Halo Top’s brilliant new commercial

Halo Top has released a new ad online and it’s really something. Directed by Mike Diva and released on his YouTube channel, it’s creepy and unsettling and generally provokes a bunch of emotions I wouldn’t think you’d want associated with an awesome ice cream brand.

In an interview with AdWeek, Diva explains how the ad came together:

I guess the CEO has been a fan of my stuff for a while. He basically just said to me, “We already have enough commercials that explain why Halo Top is awesome. We just want something in your style that just grabs people’s attention.” I came back and pitched my idea in person. It’s one of those things where I felt like, if I just sent it to him over email, I would sound like a crazy person. I had to get in front of this dude and illustrate why it’s going to be funny. On paper, it just reads like it’s super dark, you know? I downloaded a text-to-speech app and kind of acted it out, and played the robot parts on my phone, so he would understand why it’s funny for the robot to say “Eat the ice cream” a bunch of times.

There’s also this later in the interview:

A lot of people are drawing comparisons to Kubrick and saying it’s a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it’s a direct homage. I actually didn’t want that at all. I had reservations about shooting in the 14th Factory Space Odyssey set. I didn’t want people to associate it with Space Odyssey just because there’s a robot in it. We yanked out all the furniture and redressed the entire room to make it look as different as possible. But of course, we still ended up getting a lot of those comparisons.

To quote Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”

All rewards have been delivered

Photo Credit: elldubphoto.com
This past weekend, The Primary Instinct World Premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. On the /Filmcast, we talk frequently about how much technology is changing the film industry and how much viewing is moving towards streaming and online. But despite all these market forces, I can now confidently say that nothing beats seeing your film projected on a big screen. Seeing people line up around the block to see my film, and then hearing people laugh and engage with it in a darkened theater – there’s nothing else like it. I suspect it’s a feeling I’ll want to chase again.

One of the biggest, most emotional moments for me was actually fulfilling the final reward in our Kickstarter project: sending everyone a viewable copy of the film. Firstly, I need to say that the service we used for this, VHX, was excellent.  They have amazing, responsive customer service, along with a platform that did everything I needed it to. I’d highly recommend them if you ever need to fulfill a project, and it’s very likely they will be part of the mix if/when our movie ever gets sold on VOD.

While it was a pleasure to enter into this journey with all our backers, it was also a mentally taxing obligation. All these hundreds of people chose to give us money — they deserved not just to get a film in return, but one that was of high quality and that they will be proud of.

Sending out those copies to everyone meant that my obligation was over. I had run the race. I had delivered what I promised I would. And even if the film goes nowhere from this point forward, I can hold my head up high as someone who followed through on a very ambitious project. In a world littered with crowdfunding projects that never delivered, it feels like an accomplishment. (That being said – the film won’t go nowhere. We’ll have more to announce soon…).

For our final update. Stephen wrote a note to all our Kickstarter backers that I think eloquently sums up how we feel at this moment. I’ve included it below. If you’ve supported me in any way during this intense journey. I hope you’ll accept my gratitude.


It is hard to give credit where credit is due.

There have been too many hands that have helped me in times of need. I have tried to make a list to demonstrate how one small thing like The Primary Instinct is really the work of thousands. Literally. 

Cedering Fox for encouraging me to write down my first story.

Robert Brinkmann for proposing we make a film—a wonderful collaboration resulting in Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party.

Andy Putschoegl for producing and editing it.

All of my friends that had to wear the same clothes for three days straight to be party guests.

That stupid horse, Little Red, that broke my neck and forced me to start writing more stories to save my sanity.

David Chen for inviting me to be a guest on the Slashfilm podcast at just the right moment.

David Chen for devoting uncountable hours, for no pay, to produce, edit, and promote The Tobolowsky Files.

David Chen (I’m sensing a trend) and Peter Sciretta for making a home for me at Slashfilm.com.

Jeff Hansen, the innovative Program Director at KUOW for taking the leap of faith to put The Tobolowsky Files on public radio.

