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Freelancing often brings unique projects and opportunities to engage in stories that break from the norm. One such project I worked on recently was a video exhibition for the Chickasaw Nation’s cultural center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. The goal of the project was to create 4K motion picture content that would appear on a massive wall display. The video would highlight the range of Chickasaw success, from the their vibrant continued traditions to their varied business interests and the strong leadership that makes the Chickasaw a great nation.

 

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The Chickasaw Cultural center grows corn, squash and beans along with other produce in a spiral garden behind the traditional village.

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This is a 500-year-old dugout canoe found in Mississippi, part of which is the original land of the Chickasaws.

I found this guy on my lens after shooting a timelapse in the prairie grass

I found this guy on my lens after shooting a timelapse in the prairie grass.

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The shoot lasted 11 days and mainly focussed on gathering visual assets for the project. Interviews will be captured at a later date.
The most amazing part of the experience was the immersive education in the Chickasaw world. Operating as a soverign nation they are able to govern themselves in more culturally saavy (and more efficient) ways. I was shooting alongside a producer and the two of us were constantly amazed by the quality of architecture and efficiency of systems. The Chickasaw’s add so much value to their non-native neighbors by employing thousands in their various businesses.
This project was unlike any other I have worked on.

The date for my departure to Kenya has come and gone. We are halfway through what was hoped to be my first month in my role as the cinematographer on a tv show set and produced in Nairobi.

I’m reminded almost every day that reality is turning out differently, as I am asked by people I run into, “Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere else?”

R1-01627-0020I guess I’m supposed to be wherever I am. Or something like that…

Obviously working on a full-time tv show in Kenya for a production company that trains and hires young people from the slums would have been an amazing opportunity. But maybe if I’m not there that gives another cinematographer a chance to work. And perhaps my involvement with Zindua (the production company) would be better when I can bring more value to a production than just myself and my gear. Who knows, maybe I could be part of team that brings a production and funding. I am ok with the idea that my living and working in Kenya may be a long way off. Maybe it’s just more of a 10 year plan than an immediate opportunity. Maybe it’s something that will take development. Sweet.

Now what?

R1-01627-000ABesides looking for work, remaining sharp and faithful, I actually have no idea.

I should be in Kenya in 5 days, according to previous conversations with the production company I would be working with in Nairobi. Unfortunately, email, skype, facebook, and phone calls don’t seem to be a preferred method of communication so I don’t really know if I’ll actually be gone next week. Waiting for money to come in from the cable network has halted production on the tv show, thus the waiting.

Waiting doesn’t have to be so bad. This week I had the opportunity to be part of a production crew shooting the MAGIC fashion expo in Las Vegas. There were several shows going on at once with a video crew assigned to each one. My partner and I shot FN Platform, which featured nothing but shoes. Everything from high-end high heels to flip flops and John Deer work boots (yeah, like the tractor/mower company).

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Magic Vegas signI learned so much about shoes. I had no idea, for one, that there were so many shoe companies. Did you know a company called Rollasole sells shoes that come in a can and are dispensed from vending machines? Yep. There’s also Otz shoes which were inspired by the shoes found on ötzi the iceman. The event was an expo where designers could show their latest releases, while attendees were mainly retailers looking for the next line of shoes to carry in their stores.

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My heel after the first day of walking around the HUGE showrooms. People with fitbits were recording well over 8 miles in a day.

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It was about fashion after all.

The ironic thing about the week was all the cool people I met from Los Angeles while on the shoot. Leaving this place that has become home to go to Kenya would actually be really difficult. But not going to Kenya to take on this opportunity to be part of something amazing would be equally hard.

In other news, my trusty Saturn Ion and I were in a collision a few weeks ago. I’ve been driving around with no left rear-view mirror, but didn’t think anything of it. It turns out the car is a total loss and is destined for the salvage yard on Friday. Good news is they’re paying me for the car and I won’t have to deal with a car while I’m away. Bad news…if I don’t leave for another few weeks I’m car-less. It’s like living in medieval Uzbekistan without a horse. IMAG0297

So I’m leaving the country again. In fact, I’m leaving the continent. In 23 days.

Last July I was in Kenya as part of my grandmother’s entourage. It was her first trip to Africa, so my parents and I went. I brought my camera. She had been invited by a family in rural western Kenya to come and experience the healing work they were taking on in their part of the world. Their vision was (and continues to be) to build a rescue/education center to reach out to victims of sexual abuse in a part of the world where no formal structures of support exist for them.

During the final days of the trip I was introduced to a group of filmmakers hacking out a living in Nairobi (imagine the spontaneous craziness of Mos Eisley with a little more steel and glass and you’re not that far off).

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Nairobi, Kenya

Zindua Productions is a group of filmmakers that are not only creating quality content, but also passionate about training the next generation of Kenyan filmmakers. Although I had planned to come back to LA after Kenya, I felt a strong pull towards the work that Zindua is doing.Their non-profit arm, Filamujuani, trains high school and college-age kids from Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, in film production. Some of the graduates of their training program work for Zindua, others go on to freelance in the East African film industry. For the past year I’ve been trying to find a way to get back to Kenya and work with Zindua.

