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Monthly Archives

November 2011

What Camera Should I Buy?

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The Canon 5D and 7D DSLRI get asked this by friends and family and the answer depends on what they want it for and how manual/automatic they want it.  But I was asked this by someone in the industry.  They are ready to upgrade to new technology and liked the setup I have for corporate video production.

Camera for Corporate Video

First, more often than not, I use a DSLR for my corporate work.  But occasionally I need something to record long form– like a seminar or meeting.  So what follows is what I recommend for corporate film– like interviews and sales videos, or marketing videos.  If you’re recording a board meeting, the DSLR is not the best choice.

Camera–  I have the DSLR Canon 7D.  My DP Ron Gonzalez has a 5D (both shown in the picture on the right).  A Partner of mine has another 7D.  These cameras are great for the corporate film.  The 5D has a full size sensor offering maybe too much depth of field.  The 7D has a robust sensor, but slightly smaller than the 5D.  The Canon 60D has the same sensor of the 7D and it comes with a flipout viewfinder (a little more friendly for video).  But the 7D has two processors to the 60D’s one.

More important for great looking images (thus high production value), is the glass.  Make sure you get a fast lens or two (this decision is more important the the 60D or 7D or 5D question).  Fast means that the f stop is a low number.  Like 1 or 2 or 2.8.  Anything higher than 2.8 I would just stay away from for video.  If it’s a zoom lens and has two f stop numbers (like 4-5.6), this means that as you zoom in, you need more light.  This would be a consumer lens.  Avoid it for professional use.

I also like the IS technology (image stabilization).  Different lens manufacturers call it different things, but I have been amazed at how steady my 250mm handheld is zoomed in.  Yes, for panning shots, you might want to turn it off.

As for the lenses I like to keep around… A super wide comes in handy for corporate.  I have a 11-16mm.  I also have a great 17-55mm.  I have a not so great 70-250mm, so this will be the next lens purchase.

For a monitor, which is very important, I use the SmallHD DP6 (reviewed here).  This is the next most important purchase after the camera and lens.  It is extremely difficult to get a good focus on these shallow depth of field cameras, especially outside in daylight, so you will need a good monitor.

Get a good fluid head tripod.  I have a small Matthews that I love. Other accessories include extra batteries, chargers, HDMI cable for monitor, hot shoe mounts.

And finally a good bag to put it all in and you’re up and running.  One word about sound… you will need a Zoom or a Tascam DR100-like recorder.  Sound is a problem recording straight into the DSLR’s.  So think old school film-style where the audio is separate and synced in post.  Which by the way– for $20 you can buy a slate app for the iPad that adds oodles of coolness on the set for the clients.

Down the road, you can think about a shoulder rig– but whereas I thought that was going to be important, it has moved way down the priority list for corporate film and video.  Other tools for your rig include jibs, sliders, and other neat toys.

On the film Rising Stars

Two Camera Shooting in Film and Video Production

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Two Cameras in Feature Films & TV

When it comes to the number of cameras on a film set, traditionally, movies are shot with one, while television shows are shot with four or five. Now that doesn’t mean movies aren’t shot with more cameras– I think at one point, Cameron had five or six on Titanic and for special effects and stunts, there might be ten or more.  And more recently, Peter Jackson had something like 37 Red Epics on “Hobbit.”  But he’s also shooting 3D, and for the sake of discussion, I’m not talking about 3D here, because in that case, two cameras really mean four and we’re not going there.

Film Style

But when someone says “shooting film style” that means that it’s primarily going to be shot with one camera. The difference is a film shoot utilizes 360 degrees. Whereas the normal television show, the cameras mostly make up the fourth wall, with the studio audience sitting behind them.

A great example of a television show doing “film style” is the sitcom “Scrubs.” They decided at the outset they wanted a “film style” sitcom, which is extremely rare. But you get very interesting lighting film style. So the comedy is shot as a feature– one main camera (although sometimes they might do two or more). To contrast this– for one episode, Scrubs shot it television style, with big flat lighting and the comparison is interesting.