Melinda Ward of PRI (Public Radio International) and the extraordinary talents of engineer Margaret Moos Pick, assisted by Mark Kausch and events coordinator Elisa Pluhar for making The Tobolowsky Files a national radio event.

HOWEVER …none of that would have happened if it weren’t for the efforts of Brandon Taitt, an unpaid volunteer who introduced Melinda to The Tobolowsky Files while working at his regular job in a computer repair store.

Ben Schwartz for making the introduction to literary agent Jud Lahgi—who said, “Yes!” – such a precious word.

Ben Loehnen, my brilliant editor at Simon & Schuster, for publishing my book of stories, The Dangerous Animals Club. David Lavin, Ken Calway and Octavia Ridout at The Lavin Agency for booking appearances.

To David Chen for harassing David Blum at Amazon Kindle into publishing “Cautionary Tales.” And Mark Crilley, a podcast fan, for doing the artwork.

There were many people on the radio who have promoted The Tobolowsky Files. Before anyone there was Nick Digilio at WGN. Nick has been there from before the beginning in support. He was the first person I sent a copy of The Dangerous Animals Club. I wanted his opinion. So many in the media have helped me. Marc Maron (WTF), Tom Rhodes, Liam McEneaney (scariest bathroom in a recording studio ever!), Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) , Luke Burbank (Live Wire!), Jesse Thorn (Bullseye), Tyler Smith and Dave Bax (Battleship Pretension), Dave Davies of NPR’s Fresh Air, Scott Simon (Weekend Edition)…

Pause to take a breath. So much help.

Whitney Matheson at USA Today, Jim Philips of the Philips Phile in Orlando, Bob Strum and Dan McDowell at The Ticket in Dallas, Nadia Chaudhury for The Awl, Richard Sergay at Curiosity Project with Discovery Communications, Michael DeSenzo, Jennifer Wilk, Jenna Dooley of WNIJ Public Radio, Vanessa Finney, Colleen Horning at KTXD-TV, Brandon Isaacson, Mark McKeown, Wolfie Rankin, Elizabeth Shepherd, Anne-Marie Welsh, Jay Wulff, Philip Wuntch, Adam Yoffe, Joshua Youngerman, and John Swansburg from Slate.

David Farrier, journalist, comedian, bird watcher extraordinaire, who opened his country, New Zealand to us and his home as well.

Denis McArdle who did the same for us in Dublin (I didn’t live in his home, but I DID eat his sister’s food!) We haven’t even touched on the producers and theater owners that extended themselves for my stories.

Adam Zacks (Seattle Theatre Group / the Moore and the Neptune) and his wife Lynn Resnick at BFI Seattle, Michael Hawley (The EG Conference), David Hunt Stafford (Theatre 40), Nick Hinkle at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Robert Newton at his theaters in Worcester and Gloucester Mass., Rebecca Graves, Lauri Hennessey, Susan Hanson, Kim Cunningham, Hedy Anderson and Vashon High School Theatre Program, David Caplan (Bell House, 92Y Tribecca ) Robyn Tenenbaum (Live Wire!), Kyle Mann and Dan Forte (Kentucky Center in Louisville), Lietza Brass (Paramount Theatre in Austin), David Wolkin and Matthew Grob (Limmud NY), Cole Stratton (San Francisco Sketchfest), Clinton McClung at SIFF, Randi Caldwell and Randy Lubas (Ventura Comedy Festival), Ann Alexander and Carrie Rodgers at USA Film Festival in Dallas and Katie Hutton at Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy Carver with Friends of the SMU Libraries. Jennifer Hall at Aegis Living. The Classic Theatre in Auckland New Zealand, Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write, Wendy Hammers’ Tasty Words, Paul Morrissey of Alley Oop, Kimmie Dee, Brett and Lester Levy, Jr.

My friends at PIXAR: Galyn, Angus, and, of course, Dr. Wave for inviting me out to tell stories from The Dangerous Animals Club.

Super Frog Saves Tokyo – now cut.com – (Mike Gaston, Blaine Ludy, Jason Hakala, Joanny Causse) for going into the venture as partners with David and me.

