Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't Be Such a Baby!

I know I haven't written anything for a while, but that's what happens when you have a life... you don't blog everyday. But today I don't have a li--... that came out wrong. I'm just gonna write now.

When I started this blog I did not intend for it to merely be a video blogging site where I talk about my video stuff. I wanted it to be a general blog about my thoughts and my life, but since video is a big part of what I do and who I am, all my posts to date have been on this topic. Today I want to stray a bit from the norm and talk about something else.

I've really had to keep something at the forefront of my mind lately and it pertains to the faithfulness of God. You see, I'm a big baby. but before you laugh at me, you're a big baby too. we're all a bunch of complaining, whiny, obnoxious adult babies. But for the sake of not offending everyone around me I'll continue to only refer to myself in this post.

When I was fired/let go/asked to leave the premises of what is now Tops Fresh Market, I had just became a father of a wonderful son named Judah. I also had zero dollars. My wife was working two jobs at the time and I was working... on not going off in a huge fit of rage, screaming like drunken badger through a small gourmet grocery store. But the more important thing was that I was angry... very angry. I had done everything I could to try and provide for my family, serve God and his church, and this is what I got in return. I was livid! I mean how twisted does God have to be to just, with the flick of his wrist, throw my entire life away like it's a rotten banana?

Now of course I didn't think all this at first. I did the good Christian thing and kept saying "oh, everything will work out. It's an opportunity!... right?... RIGHT? But as time went on and my bank account went in the negative every month, I began to legitimately get angry with God. I literally told him, "THANKS FOR SCREWING UP MY LIFE! THANKS FOR BEING THERE FOR ME! YOU WERE REALLY LOOKIN' OUT FOR ME! THANK A LOT!" These were the words that I spoke to God while driving around town one day. Now for those of you reading this who never allow yourselves to get angry with God, you're probably wondering how I survived the lightning bolt that came soon after my "talk". Well here's the interesting thing. I didn't get a lightning bolt... or spiritual slap, a stern talking to, or even a response. What I got was an amazing Job doing what I love no more than two months after this prayer-rant took place.

Please hold your gasps. I know it's hard to believe and it doesn't make any sense but since when has God's grace and faithfulness ever made sense! Please tell me one time, one incident, one testimony of a sensible act from God. He never does things the way we think they should go. I kicked and screamed and threw a tantrum at God. I was sarcastically throwing his love back in his face. Those of you with teenagers know what I'm talking about. Look at what I said to God in my anger and tell me you haven't heard a teenager say that to their parents. You see, like a little baby, I threw a fit because I didn't get what I wanted. Things didn't work out. It wasn't how I thought it should be. But God doesn't care about how I think things should be. He knows better than to trust me with my own thoughts. That's why He encourages me constantly to focus on His!
Now I'm not saying that you should yell at God to get what you want, but it has definitely taught me a lesson in allowing God to do things His way. In Hosea The Lord tells him this: Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them. God always loves his children. He knows we are babies, but he also knows that we are capable of change and repentance.
I'd love to tell you that I never threw a fit like that again, but while I'm using the analogy of the Israelites to represent my attitude toward God, they never really got it either. I'm learning and doing everything I can by the power of God to be a better child. I'm starting to see bad things as opportunities and hard times as growing points where I can become less of a sissy-baby and more of an accomplished well rounded strikingly handsome adult man! But until then I'm just an awkward, pubescent, nasty-stached, ape-armed dork who hasn't grown into big boy pants quite yet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Video Blip #1

As many of you know, I was in Eureka, CA a couple weeks ago shooting some footage for Cher-Ae Heights Casino in Trinidad. I must say, Trinidad is beautiful... Eureka on the other hand... Anyway, I thought I'd share a little video blip of the stuff I captured. The marketing manager of the casino pretty much gave me one thing to accomplish, "Make my commercials not so stinking dark." Well... you do know this is a casino, don't you? So, I figured I better bring every light I can because I sure as Honkey Tonk can't just make the three and a half hour drive back to the office to grab more.
When I arrived, one of the first things I shot was the Slot Machines. These are extremely difficult to light if you don't have a huge boom stand to hold the light above your actors. It's awkward because you are shooting a profile shot but you're still trying to get as close to the machines as you can so you're not just filming over the actors' shoulders. And on top of that,there's a line of machines in front of them... so where are you supposed to put the lights so that you get more than just back lighting? I had to improvise (as usual) and I think the result turned out quite nicely. The picture here shows you where the lights were actually located:

So it only took three lights and maybe I could do it with less, but I think the image looks nice. It's not dark but it's still dramatic. You can clearly see a foreground and the background is there but not in the way by any means.
This image was really an eye opener for me. I look so longingly at professional video footage and think, "How do I get that?", but the more I do shoots like this, I find that lighting is so key. People often say, "Oh we can fix it in post". That causes a lot of problems because the more you do in post the more opportunity there is to ruin your original footage. I want to make sure that when I'm filming, that I get that "Yes! That's what I'm looking for" feeling straight from the LCD on the back of my camera. I don't want to have to worry about whether or not it will turn out nicely once I've abused every last pixel in the shot.
I hope this is helpful and enjoy the clip!