Now many of the one hour dramas are shot film style, but because of the need for speed, multiple cameras are used. For instance, “24” was shot film style, with one camera on a dolly with a long lens (tasked with the mission to shoot “through” something to get a voyeuristic feel), and the other is usually handheld, wider lens near the actors.

On my films, I have mostly shot with oTwo Camera Shootingne camera. Although for stunts and effects, we had as many as three. But for the last couple of projects, including “The Imposter” and “Rising Stars,” I decided to shoot two cameras almost the whole time (called “A Camera” and “B Camera.”) This enabled me to get much more coverage– which is great if you have to do a lot of takes. DP Ron Gonzalez and I had decided during prep that two cameras would be important.  When one camera’s footage from a day’s work was lost, it was a very good thing we had the other camera.

The downsides are lighting and sound. You have to avoid the flatter lighting– which is tempting and sound can be tricky. For instance, you’ve got a scene with two actors. Do you put A on the close up of the first actor while B gets a medium? This two camera technique is better for lighting, but worse for sound. Both cameras pointing the same direction, but whereas the close up the boom op can get nice and tight, now they have to pull back to allow for the medium coverage. Pointing the same direction is the most common use of a two camera film shoot.

But what if (as it happened in “The Imposter”), you’re losing the sun and you have 8 minutes to get a two person scene in the can? Now we throw caution to the wind and A camera gets one coverage, while B camera gets the other actor. Exterior day this is okay. But in a lighting situation, you’re going to have to work around a lot of boom shadows and such. Plus, now you’re seeing twice the amount of background. As in the picture here, we shot A and B cameras, each one covering an actor. Exterior Day (overcast) made it a lot easier.

Over the last few years, I have become accustomed to the two camera film shoot and I like it. On “The Imposter”, we ran the B camera probably 70 to 80% of the time that A was running. Most of the time it was pointing in the same direction. I just had a great sound mixer and boom op.

Two Cameras in Corporate Video

Today, in corporate videos, we are also using multiple cameras.  The foundation for much of the corporate video is the documentary style interview.  With the technological progress of the cameras– and the dramatic price decrease in them, it’s now affordable to go multi-camera on the corporate production set.  When doing doc-style interviews, I like to have one camera on the interviewee, fairly tight.  Then on the other, wider with some movement– usually a slider.  (Click here for some info on sliders).

Outside of the interviews, I’ve used two cameras as different units to get more footage on a single day.  We might send A camera to the warehouse to get BRoll while B camera shoots footage of a meeting int he conference room.  And of course at events, mulitple cameras are a must, especially for imag (image magnification).

Cameras are better and cheaper today.  So it stands to reason that we can use more of them in our tool box, whether shooting feature films, tv shows, or the corporate video.

Slow Motion

Reviewing the Video Film Slider

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Video Production Benefits from Smaller Cameras and Cool Toys

With the smaller cameras, come cool toys and tools that can have a great impact on your production value.  As of late, there has been a huge boom in sliders.  I know I’ve been using them the last year or two– to the point where it goes out on every shoot.  Sliders are a simple basic replacement for dollies.  Now film and video productions can get great smooth right and left movement for a fraction of the cost and manpower.  You can even truck in and out with them and in some extreme cases, you can crane up and down.

At SFilms, we use a basic Glidetrack.  And recently, we bought a Slyderdolly from Digital Juice that has been pretty impressive.  It’s robust, strong, sturdy and comes with features and accessories that didn’t exist 18 months ago.

So here’s a practical show and tell about sliders– the problems, the solutions and how they can help.

Feel free to leave comments about your own Slider stories!  (Just remember we’re not talking little hamburgers).