Gary Matoso and his team from Vignette, and Joel Clare and his team for helping us with our Moore Theatre shoot. In the end, it all comes down to individuals.

Richard Kagan who bought a LOT of books for Christmas. I mean a LOT.

Matt and Maria Swanson for being our angels on The Primary Instinct, and funding a whopping 25% of our budget.

And you. 

I know. It’s overwhelming. It’s like the beginning of the Book of Numbers. Every name here, including yours, represents time spent and risk taken. Your time and risk are honored. David Chen and I will endeavor to return the favor with enjoyment. Thank you all.

 – Stephen Tobolowsky and David Chen

Why I Helped Produce ‘Layover’

This year at the Seattle International Film Festival, I saw a movie called Layover, which tells the story of how a young Parisian named Simone gets stuck in LA on an extended layover and ends up learning more about her hopes and dreams than she had anticipated. At the time, I wrote about the film at /Film:

Layover is a film in the tradition of Linklater’s Before series, and I found that it perfectly captured the paradox encountered by many a millennial: feeling trapped, while also realizing that the possibilities for your life are still endless. It’s a beautiful, moving, and wistful film.

Not only was I impressed with the film, I also loved the story of how director Joshua Caldwell made the film for about $6,000. Layover is a testament to what can be accomplished with a solid script, a strong directorial eye, a single Canon 5D Mark II camera, and sheer willpower.

In fact, I enjoyed the film so much that I signed on to become a producer for it. So what exactly does that mean?

In this instance, since Layover was already completed, there were very few conventional production duties that I could help fill. Instead, I helped provide finishing funds for the film and consulted on several elements of their distribution plan and publicity. You can read more about how Caldwell made the film here and here, and also read about his decision to directly distribute the movie. 

You can probably guess: The fact that the film was only made for $6K made it much easier for a person of my limited means to invest in it. A few thousand dollars of my money could go a much longer way on Layover than it would on a production that cost $100K or $500K. But beyond that, I saw several unique opportunities that becoming a producer would present.

Firstly, since I’m directing a film myself this year — and one that will very likely require self-distribution — I felt being involved with Layover would give me a front-row seat to all the challenges involved in getting the word out about a movie. Thus far, I have already learned a lot about what platforms to use to distribute, the advantages of each, and what the most effective ways of driving publicity are. Undoubtedly, these learnings will require a whole other blog post to cover.

Secondly, and more importantly, every year thousands of movies like this screen at indie film festivals around the country and are promptly forgotten or never heard from again. They are movies with limited appeal on the mass market – maybe they don’t have big stars, or maybe (in the case of Layover) they are shot in a foreign language and presented with English subtitles. I knew there was a risk that Layover would become one of these films, and with the audience I have via /Film and the /Filmcast, I saw an opportunity to bring attention to a film that would otherwise never have received it.

Finally, I saw it as an opportunity to get involved with a promising young filmmaker. I don’t know where the careers of writer/director Joshua Caldwell and his producing/writing partner Travis Oberlander will end up. But even if this is the only thing they make that I ever love, I’m very proud to have my name on it.

You can buy Layover right now for $6 with promo code “filmcast”, DRM-free. If you’d like to support an exciting new filmmaker, the concept of indie distribution, or my work in general, I would be grateful if you could check it out. Thanks!

Megan and Alex’s Wedding

I had the opportunity to film my friend’s lovely wedding last weekend at Lakedale Resort in Friday Harbor, WA. It was an unconventional shoot; since I was recovering from a recent surgery, I wasn’t even sure I could attend the wedding until a few days before the event, let alone film it.

As a result, I didn’t have a chance to film any of the preparations, first look, or any of the other conventional stuff that a videographer capturing the day would usually get. Instead, I just stole whatever shots I could during the ceremony and afterwards at the reception. What really saved me is that I was able to hook up a wireless lavalier microphone onto the officiant (Jason, a local friend) to capture the ceremony. All the audio in the video is from that single microphone, and it really gave the video a solid backbone.

