I’ve been writing almost every night for the last couple weeks, and drawing when the brain juice needs a bit of a recharge. Here’s a pic of my leading lady, Apothecary Jones, as she would appear in my latest story that is horribly entitled Apothecary Jones and The Spun Yarn.
It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here. A long time. Life has changed a lot and yet stayed much the same.
The Bonneville documentary didn’t happen. I wanted it to, but the money wasn’t in the right place at the right time and I was in the middle of transitioning jobs. I left behind Dell after nearly ten years and went to work for a software company. The hours have been long, but the effort is more rewarding. At Dell I was a tiny cog in a big machine. At my new job I’m still a cog, but one that has the opportunity to effect some real change in process and tools. I’m programming more now than I was at Dell and working on new problems instead of grinding away at the same things over and over. The pay is better too.
Creatively I’m stuck in my head, alongside a whole lot of static. I still want to write a book (another NaNoWriMo completed, but no real revisions done), and I still want to work on a movie. I’ve also got it in my head that I need to write, program, and do the art for a video game. It’s a lot to take on and a lot of different priorities pulling vying for headspace. In the past keeping up with this blog or some form of journaling really helped separate the signal from the noise, so here I am – dusting off the old WordPress interface and putting some hours in at the keyboard. I won’t pretend I’ll keep this up – I’ve had a lot of blogs ever since blogging was a thing – but for now it will do.
Now its just time to get back to work.
In case you’ve been wondering why there have been so few posts. Been in tech research mode. Hopefully will emerge to be creative soon. All work and no play…you know the rest.
My first short film since college, and the first one ever to have a story of any sort. Popsicle stars my lovely wife and was shot entirely on an iPhone 5. Sound was recorded using a Zoom H1 recorder. All edits are down in Final Cut Pro X, and all effects were achieved in camera.
What I Have:
- Canon T3i DSLR (shoots 1080 video) – but sound is terrible.
- Spare battery for T3i.
- Spare memory card – 48 gb’s total of space for each day shooting.
- Canon EF 50mm 1.8 fixed lens – low-cost. Shoots a little closer than I’d like, but don’t have many other options. May borrow a standard kit lens.
- Canon Telephoto lens – very slow to focus, needs lots of light, but might be workable on the salt with light reflected from every direction.
- Rode Videomic – Just got this, has lots of five-star reviews and seems to be one of the “go to” mics for the über indie filmmaker. It does make the sound much better, even in just the couple tests I’ve done.
- Zoom H1n – I actually don’t have this in my hands yet, but again, highly rated and one of the “go to” options for low-budget productions. Should allow me to record high quality interview audio by itself, or pair with the Rode to get longer shots + sound. Also allows live monitoring of sound and a line out to record onto the camera for a scratch track. It’s almost like I’m a pro.
- Rode Deadcat Mic Cover – looking at pictures of the salt flat is deceptive. It looks immense and dead, because it’s so flat and desolate, but I watched a documentary about it the other night and saw people walking at almost 45 degrees into the wind. After watching that I knew that the ‘fuzzy’ microphone cover was a must. It’s on order now.
- Sunpak 8001UT tripod – this is a very low-end photo tripod, and honestly I should be looking for another, but the budget hasn’t got room so it will have to do. It should work for locking the camera down when doing interviews.
- Cowboy Studio 3 lamp portable studio – 3 lamps with umbrellas and tripod stands, zip up into a small bag. Should help for interviews inside hotel rooms.
- CN-160 LED lamp – hot shoe mountable and dim-able LED panel. Popular with wedding videographers and runs on AA batteries. Should be great in a pinch, though I don’t think there is going to be any lack of light on the Flats. Also includes a couple filters to warm / diffuse the light.
- iPhone 5 – might work for shooting b-roll. Certainly worth a shot.
- Studio NEAT Glif – tripod mount for iPhone.
- 15” MacBook Pro – for pulling and clearing cards at the end of the day.
- Sony Headphones – large over the ear style headphones for monitoring levels.
- USB – SD card reader.
What I Still NEED:
- Microphone extension cable (10’ +) so that the camera (which won’t shoot wide-angle), can be further back than microphone.
- 1/8” splitter – to split line out from Zoom into headphones and camera
- Reflectors – large cloth reflector panels to bounce light behind subjects if possible. This really will only work if I get a helper for shooting.
- Memory card for Zoom – the hand-held recorder only comes with 2GB storage. Need to upgrade to 32 gb so I can record all day.
- Spring clamps – to position lights and reflectors as needed.
- Lens hood or matte box – the Flats are going to be some very harsh lighting, need to be able to step it down a bit.
- Shoulder Harness – to stabilize camera/light/Zoom/Microphone for all day shooting. Debating the merits of a rail system, versus a more ‘fixed’ approached. Will be building this myself, due to cost constraints.
- Batteries – for everything. 9v for microphone. AAA for Zoom. AA for lights.