The opportunity finally opened up a couple weeks ago.

Zindua sold their first TV show to a South African cable network, Amnet. 52 episodes have been bought and are now in production. The entire crew is Kenyan. Except for one of their DPs. Me. I will be there for 3 months working on this tv show. But the opportunity to work with Zindua is open-ended. There could be opportunities to direct shows in the future.

It is amazing how much the trajectory of your life can change in a few weeks. At the beginning of this month I had no idea what I’d be doing a few months from then. And now I have no idea what I will think about living and working in East Africa in a few months from now.

It could be a short trip to a cool place, or it could be a whole new chapter.

More to follow at the date comes closer.

Driving is the favored mode of transportation among most Angelenos (of which I am now one). For a rather considerable stretch of history, the horse’s gallop was the fastest speed one could achieve overland.

Now, we drive. And so do I. Most of the freelance work I get around the city of LA causes me to drive. Driving here means spending a lot of time not in motion (which is strange to think about since from the beginning of human transportation we’ve been used to continually plodding along to get somewhere. Now to get somewhere we have to be at a standstill for much of it). In order to keep my blood pressure down and to take my mind off of the fact that it takes about an hour to go anywhere, I listen to podcasts.

One such podcast that has captured my attention is called Hardcore History. It’s presented by a very passionate Dan Carlin, who does a fantastic job of not only telling stories about obscure people groups and times around the world, but also stringing together concepts and offering up very provocative thoughts on history and the present.

The most recent series of episodes took an interesting look into the Mongol conquest of…everywhere.

One part that stood out to me was his description of the homeland of the Central Asian nomads. He described a harsh, bleak environment that required grit, tenacity and core strength just to survive. He described the 150lb drawback of the Mongol bows as well as the necessity to learn to fire the bow from horseback at full speed. He drew the connection that the land and environment had created the toughest warriors anywhere on earth at that time (subsequent battles with China, the Middle East and Europe showed the results).

He also described how Central Asian tribes would often conquer their settled, “civilized” neighbors residing in cities. If the nomadic group decided to inhabit the cities and domestic societies, within a few generations they would lose their edge on the battlefield. Their tactics and demeanor began to take on the sedentary lifestyle of their conquered rivals.

And in the end (this is me drawing my own conclusions) it seems that warfare never actually brought down the Mongols. It was the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle and the acquisition of material and empirical wealth that dragged them far from the hungry, lean, fast-moving warriors they had been.

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As I have moved back to Los Angeles, gotten an apartment, and basically “settled down”, I’m reminded by how easy it is to become slack and unfit in every way. Even putting together a place to live brings in all sorts of choices. And it is too easy to choose convenience over anything else.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

But I didn’t come back to this country to do it the easy way. Of course I’m nowhere near hunting for my food, and building fire and shelter. My transportation is mostly in a vehicle, which requires very little of me to operate. But I’m still confident I don’t have to lose my edge just because I live in one place.

We have a floor lamp, but not much floor.

I am not interested in returning to some primitive state. Rather the question I am asking is: how can I create a lifestyle that involves work and creativity on a daily basis? How can I move toward a lifestyle that is built for a human body and spirit? I don’t think I’m content to access my strengths and challenge my weaknesses every once in a while.

So what about you? At the end of a day do you collapse on your bed, spent and happy from a hard day’s work? Are you inspired? Does your lifestyle prove that you were created to problem solve, design, build, labor, and enjoy the result?

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The comments section at the bottom is for your feedback. What do you think? Is it a worthwhile pursuit?

Moving back to the United States (until further notice) has been a strange transition. Of course this country is home in many ways, and yet I never quite seem settled in it. But the current period of life I am in means that where the wind blows, there I go.

At this point the wind is blowing west to Los Angeles again. After working on my first feature film as a cinematographer in Manila I have been picking up odd motion picture jobs and co-producing a film as I prepare for a move across the country (as I write this I am on a corporate video shoot for a medical instruments company).

Hopefully it is already known that the short film Hadeas is now in its funding stage on Kickstarter. (If not, please visit the page!) Coming back to LA to work on a creative project with fellow APU graduates Randy May, Megan Prescott, and Becky Train seemed like a great plan. Randy began writing the script last year and together we talked about the possibilities of what we could create. The project has ended up being more important than we could have first imagined, providing a creative outlet to try new ideas and challenge us as we grow in our knowledge and love for the craft of cinema. You can follow the production journal here.

Due to a random set of circumstances, my drive won’t be straight from Chicago to LA. I have a few stops to make along the way. Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas are among the destinations. So I might as well make an event out of it.

And now seems like a perfect time to embark on another journey. It is almost amusing how chapters of a life can be marked by movement from one place to the next. So this trip will be advantageous as I seek to redefine who I am as an artist, what I am pursuing, what I want.

In terms of business, I’m forming my brand.

It’s something global.

It’s something creative.

It’s something narrative.

It’s something collaborative.

I can’t quite put my finger on it yet.

It is difficult to follow a massive success like The Lord of the Rings (not at all speaking from experience). So it’s no wonder that both Hobbit films emerge with cinema-literate audiences cringing slightly.

It could have been worse…remember this version of The Hobbit?

“But it’s not The Lord of the Rings”, comes the constant defense, citing the children’s-book nature of Tolkein’s first tale of Middle Earth. Of course not…but it is, isn’t it? When the music and production design makes us believe we are in the same universe as Aragorn, Frodo, and Galadriel, we get the feeling it’s the same place.

So why have both hyperboles of J.R.R Tolkein’s Hobbit tale felt so out of place in a world that should be their own?

As a wise art professor once said, “art influences technology and technology influences art.” This is perhaps more evident now than ever before.

Anyone acquainted with the independent film industry knows that cheaper digital technology has impacted their line of work, perhaps even created the possibility for it to exist. But these folk will also know that showing up to a set without storyboards is also a common practice, as is rewriting the script on set, or rolling for several minutes on a take, “allowing the scene to breathe” (more like, making up the plan while the record light is on).

I know from first hand experience that these practices aren’t just isolated to low-budget productions. I have experienced work on “higher-end” shoots where the lack of creative discipline was depressing.

Why?

Because it’s possible. To hit record on a Canon 5D Mark III* hardly costs a thing. Why does one need a strict plan for a day of shooting when rearranging binary code onto a CF card* is so cheap? And so easy?

Changes in production technology aren’t inherently destructive (remember the ‘technology influencing art’ part?) but often the innovation becomes a crutch that dulls the creative possibilities.

Has this accessibility affected the top echelons of film production in this industry?

Some of us experienced it in theatres starting December 13th. During one of the many video game sequences of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we found ourselves careening through a river-rapid fight that would make EA Games giggle.

And all of a sudden it happened.

Shock. Immediate recognition.

Was that a…? It was unmistakable.

They used a Go Pro!*

The Rule of Thirds wasn’t created by a human, it was simply an acknowledgement of the connection our minds have to visual content, and thus, framing an image in a certain way causes us to take it in differently. A rule that is equally steadfast (though unnamed as of yet): if the audience has become accustomed to a “look” through which we experience a world, especially a storybook setting like The Hobbit, they are immediately brought out of the moment when a jarringly different “look” is achieved. Basically, when you cut to a cheap Go Pro shot in the midst of a fantasy epic, we suddenly become aware of the crunchy popcorn under our feet and the “EXIT” sign (that may or may not be calling our name).

“But you can’t pick on The Hobbit! It’s a kids movie!”

When that kid’s movie costs $180 million and supposedly represents some of the highest quality of film production, it’s fair game to tear it apart for consistently making choices that simply don’t make us care about the characters or the world they’re in.

Remember the Fellowship of the Ring? A $93 million budget from an unknown filmmaker in a quiet corner of the globe. Breathtaking images, gritty textures, in-camera techniques, the movement and feel of 35mm film?

There is no such thing as cinematic perfection, but have we allowed cheap, accessible technology to cause us to drop the ball when quality is concerned?

There is still hope for the art of cinema, even in the midst of a creative famine where theatres are only comfortable with showing flicks that are based off of bestselling books, video games or other movies.

Much of the power is in your hands. If audiences have an appreciation for well-told stories and quality production, we have the power to shift an industry. The change is happening in food as consumers become more aware of just how much what we eat impacts our health. Have you noticed a rise in things like, “grass-fed beef” or “free range eggs” and “locally grown, organic produce”? That is the power of consumers at work.

R1- 7Why couldn’t this happen with cinema?

What is your role in impacting how we tell stories, what sorts of stories we tell?

Which movies have you gone to see in theatres lately? How many featured new directors, new production companies, and new talent?

How many Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns for films have you looked at? These are the places where new ideas are sprouting in a very democratic forum.

*Canon 5D Mark III – The latest redesign of the revolutionary Canon 5D cameras. The first widely used DSLRs that made it into the film production world. I recently shot a short film in Melbourne, Australia (called Lost in the Dark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bg_RmBczMI) that was nominated for several awards at a festival in LA. We shot it on the 5D Mark III. Great camera for a film with a budget of $500.

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On the set of Lost in the Dark with Director Chris W Bailey (right) and Producer Dana Marie (middle).

*CF Card – Compact Flash. A small solid-state media card that records images, video, or audio, depending on the device it is inserted into.

The CF card is on the left, SD card in the middle and a Micro SD on the right.

*For the as-of-yet uninformed, the Go Pro is a waterproof, shockproof camera system roughly the size of a chocolate brownie. Often seen on the helmets of sky divers and mountain bikers, it carries a reasonably nice-looking image for such a small camera. There is no comparison, however, to the quality of a digital cinema camera system. Everything from contrast to color rendition to sensor refresh time is noticeably different.

The Go Pro Hero 3. The latest in the Go Pro line up.

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