This video was filmed with a Panasonic GH4, mostly at 24fps and occasionally at 72fps conformed to 24fps. The ceremony was lovely, although the lighting conditions were punishing from a photography standpoint – because the ceremony was outside and in direct sunlight, a lot of the colors were washed out by default and saturation had to be added back in in post. The microphone was plugged into a Zoom H4N (my poor Zoom H4N is slowly dying after many years of good service – pretty sure i will need an H5 soon to replace it). I used my standard cheap-o Polaroid rig to stabilize the camera, plus used a stabilization filter in post.

Technical elements aside, it was an emotional, joyous day. I hope the video is able to capture that.

Northwest Folklife Festival 2014

I’ve been having lots of fun playing around with my Panasonic GH4’s slow motion function. This weekend, after driving home from the incredible Sasquatch Music Festival (blog post/album coming soon on that one), I had a chance to check out the Northwest Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center on Memorial Day. Pretty awesome music and dancing abounded, but I was particularly intrigued by the “rhythm tent,” which apparently has a non-stop beat going on and a bunch of random people just getting down to it.

The above was shot handheld using a Panasonic 12-35mm Lumix lens with OIS activated. Graded using FilmConvert.

What’s in a name?

I was listening to an old episode of the Freakonomics podcast (which is based on the NYTimes bestselling book). The podcast and the multiple books that have come out in the past few years have been wildly popular; it’s hard to imagine a name OTHER than Freakonomics at this point.

But in the episode, one of the hosts talks about asking his sister for help in naming the original book. The term “Freakonomics” immediately leapt to mind, but there were also a bunch of other names that were considered, including:

  • Economics Gone Wild
  • Dude, Where’s My Rational Expectation
  • Bend It Like Veblen
  • E-Ray Vision

The publishers/marketers originally HATED the name “Freakonomics” and for a time, the alternates was seriously considered. But at the end of the day, they stuck with Freakonomics and the rest is history.

Now, in retrospect, all of those other names look TERRIBLE in comparison with Freakonomics. I mean, Freakonomics just FEELS like the right name. But that decision was not always so obvious, and certainly, they were going against the grain by choosing that name. Sometimes things that seem obvious after the fact are bold and dicey in the moment.

It’s interesting to think about because we’re in the process of making a film right now, and our tentative name for it is “The Primary Instinct.” I love the name – others hate it or think it’s way too vague. Worth keeping? We don’t really have a way of knowing. Sometimes you just need to make a decision and hope that it makes sense later.

The Seattle Color Run 2014 – In Slow Motion

I learned a very valuable lesson yesterday: don’t shoot at a Color Run without camera protection!

The Seattle Color Run (as with many other Color Runs) is a photographer/videographer’s dream, an explosion of color and sound with tons of movement and a diverse array of human beings. But the colored cornstarch they spray gets EVERYWHERE. It gets on your hair, on your clothes, into your orifices (mucus from my nose was blue-colored all afternoon yesterday!). It also gets onto your camera.

I saw a bunch of photographers running around with plastic bags on their cameras yesterday but honestly I don’t even know if that would have been adequate. A few grains of this stuff isn’t a huge deal, but if any more than that gets into your camera, it messes with the sensor, the focusing motor, etc. What a nightmare. I’m happy with the footage but I’m not sure if I’d ever bring a camera to such an event again.

On that note, the footage was shot on a Panasonic GH4 at 96fps with my standard camcorder chest stabilizer, then graded with FilmConvert. The grade on this is pretty rough. Since you’re lowering your bitrate when you shoot in slow motion on the GH4, it doesn’t really hold up too well in post when you’re pushing the exposure and colors. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with some of these shots, and also pleasantly surprised that the Polaroid rig I use is adequate stabilization when shooting slow motion.

My only regret is that I couldn’t have spent another hour at this event filming more shots and coverage. But I was already getting really concerned at how my camera was getting all this cornstarch caked on top of it and I felt like I had to leave. I think I made the right decision. Maybe next time I’ll pick up one of these.