Dallas Video Production Drives Corporate Filmmaking

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The Corporate Video Meets the Movie

Drives Corporate Filmmaking

Stacie Herring accepts two Telly Awards

At Serendipitous Films, we have a long track record of award-winning corporate video experience.  But one skillset that is being utilized more and more in corporate video is our experienced in feature films.  It’s not enough to train, motivate and sell through talking heads for some corporations.  So we’re being asked to create exciting canvasses to communicate the client’s content.

Case in point– over the years, our most awarded and successful training video was a spoof of Forest Gump.  Today, that continues with a Fortune 500 company calling on us to create little “movies” with their employees to train on program and service features.  Another client is asking for a promotional video in the form of a movie trailer.  This generation is the YouTube Generation.  Videos need to be quick, funny, sincere, sensational.  And this means in the corporate arena as well.

Video Services in Dallas and Fort Worth

Our Dallas clients look to us for video services from turn key to maybe just providing crew, or even just the post work.  Whatever the client needs, we’re willing and able.  We keep our overhead low and our toolset deep.  That’s why our clients depend on us for proven results in training videos, commercial spots, music videos, promotional videos, sales and marketing videos, web videos and viral videos.  For some samples, check out our recent work at s-films.com.

In the meantime, we’ll keep enjoying the opportunity to not only make our movies, but to make our clients story come alive through filmmaking techniques in the Dallas and Fort Worth area as well as nationwide.

Tips for Auditions

Acting Tips for the Audition

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Hey Actors! December 9 we are shooting actor demos.  These are original scenes, shot on high def and made to look like it’s taken right from an indie film.  For more information, check out the Seminars page.

Audition in NYC

Tips to Actors from a Director

As a director of five feature films, I’ve sat through a lot of auditions.  We’ve cast in LA and NYC and of course local.  And what I want to do here is give some advice, some cheat codes that can quickly make an impact for you as an actor going in to an audition.

First– if you’re given the sides, have them beyond memorized.  What I mean by this is that if you work until you’ve finally get through it once from memory, that’s not near enough.  The crucible that is the audition room will pressure your brain and you’ll forget.  So run it again and again.  If you’re not given sides, then practice memorizing– it’s a muscle. Quit saying you’re no good at memorizing.  Become good at it.  On Rising Stars, we saw one actor who did a great job, but I thought maybe she would do better in a totally different role.  We sent her out and fifteen minutes later she came back in with the sides completely memorized.

Second– don’t stick your sides up in front of your face.  It’s okay to hold the sides, but if at all possible, keep them down and away (and hopefully you never glance at them).  As a director, I want to see your face.  I want to see your expressions.  Honest-to-goodness… we’ve had actors who have read with their sides way up blocking their faces.

Third, don’t forget to act when you’re not saying lines.  I’m watching that as much as the lines.  I want to see the beats.  And they often come when the other person is talking.

In the Audition Seminar, we go into depth on these and a lot more.  I might post more.  Also might post some video.  Have questions?  Post them here.

kerry livgren kansas

Kerry Livgren – Musician of Faith

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Kerry Livgren Wayward SonDuring the shooting of “The Imposter,” I had the unique privilege to spend some time with musician Kerry Livgren.  And for those of you who don’t know who this is– Kerry was a key member of the super group Kansas with such hits as Carry On Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind.  During his time with Kansas, he got saved.  The video below is the interview I did with him about his experience.

Kerry is the genuine deal.  There’s no game playing.  He truly walks what he says he believes.  Few people do that in the church.  And as an update– some of you have heard Kerry suffered a stroke.  This is true and happened about a year and a half after filming “The Imposter.”  It’s a miracle he’s even alive, but he’s back in his studio, crafting musical delights for fans of his artistry.  I for one am glad that God has seen purpose to leave him here with us a little longer.

If you like it, re-tweet it or post to facebook.  It’s great stuff.

Shooting actor demos

Demo Shooting

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LATEST NEWS!! Taking registrations for slots on FEB 7  to shoot actor demos.  CLICK HERE to register.

