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.