Fun with GIFs

Matt Zoller Seitz (probably one of the most talented film critics working today) recently wrote a piece urging critics to “write about the filmmaking.” That is, he was disappointed that critics didn’t write more often about filmmaking techniques and form, and how those elements can influence the effect a film has on us.

While I wasn’t a fan of Seitz’s tone and felt his piece ignored some of the economic realities of being a film critic these days, I did appreciate the overall message he was trying to get across. But one of the difficulties of writing about the filmmaking is that it’s really freaking hard, not just from a technical knowledge standpoint, but on a practical level. Since writing is NOT a visual medium, you need to first use words to communicate the details of a shot/scene that you want to discuss, and then you need to dive into in depth. If you’re writing a standard-length review, it can get cumbersome to accomplish all this (and I’m not even taking into account the possibility of spoilers, and the difficulties those can add to conventional reviews).

One way to circumvent this is to use screenshots or production stills as visual aids. I’ve recently started trying out GIFs as a method of getting across ideas and I think it’s pretty effective. I’ve produced two pieces for /Film using this method so far. I hope people find the entertaining, informative, and enjoyable. If so, there’ll be plenty more.

Why The Protector 2 is the most insane martial arts film of 2014
– My 5 favorite scenes from Season 4 Episode 2 of Louie, “Model.”

Five Things I Miss: Switching to a Panasonic GH4 from a Canon 5D Mark III

When the Panasonic GH4 was first announced, I heard numerous reports that there were filmmakers who’d be selling their 5D Mark III’s and going with the GH4 exclusively. I was a bit stunned at all the positive buzz, just because I love my 5D Mark III and think the image quality is fantastic, even if the video codec is pretty terrible. Could anything possibly serve as a full replacement for the Mark III?

I recently purchased a Panasonic GH4, and while I’m kind of in love with this thing, I’ve already decided I won’t be selling my Canon 5D Mark III anytime soon.

The Panasonic GH4 has some really awesome selling points. It is the only camera that can shoot at 4K for under $2,000, and it does a pretty great job of it, with insane amounts of detail. It has video features that DSLR video users have been longing for for quite sometime, including zebras and focus peaking. And it does it all in a really small, light package, that’s extremely easy to handle.

That being said, as someone who’s shot exclusively with Canon for the past 5 years, there were a lot of thing I missed about my Mark III when I picked up the GH4 and started trying to use it. Here are the top five things I miss about my Canon:

1) The bokeh – It’s a scientific fact: it’s harder to get shallow depth of field on a smaller Micro 4/3rds sensor than it is on a full frame sensor. The shorter focal lengths mean that your aperture needs to be wider to achieve the same creamy bokeh you’re used to. That’s not to say you can’t still achieve great results with lenses like Voigtlander Noktons or the Nocticron. But it can still be a challenge. On that note…

2) The lenses – Canon now has a ridiculously large assortment of EF lenses to use from, a truly mature system that has pretty much every focal length and quality level one is looking for. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome Micro 4/3rds lenses out there, but they’re simply not as many to choose from (a difficulty which I ran into when I was first kitting out my Blackmagic Pocket). So you may not get the exact focal length you’re looking for, or it may not have the preferred build quality. Of course, for Canon, you can probably get the exact thing you’re looking for, but it’ll cost an arm and a leg, and the lens itself could be really, really heavy.

3) The buttons – One thing that’s annoying: On the Canon 5D Mark III, the aperture dial is in the back, and the shutter speed button is in the front. These crucial positions are switched on the GH4, and that is definitely going to take me some time to get used to. I also love that huge gigantic wheel on the Canon – nothing is really going to beat how easy that is to use, and the GH4’s equivalent wheel, which feels pretty flimsy, certainly doesn’t match up. UPDATE: Apparently, you CAN switch these buttons via the GH4 menus.