When I was casting Rising Stars, I came to realize that local actors have some serious challenges to overcome in landing roles. The biggest is a bias towards LA/NYC actors. Another, is that a lot of local actors just don’t have any good material for demo reels.

One problem is that often the micro budget indie that they get to act in– they get promised a DVD but in actuality rarely ever get one.  The filmmaker gets too busy and just can’t or won’t pop out the discs for their actors.  Another problem is that they just don’t have anything that can showcase their skills in front of a camera.

I decided to offer a service– I would write an original little scene, that looks and feels like it came from an indie film.  Then I would get my DP and small crew and we’d shoot it.  To pay for crew and equipment, I found that I have to have minimum six participants to spread the cost around.

The way it works– upon registration (usually $350), I contact the actor and get recent photos/headshots and talk to them about what kind of scene they need.  Then I write the script and send it to them.  I usually write a one page scene between two people (although I have done it differently), with the top half being heavy on one actor and the other half heavy on the other.  Edited together the scene might be a minute or two, but what we’re really looking for is ten or twenty seconds that the actor can really shine.

Here are some samples:

Madelyn Allen is a young actor and she did a beautiful job.  In this case, the scene was just her (and the other actor off screen).  In this next example, you see how the two actor situation is done.


Because we need a handful of actors to make this work, I usually wait until acts contact me.  I’ve recently had a couple contact me– so if you think you’d like a demo, contact me.

Corporate Video & Film

Corporate Video & Film — Viral Videos

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The corporate film and services has been changing as the technology evolves.  Here at Serendipitous Films, we’re seeing a large increase in the short corporate video, mainly for the web.  Viral videos– an unknown term in the 90’s– is fast becoming the highest demand video.  In addition, we’ve seen a  sharp increase in the “home page” video.  Usually a short, two minute or so video about the company and it’s product or services.

The Viral Video can be broken down into three types– Humorous, Touching, or Sensationalism.  For the funny video– it needs to be incredibly humorous– the type of thing people instantly click to forward. to their friends.  The Touching video pulls at heartstrings.  The Sensationalism video is some jaw-dropping, I-can’t-believe-that-just happened type video.

In Hollywood, the saying goes “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”  And it’s true.  Comedy is a very difficult genre to do right.  And it has a limited audience– usually what one socio group finds humorous, another doesn’t.  But the comedy viral video does not need production value– it can be done incredibly cheaply with the right idea.  “Charlie bit my finger” didn’t cost anything to make.  But also keep in mind that it doesn’t mean all comedy is cheap.  JC Penney’s “Beware the Doghouse” is a great viral video, with huge production value.

Touching videos usually are mini-movies (with some exceptions).  A great example of this is the Pantene commercial about the deaf girl and the violin.  Or the Dove Evolution video.  These are usually stories that are touching and deal with overcoming adversity and obstacles.  The ultimate feel-good.  These can be very pricey to make, but highly effective.  Demographics usually lean toward women, but not always.

For the Sensationalism, it’s often the figurative “watching racing for the car crashes” syndrome.  Something is one the screen that is so horrific, or so big, or so incredible, you just can’t turn away.  And you click it to re-tweet to all your friends.  These videos are mostly unscripted, shot in the moment, not planned for.  And rarely used for corporate viral videos.  The exception might be something like “Plot Device” used for the software company Red Giant.  But the secret is out– most unscripted reality shows” are indeed scripted.  Same for some of these “sensational” viral videos.   Goes back to the days of watching America’s Funniest Home Videos knowing that the mom and dad staged the whole baby-fall-down gag.

Lastly, the best viral videos are the ones that have legs of it’s own.  Still word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing.  Short of that, companies hire a lot of social media marketing firms to work the video to get it to go viral.  Sometimes this works, sometimes not so much.  It will always come down to content– is your video noteworthy enough to get forwarded?