Category Archives: Perspective

Buying Gear responsibly in the DSLR age.

It used to be that the cost and product lifecycle of equipment forced an independent filmmaker to think carefully about what they purchased and what they rented.  The purchased equipment usually lasted 10 years, maybe more.

With the HDSLR revolution (and before that the DV revolution coupled with the Final Cut Pro Revolution) the world is now full of people who can buy affordable gear regardless of whether they actually have the need to support the purchase.  The line between hobbyists, professional media-makers and independent filmmakers start to blur at a certain level.  Many of these people never see the upper level of production in a large scale commercial, films or television production and experience the division of labor, equipment rental, or the creative and economic dynamic of selecting the right tool for the job based on many factors beyond the picture that a camera can generate.

This sudden democratization of equipment is fabulous in many ways, it gives a creative voice to people who normally wouldn’t have it, it allows greater flexibility in choosing your workflow and provides even greater visual aesthetic choices for nearly any budget.  It is, yet again, an amazing time to be in this industry.

There are many reasons to temper equipment purchases, most restrictions come from budget, workflow, availability and knowing how to run a business properly, but I will most likely address that later.

We owe it to our selves to consider many connections that we as filmmakers should embrace. Two such connections we all should take into consideration is our overall impact on the planet and our relationship to our craft.

The equipment manufacturing industry is rushing to fill the massive sucking sound created by the myriad human beings buying cameras, lenses, tripods, batteries, sliders, jibs, shoulder rigs and any other gizmo that can be created now in our global marketplace.  Stop for a moment and forget whether you can buy something, but should you?   All that plastic, all that extruded aluminum, all that inexpensive stuff that is allowing us to have every single piece of gear in every single backpack and closet, just in case we need it, is taking away from something else that can be made.  We can buy things impulsively now for our industry that before required a business plan to purchase and that puts a stress on available materials for manufacturing everywhere and it can have an unexpected outcome  –  this can create behavior that keeps us alone and acting like Starlings hoarding shiny objects in our nests.

We all must re-learn to have a reverence for resources, both material and relational, we can often become too insular in our workflow and learning process.  Sure, you can learn how to do something online, buy it and have it shipped cheaply overnight, but can you find that resource locally?

Can you borrow or rent gear or hire another person to provide a service in the act of making your vision?

Doing so allows us to use the most important resource available to a filmmaker.  Do you know what it is?

It’s collaboration.

Second to your brain, working together is the single most valuable tool in anyone’s toolbox, and often it can be the most cost-effective.

More importantly it can take into consideration our connections to others and our planet.

Buy less gear, share more ideas, and solve more problems with what you have.  Gaining the experience is worth it.

FIRST Robotics – a 20 year evolution and still a mystery

One of my “First” projects when I started out was shooting video for the FIRST robotics competition.  Since then I have shot footage for that event for over 8 years or more – (its starting to haze over how long ago it was) and I am always inspired by the work and message of this fantastic organization.  One of the goals I have in my professional life is to work on projects that I have interest in.  This program and STEM(or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is one of them.  Year in and year out I am renewed by the energy that I see when I attend these events and I am always impressed by the passion of the student, the parents, the mentors and the celebrities that make up this event.

I have always shot more footage than we can use in the short piece that I am contracted to produce during the event.  We shoot a lot and the time is short to create my edit, so not everything makes it in our quick cut.   Finally the footage I shoot is actually getting used for some very constructive work.

Paul Lazarus at WhiteDwarf Productions is in the midst of creating a new campaign for FIRST Robotics that is trying to inspire new students to join and engage in this event.  You can see one of the videos with Morgan Freeman here.

His project is attempting to convert the unconverted, which is a difficult task for anyone, even an episodic Television Director.  More often social media, documentary or even corporate work fails to speak to anyone except their own band of converted people – they are “preaching to the choir” to use a worn cliche.  This is an epic failure, but happens 90% of the time in media.

All projects intend to speak to the “un-choir” or uninitiated, but often are unable to get outside of their own perspective.   This is difficult and I find most documentarians and corporations really struggle with a clarity of purpose when crafting a message.  I struggle with it – especially when talking about myself and what I do – but I tend to grasp my clients issues easily.  This is true for many people, its always clearer to see someone else’s position rather than your own.

I routinely see this in feature length documentaries, the creators get too close to the subject and loose perspective.  The documentaries are difficult to watch for all except the few who already know the issue, or desperately want to know more.  This does not further their cause, but instead alienates many who could otherwise learn something new.

It’s also boring as hell.

Balancing both audiences – both the Choir and the Un-Choir – requires a good bit of work and an intimate knowledge of your subject as well as a distance from that subject.

I think Paul’s attempt here is a very good effort, and not because I shot most of it.  He removes the jargon that has become both the trademark and the internal language of the program and puts it in simpler terms.  He uses energy and well thought out terms to help people make connections quickly.   By letting the brain take it in and smoothing the way by some great visuals, as well as Morgan Freeman’s iconic voice, he gets people most of the way there without beating them with a concept.

Having the willingness to let your message sit out without extra information is counter-intuitive to many.   But leaving questions unanswered creates a mystery; hopefully one that your viewers will want to learn more about.

FIRST Robotics 2011