4) The viewfinder – I never thought I’d miss the viewfinder on my Canon, but it’s really hard to get used to a digital viewfinder/EVF on the GH4. I was fine doing it on my Fuji X100, because that was more of a “leisure camera,” but on the GH4, which I’m considering using for professional applications, I find the experience unsatisfying. There’s just no substitute for being able to look through a viewfinder and see, through a prism/mirror, the exact thing that you’re going to take a picture of. The software and screens on the GH4 are great, but software will take awhile to be perfect in this regard, and show us what we’re looking at with perfect fidelity.

5) The top display panel – I realize this is a gripe that is specific to people switching from a Mark III, but I really have grown to love the panel at the top of the camera, which the GH4 doesn’t have. It displays basic settings like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and drive mode, and if I’m in a situation where I need to be discreet, it makes it really easy to change my settings without putting the camera up to my face. Not a big deal, but just something I missed when I was shooting my first video on the GH4.

UPDATE: One more thing that really grinds my gears – there is very little third-party RAW support for the GH4’s .RW2 files, and it will likely be weeks/months until programs like Aperture and Lightroom release updates with GH4 RAW compatibility. I can’t believe we are still living in an age when one of the world’s most anticipated cameras can be released without an easy way to manipulate the files.

The Panasonic GH4 is essentially useless for professional photography jobs until RAW support arrives.


Those are just a few of my thoughts on making the switch, but overall I’m a huge fan of the GH4 and plan to use it far into the future. Just sometimes, a few things bother me about it. But for the amazing video features, incredible lightweight, and hyper-competitive price, the GH4 is still a formidable camera and one that I’m really enjoying using.

Panasonic GH4 Slow Motion Test Footage

After reading many glowing reviews of the new Panasonic GH4, I just had to get my hands on one of these things for myself. In addition being curious about the weight and ergonomics of Micro 4/3rds systems, I was particularly intrigued by the GH4’s ability to shoot in 96fps, something that no other prosumer DSLRs are currently capable of. This allows you to slow down footage to 25% its original speed at 24fps. While the bitrate isn’t great, I love me my slow motion.

I am not at all familiar with Panasonic’s line of cameras, so taking this out into the world for an hour at Pike Place Market was really a crash course. All of the buttons are in different places than on my Canon 5D Mark III. Most annoyingly, the position of the shutter/aperture dials on the GH4 is switched. That’ll take some time getting used to.

I hope to write more about my experiences with the GH4 in the future, and how it compares with my work on full frame cameras. In the meantime, here’s a brief video I shot today.

The View from Smith Tower

This weekend, we went to the top of Smith Tower’s to get a view of Seattle and its surroundings from its observation deck. I brought my Blackmagic Pocket Camera with me, and was able to capture this short video. Since the observation deck is surrounded by bars, I had to reach around the bars with the camera to get the views, then stabilize the footage slightly in post. This is one of the advantages of having a camera this small – you can capture high-quality images in situations you would never otherwise be able to.

One of my beefs with this footage is that the focus peaking on the camera often led me astray. When you’re in harsh sunlight, the small screen on the Blackmagic is all you can rely on for getting correct focus/exposure because the image on the screen is basically impossible to see clearly. Several times the focus peaking led me to believe my shots were in focus, especially since I was already closed down to f/8 to even f/22 on occasion. But when I look at the footage above, several of the shots are clearly soft and out of focus.

Aside from that, I hope the video captures the beauty of Seattle on a rare, bright sunny day.

Re-Appreciating Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Sometimes, I make an essay that’s just for me. This Scott Pilgrim vs. The World appreciation was one of those times.

No one was begging me for my updated take on the film, but while I was doing some research for an upcoming video I’m working on (with the help of Edgar Wright), I felt compelled to revisit Scott Pilgrim and some of its themes. In truth, I also used the essay as a way for me to get a handle on some things going on in my own life. I’m glad it’s resonated with so many other people.

As of this writing, about 15 hours after publication, the video has received about 28,000 views. It was getting a decent number of hits at /Film, but then Edgar Wright tweeted it and it was posted at the still-massive Scott Pilgrim Facebook page, where it received a staggering 7.6K Likes. That’s what really helped tip this thing, I suspect. 