Taking Criticism

Taking Criticism isn't easy for anyone and it's especially hard for me. When I put everything I have into a piece of work just to have someone say "huh, that's nice... but... I think this needs to change," I die a little inside. Those of you who have children know what I'm talking about. It's that feeling you get when their teacher says they need to improve in a certain area, or your little athlete doesn't make the tee-ball team. I put my heart and soul into my projects and when I put one out there to be scrutinized and picked apart, I forget to guard myself almost every time.
In my line of work, part of the job is to have my projects be judged and put under a microscope. You'd think that I would get used to people giving their opinions on my stuff, but it never seems to get any easier. I do everything I do within my projects because I think it's the best way to do it. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm not. So when someone looks at my work and says, "This would be better if..." I feel my pride sink to the bottom of my chest.
Now I'm not defending myself in any way, I'm just stating the facts of how I feel about criticism. I know I shouldn't take things personally (especially when you're dealing with opinions that have no foundation in the understanding of my line of work) and I know that it doesn't mean I suck. So here's what I have to do:
1. Suck it up and finish the job
2. get more objective opinions
a. If I don't like what I hear I have to accept the fact that I need to rethink my direction and grow from it
b. If I do like what I hear... HUZZAH!!! I win.
3. push back the urge to argue about why I think they're wrong and I'm right.
a. this gets me nowhere and I just come off as a complete jerk.
4. If I am right and they don't see it... that's their problem. The issue at hand is that they need a product and they are the one's holding my paycheck... need I say more?

The point here is that criticism is good... even when it's bad. It makes us better communicators and it gives us an opportunity to get better at what we do, and even though nothing hurts more than someone picking apart my "baby", I have to let it happen. If you want to be a completely well rounded person, you have to be chiseled at from time to time... ooh that was good... I'm gonna tweet that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Adventures into interviewland

I have always struggled with shooting interviews. They never come out the way I want, but with the advances in DSLR technology and a little basic lighting/color grading, I found that I really enjoy shooting interviews... because they turn out AWESOME! Here's a video of some before and after...

The original video was greatly under exposed and way too warm, but the lighting setup was sufficient enough that it set me up for a great color grade in post. In most of my interviews now I've only been putting one soft box in front of the subject on either the left or right and a kicker behind to get some bright outlines. That's it.

The color grading was simple enough. I brought the footage into after effects and added curves, hue/saturation, and shadow/highlight adjustments. I did some exposure and vignetting in Magic Bullet but these can be done in AE as well.

The greatest thing to remember about color grading any footage is to make really small adjustments... REALLY SMALL!

With the curves adj. I simply increased the contrast, brought blues and greens up in the shadows, and boosted the over all brightness.

With Hue/Saturation I simply desaturated the reds. That really helps with getting rid a of a really warm look in the skin tones.

With the Shadow/Highlight, I really used it to bring some more contrast, and detail to the roughness of his face. I wanted him to look a little gritty. You really have to be careful with this adjustment because people can get really carried away with this if they're not careful. If you're going to use this adjustment no one should really know that you have. Trust me I've made the mistake before and it just becomes way more of a distraction than anything else.

Lastly I added some vignette and a little exposure boost and called it good.

Here's one more example. It's not exactly the same scenario but just remember that if you start with good lighting, a lot fo what you do in post will be a nice addition to your video rather than a destruction.

Working Hard When Things Hardly Work

I come from a perception that good product comes out of restriction. Look at some of the best companies out there right now. Apple has always minimized their products to create a unique and satisfying User experience. What about Nintendo? They have been running in 1st place (until recently) with a console that uses 10 year old technology. And then there's me... I don't have expensive gear, or top of the line software... I don't even have formal training or a degree. But what I have is a desire (a tenacious one at that) to learn more and more and to be able to do what I've learned with what I already have.
I'm a commercial producer for a local TV station in Northern California and I couldn't think of a better place for me right now. Because this station is so small, I really have to stretch my brain on how to come up with ideas that are ground breaking and yet be able to pull them off with little to no budget. It's exciting really. I think to myself, "there's no way I can pull this off" but my brain won't stop thinking of ways to... well pull it off. I lay awake at night thinking of methods and workflows that will make my process easier and more effective. I come up with some of my most creative stuff just before my brain powers off and slips into dreamland.
I've done two spots recently that required me to take the image of a brand and give it a national feel within a local market. I had to make these spots look really good... and I had to do it with no money, limited resources, untrained actors, and a crew of two at the most. But to me, that's what makes it so much more worth it. I get to pull off things that normally would require a small army to do and reach a similar, if not the same, result.
Now I know my commercials aren't always right on and there's always room for improvement but that's where the "working hard" part comes in. When everything you have around you just barely works and you're dealing with a lack of resources or time constraints, you have to work your butt off to make it work... and I love that. I love that I put hours of myself into thirty seconds of product and not one average Joe would know the difference. I guess it's a pride thing. The common TV watcher doesn't know what goes into it, but all the people who do this for a living understand. We give each other the proverbial wink by adding into our work the tiny things that show how hard we work.
Basically it all comes down to how much you love your work. Do you do it because you were told to do it, or do you do it because it's a part of you. When things are hardly working for me, I have to work hard. It's simple, but it's rewarding. even though no one knows that I just spent 5 hours on 4 seconds of animation, I can say that I didn't slack off. And in a business where people skip through and fast forward over my work all the time, somehow I find the reward and I believe that that comes from hard work and the sense of accomplishment that it brings.

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