Things I’ll build IF there is time:
- Small portable jib to mount on shoulder or tripod for “crane” shots.
- Small portable rail slider for that “dolly” look and nice even panning shots.
- A follow focus knob – this is a big challenge, as the 50mm 1.8 has a tiny manual focus ring and isn’t really easy to interface with.
- Boom pole for microphone. Only really useful if I have a second pair of hands helping with the shoot, so this is unlikely.
Things I’d LOVE to Buy, but probably won’t:
- Canon 35mm wide-angle lens – this baby is about $300 on Amazon right now, and would make it a lot easier to do group shots, but it is also $300 – so you see my problem.
- Final Cut Pro with Motion – I’d love to upgrade video editing suites, as right now I’m just slumming it in iMovie, but since there won’t actually be any visual effects in this film, I should be able to make do where I am.
- Adobe After Effects – Who am I kidding, I really want to put some sweet ass motion graphics in this, even if it is a documentary. I love nice design in a film.
- Solar Charger – There is going to be 13+ hours of sunlight out there in August, it would be nice to be able to charge my gear mid-day, as it will probably be some distance to the hotel.
I’ve been wanting to try my hand at filmmaking for a long time and I’ve gone and thrown myself into deep water now, without making sure I can swim. A little back story first. My brother Hans goes out to Bonneville every year for speed week. He isn’t just there for the salt and sun, he’s part of a team that’s gunning for records (and holds a few). He’s a member of the 200 club, meaning he’s exceeded two hundred miles per hour on the salt.
Well, Hans posted a nicely edited documentary about motorcycles (The Build Film) on Facebook the other day. It really caught my eye, it was exactly the sort of production I’d been wanting to put together, but had been struggling to find a story to tell. A mental light bulb went off and I realized that the pursuit of a land speed record might make for one hell of a story. I messaged Hans about the possibility of following him out to Bonneville to put something together. He responded with a hearty “Hell yes.” All I’ve got so far is a working title, On the Salt, and a whole bunch of ideas.
So now I’m in the deep water. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dog paddled before. In art school I did more than one art film and even had one get shown in an international film festival. I’m not a complete newb, as it were, but this is a much bigger production and a much tighter deadline than I’ve ever faced. Also, there’s no budget – my surgery earlier this year has stripped down personal funds to a bare minimum, so while I’d love to get new cameras and lenses, I’ll be shooting this on a shoestring.
All that said, I’m remarkably excited. I haven’t been creative in a while, really for the last few years NaNoWriMo is my only outlet. I’m researching every day now, learning new tricks for the DIY and low-budget filmmaker. I’m going to be building gear that I can and buying the few necessary items that I can’t (external audio recorder, as I’ll be shooting exclusively on DSLR).
It’s going to be a wild and short ride. Speed Week is in August, only 82 days from now.
I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.
I’m trapped in a private moment, not even one I want to be in. A woman just walked by that bears a striking resemblance to an ex-girlfriend. It’s like when you drive past a bad accident, you don’t want to see anything, but you look all the same. I’m looking, fingers crossed that it isn’t her. A man, with what must be twenty years on me, stops me. At first I’m confused, like I said I was in this private moment and building up a defense for the possible oh god moment if it really is her and she wants to talk for some reason.
The last thing I’m ready for is an aging cowboy, dressed in denim from head to toe and thick silver stubble. His voice is low, too quiet, and I only hear him just enough to stop – not enough to know what it is he’s saying. He must recognize it in my face, as he softly begins anew.
“I’m real sorry, I hate to even ask,” he says. This is a suburb, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard this one, but my time in poorer neighborhoods lets me recognize this preamble immediately. I start to pat my pockets before he’s even asked. “I’m on my way to Dallas, on my last few gallons of gas…” he adds. He’s in the middle of a divorce, out of cash, and nearly red in the face. It took nerve to ask for anything. I privately wonder if the Obama sticker on my car makes it easier to ask.
“I don’t generally have cash,” I tell him solemnly, which is the truth. I tell him to hold on as I dig through the console, finding him every last penny. It can’t amount too much and I say so. I apologize that it isn’t more and he half smiles and ducks his head. He doesn’t want me to look him in the eyes.
I get in my car and start to drive away, noticing that he’s doing the same. He drives to the McDonald’s that was no more than fifty yards away and I feel a vein twitch in my right temple. From where we’d spoken there was a grocery store within walking distance and a gas station just as far as the McDonald’s, in the opposite direction.
I get mad. I wonder if I should have insisted on buying him gas at the pump. I wonder if I should have just given him some of the groceries I just purchased. I wonder if I should have given him anything at all.
I’m putting too much on this one man’s decision. I give money because it’s the right thing to do, not because every recipient will make the perfect decision. I give because the world needs a little more kindness in it every day, not because I can fix everyone. We can’t always fix things, but we can always try to help.
This is one of those ‘sad but true’ moments.