In the past couple of months, I’ve made a bunch of different videos that have received varying amounts of attention through different means. I’m hoping to publish a future blog post that sums up some of these findings, so look forward to that. 

Black Magic MFT Cinema Camera – Test Footage

Last night, I had the unique opportunity to try out the relatively new Black Magic Cinema Camera with Micro 4/3rds mount. Local /Filmcaster Sam Kelly was kind enough to offer me an in-person tutorial. We met at Hilliard’s Beer in Ballard, which was hosting one of their many motorcycle meetups and just shot a bunch of footage in ProRes HQ. This is the result.

This footage was shot using SLR Magic prime lenses, then graded using FilmConvert. My first reaction to this video is: WOW! Shooting in ProRes gives you SO much more flexibility in post than anything that comes out of my DLRs. Details that might have otherwise been lost in shadows and highlights can be easily “pushed.” The video just has a “filmic” look that I’ve occasionally struggled to achieve with my DSLR footage. And FilmConvert works spectacularly with the BMCC “Film” Picture Style, which is what I used.

All that being said, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is pretty clunky in a bunch of ways. The LCD screen makes it fairly challenging to focus, and the focus peaking overlay is sketchy at best, in terms of accuracy. The lens mount on the MFT version of this camera is passive, which is fine in theory but I didn’t like that there was no aperture reading on the screen that tracked with my adjustments. The lack of removable battery and the lack of charge in the existing battery means that an external battery solution is a must.

The firmware still has a lot of shortcomings. For instance, the inability to format your media or delete clips would probably drive me insane in the long term.

But in the end, when we’re talking about images of this quality for under $2000? I don’t think I will be able to resist purchasing one for much longer…

Big thanks to Sam for letting me play with this amazing camera, and to Hotels and Highways for the use of their song “People Have Spoken.”

More experiments with FilmConvert

After I got FilmConvert last week, I wanted to try out the program further to see how well it could really do at improving some of my images. So I shot some footage this weekend in Seattle and tried using FilmConvert to grade it.

Here is a video I shot of the 2013 Seattle Chinese Kite Festival, which took place at the Seattle Chinese Garden in South Seattle. This video was shot using the Prolost Flat Picture Style and graded conventionally to bring up saturation and increase contrast.

Now here’s the same video, but instead of using normal grading, all I did was use FilmConvert to apply the Fuji Provia 100 preset and set film grain to 0.

I was really frustrated with both of these videos to be honest. The shooting situation was very challenging – bright sunlight, no shadows, a ton of green everywhere. I wasn’t thrilled with how either of the videos turned out from a color perspective, although I do think the FilmConvert-ed footage achieves a consistent look throughout (whether I’m a fan of that look or not is a different question…).

Later Saturday evening, I was pleased to be able to attend Seattle’s Street Food Festival at Cal Anderson Park. Last year they held the event at Denny Park and I thought that was a much better time; the streets at Cal Anderson are just way too narrow to host thousands of people (plus, this year the lines were unbelievably massive). Nonetheless, good food and good times were had by all.

This video was shot using the flaat 10 Picture Style. I used FilmConvert’s Fuji 8543 preset and set film grain to 0.

I notice that FilmConvert presets can often jack up the contrast a bit too high and wash out some of the colors, occasionally to the footage’s detriment. For example, see the skin tones at around :28 into the video, which definitely need some warming up (a function that FilmConvert does supply – I just wanted to see how the presets would work on default settings). Otherwise, I think the grading looks quite nice, if you can ignore that terrible moire early on in the video.

All of this footage was shot on a Canon 60D. For the Kite Festival, I used a Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod.

Breaking My Ties with the Internet

Kevin Smith has had a pretty rocky relationship with film reviewers these past few years but I’ve stayed a fan of what he has accomplished (I was one of the few on our podcast that was really impressed by Red State).

This past year has seen a huge life transition for me. As I’ve gone through it, and as I’ve experienced recent events, there’s one interview with Kevin Smith that keeps coming to mind, over and over again: a 2009 interview that Smith did with Lee Stranahan on “The Dark Side of the Internet.” In it, Smith discusses how the poor performance of Zack and Miri caused him to swear off the internet for good.

While I think constructive criticism can benefit any number of people (myself included), there’s one section of the interview that has really changed the way I look at things. It starts about the 5 minute mark above:

“You know what I realized one day? People can write the worst shit about you that you’ve ever seen. They can write really horrible shit about your wife, about your fucking kid. They can write things about your motivations. They can try to peer into your soul and write heinous fucking things. They can take you into bizarro world and write the opposite of everything that’s true, and maintain to the world in general that it’s true. And it’s only really recently that I’ve realized that they can do all that, and they can’t affect your ability to earn, to love, to be loved, to have a good day…

It’s weird. I’ll sit there and read something on the internet  really heinous about myself or about my work or something, and then I’ll go a meeting on some project I’m working on. Those cats aren’t like ‘Hey, we read that thing and that dude’s right, you are a prick!’ That shit doesn’t matter, and you bring it up to them! It’s so weird, I’m so tired of telling people in my life…people will be like, ‘What’s wrong?” and I’m like ‘I read this fucking thing on the internet that really bothers me.’  None of them have ever been like, “Oh man I’m sorry.’ They’ve all been like, ‘So? Dude, look at your life! You won! What do you give a shit what someone writes about you on the internet?’ And I’m like, ‘I dunno. Because I always have.’

And then I just realized, maybe I can just stop.”


New Year’s Eve 2012

I was blessed to have a bunch of friends over to my apartment on New Year’s Eve. Seeing a significant portion of my friends in Seattle, all together in one room — it really made this place start to feel like home.

My friend, upon seeing the video, said it looked like life was going pretty well. I agreed, but said I didn’t know how long all the excitement would last.

“Make sure to enjoy it while it continues. Don’t worry about making it last,” he replied.

I cut together this brief video to show you my view of the fireworks. This was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II using a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

My First Slow Motion Test

I recently watched the video above, shot by Diego Contreras, and it really lit a fire under my ass. Contreras shot this with a Canon 7D, a couple non-Canon lenses, and edited/colored it using Final Cut Pro X. In other words, the total cost of the software AND hardware for this video was probably under $2500. That is insane. There is no longer any real obstacle preventing someone from creating something beautiful. All you need is a little bit of cash, the will, and the skill.

I’ve had difficulties making slow motion look good in the past, but decided to give it another try. I borrowed my friend’s Nikon D600 (my Canon 5D Mark II can’t shoot in 60 fps) which had an 85mm f/1.8 lens. Then I went to Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market and shot a bunch of footage over the course of an hour. I shot the footage at 60fps (720p), then slowed it down to 24fps in post.

I’m pretty pleased with the results, but here are a few lessons I learned while shooting this, and how I plan on doing things differently the next time around:

For a video such as this, the music is critically important – I tried to find something I could use legitimately, but it’s a huge challenge to find something great and cheap. I have literally spent hours browsing the Vimeo Music Store in search of some hidden gems, and it is tough to find something that will work.

Instead, I opted to use a track off of an album by AnnaLivia, a music group I did some photography for back in Boston. They graciously gave me permission to do this. In the future, I’ll probably try and secure permission from other local groups to use their music in my videos – it’s free publicity for them and allows me the option to use some great-sounding stuff. I also may try Premiumbeat.com, whose music I tend to find pretty decent but pricey.

Faster cuts – While I liked a lot of the motion and faces I was able to capture, I do think this video moves a bit too slowly if you’re not as enamored with the composition as I was. Next time around I think the cuts will have to come a bit faster. More shots, more edits would probably give this video some better energy.

More time spent on color correction – This being a quick test. I threw together a couple of quick presets and applied to all my clips at an attempt at doing a “vintage-y” look. Next time, I will try to massage each clip until it pops just right, and make a better attempt at matching all the clips together.


I’m also open to hearing your thoughts. Let me know what you think!