weren't always shot in order and how to set up compositions to allow for (extremely basic in this case!) special effects. I didn't involve them in the edit for this one but cut it together quickly so they could watch it as soon as possible, and it was amazing to see their reaction to the finished piece compared to the individual shots they reviewed whilst filming.

And here's the result:

I really do think it was an incredibly worthwhile exercise and has really opened their eyes to becoming participant rather than passive viewers and the more of these we make (of course there will be more...) and the more they get involved with the process I hope the more they will understand about how to read media, which is so important in this day and age.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Bank Holiday Sunshine (and some filming...)

This Bank Holiday Monday I spent at Looe with some visiting family (and my brood!), basking in glorious sunshine. Before leaving I was tempted to weigh myself down with a load of camera gear, thinking it would be a beautiful day for some photos, however at the last minute I stopped myself with the thought that a) I'd have to lug it around all day and b) it would get in the way of spending some quality time with the aforementioned family so, slightly (but not really too) begrudgingly, I left it all behind.

And we had a great day, mooching around, paddling in the sea, eating ice cream and doing all the touristy stuff that we always do in a place that's only 1/2 an hour away and we seem to gravitate to whenever we're not sure what to do. And why not, it's a beautiful place!. Whilst there my wife was taking pictures with her iPhone in what we refer to as capturing family memory mode, ie:

Which to be frank I'm generally really lazy about and leave to her and which I'll be incredibly thankful for in years to come when they disappear to University or the like. Until she started doing this I was content to not have my camera and hadn't really thought about taking any pictures but very soon I started to get an itchy trigger finger and thought it can't hurt to get my iPhone out of my pocket...

All resistance soon crumbled and I started taking a few shots. I always forget how good the camera on my phone actually is and I got some images that I was really happy with and truth be told I seriously didn't miss my DSLR. Here's a couple:

Note the lack of family members! Then I thought I can take this further. Let's play with some slow-motion video. The harbour was really busy as the tide came in with boats going in and out so perfect opportunity for some artsy stuff and as the camera was holding up so well to the stills I was pretty sure I'd get a good, if not fantastic result. In fact I got this, which for a few minutes waving my phone around I'm pretty happy with:

The whole point of this blog post is really to highlight the fact that you don't need the latest and greatest, the biggest and the best. The old adage stands true 'The best camera is always the one you have with you!' (an iPhone 5S in this case). I think technology really is at a point now where anything from the last 3 years at least should really be at least good enough.

Now where's my credit card, the Canon 5D MkIV is available for pre-order...!

NB: None of the family noticed me filming either so I didn't get into trouble for ignoring them!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

One Down, One to Go...

So I've finished one of my current editing jobs, a live music video for local Plymouth band Lomi in support of their self-titled debut album (now available on all good streaming services!) and following on from my last post I'd like to talk some more about the Panasonic DVX200 and those editing capabilities shooting 4K allows.

The video, which can be seen above was shot with 2 cameras, for the most part allowing coverage from both sides of the stage and in the event that one camera goes awry for whatever reason there is always a usable shot to cut to. However, anyone who has done this will know that invariably there are times when both cameras are out of focus or re-positioning etc and another shot needs to be found to fill the gap. Standard practise.

The other issue with only having 2 cameras ( I usually like to cover with at least three, one being a locked off wide master) is a lack of variety in the edit which can lead to a dull and repetitive video.

Shooting in 4K for a HD deliverable has given me the flexibility to make the video look as if there was much more coverage, by cropping and re-framing the 4K to create new shots and the appearance of additional camera positions making the final result much more interesting, as well as simply shrinking down the full frame for wider shots.

This has also impacted on how the video looks in terms of picture quality. I have done very little in terms of colour grading, just a little to match the cameras and remove some of the banding from the highlights, as I wanted to retain as much of a grimy aesthetic as possible, however some shots are much more noisy than others.

The environment was obviously a very low-light scenario so we has to use an ISO in the region of 2000. The 2nd camera (the 5DMkIII) coped very well, largely down to its full frame sensor, although the DVX200 did produce some noise. In the shots where the footage has been shrunk to HD this has virtually disappeared, one of the huge benefits of using this method. You can tell the difference in comparative shots where the 4K has simply been reframed at full size. I could of added some noise reduction but as mentioned deliberately chose not to, although on shoots where a more pristine look is required it would be an essential part of the edit and would need to be factored in.

One down, one to go...for now!

Friday, 19 August 2016

In the Edit

I have two very different post-production jobs on the go at the moment which couldn't be more different - a Digital Gateways seminar for artists looking to develop their online and social media knowledge and a live music video for local band Lomi, who have just released their 1st album.

Both were shot using new 4K technology by way of the Panasonic DVX200, which is a camera I have recently been getting to know inside and out and despite a couple of minor niggles, which is always going to be the case, I am absolutely loving! 2nd camera on each shoot has been a Canon 5D MkIII, another great quality camera, although I've never been a huge fan of shooting video on DSLR's.

Anyway, the point being that I now have the challenge of integrating 4K footage into a HD workflow and I have to say, after spending a hefty amount on a high-spec PC last year does not so far seem to be causing any problems, in fact everything (touch wood!) is so far silky smooth.

My plan has always been to offer 4K capture, which I am now happily able to do, and with a purchase of the forthcoming Canon 5D MkIV (which will also be 4K despite some underwhelming rumours - it's not officially announced until next Thursday) I will be able to provide a full 4K multi-camera production environment.

This is still not, however, to deliver in 4K. Unless specifically requested by a client I don't think the requirement is there yet but what it does allow is twofold - the best possible HD image when down-converted but also the ability to crop and produce a multitude of shots from a single camera position. I have been using both of these techniques on the projects mentioned above and it is incredibly empowering to me as an editor to suddenly have all of these options available.

Will it make me a better editor? Probably not.

Will it allow me to give my clients a much better product. Without a doubt.

And that's what it's all about.

Here is some of my initial test footage from the Panasonic DVX200:

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

To quote Bob Dylan: 'The Times They may be kinda changing sometime soon' - Or Something Like That!

Imminently now I will be making some sort of change from full-time employee to well, something else...still trying to work out the details and fine tune the small print but ultimately I will be leaving/reducing gainful employment to focus on...big gulp...freelance work!

I've spent the last 11 years teaching the technical aspects of filmmaking with very little time for my own work, however the last 18 months has been leading up to this point - buying kit, flaunting myself across social media, working on my small talk for those awkward networking events but very soon I will need to turn all of those Facebook likes into actual money. Anyone know how? Seriously, anyone??

I have (I think) a good, although not huge (but growing) profile and following across the different platforms and work trickles in slowly, enough that I can easily manage the workload and don't have to turn it down for fear of reprisals for cutting my current full-time job to take it on, but soon that simply won't be enough. Can I cut it? Only one way to find out so let's see where it takes me.

Incidentally, if anyone is after some High-Quality Video Production or Photography at excellent introductory rates please let me know! 

Here is an example of a  recent promotional video for local business Absolute Confection: