Returning to Blackmagic Design with Open Arms

It's been many a blue moon since I've shot something on a BMD camera system. RED cameras dominate most of my cinematography, but I have been endlessly curious about BMD's Ursa line for some time.

Well, I'm finally sinking my teeth into the nuts and bolts of what makes an Ursa Mini 4K tick, and I must say, despite some of the tried-and-true BMD technical foibles persisting, I can say that the Ursa Mini is a well-designed, intuitively-buttoned, ergonomic, and visually pleasing camera.

I won't go into any technical mumbo-jumbo about the sensor specs or LUTs or dynamic range, because I honestly don't care about any of that stuff beyond the basics, and those basics inform my knowledge of the camera's limitations. From that point, it's smooth sailing with Blackmagic Design.

As a sidenote, this little edit was composed entirely in Davinci Resolve Studio. Given the financial demands of Creative Cloud services and Resolve's recent MASSIVE price drop (not to mention the inclusion of Fairlight audio suite), I'd say there's a new editor on the playground looking to knock down the big guys.

Enjoy,

JC

Coloring the Proof of Concept: A Film's Plea for Relevance

This weekend, I began the coloring and mastering process for the proof-of-concept portion of the feature I'm shooting, tentatively called "Huckleberry." This production began last October and will continue into August and then October of this year (fingers crossed). To many, this is the production that never ends! Or The Great Race! Or How Many Punches Can One Take? Reflecting on the project sparked a lot of questions about the future of filmmaking, a film's social, cultural, and financial relevance, and the people masochistic enough to take the journey.

I'll tell it truthfully and say this has indeed been a generally confusing ride. This is the first time I've shot a film this way, with so many variables completely up in the air (including the budget). More and more projects I sign onto function this way, and the trend grows across all budget ranges in cinema. Even studio productions have not been, historically, safe from hiatus, postponement, or even a complete shutdown after weeks or months of production. It seems that the film industry, self-conscious as ever, will see yet another production methodology overhaul in dramatic attempts to stay relevant to the public as well as tap new sources of capital--like making "fans" pay the bills via crowd-based fundraisers. It's new territory based on tried-and-true investment-seeking methods from the past, but with risky twists.

The question on the minds of workers in low to micro-budget filmmaking--how secure is my job? Any freelancer understands the sheer terror of finding those next couple of "gigs" to make ends meet every month. But the problem compounds when larger-scale productions (such as features) stretch over multiple shoots, over multiple months, or even multiple years in some cases. These aren't weekend photo shoots--these are complex, messy, overlong, and grueling film shoots with killer deadlines and no monetary room for error. Even the coffee tends to suffer.

Many stories have been told about maverick filmmakers getting their start every weekend with their friends, when they saved enough money to rent a camera and buy/process some film. You know, back in the early 60s and again in the 90s. It would seem that either the equally "maverick" investors pushing in their chips on young talent have disappeared or moved on to other things. Perhaps cinema's place in high art no longer exists? Many might argue that the ballooning of the studio system has something to do with that. Do investors still exist today, and how can younger generations of filmmakers reach them? Well, I think all of these questions leap ahead of something urgent--a film's relevance.

Films can be made anywhere and any time, as long as the ingredients are right and the story is worth telling, but how does one determine the value of each project? Is your film worth the arduous process of making? Is it worth fighting tooth-and-nail for distribution and exhibition? In the end, I suppose it's best to keep the pedal to the metal and continue down that old dirt road so many others have traveled before you. Because, hey, you never know who might be looking for your project.

Alone In the Snow

   

Blue waves behind the 

black trees, hints of

amber and magenta

strike a chord with 

my heart.

Beneath the frozen 

crunch of earth, my feet

carry a weary body to the

perimeter--snow blankets

fall in slow motion.

This is how it felt to walk among the trees and rivers this morning as the sun rose and the snow fell.

*All images are pano stitches (7.5K originals)

Nightcrawling

Sometimes, the post-production life throws a couple of wrenches into your gears of operation (like ghosting 1-3TB of data from multiple drives and creating backups). As a fellow editor once said, you can get all kinds of things done in the meantime--laundry, coffee consumption, nap time, etc.

Instead, I chose to wander outside into the freezing rain-snow mix whipping about in the wind for a couple of shots.

"Starburst and the Creeping Caddy" might make for a nice rock duo name.

Living In a Fog

There's something a lot of people from the Midwest understand well--the winter blues.

The blues have hit me in a big way lately as our environment oscillates between winter and a disturbingly early Spring. The idea of shooting in the same locations over and over on dreary, dull, overcast, and melancholy days sends shivers up the spines of most photographers, myself included. Your brain darts into the very deepest crevices to come up with an image or a location--a rock that hasn't been overturned. The perpetual gray certainly doesn't help.

Despite the anxiety of not finding a damn thing to shoot, I managed to snag a couple of shots this evening. The clouds rolled back in, and I made my way back home, only to discover the most breathtaking sunset had appeared. Typical winter-blues luck. I should probably learn to plan ahead for my photography instead of "wingin' it."

Enjoy

 

An Ursa Mini In the Family

After the New Year, Dylan and I took a little trip out to Radar hill to play around with Dylan's new friend, the Blackmagic Ursa Mini.

Footage will come along, but for now, enjoy a few stills!

A Cinematographer Plays "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End"

Video games represent a medium rife with storytelling potential. From puzzlers to RPGs to the action-adventure genre, developers employ some of the most creative and thoughtful artists in the entertainment industry, and their work now soars to new heights with increasing technologies.

As a filmmaker and cinematographer, I frequently marvel at the levels of detail, complexity (or simplicity), and sheer beauty of game after game, taking great pleasure in the artistry and mechanical design. A certain developer has kept my attention for many years now--Naughty Dog.

Naughty Dog's ability to blend the conventions of gaming and cinema into one cohesive, interactive experience takes my breath away every time. From the rollicking tongue-in-cheek Uncharted series to their heartbreaking and dire The Last of Us, this developer demonstrates a new avenue for cinema-game crossover that excites me more than just about anything right now.

Their mantra is pretty simple--tell a great story. Starting from the very best foundations--an excellent script and flesh-and-blood characters--their skillfully crafted gameplay mechanics and stunningly realized environments have given me some of my most memorable gaming experiences. The reason? Empathy. The greatest games, in my opinion, are the ones that allow me to empathize with characters, no matter what type of game it is. Naughty Dog games play like an interactive movie and provide very linear narratives, which does rub some gamers the wrong way, but for a filmmaker, this is all I want right now, especially while independent cinema struggles to thrive in an industry bloated by corporate shills and awful writing and editing battles behind closed doors.

With that in mind, I present a photo collection taken with Naughty Dog's in-game Photo Mode--from the point of view of a cinematographer (with a little help from Photoshop).

Enjoy

The Super Moon That Never Was

A Super Moon came and went, and as usual, murky Ohio weather decided to veil its rise from me.

However, I did manage to snag a few pleasant shots before it went. Not as impressive as I had hoped for, but hey, I can say I saw it.

Cats and Moody Portraits

Hurricane Matthew rips along the eastern coast. Donald Trump continues to insult/assault women as well as the rest of the US. Putin's face goes up on the Manhattan bridge.

Meanwhile, I'm shooting photos of friends at Stan Hywet gardens in Akron, Ohio and playful, adventurous kittens. Perspective proves a rather fickle thing, doesn't it?

Enjoy some photos, everyone.

Dylan welcomes a new companion, Mad Francis!

A Brief Trip to NYC

What is there to say about New York City that hasn't already been put into a great song or film or book? Something can, however, be said of a twenty nine year-old filmmaker who has never seen the Big Apple in person, sure. The city's influence pulsed through my Midwestern veins long before my arrival, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before it would swallow me whole.

That time has not come. But it may be on the horizon. My partner Dylan and I made our way to the city for an easy-breezy corporate gig with a good friend and fellow DP, and along the way sights were seen, many smells were smelled (at times to great chagrin), and a wonderful gluten-free coconut donut was consumed. My belly and mind settled quite nicely.

Along the way, I snapped a few photos. Not nearly as many as I would have liked, but the memories linger like the taste of a first kiss.

Enjoy.

Gloomy Radio City

Central Park

Showdown

Improvised photo shoot

Flipping some hair

Elite

A hard exterior melted moments later by tacos and margaritas

Corn Fields, Soybean Fields, and Anxiety: Making a Feature Film in Tyler, MN

A mischievous, bordering on masochistic pleasure exists in making ultra-low budget feature films, and those involved have to be out of their gourd in one way or another. A 12-hour-a-day circus of artists, technicians, and anxious producers playing tag on walkie-talkies only to manufacture realities or surrealities (or fail completely). Objectivity and subjectivity blend in what will hopefully appear a fully human experience on screen, but with a twist of tone and affect. This is our job.

Typical Minnesota clouds

What 50% of southern Minnesota looks like. The other half is corn.

Working on location throws curve balls. This particular shoot rendered flies. Lots and lots of flies. Jesus, is SW Minnesota full of flies! There's nothing quite like being stuck in a 1970s Winnebago minus air conditioning plus horse flies. Combining that with the body heat and anxiety of five to eight people, you've got yourself a mental-breakdown cocktail. We all felt a little like this, I'm sure:

She gets it

Well, this shoot served up a full platter of Holy Crap with a healthy side of shenanigans. From drunken karaoke at a Danish folk school to filming at the infamous Corn Palace of South Dakota, not a dull day was to be had on the production of Hap and Ashley (working title, wink wink). As an Assistant Camera, opportunities to pull the ole DSLR rarely surface, but the ever-ready iPhone, to my chagrin, has made quite the b-camera (see Instagram feed for proof). This trip has solidified three things in my brain—firstly, that I need to invest in a laptop; secondly, that media, photography, and self marketing really are changing form; thirdly, that for someone who haphazardly blossomed in the beginning of the internet age and for a brief time basically lived digitally, I am surprisingly out of touch with how to present material to a wider audience. How I do the Instagram? How I put pretty picture in front of face? Hello? Anyone out there? It's dark in here!

The scorpion's tail ready to strike

These are only some of the thoughts on the mind of an AC while on duty. Other thoughts include: "I wonder if they know the director fell asleep," "don't blow the focus, moron," "they want me to mount the camera WHERE," "you know, managing a grocery isn't so bad," and "fuck it." 

The UPM chomps on the moon

So really what I'm trying to say is that filmmaking on this scale blows the pants off of most "traditional" employments and truly must be seen to be believed. 

Now, I present a series of photos shot on the periphery of production. If you try really hard, you can imagine the sort of tomfoolery happening somewhere outside of each frame.

Our heartthrob grip-extraordinaire in dreamy 8mm

The gate of hell

Creepy Danish folk school

The man, the myth, the AD

Fearless leader and a tree

The moon rises over Tyler

The elusive Rainbow Spout

Rabbit

Modern fisherman

Bad moon hiding

Locations and PA dance under the stars

Now, I'm not saying it was aliens, but...

Fort Belmont...and flowers

Locations manager on the job

The DP and key grip discuss the finer things, like animal crackers

Second AC rethinking her life decisions

Dylan exploring

Dylan Looks at Things: A Series

Despair

Despair in black and white

Sleepy time

Survived another one.

Turtles and Herons

As I prepare for a rip-roarin' good time in Minnesota working a new feature film (OU REPRESENT), I thought I'd take a little slice out of today to wander with the ole camera.

Dawdled out to a local pond to find a collection of rad turtles sunning themselves and a heron picking around for some fish. I also appear to be trapped in a monochrome world lately.

Enjoy!

Back to Nature

I won't yammer on like some early American naturalist or transcendentalist writer, extolling the virtues of "returning to nature" or studying oneself in relation to an environment. But there's always a reward for exploring forests and woodlands to me, especially in the beginning of the summer.

What one assumes may be quiet--or absent the clamoring and bumbling of human commotion--ends up a chirping, singing, croaking melody (or dissonance to the grumpy).

A few snaps from my walks today:

Green Fields and Hoop Dreams

I spent some time this afternoon scouting around locally for inspiration, spaces, maybe a sense of awe and wonder. Perhaps as a way to explore the spatial elements of this new film project, or perhaps just to take a look at what really surrounds me on a daily basis.

I came away with green fields, perilous clouds, and hoop dreams long forgotten.

 

Gemini - A New Short Film?

It has been some time since I entertained the idea of putting together another of my own directorial projects, but something brewed quickly today--quick and fierce, like a tornado of inspiration and creative gusto. 

i'll just leave these here to percolate a bit.  

 

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jC 1.0 Hits the Ground Running...or Perhaps with a Thud

Hello and welcome to my latest foray into web design and media frenzy!

In due time, my hope is that this work portfolio will morph into some form of tab keeper on my whereabouts, film work, creative musings, current film and music consumption, and even philosophical diatribes about filmmaking itself (I'll keep it light, I promise).

Folks, we all know filmmaking is a slow-moving process, not unlike the crawl of a snail sometimes. The Cinematography and Photography pages will grow as the projects roll in and as each of them go through their finishing touches and fall upon the world's eye. As well, the site is sort of in a 'beta" state, so layout, design, and functionality will hopefully improve in the coming months. 

On that note, I also hope that this site will become a sort of social portal for people to discuss cinema and its ever-changing social, cultural, and artistic landscapes. It's human to feel attracted toward images and symbols, and it's even more human to crave provocative storytelling. Who doesn't want to be prodded about things like mortality or social stratification? And what better way to express the current standards of human life in all of its many forms than through the cinema? It's a good one in my book.

With that out of the way, welcome to the site, and thanks for stopping by. There are links at the bottom for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram for those interested in connecting (I'm on Twitter but will not participate...sorry).

Don't be a stranger, now! 

Jon